Observer Roundtable: College football and NFL game picks
Well it finally happened. After six straight upset picks, Patrick Gallagher finally missed on one, giving everyone else a chance to catch up. Unfortunately, only Nate Moller notched a correct upset call last week, correctly nailing the Wake Forest over Virginia Tech result. As such, Patrick maintains a 16-point advantage in this week’s leaderboard, while Nate jumps into third place. There’s only one ranked matchup in college football this weekend, so there are some intriguing spreads and new teams to take a look at both there and in the NFL, where we feature the debut of former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. See what the full Roundtable crew has to offer for this week’s predictions.
Patrick Gallagher — 85 points (5)
Liam Coolican — 69 points (5)
Nate Moller — 63 points (14)
Aidan Thomas — 58 points (8)
Dominic Gibson — 56 points (7)
No. 3 Ohio State (-13.0) @ No. 18 Penn State
No. 17 Indiana (-12.5) @ Rutgers
No. 25 Boise State (-14.0) @ Air Force
Los Angeles Rams (-4.0) @ Miami Dolphins
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens (-3.5)
New Orleans Saints (-4.0) @ Chicago Bears
Penn State was shocked last weekend by Indiana, and they will look to bounce back this week against the best team in the Big Ten in Ohio State. It will be interesting to see if Penn State can get its act together and clean up the turnovers that plagued them last week against the Hoosiers. I anticipate the Nittany Lions getting fired up for this one and playing well for most of the game, but at the end of the day, Ohio State is the much more talented team, and they take care of business. Buckeyes win but don’t cover.
Both of these teams had big weeks last weekend with the Hoosiers pulling off the stunner against Penn State and Rutgers getting its first Big Ten win since 2017. I don’t expect Rutgers to continue its winning ways this week against a very solid Hoosiers team. The only reason Rutgers won last week was because Michigan State basically gave the game away with all of its turnovers. Indiana won’t turn the ball over as much, and they will win and cover in this one.
Air Force blew out rival Navy in impressive fashion in its opener but then stumbled to a disappointing 17-6 loss to San Jose State last weekend. Boise State looked as good as ever last weekend, blowing out Utah State 42-13 in their opener. I expect Air Force to hang around in this one because of their triple option attack, but in the end, Boise State will be too much for Air Force to handle. Broncos win but don’t cover.
It’s Tua time. It will be interesting to see how Tagovailoa looks in his first career start in the NFL after taking over for Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Rams defense has been fairly solid so far this year, so I think Tua struggles in his first start. Myles Gaskin has been an under-the-radar good running back for the Dolphins which will help, but it won’t be enough. Rams win and cover.
The Steelers look to remain undefeated this week in arguably their toughest matchup so far this season. This game looks to have huge implications for the AFC North and seeding in the playoffs going forward. I’ve been betting against the Steelers all year, but time and time again, I have been proven wrong. I guess Ben Roethlisberger still has it. Give me the Steelers to win this outright.
The Bears looked horrible the other night against the Rams on Monday Night Football. Although the Bears still have a 5-2 record, a lot of their wins have been less than stellar. They will look to get back to their winning ways this week against a Saints team who has not looked great at times either. Almost all of the Saints’ games have been close this year, and I like them to squeak out this victory but not cover.
For my upset pick this week, I am taking Navy over SMU. The Mustangs are coming off of a demoralizing beatdown to a superior Cincinnati squad last week, and I don’t think they will be able to rebound this week against the inconsistent Midshipmen. I expect the triple option to give SMU some problems, keep the Midshipmen in the game and allow Navy to pull the upset on a long drive to end the game.
Justin Fields played a near perfect game last weekend completing 20 out of 21 passes and accumulating more than 300 total yards. He also led the Buckeyes in rushing yards, which is worrying as the running backs did not look elite like in years past. Despite their embarrassing loss to Indiana, Penn State is still a talented team and should focus on defending the pass if Ohio State’s rushing attack continues to be mediocre. This game plan will allow the Nittany Lions to keep things close. The Buckeyes will win but not cover due to their elite quarterback.
In a battle of two of the more surprising teams in the Big Ten, I think Indiana’s coaching gives them a leg up on Rutgers. Coach Tom Allen led his team to an 8-5 record last season and helped his players keep their composure in overtime against Penn State. Both Rutgers and the Hoosiers posted similar offensive statistics in their respective matchups; however, Michigan State obviously poses less of a challenge, so battle-tested Indiana will win but won’t cover.
