2019 NFL Week 2 Picks & Previews: Which Teams Adjust after Wear and Tear of Week 1?

In Week 1, teams set the tone for their seasons.  Week 2 will show which teams can adjust to and overcome adversity, as several players got injured in Week 1, and some teams will have tougher match-ups this week than they did last week.  For me, Week 1 went pretty well. Although I only won in one of my four fantasy leagues, I went 12-3-1 in picks.  It will be hard to beat that this week after getting the Thursday Night game wrong again.  But will I defy the odds and outdo my strong Week 1 performance anyways?  Below are my picks for the week. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Lock of the Week

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Typically, the Patriots struggle in warm weather.  Last year, they even lost in Miami as the Pats defense blew it at the last minute and gave up a miraculous TD.  But this Dolphins team just lost 59-10 at home against QB Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.  How do you expect them to beat the Pats?  There’s a huge hole at QB, and the defense won’t have much going for them this week aside from CB Xavien Howard.  Plus, this Pats offense is one of the most talented in history. Expect a blowout here, as QB Tom Brady and offense show off how great they really are, and the Dolphins continue to struggle mightily.  

Upset of the Week 

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This same match-up occurred in Week 2 last year, and it ended in a tie.  But I don’t think we’re getting 2 ties in 2 weeks again. Even though Green Bay beat the Bears, QB Aaron Rodgers looked washed-up, and the backfield was not productive against a strong Bears defense.  If there is a better defense in this league than Chicago’s, its the Vikings D. Expect them to easily stop RB Aaron Jones and hold Rodgers to just 1 TD. The Bears were able to do the same, but they lost to Green Bay last week because of serious offensive problems.  RB Dalvin Cook and the Vikings offense dominated against Atlanta last week. Expect the same against the inexperienced Green Bay defense.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter before game; Actual Score: 20-14 TB)

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Expect a high scoring game as the Bucs defense continues to struggle.  RB Christian McCaffrey will dominate, leading the Carolina offense to a big game against Tampa.  The Bucs will put up a good fight, as Winston utilizes his diverse group of receivers against an unproven Panthers secondary.  But with McCaffrey’s help, Carolina will come out on top.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look, I understand QB Eli Manning is far from what he used to be.  But against a rebuilding Bills defense, Manning and the Giants should have success.  Manning will rely on RB Saquon Barkley and TE Evan Engram to anchor the offense in a Giants victory, as WR Sterling Shepard is concussed.  The Bills will make it close, as their backfield thrives against a weak Giants D and QB Josh Allen sees improvement as a passer. But the Giants offense has more of a rhythm going, and that will lead them to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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After their struggles in New England, everyone is saying the Steelers are washed up and on the decline.  At first, I agreed. But the Seahawks aren’t quite the same as they used to be either. They nearly lost to Cincinnati last week.  QB Russell Wilson will struggle against an underrated Steelers pass rush, and the young Seahawks D is no match for QB Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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The Ravens will win this one as they host Arizona, but they won’t see the same success they had last week.  The Ravens defense should have another great game and hold the Cards back from scoring multiple TDs. But DE Chandler Jones and the Cardinals D will limit QB Lamar Jackson as they keep him under pressure.  Jackson will still play like a QB this week and lead his team to victory, but he won’t stay on the elite level he was at last week.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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The Niners thrived against a weak Bucs D last week.  The Bengals defense may be a little washed up, but they should be able to stop a Niners backfield that will be without Tevin Coleman.  QB Jimmy Garoppolo will have another decent game, but it won’t be enough. So long as RB Joe Mixon plays, QB Andy Dalton will continue to look good and this time lead his team in an OT thriller.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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These two defenses aren’t quite elite anymore, but they’ll look like it in this one.  Against a better defense, QB Gardner Minshew II will struggle. The Jags defense will hold back a young Texans offensive core as well.  However, QB Deshaun Watson will get past the strong Jags D and lead Houston to victory.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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The Titans got off to a huge start in Cleveland, and they’ll run with the momentum against a weak Colts defense.  A healthy QB Marcus Mariota and TE Delanie Walker will be huge for Tennessee. If they go down, the Titans have QB Ryan Tannehill and TE Anthony Firkser waiting.  QB Jacoby Brissett should look alright too, but don’t expect as much against a talented Titans D.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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At first, I was thinking this would be a blowout.  But the Chargers already lost TE Hunter Henry to an injury, and this offense is injury prone in general, so their performance in this game may be underwhelming.  The Chargers D should help LA lock up the victory, but the QB Matthew Stafford and his receivers are better this year, so it’ll be close.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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This will be closer than people expect.  Case Keenum may be a system QB, but  the Redskins system fits him, and he’ll lead Washington to make this close against their division rivals.  However, QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, and company are just going to be too much for this depleted Redskins defense to handle.  
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

