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

Welcome to my 3rd of several Super Bowl LIII Preview posts.  Yesterday, I went over what the Patriots need to do in order to win the game.  Today, I will do the same for the Rams.  What does LA need to do to win their first Super Bowl in almost 20 years?  What could derail them along the way?  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 27 or 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 28 or 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 29 or 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30 or 31: Super Bowl LIII ‘Football Fast Facts’ and Their Significance

January 31 or February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 1 or 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 2 or 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!

The Case for the Rams

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Most of the 2000s and 2010s were pretty dull for the Rams.  But in 2018, they arguably put up their best season since the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ Era after hiring Sean McVay, drafting Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, and making some bold moves in the off-season that made it clear the Rams wanted to win now.  But in order to win the Super Bowl, they’ll have to beat the Patriots, who they lost to back in 2001.  The only difference is: now the Rams are the team on the rise, and the Pats have the experienced dynasty.  The question is: how can the Rams do to the Pats what the Pats did to the Rams back in 2001 by pulling a shocking upset?

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First of all, QB Jared Goff will need to find open receivers.  Gurley and RB C.J. Anderson have combined to make this run game dominant, and they should have no problems running the ball against a New England defense that struggles against big name running backs.  But without WR Cooper Kupp, Goff has been throwing less often, partially due to the fact that he has less reliable receivers.  His most reliable receivers, WR Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, will likely be limited by a solid Patriots secondary.  All of Goff’s receivers will need to step up their game and do their job in order for the Rams to win.

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In addition, the front seven will need to put pressure on QB Tom Brady.  Led by DT Aaron Donald, the front seven has done alright this season, with 41 sacks during the regular season.  But Brady has been sacked just 21 times this season.  The Rams defensive front will have to step up its game, get past a strong New England o-line, and pressure him.  Who knows, if they’re putting enough pressure on him, maybe Donald or another Rams pass rusher will sack Brady for just the 22nd time this year.

Lastly, Goff will need to avoid interceptions.  If Goff isn’t careful, an interception could blow the Rams the game, similar to how QB Drew Brees blew the NFC Championship by throwing an interception after winning the toss in overtime.

If Goff can find open men and throw more touchdowns than interceptions and the defense can effectively pressure and possibly even sack Brady, the Rams will be in good shape.  But this game should come down to the wire, and for both teams, this will not be easy by any means.  Tomorrow, I will be looking at what previous Super Bowl and 2018 stats could be telling about the result of the game, and stay tuned for Friday when I post my official Super Bowl prediction with projected stats.

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Thanksgiving Day Picks: Two Home Teams Prevail, One Has Their Thanksgiving Spoiled

Welcome to my Thanksgiving Day NFL Picks. Last week was not great for me. I went 4-9, putting my overall record at 85-74-2. I am no longer ahead of any experts, but I am tied with CBS Sports expert Jason La Canfora. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the food, I love seeing my family, I enjoy watching the parade, and I especially love the football. Who will win in today’s football games? Expect a big week for home teams, but I think one home team will have their Thanksgiving spoiled. Keep reading to find out which team that is, and feel free to comment with your thoughts.

12:30 PM EST

Look for a dominant day by Khalil Mack and the Bears defense against Detroit. Without WRs Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, the Lions offense will struggle to get into a rhythm. Chicago’s offense won’t be at its best either, but the defensive excellence makes up for it. This will allow the Bears to spoil Detroit’s Thanksgiving.

4:30 PM EST

The injury-riddled Washington offense will miss QB Alex Smith and WR Jamison Crowder. But they will manage to keep this close against the young Dallas D. Meanwhile, QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense will continue to improve with the addition of WR Amari Cooper, leading the Cowboys to win their Turkey Day game in a close one.

8:20 PM EST

Expect the Saints defense to perform better than usual, holding Atlanta to 1 TD in New Orleans. New Orleans won’t be at their best offensively either, but expect them to get by against the weak Falcons D. The Falcons will begin to panic as they struggle in all aspects in this game.

That’s all for my Thanksgiving Day Picks. Stay tuned for the rest of my picks later this week.

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 6 Picks & Previews: Expect Lots of High Scoring Games

Welcome to my Week 6 NFL pick’em and previews.  Last week I went 8-7, placing my overall record at 45-31-2, ahead of 7 of ESPN’s 10 experts, and 3 of CBS Sports’ 8 experts.  Some of the offense-heavy teams in the league take each other on this week. The Chiefs face off with the Patriots. The Raiders take on the Seahawks in London.  The Chargers will head to Cleveland to play the Browns. The Bucs and Falcons will play each other in an intriguing divisional match-up. Who will win in these likely shootouts?  Read below to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week (MNF)

With WR Randall Cobb likely back, expect this Packers passing offense to perform a lot better than they did in Detroit, especially since they are home this week.  But it’s the run game that I see leading the Pack. These running backs haven’t really had the chance to truly shine in Green Bay’s pass-first offense, but I could see it happening against an inexperienced 49ers run defense.  Without QB Jimmy Garoppolo, it will be extremely difficult for the Niners to match Green Bay’s offensive performance. I see the Packers winning easily.

