Weekend Predictions: Georgia wins, Falcons and Georgia Tech lose

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) hits the turf in the backfield against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Caption
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) hits the turf in the backfield against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Credit: Mark Humphrey

Credit: Mark Humphrey

The Falcons are fortunate. They are set for a slide now that the allegedly easy part of their schedule is finished. But people in these parts won’t care much if the Falcons go on a losing streak because there’s so much excitement elsewhere on the local sports scene.

That’s right: Weekend Predictions is back to form. After a terrible start to the season, I’m threating to nudge my record above .500. Also, the Braves won the World Series for the first time since 1995, and Georgia is on track for its first national championship in 41 seasons.

My picks were 6-2 against the spread last weekend. I’ve posted a winning record in consecutive weeks and a 20-8 mark over the past three. I’ve been perfect picking ATS in games involving local teams for two straight weeks. It would be three in a row if Kentucky didn’t score that garbage-time touchdown in Athens (yes, I’m still bitter).

My confidence is back, but I won’t get too cocky because I’ve been wrong with my straight-up predictions for local teams. I gave the Falcons and Georgia Tech too much credit last weekend. I picked them to win close games as home favorites and both lost. The lesson here is that favorites are no fun.

Have I mentioned how much I appreciate the job coach Shawn Elliott is doing at Georgia State? He refused to take the coward’s way out by playing for overtime last weekend in Statesboro. The Panthers drove the field and scored a touchdown with 26 seconds left that beat Georgia Southern and, coincidentally, covered the six-point spread.

Falcons (+6½) at Saints

Matt Ryan wasn’t good against the Panthers on Sunday. Chances are the Falcons will lose to anybody when that happens. They just don’t have many good players or much depth. Coach Arthur Smith can’t say that, so instead you get him doing things like exasperatingly countering the “false narrative” that the Falcons aren’t trying to throw the ball downfield.

Strange, and unexpected things can happen Falcons-Saints games. Several variables make this meeting even harder to figure out. Saints QB Jameis Winston (knee) is out, but New Orleans beat the Falcons twice last season with backup Taysom Hill totaling 597 yards and four touchdowns. However, Hill (concussion) has been out since Week 5 and Trevor Siemian might be the starter. Either way, the Saints are playing great defense so I’m taking them to cover.

Missouri (+38) at No. 1 Georgia

Georgia is trying to avoid getting bored before the inevitable SEC Championship game matchup against Alabama. Coach Kirby Smart has reminded his players that only one of seven teams to be voted No. 1 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings went on to win the national championship. The 2017 Bulldogs were one of those teams. Someone check to make sure Bama doesn’t have another superstar QB on the bench.

The Bulldogs haven’t been favored by 38 points or more against an SEC opponent since at least 1990. That’s as far back as the Odds Shark database goes. Georgia is reaching Alabama levels of respect from the betting public, which naturally means I can’t resist taking the other side. Mizzou clears a low bar by losing by less than 38 points.

Georgia Tech (+10½) at Miami

AJC Tech beat writer Ken Sugiura notes that the “WIN 21″ slogan for this Yellow Jackets season has given way to more modest goals. Said coach Geoff Collins: “We’ve decreased the gap amongst the teams that we’ve played.” I figure we’re two more Tech losses away from Collins dusting off his speech about how he took on the most unique rebuilding job in the history of the universe.

The Hurricanes (4-4, 2-2 ACC) have a habit of delivering surprise victories after they’ve been written off. They’ve won as underdogs in back-to-back weeks, at home against then-No. 18 North Carolina and at No. 17 Pitt. I’ll probably regret trusting the ‘Canes, but I’m taking them to beat Tech (3-5, 2-4) and cover the spread.

Other college games of interest

LSU (+28½) at No. 2 Alabama

ESPN reports that Nick Saban so strongly believes in the Coach Code of never, ever criticizing another coach that he doesn’t even do it in private. Of course, Saban has no issue publicly disparaging his unsalaried players while sanctimoniously advising them to create more “value” that he can steal. The Crimson Tide are rolling again after stumbling at Texas A&M while LSU is playing out Ed Orgeron’s lame-duck season. Bama is the pick.

No. 13 Auburn (+4½) at No. 14 Texas A&M

Per AL.com, things are looking up at Auburn: “The Tigers are the highest-ranked two-loss team in the CFP rankings, and first-year coach Bryan Harsin has his team relevant heading into the homestretch of the season.” Bless their hearts. Aggies cover.

Tennessee (pick) at No. 18 Kentucky

Tennessee cornerback Alontae Taylor said: “You don’t lose to Kentucky.” That used to be the case for the Volunteers, who lost once to the Wildcats from 1985 through 2016. But Kentucky has won two of the past four meetings, including last season in Lexington. Kentucky opened as a 3-point favorite, but the line moved all the way to a pick ‘em. I’m picking Kentucky.

Clemson (-4) at Louisville

Clemson’s offense has been so bad that coach Dabo Swinney has modest goals for this week. “We need to not score for the other team,” Swinney told reporters. FSU and Pitt scored defensive TDs against Clemson in consecutive weeks. Louisville’s defense isn’t good, but the Cardinals will score enough to cover.

Florida (-18) at South Carolina

Two days after Florida’s blowout loss to Georgia, coach Dan Mullen didn’t want to talk about his recruiting. Then Mullen canceled media availability for the rest of the week except for his mandatory SEC coaches teleconference. That’s probably a smart move for Mullen so he has fewer chances to say dumb things. Gamecocks cover.

Other NFL games of interest

Patriots (-3½) at Panthers

Panthers coach Matt Rhule challenged quarterback Sam Darnold to rush for 89 yards against the Falcons. Rhule didn’t explain why he settled on that odd number as a key to victory. Hopefully Darnold wasn’t trying to meet the arbitrary goal when he ran for the end zone and took a big hit that knocked him out of the game (Darnold finished with 66 yards rushing). P.J. Walker could start against New England’s improving defense. Pats are the pick.

Packers (+7½) at Chiefs

When I covered the Packers way back when, team officials would complain that the NFL office treated the franchise unfairly because it doesn’t have an owner who can advocate for its interests. Well, here’s a good test of that theory: Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19, and it appears he didn’t follow protocols for unvaccinated players. We’ll see if the Packers get the Patriots treatment of a slap on the wrist for blatant rules violations. Rodgers is out for this game, but I still like Green Bay with the points.

Last week: 6-2 (43-45 season)

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