Training camp is right around the bend, and before it begins, I’ll be finishing up my NFL off-season coverage and this draft report card series, continuing today with the NFC North. Check out the links below for previous articles in the series:
The calendar has turned to July, and now all four of America’s biggest sports have plans to return to action. The NBA and MLB are both set to start this month, and the NHL is likely to do the same. The NFL will start training camp towards the end of the month as well. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making predictions about the sports that are returning, starting with the NBA and MLB (since they have set return dates).
The NBA is set to begin at Walt Disney World on July 30 with 8 additional regular season games for each team, known as seeding games. From there, the top 7 teams in each conference will slot into the NBA’s playoff bracket. If the 9 seed is within four games of the 8 seed, they’ll get the chance to compete with the 8 seed for a playoff spot. If they beat the 8 seed in both of two play-in games, they’re in.
Below are my predictions for the final NBA playoff seeding and my NBA playoff bracket. Realistically, there are 4-5 teams that I think have a legitimate chance at a title. Keep reading to find out which teams those are, and which team I have taking it all.
Sports aren’t quite back yet, but they’re getting close. The NBA and NHL are set to start in July, and the NFL will start training camp at that point. The MLB is working on a deal to do the same. But in the meantime, I’ll be working on predictions for these returns, and continuing with NFL off-season coverage, in the form of fantasy football content (on my @bsmfantasyfootball Instagram account) and finishing this draft report card series with NFC draft reviews. Today I’ll be reviewing the NFC East, and you can check out the previous posts in the series as well:
The Cowboys had a very strong draft, getting several steals in the form of CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs, Neville Gallimore, and Tyler Biadasz. In addition they filled most of their big needs, as they added to the secondary and receiving corps and brought in Gallimore, a young, talented player to pair with veteran DTs Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. They could’ve used a TE to pair with Blake Jarwin, but it appears they’ll give Jarwin a chance to shine in a 3 WR, 1 TE offense. They also could’ve used more depth at safety, but they should be fine with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Xavier Woods, and Darian Thompson there, especially after bolstering the CB depth chart by drafting two of them. This draft wasn’t perfect, but it filled most of Dallas’ needs and included multiple steals, so it’s pretty close to it.
New York Giants: B+
The Giants could’ve used some more defensive line help here, but they did add to their secondary and offensive line, two of their other big positions of need. I feel they reached on some of their picks, especially in the later rounds, and they should’ve been filling the d-line need before drafting a bunch of linebackers in those later rounds. I did like the early round picks of Andrew Thomas and Xavier McKinney, as they were good value selections that filled needs. But they could’ve finished this off better despite a strong draft overall.
Philadelphia Eagles: B-
The Eagles had three major needs coming into this draft: WR, LB, and the secondary. The team made en effort to fill all three of those needs, but there was no need to take QB Jalen Hurts in the 2nd round, and they also reached on many of the WRs and LBs they drafted when here were better options at the position on the board. The Eagles also brought in a couple of Auburn players to add to a deep offensive line, which they’ll be thankful for with Brandon Brooks getting hurt. The team did reach on several players and could’ve done better, but they will benefit from this draft class.
Washington Redskins: C+
The Redskins reached on a lot of their later selections, and they could’ve added more linebackers and drafted a tight end. They did get star edge rusher Chase Young though, and I liked the Antonio Gandy-Golden pick as it filled a need at WR and provided the team with good value. This draft class had some highlights, but overall I wasn’t that impressed with the value the Redskins received, and the team is left with holes even after the draft.
That’s all for my NFC East draft reviews. Stay tuned for more draft reviews soon.
Below, I have shared some of the highlights of “Life Without Sports”, my journal of the 75 days I spent in social distancing without any sports to look forward to. This spanned from Friday, March 13, the first sports-less day, to Tuesday, May 26, when the NHL announced its plan for return and many people tried to return to some sense of normality after Memorial Day weekend. You can also check out my Return to Sports series, in which I discuss major sports leagues’ transition and plans for return.
Friday, March 13
Day 1 Without Sports
It was Friday the 13th, and that fact was fitting. On this day, the world was cursed by the coronavirus. Schools closed for weeks at a time. People, including my family, were afraid to leave the house out of worry of infecting others unknowingly or becoming infected. There were lots of questions, and many different answers. It was hard to know who to trust because nobody knew the real answer to the questions people had. With social distancing in full effect for my family, I passed time by instead of watching games like baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, like I usually do, taking on my family in games like Monopoly and Scrabble. Usually, I have a very busy life between school, maintaining this website, and other extracurricular activities. But I found myself searching for things to do this first day. I wasn’t enjoying the lack of sports, but I was glad people were taking this seriously, as the virus can spread really fast without our knowledge.
Tuesday, March 17
Day 5 Without Sports
I woke up, and it was all over. The Patriots dynasty was over. On this St. Patrick’s Day, Tom Brady had announced his departure from the Patriots. Sports stations continued to ramble on about where Brady would go, but later that day, it was reported that Tom Brady would become a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Meanwhile, as Brady and other QBs signed, Bill Belichick just sat pretty. He let Brady leave, and he let go of the opportunity to sign a good replacement. I trusted in Bill Belichick for all these years, but the truth is that he has been very stubborn with players’ contracts, refusing to maintain relationships with or resign expensive players and instead trying to find hidden gems in free agency or the draft. Sometimes this works out well, but other times, it doesn’t. Brady did a good job leading the team, allowing other players and the whole team to succeed. Belichick’s coaching did help get him to where he is today, but Belichick refused to pay Brady like the superstar he is. For that reason, he left. I’ve grown up in the Brady-Belichick era, and as the two of them split, I’m still a Pats fan, but I will always be a Tom Brady fan. He had every right to leave, and I don’t think he wanted money simply to get richer. I think he wanted the money he felt he deserved as a top player in the league. He wanted to be making as much as most other starting QBs. It was good to have some sports news, but it was a sad day for Boston sports fans.
