Weekend Predictions: Victories for Georgia, Falcons

Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker will try to redeem himself against Georgia on Saturday in Athens. (Jonathan Bachman/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker will try to redeem himself against Georgia on Saturday in Athens. (Jonathan Bachman/TNS)

Weekend Predictions went into Sunday with a chance to salvage a winning record. Alas, the Raiders lost as favorites at the Saints, and the Falcons didn’t cover the spread in their victory over the Panthers. I thought my Falcons pick was in the bag before Carolina’s Hail Mary pass. Guess that’s what I get for clowning Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker.

It could have been worse. My Florida pick was right by a half-point, which also is known as the “hook.” Nothing could save me from my decision to back Auburn, despite the Tigers playing with an essentially lame-duck coach. Bryan Harsin ended up getting the hook, too.

Chargers (-3) at Falcons

The Chargers are hurting at wide receiver, with injuries to their top three on the depth chart and Jalen Guyton out for the season. L.A. didn’t trade for a receiver at the deadline. Coach Brandon Staley told reporters that the team took a forward-thinking approach: “It’s not just this season, it’s the years to come.” Staley is relatively new to the NFL, so maybe he doesn’t understand there is no such thing as “years to come” for head coaches.

The Falcons have cobbled together an effective offense by running efficiently, occasionally hitting on long pass plays and cashing in often on red-zone chances. The Falcons’ pass defense is a big problem. The likely return of safety Jaylinn Hawkins (concussion) this week should help. Cornerback A.J. Terrell (hamstring) might play, too. I like the Falcons to win straight-up.

No. 1 Tennessee (+8) at No. 3 Georgia

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said depth is lacking in Georgia’s defensive front because of injuries “and it showed in the second half (Saturday vs. Florida).” That was before Smart learned that linebacker Nolan Smith is out for the season. Tennessee coach Josh Heupel told reporters: “Their defense is deep enough ... (that) there’s no drop-off.” Which coach to believe? Smart tends to downplay his team’s depth, while Heupel wouldn’t publicly say the Bulldogs are thin even if he believes it.

The Bulldogs will need to tighten their defense. Volunteers QB Hendon Hooker ranks eighth among Power Five quarterbacks in completion percentage and tied for first in yards per attempt. Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt leads the nation with 36 plays of 20-plus yards, according to cfbstats.com. Tennessee ranks seventh in the percentage of short rushes that result in first downs or touchdowns, per Football Outsiders. The Vols will test Georgia’s defense, which holds up well enough for the win but not to cover the spread.

Georgia Tech (+3) at Virginia Tech

Yellow Jackets interim coach Brent Key is starting to play some younger players. That’s probably good for the team’s future, if not Key’s job security. Most important, it’s terrible for my chances of handicapping Tech’s games. It’s been hard enough to figure out the Jackets with a midseason coaching change and an injury to quarterback Jeff Sims. More snaps for inexperienced players is yet another variable to consider.

Tech freshman Zach Pyron replaced Zach Gibson at QB early in the game at Florida State and did well under the circumstances. Sims (foot) returned to practice this week. Tech’s running game has stalled without him as a threat, and Virginia Tech’s defense is very good against the run. I’m guessing that Sims doesn’t play much, if at all, so the Jackets won’t score enough to cover.

Georgia State (+2) at Southern Miss

A lot has gone wrong for Georgia State this season. The Panthers still can qualify for a fourth consecutive bowl bid if they win three of their last four games. GSU coach Shawn Elliott said he’s looking forward to a physical game against Southern Miss. Makes sense because GSU has gotten back to running the ball effectively, but the Eagles are better at stopping the run than the Panthers are. Southern Miss is the pick.

Other college games of interest

No. 4 Clemson (-3 ½) at Notre Dame

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney benched quarterback DJ Uiagalelei for Cade Klubnik a week after Swinney said it was “embarrassing” that reporters asked him about benching Uiagalelei for Klubnik. They should ask Swinney if he can ever stop embarrassing himself. Swinney said it was just a bad day against Syracuse for Uiagalelei, who will start this game. Clemson has taken over Notre Dame’s traditional role as the team no one wants to see get blown out in the College Football Playoff. Tigers cover.

No. 6 Alabama (-13 ½) at No. 10 LSU

Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters his team’s offense has been “a little bit out of sorts” since QB Bryce Young injured his right shoulder at Arkansas on Oct. 1. Weird that Saban didn’t mention that after Young passed for 455 yards and two touchdowns at Tennessee two weeks ago. The Crimson Tide gained only 290 yards against Mississippi State last week but still scored 30 points. I’m expecting Bama to do better against LSU’s defense. The Tide are the pick.

Auburn (+13) at Mississippi State

Harsin showed up to work Monday and discovered Auburn had fired him as coach. The school later announced the decision in a statement that didn’t include Harsin’s name. Harsin is due $15.5 million in buyout payments. His dismissal became inevitable once Auburn investigated his program following player and staff defections last offseason. The Auburn job is a sliding scale of money vs. humiliation. Candidates must decide how much their dignity is worth. I’m taking the Bulldogs to cover.

Other NFL games of interest

Panthers (+7) at Bengals

The Bengals sputtered to 13 garbage-time points in a loss at the Browns a week after scoring with ease on the Falcons, who aren’t much better defensively than Cleveland. You’ve really got to love the NFL if part of your job is making public predictions on the results of games. I don’t think the Bengals will be able to move the ball on the Panthers without running much. I like Carolina with the points.

Rams (+3) at Buccaneers

Tom Brady announced his divorce from Gisele Bündchen a day after the Bucs lost their third consecutive game. I’m resigned to the fact that this will take a load off Brady’s mind and allow him to rally the Bucs to the playoffs. Someone please sell Brady on the benefits of finally hanging up his cleats and embracing the rich-bachelor lifestyle. Rams cover.

Ravens (-2 ½) at Saints

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said his staff inquired about trading for Saints running back Alvin Kamara but was told he wasn’t available. The Falcons should be glad the Saints held on to Kamara, whose contract is set to count $16.1 million against the 2023 salary cap. It’s a bad look for a declining team with a tight cap to spend that much on a non-premium position. Ravens are the pick.

Last week: 3-6 (47-41 season)

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