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.

 

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

I understand, this a little late, as Opening Day was Thursday, and the Red Sox didn’t look so great Thursday even though they are a part of this Top 6.  But I figured I’d finish this series since there’s only one article left.

Welcome to the final article of my 2019 MLB preseason power rankings.  This season, you could argue the Super Seven that was discussed a few years back still exists, except with different teams.  The Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees have remained elite, and despite declines by the Nationals, Indians, and Dodgers (probably) , new powerhouses in this league have arised.  The Braves should be regular contenders now, the Cardinals could make a run with 1B Paul Goldschmidt here for the long run, and the Phillies should be competitive with Bryce Harper.  But Philadelphia isn’t quite on the level of these other teams.  So unless the Dodgers do stay elite after all, I think the Super Seven will become a Super Six.  I will be discussing those six today and pointing out the Achilles Heel of each team. 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!

 

6. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

The Case for the Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, sure. But the veterans they kept around from their last playoff run, like Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina, are still reliable contributors. They have also boosted the team with younger talent, including SP Jack Flaherty, OFs Harrison Bader and UT Jose Martinez, and SS Paul DeJong. After adding star in Goldy, the Cardinals have the tools they need for contention. But how far can they go in such a tough division? They will have to get past their division rivals that are also contending, the Cubs and Brewers.

The Achilles Heel

The Cards’ rotation looks alright and its young core will keep the rotation elite for a long time.  But right now they lack an ace.  I don’t believe they can be a World Series contender without one.  Whether they need a trade to find an ace or someone steps up as time passes, this could hold them back from serious contention and should be priority #1 for GM Steve Keim.  Maybe Martinez could be a good trade piece now that 1B Paul Goldschmidt is on board.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in NL Central

5. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

The Case for the Red Sox

The defending World Series champions had a relatively quiet off-season. They did retain most of the team from 2018 that won 108 games. But the bullpen has been their biggest issue, even with Craig Kimbrel. Without Craig Kimbrel, there is even more pressure on the rotation to succeed. This is especially true regarding Chris Sale and David Price. After Sale’s extension, both will be expected to to shine every start in order to be worth the money. Each start costs about $1 million dollars. Regardless of this pressure, the Red Sox should at least secure a Wild Card spot if they can’t beat out the Yankees in the AL East. They are still one of several powerhouses in the league.

The Achilles Heel

With Craig Kimbrel on the way out, the closer role is up for grabs.  But if you look at the active pitchers on the roster, it’s hard to imagine any of them as a consistent closer.  If the Red Sox wanted to repeat, they would’ve invested more in this bullpen rather than focusing so much on the rotation.  They need to add a closer unless Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, or someone else steps up soon.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 2nd in AL East

 

4. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves

The Case for the Braves

The Braves’ rebuild began to pay off last season as their younger players broke through. This off-season seemed quiet, but they filled a gaping hole at third by adding Josh Donaldson. They also brought back OF Nick Markakis, and they have reportedly been targeting a reunion with CL Craig Kimbrel. This small series of moves could make a big difference in Atlanta. These moves, alongside development of OF Ronald Acuna Jr. and 2B Ozzie Albies among other should transform the Braves from solely a division contender into a World Series contender. The Braves are my World Series winner this year. I expect 1B Freddie Freeman, Albies, Donaldson, and others to combine to make for one of the best lineups in the league.

The Achilles Heel

Health is definitely a concern, especially considering the fact that Atlanta will start the 2019 season with two starting pitchers on the IL.  Donaldson is also injury prone, and if he goes down, Johan Camargo is the next best option at third base.  I don’t trust Camargo as a starter.  If the team stays healthy in the long run, they could be serious contenders.  Otherwise, they could be in a bit of trouble.

Projected Finish: 93-69, 1st in NL East

 

3. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

The Case for the Cubs

The Cubs may have been quiet this off-season, but a healthy Yu Darvish will boost the rotation, the bullpen has plenty of depth despite questions at closer, and the lineup is looking pretty solid. Their decision to move Javier Baez to shortstop full time and put Ben Zobrist at second is very smart, as SS Addison Russell was inconsistent and had some character issues. The Cubs have dominated in the National League ever since their World Series winning year in 2016, but with a health a concern and the division getting tougher, will the Cubs be able to keep up the good work?