Saturday, March 28
Day 16 Without Sports
I woke up to my dad playing on a Monopoly app on my iPad. We ended up playing with my cousins, but the “house rules” we usually use in Monopoly weren’t working right the first game, and without money bonuses like Free Parking and $400 for landing on GO, everyone ran out of money fairly quickly. We found a way to add the house rules and played two more games with my other cousin Michael. Michael was my cousin from my dad’s side of the family, and back during the blizzard of ‘78, my dad played a ton of Monopoly with Michael’s mom (my dad’s sister), Stacey. They would face off the next day, bringing back memories, but after 3 games, we all wanted a break. A bad trade my brother had made in our final game had ruined my game, ruined his game and allowed my dad to win as usual.
Monday, April 6
Day 25 Without Sports
I had set up a new routine for myself, including when I would get work done, when I would work on blog articles, and more. On the first day of online school, it went well. I attended four online classes on Zoom and got the chance to catch up with some school friends. Even though I couldn’t see my friends, I didn’t mind the online school because I do most of my assignments on a computer anyways. On Day 1, I did my work fairly quickly, went on a walk since it was a 60 degree day, and relaxed.
Wednesday, April 8
Day 27 Without Sports
It was my half birthday today, a very special half birthday. I had turned 16.5. I thought maybe I’d get the chance to drive on this day (although I haven’t had the chance to start driver’s ed yet). I never would’ve thought I would spend my half birthday in quarantine, but it was worth it to avoid becoming a carrier of this deadly virus. With New York approaching its peak and Massachusetts looking like it was next, I was hopeful that a decline would come in another several weeks and we’d be able to return to normal life.
Friday, April 10
Day 29 Without Sports
It was Good Friday, so we would’ve had a day off from school normally. For Algonquin, every Friday of online school was simply a day to catch up on work. All of my work that was left to do was due Monday, not that night. So I decided to just relax and save my work for the weekend. I needed to take days off sometimes, especially since April Break was canceled.
Wednesday, April 15
Day 34 Without Sports
It was the anniversary of another crisis, the Boston Marathon bombings. It was the last time Boston went into lockdown. We were Boston Strong back then, and we need to be Boston Strong now. Andrew Cuomo has even used a similar phrase for New York, “New York Tough”, during this crisis. I got my work done a little earlier today as well, but I was distracted by Jay Glazer’s hint at big football news that night at 11. What could it be? There were rumors of Gronk’s return. There were rumors of another Odell Beckham Jr. trade. But I wouldn’t know for sure until later that night. It turned out the big news was just another coronavirus update, though Gronk would unretire later.
Thursday, April 23
Day 42 Without Sports
Sports seasons were still on pause in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but after 6 weeks sports fans finally had a live event to watch: the 2020 NFL Draft. The draft would be conducted virtually, as one of the most important parts of the NFL’s virtual 2020 off-season that despite modifications has been 100% on schedule so far. I got my work done fairly quickly so I could watch the draft after. But I was distracted by draft rumors throughout the day. I live tweeted during round one, providing my grades for each pick. In the meantime, I created a draft group chat with two of my friends who are also huge NFL fans. The draft was fairly unsurprising on night one, but it was about to get crazy. I didn’t understand why the Patriots traded down, but looking back at the player they wanted, I’m glad they did.
Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3
Days 51 and 52 Without Sports
On Saturday, I ended up taking the day to relax with my parents and we discovered two Amazon Prime shows, Catastrophe and Red Oaks. We started Catastrophe Saturday night. Sunday, we visited my grandparents (with social distancing of course) to pick up some groceries they got us and catch up in person. We all stood in their yard, keeping our distance while we chatted with them. It was hard for my grandpa, who has hearing problems, but he was happy to see our faces. Plus, it was my brother Ryan’s first time outside in 52 days, and the perfect weather for it. Once we got home and cleaned off, we got into Red Oaks, which was even more addictive than Catastrophe and hard to stop watching. The show is about a country club and the community around it. The main characters are all college-age and work there for summer jobs.
Monday, May 18
Day 67 Without Sports
Massachusetts had begun to reopen. Essential businesses were back today, and in a week public parks and some other places would be back open. It was a nice sliver of hope during a tough time. I was hopeful Boston sports were up next, and I was hoping I’d be able to see some of my friends soon. As usual for Mondays, I took a while to get my work done. Plus, “Mock Draft Monday” had become a regular occurrence for fantasy football fans, and I joined another live mock draft today before my work was done.
Tuesday, May 19
Day 68 Without Sports
I took a while to get started off the bat today, but got my work done in time to play Monopoly with a family friend, Mark Goldfinger per the usual on Tuesdays. While I did my work, my parents returned my mom’s car (the lease had expired). We would use my dad’s until he had to go back to work. Today, for the first time in our Tuesday games, I won. I started off with just one small Monopoly, but knocked out my brother and my dad to grab hold of more Monopolies. After the game, we had tacos for dinner and continued another Amazon show we had found, Upload.
Tuesday, May 26
Day 75 Without Sports
I had a busy week of school ahead, which I wasn’t happy about. But I got my work done quickly, and when I finished, I realized that Life Without Sports was about to come to an end. No, a major sports league was not returning the next day. But the NHL had announced they’d be dropping the official schedule for their 24-team playoffs, which had been approved by league owners and the NHLPA. With this, I wouldn’t have sports back, but a return would be in sight. Plus, until hockey did actually return, I had found ways to incorporate sports into a sports-less world, and I had found other things to distract me from their absence. I had learned to live life without sports, but did I miss them? Definitely. Would life be better with sports back? No doubt about it. Did I still want to work in sports? Absolutely.
