This heavyweight clash in the NFC South features the 5-5 Saints versus the 4-6 Falcons. Hey, somebody’s got to win the division. We’ve been focused on the Falcons’ freefall, but the Saints haven’t been so hot either. They’ve lost three of their past five games while struggling to produce a complete effort. At least the Saints can cite injuries as part of the problem.
Saints quarterback Derek Carr will play after clearing concussion protocol. The Falcons are going back to Ridder. That’s dicey, but the bigger concern for the Falcons is kicker Younghoe Koo’s bad back. The Falcons need Koo as a security blanket. I’m guessing they won’t have him, and that’s another good reason to pick the Saints.
No. 1 Georgia (-24) at Georgia Tech
Kirby Smart sidestepped a question about whether the Yellow Jackets are Georgia’s No. 1 rival. The answer would be obvious if Tech could win this game every so often. Really, Smart’s answer seemed to be less about that and more about his role as risk-averse CEO of Bulldogs, Inc. One of Smart’s 100 aides probably provided him with a cost-benefit chart on ranking rivalries.
As usual, I tried making a case for the big home underdog. The Jackets were competitive for 40 minutes last season at Georgia. They have a better quarterback now (Haynes King). But I kept coming back to this: Only five Power 5 teams have allowed more 20-plus yard gains than Tech, and Georgia has produced the sixth-most plays that long. Maybe Smart plays it safe, but I’m not willing to stake my pick on that. Bulldogs cover.
Georgia State (+3) at Old Dominion
Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said the Panthers found their offensive “mojo” while scoring 14 points at LSU last weekend. Maybe they should abandon it and look for a better one. The Panthers (6-5) have lost four games in a row by lopsided margins, but they still have much to play for. A victory could mean a beach destination instead of Birmingham for the bowl game. I like GSU with the points.
Other college games of interest
No. 5 Florida State (-6½) at Florida
The Seminoles are favored by a touchdown at The Swamp even though QB Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending leg injury last weekend. The Gators are in danger of posting three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1945-47. Florida coach Billy Napier is 11-13 (6-10 in the SEC). That’s the kind of record that gets people looking up his contract buyout (it’s $31.45 million). The Seminoles are my pick.
No. 8 Alabama (-14) at Auburn
The highlight of Bryan Harsin’s tenure as Auburn coach might have been almost beating Alabama. The Tigers lost in four overtimes two years ago. Interim coach Cadillac Williams lost 49-27 at Alabama last season. Now Hugh Freeze gets his first shot at Nick Saban as Auburn’s coach. Freeze was 2-3 versus Saban at Ole Miss. “I respect the King,” Freeze told reporters. Hard to respect the Tigers after they lost to New Mexico State. Bama covers.
Kentucky (+7½) at No. 10 Louisville
Kentucky’s Deon Walker told reporters he’s “never liked Louisville.” Walker: “Their fans are kind of snobbish. Their players act entitled.” Walker must have been thinking of Kentucky men’s basketball. The Cardinals were in a post-Bobby Petrino funk until Jeff Brohm returned home to coach them this season. Walker should know that since Kentucky has won four games in a row over Louisville. The Cardinals end that streak and cover the spread.
No. 16 Oregon State (+13½) at No. 6 Oregon
Oregon has won 12 of the past 15 games in this rivalry, but Oregon State won in 2020 and 2022. This could be the last meeting for a while because Oregon is leaving for the Big Ten. “The immutable fact is that after Friday, something that has helped defined us as Oregonians will be gone” Bill Oram wrote for The Oregonian. If anything kills college football it will be decisions like that, not NIL and the transfer portal. Oregon State is the pick.
No. 24 Clemson (-7½) at South Carolina
Ex-President Donald Trump is planning to attend this game in between court dates to face his many criminal charges. “I don’t care who comes to the game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters who asked about Trump. “I just care about who’s playing in the game.” That’s a smart answer by Swinney. He provided no red meat for his base and no reason for Trump to whine. I’m not buying South Carolina’s supposed improvement on defense. Clemson covers.
Other NFL games of interest
Panthers (+3½) at Titans
Falcons fans hoping the team might upgrade at QB in free agency next year should consider that Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill might be the best of the bunch. Titans coach named Will Levis the starter over Tannehill after the rookie lit up the Falcons when Tannehill was injured. Levis hasn’t been nearly as good since then, but I can’t trust Carolina to cover on the road. Tennessee is the pick.
Buccaneers (+2½) at Colts
Now that Jameis Winston doesn’t play much for the Saints, Baker Mayfield is the most exciting quarterback in the NFC South. It’s exhilarating to see what happens when Mayfield throws passes that he absolutely shouldn’t. It can’t be good for Kyle Trask’s confidence to know the Bucs would rather let Mayfield do that than give him a chance. I’m taking the Bucs, who are 5-0 ATS as road ‘dogs.
Last week: 5-4 (38-46-4 season)