Weekend Predictions: Falcons win, Jackets lose, Bulldogs roll

The Falcons and Saints will meet Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, their second matchup in three weeks and the 10th since 2016. Here's a look back at the previous nine games.

COVID-19 is making a mockery of football’s pretenses about fair play. Games that should be postponed or canceled instead are played by teams with depleted rosters. Protocols are stretched to accommodate. Leagues are wildly flailing for cash like people in those money booths.

Weekend Predictions is, of course, above it all. My motivations are pure, not self-serving. I just want to be right about my picks, which are a public service for everyone who wants to pretend all this is fine.

My choices were 7-5 against the spread last time out. I backed the Broncos before it was announced they would have no quarterback vs. the Saints (that went like you’d expect). I lost two other picks by a half point. I offer this information for context, not to make excuses like every other person in the history of picks that go wrong.

There is no excuse being wrong on my Falcons picks ATS for seven consecutive games. I want to make a joke about it, but there’s no punchline, only pain.

Saints (-3) at Falcons

The Falcons weren’t sure how much quarterback Taysom Hill would play in the Nov. 22 meeting. He ended up starting and finishing with 282 total yards, 18-of-23 passing and two rushing touchdowns in the Saints’ victory. Hill wasn’t good against the Broncos, but he didn’t need to be because the opposing offense was so bad.

The Falcons say they have a plan for Hill in the rematch. I think they’ll keep him in check by loading up against his runs and making him stay in the pocket to throw. But will Matt Ryan be better after two consecutive subpar games and with Julio Jones (hamstring) possibly limited? I say he will be, so I’m taking the Falcons to win, for whatever that’s worth.

Vanderbilt (+35½) at No. 8 Georgia (Game postponed)

Vanderbilt athletic director Candice Lee is looking for a new football coach after firing Derek Mason. Per the Tennessean, Lee plans to convince the next candidate that Vandy is serious about football: “I’m not going to get in front of a candidate and say, ‘Just believe me.’ I’ve got to be able to show them.” Unfortunately for Lee, she won’t be able to avoid showing them the current football facilities.

Making a pick for this game means guessing whether the Bulldogs will be bored and, if so, can they still cover that big spread. Georgia just smashed South Carolina with punishing runs, and Vandy’s defense is even weaker in that area. The ‘Dores can’t score, either. I generally love underdogs, but not this one. Georgia covers.

Georgia Tech (+7) at N.C. State

The Yellow Jackets returned from a long break and dominated Duke after halftime Saturday to end their losing streak at three games. With three ACC games to go, Tech (3-5, 3-4 ACC) already has won one more league victory than last season. Most important, the Jackets have some cushion to meet my preseason prediction of a 5-6 finish.

I projected that Tech, feeling confident for the season’s final game, would beat N.C. State. But COVID-19 postponements made this the ninth game instead of the last, N.C. State (7-3, 6-3) is better than I expected, and Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs’ hamstring is ailing. I’d like it if the Jackets win, but they lose by less than a touchdown.

Other college games of interest

No. 1 Alabama (-29½) at LSU

Nick Saban stayed home Saturday after testing positive for COVID-19, and Alabama still rolled Auburn. That should reinforce the reality that overwhelming player talent is the most important element to winning. But college football worships its coaches, so predictably, some media types gave fill-in Steve Sarkisian the credit. Saban will be back on the sideline to point the Bama machine in the right direction to crush LSU. Crimson Tide cover.

Syracuse (+33½) at No. 2 Notre Dame

Per Syracuse.com, Orange coach Dino Babers said his team would have had “11 no-contests” if fullback Chris Elmore hadn’t moved to the offensive line after injuries and attrition left its numbers one above the minimum. Seven of the Orange’s losses were by two scores or more. Georgia Tech’s 37-20 loss at Syracuse on Sept. 26 looks even worse now. I’ll take Notre Dame to cover.

No. 3 Clemson (-22½) at Virginia Tech

Florida State won’t make up its postponed game against Clemson. That’s too bad. I was looking forward to seeing Dabo Swinney follow through with his threat not to return to Tallahassee unless FSU paid the bill. Clemson covers, then gets ready to face Notre Dame in the Dec. 19 ACC Championship game.

No. 4 Ohio State (-23½) at Michigan State

Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez told the Detroit News that the Big Ten could scrap the six-game minimum to qualify for its championship game should Ohio State end up playing five. That would be the case if Michigan’s COVID-19 outbreak forces the cancellation of its Dec. 12 game vs. the Buckeyes. If so, OSU might get in the CFP anyway. But the Big Ten should do what it can to boost the Buckeyes after the ACC smoothed the schedule for Clemson and Notre Dame. Buckeyes are the pick.

No. 5 Texas A&M (-7) at Auburn

The Aggies (6-1) have a viable path to the CFP if they win out, Ohio State loses once and both Florida and Clemson lose again. The Buckeyes won’t lose. Bama will take care of Florida in the SEC Championship game. It’s not likely Clemson loses to Notre Dame again with QB Trevor Lawrence, but it’s possible. It would be funny if TAMU makes that all moot by losing this game. I’m taking the Tigers to cover.

No. 6 Florida (-17½) at Tennessee

Florida coach Dan Mullen berated defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on the sidelines during Saturday’s victory over Kentucky. Grantham told reporters all is good between the two coaches. That’s a relief to everyone who worried that these two likeable guys weren’t getting along. Gators cover.

No. 13 BYU (-10) at No. 18 Coastal Carolina

This game was hastily arranged after a COVID-19 outbreak within Liberty’s program forced the cancellation of its game at Coastal Carolina on Saturday. It should plant the seed for a scheduling strategy for the best teams outside of the Power 5. Leave open dates late in every season, wait until the first CFP ranking is released, then all included non-P5 teams schedule each other. That would force the CFP committee to make it even more obvious that it automatically locks half of FBS teams out of the playoffs. I like BYU to cover.

Last week against the spread: 7-5 (73-52-3 season)

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