Bears (+3) at Falcons
Falcons coach Arthur Smith said he’s not benching Marcus Mariota because quarterback play isn’t the only issue for his offense. True, but that’s not an endorsement of Mariota. Normally, I would write off the public calls for Mariota’s job as a knee-jerk reaction to a bad game. But Mariota’s performance at Carolina was so comically bad that I get it. No one with a rooting interest in the Falcons wants to see that again.
Now Bears (and ex-Georgia and Harrison High) quarterback Justin Fields is coming home to face the Falcons. If he leads the Bears to victory and Mariota struggles, it will increase the urgency of those Falcons fans on Team Tank to see Desmond Ridder. I doubt that happens because Chicago’s defense is bad, which is why the Bears lost at home to the Lions on Sunday despite a good game by Fields. The Falcons are my pick to cover the spread.
No. 1 Georgia (-22 ½) at Kentucky
Last time these teams met in Lexington, Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Kentucky counterpart Mark Stoops seemed to have a gentleman’s agreement. Smart would have the Bulldogs play the most conservative game possible. Stoops would do the same and accept losing by a respectable margin. Georgia won 14-3. Yes, I did pick Georgia -17 in that game. Why do you ask?
The Bulldogs showed Saturday at Mississippi State that they aren’t winding things down until the postseason. Georgia allowed 12 points when it mattered and turned back the host’s mild rally with Ladd McConkey’s 70-yard TD run. The Wildcats play very good defense, but they scuffle to score and just lost at home to Vanderbilt. That’s a bad situation with Georgia coming to town. Bulldogs cover.
Georgia Tech (+21) at No. 13 North Carolina
North Carolina coach Mack Brown told reporters the Yellow Jackets have “one of the best defenses that we’ll play.” Tech ranks 12th in points allowed per game in the ACC. Brown also noted that the Jackets “are still in contention for a bowl bid.” That’s true in the same sense that I’m in contention for a Pulitzer Prize. It’s theoretically possible that I can win, but it’s not happening.
Zach Gibson likely will start at quarterback for Tech with Jeff Sims and Zach Pyron sidelined by injuries. Gibson was benched during his last start and wasn’t much better in relief against Miami on Saturday. Gibson’s backup is Taisun Phommachanh, who once was a top signee for Clemson. The uncertainty at QB for Tech makes this game hard to predict. I’m picking the Tar Heels to cover because I think they’ll have little trouble scoring against one of the best defenses they’ll play.
Georgia State (+8 ½) at James Madison
James Madison is 6-3. That’s pretty good for one guy playing his first season in FBS. I make that corny, obvious joke to distract from the fact that I still have no clue about Georgia State. The Panthers have lost three times straight up when I picked them to cover as favorites. They’ve won twice when I went against them as underdogs. My instincts tell me to take the Panthers and the points, so I’ll ignore them and back James Madison.
Other college games of interest
No. 5 Tennessee (-21 ½) at South Carolina
The Volunteers played an opponent that’s not Georgia last weekend, and suddenly they were putting the scoreboard on tilt again. Funny how that works. And it’s not as if Missouri’s defense is bad. Tennessee just made it look that way while compiling 724 yards and 66 points, thus confirming Missouri’s wisdom in giving coach Eli Drinkwitz a contract extension a week earlier. I think the point spread for Vols-Gamecocks is an overreaction to that performance, so I’m taking South Carolina and the points.
Alabama-Birmingham (+14 ½) at No. 6 LSU
There was chicken broth on LSU’s sideline during its win at Arkansas on Saturday. “I prefer clam chowder,” LSU coach Brian Kelly joked to reporters. “But they weren’t going to go with the New England style.” Kelly should do more of this kind of self-depreciating humor and less of the carpetbagger pandering. Though I’m sure no one in Baton Rouge will mind if Kelly uses the fake Cajun accent again now that he’s delivered an unexpected SEC West title. UAB covers.
No. 7 USC (-2 ½) at No. 16 UCLA
The Trojans somehow are behind Tennessee and LSU in the College Football Playoff rankings. USC’s only loss was by one point at No. 20 Utah, which converted a two-point try in the final minute. LSU got run off the field at Tennessee and lost at home to Florida State, which has no other notable victories. The Vols were blown out at Georgia. I guess lopsided losses just mean less when it’s the SEC. UCLA is the pick.
Miami (+19) at No. 9 Clemson
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney called it a “do-or-die game” for quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei at Louisville last week. “He ‘do’d,’” Swinney told reporters after Clemson’s 31-16 victory. Clemson won decisively despite fumbling four times and losing three. Miami freshman quarterback Jacurri Brown started against Georgia Tech and injected some life into the running game. He’ll probably start again in place of Tyler Van Dyke (shoulder), but the going will be tougher. Clemson covers.
Other NFL game of interest
Rams (+3 ½) at Saints
Here’s how things are going for the Saints: Dennis Allen had to pick between Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston as his starting quarterback. Winston hasn’t played since Week 3, first because of a bad back and then because Allen decided to stick with Dalton. Dalton was OK for a minute but turned back into a pumpkin as the Saints lost four of five games. Allen is sticking with Dalton against the Rams. The visitors have had a lot of trouble scoring, too, but I trust them to cover as underdogs.
Last week: 3-4-1 (51-52-3 season).