GREG COTE’S NFL WEEK 17 PICKS
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
DOLPHINS (7-8) at BILLS (5-10)
Line: BUF by 3 1/2
Cote’s pick: BUF 20-17
TV: 1 p.m., CBS
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NFL Week 17 features all division games, all on Sunday, and 13 of the 16 matter in some way — either including a playoff-bound team or having a direct bearing on the postseason and its seeding order. Alas, this is one of the three exceptions: A sad wheeze to the finish line for two teams bereft of all playoff hope. Miami sags in with two straight losses and Buffalo with four in the past five games. Weather in the 30s will provide a fitting tableau for a game both teams would as soon not be playing. Fins lucked to beat Bison 21-17 on Dec. 2 when Charles (Hands Of) Clay failed to catch the game-winning pass in the closing seconds. Make it Bills here in a venue call. Miami is 1-6 on the road this year, and has won only nine of its past 26 trips to Orchard Park. Dolphins also will be missing top cover-guy Xavien Howard for a fourth straight game. (Quick aside: Probably not a good sign when your team’s MVP award is won by a cornerback in an average pass defense who missed a quarter of the season injured. Suggests a paucity of worthy candidates. It was Ryan Tannehill’s award to win in his comeback season, but until he finds the map to the playoffs, his Dolphins future will forever be cast in doubt). I’ll hedge here with that extra half-point on the bet-line, though. See Fins within a field goal in a low-scoring game owing to offensive meekness more than defensive might. By the way, Miami didn’t really start out 3-0, did it? We imagined that, right?
GAME OF THE WEEK
UPSET OF THE WEEK
COLTS (9-6) at TITANS (9-6)
Line: IND by 3 1/2
Cote’s pick: TEN 23-21
TV: 8:20 p.m., NBC
“AAAWWWK!” sings the Upset Bird. “What better way to end the season than with a game thats winner-take-aaawwwk!” It’s the 256th and last game of the regular season and the Game of the Week for that reason: Winner-take-all. Winner makes playoffs, loser does not. Simple. Rarely are the stakes so cut-and-dried that a playoff atmosphere surely will festoon this prime-time season nightcap. I get the Colts being favored, even on the road. They’ve been really good in clawing back from a 1-5 start, they crushed Tennessee 38-10 in November, and Andrew Luck owns this opponent — 10-0 all-time. Also: Titans will be missing their best run-stopper Jurrell Casey and also could be without QB Marcus Mariota, though he claimed to be “optimistic” he’d start. But! Titans roll in on a four-game win streak and are 6-1 at home, while Colts have lost nine of their past 10 games played at night. My hunch is the home field and hot RB Derrick Henry will carry the night. “Running back carries ball, and night. I like it,” notes U-Bird. “Titan up! Tennessaaawwwk!”
THE REST OF WEEK 17
@Packers (6-8-1, -7 1/2) over Lions (5-10), 24-20: Who’d have imagined Aaron Rodgers would be in one of only three Week 17 games in which both teams were out of the playoff hunt? The indignity! Rodgers still knows how to win at Lambeau, although, Lions have won three straight in series and will keep it inside the bet-line.
@Patriots (10-5, -13 1/2) over Jets (4-11), 30-13: Tom Brady says he’ll play at least two more years. (Who’ll retire first? Ryan Tannehill, or the G.O.A.T?) Patriots aren’t coasting here. A win secures No. 2 seed and first-round bye. Did I mention that New England is 7-0 at home this year and that Jets have L-O-S-T seven straight in Foxborough?
@Saints (13-2, -8 1/2) over Panthers (6-9), 28-10: N’Awlins has locked up No. 1 NFC seed and so has luxury to rest its top guys; i.e., Drew Brees hardly plays if he plays at all. Throws a major wrench into this pick. But here’s the thing: Give me Saints backup QB Teddy Bridgewater over Cats third-stringer Kyle Allen in his first pro start.
@Giants (5-10, -6) over Cowboys (9-6), 23-20: Your eyes aren’t playing tricks. NYG is a big favorite. It’s because Dallas is locked into its playoff seed and so Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott and other frontliners might hardly play. (Trivia answer: Dak’s backup is a person named Cooper Rush). Still like ‘Boys getting almost a touchdown.
