2019 NFL Draft Report Cards: NFC West Edition

Welcome to Part 4 of my NFL Draft Report Cards.  Today, I’ll be wrapping up the NFC draft reviews with the NFC West.  Which NFC West teams will benefit from this draft the most?  Keep reading to see my Draft Report Card for each team, including a grade for each pick as well as my final grades.  As I post more articles, I will also include links to the rest of my draft grades.

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NFL Draft Report Cards 2019

NFC East

NFC North

NFC South

NFC West

AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

az-cards Arizona Cardinals

Overall Grade: B

Draft Report Card:

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Analysis:

What I love about this draft is that every pick was made for a good reason.  New head coach Kliff Kingsbury knows Kyler Murray is capable of leading the Cards, so there was no problem with trading Josh Rosen in favor of more security.  Murphy and Thompson add secondary depth at a great value.  The team also filled needs, drafting a trio of receivers, a tackle, a center, and a couple d-linemen.

The team could’ve found a way to fill a few more holes, such as linebacker.  But there was not a single pick in this draft class that I had a real problem with, and Arizona really made their biggest needs a priority.

sf-49ers San Francisco 49ers

Overall Grade: B-

Draft Report Card:

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Analysis:

Much like Chicago, this draft class is top heavy.  The 2nd overall selection of Nick Bosa was one of my favorite picks in this draft.  He’s a great fit and could eventually lead this rebuilding defense back to glory.  I didn’t mind the Deebo Samuel pick, but D.K. Metcalf would’ve been the smarter choice.  Kaden Smith was a steal in Round 6, so I’m not going to complain there either.

But some of these other picks confused me.  Despite the steal of Smith, the rest of San Francisco’s later round picks were major reaches.  They did need a punter, but taking one in Round 4 is unheard of.  They didn’t need to draft WR Jalen Hurd either.  Deebo Samuel will provide them enough at receiver and Hurd was drafted way too early.   The strong picks early on definitely boost this draft class, but the Niners could’ve added a few more quality players and filled a couple more needs.

los-angeles-rams-symbol Los Angeles Rams

Overall Grade: C+

Draft Report Card:

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Analysis:

It’s hard to start a draft strong without a first round pick, but the Rams definitely could’ve done better.  They could’ve waited on the safety and running back till later rounds.  There was no need for a corner in Round 3, especially someone who I didn’t have being drafted.  The team did rebound in the later rounds, snagging a strong tackle in David Edwards and a replacement for Ndamukong Suh in Greg Gaines.

There were some needs that weren’t filled as early as they should’ve been or were completely ignored.  The Rams interior o-line still needs serious help.  But there were some strong selections in the later rounds that will definitely highlight this draft class.

seattle-seahawks Seattle Seahawks

Overall Grade: C

Draft Report Card:

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Analysis:

There weren’t too many straight up confusing picks in this draft, but there weren’t many eye popping picks either.  The team made a lot of reaches in the early rounds, and that definitely brings their grade down significantly.  But the Seahawks did, to an extent, redeem themselves.  They received a blatant steal when they drafted WR D.K. Metcalf at the end of the 2nd round.  They continued to add to their depleted receiving corps throughout this draft, as Doug Baldwin will no longer be on the team.

But while they hyperfocused on finding Russell Wilson some guys to throw to, they threw aside some of their other needs.  The team is still in desperate need of secondary depth despite drafting a safety.  It wouldn’t have hurt to take a new TE either.  But the team did manage to fill a good number of holes despite their reaches, so you have to give them some credit for that.


 

That’s all for this portion of my NFL Draft Report Cards.  Next time, I’ll shift my attention to the AFC, starting with New England’s division, the AFC East.  Did the Pats outwit their division rivals again this year?  Stay tuned to find out what I think.

 

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Ranking The Teams #30-25, My Version: The Bottom of the Barrel

Welcome to Article #1 of my 6th annual set of MLB preseason power rankings and 5th annual MLB power ranking series. Back in 2015, I got the idea to break up my pre-season Power Rankings into 5 articles from David Schoenfield of ESPN. Even though Schoenfield no longer posts power rankings in this format, I have stuck with it and given the rankings my own flavor in recent years.  In this article, though I am covering some of the worst teams in the league, all of these teams have some good pieces, and I will be pointing those out.  Click the links below for other articles in the series (I will add them as I post them):

 

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2019 MLB Preseason Power Rankings Series:

Ranking The Teams #30-25, My Version: The Bottom of the Barrel

Ranking The Teams #24-19, My Version: Who will have to Wait till Next Year?

Ranking The Teams #18-13, My Version: Who else Misses out on Playoff Contention?

Ranking The Teams #12-7, My Version: Who has Playoff Chances?

Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I also released my 3rd annual preseason Baseball Bits!

30. Image result for marlins new logo Miami Marlins

The Case for the Marlins

The Marlins traded away most of their best players a year ago, and after dealing away C J.T. Realmuto this off-season, things can only get worse from here.  The hole Realmuto left behind should outweigh the upside of Miami’s younger players, for now.  The Marlins did add a couple veterans to the lineup and signed a new closer in Sergio Romo.  Plus, the bulk of the prospects acquired from their recent rebuild should be making their way up as 2020 and 2021 approach, and when that time comes, this team will be on the rise again.  But for now, they remain in the NL East basement after a rough 2018.

The Bright Spot

It was not easy coming up with something here.  A lot has gone wrong in Miami in the last year and a half.  But I think the bright spot of this team is the top of the rotation.  Jose Urena, Miami’s longest tenured player, leads the group, with seasoned veterans in Wei-Yin Chen and Dan Straily behind him.  Straily has had a lot of success with the Marlins, and when Chen is healthy, he shows flashes of dominance.

