Weekend Predictions: Wins for Falcons and Georgia Tech

Raheem Morris, in his first game as Falcons' interim head coach, watches during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Raheem Morris, in his first game as Falcons' interim head coach, watches during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Credit: AP

The Braves are done. Now we can turn our full attention to the local football teams to see exactly how they’ll disappoint.

Will the Falcons keep winning games and losing draft position? Does Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s “brand of football” mean running the ball more because the Bulldogs can’t throw it? Can Georgia Tech complete more than half its pass attempts?

Lately the answers to those questions are looking a lot like last year. Fortunately, the same is true for my prowess picking games against the spread. Weekend Predictions has six winning records in as many weeks.

Sure, I picked the Falcons to lose last week and they convincingly won their first game of the season. Yes, I backed Georgia Tech to cover against Clemson and the Yellow Jackets suffered a historic loss. It’s true that my season winning percentage is down after two consecutive weeks of barely picking more winners than losers.

Don’t get bogged down in those small details and miss the bigger picture. As Smart would say, I still control my own destiny. Just because he said that the past two years after Bulldogs losses and they still ended up out of the ... you know what, forget I said anything about destiny.

Lions (+2½) at Falcons

I predicted that Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins would find new life against the Falcons. I got what I deserved. Falcons backers clamoring for the team to move on from Matt Ryan should note that Pro Football Focus ranks Cousins 13th among the league’s QBs. If Ryan (No. 9) is a second-tier QB now, there’s still a significant gap between him and the next group.

The Falcons (1-5) rediscovered the fast and physical defensive style that they (briefly) played under Dan Quinn. Ryan had his best game of the season. (Related: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley were back together again.) Maybe that performance was a one-off, but the Falcons will cover the spread against the Lions even if they don’t play as well.

Georgia Tech (+3½) at Boston College

Tech’s 73-7 loss to Clemson set an ACC record for losing margin. Coach Geoff Collins noted that Tech beat Louisville by 19 points the week before. His point is that the Yellow Jackets (2-3, 2-2 ACC) aren’t as bad as they played against Clemson. Point taken, but it’s also the case that Clemson is a great team, and Louisville is terrible.

Where does that leave the Jackets? In the preseason I predicted they’d be 1-4 at this point with a victory over Syracuse. Instead, Tech lost to (awful) Syracuse and upset Florida State and Louisville. I like the Jackets to cover at BC, and I’m sticking with by preseason prediction of an outright victory.

Georgia State (+2½) at Troy

Injuries and COVID-19 infections haven’t slowed Georgia State’s offense, which ranks fourth among 77 FBS teams in scoring (44 points per game). But the Panthers (1-2, 0-2 Sun Belt) rank 73rd in points allowed (40.7) and gave back two leads in the second half of last week’s 59-52 defeat at Arkansas State. I’ll take Troy to cover the spread.

Other college games of interest

Syracuse (+46) at No. 1 Clemson

Syracuse.com reports that the Orange will have fewer than 60 scholarship players in uniform for this game, with nearly half of them freshmen. That information will not dissuade me from looking for any reason to take all those points. Syracuse beat Tech by 17 points, right? And 247Sports notes that the Orange covered four of the past five times they were getting at least 30 points. Give me 'Cuse and the points because I just can’t help myself.

No. 2 Alabama (-21) at Tennessee

It turns out Tennessee is not back. Last weekend the Volunteers suffered their first home loss to Kentucky since 1984. One fan called coach Jeremy Pruitt’s radio show this week and, per knoxnews.com, told the coach the team’s lack of discipline “starts with you.” Another fan reminded Pruitt he once said that Vols coaches are judged by their record against Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Pruitt is 0-7 against those teams, with each loss by at least 20 points. This line feels like a trap, but I’m still taking Bama to cover.

No. 3 Notre Dame (-10½) at Pittsburgh

Notre Dame made ESPN nervous by laboring to a 12-7 victory over Louisville last weekend. The College Football Playoff committee will want to let the Fighting Irish in with one loss, but harder to make the case when it’s against a team that might finish last in the ACC. Notre Dame’s shaky passing game is up against Pitt’s strong defense. Panthers cover.

No. 18 Michigan (-3) at No. 21 Minnesota

Remember when everyone figured Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh would return his alma mater to football glory before heading back to the NFL where he truly belongs? After five years he has no Big Ten championships, no victories against Ohio State and no extension on a contract that expires after 2021. USA Today polled 12 beat reporters in Big Ten markets and they picked Michigan to finish third ... in the East division. I’ll take Minnesota and the points.

South Carolina (+6) at LSU

LSU banned former Tigers star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from its facilities for two years. Beckham gave LSU players $2,000 in cash on the field after they beat Clemson for last season’s national title. He didn’t follow NCAA protocol, which stipulates that all money is to be given to the coaches and administrators who no one paid to watch. The Tigers are 1-2, and the two teams that beat them are 0-5 against all others, but LSU bounces back to cover against Gamecocks.

Other NFL games of interest

Panthers (+7½) at Saints

Saints coach Sean Payton scratched star wide receiver Michael Thomas from last week’s victory over the Chargers because Thomas reportedly punched a teammate during practice. Thomas wasn’t around for “Bountygate” so he probably didn’t know the Saints' way is cheap shots with intent to injure opponents, not teammates. Saints cover.

Buccaneers (-4) at Raiders

The Raiders put offensive tackle Trent Brown on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday and sent five other linemen home. QB Derek Carr told reporters: “It ranks No. 1 in the weirdest things, and y’all know we’ve seen a lot of weird things around here in my seven years.” The Raiders will have trouble against Tampa Bay’s pass rush even if their line is intact. Bucs cover.

Last week against the spread: 6-5 (36-25-2 season)