The Broncos put on an offensive showcase against Utah State as running back George Holani and quarterback Hank Bachmeier combined for almost 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. Air Force’s defense has looked decently impressive holding both of their previous opponents under 20 points; however, Boise State’s offense will prove to be on an entirely higher level. Expect the Broncos to win and cover.
I love Tua Tagovailoa, but the Rams defensive line is among the scariest in the NFL. Aaron Donald may be the best defensive player in the NFC and ranks second in sacks with eight total. Troy Reeder and Leonard Floyd have also caused issues for many quarterbacks recording three and four sacks respectively. The Dolphins have momentum and a bye week to prepare for this matchup, but Tua will still struggle. The Rams should easily win and cover.
While they are undefeated, Pittsburgh has real weaknesses and almost blew a 17-point lead last week. Big Ben threw three interceptions against the Titans’ elite defense, and, unfortunately for him, the Ravens might just have an even better defensive unit. Lamar Jackson has flown under the radar, but he still poses quite a threat as he has recorded a 76.1 QBR along with 1,135 passing yards. Expect the Ravens to win and cover in a total team effort.
After a forgettable performance against the Rams, the Bears will have to try to establish a rhythm on offense. Chicago recorded no offensive touchdowns last week and, while I think they will look better moving forward, Nick Foles is not the answer at quarterback as he has thrown an interception in every appearance this season. New Orleans’ offensive firepower will make all the difference in a low scoring game where the Saints will win and cover.
For this week’s upset pick, I’m trusting in Arkansas to capture their first ranked win of 2020 against Texas A&M. The Aggies have looked like the second-best team in the SEC West, but they have been inconsistent. This phenomenon is embodied by quarterback Kellen Mond, who threw for almost 400 yards and three touchdowns against Florida; however, he usually accumulates less than 200 yards with at least an interception per game. I think that he’ll struggle against the Razorback defense, which leads the conference in interceptions with 10. Arkansas is also led by quarterback Felipe Franks, who has thrown for more than 200 yards each game, and I think his consistency will give his team the edge.
I had faith in Penn State at the beginning of the season, but after that terrible loss to Indiana, I don’t have much left. They sorely miss Micah Parsons on defense, and their quarterback was their leading rusher. That doesn’t bode well for their matchup against the Buckeyes, who dominated both sides of the ball last week. Justin Fields was nearly perfect, and they rushed for almost 300 yards. There’s no sign Penn State can stop them this week. Ohio State wins and covers.
Rutgers won their first conference game since 2017 last week, and they look to be a legitimately good team under Greg Schiano. They forced Michigan State into seven turnovers, and while that isn’t sustainable, it bodes well for the future. Running back Isaih Pacheco may actually be one of the best running backs in the Big Ten. Indiana obviously has momentum as well, having just knocked off a top-10 team, but this is a prime candidate for a letdown. It’s a bold take, but I think Rutgers is the better team. Scarlet Knights win in a big upset.
Which Air Force offense will show up for this game? The one that rushed for more than 350 yards in route to a blowout of Navy? Or the one that labored to just six points against San Jose State? Boise State has played just one game thus far, but their offense is always potent. This year looks to be no different. They employ a true freshman at quarterback, Hank Bachmeier, but he played like a poised veteran in the first game. Air Force’s defense is very good, and the service academies’ option offenses are always tough to prepare against. I’ll take Boise State to win, but they won’t cover the spread.
The Rams are still a mystery. They own a 5-2 record, but four of those wins have come against the abysmal NFC East. Jared Goff has not played like a top-tier quarterback, and they haven’t identified a clear starter at running back. Their defense is one of the best in the league, however, and it will make for a tough debut for Tua. The Rams offense may struggle to get going again, but by the third quarter this game will be a blowout. Rams win and cover.
The Ravens have had an up and down season so far, but they always show up for the rivalry game against Pittsburgh. The Ravens need a signature win to prove they are still among the best teams in the AFC, and I expect they’ll get it here against the Steelers. Coming off a bye week, they’ll be well rested while the Steelers just played a tough game against Tennessee. Lamar Jackson will have a huge game and the Ravens win and cover.
I’ve been picking against the Bears all season. Has it cost me nearly every time? Yes. Will I stop now? Definitely not. Nick Foles may not be the savior Chicago hoped he was, and while the defense is elite, they are constantly on the field. The Saints have too much talent not to start playing better than they have been, and it will start this week. Saints win and cover.
This might be the worst week for upsets in the history of the Observer Roundtable. There isn’t a single upset, in college or NFL, that I think is plausible this week, other than the one I already picked. So, I’ll double down and stake even more points on Rutgers beating Indiana as 13.5-point underdogs.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.