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs were unable to do much this off-season, and they could have used another outfielder.  LF Kyle Schwarber and RF Jason Heyward are viable starters, but they are very streaky and inconsistent.  Albert Almora Jr. is the best option in center field.  Chicago should have added another center fielder to start over Almora some days and fill in for Heyward and Schwarber during slumps.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in NL Central

 

2. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

The Case for the Yankees

After pairing new slugger Aaron Judge with Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees underperformed in 2018. Yes, they made the playoffs and won 100 games. But they were overshadowed and eliminated by their bitter rival, the Boston Red Sox. This year, the Red Sox will be without their star closer, while the Yankees fixed up a problematic rotation and built one of the most stacked bullpens in history. This will allow the Yankees to propel past the Red Sox and win the AL East. But in Boston and New York, it’s all about championships, and the Yankees aren’t will have to work for a World Series victory, even with the stacked roster.

The Achilles Heel

The Yanks have some nice pieces in their infield.  But if Troy Tulowitzki and Greg Bird fail to stay healthy, they are left with D.J. LeMahieu as their best infielder.  Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have not reached their prime yet, and Luke Voit must still prove that 2018 was not a fluke.  So I’m a bit concerned in terms of infield depth for the Yankees.

Projected Finish: 94-68, 1st in AL East

 

1. houston-astros Houston Astros

The Case for the Astros

The Astros are two years removed from their World Series victory, a result of a 5-year rebuild that made the Astros one of the MLB’s worst for a good 2-3 year span. Now, the Astros are still one of the league’s elite teams, but they lost some of their starting rotation depth this off-season, forcing two starter-turned-relievers back into the rotation. They did bring in OF Michael Brantley and UT Aledmys Diaz, filling the hole UT Marwin Gonzalez left. Though Houston took a slight step back this off-season, I still have them as my AL West winners and the team with the best regular season record. Considering the young core they have put together in the last several years, they should be elite for a long, long, time now.

The Achilles Heel

Evan Gattis is no longer on the team, which means Tyler White must be trusted as Houston’s regular DH.  This could be a prove-it situation for White, but if White struggles, what then?  They could bring Gattis back, or they could just put Diaz back there.  They could even call up Kyle Tucker to play DH.  This one’s an easy fix, just something to keep an eye on.

Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in AL West

That’s all for this year’s preseason MLB power rankings.  Come back at the end of April  for my first 2019 set of monthly power rankings.

Baseball Bits #12: Can Sox Repeat like Few Teams have?

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Welcome to my annual preseason Baseball Bits article!

If you were unaware, today marks 5 years since I started my Boston Sports Mania blog!  The Red Sox were just about to begin their regular season when I started, and just like this year, they were coming off a World Series victory.  On my first day, I posted an article titled “MLB 2014 Preview”, which included my predictions for the 2014 MLB season. I still write these prediction articles every year, including this year

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I call March 25th my “blog-a-versary”, and this year is a big milestone.  All of my opportunities are a result of this blog.  Most recently, I delivered a motivational keynote speech about my story so far at the Visions of Community Conference hosted by the Federation for Children with Special Needs at the Boston Seaport World Trade Center (see below):

I started this blog to write about my favorite sports like baseball, which is what today’s post is about.

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Top: After the Red Sox’s 100th win                     Bottom: After the Red Sox’s World Series win

In 2018 the Red Sox became the 16th team in the 162-game era to win over 100 regular season games and then go on to win the World Series.  They were led by new manager Alex Cora and a new star in J.D. Martinez.  But what most Boston sports fans are wondering about now is how the Red Sox will do in 2019 and whether they will repeat.  I did some research on 100+ win World Series winners in the 162-game era and how they did in their next season below.  

The Research

Baseball Bits #12_ 100-Win World Series Winners – Sheet1

The “Baseball Bits”

Note: In the context of this article, a team who repeats for 2 years in a row is counted for 1 repeat, 3 years in a row is counted for 2 repeats, 4 years in a row is counted for 3 repeats, etc

  • Only 23 of 115 (20%) World Series winners have repeated
  • In the 162-game era, only 16 of 57 (28%) 100-win teams have won the World Series, including the 2018 Red Sox
  • In the 162-game era, only 9 of 56 (16%) World Series winners excluding the 2018 Red Sox have repeated, with 4 of the teams repeating after 100-win seasons
  • Of the 15 100 win World Series winners excluding the 2018 Red Sox:9 teams (60%) made the playoffs4 teams (26.67% of the 15) repeated2 of those teams reached 100 wins when they repeated:1976 Cincinnati Reds
    • 1978 New York Yankees
  • 2 of those teams failed to reach 100 wins again when they repeated:1962 New York Yankees
    • 1999 New York Yankees (repeated again in 2000
  • The Red Sox did not win the World Series in an 100 win season in the 162-game era until 2018
  • Another 2 of the 15 (13.33%) lost the World Series:1968 St. Louis Cardinals
    • 1978 Baltimore Orioles
  • 3 of the 15 (20%) lost in the LCS2010 New York Yankees
    • 2017 Chicago Cubs
    • 2018 Houston Astros
  • 6 of the 15 (40%) missed the playoffs entirely1969 Detroit Tigers
    • 1970 New York Mets
    • 1977 Cincinnati Reds
    • 1979 New York Yankees
    • 1985 Detroit Tigers
    • 1987 New York Mets
  • Each of the last 3 100-win World Series winners lost in the LCS the next year