Upset of the Week

This Broncos defense will make it difficult for the Rams to score as much as they usually do, but I think they manage to score 20+ points on Denver, led by RB Todd Gurley.  However, I expect Denver’s receivers to have a strong day as well, despite the fact that they are facing a stacked Rams secondary.  They have two dependable veterans in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and a promising rookie, Courtland Sutton.  I think they can handle the Rams secondary, especially with ex-Bronco Aqib Talib on IR. Look for Denver to pull the upset in a game that’s surprisingly high scoring.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted on Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 34-13 Eagles)

Expect the Eagles run game to struggle with RB Jay Ajayi on IR.  But I think QB Carson Wentz and his receivers will find a way to win it in New York.  The Giants offense will struggle once again without TE Evan Engram, but I think WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard will have strong games to make this close.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect Houston’s elite defense to shut down QB Josh Allen and his receivers.  I think they will hold the Bills to 1 TD or less in this game. Meanwhile, QB Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense will have a decent enough despite the banged-up run game and lack of WR depth.  I see the trio of Watson, RB Lamar Miller and WR DeAndre Hopkins leading them to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Colts offense should look better than they did in New England.  Expect RB Nyheim Hines to step it up with the receivers banged up. However, I see the Colts D, which has struggled all season falling apart against a promising Jets passing game.  Look for both QB Sam Darnold and RB Isaiah Crowell to have big games as the Jets score at least 4 TDs. New York should win easily with the Colts defense regressively struggling.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

UPDATE: Ryan Tannehill is OUT, Brock Osweiler will start

Look for the Dolphins young D to have success against QB Mitch Trubisky and his offense.  Their promising group of receivers will not be enough here as the run game struggles. I also think that with the home-field advantage, the Dolphins will manage to score 30+ points despite facing Khalil Mack and the Bears D.  With QB Ryan Tannehill out, QB Brock Osweiler will rely on his receivers as Mack and the Bears front seven shuts down the Dolphins run game.  In the end, I have the Dolphins pulling a surprising upset at home, thanks to an all-around elite performance.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Cincy’s receivers to step it up against a struggling Steelers secondary. But the Steelers will make this a close shootout. QB Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers will thrive as well against a rebuilding Bengals secondary.  But without RB Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers run game will be easily shut down. The Bengals will manage to win thanks to the strong run defense and strong game by their receivers.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns to make this close in Cleveland.  But this Chargers offense has dominated and led the team to victory against every below average defense they’ve played.  Look for QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Keenan Allen and company to do the same in Cleveland as they take on an inexperienced Browns D.  This stellar offensive performance will lead LA to victory for the fourth time this season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect a shootout in this London game.  Both these defenses have struggled regressively all season.  Look for Oakland’s offense to dominate against the young Seattle D, and expect QB Russell Wilson and his receivers to have a field day against the Khalil Mack-less Raiders defense.  I think the Raiders, who will have more success running the ball, will outscore the Seahawks to win it.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect the Panthers offense to be back at full speed with TE Greg Olsen back.  They will be able to take advantage of a below average Redskins secondary with QB Cam Newton’s favorite target healthy.  QB Alex Smith and his receivers will put up a fight with a 3 TD game of their own.  But look for the Panthers strong front seven to be successful in pressuring Smith and shutting down Washington’s RBs, allowing Carolina to hold on for a victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think Arizona’s D will step it up this weekend, allowing them to come close in Minnesota.  But the Vikings WR duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs is just too much for this Cardinals secondary to handle, and their success will lead to an overtime Vikings win, despite the run game’s continuing struggles.  The Vikings defense will also have a nice game, holding the Cardinals to just 1 TD and overwhelming rookie QB Josh Rosen.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

With RB Devonta Freeman out, both defenses struggling, and both offenses dominating, expect a lot of passing in this game.  QB Matt Ryan and his receivers should have a field day against the weakening Bucs secondary, while Tampa’s underrated front seven shuts down RB Tevin Coleman.  Meanwhile, QB Jameis Winston and his receivers will prove that the Bucs can succeed on offense without QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Expect them to pull the upset in a shootout, as Atlanta begins to lose hope after another embarrassingly bad defensive game.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