@Buccaneers (5-10, -1) over Falcons (6-9), 37-31: Near pick-’em matchup is our last of three games with both teams out of the playoff race. Falcons have won four straight in series so let’s roll with law of averages and home field. Best bet may be the ‘over,’ with two big air attacks and two lousy pass defenses.
@Texans (10-5, -6 1/2) over Jaguars (5-10), 27-10: Houston clinches division title and home playoff game with win, so Texans should be bringing their A-effort. They also bring a defense that will trouble Blake Bortles (starting again) and Leonard Fournette. J’ville is 2-13 in past 15 division road games, and HOU hopes to have RB Lamar Miller back.
Chargers (11-4, -6 1/2) over @Broncos (6-9), 23-18: L.A. brings incentive, needing a win here — and a prayer-come-true Chiefs loss to Oakland — to snatch the No. 1 AFC seed. Chargers should do their part, at least. Broncos have beaten Bolts five straight in Denver. Like LAC defense vs. Case Keenum, but Mile Highers keep it close.
@Chiefs (11-4, -13 1/2) over Raiders (4-11), 41-16: Huge imperative here for KC, which clinches No. 1 seed with win but could tumble all way to No. 5 with loss. So expect the full attention of Patrick Mahomes and an MVP-clinching showing vs. porous Oakland pass D. Chiefs are 6-1 at home and Grudens 1-6 away.
@Rams (12-3, -10) over 49ers (4-11), 31-13: Rams aren’t coasting, either; a win here secures No. 2 seed and first-round bye. Todd Gurley (knee) is iffy, but L.A. might not require him. Niners are 0-7 on road, and 1-11 in past dozen roadies vs. teams with a winning record. Watch Aaron Donald (19 1/2 sacks) and that D dominate.
@Vikings (8-6-1, -4 1/2) over Bears (11-4), 20-17: Betting line screams varying incentive. Chicago is realistically locked into No. 3 seed while everything is in play for Minnesota. Vikings clinch sixth and last NFC seed with win, or must hope for Eagles loss at Washington. Need-factor and venue tip pick to the Purple side, but bet-line still feels a tad fat.
@Steelers (8-6-1, -14 1/2) over Bengals (6-9), 27-16: Pittsburgh’s Sunday theme song: the Beatles’ “Help!” To sneak into playoffs Steelers must win and hope either Browns beat Ravens or Colts-Titans ends tied. Long odds, Big Ben. Pitt has lost four of past five but has won seven straight over Cincy and hopes to have RB James Conner back. Like ‘Gals getting 14 1/2, though.
@Seahawks (9-6, -13 1/2) over Cardinals (3-12), 30-0: ‘Zona brings no answers on offense for a stout ‘Hawks defense in a tough venue. And Seattle’s effective ground game will tear apart Cardbirds’ weak run defense. Seahawks need win to assure themselves No. 5 seed, and will get it here in week’s biggest runaway.
Eagles (8-7, -6 1/2) @Redskins (7-8), 27-23: Philly, the defending Super Bowl champ, needs help. To make playoffs the Birds must win here and hope Vikings lose to Bears (a decent shot). Eagles the much better team that past five weeks, but hunching rival ‘Skins bring enough spoiler-want to keep it inside the spread.
@Ravens (9-6, -6 1/2) over Browns (7-7-1), 24-16: Cleveland has catapulted to respectability, especially since jettisoning Hue Jackson, but don’t get carried away. Earthtones are not on Baltimore’s level. A win assures Ravens their first division title since 2012 and ends three-year playoff drought. Big D and Lamar Jackson spark make Crows seriously formidable.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
We were a season-best 15-1 straight-up last week — our only misfire was Dolphins winning, oh the cruel irony! — and a solid 9-7 against the spread to carry The Magical Year Of Cote into the final week of the regular season. I mean, I hate to brag (no I don’t), but we have a chance to finish above .700 overall and we’re pushing .600 vs. the betting line — both elite levels. It’s been a dream season. Last week continued our run of Upset of the Week bull’s-eyes with Ravens winning at Chargers, and we nailed two other outright upsets with Seahawks over Chiefs and Raiders over Broncos. Also had a trio of ‘dogs-with-points covering in Redskins, Bengals and Giants. Will we finish just as strong? I’m betting on me.
Overall; Vs. spread
▪ Week 16: 15-1, .938; 9-7, 563
▪ Season: 169-69-2, 710; 137-96-7, .588