Weekend Predictions: Georgia over Auburn, Falcons lose to Jaguars in London

Weekend Predictions has been mediocre so far this season. There should be no shame in that this early, but unlike the Falcons, I’m not used to it.

After posting my first losing season in five on picks against the spread, I have to get on a roll before incapacitating self-doubt creeps into my brain. At least the Falcons have the excuse of playing in a league that engineers mediocrity. There’s nothing stopping me from rising above average except my stubborn insistence that Georgia can cover big spreads, and the misguided belief that Dabo Swinney still can win a big game at home.

It also would help if I could get my Falcons pick right for once.

Falcons (+3) vs. Jaguars (London)

I could blame bad luck for the Panthers and Packers failing to cover against the Falcons. I had no such excuse after the Falcons were dominated by the Lions. After months of wondering whether the Falcons could pass when they had to, I somehow thought they would do it against Detroit’s good defense. The only worse decision was Falcons coach Arthur Smith giving Bijan Robinson only 14 touches.

The Jaguars should be an easier opponent. They lost 37-17 at home to the terrible Texans last week. Jacksonville’s offense is having problems with turnovers and dropped passes (ex-Falcon Calvin Ridley has three). Jacksonville’s pass rush has been weak (ex-Bulldog Travon Walker has regressed in Year 2). But the Jags have been good against the run, so the Falcons will have to pass again, and we’ve seen how that goes. Jacksonville covers.

No. 1 Georgia (-14½) at Auburn

First-year Auburn coach Hugh Freeze offered a touchy-feely take on the Tigers-Bulldogs rivalry: “We should compete in a way out of love for our people, not necessarily for hate for other people.” That sentiment didn’t go over well in Auburn, but it should be no surprise. Per the website Maroon Gold and White, Freeze said pretty much the same thing as first-year coach at Ole Miss before the 2012 Egg Bowl vs Mississippi State. The Rebels went on to end a three-game losing streak in the rivalry, proving that love conquers all.

It didn’t take long for me to hate myself for taking Auburn and the points at Texas A&M last weekend. The Tigers (3-1, 0-1 SEC) were awful on offense. Freeze told reporters that quarterback Payton Thorne seemed “distracted in the pocket.” That should sound like sweet music to the Bulldogs, who’ve recorded only five sacks through four games. Auburn’s defense will provide resistance, but I like the Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0) to cover in a low-scoring game.

Bowling Green (+22½) at Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech earned an impressive victory at Wake Forest last weekend. Too bad I didn’t see it coming. The Yellow Jackets (2-2) bounced back after the lopsided loss at Ole Miss. Now they can win three games in September for the first time since 2017 or kill the good vibes by losing to one of the worst teams in FBS. The last time the Jackets were favored by 22 or more points is also the last time they played Bowling Green.

Per OddsShark, Tech was favored by 28 when it beat the Falcons 63-17 in 2018. The 2023 Falcons (1-3) are bad on defense (Michigan scored 31 points against them despite committing four turnovers). They just lost 38-7 at home to Ohio while gaining 25 yards on their first nine possessions, with four giveaways. I’m still taking Bowling Green and the points on the theory that they can’t possibly be that bad again.

Troy (+1½) at Georgia State

The Panthers are 4-0 after winning as road underdogs at Coastal Carolina. Troy (2-2, 0-1 Sun Belt) finished ranked in the Top 25 in Jon Sumrall’s first season as coach. But the Trojans lost their league opener to James Madison and beat Western Kentucky by only a field goal last weekend despite a 521-288 advantage in yards gained. Turnovers have been a big problem for Troy, and the Panthers are good at creating them. GSU is the pick.

Other college games of interest

No. 10 Utah (+3½) at No. 19 Oregon State

While everyone was writing the Pac-12′s obituary, the conference has been very good in its last season before 10 of 12 schools leave for other conferences. (Washington State and Oregon State remain in limbo.) Not only that, but there’s also some defense being played in the league, led by Utah’s fast and physical group. There’s no way I’m turning down a quality ‘dog. The Utes cover.

No. 11 Notre Dame (-5½) at No. 17 Duke

Notre Dame outplayed Ohio State for most of the game last weekend but lost in the final minute as Marcus Freeman made the kind of game-management blunders that get NFL coaches fired. The Fighting Irish had 10 men on the field for Ohio State’s final two plays, the second one a touchdown. Freeman said he didn’t want to take a penalty that would have moved OSU inches closer to the end zone. That’s the clip that will play when Freeman eventually gets dismissed. I’m taking Duke and the points.

No. 12 Alabama (-14½) at Mississippi State

Nick Saban is back to talking about “guardrails” for name, image and likeness rights for athletes after Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith went to Congress and begged politicians to save the sport from the situation it created with its greed. Saban said he’s not opposed to players earning NIL money, he’s just against so-called “pay-for-play.” Coach-for-pay is good, though. I like Bama to cover because Saban has a lot more elite unpaid players than Bulldogs coach Zach Arnett.

No. 13 LSU (-2½) at No. 20 Ole Miss

LSU was favored by three touchdowns against Arkansas last weekend and won by a field goal. The lackluster performance had Tigers coach Brian Kelly doing some honest introspection by complaining for days about a roughing-the-passer penalty that kept alive a game-tying drive by Arkansas. I love Ole Miss as the home ‘dog.

No. 22 Florida (+1½) at Kentucky

I put Florida at threat-level zero for Georgia after the Gators lost 24-11 at Utah in the season opener. Since then, Utah has proved to be legit, and Florida beat Tennessee by two touchdowns in The Swamp. The Gators have lost two consecutive games and three of five against the Wildcats after beating them 31 times in a row from 1987-2017. Kentucky’s strong defense will give Florida trouble, but I like the Gators to cover.

Other NFL games of interest

Buccaneers (+3) at Saints

The bad feelings about my Falcons pick were mitigated by watching the Saints blow a 17-point lead to the Packers in the fourth quarter. QB Jameis Winston played because Derek Carr sustained a shoulder injury. Saints coach Dennis Allen said Winston will start if Carr can’t go. It seems Allen is abandoning Sean Payton’s genius idea of making Taysom Hill a quarterback. My preseason prediction that the Bucs will be better than expected is looking pretty good. Tampa Bay is the pick.

Vikings (-4) at Panthers

It’s no surprise that the Panthers are 0-3. They are rebuilding with rookie QB Bryce Young. But the Vikings are supposed to be a playoff contender, and they also are 0-3. The Vikings have been the unluckiest team in the league, according to the NFL’s metric. Maybe that’s true, but Minnesota’s defense also isn’t very good. I’m taking the Panthers and the points.

Last week: 5-6 (17-17-2 season).

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