Weekend Predictions: Georgia over Bama, Falcons over Saints

FILE - Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks with Alabama head coach Nick Saban before the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. Georgia plays Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Jan. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

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FILE - Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks with Alabama head coach Nick Saban before the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. Georgia plays Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Jan. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

There’s no in-between outcome here. It’s either extraordinary triumph or total collapse. Victory would be a palate cleanser for all the previous letdowns. Defeat would deliver an emotional punch that lingers long beyond Monday.

Also, the Georgia Bulldogs are trying to win their first national championship since 1980. That’s a big deal. But let’s not lose sight of what’s really important: Weekend Predictions is in position to post a winning record for the fourth time in four years of picking games against the spread.

My record is two games above break-even with one weekend to go. It will be an off-year by my standards even if I pull it off. But the Falcons are finishing up their fourth consecutive losing season, so at least I could say my worst record during that time is superior to their best.

That’s a low bar, but I’m not too proud to pat myself on the back if I clear it.

College Football Playoff Championship game: No. 3 Georgia (-3) vs. No. 1 Alabama

Before last month’s SEC Championship game, I wondered why so many people were calling the Georgia the new Alabama. The Crimson Tide must have wondered the same thing because they seemed to take it personal that outsiders put Georgia on their level. Bama went out and made it seven wins in a row against its not-really rivals and now can earn its eighth national championship since the Bulldogs won their last.

I suppose you can spin the Tide’s spirited effort in the SEC title game as a function of them needing the victory more. If so, the question becomes: Why wasn’t Georgia desperate to beat Bama? The Bulldogs needed to prove they can do it while knocking the Tide out of the CFP. Now here’s the rematch for the highest stakes possible with no evidence that the Dawgs can beat Bama.

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My confusion about the disrespect shown to the Tide before the first meeting did not persuade me to pick them to cover as 6½-point underdogs. That mistake was clear by halftime. I’m still reluctant to take the Tide as ‘dogs in the rematch. It’s hard to believe that UGA’s defense will be so vulnerable again and that Bama QB Bryce Young will keep slipping away.

Georgia is the pick to win and cover. If I’m wrong about Bama again, I’ll be getting what I deserve.

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Saints (-4½) at Falcons

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was called for a taunting penalty at Buffalo on Sunday after scoring what should have been a touchdown, but wasn’t. Maybe it was the right call by the letter of the dumb rule, but Ryan should get a pass. We need more instances of the guy with dad-joke energy flashing his ultra-competitive fire. The best example: Ryan yelling at the Panthers to get the flip off his field after beating them at the Georgia Dome in 2012.

This is another chance for Ryan to stick it to a rival and tell them where they can go. New Orleans (8-8) makes the playoffs with a victory and a 49ers loss at the Rams. The Saints are alive despite QB Jameis Winston playing only seven games and star wide receiver Michael Thomas not playing at all. It can all come crashing down with a loss to the Falcons (7-9), who beat them at their place in November.

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The optimal outcome is losses for both New Orleans and San Francisco. Then Saints coach Sean Payton can go into the offseason bitter about the hated Falcons keeping him out of the playoffs. Tight end Kyle Pitts (hamstring) is questionable to play, so the Falcons could be without one of their two good playmakers. I’m still taking them to win straight up.

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Other NFL games of interest

Panthers (+8) at Buccaneers

The No. 2 priority for Falcons backers behind their team ruining the Saints’ playoff bid is seeing Bucs QB Tom Brady get his comeuppance. Antonio Brown helped the cause by quitting during Sunday’s game because he said coaches were pressuring him to play on a bad ankle. This entirely predictable outcome of coach Bruce Arians’ decision to sign Brown (a move endorsed by Brady) means Tampa Bay will be without its second-best wide receiver for the playoffs. The Bucs have clinched a playoff berth, but have a shot at earning the NFC’s No. 2, and that’s enough motivation for them to cover.

Steelers (+5½) at Ravens

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson really needs an agent. He’s reportedly handling his own negotiations for a contract extension at the same time he’s losing leverage. Jackson has missed four games because of injury or illness. His indifference to being exposed to COVID-19 demonstrates to his employer that being available to play isn’t high on his list of priorities. Baltimore and Pittsburgh both need this victory and a lot of help elsewhere to make the playoffs, but Jackson (ankle) still wasn’t practicing as of Wednesday. Steelers cover.

Colts (-15½) at Jaguars

This game should be avoided by all without a rooting or financial interest. Do pay attention to the result, though. The Colts are in the playoffs no matter what. Should they lose, then both the Raiders and Chargers would make the playoffs with a tie in their game later Sunday. I badly want to see them collude to make that happen without making it obvious they are doing so. I’m taking the Jags and the points while hoping they unleash chaos by beating the Colts for the sixth consecutive time at home.

Washington Football Team (-7) at Giants

Both teams are eliminated from the playoffs, but this game could have draft implications for the Falcons. If WFT wins and the Falcons lose, both teams would finish 7-10. The Falcons would get the higher draft pick by virtue of the weaker strength of schedule. If that happens, at least the Falcons will get something good out of coach Arthur Smith trying to sit on a lead in the loss to WFT in Week 4. I like WFT to cover.

Last week: 3-3 (83-81-1 season)

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