The Verdict

Based on the research, I believe the Red Sox have a 20 to 25% chance to repeat.  I believe that there is still a select group of elite teams that could win the World Series this year.  World Series repeats are less common during the 162-game era as just 9 of 56 (16%) World Series winners repeated.  However, 4 of those teams were 100-win teams. World Series winners who did not reach 100 wins in this time frame only repeated 12.1% of the time since 1961.  That’s more like a 1 in 8 chance.  100-win World Series winners have repeated 26.67% of the time during the same time frame.  I think the significance of being a 100-win team helps improve the Sox chances to repeat. 

However, as much as I hate to admit it as a huge Boston fan, I am sticking with my prediction that the Sox will fail to reverse the trend of World Series winners.  I think they will lose in the ALCS to either the New York Yankees or Houston Astros.  The odds are stacked against the Sox reaching 100 wins as well since only 4 of the 15 100-win World Series winners even reached 100 wins again the next year.  I don’t think the Red Sox will reach the century mark but will come close at somewhere between 92 and 96 games. A bullpen with no proven closer to start the season helps support my prediction  A World Series repeat is unlikely to happen, though you shouldn’t rule it out yet.

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Alex Cora did wonders for this team last year, so maybe he’ll be able to recreate the magic of 2018.  If he can, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be 2019 AL Manager of the Year.

That’s all for today’s Baseball Bits.  After all I have accomplished in the last 5 years, I look forward to creating even better content over the next 5 years.  Stay tuned for more soon, including the next portion of my MLB Preseason Power Rankings.

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 12-7: My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018

Welcome to Part 4 of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Although the season has started, I am still finishing this series.  I will also have my first Red Sox Report article of 2018 coming soon, as well as coverage on NFL free agency and the upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.

Last time, I covered the teams that are in the middle of the pack, and haven’t really decided what direction they want to head in.  I looked at how they did this off-season, how they’ll do this season, and where they are headed.  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 contending teams, but rather than talking about where they are headed (which is somewhat obvious to me), today I will be discussing what is holding them back from dominance.  Read below to find out who these six teams are and what to expect for them this year.

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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?

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, April 2: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Wednesday, April 4: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*My pre-season Baseball Bits are also up.

12. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins

Off-Season Review

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The Twins quietly put together a strong off-season after acquiring Jake Odorizzi and signing Logan Morrison at the last minute.  They also signed Lance Lynn to add to a rotation that will be without Ervin Santana and new signing Michael Pineda to start the season.  With Odorizzi and Lynn on board, it will be a respectable rotation throughout the season and could take the League by storm when Pineda and Santana return.  Morrison is here to upgrade at the DH position over Kennys Vargas, who only got his job back because Byung-Ho Park was a bust in 2016. They also added Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed in the bullpen to replace Glen Perkins, who retired.

The Case for the Twins

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The Twins will be able to contend.  Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are primed for breakouts, Brian Dozier has emerged as a veteran leader, and Logan Morrison, Jake Odorizzi, and Lance Lynn are nice additions that put this roster in position to continue to contend after surprisingly cracking the playoff field in 2017.  But the competition for the AL Wild Card will be tougher this year after the moves that have been made by the Angels and Red Sox to make their own Wild Card cases.  The Red Sox could even challenge the Yankees in the AL East, but the Yankees are likely to make the playoffs either way.

What’s Holding Them Back

A month ago I would have said rotation depth problems, but now I think they have a bigger problem at shortstop.  With Jorge Polanco suspended for 80 games, they will have to start Eduardo Escobar, who has struggled in recent years and is not 100% proven as a starter.  I honestly don’t think they were ever doing great at shortstop.  I thought the combination of Polanco and Escobar was okay, but I’m not even so high on Polanco anyways.  They also have problems in the bullpen.  Signing Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed help, but they lack depth, and will Rodney and Reed succeed with their new team?
Best Case Scenario: Buxton and Sano breakthrough, Minnesota’s late off-season moves pay off, and the Twins quietly sneak to the top of the AL Central.
Worst Case Scenario: The injury-riddled rotation lacks depth and gets tired, the new bullpen additions do not help all that much, and the lineup fails to have much more than another decent year as the Twins finish in a distant second to the Indians, just above .500.