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WR Tyreek Hill may be hurt, but I still expect QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to win by at least a TD in Oakland.  Look for a big game out of RB Josh Jacobs, who will work around a struggling Chiefs front seven. However, Jacobs’ efforts won’t be enough to outscore a dominant Chiefs offense.  
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

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This Bears defense is about to have a huge game.  QB Joe Flacco has led Denver’s offense to a decent year so far.  But the aging QB and his receivers will be significantly outperformed by the league’s best defense, leading to a shutout.  In the meantime, QB Mitch Trubisky will have a slightly better game against a Denver secondary that only mildly resembles 2015’s No Fly Zone.  
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

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The Saints will be hungry for revenge in this one.  But I expect the elite Rams defense to hold them back.  QB Jared Goff and the Rams will get out to an early lead.  Now that RB Todd Gurley and WR Cooper Kupp are playing, this Rams offense will be hard for an overrated Saints defense to limit.  Expect another Rams victory here, by a bigger margin this time around.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

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QB Matt Ryan and a powerful Falcons offense will rebound in this one.  Philly’s defense is good, but it isn’t on the same level as Minnesota’s.  Ryan and his receivers felt overwhelmed in Minnesota. Back home, against a slightly weaker defense, I expect them to rebound, led by Ryan and his elite WR trio.  QB Carson Wentz will have a strong game as well, but Atlanta’s defense has improved, and they’ll prevent Wentz from orchestrating a comeback as he did against Washington.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

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People expect an exciting game between two rising teams to end the week.  But especially with QB Sam Darnold out, this game could be a bit underwhelming.  I’m expecting a sloppy game, as QB Trevor Siemian struggles against an improved Browns defense, and Cleveland just barely edges out a victory despite offensive chemistry issues.

That’s all for my picks this week.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts, and check back next week to see how I did and see my Week 3 Picks.  In the meantime, I’ll be answering fantasy questions once again on Instagram, so feel free to ask away!

 

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2019 NFL Week 1 Picks & Previews: Lots of Scoring in First Football Sunday of Year

Football is back, and I just posted my predictions for the season, but now it’s time to take a closer look at Week 1.   I went 148-106-2 in pick’em last year. My goal is to beat that this year and have less than 100 games wrong.

I expect a lot of high scoring games this week, and a couple surprises too.  Week 1 is all about setting the tone for a new season. Which teams will start off on the strongest note?  Keep reading to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week

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Don’t expect much of anything from Washington’s offense this week.  RB Derrius Guice is being trusted to anchor the backfield, but he hasn’t even seen an NFL field yet.  Case Keenum is unproven as a starting QB, and he’ll be missing his most reliable target in TE Jordan Reed.  Meanwhile, a healthy QB Carson Wentz should do big things for the Eagles, especially against a Redskins defense that lost several key pieces this off-season.  Wentz will get the Eagles an early lead and the team will not look back from there.

Upset of the Week (MNF)

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Without WR Antonio Brown, QB Derek Carr lacks elite receivers.  But the Raiders will rely on their depth in this victory. The Broncos secondary no longer has much talent aside from CB Chris Harris Jr.  That will allow younger guys like WR Hunter Renfrow, WR J.J. Nelson, and TE Darren Waller lots of opportunities, so long as the o-line gives Carr protection from a strong Denver front seven.  The Broncos offense will have some good moments with veteran QB Joe Flacco leading them.  But Oakland added ILB Vontaze Burfict and S LaMarcus Joyner on defense, moves that many people have underestimated.  The improved Oakland defense will hold Denver under 20 points and allow Carr to lead the Raiders in an upset.  

