Weekend Predictions: Playoff wins for Alabama, Saints

Credit: Kent Gidley

Credit: Kent Gidley

Reports early this week said officials were discussing postponing Monday’s College Football Playoff Championship game because of COVID-19 infections in Ohio State’s program. The powers that be quickly downplayed the possibility they would delay the game just because, according to AL.com, the Buckeyes might be without a position group. So long as the list doesn’t include one of the amateur players ESPN is using to promote the game, then play on!

Weekend Predictions is finishing up what’s guaranteed to be a winning season. I ended my two-week losing streak against the spread with a 5-2 mark last time out. The only big miss was picking Clemson to cover as a favorite against Ohio State, which won by three touchdowns. If looking dumb for my pick also means that Dabo Swinney eats crow, well, some sacrifices are just worth it.

I even managed to get my Falcons picks right in back-to-back weeks. There was a moment when it appeared that they’d ruin it by coming back and losing to the Bucs by a close margin. But the Falcons came through in the end to secure the No. 4 overall draft pick and, most important, allow me to save face for being wrong on their results for 10 consecutive games.

CFP Championship game (Miami Gardens, Fla.): No. 3 Ohio State (+8) vs. No. 1 Alabama

Kristen (daughter of Nick) Saban Setas accused Ohio State of using COVID-19 cases as an excuse to postpone the game so quarterback Justin Fields has more time to heal. Cardale Jones had a strong comeback: “Sure you wanna face another backup from OSU? You know what happen last time right.” Jones famously beat Alabama as Ohio State’s backup QB in a 2014 CFP semifinal.

(To her credit, Setas posted a lengthy apology in which she said she was “ashamed and embarrassed” about her accusation before later deleting her Twitter account. I wonder if it’s possible Swinney can learn a lesson about apologizing for using COVID-19 concerns to trash talk, showing some humility and then just being quiet.)

Fields briefly left the Clemson game after taking a big hit to his ribs. He was in obvious pain but still effective throwing the ball. There’s no telling how the injury might limit him in the championship game because college teams don’t have to disclose injury status.

Saban said wide receiver Jalen Waddle is a game-time decision. He hasn’t played since undergoing surgery for an ankle injury sustained Oct. 24. If Waddle can’t play then Alabama QB Mac Jones, a fine deep passer, somehow will have to make do throwing to Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. There’s also Najee Harris, Alabama’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns.

I don’t see how Ohio State can keep pace with that terrific trio of playmakers. The only thing giving me pause about picking the Crimson Tide is seeing how they eased off Notre Dame after getting a big lead. If the Tide do that in this game, the Buckeyes are good enough to come back and beat them. I say Bama takes care of business and covers.

NFL wild-card round

Bears (+10) at Saints

Saints coach Sean Payton proposed that the team quarantine 50,000 fans and test them before bringing them to the Superdome, which is limited to about 3,000 capacity because of the pandemic. Sadly, Payton’s bold, harebrained scheme doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky has had some surprisingly competent games since November, but most came vs. mediocre-to-bad defenses. The Saints have a great defense. They are the pick.

Buccaneers (-8½) at Washington Football Team

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris was on to something when he said Bucs QB Tom Brady went off in the second half Sunday because he didn’t face much of a pass rush. Per ESPN, Brady ranks tied for 31st in total quarterback rating when pressured. Washington’s Chase Young was shown on camera after Sunday’s game saying: “I want Tom!” I saw headlines that said Young didn’t apologize for that, which I guess means there’s some notion that he should? I like Washington with the points.

Colts (+6½) at Bills

The Bills finally managed to get out from under Bill Belichick’s boot and win the AFC East for the first time in 25 years. QB Josh Allen has made all his doubters (hand raised) look silly by developing into a star. The Colts counter with QB Philip Rivers, who moves like he’s patched together with duct tape. Rivers is facing a defense that improved significantly over the past month, which is why I like the Bills to cover.

Rams (+3½) at Seahawks

Rams QB Jared Goff (thumb) may not play. Backup John Wolford made his first career start against the Cardinals on Sunday and was just OK. The Seahawks would be an easy choice if not for their tendency to fade in games that they seem to have under control. Maybe ex-Falcons coach Dan Quinn learned some of the wrong lessons from his old boss, Seahawks coach Peter Carroll. Seattle still is the pick.

Ravens (-3½) at Titans

The Titans are underdogs despite beating the Ravens on the road in the 2019 divisional round and in Week 11 this season. That’s probably based on the assumption that Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson finally will be as good in playoffs as he is during the regular season. The Titans, like most opponents, will try to make Jackson stay in the pocket. They don’t have much of a pass rush, but they will run the ball enough to keep it close and cover.

Browns (+6) at Steelers

The Steelers lost four of their final five games, and QB Ben Roethlisberger looks washed up. They are still favored because the Browns are even less impressive. Cleveland was outscored by 11 points on the season and has a list of COVID-19 absences that include Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and coach/offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski. It’s hard to know how that will impact the Browns, but I’ll take them with the points and hope it works out.

Last week against the spread: 5-2 (89-74-3 season)