Weekend Predictions: Close losses for Falcons, Georgia Tech

Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) signals after a first down during the first half against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Miguel Martinz/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) signals after a first down during the first half against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Miguel Martinz/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

The recent lull has outsiders wondering whether expectations are too high. Sure, the results have been great in the past, and there’s enough talent to win big again. But it’s hard to ignore the obvious flaws that have surfaced. The reality is that Weekend Predictions is stuck in a rut.

Also, Georgia has been just OK, and the Braves are wobbling to the finish.

I’ve posted 4-4-1 records in back-to-back weeks on picks against the spread. It would have been a winning week last time out if I’d gotten the right number for the Packers in their one-point loss to the Falcons. I picked Green Bay -1.5, then the line moved to Packers +3 as the team’s injury report worsened late in the week.

I won’t use that as an excuse. Instead, I’ll offer it as an explanation. That’s different from an excuse because it means it’s not my fault.

Falcons (+3) at Lions

In Week 1, Panthers rookie Bryce Young telegraphed passes on two interceptions and the Falcons recovered both of their fumbles. In Week 2, the Packers dropped two passes that Desmond Ridder threw right at them. If you think I’m bitter about those plays because I picked against the Falcons then you’re right, but it’s also true that they’ve been lucky. Are the Falcons good?

Evidence in favor includes their No. 3 ranking in yards allowed per play, a strong ground game and Ridder’s performance against the Packers when he had time to throw (excluding the two turnover-worthy passes). I want to say the Lions will take advantage of the Falcons’ pass-protection issues, but they couldn’t do it against Seattle’s backup tackles in Week 2. I like the Falcons to lose, but cover.

Alabama-Birmingham (+42½) at No. 1 Georgia

Georgia coach Kirby Smart admitted his team didn’t meet his expectations after their victory over South Carolina. Smart’s usual routine is to say the Bulldogs play to a certain standard and, when they fail to do it in a win, pivot to wondering why anyone would complain. By Wednesday, Smart was talking about how injuries have affected his team’s preparation. That’s funny to hear from a coach with an overwhelming advantage in player talent for every game so far.

It does feel as if Georgia is close to breaking out and running up the score. UAB roughly as good as Ball State, which pushed as a 42-point underdog versus Georgia by cowardly kicking a late field goal, and yes, I’m still upset about it. I’m taking the Bulldogs and giving the points again.

Georgia Tech (+3½) at Wake Forest

Tech coach Brent Key said his team is good and just needs to play it for an entire game. Seems to me the latter is necessary before Key can say the former. Key is giving off Stuart Smalley vibes. If you don’t get that joke, then it’s your fault for not remembering a mildly amusing “Saturday Night Live” character from 30 years ago.

The Yellow Jackets have lost both games against Power 5 opponents. They gave up 39 points to Louisville’s decent offense and 48 points to Ole Miss’ excellent offense. Wake Forest’s offense is somewhere in between. Tech’s offense has been better than I expected this early in the season, but the Demon Deacons get enough stops to cover the spread in a close game.

Other college games of interest

No. 4 Florida State (-2½) at Clemson

The latest “Seminoles are back” campaign nearly went off the rails when Boston College rallied in the fourth quarter last weekend before losing 31-29. “I think it was definitely a lesson learned,” FSU star Jared Verse told reporters. “You can’t look down on any opponent you go up against.” I’m not sure why a program that last played for a national title a decade ago would do that, but OK. I’m taking Clemson and the points.

No. 6 Ohio State (-3½) at No. 9 Notre Dame

The Athletic reports that Notre Dame officials were so shaken by Georgia fans taking over their stadium in 2017 that they’ve tried to come up with a plan to prevent Buckeyes supporters from doing the same. That strategy does not include denying season tickets to Notre Dame fans who resell them, so get ready to see a lot of red again Saturday. The Fighting Irish will cover, anyway.

No. 19 Colorado (+21) at No. 10 Oregon

Many college football programs put players in hotels before home games to avoid distractions, but Colorado coach Deion Sanders is an innovator. He invites the distractions into his locker room. Visiting celebrities rubbed elbows with Colorado players before they played three-touchdown underdog Colorado State. The Buffaloes started sluggishly before winning in double overtime. The party’s over for Colorado this week as Oregon covers.

Arkansas (+17½) at No. 12 LSU

LSU bounced back from the season-opening beatdown by Florida State by hanging 72 points on Grambling and then winning impressively at Mississippi State last weekend. LSU coach Brian Kelly told reporters a slow start should be no surprise: “With 14 transfers and the amount of freshmen that we were going to have to play, that’s a red flag.” Kelly will have to come up with a new excuse when the Tigers lose two more games and end up in the Birmingham Bowl. Arkansas is the pick.

No. 15 Ole Miss (+7) at No. 13 Alabama

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin suggested that Alabama defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is no longer calling plays. Nick Saban tried to set the record straight in his usual convoluted, corporate-speak way: “(Steele) has all the defensive coordinator responsibilities. The only thing that we tried to improve on from an administrative standpoint, it was game-day administration of getting the signals in quicker.” Maybe it’s better for Steele if he doesn’t get credit for running the defense that was shredded by Texas. Bama is the pick.

Auburn (+8½) at Texas A&M

Auburn is a very quiet 3-0. That’s probably a good thing for a drama-drenched program that hired the morally challenged Huge Freeze as coach. The Tigers pulled out a narrow victory at Cal in their last road game. Texas A&M has a much better defense than Cal, but I still like Auburn with the points.

Other NFL games of interest

Saints (+1½) at Packers

New Orleans is 2-0. The worst part about that is it doesn’t allow me to fully enjoy ex-Saints villain Sean Payton’s 0-2 start as Broncos coach. I want everyone associated with Bountygate to lose, but unfortunately, it appears Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has a good team again. The Packers are my pick.

Panthers (+6½) at Seahawks

Bryce Young was better versus the Saints than he was against the Falcons. The Panthers still lost that very boring Monday night game. I’m now 0-2 when picking Young’s team. This time I’m picking against the Panthers, even though I wasn’t impressed by Seattle against the Lions.

Last week: 4-4-1 (12-11-2 season)