BENGALS (2-8-1) at DOLPHINS (7-4)
Line: MIA by 11 1/2.
Cote's pick: MIA 26-0.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
You had been savoring a tantalizing platter of Joe Burrow vs. Tua Tagovailoa 1.0 in the maiden duel of the two high-drafted quarterbacks. You will be settling for Brandon Allen vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick off the undercard, with Allen subbing for the injured Burrow and Fitzpatrick likely again for Miami as Tagovailoa continues to nurse a hurt thumb. Tagovailoa is questionable as of Thursday afternoon, not ruled out, and could be a game-time decision, but Dolphins folks I have talked to say it's unlikely the club will take a chance and hurry his recovery. That Fitzpatrick is capable and the opponent is lousy eases that decision for sure. Though the job should be and will be Tagovailoa's when healthy, one advantage of another Fitz start on Sunday is that his chemistry with top WR DeVante Parker obviously is better at this point. Miami also should be able to get it's modest ground attack going against a really poor Cincy run defense. The greatest mismatch might be on the other side. Cannot see the Gals' offense and Allen, in his fifth career start, doing much at all against Miami's pass rush and stout secondary. Fins are on a 9-1 roll when favored at home and should keep that streak going without much fret.
GAME OF THE WEEK
RAMS (7-4) at CARDINALS (6-5)
Line: LAR by 3.
Cote's pick: LAR 24-20.
TV: 4:05 p.m., Fox.
Despite 15 games on the Week 13 NFL card there wasn't an obvious Game of the Week that jumped out and slapped us, so here you are: A quality division game that will find the loser feel its grip on the playoff loosen. Arizona has lost two in a row and three of past four as young QB Kyler Murray has ebbed from wunderkind to mortal lately. It won't help him that Rams expect top CB Jalen Ramsey back from a hip injury just in time to neutralize (he hopes) Cards star WR DeAndre Hopkins. L.A. fell to nemesis 49ers last week but tends to bounce back big — Rams have not lost two in a row all season — and their big edge on defense tips this pick. Rams have beaten Cardbirds six in a row. Make it seven.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
COLTS (7-4) at TEXANS (4-7)
Line: IND by 3.
Cote's pick: HOU 30-27.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
"AAAWWWK!" booms the Upset Bird. "Sorry, Indianapolis. Indianapolaaawwwk!" Colts' supposedly elite defense got exposed big-time by Tennessee last week, while Houston was winning a second consecutive game and third in the past four. Two things make us nervous about this pick: 1) Deshaun Watson has lost top WR Will Fuller to a season-ending PED suspension. And 2) Colts get back top RB Jonathan Taylor off the COVID list. Still, Texans are rested after playing on Thanksgiving and ready to keep the recent turnaround going. At least that's what it says here, anyway. "Not hearing a ton of confidence in this pick," notes a smirking U-Bird. "Deshaawwk! Houstaaawwwk!"
THE REST OF WEEK 13:
Saints (9-2, -2 1/2) over @Falcons (4-7), 23-20: N'Awlins handled Atlanta 24-9 just three weeks ago, but rematch is a tough call with high upset potential — especially if Falcs have iffy Julio Jones and Todd Gurley back from injury. ATL is 4-2 since 0-5 start and crushed Raiders last week. Stick with Saints on a 5-1 series run and an 11-1 roll on road, but with trepidation.
@Bears (5-6, -3) over Lions (4-7), 24-16: Sad Bowl matchup of division rivals who have played their way out of much hope, Chitown with five straight L's and Motown on 1-4 skid. Lions played Thursday and Bears on Sunday night, but despite that edge for Detroit, see Bears D as the difference in fashioning defeat for Lions new interim coach Darrell Bevell. Mitchell Trubisky back at QB for CHI, but David Montgomery vs. DET's sad run stoppage will be bigger factor.
@Titans (8-3, -6) over Browns (8-3), 32-21: Our Game of the Week runner-up in a slim week for marquee-grabbing matchups — but Derrick Henry vs. Nick Chubb/Kareem Hunt spices a rare duel of run-first offenses. TEN has stacked impressive wins against Ravens and Colts while CLE enters on a three-game winning streak. Earthtones get sackman Myles Garrett back off COVID list, but ride Titans' big edge on offense.
@Vikings (5-6, -10 1/2) over Jaguars (1-10), 28-20: Minny has won four of past five to enter wild-card chase, and gets WR Adam Thielen back. Sinking Jax just fired its GM. A blowout would not surprise, yet I'm hunching Jags with a double-digit head start. Their D has been better the past month, and recent losses to Texans, Packers and Browns have been by eight combined points.
