Weekend Predictions: Falcons finally win, Georgia rolls again

Falcons coach Dan Quinn encourages his team during the second half of Monday's loss at Green Bay. (AP/Tom Lynn)

Credit: AP Photo/Tom Lynn

Credit: AP Photo/Tom Lynn

Falcons coach Dan Quinn encourages his team during the second half of Monday's loss at Green Bay. (AP/Tom Lynn)

Weekend Predictions is back after spending too much time sorting through COVID-19 to guess which players may be out and which games might be canned. The NFL’s Titans are dealing with a coronavirus outbreak. College football chugs along with no real idea of how many players have been infected because public education institutions aren’t being transparent about a matter of public health.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell warned teams they could face fines and forfeiture of games if violations of protocols result in virus spread. ESPN reported that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told teams they’ll be fined $100,000 or face suspensions for violations. Unlike most college football directives, this one could have an effect. Programs may be willing to compromise the health of their unpaid players, but they’ll always protect their revenue.

I clawed to a fourth consecutive winning week with a 7-6-1 record on last weekend’s predictions. I felt better about my Chiefs pick once news broke that Patriots quarterback Cam Newton would sit out with COVID-19 infection. If we’re going to pretend this all is normal, then at least my picks should benefit.

Panthers (+2) at Falcons

Matt Ruhle made some rookie mistakes while talking to local media. The Panthers coach called the Falcons “a really good football team” with a “good defense.” Veteran NFL coaches know that effective “coachspeak” requires minimal plausibility. Offer your opponent some excuses by talking up injuries, highlight the good things they’ve done but don’t get carried away.

The Falcons nearly ran out of defensive backs at Green Bay on Monday night. All those pass-coverage busts still were inexcusable. Players being in the wrong place isn’t the same as physical mistakes. The Falcons' injury list looks better this week, so in a decision I surely won’t regret, I’m picking them to cover the spread.

No. 14 Tennessee (+12½) at No. 3 Georgia

Georgia coach Kirby Smart sort of acknowledged that Stetson Bennett should have been his quarterback all along. He came to this realization after one quarterback opted out of the season, another played poorly in the opener and Bennett played well in relief. Sometimes growth is incremental.

I figured Auburn would struggle to score against Georgia. I didn’t know Georgia would make Auburn’s defense look so bad. Bennett made some outstanding plays, and Georgia’s offensive line and backs dominated. Tennessee’s defense might be good, but I don’t see the Volunteers doing much against another great UGA defense. Bulldogs cover.

Louisville (-4½) at Georgia Tech

Louisville is my alma mater. If you think that clouds my judgment in favor of the Cardinals, then you don’t understand my love of underdogs. Also, it takes time to regain confidence once Bobby Petrino is finished ruining a program. Falcons fans know what I mean.

Tech isn’t nearly as bad as it played at Syracuse. Louisville’s offense struggled against Pitt’s legitimately good defense. Tech’s defense was hurt by big plays at Syracuse, but otherwise was solid. QB Jeff Sims will make plays against the Cardinals. Yellow Jackets lose by a field goal.

Other college games of interest

No. 7 Miami (+14) at No. 1 Clemson

The Hurricanes are back, baby! I heard it all the time while living in south Florida for seven years. Then came the inevitable slide that led people to quickly shift their focus to the many better things to do in south Florida than watch mediocre college football. The 'Canes may not be back, but their defense is really good again. I’ll take Miami and the points.

No. 2 Alabama (-24) at Ole Miss

It’s time for Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin to square off against his old boss, Nick Saban! I appreciated how Kiffin shot down that dumb angle on The Dan Patrick Show, via AL.com: “Well I don’t play and he doesn’t play, so we’d have a better chance if that was the case. I don’t think he can cover me.”

Will Ole Miss cover the spread? I want to believe it. Its passing game already is dramatically better with essentially the same personnel from 2019. But Kiffin may not have been blowing smoke when he told reporters that this is Saban’s best team “as far as being balanced all over and not having holes anywhere.” Bama covers.

No. 4 Florida (-6½) at No. 21 Texas A&M

In last week’s predictions I noted how Jimbo Fisher left Florida State in bad shape before underachieving at Texas A&M. I still took the Aggies and 18 points at Alabama. I got what I deserved. Gators coach Dan Mullen is no Saban, but he knows how to tutor quarterbacks. Florida covers the spread with the latest good one, Kyle Trask.

Florida State (+20½) at No. 5 Notre Dame

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly blamed a recent COVID-19 breakout on team celebrations during and after a victory over South Florida. For an example of what not to do. Kelly can refer his players to the actions of the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president. He was infected at the White House after not following protocols that Notre Dame requires for its students. FSU covers.

No. 19 Virginia Tech (+5) at No. 8 North Carolina

Last year I clowned UNC for summoning Mack Brown from the broadcast booth to coach. Joke’s on me. The Tar Heels improved by five wins. They were the only ACC team to stay within five touchdowns of Clemson, which won by a point when UNC’s two-point conversion failed. Now UNC might be the league’s second-best team. Heels cover.

No. 22 Texas (+2½) at Oklahoma

The Longhorns lost at home to TCU as a 10-1/2-point favorite last weekend. Fan-site Burnt Orange Nation was not happy, tweeting about coach Tom Herman: “You don’t make $5M per season to lose at TCU in your fourth year.” You do at Texas, which has lost seven of its past nine against TCU. Oklahoma is 0-2 in the Big 12, but I trust Lincoln Riley more than Herman to get things right. Sooners cover.

Last week against the spread: 7-6-1 (25-16-2 season)