When it comes to sports news, this week has been a tale of two extremes. The NBA started the week off rather quiet after Adam Silver discussed his hope to bring the NBA back on July, but over the last couple of days he has put the proposal into action, ironing out the details and giving it to the NBA owners for a vote. Now, the NBA joins the NHL among sports leagues with an official plan to return.
The only major sports league that hasn’t worked out the details is the MLB. Early this week, it appeared that the MLB and MLBPA were making progress with their negotiations. The owners rejected the MLBPA’s 114-game proposal with the original prorated salary plan the MLB decided upon in March. The MLB considered a counter to the plan with 50-60 games and that same prorated salary, but decided not to counter. Now, negotiations are at a standstill until the MLBPA sends in a better plan, and reports are saying both sides have “greater pessimism than ever before” about a 2020 season happening at all.
Today, I’ll be writing about the latest details on the NBA’s return and explain my return to play plan that I think the MLB and MLBPA would both agree to.
Let’s start with the good news from the NBA.
NBA to Bring 22 teams to Orlando for July 31 Return to Play
The NBA’s plan for a July 31 return. Below I have outlined what new information we have received since my last update, what I think of this plan and what I think the return could look like logistically.
What we now know:
The NBA has decided upon a 22 team format for it’s return
The top 8 from each conference as well as the next 6 teams in the overall standings (listed above) will be included
Teams will play 8 “regular season” games in order to reach 70+ games and determine seeding for the playoffs
The games will be determined based on the original remaining schedule, but not all details are finalized
One report said that teams will play their next 8 games that are against other teams in the NBA bubble. If their upcoming opponent is not in the bubble or has already played 8 games, the opponent will be skipped
If the #9 seed is within four games of the #8 seed, there will be a play-in series:
The 8 seed would start with a 1-0 advantage in a 3 game series
This means the 8 seed would only need to win one game, while the 9 seed would need to win two in a row
It appears that the playoffs will run as normal (8 East teams and 8 West teams seeded by conference)
Games will not begin until July 31, but training in Orlando will begin between July 9-11
The season will be completed on October 12, followed by an October 15 draft and October 18 beginning to free agency
The draft lottery will take place on August 25
Up to 7 games could be played each day, using three different arenas at Disney
The 2020-21 season is still set to begin close to Christmas; the league appears to be planning for a full 82 game season that runs through August; it could even shift the schedule permanently
My Thoughts on the Plan
I think 22 teams is kind of a weird number, and teams will likely finish with different numbers of regular season games, but the plan was based on historical late season playoff run stats, so it’s hard to argue with Adam Silver, who has a very good track record as the NBA commissioner. This plan gives players about a month to train at team facilities before traveling to Orlando in early July, when COVID-19 numbers will have likely seen a further decline. Staying inside the bubble for majority of the time and testing daily adds further safety measures to a return to play.
One thing I would like to see is some minor modifications to the schedule to make sure that each team in the bubble has played each other team in the bubble at least once. If you look at the NBA schedule from before the pause, there are three pairs of teams (out of the 22 in the bubble) that have yet to play a game this season. The Clippers have not yet played the Nets, the Raptors have not yet played the Grizzlies, and the Pelicans have not yet played the Wizards. I think each of those match-ups should happen at least once before playoff action begins.
What the Scheduling Details Could Look Like:
Considering what we know, I think the schedule for the remainder of the season and next couple seasons could look something like this:
July 31 – August 14: Resumption of Regular Season
August 16 – August 19: Play-in Games
August 21 – September 3: Conference Quarterfinals
September 4 – September 16: Conference Semifinals
September 17 – September 29: Conference Finals
September 30 – October 12: NBA Finals
October 15: 2020 NBA Draft
October 18: NBA Free Agency Begins
December 25: 2020-21 NBA Season Begins
August 2021: 2020-21 Season Ends, 2021 Draft and Free Agency
The 2021-22 season would either begin in October as normal or the NBA calendar would change permanently
Games could be aired on local stations as well as ABC, ESPN, or TNT. I think 5-6 games will be played per day during the regular season, with teams playing just about every two days (with the occasional back-to-back or drought).
I feel that the NBA could benefit from a permanent calendar change, as they would run through the winter alongside hockey and through the spring and early summer alongside baseball. Basketball’s conclusion would correlate with football’s beginning, allowing the nation’s two biggest sports to dominate.
This would be very good for the NBA and NFL, and the NHL already thrives alongside the NBA. The one sport that could be negatively impacted is baseball, which is already losing fans.
MLB Continues to Struggle in 2020 Season Negotiations
After the MLB owners rejected the MLBPA proposal for the 2020 season, it appears MLB negotiations are currently at a standstill. While other sports have reached agreements to return, the chances of a 2020 MLB season are looking slimmer and slimmer. This is because the players don’t want to take too big a pay cut if they’re going to be risking their lives, and the owners don’t want to lose revenue. You could also say poor leadership on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s part is to blame. But I think it’s important that both sides come to a compromise, because if they don’t, the consequences could be hard to recover from.
The MLB was already planning to cut minor league teams after losing revenue. If the MLB is sitting around while the NBA and NHL dominate the summer, the league will lose even more fans and even more money. If negotiations continue to go along like this, I don’t know if we’ll see baseball for a long time. The pandemic isn’t expected to be fully over until 2021, and after the 2021 MLB season, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. That would mean more negotiation between the owners and MLBPA and the potential of a league lockout. If the MLB loses two years to the virus and has a lockout after that, I can’t see them maintaining their reputation as a Big 4 sports league in the US, and I don’t know if the league will be able to survive at all, especially if the NBA pushes forward their season permanently. As an avid baseball fan, this worries me greatly, and I really hope the MLB can come to a compromise, hold a season, and continue to thrive. If this is it for baseball, Manfred and the owners, as well as the players will all be held accountable. The owners and Manfred need to understand that their current greed could bite them in the back later. The players need to understand that failure to compromise now could mean their playing careers are over.