Raiders (6-5, -9) over @Jets (0-11), 24-16: Tried to talk myself into a major outright upset pick here. Came at it from all angles, looking for a way. Vegas just lost 43-6 to Atlanta, NYJ way overdue, et cetera. Sorry. No sale. Maybe it's that I just saw how Sam Darnold looked against Miami? I'll hedge with a Planes cover against the spread, though.
@Seahawks (8-3, -10) over Giants (4-7), 34-13: NYG has surged to lead in NFC Least with three consecutive wins. But all good things must end, right? Russell Wilson-to-DK Metcalf looks unstoppable, and Seattle's recent major uptick in its pass rush will be a problem for Biggies QB Colt McCoy as he subs for injured Daniel Jones.
@Packers (8-3, -8 1/2) over Eagles (3-7-1), 27-20: Can you imagine Carson Wentz and his NFL-leading 15 interceptions somehow outscoring great-as-ever Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau where the Pack is on a 10-1 run? Yeah, me neither. But Philly gets TE Zach Ertz back (that's huge for Wentz) and has a good enough defense to stay in this and sneak in under the betting line.
Patriots (5-6, even) over @Chargers (3-8), 19-17: Cam Newton was abysmal last week yet Pats beat Arizona (as I predicted), which underlines that Bill Belichick (post-Tom Brady) is still sort of finding a way. NE has the pass defense to neutralize LAC's strength, which is Justin Herbert. And the coaching disparities don't get much wider than Belichick vs. Anthony Lynn, which matters in a rare pick-'em game.
@Chiefs (10-1, -14) over Broncos (4-7), 41-10: Denver QB Drew Lock will be back off COVID list for Sunday's prime-time game — but might wish he wasn't vs. Chiefs' pocket-busting pass rush. K-City's past three wins have been by nine total points, but that only means Chiefs are due a blowout. K.C. is on a 24-3 run within the AFC West including recent domination of Broncos. Expect more.
@Steelers (11-0, -8 1/2) over Washington (4-7), 24-17: Monday night's early game is a strange matchup, with Washington having played on Thanksgiving Day and Pittsburgh this Wednesday night — a near-full-week's rest/prep advantage for the visiting No-Names. Washers have won their past two games and bring a credible enough defense to keep this one inside the Vegas number.
@49ers (5-6, +1) over Bills (8-3), 23-20: Monday night's late game will be a Niners homie but played in Arizona because Santa Clara County banned contact sports on account of COVID. San Fran upset the Rams last week and will need that same defensive intensity to do it again vs. Buffs. Bills have holes on defense that well-coached SF will exploit. Upset!
@Ravens (6-5, -7) over Cowboys (3-8), 27-16: Game is Tuesday night, but still a short week for Ravens, who played this Wednesday night. Four losses in past five games have BAL precariously dangling on edge of playoff contention. Luckily, Crows expect QB Lamar Jackson back off the COVID list. That's huge, and Ravens are too good — and too desperate — to lose again.
[Point spreads used are courtesy Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill as of Thursday afternoon.]
Buccaneers (7-5) — Tom Brady's 27-24 G.O.A.T. Bowl loss to Patrick Mahomes and Chiefs made it two straight L's and three in past four games for Tampa. Next: Vs. Vikings.
Panthers (4-8) — Carolina has dropped six of past seven with that 1-point loss to Minnesota, and cascaded from any real shot at playoff contention. On deck: Vs. Broncos.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
We were a robust 13-3 overall in elongated Week 12 — our second-best week of the season straight-up — but an unlucky 8-8 against the point spread. Unlucky? We had Denver covering at home vs. Saints — before all the Broncos QBs went on the COVID list and a wide receiver took snaps to abysmal results. Unlucky II: Lost another cover when our pick came before Ravens lost QB Lamar Jackson to COVID and the line changed dramatically. Could-a/should-a been 10-6 ATS, but we don't change/update picks. Such is the peril of predicting NFL games on Thursday afternoons in a pandemic-rocked season. Still, we nailed our Pats over Cardinals Upset of the Week ("Aawwk!"), bull's-eyed another outright upset with Redskins over Cowboys, and had a trio of 'dogs-with-points in covers by Bengals, Jaguars and 49ers. Also: Had Miami beating Jets by 18; margin was 17. Solid week despite the devil's luck. [Note: There was no Thursday night game this week].
Week 12: 13-3, .813 overall; 8-8, .500 vs. spread.