AFC: CHARGERS (13-4, No. 5) AT PATRIOTS (11-5, No. 2)
Line: NE by 4
Cote’s pick: NE 27-20
TV: 1:05 p.m., 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 Tom Brady. 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 the road; New England has been better at home. I would also note that Rivers 1-7 in his career vs. the Pats, including 0-2 in playoffs, and it’s 0-7 directly against Brady. The forecast of cold weather 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.
NFC: EAGLES (10-7, No. 6) AT SAINTS (13-3, No. 1)
Line: NO by 8
Cote’s pick: NO 30-20
TV: 4:40 p.m., 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 have 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.