The Georgia Bulldogs are 3-4 in their seven SEC Championship game appearances.

Weekend Reflections: Georgia is being underestimated against LSU

What I think about some things I saw over the weekend . . . 

Las Vegas sportsbooks on Sunday morning had  LSU as a consensus four-point favorite against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The line was LSU minus-7 by the afternoon, before settling at LSU minus-6-1/2 late Saturday night. No doubt, the Tigers (12-0) are worthy favorites.

They have their best-ever offense. Their quarterback, Joe Burrow, is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Those things have been more than enough to make up for LSU’s uncharacteristically vulnerable defense. 

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (11-1) are elite defensively but their offense is uninspiring. Their quarterback, Jake Fromm, has been uncharacteristically inaccurate. That was true even before Georgia’s best wide receiver (Lawrence Cager) was ruled out with an ankle injury and its second-best receiver (George Pickens) got himself suspended for the first half by picking a fight against Georgia Tech. 

Those are good reasons why LSU is favored against Georgia. But are they really a touchdown better? I don’t think so, and there are some numbers that agree. 

Bill Connelly’s SP+ efficiency model has LSU favored by about 2-1/2 points with a 54 percent chance to win. ESPN’s Football Power Index says LSU has a 55.7 percent chance of winning, which translates to a point spread of about 2-1/2 points. FiveThirtyEight’s projection gives LSU a 57 percent chance of winning, which is a spread of about three points. 

The actual point spread is 3-1/2 to four points higher than those projections. Something is off here. Is it the sports books and betting public, or the math? 

Maybe it’s recency bias. LSU just hammered Texas A&M, which had a chance to win at Sanford Stadium the week before. I believe it’s unwise to draw strong conclusions from two games with different circumstances, but not everyone feels the same way. 

The projection formulas don’t consider injuries. But absence of Cager and Pickens (for a half) shouldn’t move the needle that much. Star tailback D’Andre Swift (shoulder) is another matter. Georgia coach Kirby Smart says he expects Swift to be “fine” but he isn’t offering any details, so who knows what that means. 

Still, I think the Bulldogs are being underestimated in this game. LSU piled up 508 yards against Auburn, the best defense it’s faced, but scored just 23 points because of two turnovers. Georgia’s defense is even better. And Tigers have surrendered significant points to teams with lesser offenses than UGA’s. 

The Bulldogs have a great defense, a fine kicker, a very good punt team and a QB who rarely makes big mistakes. Those are assets they can use to upset LSU. The Tigers should be favored to beat Georgia, but not by a touchdown. 

Hawks guard Trae Young is averaging 28.4 points per game.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Trae Young is great but the Hawks are bad

Trae Young scored 49 points on 28 shots Friday as the Hawks pushed a good Indiana team to overtime before losing. The next night Young scored 37 points on 16 shots at Houston, a title contender, but the Hawks got drilled by 47 points. That’s been the pattern for the Hawks, who are tied with the Knicks for the worst record in the Eastern Conference (4-16) after losing 10 games in a row by an average margin of 19.1 points. 

Some of those nights it seemed the Hawks could be a solid team when starters John Collins (suspension) and Kevin Heuerter (shoulder) return to play alongside Young. In other games their problems appeared too numerous for those two to make a big difference. 

After playing nearly a quarter of their schedule the Hawks are last in point differential (-11.3). They rank next-to-last in defensive efficiency. And with the current active roster the Hawks can’t count on consistent offensive production from anyone except Young. 

He’s averaging 28.4 points per game while ranking in the 90th percentile for scoring efficiency among point guards, according to Cleaning the Glass. Young’s 38.7 percent shooting on 3-pointers is the best for high-usage players and his volume is third. Sometimes Young’s shot selection and care with the ball are not good at winning time, but it’s hard to fault him when he’s doing so much, including creating quality shots for teammates. 

Huerter told Fox Sports South that he could return this week. Collins has 11 games left in his suspension for a positive test for growth hormone. Their return to the starting lineup should help the Hawks in some areas where they’ve struggled. 

Both Huerter and Collins are good 3-point shooters (the Hawks are tied for last in the NBA in accuracy). Collins is good on the boards (the Hawks are last in defensive rebounding percentage) and provides scoring punch for a big man rotation that’s been inconsistent beyond Jabari Parker. Huerter can take some pressure off Young by being a secondary play-maker (the Hawks are next-to-last in turnover percentage). 

The Hawks were competitive when with both Huerter and Collins playing in the first six games. They won at Denver without Collins and with Huerter out for most of the second half. With both players out, the Hawks have been getting blown out pretty much every other night despite Young’s superlative play. 

VIDEO: Falcons coach Dan Quinn discusses the loss to the Saints and the disappointing season. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter.

The Falcons gained in NFL Draft standings 

The Falcons were officially eliminated from the playoffs with their Thanksgiving Day loss to the Saints. After a brief interruption, we can return to speculating about their chances of drafting Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young. The Falcons don’t have to take Young but, if they don’t, it would be malpractice for whichever football executive is making that decision. 

Anyway, the Falcons (3-9) gained ground in the draft standings over the weekend when the Bengals beat the Jets for their first victory of the season. The Bengals (1-11) are a game ahead of the Giants (2-11) and the Falcons are tied with the Dolphins and Washington. Four teams are tied at 4-8. 

NFL standings

As things stand now, the Falcons would draft fifth based on the strength of schedule tiebreaker, according to Tankathon. In that scenario, the Falcons would almost no chance of drafting Young. The Bengals and Dolphins will be looking for quarterbacks, but the Giants and Washington won’t be, so the Falcons need to move up in the draft order to nab Young. 

Their remaining schedule isn’t tough. Next week the Falcons are at the 49ers, the NFC’s best team, but the other three future opponents have losing records. The Falcons already beat the Panthers, who come here Sunday. The Jaguars have a worse point differential (-72) than the Falcons (-63). The Bucs followed their victory here with a convincing win at the Jaguars but still have been outscored on the season. 

The Falcons are favored by two points against Carolina. They’ll be heavy underdogs at San Francisco. They should be a slight favorite at home vs. Jacksonville and an underdog at Tampa. Splitting the last four may not be good enough for the Falcons to win the Race for Chase. 

My Weekend Predictions went 8-5 

bounced back from a losing week picking games against the spread. Georgia easily covered as a huge road favorite at Georgia Tech. Georgia State couldn’t keep up with Georgia Southern. I faded the Falcons as seven-point underdogs and they came through by immediately allowing a blocked punt that led to a touchdown and holding on to lose by eight.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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