GAME OF THE WEEK
CHARGERS (8-3) at STEELERS (7-3-1)
Line: PIT by 3½.
Cote’s pick: PIT 34-24.
These are two of the four teams chasing the Chiefs for the overall No. 1 AFC playoff seed, and also a tasty duel between a couple of 2004 draftmates who have done pretty good: Ben Roethlsiberger and Philip Rivers. (Bonus fact: It’s Maurkice Pouncey vs. lil’ bro Mike — not that anyone pays attention to centers). Chargers are missing RB Melvin Gordon, a huge loss, but for me this pick tilts on venue, and the prime-time stage. Pittsburgh is averaging 35.4 points at home, and is on a 14-1 run in night games. Oh, and seven of LAC’s eight wins have come vs. teams with a current losing record. Hmm. Bolts still tempt getting that extra half point, but I’m leaning a comfier win for Big Ben assuming the turnover bug doesn’t keep biting.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
COLTS (6-5) at JAGUARS (3-8)
Line: IND by 4.
Cote’s pick: JAC 24-20.
OK, I’ll admit, this makes no sense. Streaking Colts have won five in a row and tumult-stricken Jaguars have lost seven straight. Hot Andrew Luck’s offense is flying high, while Jax just fired its offensive coordinator, benched Blake Bortles for Cody Kessler and will be missing RB Leonard Fournette to a one-game league suspension for fighting. But! Luck is missing TE Jack Doyle and maybe RB Marlon Mack. Jags haven’t quit (last four losses by one-score margins) and will win with D. So file this high-risk pick under raw gut/hunch.
THE REST OF WEEK 13
@ Dolphins (+4, 5-6) over Bills (4-7) at, 27-16: Thanksgiving? Over. Bye weeks? Done. Stretch run to the playoffs? It’s on! Although for these teams? Barely. Forecast website fivethirtyeight.com puts Miami’s postseason likelihood entering NFL Week 13 at 5 percent and Buffalo’s at 1 percent, so for both teams this game is must-win. Followed by must-pray. Bet line opened at Fins by 6 but sank fast in another reminder how little faith there is in Miami. Or maybe somebody (anybody?) is impressed that Buffs have won straight over teams that are a combined 6-16? Give Dolphins this much, at least. They guard the 305 pretty well. Fins are 4-1 at home and on a 6-2 roll in home division games. And Ryan Tannehill, in his second game back from injury, is on a 7-0 gallop in home starts. Miami could be missing top target and catchman Danny Amendola (knee), but Fins should be able to run big on Williams’ soft ground D. On the other side, rookie QB Josh Allen has a paucity of weapons. I like Miami to cover but will be mindful of this trend: Buffalo has been outscored 141-9 in the first half of its past six losses, so it could be an ominous sign if Fins don’t jump out early. Buffs swept Miami last year. A dollop of payback arrives Sunday.
Ravens (6-5, +2) over @Falcons (4-7), 27-23: Upset! Baltimore is playoff-fighting in a way Atlanta realistically is not, and brings the pass defense to make things tough on Matt Ryan. Dual threat Lamar Jackson could start QB again for ailing Joe Flacco, but that might be a net gain.
Broncos (5-6, -4½) over @Bengals (5-6), 23-16: Andy Dalton is out, and Denver’s pass rush versus Jeff Driskel in his first NFL start is not a matchup favorable to the home team, even though A.J. Green says he will return from injury. Like month-old bananas, Cincy’s defense has gone bad.
Rams (10-1, -10) over @Lions (4-7), 41-17: Rams, off a bye, clinch division with win or Seattle loss as Ndamukong Suh returns to city where his NFL career began. Lions and Matthew Stafford miss departed Golden Tate, and now RB Kerryon Johnson could be out, too. This won’t be pretty.
@Packers (4-6-1, -14) over Cardinals (2-9), 28-17: Yes, Aaron Rodgers is 16-1 in career home starts in December. Got it. I also know Gee Bees have lost four of past five because a not-100-percent Rodgers operates behind a banged-up O-line. Bad as Zona has been, bet line feels fat.
Bears (8-3, -4½) over @Giants (3-8), 24-20: Upset Alert! Give NYG a legit shot, especially with Mitchell Trubisky likely out again and Chase Daniel pitching. It’s enough to like Biggies with points, but not outright, not with Bears’ ferocious defense (20 picks, five for pick-6s) bedeviling Eli Manning.
Panthers (6-5, -3½) over @Buccaneers (4-7), 34-31: Anybody got a coin? Cats only 1-4 on road, and Jameis Winston was good last week. Still, Carolina has won three in a row and eight of past 10 over Bucs, including 4-1 run in Tampa, although I will hedge with TB plus points.
@Texans (8-3, -6) over Browns (4-6-1), 30-20: Tasty QB duel reprises the 2016 college playoff semifinal won by Deshaun Watson’s Clemson over Baker Mayfield’s Oklahoma. Now Watson has directed eight wins in a row, and Mayfield looks like the gem of the ‘18 rookie class in leading Earthtones to respectability. But watch Texans’ pass rush tip this one.
@Titans (5-6, -7½) over Jets (3-8), 19-13: Planes are 1-4 on the road, and Tenners have won 13 of past 16 at home, with Sam Darnold’s iffy status the wild card here. NYJ has been awful the past five games but hunch they stay inside bet line in what should be low-scoring game.
Chiefs (9-2, -15½) over @Raiders (2-9), 48-16: Off a bye, K.C. is on a massive 19-1 run versus division opponents, and rarely in this long rivalry has one team been so good and the other so bad. Chiefs RB Kareen Hunt could score 40 fantasy points. as his is team guns for overall No. 1 seed.
@Patriots (8-3, -5½) over Vikings (6-4-1), 27-23: Quality matchup is Game of the Week first alternate. Tom Brady always the safe pick at home, where Pats have won 12 in a row. But Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs prersent XXL challenge for NE air defense. Outright upset in play, and lean Vikes with points.
@Seahawks (6-5, -10) over 49ers (2-9), 31-0: Richard Sherman makes his return to Seattle as a 49er. He won’t leave happy. Seahawks have won nine straight in this series, and San Fran is 0-6 on the road this year. Russell Wilson is hot, Nick Mullens is not, Niners are injury-wracked, and this will be ugly.
@Eagles (5-6, -6) over Redskins (6-5), 24-20: Monday night gets a huge game in a sadly wide-open NFC East. I like the over (43 points) in a game with two bad pass defenses, and on MNF, where scores tend to run high. Skins take a hit with Colt McCoy for Alex Smith but still should keep it close.