Here is a full proposal that I think both sides could agree to. It includes things that both sides want, and includes a compromise, with players making about 50% of their salaries in a 78 game season.
With most of the country on a decline in terms of coronavirus cases, the timeline really comes down to the league’s ability to compromise. If this proposal is agreed upon soon, it could be good to start things off quickly and try and become the first sport to return, which could bring some lost fans back. In mid-June, I think it would be fine for a 2.5 week preseason to begin. With enough players on the roster, teams could scrimmage against themselves during the preseason to minimize travel. But by 4th of July weekend, I think teams should at least be able to travel to other close stadiums, which means a season could begin with modified divisions.
The Three Divisions:
East (Combined AL East and NL East)
Blue Jays Braves Marlins Mets Nationals Orioles Phillies Rays Red Sox Yankees
In the worst case scenario, teams could play at Spring Training stadiums (East in Florida, West in Arizona) and Minor League stadiums in Texas for the Central Division.
Permanent Rule Changes:
All teams play with a designated hitter
The wild card playoff round will consist of 3 games, not 1 game
The league could even abolish the AL and NL for good, or expand/realign when COVID-19 is over
Temporary Rule Changes (just this season):
No fans in the stadium
All players, coaches, reporters, and staff must go through the following process before stadium entry and stadium exit:
Mask Check (Must be wearing a mask into the stadium)
All players, coaches, reporters, and staff must wear a face mask during the game
No more than 50 people in the clubhouse or dugout at once
Teams may hold 50 players on the roster in order to make up for canceled minor league seasons, but only 30 may show up for each game
Instead of tagging players out, defenders must always tag the base
No direct contact between players, coaches, and staff is allowed
No hand-to-face contact (like pitchers licking fingers) or spitting during the game
Players may be disciplined for failing to practice social distancing measures inside or outside the stadium
Regular Season Schedule:
This season, teams should only play other teams in their revised division. Teams will play a total of 78 games across 24 series:
A home and away three-game series against each team (54 games across 18 series’)
Two extra four game series’ (home and away) against three designated rivals (24 games across 6 series’)
Here are my proposed rivalry series’. These teams will play 14 games against each other instead of the standard 6. Rivalries are based on original divisions, rivalry history, and location.
Rivalries in East Division:
Blue Jays: Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees Braves: Nationals, Marlins, Phillies Marlins: Rays, Braves, Mets Mets: Phillies, Yankees, Marlins Nationals: Braves, Phillies, Orioles Orioles: Blue Jays, Rays, Nationals Phillies: Mets, Nationals, Braves Rays: Marlins, Orioles, Red Sox Red Sox: Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays Yankees: Red Sox, Mets, Blue Jays
Teams play mostly divisional rivals in these games, but three inter-league rivalries are included in order for the schedule to work. I matched up the Yankees and Mets (cross-town rivals), Rays and Marlins (cross-state rivals), and Orioles and Nationals, who play very close to each other.
There are two obvious inter-league match-ups here. I matched up the Giants and Athletics (both Bay Area) and the Dodgers and Angels (both LA). For the third match-up, I figured I’d have the Astros, a former NL team, take on the Diamondbacks, the closest NL West team to Texas.
Playoff Schedule and Seeding:
A 24 series schedule should take about 12 weeks. 12 weeks from 4th of July weekend would take us to late September. This means the playoffs could start early, allowing for a three game wild card round.
The MLB is talking about a 14-team playoff, but I would still propose a 10-team playoff field, as 78 games is plenty of time to determine who the true contenders in the league are. Seeding would go as follows:
Seeds 1-3: Division winners seeded by record Seeds 4-6: Division runner-ups seeded by record Seeds 7-10: 4 best remaining teams (wild card teams) seeded by record
Here’s the playoff timeline I would propose:
Wild Card Series (3 games in 3 days):
September 25-September 27
Quarterfinals (5 games in 7 days):
September 29-October 5
Semifinals (7 games in 9 days):
October 7-October 15
World Series (7 games in 11 days):
October 19-October 29
A 4 day break would take place before the World Series to allow teams to rest up, in addition to rest in between World Series games. This format would also make for some interesting match-ups, as seeding is not divided by AL and NL. There could be an AL team against an NL team in Round 1, or even two teams from the same league in the World Series. Imagine a Red Sox-Yankees World Series!
The playoffs would involve more travel than the regular season, but the hope is that travel concerns have lessened by the time late September comes around. If not, playoffs could be played in a central location (maybe Florida spring training ballparks?)
This schedule would allow the off-season to begin on a regular timeline and hopefully, the next season would be able to begin as normal, possibly even with fans back.
I do think the ideas of universal DH and a 3-game wild card round should stay in effect though. These ideas have been in conversation for a long time, and now is the perfect opportunity to give it a try and hopefully stick with it after success.
Even if they don’t follow this timeline and jump into action this quickly (which I don’t honestly expect to happen), a plan like this would be a good compromise and would be safe, as those who test positive for the virus or feel sick would not be allowed into the stadium and would be forced to self-isolate.
That’s all for this edition of the Return of Sports. I may have more entries to this column in the coming weeks if additional news about any sport comes out, and I will also be writing about my experiences watching these sports in their new formats. In the meantime, I’ll still be continuing with the NFC half of my NFL Draft Report Cards, and I’ll have my predictions for the resumption of the NBA and NHL seasons out soon.
