GREG COTE’S NFL WEEK 7 PICKS
DOLPHINS THIS WEEK: HOW TO MAKE A BYE WEEK EXCITING
Wait. Aren’t NFL bye weeks supposed to be quiet and uneventful? Not in Miami, baby! Here, we give you major news, cheering, heartache and controversy! Here, we give you high-drafted rookie Tua Tagovailoa named starting quarterback as (most) Dolfans cheer rapturously. Here, we give you demoted QB Ryan Fitzpatrick almost tearfully admitting the change shocked and hurt him. “It was heartbreaking for me,” he said. Wow. Just, wow. Miami takes the week off at a better than expected 3-3 after two consecutive wins, including Sunday’s 24-0 blanking of the sorry Jets. The Fins prepare for Tua’s first start a week from Sunday, here, vs. the Los Angeles Rams. As for the controversy? Fitzpatrick’s emotional, outspoken disappointment at being benched, whether intended or not, serves to put added pressure on coach Brian Flores for making the decision when he did — and, yes, added pressure on Tagovailoa to immediately justify said decision. I support the QB change. Flores has consistently said he would deploy the man who gave his team the best chance to win. If he says that man is now Tagovailoa, the coach has our benefit of doubt on that. In any case, Dolfans spend the bye week anxiously awaiting what is merely the most anticipated first start by a Miami Dolphins rookie since Dan Marino on October 9, 1983.
GAME OF THE WEEK
STEELERS (5-0) at TITANS (5-0)
Line: TEN by 1.
Cote’s pick: PIT 34-23.
TV: 1 p.m., CBS.
This is only the sixth time since the 1920s that two unbeaten teams have met this deep into a season, and on all five previous occasions at least one of those teams has reached the Super Bowl. Both offenses are scorching hot, with consecutive 38-point games by Steelers and back-to-back 42s from Titans. Bettors can’t make up their mind as the line swung from TEN favored by 1 1/2 to PIT by 1 1/2 back to Titans by 1. Each team has a major new injury — Steelers ILB Devin Bush, Titans LT Taylor Lewan — so call that a push. For me, this pick turns on Pittsburgh being clearly better on defense, with a run D well suited to limit Derrick Henry (although Bush’s absence hurts) and a league-leading sack unit that will make it a hectic day for Ryan Tannehill (especially without Lewan’s protection). Oh, and give me Ben Roethlisberger, please, vs. a Tenners secondary allowing the fifth-most air yards in the NFL. Titans’ 5-0 feels like a pleasant surprise, while Pitt’s 5-0 feels like a team with a championship shot. Watch that play out here.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
PACKERS (4-1) at TEXANS (1-5)
Line: GB by 3 1/2.
Cote’s pick: HOU 28-27.
TV: 1 p.m., Fox.
“AAAWWWK!” bellows the Upset Bird into an unmuted mic. “Houstaawwk!” The disparity in these teams’ won-lost records suggests the Gee Bees should be a significantly bigger favorite. That they aren’t, and that the line has not budged, is telling. It’s more than Pack getting beaten up so badly by Bucs last week. It’s that Texans are a dangerous 1-5, good enough to have lost by one score to Steelers and Titans. Good enough to be due some luck and a breakout result. Green Bay also is injury wracked, and now Aaron Rodgers’ most counted-on protector, LT David Bakhtiari, might be out. Yes, Aaron Jones vs. Houston’s run D is a matchup favoring Pack. But I’m hunching big games from Texans’ pass rush and from Deshaun Watson against a Cheesers secondary allowing opponents a 106.2 passer rating. “Yes, Deshaun Watson,” nods U-Bird. “Deshaawwk Waawwk!”
THE REST OF WEEK 7:
@Falcons (1-5, -2) over Lions (2-3), 30-24: A healthy (enough) Julio Jones was the rejuvenation Matt Ryan needed to finally get ATL off the winless schneid last week vs. Vikings. Now Atlanta should add some ground help and balance here with Todd Gurley facing a shoddy Motown run defense.
Browns (4-2, -3 1/2) over @Bengals (1-4-1), 27-23: Cleveland a wobbly-feeling 4-2 after blowout loss to Steelers revealed Earthtones as unready to play with the big boys. But Browns beat Gals 35-30 in September to make it four out of past five in Battle of Ohio rivalry. Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow both under siege from bad line play, but this game could turn on Kareem Hunt’s large day vs. Cincy’s bad run stoppage.
@Saints (3-2, -7 1/2) over Panthers (3-3), 24-20: N’Awlins has won two in a row and seven of past nine against Carolina, and Saints are rested coming off a bye. See Drew Brees relying a lot on Alvin Kamara to carry the load here. Bet line seems a bit bloated, though. Panthers are sneaky good, and their defense will deny a shootout.
Bills (4-2, -13 1/2) over @Jets (0-6), 28-16: Buffs have lost two in a row to good teams (Titans/Chiefs). Jets ain’t one of those. NYJ just got shut out by Miami as Adam Gase inched ever closer to the edge of the plank, sharks circling. Still, Bills beat Planes by a mere 27-17 in September, and rivals have gone back and forth for years. With Sam Darnold expected back and Buffalo’s defense almost astonishingly bad, heaven help me but I’m rollin’ bones on Jets covering.
