Weekend Predictions: Count on Dogs, but not underdog Falcons

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) walks off the field after 24-9 loss to the Saints Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Brett Duke/AP)
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) walks off the field after 24-9 loss to the Saints Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Brett Duke/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

We’ve reached an inevitable point of college football’s farcical season. Coaches who send out their coronavirus-depleted roster of unpaid players to play are hailed as brave. Programs that believe that may not be such a good idea are assailed as cowards.

Do our bread and circuses have to be so stupid? At least at the end of this fiasco we can crown the least legitimate champion of the College Football Playoff era.

In a development that complicates Dabo Swinney’s everlasting desire to play the victim, No. 3 Clemson (7-1) was one spot ahead of Ohio State (4-0) in the initial CFP ranking. Committee members ranked BYU (9-0) No. 14, lower than three teams with two losses. They ranked Oregon (3-0) No. 15 so they can pretend they aren’t again confirming that a non-Power 5 school will never make the CFP.

My Weekend Predictions hot streak ended with a 5-5 record against the spread last weekend. I couldn’t know that Georgia would find its quarterback at the same time its defense wilted. I knew the Falcons would fold after halftime at New Orleans and extend my losing streak picking their games to six. Just take the opposite side from the one I choose.

Raiders (-3) at Falcons

Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden is proving that he still can lead a team to mediocrity if given enough time. The Raiders (6-4) might be better than that — it owns victories over the Saints and Chiefs — but I’m suspicious of the plus-10 point differential. In Sunday night’s rematch with the Chiefs, the Raiders gave up a 75-yard touchdown drive when leading by three points with 1:43 to go.

I want to believe the Falcons (3-7) can take advantage of that suspect defense. That’s hard to do when Julio Jones (hamstring) played only 22 snaps after a bye week. Maybe the offense just had a bad day in New Orleans, but seeing Taysom Hill tear it up after halftime makes me think Raiders QB Derek Carr will do it all game. I’m taking Vegas to cover.

No. 9 Georgia (-21½) at South Carolina

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart became defensive when asked why the five-star UGA quarterback who looked great when he got his chance was on the bench for so long. Can’t blame Smart for being a bit touchy about Justi. ... uh, JT Daniels. Perhaps he’d rather talk about Mississippi State gaining two more yards per play against his defense than it did vs. Vanderbilt.

The Gamecocks (2-6) have surrendered a lot of points to every good offense they’ve faced. Mike Bobo’s offense has shown life at times. South Carolina had a better team when it beat UGA last season. I’m banking on a better defensive effort by UGA and for the offensive revival to continue. Bulldogs cover.

Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) competes a pass to against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) competes a pass to against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Duke (even) at Georgia Tech

Duke coach David Cutcliffe called Tech “a well-coached, good football team” while insisting that’s not “coach talk.” The Yellow Jackets (2-5) have committed the second -most penalties per game in the ACC and the fifth-most turnovers. It’s possible Cutcliffe is right about the Jackets, and I just don’t remember because they haven’t played since Halloween.

I vaguely recall that Tech’s defense was solid in the loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 31 while its offense couldn’t do much against a great defense. Duke (2-6) is bad at scoring for the first time in a long time. I’ll take Tech to win a low-scoring game.

Georgia Southern (+2) at Georgia State

I was impressed by how Georgia State (4-4) dominated the fourth quarter to win at South Alabama last weekend. That’s three good efforts in three games for the Panthers since they lost 51-0 to Coastal Carolina on their field. I accept no responsibility if picking them to win and cover against Georgia Southern (6-3) ends that trend.

Other college games of interest:

No. 22 Auburn (+24½) at No. 1 Alabama

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is 3-4 against Nick Saban’s Alabama teams, including two victories in the past three meetings. Maybe he fares better against Bama than Saban’s former assistants because he cares about offense. Then again, Auburn’s defense has been the better side of the ball for a while now. It’s not good enough this year to prevent the Crimson Tide from covering.

No. 2 Notre Dame (-5) at No. 19 North Carolina

Texas coach Tom Herman is spending time addressing what he called baseless rumors about his shaky job security. Meanwhile Mack Brown — fired at Texas after an 8-5 season in 2013 that matches its second-best since then — might get a statue in Chapel Hill. He built the Tar Heels up in the 1990s before going to Texas, then left the TV booth to come back and build them up again. Give me UNC and the points.

Pittsburgh (+24) at No. 3 Clemson

Swinney was still smirking and smack-talking Florida State four days after the Seminoles canceled a game against Clemson. That day he accused FSU’s administration of using a positive test for a Clemson player as an excuse not to play. On Tuesday, Swinney took a shot at the ‘Noles for having three coaches in four years. By Thursday I suspect he’ll be talking about their mommas. I prefer my coaching villains to be clever, not cartoonish. I’ll take the Tigers and lay the points.

No. 4 Ohio State (-28½) at Illinois

Ohio State QB Justin Fields had an off-day in the victory against Indiana. For him that means three interceptions but also three touchdowns and nearly 400 yards of offense. Illinois has won two consecutive games as Lovie Smith begins his annual effort to make it seem like he might turn things around. I don’t buy it. Buckeyes cover.

LSU (+14) at No. 5 Texas A&M

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was asked if this is a rivalry game. “Well, a rivalry game usually happens when both sides win, that’s happened,” Fisher told reporters. It’s happened once for TAMU in the past nine meetings. LSU made amends for that seven-overtime loss at TAMU in 2018 by smacking the Aggies 50-7 last season. The Tigers are a different team now, but I like them to cover.

Kentucky (+23½) at No. 6 Florida

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops worried about the blowout loss at Bama on Saturday negatively affecting the perception of the program. That would be a shame after Stoops has done so much work building a 47-49 record since 2013. I think the line for this game is an overreaction to that 63-3 loss, which came with a lot of key Kentucky players out, so I’ll take the Wildcats to cover.

Other NFL games of interest

Saints (-6) at Broncos

ESPN reports that Saints coach Sean Payton started Taysom Hill against the Falcons despite “multiple players and people” in the organization believing Jameis Winston should start. The Falcons wish those people had won out. They need to win the rematch Dec. 6 if they don’t want to hear about Hill owning them once Drew Brees is gone. I’m taking the Broncos and the points.

Chiefs (-3½) at Buccaneers

Bucs QB Tom Brady was awful against the Rams on Monday night, and coach Bruce Arians said so. That’s the second time that’s happened this season, which must be a shock for Brady after his feelings were protected in the Pats cocoon all those years. The Chiefs are the pick.

Panthers (+4) at Vikings

I picked the Lions to beat the Panthers last weekend so, naturally, Carolina produced a shutout victory with rookie backup QB P.J. Walker and without star running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is doubtful to play this week, but starting QB Teddy Bridgewater is expected to return. Panthers cover.

Last week against the spread: 5-5 (66-47-3 season)

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