Weekend Predictions: Falcons lose another close one, Bulldogs roll

Weekend Predictions managed to squeeze out one more win than losses last time out. It didn’t feel that way because some of the losses were so bad. That’s what I get for trusting LSU coach Brian Kelly and for believing that Arkansas can overcome its tragic fate of being mediocre-at-best in the SEC West.

I couldn’t even take full satisfaction in Georgia Tech winning as an underdog against Duke. I took the Yellow Jackets and the points, but predicted they’d lose straight up. At least the Falcons came through again. They are 5-0 against the spread, and I picked them four times. The Falcons (2-3) might have a couple of more wins if quarterback Marcus Mariota weren’t Mr. Butterfingers.

ExploreWhere to watch, listen, stream 49ers at Falcons

49ers (-5½) at Falcons

The 49ers went to the Super Bowl in February 2020 with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. Coach Kyle Shanahan seemingly has been trying to replace him ever since. Shanahan sent away a bushel of draft picks for Trey Lance. The 49ers tried to trade Garoppolo over the summer before finding no takers and re-signing him to be the backup. Shanahan had to go crawling back to Garoppolo when Lance suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2, and surprisingly, Garoppolo has played well.

Injuries are the big issue for the 49ers (3-2). Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Week 5 victory at Carolina. Starting safety Jimmie Ward (hand) also is out. Star pass rusher Nick Bosa (groin) and three other defensive linemen are questionable. I say the Falcons score enough points to keep it close and lose by a field goal.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Falcons

Vanderbilt (+38½) at No. 1 Georgia

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he’s pleased with his young wide receivers: “It’s probably the first wide receiver class that we can say across the board, ‘Man, they got some good players in it.” It’s been nearly three years since Smart threw his wide receivers under the bus after the Bulldogs lost to LSU in the SEC Championship game. Better late than never on fixing that hole.

It turns out that Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett wasn’t on the roster for the 17-16 loss to Vanderbilt at Sanford Stadium in 2016. It only seems like he’s a seventh-year senior. Bennett hasn’t been sharp lately. Vanderbilt’s SEC-worst pass defense should help him get on track, assuming the Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 SEC) bother to pass much. I’ve been wrong on my Bulldogs pick for three weeks in a row. Vandy (3-3, 0-2) is the security blanket I need. Georgia covers.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

Other college games of interest

No. 3 Alabama (-7) at No. 6 Tennessee

The Crimson Tide no longer are No. 1 (that’s Georgia) or the betting favorite to win the national championship (that’s Ohio State). That seems like an overreaction after Bama (6-0) won 24-20 at Texas A&M with QB Jalen Milroe subbing for Bryce Young (shoulder). Nick Saban said Young has steadily increased his practice reps this week. You can take that to the bank because college football coaches always are forthcoming about injuries. I trust Tennessee’s defense even less than Saban’s injury report, but I still like the Volunteers (5-0) with the points, even if Young plays.

No. 4 Clemson (-3½) at Florida State

Brent Venables is off to a rough start as Oklahoma’s head coach. After Texas stomped the Sooners on Saturday, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney vouched for his ex-defensive coordinator: “It’s not his first rodeo. I know it’s his first opportunity to be in the skillet, but he’ll be all right.” Swinney is a little mixed up on his idioms, but he has Clemson (6-0) aimed for a return to the College Football Playoff. The point spread for this game looks spot on to me. I lean with the home ‘dog when that’s the case. FSU is the pick.

No. 10 Penn State (+7) at No. 5 Michigan

Penn State coach James Franklin’s team is 5-0. The school signed him to a rich contract extension in November. None of that is stopping author/Michigan insider John Bacon from speculating that new athletic director Patrick Kraft will look to replace Franklin with friend Matt Rhule, who was just fired by the NFL’s Panthers. I love seeing SEC-style trolling in the Big Ten. Michigan (6-0) covers.

No. 7 USC (+3½) at No. 20 Utah

Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is the latest multimillionaire coach to say NIL rights for athletes are upending competitive balance in college football, which was famously egalitarian until now. Related: Lincoln Riley’s rapid rebuild at USC (6-0) has been fueled by 26 transfer players. If not for NIL, some of those players likely would have decided to play for Whittingham in Salt Lake City instead of following Riley to Los Angeles. The Utes (4-2) let me down as road favorites at UCLA last week, but I’m taking them with the points at home.

No. 8 Oklahoma State (+4) at No. 13 TCU

This is the third game of the day with two unbeaten teams. Unfortunately for ABC, it starts at the same time as Bama-Tennessee on CBS. The Big 12 is legitimately deep this year, but will anyone notice since neither Oklahoma nor Texas is carrying the banner? OSU and TCU are evenly matched in that they score a lot of points and give up a few less. I like Oklahoma State to cover.

ExploreWeek 7 college football schedule: How to watch all 53 FBS games

Other NFL games of interest

Bengals (-2) at Saints

The Saints blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter against Seattle on Sunday. Then Taysom Hill dashed 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, his third rushing score of the game. Hill, listed as a tight end, has one catch this season but leads the team in rushing yards and TDs. Naturally, coach Dennis Allen told reporters he’d “like to get (Hill) a little more involved in the passing game.” Allen might be the only person who believes Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston slinging it is a better option than Hill running it. Bengals are the pick.

Buccaneers (-8) at Steelers

After Tom Brady was bailed out by a bogus call against the Falcons, the Bucs QB told reporters: “I don’t throw the flags.” That’s true. Brady just whines to officials until they throw the flags. Brady’s dinking-and-dunking style has been ineffective by his standards. The Bucs still lead the NFC South and probably will go to the Super Bowl again because life isn’t fair. I’m taking Tampa Bay and giving the points.

Panthers (+10½) at Rams

Never forget that Rhule played a role in Dan Quinn getting one season too many in Atlanta. Quinn’s Falcons finished 6-2 in the second half of the 2019 season, with two lopsided victories against Rhule’s Panthers. That helped convince Arthur Blank to give Quinn another year to lose more games and ruin the salary cap. The Rams have struggled to score against every opponent except the Falcons, and Carolina’s defense is solid. Panthers cover.

Last week: 6-5 (31-28 season)