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night – Actual Score: 10-3 Packers)

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As I said in my NFL predictions, the Packers don’t have much going for them beyond QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Davante Adams.  I expect Adams to have a huge game and score Green Bay’s lone touchdown. But the elite Bears D will prevent RB Aaron Jones and the Packers run game from success.  Meanwhile, Chicago’s upgraded offense will outperform an inexperienced Green Bay defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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The Jets will use RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Jamison Crowder to their advantage, as young QB Sam Darnold benefits greatly from his new surroundings.  QB Josh Allen will improve as a passer too, but it won’t quite be enough as the backfield struggles and the Bills fall short in overtime.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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QB Lamar Jackson will throw the ball a little more.  But the Ravens will still find the most success by utilizing their run-first offense against a weak Miami front seven.  I still expect Jackson to toss a TD, but most of Baltimore’s scoring will be thanks to RB Mark Ingram and the backfield. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will put up some points, but the Dolphins offense just doesn’t have enough talent to outdo an above average Baltimore D. 
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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This will be another close one, as the Browns start slow against a strong Titans D.  Plus, at full health, QB Marcus Mariota will lead the Titans to a strong game. But the duo of former LSU WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will lead the way in a Cleveland OT victory. 
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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QB Patrick Mahomes lacks the depth he had on offense last year.  But he still has WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce to help him lead the Chiefs to victory in Jacksonville.  Expect a strong debut by QB Nick Foles and the Jags offense against a weak Chiefs D, but it won’t be enough to take down Mahomes.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Expect a high scoring game here.  If I’m wrong about this game, it’ll probably be because I didn’t predict enough scoring.  The Vikes D is great, but the Falcons have one of the best offenses in the league. They’ll give Minnesota a wake up call.  QB Kirk Cousins will have to keep up with QB Matt Ryan in order to lead Minnesota to victory, but I think he’s capable now that he’s adjusted to Minnesota’s offense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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The Rams star-studded WR corps will dominate in this one, as Carolina still lacks the secondary depth to handle so many elite receivers at once.  QB Jared Goff and the Rams offense will have a field day as a result. RB Christian McCaffrey and others will lead the Panthers to put up a fight, even against an elite Rams D.  But the Rams will hold onto the lead.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

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The Seahawks may be lacking offensive weapons with WR D.K. Metcalf  banged up. But QB Russell Wilson will find a way to victory against a washed up Cincinnati defense.  QB Andy Dalton will have some success against an unproven Seattle secondary, but under pressure from an elite Seahawks front seven, the Bengals offense will fall short.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

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QB Jacoby Brissett will impress in his debut, taking advantage of Indy’s newfound WR and TE depth.  But Brissett is no match for the Chargers, who have one of the most balanced and talented rosters in the league.  Even without RB Melvin Gordon, QB Philip Rivers will lead the Chargers to victory in a shootout.  
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

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These two division rivals have played 3 season openers against each other in the last 4 years, and in the other 2, Dallas won at home.  I expect the same here. The Giants have some nice pieces on offense that QB Eli Manning will utilize. But Manning will face too much pressure against an elite Cowboys front seven to do much more than that.  QB Dak Prescott will get off to a huge start with RB Ezekiel Elliott and TE Jason Witten on the field and lead Dallas to another Week 1 victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

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This will be the shootout of the week, as QB Kyler Murray dominates his debut against one of the weakest defenses in the league.  Detroit will also have a pretty successful day offensively, as QB Matthew Stafford and his receivers outperform a Cardinals secondary that will be without star CB Patrick Peterson.  
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

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Expect another OT thriller here, as QB Jimmy Garoppolo works with some of the same weapons he had in 2017 and some new faces to lead the Niners in a strong offensive game.  QB Jameis Winston will miss WRs DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, but he’ll utilize the receivers he has and make it a close one, even against an improved Niners D.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST (SNF)

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The defending Super Bowl champs debut Sunday Night against a new look Steelers team.  This year, Pittsburgh’s defense will anchor the team, so don’t be surprised if this match-up is lower scoring than usual.  But even without ex-Steelers and current Patriots WR Antonio Brown, the Pats deep WR corps will help QB Tom Brady lead the team to triumphant victory.  Meanwhile, an improved New England defense will hold Pittsburgh’s weaker offense to single digits.    
Monday, 7:10 PM EST (MNF)

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In the first game of an MNF doubleheader, the Texans will look good.  Expect QB Deshaun Watson and his WRs to outplay a young Saints secondary.  But the Saints will come out on top in this one, as QB Drew Brees utilizes his younger receivers and thrives against a Texans D that is still above average, but no longer elite.

That’s all for this week’s picks.  Stay tuned for more NFL articles soon.

NBA 2019 Playoff Predictions: Who Finally Takes Down Golden State?

I know, it’s a little late.  But before we know the surefire winner of each series, I figured I’d share my NBA Playoff bracket.  Believe it or not, I don’t think Golden State’s championship-winning streak will stay alive.  But who could possibly beat the Warriors?  See my prediction below:

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I have the Celtics taking down the Warriors in a 7-game series.  But how will they get there?

