Weekend Predictions: Falcons lose, Georgia wins, Tech bounces back

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart during the Bulldogs’ practice Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Athens. (Chamberlain Smith/UGA Sports)

Credit: UGA Sports

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Georgia football coach Kirby Smart during the Bulldogs’ practice Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Athens. (Chamberlain Smith/UGA Sports)

Credit: UGA Sports

SEC football is back with perfect timing. It’s another reason to stop paying attention to the Falcons. It’s an emotional buffer for a brief postseason run by the Braves. Getting back to normal around here means the convergence of big-time college football, Falcons failures and the Braves going bust in October after a division title.

Sorry to be so cynical. Weekend Predictions is just feeling irritated about going 0-3 against the spread last week on picks for Falcons, Georgia Tech and Georgia State. I did correctly predict losses for all three teams. That happened only because the Falcons blew a 19-point lead and didn’t know the onside-kick rules, which would be a fluke if it were any other team.

I managed to go 5-4 overall for a second consecutive winning week. Two games I made picks for ended up being postponed because of COVID-19. That works for me. I can’t lose if they don’t play.

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Bears (+3) at Falcons

The Falcons moved up from 25th to 21st in the Football Outsiders efficiency rankings despite the loss to Dallas. Defense-adjusted Value Over Average breaks down every play based on situation, but the numbers just don’t know the Falcons like we do. To evaluate the Falcons at the micro level is to miss how often they add up to less than the sum of their parts.

I was skeptical of the Falcons before the season and picked them to lose their first two games. Yet it’s still hard to discount them completely because the offense is so good. I was going to pick the Falcons to win and cover the spread until their Thursday injury report still included several key players. I like the Bears to win straight up.

No. 4 Georgia (-27) at Arkansas

How deep is my underdog bias? I considered the possibility that Georgia coach Kirby Smart will take it easy on Hogs counterpart Sam Pittman, his former assistant. Clearly, I will find any excuse to back a big home 'dog. Fortunately, there are more legitimate reasons to take Arkansas and all those points.

Pittman hired Kendal Briles as offensive coordinator. He ran high-scoring units at Baylor, Florida Atlantic and Houston before fielding a subpar outfit at Florida State last season. Now Briles has Florida transfer Feleipe Franks at quarterback. That’s enough to convince me to do what my heart desires and pick the Hogs to cover.

Georgia Tech (-8) at Syracuse

I took the Yellow Jackets (+7.5) at home against Central Florida last weekend because I was too enamored by their stirring victory at Florida State. The truth is the Seminoles may not be that good. The Jackets are much better than last season, but they aren’t yet on UCF’s level.

Tech drops down in class this week. The Orange scored a total of 16 points in losses at North Carolina and Pittsburgh. But Syracuse’s unique defensive alignment could cause problems for Tech freshman quarterback Jeff Sims. Jackets win, Syracuse covers.

Georgia State (-3) at Charlotte

I took Louisiana-Lafayette (-17) against Georgia State last week. By the end of the game, I was pulling for the Panthers to win. Might as well see a fun upset if I’m going to be that wrong on a pick.

The Panthers couldn’t pull out the victory in overtime. They showed that they can put up plenty of points with first-year starter Quad Brown at QB. Charlotte can’t keep up. Panthers cover.

Other college games of interest

No. 2 Alabama (-27 ½) at Missouri

New Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said seven players are out because of COVID-19. He told reporters he doesn’t keep infections a secret because informing the public is “more important than whatever competitive advantage we feel like it might be.” Drinkwitz has a lot to learn about the SEC, where it just means more than caring about public health during a pandemic. Mizzou covers.

No. 5 Florida (-14) at Ole Miss

I expected new Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin to provide some good drama by now. The best he’s done is take shots at Conference USA crowds and the New York Jets roster. Kiffin is a good offensive coach, and he hired ex-UCF coordinator Jeff Lebby. But Florida coach Dan Mullen and QB Kyle Trask will have the offense firing from the start of their third season together. Gators cover.

Mississippi State (+16 ½) at No. 6 LSU

LSU coach Ed Oregon said most of his players have tested positive for COVID-19 at some point. Athletic director Scott Woodward told reporters: “Coach 'O' was a bit too transparent and a bit too forthright.” See, Drinkwitz, no transparency or accountability is how it’s done in the SEC. LSU’s all-time great offense lost nearly every starter and passing-game guru Joe Brady, so I’m taking Mike Leach’s Bulldogs to cover.

No. 23 Kentucky (+7 ½) at No. 8 Auburn

It’s not clear if Auburn transfer quarterback Joey Gatewood will be eligible to play for Kentucky. Wildcats coach Mark Stoops shot down a Rivals report that UK and Auburn had a “gentleman’s agreement” that Gatewood won’t play in this game even if eligible. That leaves open the intriguing possibility that Gus Malzahn’s former backup QB beats him and sends Auburn fans into a rage. I like Kentucky with the points.

No. 16 Tennessee (-3 ½) at South Carolina

Pick your ex-Georgia assistant: Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt vs. South Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. The Volunteers are feeling good after winning six consecutive games to close 2019, which started with the home loss to Georgia State. The Gamecocks are hoping Bobo can help improve their terrible offense. 'Cocks cover.

Other NFL games of interest

Packers (+3) at Saints

The annual Drew Brees is Washed Up storyline gained steam after his lackluster performance in a Week 2 loss to the Raiders. I got burned the past two years writing Brees off too early. The better reasons to be skeptical of the Saints are the offensive line’s shaky play and Michael Thomas' ankle injury. Give me the Packers and the points.

Buccaneers (-6) at Broncos

Bucs QB Tom Brady also hasn’t looked very sharp. He didn’t have to be great for Tampa Bay to beat Carolina last weekend and besting the Broncos also won’t require a big effort. John Elway won two Super Bowl titles as Broncos quarterback and one as general manager. That apparently means the Bowlen family will never fire him no matter how long the team stays bad. Broncos cover.

Chiefs (+3 ½) at Ravens

This should be a great game to watch Monday night. It’s an excruciating game for me to pick. Underdogs don’t get much better than the Chiefs, but the Ravens have a plus-49 point differential after victories over the Browns and Texans. I’m taking the Chiefs and the points, of course, but I don’t feel great about it.

Last week against the spread: 5-4 (11-7 this season).