Weekend Predictions: Wins for Falcons, Georgia

Weekend Predictions is looking like the Falcons. It doesn’t feel as if my performance has been close to average, yet my record still is around break-even. I want to say no one should question my recent results because of my excellent long-term track record, but I never want to sound like Dabo Swinney.

My picks against the spread were 5-5-1 last week. It’s been five weeks since I had a winning record. The streak might have been snapped if Arthur Smith didn’t give Marcus Mariota the option to pass when the Falcons were 4 yards away from winning at Washington. I have only myself to blame for getting off the Georgia Tech-as-underdog train too soon.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Falcons

Steelers (-1 ½) at Falcons

The Falcons (5-7) have lost three of their past four games while averaging 18 points despite playing only one above-average defense (Washington) during that stretch. Have opponents solved their run-heavy offense? Are Mariota’s limitations magnified because he’s asked to make plays passing? Is it that the Falcons have been unlucky in close games? Yes.

The Steelers (4-7) are, like the Falcons, a so-so team trying to slip into the playoffs. That’s not so easy in the AFC. Pittsburgh’s defense has been bad in the red zone, where the Falcons’ offense has been good. The Falcons also have the edge at kicker. Those are among the reasons why I’m picking the Falcons to win.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

SEC Championship game (Mercedes-Benz Stadium): No. 14 LSU (+17 ½) vs. No. 1 Georgia

LSU earned decisive victories in its past two meetings against Georgia, at home in 2018 and in the SEC Championship game the next season. That’s back when it seemed as if Ed Orgeron was building a long-term winner in Baton Rouge. Kirby Smart was facing questions about his ability to field an explosive offense. Orgeron is long gone, and Smart is riding the nation’s best defense to a second consecutive berth in the College Football Playoff.

Georgia’s passing offense has sputtered a bit late in the season. It’s hard to see the Tigers taking advantage of that. Texas A&M just scored 38 points against LSU mostly by handing the ball off to Devon Achane. Also, this is not a good time for Tigers QB Jayden Daniels to be dealing with a bad ankle. The Bulldogs cover, as Daniels is the latest QB to spend all day running away from them.

Other conference championship games of interest

Big Ten (Indianapolis): Purdue (+16 ½) vs. No. 2 Michigan

Before last season, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh swallowed his pride. He accepted a pay cut, changed his offensive philosophy and quit with the off-field antics. Harbaugh has since reminded everyone that he can coach. Remember, Harbaugh made a bad Stanford program good and led the 49ers to three consecutive NFC Championship games after they had eight non-winning seasons in a row. Harbaugh’s newfound humility is good for Michigan but bad for entertainment value. Michigan is the pick.

Pac-12 (Las Vegas): No. 11 Utah (+2 ½) vs. No. 4 USC

Lincoln Riley has led a remarkable turnaround at USC. The Trojans were 9-9 over the two seasons before Riley went to Los Angeles with bunch of good transfer players, including QB Caleb Williams. Now Riley has the Trojans in position to go to the CFP and lose because they play no defense, just like his Oklahoma teams. USC lost 43-42 as 3.5-point underdogs at Utah on Oct. 15. I see the Utes covering the spread in the rematch.

Big 12 (Arlington, Texas): No. 10 Kansas State (+2 ½) vs. No. 3 TCU

Kansas State should be an easy pick for me. The Wildcats (9-3) are quality underdogs with a defense that could cause problems for TCU’s offense, which hasn’t been so unstoppable for most of the past month. But I can’t back K-State because TCU’s defense has improved, and the Horned Frogs got back on track by scoring 62 points against Iowa State last week. TCU covers.

ACC (Charlotte, N.C.): No. 9 Clemson (-7 ½) vs. No. 23 North Carolina

A Clemson fan asked Swinney during his weekly call-in show if he’d make staff changes to improve the team’s passing offense. Shockingly, Swinney got whiny and defensive about that obvious and fair question: “You go to the ACC Championship, and nobody cares. That’s not true. A lot of a vocal minority of people don’t care, but I ain’t ever listening to those people.” I’ve always believed the best way to show I’m not listening to people is to rant about the things they say. UNC is my pick.

Other NFL games of interest

Saints (+3 ½) at Buccaneers

The Athletic’s Patriots writer, Jeff Howe, speculated that Bucs QB Tom Brady could reunite with Bill Belichick in New England after this season. Wrote Michael Hurley of CBS Boston: “The Patriots need better offense. Brady needs better coaching. All of this is apparent to anyone paying attention to the NFL this year.” Well, I’ve paid attention, and I think it’s also possible Brady is washed up, and Belichick isn’t such a good coach when he doesn’t have a franchise QB. Saints cover.

Seahawks (-7 ½) at Rams

Who knew the Falcons’ victory at Seattle in Week 3 would have playoff implications? Oddsmakers set the over/under win totals for the Falcons and Seahawks at 4.5 and 5.5, respectively. Now the Falcons and Seahawks (6-5) are the last two teams out of the NFC playoff picture going into December. That either shows the NFL is unpredictable and fun, or it’s an indictment of how its randomness rewards mediocrity, depending on your perspective. I’m taking the Seahawks and giving the points.

Jaguars (+1) at Lions

The Lions (4-7) still have a shot at the playoffs after 11 games. They were officially eliminated from contention by Week 13 in each of the past three seasons. I’m hoping the Lions make the postseason, not because I want their suffering to end, but because it will be funny when they then sign coach Dan Campbell (12-27 record) to a contract extension. That would be the obvious move for probably the NFL’s worst-run franchise for decades. Lions are the pick.

Last week: 5-5-1 (58-63-5 season).