Weekend Predictions: Losses for Georgia, Georgia Tech and Falcons

Alabama coach Nick Saban is out vs. Georgia because he’s infected with COVID-19. Florida canceled its game vs. LSU because of an outbreak, days after Gators coach Dan Mullen advocated for packing the house at The Swamp for a super-spreader event. The Falcons shut down their facilities because of a positive test.

Good thing we have sports to distract us during a pandemic!

I laugh at the absurdity so I don’t cry. Sometimes I wish I were as callous as people who seem angrier about media covering COVID-19 than the avoidable sickness and death. But then I’d have to live with myself.

Weekend Predictions is 5-for-5 on my weekly picks record after wheezing to a 5-4 mark against the spread last weekend. My dumb decision to believe the Falcons would finally win a game didn’t cost me. Georgia Tech ended up not needing the points against Louisville. Georgia rolled Tennessee to set up another big loss to Alabama.

No. 3 Georgia (+4) at No. 2 Alabama

NCAA rules prohibit Saban from communicating with his assistants during the game. Without the guidance of their head coach, Crimson Tide players will have to figure out a way to win by just being better than Georgia’s players. If Alabama wins, I’m sure coach worshipers will just say they did it for Saban or give credit to fill-in Steve Sarkisian.

Hilariously, Saban’s absence means that if Georgia wins, then coach Kirby Smart won’t really get credit for beating his old boss. Smart laughed off Saban’s 21-0 record against his former assistants, saying “I don’t think anybody in the last 10 years that has a really good record” against Saban. Gus Malzahn (3-4) could (sort of) make a case, which also is funny.

The consensus betting line on this game moved two points in Georgia’s direction within minutes of Alabama’s announcement of Saban’s diagnosis. I liked the Bulldogs a lot more getting six points than four. I’ll take Alabama to cover the spread.

No. 1 Clemson (-27) at Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets had good fumble luck in their victory over Louisville by recovering three of four that they forced. That may not be sustainable. But freshman quarterback Jeff Sims had no interceptions and delivered two clutch touchdown passes in the second half while taking big hits. That’s a sign that he’s getting better.

I still maintain that, under the circumstances, the Yellow Jackets played reasonably well in their 52-14 loss at Clemson in last season’s opener. Tech is better now. Clemson is a machine, but the Jackets have played solid defense this season save for some big plays allowed at Syracuse. Tech loses but covers.

Falcons (+4) at Vikings

This game may be postponed by the time you read this. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad for the Falcons. Interim coach Raheem Morris said they have “a lot of people in disarray” after they dropped to 0-5 and Dan Quinn was fired. I appreciate him being honest, so I won’t talk myself into taking the points.

The Vikings (1-4) have one-point losses to the Seahawks (5-0) and Titans (5-0). Their offense ranks eighth in the Football Outsiders efficiency metric. The passing game is so-so, and star running back Dalvin Cook (groin) probably won’t play, but the Falcons are just what quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to get on track. Vikings cover.

Other college games of interest

No. 11 Texas A&M (-6½) at Mississippi State

TAMU beat Florida to give coach Jimbo Fisher his biggest victory since leaving Florida State for College Station. He told Paul Finebaum that the Aggies are “supposed to” win, but added (via Saturday Down South): “We’ve played, I think, six No. 1 or 2′s. Nobody beats the one or twos.” Good thing the Aggies aren’t in the SEC or that could be an issue. TAMU covers.

No. 15 Auburn (-3) at South Carolina

One sign of normalcy: Among the top Google results for Malzahn is an AL.com article about where his contract buyout ranks among coaches. If Auburn fires Malzahn it would owe him $21.5 million. That sounds bad until you see that Fisher’s $53 million buyout is about $16 million more than Saban’s. Remember this madness the next time athletics departments cry poor while not paying players. Auburn is the pick.

No. 5 North Carolina (-13½) at Florida State

North Carolina coach Mack Brown’s redemption tour is going strong at the same time that Texas, his old employer, is falling apart. The Tar Heels beat then-No. 19 Virginia Tech last weekend. They likely will be favored in their next five games before a Nov. 27 showdown against Notre Dame. I’m pulling for Brown’s team to crash the College Football Playoff and force Texas fans to contemplate whether their program wasn’t too good for him. Seminoles cover.

Kentucky (+6) at No. 18 Tennessee

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt stalked the sidelines during the loss to Georgia with a mask covering everything except his mouth and nose. Luckily for Pruitt, Mullen’s dumb comments about risking public health for home-field advantage saved him from being the SEC coach who least gets it. Georgia gifted the Volunteers a touchdown, and they still lost by 23 points. Kentucky covers.

Louisville (+16½) at No. 4 Notre Dame

I should have been more skeptical about the idea that the Cardinals had recovered from Bobby Petrino’s damage. It takes more than a year to recover. Against Tech, Louisville’s defenders reverted to the Petrino model of looking reluctant to tackle late in the game. The Cardinals can’t stop the Fighting Irish, who cover.

Other NFL games of interest

Bears (+1½) at Panthers

Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater picked apart the Falcons. That’s not hard for a competent quarterback. Just throw short passes to receivers unbothered by Falcons defenders and let them run, then take the occasional downfield shot against overmatched cornerbacks. The Bears will provide more resistance for Bridgewater and cover the spread.

Packers (+1) at Buccaneers

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw some red meat to his base when he went on the Pat McAfee show and said he watches ESPN games with the sound off. Rodgers is so good that he can afford to bite the hand that feeds him. Green Bay’s 4-0 record includes victories against the Falcons (0-5), Vikings (1-4) and Lions (1-3). But the Packers also beat the Saints (3-2) and had the NFL’s best point differential (plus-51) after five weeks. Packers cover.

Texans (+3) at Titans

The Titans beat the Bills on Tuesday night in a game that was delayed because of an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak among players that also forced the postponement of their Week 4 game. The Titans faced intense criticism for recklessly violating protocols, so of course they are using that as a rallying cry of grievance and victimhood. I’ll take the Titans to cover, but I won’t be mad if they lose.

Last week against the spread: 5-4 (30-20-2 season)