Projected Finish: 61-101, 5th in NL East

29. Related image Baltimore Orioles

The Case for the Orioles

Baltimore’s 2018 season was historically bad, as they won just 47 games. But with Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb (likely out of it early in 2018 after lack of Spring Training time) primed to bounce back, they should improve at least slightly from their nightmare season.  Adam Jones’ departure hurts, but Cedric Mullins is ready to replace him, and Yusniel Diaz will be here soon. Maybe Chris Davis can even rise to the occasion with Jones out of the lineup. The bullpen is still a major concern, and the lineup could be better, but I don’t think we’ll see any team perform worse than the 2018 Orioles for a long time.

The Bright Spot

The rotation could be better, but so long as Bundy and Cobb bounce back, the rotation could potentially be a bright spot for this team.  Bundy and Cobb could provide Baltimore a 1-2 punch, with Andrew Cashner and Nathan Karns among others serving as depth.

Projected Finish: 66-96, 5th in AL East

28. detroit-tigers Detroit Tigers

The Case for the Tigers

Detroit’s rebuild kicked into full swing in 2018 after they dealt away several older players at the 2017 Trade Deadline. Their remaining veterans, even Miguel Cabrera, are declining quickly. This rebuild has dragged on for a while now, leaving the Tigers among the league’s worst teams for a third straight season. Even in a weak division, I can’t see them doing much.  Before they contend, Casey Mize and Matt Manning will need to make their way up and Christin Stewart, Jeimer Candelario, and others will need to make their big break through. In the meantime, it could be a long year for the Tigers despite some new additions to their lineup including Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison.

The Bright Spot

The infield could shine with the additions of Mercer and Harrison.  If Candelario continues to develop this year, and Cabrera regains a bit of what he has lost during the last couple of years, people may begin to wonder how the Tigers are stuck in the AL Central basement.

Projected Finish: 66-96, 5th in AL Central

27. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals

The Case for the Royals

The Hosmer-Moustakas era in Kansas City is officially over, with Alcides Escobar leaving in free agency, and Mike Moustakas leaving at the 2018 Trade Deadline. The team still has a capable rotation, but the bullpen lacks the depth it has contained in past years. The lineup may lack power this year with Salvador Perez on the IL and Hosmer and Moose gone, but hopefully, Billy Hamilton’s speed will at least partially make up for it. Even with Hamilton and Chris Owings on board, this team is bound to decline a little bit more before the rebuilding is over. The next crop of prospects is not ready yet, and during this transitional period for the Royals, things could get ugly.

The Bright Spot

Speed and youth will make the Royals special this year.  A lot of young players are primed to breakout, including INF Hunter Dozier, RHP Jorge Lopez, and C Cam Gallagher.  Hamilton and Gore will make for a dynamic outfield and add speed to an otherwise dull starting lineup.

Projected Finish: 67-95, 4th in AL Central

26. arizona-dbacks Arizona Diamondbacks

The Case for the Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks declined a bit in 2018 despite minimal roster subtractions. You might think they would bounce back considering their young roster, but after trading away star 1B Paul Goldschmidt, this team is not going far. The lineup lacks big hitters beyond underrated outfielder David Peralta and new addition Adam Jones. The pitching staff is thin behind Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray. In a tough division, the Diamondbacks will struggle this year, as Manny Machado leads the Padres to outperform them, the Giants exceed expectations, and the Rockies and Dodgers sit on top.

The Bright Spot

The rotation may have lost some of its depth.  But until Greinke or Ray leaves, the rotation will still highlight this team.  Taijuan Walker’s return from the IL will only boost this strong rotation further.  Luke Weaver is also underrated and could make an impact.

Projected Finish: 68-94, 5th in NL West

25. pittsburgh-pirates Pittsburgh Pirates

The Case for the Pirates

The Pirates exceeded expectations with a sub-.500 season in 2018. But the departures of Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer (both fled for Detroit) leave a huge hole in the middle infield, and the rotation is extremely top-heavy. The Pirates would perform better with 5 average starters than their Big 3 and little depth behind them. The outfield is this team’s strong point right now, but Gregory Polanco will be missed during his time on the IL. 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes and other top prospects may fix Pittsburgh’s infield problems once they make their way up, and Mitch Keller could make this rotation even scarier. But for now, the Pirates will be stuck on the bottom of a tough division.

The Bright Spot

There are multiple bright spots to consider for this team.  But the infield is in such bad shape that it’s hard to rank them much higher than this in such a tough NL Central.  The outfield could make things interesting once Polanco returns, as they will own three outfielders who could be considered Top 10 at their positions.  The incoming prospects could help accelerate their progress as well.

Projected Finish: 67-95, 5th in NL Central


 

That’s all for Part 1 of my MLB 2019 preseason power rankings.  Stay tuned for my next power rankings article, where I will look at the teams I ranked #24-19 and discuss things to look forward too for those teams.

Top 5 ‘Football Fast Facts’ That Could be Significant in Super Bowl LIII

Welcome to my 4th of several Super Bowl LIII Preview posts.  Over the last two days, I went over keys to the game for each team.  Today, I will be looking back at previous stat nuggets that could be significant to the game.  What stats could be telling about the results of the game?  What previous happenings will motivate or burden each team? Keep reading to find out what I think.  You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.  I will be posting preview articles throughout the week as festivities in Atlanta take place.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

February 1: Super Bowl LIII Fast Facts and Their Significance

February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

1. Per NFL.com, Tom Brady is the least sacked QB to start 12+ games in 2018 (21, including playoffs)

You have to give some credit to the Patriots offensive line. Four of the five New England offensive lineman are above their positional average in pass block win rate, and the Pats lead the league in this stat. But you also have to give some credit to Brady himself for playing smart football. He judges the defense well and gets the ball out quickly if he needs to. This should help them maintain a rhythm throughout the game, something a sack could significantly interrupt. But it will also help them win the turnover battle, a key piece to victory. Teams who win the turnover battle tend to win about 4 of every 5 games.