I think Boston should easily take down the Pacers.  With Victor Oladipo out of the picture, I cannot see Indiana doing much in these playoffs.  Kyrie Irving ruined the Celtics’ chemistry during the regular season, but I don’t think this will be as apparent in the playoffs, where the whole team will be motivated and willing to do whatever it takes to win it all.

The Pistons may have Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond to lead them, but that won’t be enough to pull off a series upset over Giannis Antetokounmpo and a powerful Milwaukee Bucks team.  However, the Celtics have multiple star players on their roster who will outplay Greek Freak’s teammates and help Boston win in the Eastern Conference semifinals.  I can’t see anyone getting in Toronto’s way until they face the Celtics.  The Raptors are by far the strongest team in their quadrant of the bracket, led offensively by Kyle Lowry and defensively by Kawhi Leonard.

But I do see Boston riding the momentum and overcoming adversity as they take down Toronto.  Their roster is stacked, so if the Celtics are on the same page motivation-wise and get off to a strong start (as I see them doing against Indiana), they could be a threat to Golden State.

The Warriors should not have a hard time with Western Conference opponents though.  Besides Boston, the Warriors are the only team I have sweeping their first round opponent.  The Rockets won’t be as easy an opponent as the Clippers, but a healthy Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will outplay James Harden and Chris Paul.  I could see the Thunder, KD’s old team, making a run as well.  Portland is known for playoff choking, and Denver’s lack of experience could come back to haunt them.  I think they should be able to handle the San Antonio Spurs, but the Thunder might be a bit much for an inexperienced team like the Nuggets.

Golden State, however, will end Oklahoma City’s run.  With Marcus Smart back and the team united by a common goal, the Celtics should have a chance at Golden State and I’m staying optimistic with this bracket.  I’m sick of Golden State winning, and it would make it even better if the Celtics could be the team to finally beat them.  As long as Kyrie Irving’s selfish ways don’t come back to haunt them, the Celtics should have a chance.

That’s all for my playoff predictions this year.  Stay tuned for more Celtics playoff coverage soon.

NHL 2019 Playoff Predictions: Prepare for Madness

The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin today, and the Bruins will take on the Maple Leafs in Round 1 starting tomorrow, as they did last year. But will they go on to become Boston’s third championship team in the last year? I think they have a chance. They still own one of the best first lines in the league. They are also one of the league’s deepest teams. Defense and goaltending are slight concerns, but if the Bruins can score goals quickly, they should be able to put together a deep playoff run. My full bracket is below:

I have the Bruins taking down the Sharks in the Stanley Cup this year. The Sharks will be a tough opponent, led defensively by former Ottawa Senator Erik Karlsson and offensively by former Buffalo Sabre Evander Kane. Martin Jones may also outplay Bruins goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. But I think the Bruins should be able to win in the end as long as the team gets into a rhythm and scores regularly.

It won’t be easy to get to the Stanley Cup either. The Bruins will not have an easy match-up in any round. The Maple Leafs provide significant offensive competition, the Lightning often dominate against the Bruins despite inconsistency, and the Penguins have never been an easy opponent for Boston.

I think Pittsburgh will make it over the Capitals, as they have historically tended to outplay the Capitals in the playoffs. The Caps went all the way to the Stanley Cup and finally came through in the playoffs last year, but I cannot see that happening again.

As for San Jose, the Flames are the league’s most improved 2018-19 team (as I predicted), and they may provide a challenge for the Sharks. The Predators won’t be so easy to take down either.

But in the end, it’ll be the Bruins taking down the Sharks in 6 or 7 games as they win their first Stanley Cup since 2011.

I think this could be an interesting series, as some of the current Bruins and Sharks including Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Brad Marchand played in the AHL several years back. At the time, the Sharks still had an AHL affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Worcester Sharks were a frequent opponent for the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence. Who will win this series when the stakes are at their highest? Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

MLB 2019 Predictions: Who will Follow in Houston and Chicago’s Footsteps Post-Rebuild?

The time has finally come.  If you are reading this, the NFL season is over, both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have signed, and Spring Training has begun.  After a long off-season, baseball is finally back, and it is time for my MLB 2019 Predictions.  I will be predicting each team’s win-loss record, sharing my projected playoff bracket, and sharing some award predictions.  My projected World Series winner is a team that began rebuilding a couple years after the Astros and Cubs rebuilds and has now followed in their footsteps to contention.  Keep reading to find out who that team is and how they will achieve a World Series victory.

