Falcons (+2.5) at Buccaneers
Coach Arthur Smith said Ridder needs to eliminate mistakes but insists his interceptions haven’t become a pattern. Ridder has thrown six interceptions and four passes that would have been picks if defenders caught balls thrown right to them. I’m setting the over/under at 20 turnover-worthy throws for Ridder before Smith acknowledges there’s a pattern.
Ridder has made some good plays in between the bad ones. The pass protection has improved. Tampa Bay’s once-fearsome pass rush has become below average. Bucs QB Baker Mayfield can match Ridder with putting passes in danger. Those are all good reasons to take the Falcons and the points, but I’m picking the Bucs to cover the spread because they rank eighth in interception percentage.
Boston College (+4½) at Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech coach Brent Key should send Miami’s Mario Cristobal a nice thank you note if the Yellow Jackets end up playing in a bowl game. Tech’s postseason hopes took a big hit with the loss to Bowling Green, one of the worst teams in FBS. Then Cristobal gifted the Yellow Jackets a victory. Now Tech (3-3, 2-1 ACC) can guarantee a bowl bid by winning three of five games left against opponents other than Georgia.
This probably is the easiest remaining game for Tech. The Eagles (3-3, 1-2) nearly came back from a three-touchdown deficit against Florida State, but some weird things happened late in that game. Louisville scored 56 points against BC, and Holy Cross of the FCS lost to the Eagles by only a field goal. I really like the Jackets to cover, so they should be on upset alert.
Georgia State (+3½) at Louisiana-Lafayette
It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d made a mistake backing Marshall to beat Georgia State last weekend. I thought I might get lucky when Marshall scored on a fluky 65-yard TD catch to end the third quarter, but nothing could save my bad pick. The Panthers (5-1, 2-1 Sun Belt) are on track for a program-best season, but they’ve never defeated Louisiana (4-2, 1-1) in six tries. I like them to cover.
Other college games of interest
No. 7 Penn State (+4½) at No. 3 Ohio State
The pressure is on Penn State coach James Franklin. He’s 1-8 against Ohio State, including four losses by two scores against Ryan Day’s Buckeyes. But there’s more pressure on Day. He’s made the College Football Playoff once in four full seasons as Ohio State coach. The Buckeyes need this win to get some CFP breathing room before ending the regular season at No. 2 Michigan. I say they’ll cover.
No. 16 Duke (+14½) at No. 4 Florida State
Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi declared that Seminoles coach Mike Norvell “has saved FSU’s program from national irrelevance and financial calamity” like Bobby Bowden did in the 1970s. That seems a bit premature. But I suppose it’s hard to not get excited when the Seminoles are finally a national title contender after not making the CFP since its first season (2014). I’m still not convinced this will be the Seminoles team to end that streak. Duke covers.
No. 17 Tennessee (+8½) at No. 11 Alabama
Don’t look now, but the Volunteers are playing some defense. They rank 15th in Bill Connelly’s SP+ metric (adjusted for opponent, pace and situation) after finishing 21st last season. Coach Josh Heupel’s previous four teams ranked 63rd, 47th, 79th and 50th. Heupel’s offense has fallen off without QB Hendon Hooker, but Tennessee still ranks fifth in the SEC in scoring. Per OddsShark, Alabama is just 3-3-1 ATS at home vs. SEC teams since beating Tennessee 52-24 in 2021. Vols are the pick.
No. 13 Ole Miss (-6½) at Auburn
Hugh Freeze has reached the part of his Auburn head coach journey where he follows up a bad loss (48-18 at LSU) by talking about the high expectations of the job and the team’s young roster. “Eleven of the 22 starters at LSU had never started an SEC game prior to this season,” Freeze said during the SEC teleconference. “So, it’s growing pains. And can we coach better? Yes. Hopefully we can play better.” The Tigers have failed to cover the spread twice as underdogs when I picked them. This time, I’m taking Ole Miss and giving the points.
No. 14 Utah (+7) at No. 18 USC
I clowned USC coach Lincoln Riley for complaining about media attention on his bad defense. I still picked the Trojans to cover as three-point ‘dogs at Notre Dame, and they lost 48-20. The defense wasn’t the only culprit, though. USC allowed two return touchdowns, and QB Caleb Williams threw three interceptions for the first time in 32 college games. I’m trying to talk myself into backing USC again, but Utah is a strong road ‘dog. The Utes cover.
South Carolina (+7) at No. 20 Missouri
I suppose it’s time for Georgia to take Missouri seriously. Really, the Bulldogs should already have been wary after they nearly lost last year to a Mizzou team that’s not as good as this one. The Tigers have their highest ranking since ending the 2014 season at No. 14. I’m still not sure Mizzou’s defense is legit. I am more confident in South Carolina’s offense. Gamecocks cover.
Other NFL games of interest
Bills (-8½) at Patriots
There are signs that Bill Belichick’s unprecedented run with the Patriots is near its end. There’s New England’s 1-5 record with a NFL-worst point differential of minus-80. There are the leaked stories about owner Bob Kraft’s unhappiness and Boston media insisting that Belichick provide some real answers to questions. Buffalo hasn’t been favored by at least 8-1/2 points at New England since 1993. I don’t really trust the Bills as a big road favorite, but the Pats are so bad that I’ve got to back Buffalo.
Dolphins (+2½) at Eagles
The Eagles signed Falcons legend Julio Jones. His journeyman phase has been hard to watch, but Jones can help the Eagles for as long as he can stay on the field. The Dolphins aren’t good on defense. It hasn’t mattered much because their offense is so explosive. They looked bored early against the Panthers last week before scoring TDs on four of five possessions without breaking a sweat. I’m picking the Eagles to cover because I expect QB Jalen Hurts to recover from an awful game at the Jets.
Last week: 3-7-1 (28-36-4 season)