Cowboys (2-4, +1) over @Washington (1-5), 19-16: Dallas, 2-4 and coming off a 38-10 loss, somehow leads the NFC Least. Washington, 1-5 after five straight losses, somehow is only one game back. Boys have won three in a row and seven of past eight in series and Washers have lost 13 of past 15 at home. Cure for Dallas’ awful defense is No Names’ putrid offense. Mini upset!
Buccaneers (4-2, -4) over @Raiders (3-2), 30-20: [Note: Game was moved from Sunday night to 4 p.m. slot in a COVID-related rescheduling]. In Super Bowl 37 Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers beat the Oakland Raiders he had left to coach Tampa. Eighteen years later, Gruden’s now-Las Vegas Raiders face Tampa Bay. Sidelight: Bucs QB Tom Brady (that still sounds strange) could become NFL’s all-time touchdown-pass leader for first time. Entered this week trailing Drew Brees 556 to 555. Brady is coming in off a resounding win over Packers. Gruden is in off a bye after an equally huge win over Chiefs. It’s a matchup of two big offenses here. Only one quality defense, though.
Chiefs (5-1, -10) over @Broncos (2-3), 27-20: Le’Veon Bell’s expected Chiefs debut spices this matchup, although can’t see Andy Reid taking too many touches from dynamic rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Chiefs have owned this rivalry, winning nine straight including five in row at Mile High. See a competitive game, though. Denver’s defense is solid, and Melvin Gordon-led ground game will eat clock vs. bad KC run D to help keep Patrick Mahomes off field.
@Patriots (2-3, -1 1/2) over 49ers (3-3, +1 1/2), 23-20: Jimmy Garoppolo vs. his former team adds flavor to a game that finds Patriots unusually desperate after rare back-to-back defeats. With Pats staggered and San Fran coming off nice win over Rams, bet line was halved down from three as the money chased Niners. RB Sony Michel on the COVID list further hurts Pats. Still leaning NE at home. Hard to fathom three consecutive L’s, see a bounceback game from Cam Newton ... and who knows how to defend Garoppolo better than Bill Belichick?
@Chargers (1-4, -7 1/2) over Jaguars (1-5), 38-13: High-flying rookie QB Justin Herbert is ready to pilot his first NFL win. Chargers, coming off a bye and with all four losses by one score, are not far from being good. Jacksonville is, off four bad performances in a row. Bolts beat Jags 45-10 last year and this one could be in same neighborhood.
Seahawks (5-0, -3 1/2) over @Cardinals (4-2), 37-30: [Note: Game was moved from 4 p.m. slot to Sunday night in a COVID-related rescheduling]. Can you say “over?” Russell Wilson and Hawks can score a ton, and Seattle’s pass D is awful and now faces Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins. Makes even a 56.5 over/under look small. Seattle is coming off bye and Zona played Monday night, so big rest/prep edge to the unbeaten team. Seahawks have won four in a row and six of past seven after a bye. Trust Chef Russ to keep cookin’ in Sunday’s prime time matchup.
@Rams (4-2, -6) over Bears (5-1), 19-16: Amid the highest-scoring season in NFL history we could be in for a defensive scrum Monday night as the teams of Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack butt helmets. I don’t know how Chicago has won five games (all by one score) with that sorry offense. But Bears’ D is good, with a secondary that could be a handful for Jared Goff. Two quality defenses here, but Rams have a lot more pop with the ball. See a low-point affair that stays inside the bet-line.
Colts (4-2) — Nags rallied past Cincy last week and have another winnable game on deck at Lions. Ouch but then Indy’s schedule toughens sharply.
Ravens (5-1) — Crows hung on to barely beat Philly last week. Were they glancing ahead to next week’s AFC North battle royale vs. the rival Steelers?
Vikings (1-5) — Loss to Falcons has majorly disappointing Vikes reeling, battered by Kirk Cousins’ interceptions. And up next? At Packers. Uh oh.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
We were an unacceptable 7-7 straight up last week and a somewhat more palatable 7-7 against the spread, fueled by a trio of dogs-with-points in covers by Broncos over Pats, Eagles over Ravens and 49ers over Rams. This perfectly describes my tough week overall: I pick Texans to beat Titans outright as my Upset of the Week. Texans lead by seven. Titans tie it with four seconds left then win in overtime. I don’t complain much because bounces and breaks go both ways, but that was tough, going from “Aawwk!” to aww. Nevertheless! We bounce back big is what we do, so let’s go! [Note: Thursday night pick was @Eagles (-4 1/2) over Giants, 31-17. Find the full preview and pick here].
Week 6: 7-7, .500 overall; 7-7, .500 vs. spread.
Season: 56-34-1, .622 overall; 46-43-2, .517 vs. spread.
Final 2019: 169-86-1, .663 overall; 129-120-7, .518 vs. spread.
Final 2018: 179-75-2, .705 overall; 145-104-7, .582 vs. spread.