2. The Rams offense is averaging 1.5 more points and 3 more yards per game than the 2001 “Greatest Show on Turf” offense.

From a Pats fan’s perspective, it’s scary to see that the Rams offense is not only matching but outdoing their “Greatest Show on Turf” era offensive numbers. Back then, the Rams were the experienced dynasty and the Pats were a team on the rise. Though the opposite is true now, if Brady outplayed an offense like this in 2001, I have confidence he can do it again 17 years later. You do have to consider that the Pats allowed just 334.5 YPG in 2001 compared to 353.9 YPG in 2018. But that’s not a huge difference. Everyone says that the 2001 Patriots had a pretty good defense, while this year’s defense is not great. But in reality, this year’s defense is around average, and they weren’t that much better in 2001 defensively.

3. QBs Tom Brady and Jared Goff are both Top 10 in interceptions thrown this season.

Something tells me this game will have a good number of turnovers.  In addition to the above stat, both these teams have elite secondaries that are 3rd (Rams) and 4th (Patriots) respectively in interceptions. The question is, who will win the turnover battle? As I said, most NFL teams who win the turnover battle go on to win the game. In terms of who wins it, I think it all comes down to the WR-DB match-ups. Compared to New England, the Rams are fairly weak at tight end, and I could see the Pats secondary dominating those match-ups. The Rams have been terrible against tight ends this year, though TE Rob Gronkowski is his own animal. That itself will give the Pats an advantage. Plus, it’s unlikely the Rams are able to contain both Gronk and WR Julian Edelman. If they double up on Gronk, that will allow Edelman to shine.

4. Right now, RB Sony Michel is behind just Terrell Davis and Arian Foster in rush yards/playoff game. Though 2 games is a small sample, what does this say about Michel?

Though Davis is a three time All-Pro first team member, Foster never really established himself as a hall of fame caliber running back and ended up retiring after 8 seasons thanks to an injury-riddled career. But he did have a nice run as an elite RB from 2010-2014. Due to the small sample size, it’s hard to tell how much this means for Sony Michel right now in this game. It’s hard to guarantee a big game for him against a star-studded Rams d-line. But I do believe he has a future as an elite running back and a leader on the Pats, even if injuries or something else limits his career. He did put up an impressive rookie season in the games he played.

5. In 2 regular season games with the Rams, C.J. Anderson rushed for 299 yards. It took Todd Gurley until Week 4 to reach 300 yards on the season.

Anderson was in the right place at the right time. Anderson played the 49ers and Cardinals in the final two regular season games. Sure, Gurley played the Raiders and Cardinals in his first two games, but you also have to consider that Anderson came in late in the season. All the Rams had to do to be in good position for the playoffs was beat their weaker division rivals, but these games mattered more to the Rams than the first two. Gurley did do well against the Raiders, and despite just 42 rushing yards against Arizona, he scored 3 TD. Though it took him longer to approach 300 rushing yards, you could argue that Gurley was as good a running back in LA’s first two games, both easy wins, as Anderson was in the last two, also easy wins. The reason Anderson did so well was because he took advantage of a big opportunity. With Gurley at full health, expect Gurley to lead the backfield, with Anderson playing a significant supporting role. This will make things difficult for the Pats.

At least couple of these stats are a good sign for each team. But in the end, what matters is how these two teams match-up. Who will win Super Bowl LIII? Will it be a nail-biter? A blowout? Something in between? What players will have the biggest impact on the game? Find out what I think in my next article, when I share my score prediction and projected stats for the game.

2018 NFL Week 7 Picks & Previews: Could This Week Mark Turning Point for Certain Teams?

Welcome to my NFL Week 7 picks and previews.  Last week, I went 8-7, placing my overall record at 53-38-2 (53-39-2 including TNF Week 7).  This puts me ahead of 3 of 10 ESPN experts and 1 of 8 CBS Sports experts. There have been a lot of early season surprises this year.  The Bears are tied for the NFC North lead. The Eagles sit at .500, and the Falcons sit at just 2-4. Both of them were playoff teams in 2017.  Could this mark the turning point for some of those surprise bad teams? Will some of the pleasant surprise teams begin to regress? Read below to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week

The Buccaneers struggled last week in Atlanta.  But now that they are back on their home turf, expect QB Jameis Winston and the Bucs to bounce back.  The Browns have little to no momentum going into this one either.  They’re coming off an embarrassing blowout loss in Cleveland.  Don’t expect a much better offensive performance from the Browns against an underrated Bucs defense in Tampa.  I also don’t think the Browns secondary will be able to contain Tampa’s deep group of receivers.  Expect an easy Buccaneers victory.

Upset of the Week

I tend to lean towards teams with the home field advantage when making my picks.  But the Bills have actually performed relatively well on the road. If they can shock the Vikings in Minnesota, they should be able to take down the 1-5 Colts in Indy.  It doesn’t matter if Josh Allen is the QB or if Derek Anderson is. This Colts defense has struggled all season, costing Indy several games. With the Bills dominating a rebuilding Colts D, QB Andrew Luck and the Colts offense should be able to put up a fight.  But it will be very difficult to keep up with Buffalo, leading to a Bills road victory.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 45-10 Broncos)

Look for QB Josh Rosen to lead Arizona to a home victory against the sinking Denver Broncos.  The Broncos defense may be good, but they are not even close to 2015 form, and that will cost them.  QB Case Keenum and his receivers will make it close, but it won’t be enough thanks to the dominance of the Cardinals offense.
Sunday, 9:30 AM EST (Posted to Twitter Before Kickoff)

 

Look for QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense to put up another strong offensive performance in London.  The Chargers have only lost twice this year, and the losses were to the Rams and Chiefs, two of the best teams in the league.  They have dominated offensively against every other opponent. I also see Tennessee struggling against a young Chargers defense.  This will lead to a secure Chargers victory.