Projected Finish: 87-75, 2nd in AL Central

11. milwaukee-brewers Milwaukee Brewers

Off-Season Review

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After coming inches away from a playoff berth in 2017, the Brewers made some upgrades in hopes of a playoff run.  They did not add the ace they desperately needed, but they did sign Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Jhoulys Chacin (Gallardo has since been released).  Chase Anderson and Zach Davies could also step it up in the rotation until the injured Jimmy Nelson returns.  They could re-assess at the trade deadline if needed.  They did add to the bullpen by signing Boone Logan and Matt Albers though.  They could still use a closer.  They also added to their outfield by signing Lorenzo Cain and trading for Christian Yelich.  As a result, Ryan Braun will be able to help out at first in addition to playing outfield.  Eric Thames is no longer an everyday starter, but Braun is, and he will see a lot of starts at first and in the outfield.  They could’ve also added Neil Walker back, but should be fine at second between Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard as Walker joins the Yankees.

The Case for the Brewers

Milwaukee could make a serious run in 2018, or they could bust.  It’s hard to predict, but I have them somewhere in the middle.  Cain and Yelich will prove to be nice additions among others.  But if the Brewers were really hoping to contend, they would’ve considered adding an ace, a closer, and a second baseman.  They have various holes in the roster that will hold them back.  This is a good team with a nice roster that includes a lot of great pieces.  But they could still use some fine-tuning before they make a run.

What’s Holding Them Back

Milwaukee has a nice rotation, but the rotation lacks a #1 starter.  Signing someone like Alex Cobb would have worked out, but instead, they stayed put.  The Brewers would be in a much better position right now if they were able to sign an ace.  The Cubs added Yu Darvish.  How did the Brewers respond?  By sitting tight and calling Chase Anderson their #1 starter.  Anderson may be a good #2, but that will not work out well.  Even Jimmy Nelson is not quite a viable #1 starter, and he’s out until at least May.
Best Case Scenario: The rotation is able to survive on its own, the lineup dominates, and the bullpen surprises the league after using their new additions to their advantage.  The Brewers make a nice playoff run after clinching a Wild Card spot.
Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is nothing more than mediocre without a known ace, the lineup thrives, but struggle to figure out what to do as Eric Thames struggles and Ryan Braun cannot adjust to the infield, and the Brewers disappoint, winning less than 85 games.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 3rd in NL Central

10. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies

Off-Season Review

The Rockies seemed pretty confident with what they have this off-season, as they did not add a first baseman or a starting pitcher.  They could have used a veteran mentor at either position.  They did bring back Carlos Gonzalez for depth though.  This off-season, CarGo’s market has been limited due to regressive struggles in 2017, but the Rockies brought him back anyway, hoping he would rebound.  In the meantime, Ian Desmond and prospect Ryan McMahon will both get time at first and the young rotation will have to survive without a veteran influence.

The Case for the Rockies

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The Rockies are coming off a strong 2017 season, where they finally cracked the playoff field.  But they haven’t secured themselves as regular contenders yet.  To contend again in 2018, the young rotation will have to at least have a decent year, and they need Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado to pick up from where they left off last season.  DJ LeMahieu, CarGo, and Trevor Story have also helped provide their lineup with the power they need to contend. Will the Rockies make the playoffs?  Tell me what you think in the comments.

What’s Holding Them Back

The Rockies play in a severely hitter-friendly ballpark, so it’s understandable if the Rockies lineup is significantly better than the rotation.  But the Rockies will have to perform well on the road to become a true playoff contender, and in most ballparks, that requires a better rotation than what Colorado has.  I think this team can make the playoffs, but they could be eliminated early once again if the pitching struggles, especially in the 1 game wild-card round.
Best Case Scenario: The young Rockies rotation exceeds their expectations, the powerful lineup dominates, and the Rockies win the NL West and get ready to make a run in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario: Charlie Blackmon cannot repeat his success, CarGo, and other hitters begin to decline, and the Rockies struggle, finishing 4th in the NL West just below .500.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 2nd in NL West

9. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

Off-Season Review

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Much like the Blue Jays are doing now, the Cardinals have quietly rebuilt without regressing majorly.  They are already hoping to contend after beginning to rebuild in the 2015-16 off-season.  This off-season, they acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins, and were hoping to land Mike Moustakas, but lost out on him. Ozuna is an upgrade over Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, both of whom the Cardinals traded away this off-season.  However, they have been fine in their first few games as Jose Martinez continues to dominate.  Matt Carpenter can now help at third base with Martinez playing first on some days.  They also upgraded their pitching staff, signing Miles Mikolas in his return to the MLB.  They also added Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland in a remodeling of the bullpen.

