Our lengthy recent hot streak cooled a bit in Week 15 as we went an OK 10-6 overall and rough 7-9 against the spread (including 0-4 ATS on Monday and Tuesday doubleheaders — I blame the rescheduling!).
Also saw the end of our fabulous six-game winning streak on Upset of the Week bull’s-eye when Patriots failed to win at Indy. Plenty of good, too, though. We nailed another outright (mini) upset with Steelers over Titans, and had quartet of ’dogs-with-points in covers by Lions, Jets, Texans and Ravens. (’Dogs are beating spread at 52.5% clip this season). Home stretch and time to finish strong. Thursday night pick was @Titans (+3½) over 49ers in 23-20 upset. Saturday picks were @Packers (11-3, -7½) over Browns (7-7), 34-12, and Colts (8-6, +1) over @Cardinals (10-4), 27-23.
GAME OF THE WEEK
BILLS (8-6) at PATRIOTS (9-5)
Line: NE by 2½. Cote’s pick: NE, 23-20.
Being from Miami, this may be parochial but battle for AFC East lead gets the GOTW nod as Bills try (again) to assert it is their time now, not still the Pats’. “We beg to differ,” says New England. Patriots won in Bufftown, 14-10, on Dec. 6 and are home now. They haven’t been great there (3-4), but Foxborough in deep winter is still an edge. Pats also have a smidgen more rest/prep time after playing last Saturday. That small edge, plus NE’s secondary to limit Josh Allen, plus Bill Belichick? Yes, please.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
RAVENS (8-6) at BENGALS (8-6)
Line: CIN by 3. Cote’s pick: BAL, 27-23.
“AAAWWWK!” carols the Upset Bird. “Baltimaaawwwk!” Our actual top upset might have been Titans +3½ over 49ers Thursday night, but this is our official pick. In any case we’ve been great on UOTWs this year, entering Week 16 at 10-5 outright and 11-3-1 against spread. This is for the lead in tight AFC North, and our upset call rests (hobbles?) solely on the tender ankle of QB Lamar Jackson. He plays, we like the pick. He doesn’t, we pray. Such is the peril of posting and locking in our picks on Thursdays. BAL has lost three straight by 1, 2 and 1 points because John Harbaugh’s daring has backfired. Still see this as better team than Cincy. May a healthy L-Jack prove it. “Yes,” concurs U-Bird. “L-Jaaawwwk!”
THE REST OF WEEK 16:
@Falcons (6-8, -5½) over Lions (2-11-1), 24-21: Detroit is 0-6-1 on road and ATL has lost seven of past eight at home, but give me Falcons to beat that trend. Especially with Lions QB Jared Goff iffy to clear COVID protocols and it being a sharp drop to inexperienced Tim Boyle. Both teams so erratic, though.
Rams (10-4, -3) over @Vikings (7-7), 28-24: Sneaky-big NFC playoff stakes with Rams tied atop their division and Vikes in tight wild-card chase. And Upset Bird is circling! Big chance for home-’dog Purples. Still, I trust LAR’s edge in both-sides quality and consistency.
@Jets (3-11, Even) over Jaguars (2-12), 19-16: Worst offense in league visits worst defense. Stoppable force meets movable object!
@Eagles (7-7, -10) over Giants (4-10), 24-10: With Daniel Jones shut down, look for Jake Fromm to make first start for NYG even if Mike Glennon (concussion) is cleared. Giants beat Birds, 13-7, in Week 12 but wild-card chasing Philly gets its revenge. Watch Eagles top 175 yards rushing for eighth straight game to tie record set by Dolphins and Pittsburgh in 1972.
Buccaneers (10-4, -10) over @Panthers (5-9), 24-16: How eager is Tom Brady to bounce back big after suffering his first shutout loss in 15 years? The answer spells this pick emphatically. Elite teams don’t often look bad twice in row, and Tampa’s 9-0 home loss to New Orleans was a stunner. Look for Sam Darnold to return from injury for Cats, likely off bench. Won’t matter if Brady is zoned in. But he’ll be missing WR Chris Godwin and RB Leonard Fournette to injury — and likely WR Mike Evans, too — so Carolina with points feels like the play.
Chargers (8-6, -10) over @Texans (3-11), 31-16: L.A. played last Thursday so has rest edge, but that’s offset by COVID-19 issues. Top sacker Joey Bosa (unvaccinated) is out; RB Austin Ekeler (vaxxed) is iffy but could be cleared. Bolts in a playoff fight and can’t afford a slip-up loss, and idea of Davis Mills outscoring Justin Herbert is silly.
@Seahawks (5-9, -6½) over Bears (4-10), 23-12: It’s the Sad Bowl Sponsored by Tears as Seattle stumbles to its first losing season since 2011 and Chicago is best of five teams mathematically out of playoff hunt. (Is Matt Nagy down to his last three games as CHI coach?)
@Chiefs (10-4), -8½) over Steelers (7-6-1), 27-17: Both teams have been hit by COVID-19 but KC harder — including the possible absence of both WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. Patrick Mahomes’ favorite targets combined last week had 22 catches for 339 yards (!) and three TDs. Their possible absence is why the bet number tumbled from 10½ to 7.
@Raiders (7-7, Even) over Broncos (7-7), 19-17: Denver QB Teddy Bridgewater won’t play, so Drew Lock makes first start of season after a trio of humdrum relief appearances. Vegas’ offense has produced only four TDs over past three games, but Broncos’ defense has sagged over same time period. Hey, it’s a rare pick-’em game for a reason. I’ll make it a venue call, and feel better about it if Raiders get back TE Darren Waller from injury for first time since Thanksgiving, as hoped.
@Cowboys (10-4, -10½) over Washington (6-8), 28-13: Sunday night stage could crown NFC East champ, with Dallas clinching with win (or earlier Sunday by Philly losing). Washington on short rest after playing Tuesday but expects boost with return of QB Taylor Heinicke off COVID list. Like home-’Boys for season sweep, fueled by that fierce defense. Big D has 12 takeaways (!) in past three games, and rookie LB Micah Parson should be on everybody’s DPOY short list.
Dolphins (7-7, -1½) over @Saints (7-7), 20-17: The Dolphins and their still-breathing playoff hopes got quite the early Christmas gift Thursday with the news that Ian Book would be starting at quarterback for New Orleans Monday night after both Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian were headed to COVID list. Book has never taken a snap as a pro. He’s so unknown even his parents were Googling his name. We kid. Notre Dame fans know him. But in NFL terms, he’s the rawest of fourth-round rookies. The huge break for Miami quickly flipped betting line from Fins as 3-point ’dogs to 1½-point faves.