Note: I think it’s a possibility that the Chargers eventually move to London if LA doesn’t work out for them.

Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Stay tuned for a potential video preview closer to game time!

Expect QB Tom Brady to throw to many different receivers and lead the Pats to victory.  New England should use their newfound receiver depth to their advantage. Even the Bears strong defense should struggle to contain an offense that outscored the then undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.  Look for New England’s secondary to at least partially contain QB Mitch Trubisky’s receivers and for the Pats front seven to shut down Chicago’s RB duo to secure victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for the Lions to struggle in Miami against a young, versatile Dolphins D. Expect QB Matthew Stafford to connect with his WR trio for TDs to make this close.  But I also think the Dolphins will have a strong offensive game on home turf, especially against a mediocre Lions D.  Miami will pull ahead to win by 13.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect the Vikings to be led by a strong defensive performance that holds the Jets under 15 points.  I see Minnesota’s offense making an impact later to secure the Vikings a lead. The Vikes should win easily in the end thanks to defensive dominance and a late-game offensive statement.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

This will be a defense first game as two of the best defenses in the league face off.  But Jacksonville should at least look better offensively than they did last week, despite facing a tough Texans defense.  I also expect the Jags defense to bounce back. They’ve just faced two offense-heavy teams. Now they go up against another defense-first team, the Texans.  I expect Houston to struggle regressively against the young Jags defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Eagles may have gotten off to a mediocre 3-3 start, but QB Carson Wentz has met expectations, and that will show this week as he throws 4 touchdowns in a dominant performance against a young Carolina secondary.  The Panthers’ defensive backs have looked better this year, but they are facing one of the best passing offenses in the league. Meanwhile, expect Philly’s D to perform surprisingly well, holding Carolina under 25 as the Panthers are unable to bounce back from a tough Week 6 loss.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Until 2017, the Saints were known as the team that sucked because they had no defense.  But last year, the young Saints D broke out for a huge year. Expect to see flashes of the 2017 Saints D against a mediocre Ravens pass game.  Baltimore has been led by their defense so far this year as well. New Orleans will be impacted by this, but their experienced offense should allow the Saints to get by in Baltimore.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

QB Dak Prescott had a huge game last week out of nowhere.  Don’t expect to see it again in Washington. The Cowboys have been dominant on home turf, but have not won a game on the road.  Look for the Redskins defense to step it up here while QB Alex Smith just barely leads Washington past Dallas.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The Rams offense should struggle without WR Cooper Kupp.  But San Francisco won’t do much better without QB Jimmy Garoppolo.  Look for them to put up a dud against LA’s shut down defense. The Rams should get by despite their offensive struggles.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

Now that they’ve lost their momentum, don’t expect QB Patrick Mahomes II and his receivers to look as sharp as usual, but they still should put up 20+ points.  QB Andy Dalton and the Bengals should make this close, but look for the young Chiefs defense to step it up despite battling numerous injuries. Kansas City hasn’t really needed much defense, not until these last couple of weeks.  But defense wins games, and with the Chiefs D stepping it up, Kansas City should win a close primetime game.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

Atlanta will struggle early here as the defense falters against a strong Giants offense.  QB Eli Manning may be having a rough year, but he should be alright against Atlanta’s inconsistent defense.  Look for the Falcons to put up a fight on offense late, but fall just short in primetime.

That’s all for this week’s picks and previews.  Stay tuned for more Boston sports articles soon, including a preview of the crazy week ahead for all four Boston teams.  

2018 NFL Week 4 Picks & Previews: Which Surprise Teams Come Back Down to Earth?

Welcome to my Week 4 NFL picks and previews.  It was a rough week for me last week, as I finished 6-10.  But luckily, I’m still 27-19-2 (28-19-2 including TNF Week 4) due to my strong week in Week 2.  I’m still ahead of 9 of ESPN’s 10 experts, and half of CBS Sports’ 8 experts. There have been a lot of surprises in the NFL so far this year.  Unexpected contenders have emerged, and what were perceived as some of the NFL’s best teams are struggling to keep up.  I definitely think this week will set some things straight.  Some of the expected contenders will start to surpass the surprise teams.  The question is, which surprise teams come down to earth first?  Keep reading to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week

QB Sam Darnold and the Jets offense looked good in the first couple weeks.  But this offense is still very young and has things to learn. I expect this dominant Jaguars defense to tear apart New York’s offensive game plan.  The pressure of Sacksonville will get to Darnold, which will mess up the entire offensive scheme for the Jets. The Jaguars offense doesn’t have to have a field day to win a game, and they’ve made that very clear.  RB Leonard Fournette will likely return this week.  They had been fine without him, at home against the Patriots!  Given that, this home game against the Jets with Fournette back should be a clinic in Jacksonville’s favor.  