The Case for the Cardinals

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The Cardinals are ready to work towards a return to the playoffs.  With a roster that is flooded with young talent as well as veterans, who they will need to win now.  They were lucky with how fast their rebuild went.  Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez, and other top prospects broke through quickly.  The Cardinals went into rebuild mode because they had such a strong farm system, and those players will help lead this team along with veterans like Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, and Michael Wacha who St. Louis either held on to from 2015 or has acquired since then.

What’s Holding Them Back

I like the Cardinals young rotation, but I feel that Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver could have used more time to develop, and Alex Reyes will need it after his elbow injury.  Reyes has even considered switching to become a late-inning reliever.  If they had signed a veteran mentor like John Lackey, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Scott Kazmir, who are all still available, to a 1-year deal, then they might be in better shape.  Signing Moose also would have helped.

Best Case Scenario: The young Cardinals leaders dominate, including the rotation, and help lead the Cardinals to an NL Central win and a playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: The young rotation cannot handle the pressure, Tommy Pham cannot repeat his 2017 success as well as some of their other recent breakout players, and the Cardinals finish around .500, third or fourth in the division.

Projected Finish: 90-72, 2nd in NL Central

8. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels

Off-Season Review

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The Angels were one of the most active teams in the league this off-season, especially early on, when very few moves were made across the league.  They brought back Justin Upton and acquired another player from the Tigers in 2B Ian Kinsler (Upton was acquired from Detroit in a trade last season).  They added Zack Cozart too.  The combination of those three will really boost their lineup.  They had enough depth and power in the lineup for 2018 that they were able to trade away mediocre 1B C.J. Cron.  Their biggest move came early on when they signed Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who has already done great at the big league level as a hitter and a pitcher.

The Case for the Angels

The Angels are ready to return to contention after struggling over the last two years.  Their struggles were caused by the injury-riddled rotation and the lack of a strong lineup.  But now, all has changed after the Halos added some rotation depth and boosted their lineup.  The Angels will fight for a Wild Card spot, but they may be a division contender if they did not play in the same division as the defending World Series champions, the Houston Astros.

What’s Holding Them Back

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The Angels do not have much on their own roster that can hold them back.  But there are two problems: a) they do not have the same kind of talent that the dominant teams of the league have and b) they compete in a tough division that is led by the defending World Series champion, who has only gotten better this off-season.  They have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, but what other All Star players do they have?  They will face a tough schedule and that will hold them back as they struggle to compete with the best.

Best Case Scenario: Shohei Ohtani and the Angels rotation avoid injuries and dominate, the lineup returns to dominance after adding Upton, Kinsler, and Cozart, and the Angels compete for the AL West title and make a playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation’s injury problems continue, Ohtani cannot handle the pressure of MLB level pitching, and the lineup ends up underperforming, leading the Angels to another mediocre season.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 2nd in AL West

7. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians

Off-Season Review

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The Indians were able to replace 1B Carlos Santana (lost in free agency) by upgrading with a signing of Yonder Alonso, who had a very strong season with the A’s and Mariners in 2017.  They also brought back familiar faces in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis.  The Indians have been able to maintain a strong roster without spending too much money, as they did not lose too many people to free agency.  All they needed was one more outfielder, a little bullpen help, and a replacement for Santana.

The Case for the Indians

Cleveland is one of what is known as the MLB’s Super Seven, a group of teams that are bound for long term success after dominance in 2017.  However, I see Cleveland as the bottom team of these seven, as although they have maintained a strong roster, they have not made many upgrades after losing to the Yankees in the 2017 ALDS and losing to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series.  They will still be significant contenders and clear division favorites (despite a weak division), but do not expect a run beyond the ALDS this year.  I see an AL pennant as their ceiling.

What’s Holding Them Back

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Like I said, they could use a couple more upgrades over what they have.  Michael Brantley is getting older and is very injury prone, Jason Kipnis is declining, and the bullpen could use a little more depth to aid a strong rotation.  There are other teams that I see as much more likely World Series winners than them.

Best Case Scenario: The lineup keeps up the good work, the rotation looks dominant as it is led by two star pitchers in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, and the Indians make a deep playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: Injuries and old age hold back the Indians as they lose the division to the Minnesota Twins and just barely snag a Wild Card.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in AL Central

That’s all for this article.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox and other baseball articles coming soon.