Weekend Predictions: Wins for Bulldogs, Yellow Jackets, Falcons

Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen (right) congratulates Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen (right) congratulates Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Last weekend Georgia Tech scored a touchdown to trail Virginia by eight points with 22 seconds to go. Coach Geoff Collins decided to go for two points. The try failed, but the Yellow Jackets recovered the onside kick. I should have been sweating those developments because I’d picked Virginia -7.

Instead, I was serene. By that point, I was confident that any misfortune was no match for Weekend Predictions. Sure enough, the Cavaliers stopped the Jackets, and I went on to post a season-best 9-1 mark against the spread for the weekend.

I was wrong about the Dolphins beating the Falcons, but right about them covering 2-1/2 points. The Falcons have won three games by a total margin of 12 points against the Dolphins, Giants and Jets. Combined records of those teams: 4-16. It may be the case that the Falcons are just good enough to be somewhat better than the NFL’s worst teams.

Still, I don’t discount those victories. It’s very hard to win in the NFL. Even the best teams sometimes need lucky breaks to win close games against lesser foes. Take the wins, and don’t apologize.

In fact, the Falcons have inspired me. After a couple of good weeks, I’m starting to believe I also can finish with a winning record ATS despite all those other weeks when my picks were terrible.

Panthers (-3) at Falcons

Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he hasn’t called more blitzes because pass rushers aren’t getting to the quarterback and the secondary hasn’t held up in man-to-man coverage. You might question the wisdom of coach Arthur Smith hiring a guy known for heavy blitzes to run a defense that doesn’t have many guys who can cover. I just like that Pees is a good quote.

The Falcons (3-3, 0-1 NFC South) have been outscored by 41 points in six games (-6.8 points average), same as the Giants. Only three NFC teams had a worse point differential through Week 7. The Panthers (3-4, 1-0) have an even point differential on the season but have lost four consecutive games, including last weekend’s blowout defeat at the Giants. The Falcons win by less than three points again.

ExploreWhere to watch, listen, stream Panthers at Falcons

No. 1 Georgia (-14) vs. Florida (Jacksonville)

Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked this week about defending Florida’s wheel routes to targets out of the backfield: “I know that the layman’s term for you guys is a wheel route, but there’s a lot of different ways to describe that wheel route.” I’d describe the play as one that Smart’s defense showed no ability to stop in last season’s loss to the Gators. But my football brain obviously isn’t as big as Smart’s, so it’s possible I’m missing something.

Florida scored 44 points and averaged 7.1 yards per play against UGA in 2020. In the 2017 and 2018 games against UGA, Dan Mullen’s Gators averaged 17 points and 4.9 yards per play. This year’s Florida team doesn’t have a QB as good the 2020 version of Kyle Trask. Georgia’s defense has shown no real weakness, and its wide receivers group is getting healthy. Bulldogs cover.

ExploreGeorgia-Florida: TV, online, radio information

Virginia Tech (+4) at Georgia Tech

AJC Tech beat writer Ken Sugiura reports that Jackets defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said it’s unacceptable that his unit didn’t force a turnover against Virginia. The Jackets also allowed 8.7 yards per play, recorded only one sack and (unofficially) one hurry on Virginia’s 44 pass attempts and surrendered 240 rushing yards. I guess Thacker had to pick one thing from a long list.

Virginia, Pittsburgh and Duke all carved up Tech’s pass defense. Good thing for the Jackets (3-4, 2-3 ACC) that Virginia Tech is one of the league’s worst passing teams. The Hokies (3-4, 1-2) just had a surprisingly bad defensive performance against Syracuse a week after they held Pitt to a season-low total in passing yards. QB Jeff Sims makes some plays as Tech wins but doesn’t cover the spread.

ExploreGeorgia Tech-Virginia Tech: TV, online, radio information

Georgia State (-6) at Georgia Southern

In his first three full seasons as Georgia Southern coach, Chad Lunsford went to three bowl games, posted a 15-9 record in the Sun Belt and beat Georgia State twice. Lunsford was dismissed after a 1-3 start this season. The Eagles (2-5, 1-3) have had 11 coaches since 1989, Erk Russell’s last season, but maybe one day they’ll find a guy they like who will stick around. Georgia State (3-4, 2-1) is the pick.

Other college games of interest

No. 10 Ole Miss (+2½) at No. 18 Auburn

Auburn set a Dec. 8 deadline for all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with few exceptions, or face termination. Tigers coach Bryan Harsin isn’t saying whether he’s received the vaccine or plans to get it. In July, Harsin said the decision on whether to take a sensible measure to help prevent mass sickness and death is a “deeply personal” choice. The Tigers have been very good on defense, but so far, only Alabama’s defense and penalties have slowed down Ole Miss. Rebels cover.

No. 12 Kentucky (-1½) at Mississippi State

Reporters asked Kentucky coach Mark Stoops about his interest in the Miami job that’s not yet open: “I’m not getting into that. I would rather have it this way than saying you are trying to run me out of here.” A non-denial with a lighthearted deflection is a good way for Stoops to handle questions about jobs he doesn’t want but can use as leverage for more money. The Wildcats play good defense, but their offense still is ho-hum. I like Mississippi State as the home ‘dog.

Miami (+9½) at No. 17 Pittsburgh

Pitt has no pity for Georgia. The Panthers have spent even more time chasing the glory days of winning a national championship with a Heisman Trophy running back. Losing to Western Michigan probably will end up costing the Pitt a spot in the College Football Playoff because Clemson is the only ACC program that gets a pass. Pitt covers.

Other NFL game of interest

Buccaneers (-5) at Saints

Saints QB Jameis Winston chewed out wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith on the sideline after a failed third-down play Monday night in Seattle. Coach Sean Payton also scolded Smith. Luckily for New Orleans the chemistry should improve with the pending return of wide receiver Michael Thomas, who didn’t return the team’s calls for months during the offseason. I like the Saints with the points.

Last week: 9-1 (37-43 season)

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