Weekend Predictions: Falcons open with close loss to Saints

The Falcons should cover this week against the Saints, columnist Michael Cunningham writes. (JASON GETZ / FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Jason Getz/For the AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/For the AJC

The Falcons should cover this week against the Saints, columnist Michael Cunningham writes. (JASON GETZ / FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Weekend Predictions played to a draw in Week 1. It felt like a loss. My standards are high after three years of proving my genius picking games.

I’ll learn from my mistakes and make the necessary corrections. I’ll get this thing turned around just as soon as I stop making dumb decisions like predicting Georgia won’t cover the spread in a (sort of) home game against any team other than Alabama. That pick looked bad by halftime.

It appeared I’d begin a new season with a losing record until Georgia Tech and LSU came through late in the weekend. Tech surrendered two touchdowns after blocked punts, then Clemson’s freshman quarterback led a TD drive. Special-teams mistakes also factored in LSU’s loss to underdog Florida State. I’m not too proud to take those lucky covers.

No picks this week for Georgia vs. Samford or Georgia Tech vs. Western Carolina. There is no consensus point spread when FBS teams face FCS opponents. I’m glad because that means there’s no good reason for me to watch those games.

Saints (-5½) at Falcons

I’ve been disappointed by the lack of trash talk by the Saints before this game. There were 28-3 references at the team’s practice facility and the Superdome, but not much else. I don’t blame the Saints for clowning the Falcons forever about the Super Bowl collapse. But it’s very funny that the second-best moment in the franchise’s history is a loss by its rival. Sometimes it seems as if it ranks higher than the Super Bowl win.

As usual, I’m looking for reasons to back the home ‘dog. For this game, they are the Saints’ lengthy injury report (including star wide receiver Michael Thomas) and the possibility that Jameis Winston throws a pick-six. I’m picking the Falcons to cover. I’d feel a lot better about it if rookie wide receiver Drake London weren’t still limited by a knee injury that he suffered a month ago.

North Carolina (-7½) at Georgia State

Georgia State was on track for an upset victory Saturday at South Carolina before meltdowns on special teams led to a lopsided loss. It was very disappointing. My GSU pick was looking good up until then. I’m sure it was tough on the Panthers, too. Now GSU will play host to a Power Five team for the first time. I’m taking the Panthers and the points again.

Other college football games of interest

No. 1 Alabama (-20½) at Texas

Bama coach Nick Saban told reporters he was unaware that players can be penalized for the “Horns down” gesture that mocks the “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signal. Said Saban: “I have not addressed it with the team, but I appreciate you letting me know that.” There’s that famous Saban attention to detail. I wish no one had told him because it would have been hilarious to see Saban figure it out only after one of his players got flagged. Saban’s teams tend to handle their business as big road favorites. Bama is the pick.

No. 20 Kentucky (+6) at No. 12 Florida

There are many reasons why coach Dan Mullen got run out of Florida in less than four full seasons. Losing twice to Kentucky must be near the top of the list. The Gators beat the Wildcats 31 years in a row before that. Florida coach Billy Napier is getting accolades after the big win over Utah in Week 1. I’m sure Gators fans will take a measured, big-picture view if he loses this week. Kentucky covers.

South Carolina (+9) at No. 16 Arkansas

Rocky Top Insider reports that after the Gamecocks beat Georgia State, coach Shane Beamer told the SEC Network: “We know there are some other SEC teams that have played these guys and aren’t having the feeling that we have right now.” Beamer was referring to Tennessee’s loss to the Panthers in 2019. It was an unnecessary cheap shot, which is why I love it. South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler made dynamic plays against GSU, but he had to because his offensive line was leaky. Arkansas covers.

No. 24 Tennessee (-6½) at No. 17 Pittsburgh

Tennessee is ranked for the first time since it seemed as if Jeremy Pruitt knew what he was doing. The 2020 Volunteers were ranked 14th when they were blown out at Georgia. The next week they lost at home to Kentucky for the first time in 36 years. Josh Heupel picked up the pieces. According to Sports Reference, this is Tennessee’s first true nonconference road game since losing 34-10 at Oklahoma in 2014 (the Vols beat Georgia Tech at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017). Pitt is the pick.

No. 10 USC (-8) at Stanford

A Los Angeles Times article referred to Lincoln Riley as a “genius head coach” after USC hung 66 points on Rice. I’ve covered a lot of head coaches, some smarter than others, but none of them are geniuses. Otherwise, they’d be doing something move valuable to society than coaching sports, like writing about them. Rice’s defense is terrible, and USC’s defense scored three times. Stanford is a tougher test. The Cardinal cover.

Other NFL games of interest

Buccaneers (-2½) at Cowboys

Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons spoke for so many of us when he told reporters in Dallas: “We got to get him out of this league.” You know who he’s talking about. It seems Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele Bündchen, feels the same way. People magazine reports that Brady’s decision to un-retire has led to a “rough patch” in their marriage. Why couldn’t he just listen to his wife? Cowboys cover.

Browns (+1½) at Panthers

On the one hand, Baker Mayfield helped the Browns get back to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. On the other hand, he had more funny commercials than playoff victories during his time in Cleveland. That’s not good enough for an overall No. 1 pick who rubs some people the wrong way. The Browns traded Mayfield to Carolina in July. Mayfield insists he has no animosity toward his former team, but I’m not buying it. He plays better when he’s mad, so I’m taking the Panthers to cover.

Last week: 4-4 (4-4 season)