It’s been a tough time in America. Coronavirus is still widespread and systemic racism has come to light after the murder of George Floyd. Yesterday, I declined to post in honor of Blackout Tuesday, and I feel that the Black Lives Matter movement should continue to get attention. But in a time like this, sports can provide an escape and bring people together. Even though sports aren’t back, I’ll be making the most of the sports subjects I can discuss. Today, I’ll be continuing my NFL draft report card series with the AFC West. Also coming soon, I’ll have another entry in my Return to Sports column.
I thought the Chargers brought in a pretty good draft class, filling their major positional needs over anything else. The Chargers started off by drafting Justin Herbert, who many people thought they reached for, but I think Herbert is good value at that spot, and it fills LA’s biggest need by far. They would’ve been fine without trading up for Kenneth Murray, but the rest of their picks made sense, as they drafted a new goal line RB, a couple WRs, and a safety to add secondary depth. They could’ve used some o-line and d-line help, but they did address those positions in the 2019 draft, and hopefully their draft picks from last year up their game for 2020.
Kansas City Chiefs: B
The Chiefs started off their draft very strongly, filling many top positional needs by drafting RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, OLB Willie Gay Jr., OL Lucas Niang, and DB L’Jarius Sneed (who did fill a need despite the fact that Kansas City reached for him). But once their needs were filled, they reached on multiple occasions. I can understand using late round picks on a team’s personal favorite players, especially for a team like the Chiefs who didn’t have many needs and filled the ones they did have early. So I don’t mind this draft class.
Denver Broncos: B-
The Broncos addressed their depth problem at WR quickly, drafting Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in early rounds and adding in Tyrie Cleveland in Round 7. They did fill most of their other needs as well. But they reached on McTelvin Agim and could have used more help for the d-line and secondary. They did what they needed to do (at least for the most part), but very few of their picks stood out and very few of the players Denver picked were the best possible option at that spot.
Las Vegas Raiders: B-
The Raiders filled their need at WR early as expected, and also addressed their need for DBs. But they reached on several occasions and in focusing too much on WR and DB, failed to address their biggest needs at linebacker. S Tanner Muse can play LB, but I don’t see him starting next to incoming free agents Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatowski. I expect a lot of 2 LB nickel formations this year, as the Raiders are seriously lacking in LB depth. In addition, there were better options on the board in Round 1 than Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette. The Raiders could’ve had a CeeDee Lamb-Kristian Fulton duo instead. The Raiders do leave this draft as a better, more well-rounded team, but this was not their best work.
That’s all for my AFC West draft grades, and it also concludes the AFC portion of this series. Next time, I’ll be looking at the NFC East.
The MLB is nowhere near an agreement for a return to play, as both owners and players try to minimize financial losses, and I’ll be reporting on that situation eventually. But in today’s column, I wanted to talk about the NBA’s updated plans for return and governor Charlie Baker’s update on Boston sports. Despite so many unknowns, coronavirus numbers have continued to decline, allowing people to begin thinking about returning closer to normal, and a return of major sports leagues would absolutely bring us closer. With multiple pieces of very good news in the sports world today, I have plenty to talk about in this column.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker Permits Sports Practices to Resume
Boston sports facilities will be allowed to reopen on June 6, according to Governor Charlie Baker. This opens the door for sports to return in the city of Boston, and with major sports leagues trying to coordinate returns, that is very good news. Sports will not come back until there are enough cities permitting their return. Boston joins the list. As a result, the Celtics will be opening the Red Auerbach Center, their own practice facility. Hopefully, this also opens the door for the TD Garden to be considered as a central hub for NHL games, since the Bruins are the #1 team in the Eastern Conference and would benefit from some form of home field advantage, even without fans in the stadium.
Adam Silver Announces Intention for 7/31 NBA Return
Adam Silver announced today that he is hoping for a July 31 return for the NBA. He had already said he was targeting late July/early August, but it’s good to hear a definitive date. It would be nice if they could start a little bit earlier, but it gives the league time to work towards gameplay, starting with small group training, then moving into formal training camp, and then finally playing games, just like the NHL. Below is what we know and how I think this plan will play out.
What We Know (The Facts)
The league will resume in one central hub: Orlando, Florida
Games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World
The league may also consider using the Orlando Magic stadium or the UCF stadium for games
For when the league does return, there are four potential formats being discussed:
A 16 team format
A 20 team format
A 22 team format
A 30 team format
The league is unsure whether the regular season will be continued or whether the league will skip to some sort of playoff
As you can see, not much has been decided yet, but at this point we know the league has picked a location, has a proposed return date, and is working to decide on a format.
What the Logistics of a Return could Look Like
The NHL has already established a format for the postseason, and I went ahead and speculated what the timeline could look like. The NBA already has somewhat of a timeline, but below I have proposed a playoff format that I think will fairly decide an NBA champion and written how the logistics of it could work out:
20-Team Playoff Bracket Proposal
I think a fair conclusion to the season would be a 20 team playoff based on overall NBA standings. If you look at the NBA standings right now, there is a clear divide in the Eastern Conference standings. But there are several Western Conference teams close to the top 8 that deserve their fair chance this season. The NBA has already been contemplating seeding based on overall standings (regardless of conference), and since games will be played in one city, I don’t see a problem with that, especially because it can give additional Western Conference teams a fair chance in an expanded playoff bracket. The NHL decided to expand their postseason, and I see the NBA doing the same.