Part I: Projected Records

American League

AL East

  1. new-york-yankees New York Yankees (94-68) (2nd Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox (93-69) (4th Seed in AL Playoffs)
  3. Toronto_Blue_Jays Toronto Blue Jays (80-82)
  4. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays (75-87)
  5. Baltimore-Orioles-Logo Baltimore Orioles (67-95)

2018 was Boston’s year.  They built up the roster preparing for a World Series, and now the damage is done.  Expect a mild World Series hangover due to the departure of closer Craig Kimbrel and the loss of momentum.  If Kimbrel returns, they may be more equipped to repeat.  But right now, as much as I hate to admit it, the Yankees have the most talent in the division.  Their rotation depth issues are finally fixed, the bullpen could go down in record books, and the lineup is still flooded with big hitters, including the superstar duo of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.  Expect New York to win the division this time around, but the Red Sox should still easily score a Wild Card spot.

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Toronto should be moving quickly in their rebuild thanks to a talented group of prospects including the leagues #1 prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  Now, they are an extra starting pitcher away from becoming a sub .500 team close to contention.  Remember, they are just a couple years removed from the start of a rebuild.  But this group of prospects will give them a respectable major league roster by the end of the season.  With Toronto on the rise, the Rays will take a step back.  The Rays never really replaced 1B C.J. Cron, OF Carlos Gomez, or reliever Sergio Romo.  If they want to keep using an opener, they’ll need to beef up the bullpen.  Otherwise, expect significant regression in 2019.  They were right on the verge of contention in 2018.  Had they beefed up the roster a little more, they might have had playoff chances this year.  But instead, they’ll sit towards the bottom of the AL East.  However, the Orioles will remain in the AL East basement after a 47 win season.  The Orioles finally began a full rebuild in 2018, but this may be a long, painful rebuild considering their 2018 final record.

AL Central

  1. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians (89-73) (3rd Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox (82-80)
  3. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins (80-82)
  4. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals (68-94)
  5. detroit-tigers Detroit Tigers (66-96)

Despite an underwhelming off-season, the Indians should be able to stay atop the AL Central.  In most other divisions, the Indians would have to fight for a Wild Card spot, but in the AL Central, they should have an easier route to the playoffs, as none of the other teams in their division are ready for contention.  Despite coming up short in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, the White Sox made several improvements this off-season that can assist their young core in the next step towards contention.  If they add a starter or two and another infielder, they could be chasing the Indians for the division by 2020.  The Twins won’t see a significant improvement this year, but hopefully the return of SP Michael Pineda and better years from Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will help them move up the standings slightly.

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That leaves the Royals and Tigers, two rebuilding teams, in the basement of the AL Central.  With Billy Hamilton on board and some of their younger players ready to start, the Royals may see slight improvement.  But it will take a couple years for the Tigers to do the same.

AL West

  1. houston-astros Houston Astros (96-66) (1st Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels (86-76) (5th Seed in AL Playoffs)
  3. oakland-a's Oakland Athletics (80-82)
  4. texas-rangers Texas Rangers (73-89)
  5. seattle-mariners-logo Seattle Mariners (70-92)

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Though the lineup will be better with the addition of LF Michael Brantley, the Astros’ rotation took a significant hit thanks to the free agent departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton and an injury to Lance McCullers Jr.  If the rotation does well without Morton and Keuchel, the Astros could win another World Series.  No matter what, I think they’ll win the division, but if the rotation struggles I wouldn’t expect a deep playoff run.

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The Angels will also sneak into the playoffs in an extremely top-heavy American League. In my eyes, the American League will have three 90+ win teams: the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox.  That leaves the door open for slightly above average teams like the Angels to make the playoffs.  Led by Mike Trout and the rest of the big-hitting lineup, they’ll snag a Wild Card spot.

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The Athletics will take a step back this year after a playoff appearance in 2018.  The rotation will be without Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton for a good portion of the season.  Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada cannot lead this rotation alone.  Plus, the only Jed Lowrie replacement the A’s were able to find was former Rangers utility man Jurickson Profar.  The losses of Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Joyce will also make an impact on the team.

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That leaves the Rangers and Mariners.  The Rangers won’t improve much quite yet despite an experienced rotation and a core led by outfielders Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara.  They’ll need to undergo a full rebuild before significant improvement can occur.  The Mariners are starting that process, though they still boast a respectable MLB roster.  They could’ve probably contended this year if it weren’t for the start of a rebuild.  But instead, they gave up some of their most talented players in exchange for minimal top prospects.  The less talented roster will put the team into a situation similar to that of their division rivals, the Rangers.  Despite a respectable roster with experience, the team won’t be talented enough to produce above average seasons.