Upset of the Week

QB Sam Bradford had clearly declined, and after two weeks, all Cardinals fans knew Bradford wasn’t the answer.  But Steve Wilks has finally put QB Josh Rosen in as the starter!  Rosen was my favorite QB of this year’s draft, and I expect him to completely turn around the Cardinals offense this week.  I don’t expect this kind of consistency throughout the year in 2018.  But this will give us a glimpse at what the Cardinals invested in down the road, kind of like what the Jets received from QB Sam Darnold in his first game.  I think Rosen can handle the rebuilding Seattle defense on his home turf. Look for Arizona’s tight ends to have an especially strong game as well.  Meanwhile, the Seattle defense will struggle to contain Rosen and RB David Johnson.  Their offense will see slight improvement with WR Doug Baldwin likely to return, but nothing significant as Arizona pulls off the upset at home.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted on Twitter Thursday Night, Actual Score: 38-31 Rams)

Don’t expect an especially strong game from WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.  This Rams secondary is one of the league’s best.  However, the ground game will lead the way for the Vikes and make this close.  Look for QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley to lead the Rams to victory with the help of strong defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Miami’s receivers to thrive against a New England secondary that lacks a #2 corner.  #1 CB Stephon Gilmore will shut down WR DeVante Parker though.  However, this Dolphins run game is not the greatest, and if the Pats can shut them down, there is hope for the New England D.  I don’t think the Pats suck. Their last two Super Bowl-winning seasons started with 2 wins and 2 losses. Plus, they lost to a coach who knows them really well and their toughest opponent.  I think QB Tom Brady will find open men to lead New England to victory here.  This victory that will begin a long winning streak for the Pats.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Packers are a pass-first offense, and I don’t think the Bills will be able to keep them under control without CB Vontae Davis.  I don’t see this as a blowout though.  QB Josh Allen and the Bills offense will make it close.  But Green Bay will win at home by a comfortable margin, led by a dominant passing game.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Matt Ryan and his newfound WR duo to overwhelm the Bengals secondary and score multiple TDs.  I don’t think the Bengals will be as strong on offense here without RB Joe Mixon. They will lose this one thanks to surprisingly strong defense by Atlanta.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think the Texans will do alright against the weak Colts defense in an effort for their first win.  But depth has been a problem for this team from the start, and that will hinder their success.  The Colts will give the Texans a scare.  This will be thanks to a pretty good week by QB Andrew Luck and his offense, even against the fierce Houston D.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

WR Rishard Matthews was released by the Titans this week.  Now, the Titans lack a healthy QB and lack WR depth.  That will cause the offense regressive struggles.  The Eagles defense will also do their job in shutting down Tennessee’s RB duo.  QB Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense will cruise to victory, especially if WR Alshon Jeffery plays.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect an offensive shootout here. Both these defenses are some of the league’s worst, and I think both these offenses are underrated.  The Cowboys pass defense will struggle excessively against the LIons strong WR corps.  However, I think QB Dak Prescott will finally turn it around against the struggling Detroit D.  This will lead them to a home win.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

I think the Bucs will start QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in this game.  Look for the Fitzmagic to continue, but will it be enough for the Bucs in Chicago?  I’m concerned that Tampa’s secondary will blow it for them against QB Mitch Trubisky and the Bears underrated WR corps.  I also feel that the Bucs young run game will struggle against Khalil Mack and the Bears run defense. These two things will lead Chicago to victory at home.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

QB Baker Mayfield will lead the Browns to another strong offensive game here against a declining Raiders D.  But you cannot sleep on these Raiders receivers. Against a young Cleveland defense, expect QB Derek Carr and the Raiders deep WR corps to dominate.  I also expect a strong game from Oakland’s running backs that assist Carr in an offensive shootout victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The 49ers will miss QB Jimmy Garoppolo here.  QB C.J. Beathard will do alright in LA, but he will be nowhere near Garoppolo’s level.  I don’t see him finishing the job for the Niners. Meanwhile, the Chargers offense will have a strong day against the 49ers young D.  QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, and the strong offense will lead LA to victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

QB Eli Manning and his receivers should do alright against a Saints defense that has significantly declined since last year.  But they will miss TE Evan Engram. Meanwhile, RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas will have dominant games that lead the Saints to victory despite an underwhelming game by QB Drew Brees.
SNF (Sunday, 8:20 PM EST)

The Steelers may be declining without RB Le’Veon Bell, but they are still an average team that can win some games without him.  I think the Steelers defense will be able to shut down the Ravens attack. Plus, QB Ben Roethlisberger will find plenty of weapons to lead Pittsburgh to victory, even without Bell.
MNF (Monday, 8:15 PM EST) (OT)

This will be a very close game.  QB Patrick Mahomes II will lead a strong Chiefs offense to a big game.  But the Chiefs are all offense, no defense, and they will struggle to contain Denver’s receivers.  I could see this going to overtime, but I don’t see the Chiefs winning with their run game struggling against the unstoppable Denver front seven.

That’s all for my Week 4 picks and previews.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

 

Ranking The Teams 18-13: My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Welcome to Part 3 of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Last time, I covered the teams that will struggle, but haven’t quite hit rock bottom.  I talked about what they did in the off-season, what the case for them this season is, and what their strong point is.  I also discussed best and worst case scenarios for each team and projected their records and division placements. Today I will do the same for the mediocre teams, but rather than talking about their bright spots, today I will be discussing what direction these teams are headed in.  Some of these teams don’t know which way to go, rebuild mode or contention mode.  Read below to find out who these six teams are and where they’re headed.

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

Saturday, March 24: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Tuesday, March 27: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*I will also have my latest Baseball Bits coming sometime next week.

 

18. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves

Off-Season Review

Image result for ronald acuna braves

After a rebuild, the Braves are getting ready for contention, but their off-season was relatively quiet.  They did just add OF Peter Bourjos to help fill in until Ronald Acuna is MLB ready.  Acuna looks like he is pretty darn close after a strong Spring Training.  They could’ve also added someone at third, but decided not to due to the lack of options.  They weren’t able to get their hands on Moose, so they were not in the market for a 3B after that.  They could be an interesting destination at the deadline for Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, or even Adrian Beltre.  They already have made one trade this off-season, acquiring Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, and Adrian Gonzalez from the Dodgers for Matt Kemp.  Only McCarthy is still in Atlanta, and he will help lead a young rotation alongside Julio Teheran.