Here’s what the timeline could potentially look like:
Early-Mid June: NBA practice facilities reopen
Late June: NBA Draft Lottery with 10 teams missing playoffs
Friday, July 10: All 20 playoff teams report to Orlando for formal training camp
Friday, July 31 – Sunday, August 9: Best of 5 play-in series
Monday, August 10 – Sunday, August 23 – Round of 16
Monday, August 24 – Sunday, September 6 – Quarterfinals
Monday, September 7 – Sunday, September 20 – Semifinals
Monday, September 21 – Sunday, October 4 – NBA Finals
Thursday, October 8 – 2020 NBA Draft
Monday, October 12 – NBA Free Agency Begins
Early November – NBA Preseason
Early December – 66 Game NBA Season Begins
4 Games vs. Each Division Team (Total of 16)
2 Games vs. Each Other Team (Total of 50)
The NBA is targeting a later start to the 2020-21 season in order to make way for a satisfying ending to the 2019-20 season. The 2020-21 season would look similar to the 2011-12 season after the last NBA lockout.
In the play-in round and the later rounds, all games could be played during prime time, as games would be played every other day and there are enough courts in Orlando for two games at once. In the Round of 16, games could take place both at 7PM and at 9PM, with 4 games across 2 courts each day. They would only need two channels airing games. ABC/ESPN could handle some games, while TNT handles others.
With this format, I think the Bucks and Lakers would still have the best shot at winning it all, but I think the Clippers, Celtics, Nuggets, and Heat among other teams would also have a chance.
That’s all for today, but I’ll be updating again soon with the latest news on the MLB negotiations and updates on the NHL and NBA.
The Jaguars had a pretty good draft, filling majority of their positional needs. The early selections of C.J. Henderson and Davon Hamilton fill major needs, as Hamilton replaces Calais Campbell (traded) and Henderson adds depth to a DB corps that needs it. Jake Luton is an interesting addition to the QB room, but I find it interesting that they didn’t even consider top tier QBs in this draft. I think this will definitely be a “prove it” season for Gardner Minshew, because the Jags can tank for Trevor Lawrence if Minshew struggles. I like the K’Lavon Chaisson pick, as it provides insurance if Yannick Ngakoue holds out or leaves Jacksonville. I would have probably drafted a running back as Leonard Fournette insurance too, and I would’ve drafted a safety earlier, but overall the Jaguars did pretty well.
Tennessee Titans: B
The Titans have a pretty balanced roster, so there wasn’t much they needed out of this draft. They got very good value by taking the best player available, Kristian Fulton in Round 2, a smart move considering the Titans don’t have any glaring positional needs to fill. They filled their biggest needs, o-line and d-line, and got some good value along the day. I wasn’t a huge fan of their later round picks, and it’s hard to knock a draft out of the park when it’s unclear what the team needed out of this draft in the first place. But if I were Mike Vrabel, I’d be satisfied with this draft class.
Houston Texans: B-
Bill O’Brien made some pretty questionable moves throughout the off-season, and this draft class was far from perfect. But I do have to give O’Brien some credit for starting the draft off strong with his Day 2 selections. Blacklock and Greenard provide Houston with great value on players that will help fill two of the team’s biggest defensive needs. Even with J.J. Watt leading the way, this Texans defense is depleted, and this draft class helped improve it.
However, instead of following it up by fixing the o-line and drafting a better tight end, the Texans made some questionable choices on Day 3. I understand the Charlie Heck selection, but they want Heck to play guard, and IOL Netane Muti was still on the board. CB John Reid was far from worthy of a 4th rounder, and the Texans are fairly well off at corner. The Coulter pick was also a bit of a reach, though it’s understandable that the team wanted a good mid-range receiver to help play a part in replacing DeAndre Hopkins, something that cannot be done by a single player. These selections were okay, but there were much better options on the board, and QB Deshaun Watson is left without much extra protection headed into the season.
Indianapolis Colts: C+
The Colts made a lot of questionable decisions in this draft. Michael Pittman Jr., the team’s first pick was far from the best WR left on the board, and there were many other players the Colts reached on. I can respect the selection of QB Jacob Eason, but many of these other selections made little sense. The Colts did fill their biggest needs, but they waited on most of their need-filling until Day 3, and it wasn’t like they received amazing value out of their Day 2 selections to make up for this fact. This draft class isn’t outright terrible, but it’s definitely flawed.
That’s all for this portion of my NFL draft report cards. Stay tuned for AFC West draft grades, as well as an update on the Return of Sports in the coming days.
It’s going to be around another month before we actually see hockey again, but today, the NHL became the first of America’s 4 largest sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) to announce their plan for a return to play. This was really inspiring to hear, especially after reports that the MLB is nowhere near an agreement with its players on a return. It means I can begin to speculate about the NHL playoffs, and there’s now a timeline in place for sports to return.
Before we get into the details, I’d like to talk a little bit about my plans for this website as the country reopens, the online school year winds down, and sports come closer to a return.
I’ll be working on editing down my journal about the first 75 days of quarantine, which I called “Life Without Sports”. In the meantime, I’ll be:
Starting this new column, The Return of Sports, where I discuss the upcoming return of sports leagues and eventually, my experiences watching sports in this new normal.
As summer approaches, I’ll also be getting more active on my fantasy football Instagram account, @bsmfantasyfootball as NFL minicamps are set to begin as early as June 15 and preparation for the fantasy football season begins.
But today, I’ll be focusing on the NHL’s plan to return to play, which was announced by commissioner Gary Bettman on an NBCSN special.
What We Know (The Facts)
Bettman said today that the NHL is currently in Phase 1 of its pause, in which all NHL facilities remain closed
Phase 2, the reopening of facilities for small group training will officially begin on June 1
Phase 3, a formal NHL training camp, will begin no earlier than July 1
About 2-3 weeks after the beginning of Phase 3, a 24-team NHL playoff. The NHL regular season is over.