National League

NL East

  1. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves (93-69) (2nd Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. philadelphia.phillies  Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) (5th Seed in NL Playoffs)
  3. washington-nats Washington Nationals (84-78)
  4. new-york-mets New York Mets (83-79)
  5. Related image Miami Marlins (61-101)

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This will undoubtedly be the most competitive division in baseball.  I see a young, but emerging Braves team repeating as the division winner, led by a big year from Freddie Freeman, significant contribution from new 3B Josh Donaldson, and a bounce back for SP Julio Teheran.  In 2018, the Phillies were a star or two away from greatness.  This off-season, they added C J.T. Realmuto, OF Andrew McCutchen, SS Jean Segura, and most of all, OF Bryce Harper.  Led by Harper, the lineup will be loaded with talent, leading to a big year.

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The Nats and Mets will also contend.  The Nats made up for Harper’s departure by boosting the rotation with SPs Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez.  To add to it, they signed 2B Brian Dozier.  Even without Harper, they should still be in good hands with Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and others.  After adding 2B Robinson Cano among other stars, the Mets should also stay in contention, at least for this year.

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The only team that’ll be out of this hectic NL East race is the Miami Marlins.  The Marlins sold their entire outfield plus Dee Gordon and J.T. Realmuto in trades within the last two off-seasons.  Without Realmuto, they will remain one of the worst teams in the league.

NL Central

  1. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs (94-68) (1st Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals (93-69) (4th Seed in NL Playoffs)
  3. Related image Milwaukee Brewers (86-76)
  4. cincinnati_reds_logo Cincinnati Reds (80-82)
  5. pittsburgh-pirates Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93)

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I know people are concerned about the Cubs due to uncertainty about Yu Darvish’s health.  But regardless of Darvish’s health, I think the Cubs have one of the best rotations in the league.  Add in an underappreciated bullpen and a respectable lineup, and the roster begins to look underrated.  I do have confidence that Darvish will be alright though.

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The Cardinals should be Chicago’s biggest concern, as I expect the Cards to be knocking on Chicago’s door in the NL Central.  With Paul Goldschmidt on board, they will combine their young, exciting pitching staff with a star-studded lineup and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.  Meanwhile, despite adding C Yasmani Grandal, I expect the Brewers to take a step back.  I don’t trust 1B Jesus Aguilar or Jhoulys Chacin to repeat their strong 2018 seasons.  With the rotation depleted and the lineup looking a little less overpowered, Milwaukee will fall behind as the NL Central competition gets more intense.

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Meanwhile, the Reds will begin to take steps toward contention, led by new OF star Yasiel Puig and long time Reds 1B Joey Votto.  They added a lot of experience to the rotation as well, so that should help.  That leaves the Pirates in the division’s basement as they begin a rebuild.  Their rotation should look pretty good this year, and when Gregory Polanco gets healthy, the outfield will thrive as well.  However, I don’t fully trust Trevor Williams yet, and in such a tough division, I can’t see this rebuilding team finish very well.

NL West

  1. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies (89-73) (3rd Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers (85-77)
  3. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants (84-78)
  4. san diego-padres San Diego Padres (71-91)
  5. arizona-dbacks Arizona Diamondbacks (68-94)

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I think this might be the year when the Dodgers are finally dethroned.  Despite a strong rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and the young Walker Buehler, the bullpen lacks depth beyond Kenley Jansen.  In addition, they traded Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp for next to nothing.  It does open up space in the outfield but the team will take a step back as a result.   The infield already lacked depth with Brian Dozier leaving.  Failing to sign Bryce Harper after the Puig/Kemp trade just made the depth problems worse.

This will allow the Rockies to win the division.  Their rotation isn’t amazing, but they’ll be able to manage thanks to hitter friendly Coors Field and a strong bullpen to back the rotation up.  It’s the star-studded lineup that will lead them to a division victory.  The Giants are also closer to contention than you might think.  They quietly boosted the rotation this off-season.  This will add to their strong bullpen and allow them to achieve a winning record despite a subpar lineup and questionable outfield situation.

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Even though they signed Manny Machado, the Padres won’t contend unless they significantly upgrade the rotation.  Plus, they should have better luck contending once Fernando Tatis Jr. is in San Diego for a full season.  They will finish ahead of the D-Backs, who will take a significant step back without Goldschmidt.  That leaves SP Zack Greinke as the best player left, and there were trade rumors surrounding Greinke as well.