This Titans roster is filled with young talent on both sides of the ball.  Look for their younger players to step it up and lead Tennessee to victory at home.  The Ravens should continue their strong season by getting out to an early lead thanks to shut down defense.  But Tennessee’s young core will lead to a comeback as they outplay Baltimore.  After two straight losses, the Ravens will begin to regress. 
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect QB Dak Prescott and his receivers to be shut down by a top notch Jags defense.  Prescott looked pretty bad against the Texans D. I can’t see him doing any better against Sacksonville.  Meanwhile, the Jaguars will manage to get by on offense, bouncing back from last week’s putrid offensive performance.  The combination of these two things will lead to a Jaguars victory, despite run game struggles without RB Leonard Fournette.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

Check back closer to gametime for a video preview!

Look for QB Tom Brady and his receivers to thrive, overwhelming the Chiefs secondary without S Eric Berry.  Kansas City’s offense should make this close, but expect the Chiefs defense to blow it despite a 30-point, multi-TD game for QB Patrick Mahomes II and his offense.  

That’s all for my picks this week.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts, and stay tuned for more posts soon.

 

My 2018 MLB Playoff Bracket/Predictions

The MLB Playoff Bracket is set after yesterday’s tiebreaker games, and the MLB playoffs begin tonight at 8:00 PM.  Above is my complete bracket for the MLB Playoff Challenge.  Below is a brief look at each match-up.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

American League

AL Wild Card Game

new-york-yankees (4) New York Yankees over Oakland Athletics (5) oakland-a's

Oakland’s pitching staff has been better this year, but I do not see their rotation as an elite playoff rotation.  The Yankees lineup will tear this pitching staff apart, led by the home run hitting duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

ALDS

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over New York Yankees (4) new-york-yankees, 3-2

The Yankees have given Boston a hard time, so I think this series will be close.  The Yankees have been able to dominate against certain Red Sox starters such as David Price.  But the Red Sox have the home-field advantage, and they have two MVP-caliber players in their lineup, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.  The Sox lineup has the depth and talent to outdo the Yankees pitching staff.

houston-astros (2) Houston Astros over Cleveland Indians (3) cleveland-indians, 3-0

The Astros have most of what they had in last year’s World Series: a stacked lineup filled with youth, power, and speed and a dominant playoff rotation.  They come in to this series with a weaker bullpen though.  Both of these lineups are playoff-caliber, but I see this series as a battle of two of the league’s top rotations, the Astros led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and the Indians led by Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco.  These games will be low scoring, but I see the Astros sweeping as their lineup is able to manage the tough opposing pitching more easily.

ALCS

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over Houston Astros (2) houston-astros, 4-3

The Astros have one of the best rotations in the league plus an amazing lineup.  But the Red Sox have one thing Houston doesn’t.  A strong closer in Craig Kimbrel.  If their rotation can hold up for a good portion of the series and their offense gets going like it has for a lot of the season, I think they can do something they haven’t done much of this year: beating the other elite teams.  The Red Sox have taken advantage of their easy match-ups, but it’s time for them to step it up when it matters.

National League

NL Wild Card Game

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Colorado Rockies (5) colorado-rockies 

The Rockies lineup is very talented, but despite improvement in 2018 that got them here, I don’t see their pitching holding up on the road against a well-rounded Cubs team.  Chicago will take advantage of the Rockies’ weak pitching staff, get out to an early lead, and their pitching staff will be able to help the Cubs hold it easily.

NLDS

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Milwaukee Brewers (1) milwaukee-brewers, 3-1

The Brewers rode their momentum to a division title.  They have a young, talented lineup that’s mostly a product of the 2017-18 off-season and a huge MLB Trade Deadline.  But I think this Brewers lineup is containable, and if there’s any pitching staff in the National League that can contain them, it’s the Cubs.  The Cubs should also thrive offensively against a young Brewers rotation that’s still developing.

los-angeles-dodgers (2) Los Angeles Dodgers over Atlanta Braves (3) atlanta-braves, 3-1

Led by young talent, the Braves pulled out an NL East victory.  However, I think they rode easy division competition to this victory.  Their rotation is okay, but I don’t see their lineup as playoff caliber. The Nationals would likely be here if they weren’t so hampered by injuries this season.  They may have won it all.  But the Dodgers can contain a young, developing team like the Braves.  Led by Trade Deadline acquisition Manny Machado, Their lineup has the power and talent to give this Atlanta rotation trouble, and their deep pitching staff will benefit them significantly.  I see this series as an easy win for the Dodgers.

