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GREG COTE’S NFL CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND PLAYOFF PICKS
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK
While the most exciting playoff weekend in NFL history riveted America and left the final four teams playing this Sunday to reach the Super Bowl, the Miami Dolphins continued homing in on their next head coach. And emerging reports suggest the frontrunner may be Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, said to be a strong believer in Tua Tagovailoa. Readers of mine ought not be surprised. Inviting you back to our January 12 column headlined Why Brian Daboll, key to Unlocking Tua, is Dolphins’ best way out of coach mess they’ve made.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
No. 4 seed BENGALS (12-7) at No. 2 CHIEFS (14-5)
Line: KC by 7 1/2.
Cote’s pick: KC, 31-27.
TV: 3 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
The opener of NFL’s Championship Sunday figures as the more exciting game of doubleheader if you like your gunslingers slingin’ and plenty of points. Patrick Mahomes faces Bengals’ 26th-ranked pass defense. Joe Burrow will see a Chiefs secondary rated 27th -- and perhaps missing top safety Tyrann Mathieu, who’s been in concussion protocol. Cincinnati advanced by upsetting No. 1 seed Tennessee 19-16, somehow winning despite Burrow being sacked playoff-record nine-times, but points-in-the-teens won’t win this one. Kansas City, of course, held off Buffalo 42-36 in OT in that epic finish, Mahomes needing only 13 seconds for winning drive. Chiefs aim for third straight Super Bowl appearance, while Cinderella ‘Gals are playing AFC title for first time since 1988 -- a clear stage-comfort edge to home team. But Cincy may be better-rested after playing early last Saturday while KC played late Sunday. Bengals upset Chiefs 34-31 In Week 17 because Burrow beat KC’s blitz. Key here will be pressuring Burrow without blitzing vs. that sieve of a Cincy O-line. I trust Mahomes and his team’s postseason experience, at home. But the bet-line disrespects a Cincy squad that believes in itself, can score in bunches and has a big edge rush on a defense that’s been really stout the second half of the season.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
No. 6 seed 49ERS (12-7) at No. 4 RAMS (14-5)
Line: LAR by 3 1/2.
Cote’s pick: LAR, 24-20.
TV: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox.
San Fran is a pretty trendy upset pick in this one among my fellow prognosticators, mainly because Kyle Shanahan has owned his buddy Sean McVay lately, with six straight wins in their NFC West rivalry. Niners have marshaled some mojo getting this far from the second-lowest seed, and now seem to be firmly in the head of their next opponent. Beyond that, SF advancing with that 13-10 win over Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay at Lambeau Field was a gold star for the 49ers’ defense. L.A. impressed by upsetting Tom Brady and Bucs 30-27 in Tampa -- but only after squandering a 27-3 lead and hanging on. Niners had some injury questions with LT Trent Williams and offensive spark Deebo Samuel but both seem good to go. So, yeah, I get why San Fran is a very tempting upset pick. But I won’t succumb! Jimmy Garoppolo had very little do with 49ers beating Packers, while Matthew Stafford-to-Cooper Kupp has been unstoppable and better than ever in posteason. If Rams can rise up at home and match Niners’ physicality on defense, I just don’t see a way Garoppolo outscores Stafford. Also have a strong hunch about that series trend. It feels so ripe to end. McVay and the Rams are too good to not do it here, with a Super Bowl in their home stadium the prize.
[Note: Betting lines are courtesy Caesars Sportsbook as of early-afternoon Thursday].
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
Sorry, no space left to talk about last week. (Oh how I wish). Yeah we laid a goose egg in the Divisional Round. Got all four games wrong. This is our 31st season of NFL picks in the Herald (since 1991) and I don’t ever remember rolling an 0-4 in the postseason. Granted, there were three upsets, but I didn’t see any of ‘em. The upset I did predict was Bills winning, and I missed that one by 13 seconds. (I refuse to brag about almost being 1-3, which would be its own brand of sad). People, all I can do is shake it off, look in the mirror, slap myself in the face, and run the doggone table from here. Let’s go!
Divisional Round: 0-4, .000 overall; 0-4, .000 vs. spread.
Playoffs: 4-6, .400 overall; 3-7, .300 vs. spread.
Final Regular Season: 172-99-1, .635 overall; 140-130-2, .519 vs. spread.
Final 2020 Season: 166-89-1, .651 overall; 130-120-6, .520 vs. spread.