Weekend Predictions: Georgia wins big, Falcons and Georgia Tech lose

Falcons coach Arthur Smith praised his team’s fight after it lost at Tampa Bay last weekend. Some may think it’s a bit pee-wee league for a coach to praise professionals for trying hard. I disagree, for reasons that have nothing to do with me giving my best effort while failing three weeks in a row.

Give Weekend Predictions credit for going 4-5 against the spread last time out. That’s better than the first two weeks. My picks are going in the right direction. The Falcons and I are showing a lot of fight and not giving up despite our ineptitude.

Falcons (+3) at Giants

Earlier this week I noted that since 1978, five 0-2 teams that got blown out at least as badly as the Falcons recovered to finish 8-8 or better. Four of those teams won in Week 3. Washington started 0-5 in 2001 and finished 8-8 with coach Marty Schottenheimer. The Falcons have a rookie head coach whose team burned two timeouts and botched a quarterback sneak at Tampa Bay because it couldn’t get organized.

The Giants have two starting offensive linemen on injured reserve. Star running back Saquon Barkley is gaining an average of 1.5 rushing yards before contact, third worst among players with at least 20 attempts. The Giants haven’t shown much pass rush. But QB Daniel Jones is playing well, and he can run. He gives the Falcons fits as New York wins by less than a field goal.

No. 21 North Carolina (-12½) vs. Georgia Tech (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

Like Smith, Tech coach Geoff Collins was proud of his team’s effort after a loss. The difference is Yellow Jackets players aren’t paid, and they should have been overmatched by Clemson’s depth chart full of blue-chip talent. Instead, Tech had a chance to force overtime on the final play. The Tigers are flailing on offense, but there will never come a day when I dismiss Tech holding them to 284 yards and 14 points in Death Valley.

Tech has struggled to repeat good performances with Collins as coach. The Jackets won at Florida State last season before losing at home to South Florida. They beat South Florida in Collins’ second game as coach, then lost to The Citadel. Tech competes this time, but the Tar Heels are so good on offense that they still cover.

No. 2 Georgia (-35½) at Vanderbilt

The Bulldogs said they aren’t looking for payback after Vanderbilt twice called off games last season. That’s too bad. That would be a hilariously dumb motivational gambit. Imagine Georgia players on the field trash-talking their Vandy counterparts over COVID-19 protocols.

In the Georgia locker room after the victory over South Carolina, coach Kirby Smart told players: “Do not fall victim to the disease that, ‘We’re too good, we can’t be beat!’ They are going to tell you that!” I don’t know who “they” are or why anyone in the program would think they can’t be beat considering Georgia hasn’t won it all since 1980. Bulldogs are the pick.

Georgia State (+27) at No. 23 Auburn

I got off the Georgia State bandwagon after two blowout losses, and they earned their first victory. You’re welcome, Panthers. Coach Shawn Elliott changed quarterbacks against Charlotte, but the running game powered the victory. That obviously will be much harder to do against Auburn. I still like GSU to cover.

Other college games of interest

No. 7 Texas A&M (-4½) at No. 16 Arkansas

This is a big game. The winner will be in prime position to finish second to Alabama in the SEC West. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher could get another contract extension out of that. I’ve underestimated Arkansas, and I love a good home ‘dog, yet I’m still taking TAMU to cover.

No. 9 Clemson (-10) at NC State

TigerNet reports that Dabo Swinney’s ears are ringing this week. I figured it’s because of the noise from fan discontent over his offense. Turns out Swinney was talking about the crowd sounds he pumped into practice to get his team ready for this road trip. The Wolfpack tend to play the Tigers tough at home, but I like Clemson to grind and cover.

Tennessee (+19) at No. 11 Florida

At first glance, I liked the Volunteers as a ‘dog here. Then I saw coach Josh Heupel say he wants them to quicken their tempo even though it’s already the fastest in the nation. That’s a solid plan for giving a superior opponent more chances to prove it. This series has been so lopsided — Florida has won 15 of the past 16 meetings — that coach Dan Mullen is pleading with fans to show up. Florida is the pick.

Other NFL games of interest

Saints (+3) at Patriots

The Saints flopped at Carolina last weekend as QB Jameis Winston posted the lowest passer rating of his career (26.9). Winston insists the Saints will be fine because “we know how to win and we’re resilient.” Well, the Saints know how to win. Winston didn’t make the playoffs in five years as Bucs starter, and his awful interceptions make resilience necessary. I’m taking the Saints and the points on the theory that Winston will follow his usual pattern of swinging back to the other extreme.

Buccaneers (-1½) at Rams

Bucs QB Tom Brady told SiriusXM that the NFL “is a little softer than it used to be” because of more roughing penalties called on defensive players. If so, it surely has nothing to do with the NFL’s golden boy yelling at officials for a flag every time he’s touched in the pocket over two decades. Rams cover.

Packers (+3½) at 49ers

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he got a “quick no” when he inquired with friend/Packers coach Matt LaFleur about a trade for QB Aaron Rodgers last offseason. I wonder if Shanahan and Rodgers will lock eyes and share a moment. The coach wishing he had Rodgers instead of Jimmy Garoppolo and the perpetually unhappy Green Bay QB wondering what it’s like to play for Shanahan. I like San Francisco to cover.

Last week: 4-5 (10-18 season)