NLCS

Chicago_Cubs (4) Chicago Cubs over Los Angeles Dodgers (2) los-angeles-dodgers, 4-3

This will be a very interesting series.  The 2016 World Series champion against the 2017 World Series runner-up.  The Dodgers still have a World Series-caliber roster.  Their rotation is more than capable, and they come in with a stronger offensive attack this year.  But the Cubs have a deep, young lineup, and although they might struggle against this solid Dodgers rotation, I could see them taking advantage of a weak Dodger bullpen.  The Dodgers will put up a serious fight, but I think the Cubs pitching staff can contain them for a good portion of the series.

World Series

boston-red-sox (1) Boston Red Sox over Chicago Cubs (4) Chicago_Cubs, 4-3

I think this is the year for the Red Sox.  Two of Boston’s last three World Series titles were partially due to momentum.  The Cubs have a World Series caliber roster.  They haven’t seen the Red Sox yet, and they may very well be a better team.  The NL was a very competitive league, while the AL was a league of extremes.  Chicago’s record may very well be an NL equivalent of the Red Sox’s record.  

But I think the Red Sox will ride the momentum they gather in the ALDS and ALCS to win the World Series. Their pitching will need to finally hold it together, but I think they are capable, as long as they can rely on the momentum this talented lineup gathers.  It won’t be easy against a strong, well-rounded Cubs team, but I don’t think Red Sox Nation should give up hope.

That’s all for my MLB Playoff Predictions.  Stay tuned for more baseball articles.

 

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

Image result for freddie freeman

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

Image result for joey votto

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

Image result for dee gordon mariners

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

Image result for guillermo heredia

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.

 

 

 

 

 

NFL Divisional Round Picks: Jags Shock Pittsburgh, Vikes Win in Shootout

Welcome to my Divisional Round Picks.  In the Wild Card Round, I went 3-1.  Who will come out on top this week in order to fight for Super Bowl qualification next week?  Read below and comment with your thoughts.

(6) Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles (1)

Saturday: 4:35 PM EST on NBC

Eagles, 37, Falcons, 30

Even with QB Carson Wentz injured, I see Philly winning this one.  The Falcons offense is pretty good, but even with Nick Foles at QB, it’s hard to top the Eagles offense.  The Falcons defensive front could get on Foles’ nerves, but Foles and the Philly offense will overcome it.  However, Foles has not been great under pressure, unlike Wentz.  But the tough Eagles defense will have Falcons QB Matt Ryan under a lot of pressure himself, and he will struggle under pressure, failing to repeat last year’s deep playoff run.

(5) Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots (1)

Saturday: 8:15 PM EST on CBS

Patriots, 31, Titans, 23

QB Tom Brady will lead the Pats to victory here with the help of TE Rob Gronkowski and receivers Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, who will dominate against the young Titans secondary.  Gronk will seem unbeatable to this young but strong Tennessee defense.  In his first game against the Pats since his rookie year, QB Marcus Mariota will also have a tough time, especially against the strong Pats secondary.  He will toss just 1 TD.

However, RB Derrick Henry will get on New England’s nerves in his first game against them.  This speedy running back is just too much for the Pats front seven, even with veteran LB James Harrison.  I do see New England coming out on top in the end after offensive dominance and excellent coverage of Titans QB Marcus Mariota.

(3) Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2)

Sunday: 1:05 PM EST on CBS

Jaguars, 27, Steelers, 23

In my opinion, Jacksonville will be the only road team that wins this week.  Although QB Blake Bortles might have a difficult time against the Steelers D, the Jaguars secondary was able to pick off QB Ben Roethlisberger 5 times last time these two franchises played. Plus, between his calf and his illness, WR Antonio Brown will not be 100% for this game whether he plays or not.

Big Ben will experience deja vu against a dominant Jags defense without his favorite target.  The Jags young group of receivers will also thrive as long as Bortles can get the ball to them, which I think will happen for at least parts of the game.  Jags win in a close thriller.

(4) New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings (2)

Sunday: 4:40 PM EST on FOX

Vikings, 37, Saints, 33

In a high scoring rematch of the 2017 season’s first Monday Night game, the Vikes will come out on top, led by rising QB Case Keenum and young receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.  WR Brandon Coleman is out for the Saints as well as G Andrus Peat, causing the Saints offense to be slightly less powerful than usual.  Only slightly though.  The Saints defense will still be great as well, but the Vikings dominant receivers will intimidate the young secondary and the Saints will allow Keenum to toss multiple TDs as Minnesota wins.

 

That’s all for my picks this week.  Stay tuned for a more in-depth Patriots-Titans preview coming soon.