Weekend Predictions: Falcons finally fail to cover the spread

Weekend Predictions is hot. I’m talking about my picks, not my looks. But, honestly, I’m also doing well in that department from a certain perspective, so long as it’s not too close.

After a slow start to the season, I’ve posted winning records in four of the past five weeks on picks against the spread (31-22). I’ve been feeling the pressure to pick up the pace and finish with a winning record for the fifth time in as many seasons. There’s no chance I’m peaking too early before a collapse, unlike a certain baseball team I know.

I’m coming off my best week of the season. My picks were 7-3 against the spread, and I came up with some good excuses for the losses. I admit that none of them were as good as professional baseball players blaming a first-round bye for getting dominated in a playoff series.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Falcons

Falcons (+6½) at Bengals

It shouldn’t be possible to win in the NFL with a one-dimensional offense and a turnover-dependent defense. It’s unsustainable to score by running the ball on 57% of plays and dinking-and-dunking with run-pass options. It’s not possible to stop opponents while getting minimal pressure on the quarterback, allowing easy yards after the catch and recovering every forced fumble.

And yet the Falcons (3-3) pulled all that off while winning half of the games during the hardest part of their schedule. Whether they’re really a good team is unimportant here. All that matters is if the Falcons will cover the spread. They’ve done that every week as an underdog (I backed them five times). The betting markets finally have caught on to the Falcons, though, so that streak ends in Cincinnati. The Bengals (3-3) cover.

ExploreWhere to watch, listen, stream Falcons at Bengals

College games of interest

No. 24 Mississippi State (+21) at No. 6 Alabama

The Crimson Tide haven’t been ranked this low in the AP poll since they were No. 9 in December 2019. Bama committed a program-record 17 penalties in a loss at Tennessee last weekend. Coach Nick Saban on how he addresses “undisciplined” penalties: “We can’t go hang ‘em up for doing this. They’re our players.” It sounds like a joke, but Saban didn’t smile when he said it, so we can’t rule out the possibility that he really considered it. Bulldogs are the pick.

No. 14 Syracuse (+13½) at No. 5 Clemson

After Clemson won at Florida State, coach Dabo Swinney took on QB DJ Uiagalelei’s critics. “Everybody’s got all their prognostications on when he’s not the starter anymore,” Swinney told reporters. “It’s embarrassing, really, but that’s the world we live in.” He’s right. It is embarrassing to live in a world where the intense interest in Swinney’s team makes him rich, and he gripes about that interest. Respect to Uiagalelei for not withering under the scrutiny, but I like ‘Cuse with the points.

No. 7 Ole Miss (+ 1½) at LSU

Tigers coach Brian Kelly’s daughter disparaged Florida fans via social media after her trip to Gainesville for LSU’s victory last weekend. That set off the latest round of SEC fan bases arguing about which of them is the worst. That’s like trying to pick your favorite drunk, obnoxious child. I don’t understand why LSU is favored in this game. My incapacitating self-doubt means I don’t think I’m smarter than the markets by picking Ole Miss. I just assume I’m making a big mistake.

No. 17 Kansas State (+3½) at No. 8 TCU

TCU built a statue for coach Gary Patterson while he still had the job. That would be a tough act to follow for Sonny Dykes, even if his father weren’t Texas football coaching legend Spike Dykes. Sonny has beat expectations by turning around TCU from 5-7 in 2021 to being the only undefeated team left in the Big 12. Kansas State’s defense is much better than any TCU has faced this season. I’m still picking the Horned Frogs to cover.

No. 9 UCLA (+6½) at No. 10 Oregon

I guess I have to start taking UCLA coach Chip Kelly seriously. Kelly once guided Oregon to three consecutive top-5 finishes but hadn’t done much since returning to college after the 49ers fired him. Now UCLA (6-0) is in position for a College Football Playoff berth. The Ducks (5-1) managed only one field goal in the season-opening loss to Georgia; they’ve scored 40 points or more in every other game. This is the week the Bruins finally lose because of their bad defense, but they’ll cover.

No. 20 Texas (-6½) at No. 11 Oklahoma State

This point spread is weird. Texas is 5-2, and Oklahoma State’s only loss was by a field goal in double overtime at then-No. 13 TCU last weekend. Yes, the Longhorns have been a bit unlucky. They lost by a point to Alabama when the Crimson Tide scored with 10 seconds left, and Texas Tech beat the Longhorns after they lost a fumble on the first play of overtime. But Okie State also had some bad fortune at TCU. With that, I have successfully talked myself into taking the home underdog. Okie State is the pick.

ExploreWeek 8 college football schedule: How to watch all 54 FBS games

Other NFL games of interest

Buccaneers (-11) at Panthers

Tom Brady chided Tampa Bay’s offensive linemen during an ugly loss to the Steelers. Brady’s teammates should have reminded him that he skipped a practice during the week, went to Patriots team owner Robert Kraft’s wedding in New York, didn’t show up for the team’s walk-through Saturday and arrived in Pittsburgh via private jet. I hated that Brady unretired, but now that he seems miserable, I’m glad he did it. Panthers are the pick.

Packers (-4½) at Commanders

Another perpetually annoying quarterback, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, also doesn’t appear to be having much fun. Rodgers told reporters that’s not true: “This has been my love since I was 5 years old, and (I) still love waking up every day knowing I’m coming into (Lambeau Field).” Thankfully, there’s still plenty of chances for football to make Rodgers unhappy. This weekend won’t be one of them, though. Packers cover.

Colts (+2½) at Titans

Add Matt Ryan to the list of aging quarterbacks having a hard time. Ryan is getting sacked at a higher rate with the Colts than he ever did with the Falcons, and he’s on track for a career-high number of pass attempts per game. The Colts have won their past two games, but it’s been a slog for their offense. I’m taking the Titans to cover.

Last week: 7-3 (38-31 season)