How the playoff will work:
Games will be played at central hubs, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference. The cities in the running to be central hubs are:
Chicago, IL (Home of the Blackhawks)
Columbus, OH (Home of the Blue Jackets)
Dallas, TX (Home of the Stars)
Edmonton, AB (Home of the Oilers)
Las Vegas, NV (Home of the Golden Knights)
Los Angeles, CA (Home of the Kings)
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN (Home of the Wild)
Pittsburgh, PA (Home of the Penguins)
Toronto, ON (Home of the Maple Leafs)
Vancouver, BC (Home of the Canucks)
Round Robin: The top four teams in each conference will participate in a Round Robin, with each team playing each of the three other teams from their conference once (regular season overtime rules will apply)
Qualifying Round: Teams 5-12 in each conference will be matched up for a best of 5 series to qualify for the Round of 16.
Round of 16 and Round of 8: Will be best of 5 of best of 7, the league is unsure whether they will put together a formal playoff bracket or determine match-ups based on seeding like the NFL playoffs
Conference Finals: Will be best of 7, played in the two hub cities
Stanley Cup Finals: Also best of 7, will likely be in one of the two hub cities
My Thoughts on the Plan
Do I Think the Plan is Fair?
Overall, I think this is a fair plan for the continuation of the NHL season. The bottom 3-4 teams in each conference had little chance at playoff contention, and the round robins and qualifying rounds essentially replace the rest of the regular season with more meaningful games, which will definitely increase viewership. In addition, I like the initiative the NHL and NHLPA took in getting a plan in place. If this planning allows the NHL to be the first of the Big 4 sports to return, that will also increase viewership. Normally, I’m juggling the MLB season, NBA playoffs, and NHL playoffs. I’ll absolutely watch if the NHL is the first Big 4 sport to return.
Though I am a bit disappointed that the Bruins aren’t guaranteed the #1 seed, the regular season resuming wouldn’t guarantee that either. Like Gary Bettman said, there is no plan that will fully satisfy every NHL fan. Overall, the top four teams in each conference have a significant advantage over the other teams, and those were the teams that had the best chance at bringing home the Stanley Cup.
One thing that could make it unfair is the fact that 9 of the 10 potential central hubs would give a singular team the home field advantage (they would not have to travel). If possible, I think it would be good for the NHL to choose Boston, MA (home of the #1 Eastern Conference team, the Bruins) and St. Louis, MO (home of the #1 Western Conference team, the Blues) as hub cities. However, those two cities are not on the list.
The plan is not perfect, but I think it gives us a pretty fair conclusion to the season for all 31 teams. The 7 teams that were eliminated will have a huge advantage in the NHL draft lottery (except for the Sharks, who traded their 1st rounder to Ottawa in the Erik Karlsson trade).
How Might the Logistics and Timeline Work Out?
I’ve always been interested in analytics, and I’ve followed COVID-19 metrics very closely. It appears that most U.S. states are past their peak and entering an overall decline. It will be important to see how the reopening of all 50 states and Phase 2 of the NHL pause impact public health before jumping into Phase 3. But I’m confident that Phase 3 will begin on July 1. Since NHL players will be training throughout June, I think it’s possible that the Round Robin and qualifying rounds could begin after two weeks of Phase 3. If all this is true, the following would be my proposed timeline for the NHL:
Wednesday, July 15: Teams report to hub cities (hopefully Boston and St. Louis, but I think the best options from Bettman’s list would be Pittsburgh, PA and Las Vegas, NV)
Thursday, July 16 – Saturday, July 25: Round Robin games and Qualifying Round take place
Sunday, July 26 – Tuesday, August 4 – 5-game Round of 16 (match-ups determined by formal bracket)
Wednesday, August 5 – Friday, August 14 – 5-game Round of 8
Saturday, August 15 – Friday, August 28 – 7-game Conference finals
Saturday, August 29 – Thursday, September 10 – 7-game Stanley Cup finals (hosted in hub city of team with the better point percentage)
Saturday, September 12 – 2020 NHL Draft
Monday, September 14 – 2020 NHL Free Agency Begins (Three Weeks to Finalize Rosters)
Monday, September 21 – 2020-21 NHL Preseason Begins
Monday, October 5 – 2020-21 NHL Regular Season Begins as normal (possibly still no fans)
I think this is a realistic timeline for the NHL to safely play games. I think the NHL should stick to a formal bracket and cut down the the Rounds of 16 and 8 to five games in order to complete the playoffs in time for the 2020-21 season to begin. They’ll have to speed up free agency and cut those rounds to five games in order to do this.
In the qualifying round, I would think teams would play just about every other day, meaning three games are played in each hub city every day. For the East, these games could be at 2PM, 5PM, and 8PM EST, while the West could have games at 2PM, 5PM, and 8PM PST. I think qualifying games should take priority over the Round Robin, so the Round Robin should be the first game each day (further away from prime time).
Once the 16-team bracket is set, it would be down to two games per city per day, in which teams could rotate between the 5PM and 8PM slots.
Once it’s down to 8 teams, every game could be a prime time game.
This could bring in a lot of viewers, especially if the NHL comes back before other sports.
Games could be aired on channels like NBC, NBCSN and the NHL Network and simulcasted onto local stations (like NESN in Boston) for people who don’t have NHL Network or NBCSN in their cable packages.
Who Will Succeed in this Modified Format
Which Teams have the best shot at the Stanley Cup?
I think this format favors the top four teams in each conference heavily. Before the pause, the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, Blues, and Stars stood out to me as teams who could contend for a Stanley Cup. Below I’ve ranked the teams who qualify for the Round Robin based on the chance I think they have at winning the Stanley Cup.
