There will be no postseason championships this year for the local sports teams, but there’s still plenty of intrigue. It will be exciting to see if Georgia will care enough to show up for the Sugar Bowl, if the Falcons will blow their chances for a high draft pick and if the Braves will pay up for a good third baseman. There’s nothing predictable about any of that.
The Falcons (4-9) are facing a tough test at San Francisco on Sunday. The 49ers (11-2) lead the race for the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed. They close with the Rams (8-5) at home and at Seattle (10-3) so it won’t be easy to win out. But San Francisco can count on coach Kyle Shanahan to hold that lead.
Weekend Predictions is coming off its fourth losing week of the season. It’s probably too late to blow my winning record (107-80-6) against the spread. But next week I will make picks for all 40 FBS bowl games so there’s still a chance for a complete collapse.
Falcons (+11½) at 49ers
The Falcons are 3-2 since their bye week. After Week 14 they had the second-most difficult schedule by measure of opponent winning percentage (.555). Their 11 opponents had a combined record of 71-59-1 (.546) against teams other than the Falcons. The Falcons beat the Saints and lost by seven to the Seahawks after Devonta Freeman fumbled at the goal line. I almost talked myself into believing the Falcons are not as bad as they seem, but the 49ers are too good to fade. San Francisco covers.
Colts (+9) at Saints
The Saints (10-3) will be no worse than the No. 3 playoff seed in the NFC. They still have a chance for the top seed, though blowing the game against the 49ers on Sunday hurt that cause. Coach Sean Payton wants his team to focus on the Colts and not worry about what happens with San Francisco, Seattle and Green Bay (10-3). “Yeah, I’m paying attention, I’m not going to lie,” left tackle Terron Armstead told nola.com. Payton’s message is really getting through. Colts cover.
Buccaneers (-3½) at Lions
Bucs QB Jameis Winston threw for 456 yards and four touchdowns during the victory over the Colts on Sunday. He also had three interceptions, including his fifth pick six of the season. The Tampa Bay Times wonders: “How sustainable is the Jameis Winston Experience?” It’s not, but I hope the Bucs keep Winston around. It’s fun watching him pull them out of holes that he created and then dig some more. I’ll take the Bucs and give the points.
Seahawks (-6) at Panthers
In retrospect, former Panthers coach Ron Rivera got a lot of mileage out of his one Super Bowl appearance. The Panthers had a losing record in five of his eight full seasons and they were 5-7 when he got fired last week. Then again, Rivera had three of the franchise’s seven winning seasons since its inaugural season in 1995 and four of its eight playoff appearances. It’s hard to trust Seattle as a big road favorite but I can’t back the Panthers after watching them fold against the Falcons. Seahawks cover.
Other NFL games of interest
Patriots (-9½) at Bengals
The Patriots are under investigation by the NFL after a video crew working for the team got caught in the press box filming the Bengals’ sideline on Sunday. Coach Bill Belichick says he had nothing to do with it and insists the Pats learned their lesson from the “Spygate” scandal. I thought they did, too, so I’m surprised the Pats weren’t more careful with their latest scheme. The Pats have lost two in a row but I’m backing them as a big road favorite because the Bengals got blown out by the two good opponents they’ve played at home (49ers and Ravens).
Bears (+4½) at Packers
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky gets a lot of criticism but he’s 18-8 as the starter since the beginning of the 2018 season. That’s proof that people really underestimate how little QB record can mean. Trubisky has played well during Chicago’s three-game winning streak by his standards, which are low. That’s enough to create some excitement for the Bears, whose franchise leader in passing yards and TDs is Jay Cutler. I’m taking Green Bay and giving the points.
Texans (+3) at Titans
Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill joins Trubisky on the list of bad quarterbacks who suddenly are playing well. Tannehill’s emergence is easier to buy because it really might be a matter of escaping the Dolphins dumpster fire. The Titans have won four games in a row and six of seven since Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota as starter. Houston’s defense is leaking oil, so I’ll take the Titans to cover and take control of the AFC South.
Broncos (+9½) at Chiefs
Broncos rookie QB Drew Lock passed for 309 yards and three touchdowns during their 38-24 victory at Houston on Sunday. After blowing it on several tall, stiff quarterbacks maybe Broncos GM John Elway finally got it right with a tall, athletic quarterback who’s never been an accurate passer. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes might still be hampered by a hand injury that forced him to stick to shorter throws during the victory at New England on Sunday. I’ll take Denver and the points.
Dolphins (+3½) at Giants
The Dolphins (3-10) nearly blew their draft positioning last weekend but escaped with a 22-21 loss when the Jets made a field goal with three seconds left. Miami has been less bad on offense since QB Ryan Fitzpatrick supplanted Josh Rosen. You’ll recall that the Cardinals gave up on Rosen after one season and traded him to the Dolphins, who benched him after three starts. I like Miami with the points.
Browns (-2½) at Cardinals
Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. reportedly has been telling opposing players that he wants out of Cleveland. Beckham wasn’t happy playing for the Giants, who traded him to the Browns in March. He probably thought he was headed to a better situation but already he’s figured out that nothing good ever happens for the Browns. There’s no way I’ll regret taking Cleveland and giving the points.
Eagles (-4½) at Redskins
The Eagles (6-7) kept their playoff hopes alive with an overtime victory against the Giants on Monday. They were helped by three players that used to be on Philadelphia’s practice squad. Coach Doug Pederson said he wasn’t surprised by that because those players’ teammates saw how well they performed in practice. Maybe Eagles players should pick the lineup instead of the coaches. Philadelphia covers.
Last week: 5-7-1 (107-80-6)
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