Part II: Playoff Bracket

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When the Cubs won the World Series back in 2016, they set a precedent in the MLB.  Their 5-year rebuild led to a World Series victory, and this has become a formula for World Series titles.  The Astros, who were already following this formula, won the next year in 2017.  Now, I think the Braves will be the next to do this.  Their rebuild didn’t feel as long, because prospects like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. developed quickly.  But there are still more top prospects on the way, and thanks to this first wave of young talent, the Braves will be able to contend before their rebuild is finished.  I think they may even be World Series ready.

The Bryce Harper-led Phillies, Atlanta’s division rival, will challenge them for the National League.  Led by their HR-hitting duo of Stanton and Judge and upgraded rotation, the Yankees will come close as well.  But I think the Braves are capable of outperforming these teams.

The Cubs and Astros should still be competitive in these playoffs and stay competitive down the stretch.  But I think they will have their playoff runs cut short by a Red Sox team looking to repeat and a Phillies team looking for validation that Bryce Harper was worth the money.

Part III: Awards

Below are my projected finalists for the AL and NL MVPs, Cy Youngs, and Rookies of the Year.

AL MVP

1. Jose Ramirez CLE – Ramirez has emerged as one of the league’s premier power hitters. Expect him to come through at the plate on a more consistent basis and contend for the AL MVP award.

2. J.D. Martinez BOS – At the age of 31, I cannot see Martinez quite repeating what he did in 2018. But he will put up another consistent, 40-homer year despite just falling short of the MVP after playing over half of his games at DH.

3. Jose Altuve HOU – Altuve will return to MVP form after a 2018 that was subpar for his standards. His season will be highlighted by a hint of power mixed in with his speed and ability to get on base frequently.

HM: Giancarlo Stanton NYY

NL MVP

1. Nolan Arenado COL – His 8-year extension will be motivation to live up to expectations in Colorado. Expect an dominant offensive year to go along with his elite defensive skills.

2. Freddie Freeman ATL – Freeman will help lead a young Braves team to the first World Series of what could make for the MLB’s next dynasty. After emerging as the top first baseman in the league last year, he will contend for the MVP as his offensive stats continue to increase.

3. Christian Yelich MIL – After winning NL MVP in 2018, Yelich will run with the momentum and top off the prime of his career with another dominant season.

HM: Starling Marte PIT

AL ROTY

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. TOR – This top prospect has the genetics and he’s been all out dominant in the minors. Expect him to make it up to Toronto early, earn the starting job at third and do the same in the majors, contending for Rookie of the Year.

2. Kyle Tucker HOU – Tucker may not have a starting job – yet. But he showed flashes of potential in 2018 and could get some time in the outfield or at DH in 2019.

3. Eloy Jiménez CWS – Another top prospect who needs just a few weeks in AAA before a major league call up. After that, expect him to earn a time share in the outfield and eventually (after a strong start) a starting job.

HM: Forrest Whitley HOU

NL ROTY

1. Peter Alonso NYM – If Alonso has a strong Spring Training, look for him to compete for the first base job as Todd Frazier, Jed Lowrie, Amed Rosario, and Robinson Cano split time between second, shortstop, and third. Cano could try playing first, but having Alonso there from Opening Day could be beneficial. I see him breaking out in his rookie year and winning NL Rookie of the Year.

2. Fernando Tatis Jr. SD – Tatis Jr. isn’t MLB ready yet, but I think he’ll make an immediate impact if they bring him up when the time is right. I could see a Hosmer-Kinsler-Tatis-Machado infield working out well. Luis Urias will have to wait until 2020 for another starting job.

3. Mitch Keller PIT – The Pirates’ first four starters have their jobs locked down. But if Keller gets off to a strong start in the minors, look for him to challenge Jordan Lyles for the #5 slot in the rotation and contend for NL Rookie of the Year.

HM: Victor Robles WSH

AL Cy Young

1. Corey Kluber CLE – Kluber heads into 2019 with something to prove. He needs to convince the Indians that he’s worth the money to keep around. The Indians don’t have much money to spend, so Kluber will need to put up a Cy Young-caliber year in order to do this.

2. Chris Sale BOS – If Sale can get healthy and stay healthy, he’ll be the best pitcher in this league. But he always ends up collapsing at the end of the year, so I have slightly more confidence in Kluber. However, maybe Alex Cora can figure out a way to allow him to stay healthy all year. If Cora can figure this out, Sale’s definitely worth re-signing.

3. Tyler Skaggs LAA – A healthy Skaggs showed potential last season, especially early on. With no clear ace atop the Angels rotation for 2019 and Shohei Ohtani restricted to just hitting, expect Skaggs to step it up and emerge as LA’s new ace, something they have longed for since Garrett Richards began to decline after LA’s 2014 playoff appearance.

