Weekend Predictions: Falcons lose, Georgia rolls

After a rough start to the season, Weekend Predictions is making steady progress. My record in picking games against the spread is only two games above break-even after five weeks, but momentum is on my side. I’ve had back-to-back winning weeks, which is better than Geoff Collins could do as Georgia Tech’s coach.

The Yellow Jackets are looking for a coach who can take them to the next level. If they want to go the unconventional route, they should consider hiring me for the job. I’m not a football coach, but I am a proven winner. Also, I’ll accept much less than $3 million to produce lopsided losses, so think of the savings.

Browns (-1) at Falcons

The Browns are 2-1, but there’s a cloud over their season. Eventually, quarterback Deshaun Watson will return from his suspension for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. Then Browns fans will have to rationalize cheering for a guy that an independent arbitrator ruled “engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL)” against four women (Watson said he’s innocent). Falcons fans should remember that Arthur Blank was willing to put them in the same position.

Jacoby Brissett has been good as Watson’s fill-in. Brissett ranks ninth in Total QBR, and Pro Football Focus grades him as third best. The Browns ranked fourth in points scored after three weeks. They’ve been tough to stop because of Brissett’s passing, Nick Chubb’s running and the offensive line’s blocking. Those are the reasons I’m picking Cleveland to cover, even though I expect the Falcons to score plenty of points with a run-heavy attack.

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No. 1 Georgia (-28) at Missouri

The Bulldogs played a sloppy game against Kent State on Saturday. That gave Kirby Smart a rare opening to gripe about his team, but he didn’t take it. Smart’s reasoning was that it’s hard to be mad about 529 yards of offense with no punts in a 17-point victory. Makes sense, but Smart is being selfish by not thinking about those of us who picked Georgia and gave the 45 points.

Mizzou lost at Auburn in overtime Saturday on a fumble at the goal line. That was bad luck. But don’t let it distract from the fact that coach Eli Drinkwitz is 13-14 at Mizzou, with six losses in seven games against ranked opponents. The Tigers gave him a salary that’s $1 million more than predecessor Barry Odom, and they’re getting worse results. Drinkwitz will add another blowout loss to the Bulldogs to his ledger. Georgia covers the spread.

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Georgia Tech (+22) at No. 24 Pittsburgh

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi took the high road when reporters asked him this week about Collins’ petulant brushoff after Tech’s loss at Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2020: “He was mad at the officials. He’s intense. He’s a really good football coach.” Collins sometimes was preoccupied with officials, and he’s certainly intense, but he rarely demonstrated that he’s a good football coach at Tech.

Tech interim coach Brent Key on the team’s biggest problem this season: “We’re sitting back waiting for something to happen. ... We need to go make things happen.” That really spoke to me as someone who’s always looking for reasons to back underdogs. The Jackets played better at Central Florida, but were undermined by the usual assortment of mistakes. I’m banking on more progression with Key in charge. Tech covers.

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Georgia State (+7½) at Army

This is not a good time for the Panthers to go to West Point and face Jeff Monken’s triple-option. They’re 0-4 for the first time since 2016, largely because they’ve had trouble stopping anyone. The Cadets are 0-2 against FBS opponents, but they’ve gained 280.3 yards rushing per game. I want to believe the Panthers will be able to run the ball, too, but they’ve been beaten up physically by their tough schedule. Army is the pick.

ExploreWeek 5 college football schedule: How to watch all 63 FBS games

Other college games of interest

No. 2 Alabama (-17) at No. 20 Arkansas

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman likened the Crimson Tide to “piranhas” because they feast on mistakes. Hearing that was triggering for me because it immediately activated memories of the 1978 movie “Piranha.” That flick scared me so badly as a kid that I didn’t want to go in the water. Who the heck let me watch it? Last season Arkansas gained 468 yards at Alabama, didn’t commit a turnover while forcing two and still lost 42-35. I like the Razorbacks as a strong home ‘dog in the rematch.

No. 10 NC State (+6½) at No. 5 Clemson

N.C. State took the Textile Bowl trophy home after winning at Clemson last year and apparently stuck it on a shelf in the equipment room alongside some unused signs and packages. That’s no way for the Wolfpack to treat a trophy they hadn’t won in nine years and have owned only twice since 2003. Clemson showed a lot of tenacity while winning in three overtimes at Wake Forest last weekend. N.C. State’s defense is a lot better. I’m taking the Wolfpack with the points.

No. 7 Kentucky (+7) at No. 14 Ole Miss

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin opened his Monday news conference by griping about empty seats at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium after halftime in games. Said Kiffin: “When you come back out, run out of the tunnel and it looks like a high school game playing in a college stadium, you can’t let that affect you.” I’m thinking Ole Miss fans have been affected by two lackluster home efforts against Tulsa and Troy and a blowout victory against FCS Central Arkansas. The Grove is more entertaining. Kentucky covers.

No. 17 Texas A&M (+4) at Mississippi State

Texas A&M has earned consecutive victories over Miami (home) and Arkansas (neutral) since losing to Appalachian State. That should temporarily slow Google searches in College Station about Jimbo Fisher’s contract buyout (it’s still $95.6 million if the Aggies fire him). TAMU’s defense is great, but the offense still is a mess. Bulldogs cover.

LSU (-9) at Auburn

Auburn beat Missouri on Saturday, so that naturally led to more speculation about coach Bryan Harsin’s job security. Former Alabama QB AJ McCarron appeared on a podcast for The Ringer and said anonymous sources told him Harsin has been told he won’t be retained. Later that day, AL.com’s anonymous sources shot down McCarron’s report while noting that Harsin is “operating as normally as possible.” I like the implication that this drama isn’t normal for the Auburn football coach. Tigers cover.

Other NFL games of interest

Cardinals (+1) at Panthers

The Panthers beat the Saints on Sunday to end a nine-game losing streak dating to last season. There’s a chance the Panthers will relax after enjoying so much success, but coach Matt Rhule is on top of it. “I challenged them today to have the same intensity about improving that they had last week at 0-2,” Rhule told reporters Monday. That inspiring, confusing message was all I needed to hear to take the Panthers to cover again.

Chiefs (pick) at Buccaneers

Pro Football Talk reports that after the Buccaneers signed Cole Beasley, Tom Brady called Giants coach Brian Daboll to tease him for not being able to close the deal. We’ll see who’s laughing when Beasley starts up with his anti-vax nonsense again. Can’t blame the Bucs for taking a chance on Beasley despite the risk of a distraction. It’s not every day you can sign a washed-up slot receiver. Bucs are the pick.

Vikings (-2½) vs. Saints (London)

The Saints followed their Week 1 victory at the Falcons by scoring a total of 24 points in losses to the Buccaneers and Panthers. QB Jameis Winston basically has played one good quarter this season. Unfortunately for the Falcons, he did it against them at the worst possible time. Coach Dennis Allen said he’s sticking with Winston as the starter even though he’s struggling and injured. I’m taking the Vikings to cover.

Last week: 6-5 (19-17 season)