Weekend Predictions: Falcons lose, Georgia State wins

122020 Atlanta: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and tight end Hayden Hurst react on the sidelines as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gain a first down to run out the clock in a 31-27 victory over the Falcons Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
122020 Atlanta: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and tight end Hayden Hurst react on the sidelines as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gain a first down to run out the clock in a 31-27 victory over the Falcons Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

It’s college football bowl season! Normally we’d be hearing stories about these games being a reward for winning teams and great experiences for unpaid players, but that tale is too tall for this preposterous COVID-19 season. College sports stopped pretending it’s about anything except making cash and made all teams eligible for bowls that will include none of the usual fun times for players.

Now that Weekend Predictions has you feeling the spirit of this sad bowl season, I’m hoping you’ll take a charitable view of my 2-4 record against the spread last week. That’s what I get for picking all favorites. Not even Alabama could save me from my mistake of completely abandoning my beloved underdogs.

I correctly picked the Falcons to lose, thus ending my streak of being wrong about their result at nine games. But I was wrong about the Buccaneers covering the spread. I’m all about the line, so I consider my Falcons losing streak to be alive. Just cover, baby.

Falcons (+10½) at Chiefs

Julio Jones (hamstring) might return, but not sure how much that will help the Falcons because he neither rushes the passer nor plays on the offensive line. Maybe the Falcons can do something against Kansas City’s weak run defense. But Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes makes plays out of nothing. Even if the Falcons get to him, it may not matter much.

The Chiefs (13-1) will clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with a victory. The Falcons (4-10) are trying to avoid the franchise’s 17th season with at least 11 losses. After they blew two 17-point leads against the Bucs, I opined that the Falcons can trick you into thinking they are good before predictably fading, so naturally I’ll be taking them to cover (but lose) at KC.

Saturday: LendingTree Bowl (Mobile), Western Kentucky (+4) vs. Georgia State

Georgia State (5-4) last played Nov. 28. Long layoffs usually are the norm for teams during bowl season, but it’s weird for this year. Surely the Panthers are fired up about going to Mobile to play the day after Christmas in front of a handful of fans.

Western Kentucky’s Cole Spencer told the Bowling Green Daily News that the Hilltoppers are looking for “payback” after losing to GSU in the 2017 Cure Bowl. Whatever it takes to get motivated, I guess. Western Kentucky (5-6) has won three consecutive games with its offense finally showing something. I’m taking the Toppers to cover, but Georgia State wins.

Other bowl games of interest

Wednesday: Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas), No. 7 Florida (-3) vs. No. 6 Oklahoma

Gators linebacker James Houston told reporters that the Sooners are “not on our level.” Houston: “They’re not SEC. They’re not the Florida Gators. So we should put on a good show.” Maybe Houston is right, but I’d expect some humility from a defense that’s been gouged by every good offense it’s faced and a couple that aren’t good. The Sooners (8-2) can score and the Gators (8-3) won’t have star tight end Kyle Pitts (NFL) to help them keep up. Oklahoma is the pick.

Dec. 31: Texas Bowl (Houston), Arkansas (+6) vs. TCU

Seeing the news that Illinois hired coach Bret Bielema reminded me that he had three winning seasons in five for the Razorbacks after they were Bobby Petrino-ed, and they are 7-27 since firing Bielema. A once-promising season for Arkansas (3-7) has fizzled with four consecutive losses. But coach Sam Pittman said the Hogs will be healthier for this game, so I’ll take them to cover.

Dec. 30: Music City Bowl (Nashville), No. 15 Iowa (-14½) vs. Missouri

Iowa will be missing at least eight players after an outbreak of COVID-19 infections that includes coach Kirk Ferentz. Said Ferentz: “While our first priority is the health and safety of our players and staff, our goal is to play and compete on Dec. 30.” It was a written statement, so it’s not clear if Ferentz felt any shame about that spin. Give me Mizzou and the points.

Saturday: Cure Bowl (Orlando), Liberty (+7½) vs. No. 12 Coastal Carolina

This bowl is Coastal Carolina’s reward for an 11-0 season that included victories over two teams in the top 20 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. Yahoo Sports reports that incoming school president Michael T. Benson sent a letter to the CFP committee complaining about the system being rigged against non-Power 5 teams. The committee ignored Benson’s letter because it wasn’t attached to a lawsuit. Coastal Carolina covers.

Other NFL games of interest

Vikings (+7) at Saints

New Orleans QB Drew Brees looked bad during the loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. It turns out the 41-year old QB isn’t as effective when playing five weeks after fracturing 11 ribs. It’s fun to imagine Saints coach Sean Payton facing the nightmare scenario of deciding whether to bench Brees or let him play and possibly lose another playoff opener. Star wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) is out for the Saints, and they have a short week, but I’m still picking them to cover.

Buccaneers (-10) at Lions

Tony Dungy ranked Tom Brady sixth on his list of the toughest quarterbacks to face as a coach. Brady responded by tweeting a picture of the 2014 AFC Finalist banner the Colts hung after losing to Brady’s Patriots by 38 points. It would be a good comeback if Dungy hadn’t retired as Colts coach in 2009 and if Brady hadn’t been suspended for deflating footballs in that AFC title game. It’s yet another reminder that the Falcons let everyone down by blowing that Super Bowl. I like the Lions with the points.

Panthers (+2½) at Washington Football Team

The Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney this week. They hired Hurney in 2017 to replace Dave Gettleman, whom they hired in 2012 to replace Hurney. That’s when the franchise was owned by Jerry Richardson. Current team owner Dave Tepper said he wants a GM who’s aligned with the analytical approach that he and coach Matt Rhule favor. Something tells me the Panthers will be good again before the Falcons. Washington covers.

Last week against the spread: 2-4 (81-68-3 season)

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