GREG COTE’S NFL PLAYOFF PICKS / DIVISIONAL ROUND
COLTS (11-6, NO. 6 SEED) at CHIEFS (12-4, NO. 1)
Line: KC by 5
Cote’s pick: IND 34-30
TV: 4:35 p.m. Saturday, NBC
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Upset! Top seed toppled in game that kicks off NFL Divisional Round playoffs. It’s a hunch. And a risky one. Few are on board with us here. But Andrew Luck and his Colts enter hot as any of the remaining eight teams — 10-1 in past 11 games — while Chiefs have lost 10 of past 11 in postseason. All of the pressure will be on young Patrick Mahomes. More than that, Indianapolis is the better-balanced team here. Though KC is more prolific with the ball, both offenses are good. But only one defense in this game is, as Deshaun Watson learned last week in a 21-7 home loss to Indy. Luck should feast on a Chiefs D that allowed the second-most passing yards this season and the most opponent first downs. KC also led league in most penalties. The best thing KC does on D is pressure the pocket, but Colts neutralize that with a really strong O-line that tends to keep Luck’s uni clean. The upset we propose is notable because No. 1-seed Chiefs are 7-1 at home and coming off bye, but I’m liking Colts’ strong edge on defense and Luck’s experience head-to-head vs. Mahomes on his maiden postseason voyage.
CHARGERS (13-4, NO. 5 SEED) at PATRIOTS (11-5, NO. 2)
Line: NE by 4
Cote’s pick: NE 27-20
TV: 1:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
I can never before recall the Patriots, at home, being the smallest of the four betting favorites in this round. It is so because New England isn’t quite the juggernaut of past years, and also because the Chargers are a lot scarier than your average 5-seed. You think of Philip Rivers and that Bolts offense, but it was L.A. defense that flummoxed the Ravens in Baltimore last week. But here’s the thing: Lamar Jackson isn’t. And last week L.A. did not face Bill Belichick coming off a bye. Or the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, where they have won nine straight playoff games. LAC has been good on road; New England has been better at home. I would also note that RIvers 1-7 in his career vs. Pats, including 0-2 in playoffs, and it’s 0-7 directly against Brady. The forecast of rain and perhaps snow showers underlines my not liking the West Coast visitors here. L.A.’s best upset shot: Bothering Brady with a four-man rush, a possibility for Bolts vs. a dinosaur of a pure pocket passer in Brady. Could happen. But a better bet is that NE picks Rivers at least once and that the Pats do what they do, relentlessly: Win at home in the playoffs.
COWBOYS (11-6, NO. 4 SEED) at RAMS (13-3, NO. 2)
Line: LAR by 7 1/2
Cote’s pick: LAR 28-24
TV: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Fox
How good are the Rams, really? Are we sure? They were 5-3 in the season’s second half. Their defense gave up 30-plus points six times. Dallas will have a legitimate upset shot here if its run defense can do to Todd Gurley what it did to the Seahawks’ mighty ground game last week. That’s a sizable if, however. And Dallas was home last week, a different team at Jerry World’s. As a road show this season, “America’s Team” was a mere 3-5, and now they visit a Rams squad that was 7-1 at home. I’d still not write-off the ‘Boys’ chances to advance, though. Ezekiel Elliott will be at work vs. the NFL’s 23rd-ranked run defense, one that gave up a league-high 5.1 yards per carry. Dallas having a turnover edge also is in play if Jared Goff continues as sloppy with the ball as he is prone lately to be. I cannot pull the trigger on an outright upset — Dallas has just been too unreliable away from Arlington — but I’ll hedge with the ‘Boys to cover the point spread. The TD-plus bet-line seems to take rather lightly Goff’s propensity for goof-ups and also a no-better-than mid-pack Rams D that may struggle to keep Elliott from out-yarding Gurley.
EAGLES (10-7, NO. 6 SEED) at SAINTS (13-3, NO. 1)
Line: NO by 8
Cote’s pick: NO 30-20
TV: 4:40 p.m. Sunday, Fox
It’s the defending Super Bowl champion vs. the team with the best betting odds to be the next one. Your final-eight playoff grid is pretty strong, NFL, when Cinderella is being played by the reigning champs. Few give the Eagles a real chance here, me included. N’Awlins crushed Philly 48-7 in November, after which Birds went on a 5-1 run to sneak into postseason. Phils started playing better defense, and there’s the Nick Foles magic thing. Still, 48-7. And this: Eagles lost four games on road this year, and it should-a been a fifth last week if Bears’ Cody Parkey hadn’t choked on the winning field goal. And Saints-on-the-Bayou bring a home-field advantage nearly on the Pats-at-Gillete level. Saints are on a 14-2 run in the Big Easy, are 5-0 all-time at home in playoffs under Sean Payton, and also have won four of past five vs. Philly. Saints rode their home-field magic to their only previous Super Bowl title, in the 2009 season, the only other time they were No. 1 seeds, and it feels palpably like a repeat could be in store. So, hey, it’s been a nice run, Eagles. Been a nice reign. Drew Brees will be taking over now.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
Went 2-2 straight-up on Wild-Card Weekend. Called Chargers’ outright upset in Baltimore and had Dallas winning. Got unlucky on Chicago when Cody Parkey’s shoulda-been winning field goal went boink. Also went 2-2 against the spread last week, with hits on Chargers and Eagles-with-points. Unlucky to miss ‘Boys covering thanks to a late Seattle score and 2-point conversion. Not a terrible start to our playoffs, with Colts dominating in Houston last week our only real miscalculation. Now let’s kick it up and ride the same mojo that produced our record-setting regular season! Ding. Round two!
Overall; Vs. spread
▪ Last week: 2-2, .500; 2-2, 500
▪ Season: 179-75-2, .705; 145-104-7, .582