The Case for the Braves

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The future is bright for Atlanta baseball.  But the Braves will take another year or two to become an elite playoff contender.  Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson, and Ozzie Albies will need more time to develop among others.  This young team is led by star 1B Freddie Freeman, who I am expecting another strong season out of.  They already do have some other veterans who will help make this team better, but younger players on the verge of a breakout make up most of their core.  That will help them in coming years, but they won’t be absolutely amazing in 2018.

Where They’re Headed

The Braves won’t be contending in 2018, but expect a playoff run in the next three years for Atlanta.  As soon as their young talent breaks through, they will add the finishing touches they need and run for the playoffs.  Personally, I see Ronald Acuna as a potential All-Star, so as soon as he comes up, you can expect big things from the Braves.

Best Case Scenario: Acuna, Swanson, and Albies all break out to help lead the team, the rotation filled with a mix of young talent and experience thrives, and the Braves contend for the playoffs right away.

Worst Case Scenario: Acuna turns out to be a bust, as well as some of their other young players.  McCarthy, Teheran, and Freeman also begin to decline, and the Braves finish with just over 70 wins.

Projected Finish: 78-84, 3rd in NL East

17. Image result for reds logo red Cincinnati Reds

Off-Season Review

The Reds stayed put for the most part this off-season, as they have a pretty good roster as is.  They have a strong lineup that is better than you might think, and their young rotation is bound to improve in coming years.  The Reds didn’t even need to resign SS Zack Cozart.  Jose Peraza, Eugenio Suarez, and top prospect Nick Senzel will keep the left side of the infield covered.  Scooter Gennett can be trusted as a full-time second baseman after his strong 2017 season, and Joey Votto should have another top-notch season.  The Reds are all set.  Sure, they could’ve added a veteran starter, but they don’t want to rush contention when their younger players aren’t at that level yet.

The Case for the Reds

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After a rough patch over the last few seasons, the Reds will begin heading uphill again.  After their rebuild, their future is bright, and they will begin to improve in 2018.  Their young rotation should begin to improve.  It will be led by Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, and Anthony DeSclafani while Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, and Robert Stephenson will also contribute.  They can improve further when Hunter Greene is ready.  The lineup is all set, and if Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Jose Peraza live up to their expectations and Votto, Adam Duvall, and Billy Hamilton keep up the good work, the Reds could have one of the strongest lineups in the league soon enough.

Where They’re Headed

The Reds are going nowhere but up.  They hit rock bottom over the last couple years, and they are looking good post-rebuild, so now there’s no other direction they could go in.  Expect big things in the coming years, but in the meantime, they will be about as good as the Braves are right now.

Best Case Scenario: Votto dominates in 2018, leading a surprisingly strong lineup, the rotation improves fast (and Raisel Iglesias becomes an elite closer) as the Reds finish above .500 and get ready for contention.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is plagued by injuries and their young talent is rushed to the majors and struggles.  The lineup also cannot quite live up to its expectations as Cincinnati lingers just above 70 wins.

Projected Finish: 79-83, 4th in NL Central

 

16. seattle-mariners-logo Seattle Mariners

Off-Season Review

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As they have been since Jerry Dipoto took over as GM, the Mariners were very active again this off-season.  They acquired Marlins 2B Dee Gordon, who will move to center field so Robinson Cano and Gordon can both start.  The Mariners needed a veteran influence in the outfield, and brought back Ichiro to do the same.  They also signed SP Mike Leake to add to a strong rotation that includes Felix Hernandez and James Paxton.  They aren’t clear contenders yet though; they still need to give their younger outfielders more time to develop as well as their pitching staff and a couple other younger players on the team.

The Case for the Mariners

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The Mariners aren’t quite playoff material yet, but they have a shot.  In the meantime, they will have a decent season as their younger players develop.  They need the younger players to step up their game and help carry the load.  Mitch Haniger, Guillermo Heredia, and Ryon Healy are good, but they haven’t reached their full potential.  The Mariners need to keep their team young if they want to avoid a full rebuild, but if they also want to contend in that process, they’ll need reliable young players.

Where They’re Headed

The hope is that the Mariners can contend, but it all depends on the performance of Seattle’s prospects and the general performance of the Mariners.  If Seattle struggles, or their younger players cannot emerge as stars, the Mariners may need to take the rebuild route.

Best Case Scenario: The Mariners’ younger players break out and help lead the team to the playoffs along with the veteran leaders.

Worst Case Scenario: The Mariners struggle, as their older players decline (including King Felix) and their younger players cannot emerge as leaders.  Seattle is forced to rebuild.

Projected Finish: 83-79, 3rd in AL West

 

15. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants

Off-Season Review

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The Giants had a terrible season in 2017, but they made up for it with a strong off-season.  They acquired outfielder Andrew McCutchen and 3B Evan Longoria to boost the lineup.  They signed Austin Jackson to upgrade the outfield too.  However, they failed to add too many good starters, which will hold them back despite a great lineup.  They did add Derek Holland on a minor league deal though, so he could crack the rotation, especially with Madison Bumgarner injured again.

The Case for the Giants

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The Giants will improve in 2018, but in a difficult NL West, it will be tough to be much more than decent.  They are lacking rotation depth after the retirement of Matt Cain and the departure of Matt Moore so they will have to find younger pitching talent.  That means it will take time for contention.  Their lineup is looking better, but they do not have the same talent of some contenders.  They have a nice core four in Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Evan Longoria, and Andrew McCutchen, but beyond that, they are no more than decent.

Where They’re Headed

The Giants are headed in an upward direction.  Expect vast improvement from their 64-98 season in 2017, worst in the National League.  Then they can work towards contention once they find the young pitching talent they need behind their core three of their rotation.  They have a nice lineup now that they added Cutch and Longo, but their rotation still has holes, and the lineup could still use work.

