Weekend Predictions: Falcons finally win at home, Georgia State wins bowl

Weekend Predictions is facing an existential crisis. If I’m not good at picking games, then what am I good at? They tell me I’m a pretty good cook. It comes in handy. It still doesn’t do nearly as much for my ego as when my genius is revealed through my picks.

For three years, I’ve been right most of the time when picking games ATS. That’s very hard to do. Now I’m facing my first losing record in four years. My picks were 2-8 against the spread last weekend to drop my season record back to even. I’m leaking oil near the finish.

Now we’ll see if I’m the Braves after losing World Series Game 5, or the Falcons after 28-3. I still can be Jorge Soler launching homers to alleviate the anxiety and make things right. I fear being Dan Quinn and doing everything wrong during a come-from-ahead loss.

Lions (+5½) at Falcons

Falcons coach Arthur Smith is not a fan of “easy narratives.” By this, Smith seems to mean facts presented in a way that makes him look bad. Example: Smith is a terrible play-caller because the Falcons failed to score a TD four times from San Francisco’s 1-yard line Sunday. I don’t believe that, but maybe the narrative wouldn’t be so easy (and the Falcons would have freakin’ covered) if there weren’t so many facts that make Smith look bad.

The Lions may provide Smith with a narrative he likes. I’m hedging on that because the Lions (2-11-1) just soundly beat the Cardinals (10-4) for their second victory in three games, and they have a better season point differential than the Falcons (minus-123 vs. minus-126). I say the Falcons (6-8) win to help change the narrative that they’re a bad home team (0-5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium). But Detroit covers to bolster the narrative that the Falcons are only slightly better than bad.

Camellia Bowl (Montgomery): Georgia State (-6) vs. Ball State

The tricky part about predicting bowl games is figuring out which teams care enough to give their best effort. The Panthers have reached the point where it’s plausible to wonder if they are bored with bowl games. This is GSU’s third consecutive bid and fifth in eight seasons as a full FBS member. The Panthers have won six of their past seven games, but will they be fired up to play Ball State on Christmas Day in Montgomery?

They say they are excited for this game because they can win eight games for the first time. If that’s the case, then this should be an easy cover for GSU (7-5). Ball State is a traditionally-bad team that won the Mid-American title in 2020 and was supposed to compete for another one. Instead, the Cardinals ended up in the Camellia Bowl, where they’ll lose by more than six points.

Other NFL games of interest

Buccaneers (-10) at Panthers

I couldn’t fully enjoy watching Tom Brady’s meltdown against the Saints on Sunday because I backed the Bucs, who lost 9-0 as 11-point favorites. The Bucs are banged up, but I’m confident picking them this week because the opposing coach is Matt Rhule. Carolina QB Sam Darnold (shoulder) is cleared to play after missing five games, but Rhule told reporters that Cam Newton will start and Darnold also will play. I suppose Rhule is trying to keep the Bucs guessing about which of his ineffective QBs will play more snaps. Bucs cover.

Dolphins (+3) at Saints

America’s most lovable Crip, Snoop Dogg, picked the Bucs to beat the Saints during a pregame appearance on NBC. After the victory, Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins wrote on Twitter: “We forgive you Snoop.” Replied Saints coach Sean Payton: “Who’s We???” Sadly, I must admit that’s a pretty good line. At least it gives me a chance to note that the Saints earned their best victory in weeks with Payton back home after he tested positive for COVID-19. Give me the Dolphins and the points.

Washington Football Team (+10½) at Cowboys

I was a Cowboys fan growing up. My city had no NFL team and the glamorous Cowboys were always on TV. I bring this up because the Cowboys probably have their best team since winning the Super Bowl in the 1995 season. They are 4-11 in playoff games since then, with no conference title-game appearances. That would upset me if I still had any affection for the Cowboys, but luckily, the cynicism of my job squeezed that feeling from my heart long ago. ‘Tis the season! WFT covers.

Steelers (+7½) at Chiefs

I sometimes get so focused on Brady annoyingly refusing to go away that I forget another villainous QB, Ben Roethlisberger, also isn’t finished. The Steelers still have a realistic chance of making the playoffs. That’s hard to believe when you see Roethlisberger throwing footballs like they are boulders. The betting markets have been slow to catch on to the Chiefs, who’ve easily beaten the spread in five consecutive games. They have a lot of players on the COVID-19 list this week, but I’m still taking them to cover.

Bills (+2½) at Patriots

Strange but true: Brady is simultaneously a so-called system quarterback and (probably) the greatest NFL player of all time. His heir in New England, rookie Mac Jones, still is figuring things out. Jones was bad in the loss at the Colts on Saturday before finishing the game strong. The Bills haven’t been as good since their schedule got tougher. Pats are the pick.

Other bowl games of interest

Birmingham Bowl: No. 20 Houston (+2½) vs. Auburn

This game is Dec. 30, which is closer to next weekend than this weekend. But I figure the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day really is just one long weekend (if you’re lucky). Or maybe that’s just my rationalization for jumping at the chance to fade Auburn. Starting quarterback Bo Nix is among several players who decided to transfer, and coach Bryan Harsin fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Houston covers.

Music City Bowl (Nashville): Tennessee (-4½) vs. Purdue

Reporters asked Volunteers coach Josh Huepel to name his favorite Christmas gift as a kid: “Man, probably a set of lockers when I was like 5 years old. I felt like my bedroom had turned into a locker room.” I wonder if any cool kids stuffed little Josh in those lockers. The Vols have two advantages: a quasi-home game and an opponent that hasn’t experienced the blazing-fast tempo of Huepel’s offense. Tennessee is the pick.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl (Charlotte): North Carolina (-9) vs. South Carolina

QB Spencer Rattler is transferring from Oklahoma to South Carolina. Jason Brown, South Carolina’s starter for victories over Florida and Auburn, is transferring out. Zeb Noland will start the bowl game. He was a graduate assistant coach before suiting up for a final season of eligibility. Said USC coordinator Marcus Satterfield: “If they ever do a movie, it’ll be a nice one.” I see an unhappy ending. UNC covers.

Last week: 2-8 (74-74-1 season)