1) Boston Bruins: They’ve been dominating all season long, their first line is stacked and they have good depth to add to it.
2) Tampa Bay Lightning: If Steven Stamkos is healthy, they’ll have one of the most star-studded rosters in the league and pose a big threat in the Eastern Conference.
3) Dallas Stars: The Stars barely made it into the Round Robin, but I could see them making a big playoff run with Tyler Seguin leading the team and a mix of other veteran talent and young talent around him.
4) St. Louis Blues: The defending Stanley Cup champs beat the Bruins in 2019, but they’ve been without Vladimir Tarasenko all season. Even with Tarasenko back, will things be the same?
5) Washington Capitals: The Caps have been an elite team in this league since Alex Ovechkin reached his prime, but can they repeat the playoff success they had a couple years back?
6) Vegas Golden Knights: They don’t quite have the talent they had during their historic Year 1 Stanley Cup run, and they may have lost their momentum after a big run before the pause. But I could still see them winning it all if they can get past St. Louis and Dallas in their conference.
7) Philadelphia Flyers: I think they’ll have a hard time fending off their competition in the Round Robin and that could derail their playoff run, but they still have the talent to win a Cup.
8) Colorado Avalanche: It says something that they were able to compete with the Blues and Stars in their division, but even with Nathan MacKinnon, I don’t think they have a Stanley Cup run in them.
Who Will Make the Round of 16?
I’ll have full playoff predictions once the details are ironed out, but here’s my prediction of the 8 playoff teams in each conference by seed:
Tampa Bay Lightning
Florida Panthers (will upset New York Islanders in qualifier)
Toronto Maple Leafs
St. Louis Blues
Vegas Golden Knights (Increase from Round Robin)
Dallas Stars (Increase from Round Robin)
Colorado Avalanche (Decrease from Round Robin)
As you can see, I don’t see many teams being affected by the Round Robin and qualifying round, but it will give teams their fair chance.
That’s all for this first entry of the Return to Sports series. I’ll be back next week with my take on the ongoing MLB negotiations and with any other updates that come about this week.
It’s been a little bit since I last posted; I’ve been caught up watching the Survivor finale, catching up on schoolwork, and checking to see when sports are coming back. But today, I’ll be continuing my draft grade series with the AFC North. I’m hoping to ramp up posting this week with the continuation of this series, but until online school is over, I can’t guarantee anything. For now, I’ll be taking a look at this division, which includes some of the best draft classes in the league.
Most teams traded draft picks at some point. But the Bengals were content with the 1st pick of each round, and I think it made for a pretty good draft class. Joe Burrow was absolutely the right choice #1 overall. I also liked some of their late round picks, as they got good value on offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji and linebacker Markus Bailey. If the Bengals were good last year, they wouldn’t have this much draft capital. But headed in to this year, I think they’re a better team. This off-season, they addressed majority of their burning positional needs. They found their new franchise QB and stocking up on linebackers in this draft. In addition, they signed some quality defensive players in free agency like DT D.J. Reader and S Vonn Bell.
Cleveland Browns: A-
After they got steals in CB Greedy Williams (Round 2) and LB Mack Wilson (Round 5) last year, I gave the Browns the league’s highest draft grade. This year, they had another solid draft and end up with one of the best grades in the league all over again. They started the draft off by getting some protection for QB Baker Mayfield in Jedrick Wills Jr. Wills, along with free agent signing Jack Conklin and new IOL Nick Harris, should make for a big improvement in the Browns o-line. The Browns also got a couple more steals in S Grant Delpit (Round 2) and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (Round 6). Like the Bengals, they filled majority of their positional needs in this draft, and that should help the team take a significant step forward this year. I can justify almost all of Cleveland’s draft picks; the only selection I don’t understand is the choice of TE Harrison Bryant, since the Browns already have a TE duo in Austin Hooper (free agent signing) and David Njoku.
Baltimore Ravens: B+
The Ravens didn’t have that many draft needs after a huge 2019 season, but they filled the ones they had. Patrick Queen, Justin Madubuike, and Malik Harrison will be great additions to an improving Ravens front seven that already added veteran d-linemen Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe this March. They also gave QB Lamar Jackson some more WR depth behind Marquise Brown in Devin Duvernay and James Proche. Ben Bredeson will help fill the gap Marshal Yanda left behind. I didn’t understand the choice of RB J.K. Dobbins, as the Ravens don’t necessarily need him. But Dobbins was great value and has the potential to replace Mark Ingram as Baltimore’s RB1. Overall, this draft class was great, but it’s tough to beat out the excellent draft classes Cincinnati and Cleveland put together. I could see the AFC North becoming one of the league’s stronger divisions in 2020. The Ravens are the divisional favorites, but they’ll have competition.
Pittsburgh Steelers: C
This is the one AFC North draft class that I’m not a huge fan of. The Steelers struggled to fill their needs and reached on multiple occasions. The Steelers did address the offensive line, but Kevin Dotson was far from the best option to do so. They also could’ve done more to help the secondary, even though they did draft Antoine Brooks Jr. Their Day 2 picks were both reaches in my opinion. WR Chase Claypool received too much hype after the combine, and Alex Highsmith may struggle after weaker competition in college. Plus, Highsmith is far from a perfect fit in Pittsburgh. I don’t mind the selections of Brooks and RB Anthony McFarland, who could help fill in if RB James Conner gets hurt and once Conner leaves in free agency. But Pittsburgh missed on several needs and that could take a toll on their 2020 performance. Even with QB Ben Roethlisberger returning and the playoff field expanded, I can’t see Pittsburgh making the playoffs, and things will only go downhill from here with several players on expiring contracts.
That’s all for this portion of my draft grades. I’ll be reviewing the AFC South next, so stay tuned for that post soon.