Best Case Scenario: The young guns in the rotation are successful early, the lineup returns to dominance after their recent upgrades, and the Giants surprise many by making the playoffs in another successful even year.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation implodes after lacking depth, the lineup also struggles to perform any better than decent, and the Giants cannot get above .500.

Projected Finish: 85-77, 4th in NL West

 

14. new-york-mets New York Mets

Off-Season Review

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The Mets restored their strong, playoff level roster from a couple years back after a rough 2017.  They brought OF Jay Bruce back, signed 3B Todd Frazier to take over third in case David Wright cannot rebound from his injury.  1B Adrian Gonzalez was also added to improve the lineup.  Lastly, they boosted the rotation depth by adding Jason Vargas to aid an injury prone rotation.  Vargas was with the Mets for a year about 10 years ago.  The Mets are in much better shape after a strong off-season.

The Case for the Mets

The Mets face tough competition and may not be able to make the playoffs this year.  But they are back in contention with Bruce back and Frazier on board.  They have set themselves up for long-term success, as David Wright is unlikely to rebound, and it will be tough to depend on Michael Conforto with his health in question.  Maybe they can contend for the NL East if the Nationals fail to add back Bryce Harper for 2019.  But this year, they will have to compete for a wild-card spot.

Where They’re Headed

The Mets should be able to make the playoffs in the coming years if they cannot make the playoffs in 2018.  They have a nice roster full of young talent and veterans who are still elite and can lead this team down the stretch.  Will they be able to make the playoffs this year, or will the competition be too much for them?

Best Case Scenario: Frazier, Bruce, and Yoenis Cespedes help lead the Mets back to the playoffs along with a strong rotation that stays healthy.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is plagued by injuries, the lineup is no better than average, and the Mets fail to get above .500.

Projected Finish: 86-76, 2nd in NL East

 

13. arizona-dbacks Arizona Diamondbacks

Off-Season Review

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The Diamondbacks needed a new closer with Fernando Rodney gone.  They did add Brad Boxberger, but is he capable of the closing job?  They also added Japanese reliever, Yoshihisa Hirano.  They also upgraded their outfield by acquiring Steven Souza Jr. in a 3-way trade and signing Jarrod Dyson.  Other than that, their roster is in good shape for contention in 2018.  But in a tough division, will they make it?

The Case for the Diamondbacks

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The Diamondbacks finally cracked the playoffs in 2017, but can they repeat in a very tough division?  They have a strong lineup led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta.  I also think Jake Lamb could break out.  They also have maintained a strong pitching staff, led by starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray.  With an underrated roster, they should at least be able to keep up with their division.

Where They’re Headed

The D-Backs are right on the verge of contention.  They have a good future full of playoff runs ahead of them.  However, I do not think they will make it this year.  The Brewers, Rockies, and Cardinals will beat them out in the wild-card race.

Best Case Scenario: Arizona’s young roster thrives, leading the Diamondbacks back to the playoffs with a 2nd place finish in the NL West.

Worst Case Scenario: The lineup struggles to live up to its expectations after off-season upgrades, the rotation begins to decline due to lack of young talent, and the Diamondbacks end up finishing around .500.

Projected Finish: 87-75, 3rd in NL West

 

That’s all for this article.  Stay tuned for Part 4 along with my latest Baseball Bits coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

March Madness 2018: Previewing The Midwest Region

Welcome to my second annual March Madness preview series, where I break down each region on the bracket and pick my winners for the first two rounds and make my pick on who’s going to the final four.  If you’d like to see my full bracket, click on the link below.

Tournament Challenge – ESPN – Boston Sports Mania.pdf

I am starting with the Midwest region.  It was named the strongest region of this year’s tournament by Jim Nantz on the Selection Show, and I agree.  It’s top three seeds are Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for upsets.

Round of 64 Preview

Wichita: Games Start Thursday, March 15 at 2:00 PM EST on TBS

#1 Kansas Image result for kansas logo vs. Related image #16 Pennsylvania

Penn put up a nice victory over Harvard in the Ivy League finals.  But the Jayhawks have had another great season, and there’s no way they will lose to the #16 seed in the first round, something that has never happened to a 1 seed.  Ivy league things have had a strong history of upsets in the NCAA Tournament, but Kansas won a much bigger conference, the Big 12, and this will be easy for them.

The Pick: Kansas

 

#8 Seton Hall Image result for seton hall logo vs. Image result for nc state logo #9 North Carolina State

NC State had a strong season, and they deserved a tournament bid now that I think about it.  But their loss to Boston College was embarrassing.  They also lost to Georgia Tech, UNC Greensboro and Northern Iowa during the season, their best wins being over UNC, Arizona, and Duke.  The point is that Seton Hall has the better profile this season.  They’ve gotten more quality wins on a tougher schedule, and they match up well against NC State.

The Pick: Seton Hall

 

San Diego: Games Start Friday, March 16 at 7:27 PM EST on truTV

#4 Auburn Image result for auburn logo  vs. Image result for charleston logo #13 Charleston

The Tigers were another team who had a late-season skid.  They were in the conversation for a 2 seed back in February, but an early loss to Alabama in the SEC tournament hurt them, and they went just 4-4 in their final 8 regular season games, including a loss to the 17-16 South Carolina Gamecocks.  But Charleston had it pretty easy in the CAA, and they aren’t the team to upset Auburn.  They are just 56th in RPI and had a very easy schedule.  Their strong defense will not be enough to top an all-around good Auburn team, who will win game one in their first NCAA Tournament since 2003.  Although they finished 4-4, the SEC was really good this year, and Auburn kept up and won the regular season title despite their conference tourney loss to Alabama.