HM: Justin Verlander HOU

NL Cy Young

1. Max Scherzer WSH – Expect Scherzer to emerge as the top pitcher in the league this year when Jacob deGrom takes a slight step back in his age 30 season. Scherzer has not let his age define him, and if anything, he has only gotten better with age. I don’t see a decline happening anytime soon for Mad Max, and he has another Cy Young year or two still ahead of him.

2. Clayton Kershaw LAD – Kershaw has dealt with lingering injuries, but when he’s on the mound and healthy, he has looked like the same Kershaw we’re used to seeing. Despite injuries, he has posted an ERA under 3.00 in each of the last 10 seasons. As usual, I expect Kershaw to contend for the Cy Young, especially if he remains healthy.

3. Julio Teheran ATL – Teheran hasn’t looked like the ace we thought he would be since 2014. But he is still just 28, and as long as it happens in the next year or two, I could definitely see him return to ace form and lead a young Braves rotation.

HM: Stephen Strasburg WSH

That’s all for this year’s MLB predictions.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox and baseball coverage soon.

AFC Championship Preview: Brady, Mahomes Face off in Close Shootout

Below is my AFC Championship video preview alongside my score prediction and a transcript.

My Score Prediction:

After a big win against the Chargers, the Patriots travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on QB Patrick Mahomes II and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs blew out the Colts last week on their home turf, so they have plenty of momentum going in. The Chiefs did visit New England earlier in the season, where they lost 43-40. But with RB Kareem Hunt and WR Josh Gordon Both suspended and the game taking place in Kansas City, it’s hard to judge this game solely based on the first match-up.

In order for the Patriots to win this one, they’ll need to contain Mahomes’ best receivers, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. Mahomes is a great QB, with a top WR corps. Containing Mahomes’ receivers will limit Mahomes. They’ll also need to get off to a fast start on offense. The Chiefs have one of the best offenses in the league, so in order for the Pats to win, they’ll need to keep pace with the KC offense. That shouldn’t be too hard against a problematic Chiefs D.

The Chiefs will need to pressure QB Tom Brady up the middle. It’s hard to limit him with a good secondary because he knows how to make do with whoever’s open. But things go south when Brady is under pressure. They’ll also need to win the turnover battle. Mahomes has been interception-prone in his first year as a starter, and the Pats defense thrives against most young QBs, so Mahomes will need to be careful where he throws the ball.

There are not too many major injuries for either team to worry about. The only player ruled out by either team was Chiefs LB Dorian O’Daniel, who has not been starting this season. Expect a close shootout here, but I have the Patriots edging out a victory in overtime, 33-27, with Tom Brady throwing for 300+ yards, 3 TD and no interceptions.

 

Stay tuned for a recap of the game and Super Bowl coverage soon.

NFC Championship Preview: Brees, Thomas, will Lead Saints

Below is my video preview for the NFC Championship as well as the script I read in the video and my score prediction:

My Score Prediction:

After prevailing in close Divisional Round games, the Saints and Rams will face off for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.  This should be an exciting match-up, as the Saints won in a shootout the last time the Rams visited them earlier this season.  Plus, these teams have been seen as the NFC’s top Super Bowl contenders throughout the season.

This game could go either way, and the stakes are high.  In order to come out on top, the Saints will need to limit the duo of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson.  Since WR Cooper Kupp was placed on IR, the Rams have relied more heavily on their RB duo, as QB Jared Goff is lacking receiver depth without Kupp.  They’ll also need to get past a strong Rams defense.  The Saints offense is filled with stars, but it’s not easy for anyone to get past one of the best defenses in the NFC.

If the Rams want to pull the upset, their defense will need to keep up the good work and stop the Saints RB duo.  Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have done even better than Gurley and Anderson, and it has been very difficult to shut them down.  But I think LA’s defense will be up to the task.  They’ll also need to win the turnover battle, which will be difficult against star QB Drew Brees.  Lastly, QB Jared Goff will need to find open men, something he has struggled to do since Kupp’s injury.  Gurley and Anderson won’t be enough to lead LA to victory.

Both teams are relatively healthy going into the game, but TE Benjamin Watson and WR Keith Kirkwood will be out for New Orleans.  The Rams will be at full health going in to this one.  This will be a nail biter, but I have the Saints winning in the end, 22-20, with WR Michael Thomas putting up 125 receiving yards and at least 1 TD.

Stay tuned for my AFC Championship Preview later today.