Weekend Predictions: My picks for Tech, Falcons and more

It's a mystery whether freshman Jeff Sims will start at quarterback for Georgia Tech at Florida State on Saturday.
It's a mystery whether freshman Jeff Sims will start at quarterback for Georgia Tech at Florida State on Saturday.

Football has taken its first uneasy steps during a pandemic. Some college games have been postponed because of COVID-19 outbreaks or restrictions. But the NFL and college programs are pressing on, and Weekend Predictions will do the same.

I’m ready for another season of picking games against the spread and hearing from fans only when I’m wrong. There is no AJC college football pick contest this year. No, I didn’t lobby to nix that contest because I’m so bad at it. I’m not yet ready for serious introspection about why I’m much better picking against the spread than straight up.

I’m coming off after another strong season. I was correct on 56 percent of my picks ATS for 240 games in 2019 (including college bowls). The year before, I picked winners ATS 57 percent of the time on 246 games. I say with humility that my two-year record proves that I’m a genius.

Seriously, I’m not getting cocky about it. For one thing, it’s hard to successfully pick ATS over a long period of time. Gamblers have a tough time beating the “break even” point of about 52 percent (sportsbooks take a commission on bets). I’ve got a dry spell coming at some point unless I’ve found a way to beat the system (I haven’t).

And there’s an added degree of difficulty this season, especially early. NFL players didn’t have offseason team sessions or many padded practices during training camp. Most college players missed spring practice and had varying amounts of practices before their openers.

The games are strange. Some stadiums will have no fans. Some will have limited capacity. NFL teams will pipe in artificial noise. How do those things affect players? How do you figure home-field advantage in those circumstances?

The NFL has uniform injury reporting requirements so at least there will be no COVID-19 surprises in that league. But college programs are not required to divulge injury info and most don’t. It’s inevitable that college players will unexpectedly not take the field because of COVID-19 infections or quarantines.

That are a lot of variables to consider when picking games. If it sounds like I’m making excuses in advance, then you could not be more right. But if my record tanks, I promise I will take my medicine with minimal whining.

Seahawks (+3) at Falcons

The Seahawks always have been hard to trust on the road, but this is no normal road game. The Falcons are hard to back early in the season, but this is no normal season. Cancel those things out, and these teams look like one of many mediocre NFL outfits trying to win nine games instead of seven and squeeze into the playoffs.

Quarterback Russell Wilson gives Seattle an edge because he can slip away from his poor pass blocking better than Matt Ryan. Safety Jamal Adams makes Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s defense better. I like the Seahawks to cover.

Georgia Tech (+12½) at Florida State

Georgia Tech refused to reveal its starting quarterback for this game. That’s an advantage for the Yellow Jackets. The Seminoles had to spend time preparing for both a QB who didn’t complete half his passes in 2019 and a freshman.

Florida State is allowing up to 20,000 fans in Doak Campbell Stadium. That means first-year coach Mike Norvell won’t get the full experience of 70,000-plus home fans booing him for not fixing what Jimbo Fisher broke. Tech loses but covers.

Other NFL games of interest

Buccaneers (+3½) at Saints

This will be the first-ever NFL game featuring two quarterbacks who are at least 40-years old. Drew Brees (41) returned for another season for the Saints, but knows he’s on “borrowed time.” Tom Brady (43) flipped the script by leaving New England for Florida before retirement. I like the Bucs to cover.

Raiders (-3) at Panthers

Teddy Bridgewater is the new Panthers quarterback. He lit up the Falcons in his first NFL start in 2014. That loss to Minnesota was the first of five consecutive for the Falcons. They recovered to win half of their final eight games. Mike Smith still was fired because that was back when team owner Arthur Blank held the head coach responsible for consecutive losing seasons. I’m taking the Raiders and the points.

Cardinals (+7) at 49ers

The 49ers officially hired Kyle Shanahan as their head coach the day after he helped the Falcons squander a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl. San Francisco gave Shanahan a six-year contract extension less than five months after the 49ers lost the last Super Bowl after leading by 10 in the final quarter. This has inspired me to ask for a bonus the next time I blow a deadline. I like the Cardinals with the points.

Cowboys (-3) at Rams

The Rams signed cornerback Jalen Ramsey to a record contract. L.A. now has about 46 percent of its 2021 salary-cap space devoted to Ramsey, Jared Goff and Aaron Donald. If the Rams miss the playoffs again, then Boy Wonder coach Sean McVay would be the easiest guy to cut. Cowboys cover.

Other college games of interest

No. 1 Clemson (-33) at Wake Forest

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney laughed off media speculation about him possibly taking the Jaguars job next season if they end up with the No. 1 pick and draft QB Trevor Lawrence. Swinney didn’t say no, though. That’s smart because Swinney can parlay NFL interest into a pay raise while railing against the idea of his players earning market salaries. I’m taking Wake Forest and the points.

Duke (+20) at No. 10 Notre Dame

Notre Dame is an ACC football member for one season. The Fighting Irish are good, so they’ll fill the role of the team everyone pretends can challenge Clemson for the league title. If that doesn’t happen, then coach Brian Kelly will get hard at work finding someone else to blame. Notre Dame covers.

Syracuse (+23) at No. 18 North Carolina

UNC summoned coach Mack Brown from the TV studio last year, and to my surprise, the Tar Heels had a solid season. Now expectations are higher. No worries, though, because that was never a problem for Brown as Texas coach. I don’t see Syracuse stopping QB Sam Howell, so I’ll take UNC and give the points.

Last season against the spread: 132-101-7

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