The Pick: Auburn

 

#5 Clemson Image result for clemson logo colored background  vs.  #12 New Mexico State

The Aggies have had a better season than you might think.  They dominated in the WAC, ranked 35th in RPI, and scored more points per game than Clemson.  They’ve also allowed less PPG to their opponents than Clemson has.  Clemson skidded a little towards the end of the season after a great start, so they are not coming into this game with as much momentum as they would’ve liked.  Clemson’s schedule was much stronger, but recently, Clemson has struggled to keep up with their tough competition, going 9-8 in their final 17 games.  Meanwhile, NM State went 12-2 in the WAC while beating Miami, Davidson, and Illinois out of their conference.  I’m sensing an upset.

The Pick: New Mexico State

 

Pittsburgh: Games Start Thursday, March 15 at 12:15 PM EST on CBS

#7 Rhode Island Related image  vs. Related image #10 Oklahoma

Oklahoma is another team that really struggled late in their season, but URI was not great in late season play either, losing to Davidson in the Atlantic 10 championship.  The Sooners did beat Kansas, Texas Tech, and TCU (twice) early on though.  They also beat Wichita State as well as Oregon and USC, who were both on the bubble before the Selection Show.  However, Rhode Island had a great season, and they had a fair share of quality wins.  They beat Providence and Seton Hall outside the Atlantic 10, and did not have any notably bad losses despite being swept by Davidson.  Their RPI is also 14th, which is great compared to Oklahoma’s #48 in RPI.  URI’s strong defense will shut down Trae Young and the Sooners, who have proven that they cannot always beat who they need to beat in losses to OSU, Baylor, Texas, and Iowa State in their final games before the tournament.  But Oklahoma will come close.

The Pick: Rhode Island

 

#2 Duke Image result for duke logo blue background vs. Image result for iona gaels logo red and yellow #15 Iona

After making the tournament for the third straight year, it’s about time Iona pulls an upset.  But Duke is not a team they can get past.  The Blue Devils, led by Marvin Bagley III (put up 21.1 PPG this season) have a dominant offense that the Gaels will fail to slow down.  Iona is just #108 in RPI, which is even low for a mid-major in the tournament.  Somehow, they still keep winning MAAC championships.  I don’t know when they’ll be able to go any further.

The Pick: Duke

 

Detroit: Games Start Friday 3/16 at 7:10 PM EST on CBS

#3 Michigan State Image result for michigan state logo vs. Image result for bucknell logo  #14 Bucknell

Bucknell did really well in the Patriot League, but they failed to grab hold of Quadrant 1 wins, and they had chances against UNC and Arkansas among others.  That means that they don’t have the same profile that other potential Cinderellas have, due to the fact that they failed to win quality games, even when given the chance.  MSU also had a pretty easy schedule, giving them fewer opportunities for quality wins, but any team who goes 29-4 in the B1G should beat mid-majors without quality victories with ease.  They will be led by Miles Bridges, the Spartans guard who averaged 16.9 PPG.

The Pick: Michigan State

 

#6 TCU Image result for tcu basketball logo vs. Related imageImage result for syracuse logo  #11 Arizona State/Syracuse

First of all, I have Syracuse beating the Sun Devils.  ASU struggled in a weak Pac-12, which weighs them down despite wins over Kansas and Xavier.  Syracuse had some nice wins despite a roller coaster of a season, and I can see the Orange winning.  TCU put up a nice season in the Big 12 after struggles in 2016-17, but they slipped up a couple times against mediocre teams like Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt.  I could see the same happening against Syracuse, who has had some strong wins mixed in with their tough losses, including one over Miami and one over Virginia Tech.  Syracuse advances to the Round of 32 after beating both ASU and TCU.

The Pick: Syracuse

 

Round of 32 Preview

If my first round picks are correct, the Round of 32 will line up like this:

#1 Kansas Image result for kansas logo vs. Image result for seton hall logo #8 Seton Hall

#4 Auburn Image result for auburn logo  vs.  #12 New Mexico State

#2 Duke Image result for duke logo blue background vs. Related image #7 Rhode Island

#3 Michigan State Image result for michigan state logo  vs. Image result for syracuse logo  #11 Syracuse

I think Kansas will beat Seton Hall here.  Seton Hall has had a nice season with quality wins in their conference on a tough schedule, but again, Kansas went 27-7 and won the Big 12 with the 2nd hardest schedule in the league, ranking 5th in RPI.  The Jayhawks have a dominant offense that will make the case for them.  I think there will also be more upsets in this round though.  New Mexico State will beat Auburn.  The Aggies were dominant all season, not just in the WAC but against high major non-conference opponents like Miami.  Auburn skid late into the season, going 4-5 to finish, losing to South Carolina in a regular season game and Alabama in the SEC tournament.  New Mexico State’s defense will shut down Auburn.

I see Rhode Island pulling an upset over Duke as well.  Name one game Rhode Island should be ashamed of losing.  There are none I can name, besides their losses to Davidson, and the Wildcats are underrated.  Duke has a history of losing in early rounds of the Big Dance, and they already lost to St. John’s, Boston College, and other lower tier teams this season.  I do think MSU will top Syracuse though.  The Orange may have had some good wins this season, but overall, it wasn’t a great season, and I think the committee had better options for the last team in when building the bracket, such as USC.  So don’t expect Syracuse to get past MSU and make the Sweet 16.  The Round of 32 is not out of the question though.

And The Projected Midwest Champion Is…

#3 Michigan State Image result for michigan state logo

With Duke being eliminated early by an underrated URI team, MSU’s odds to win this region will increase.  You could argue for them as a #2 seed, but they lucked out with their schedule, even though they might have to face Duke and/or Kansas, which would be tough.  They’ve had it easy in terms of scheduling all season, but they went 29-4, and just because their schedule was easy, it doesn’t mean they can’t beat other top teams.  Getting past Kansas will be tough, but I think this team is capable of great things.  This is their time to prove that they are the championship contender people think they are.

 

 

That’s all for this preview.  Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will take a look at the East Region.