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.  

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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.

 

2018 NFL Week 5 Pick’Em & Previews: Upsets Await in Week Full of Intriguing Match-Ups

Welcome to my Week 5 NFL picks and previews.  Last week I went 10-5, placing my overall record at 37-24-2 (38-24-2 including Week 5 TNF).  I’m ahead of 9 of ESPN’s 10 experts and 3 of CBS Sports’ 8 experts.

There are a lot of intriguing match-ups this week.  The Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, two of the league’s biggest surprises thus far take each other on.  The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles meet in an NFC Championship rematch. The Kansas City Chiefs’ powerful offense may have met their match in the Jags defense.  Who will win in these close match-ups?  Whoever wins, I would expect a lot of surprises.  Keep reading to find out who I have winning this week.

Lock of the Week (TNF: Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 38-24 Patriots)

The Colts will be without RB Marlon Mack, TE Jack Doyle, and most importantly, star WR T.Y. Hilton.  With the offense banged-up, expect QB Andrew Luck to struggle in finding open receivers.  Don’t expect a big game from the Colts running backs either.  Meanwhile, I think the Colts defense (which is also banged-up) will fail to contain QB Tom Brady and his receivers.  I could see the Pats blowing out and possibly even shutting out the injury-riddled Colts.

Upset of the Week

Coming out of the bye, the Panthers will still be without their top receiving target in TE Greg Olsen.  I think they will start to miss him this week as the Giants secondary keeps Carolina’s remaining receivers well covered.  Meanwhile, I don’t expect a huge game out of RB Christian McCaffrey against an above average Giants defensive front. The Giants will pull the upset thanks to a strong passing game and improved defense.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

These teams might be the two biggest pleasant surprises of the season so far. This week, we’ll likely see which is here to contend, and which is pretending.  I think the Bengals will look like legitimate contenders in this game.  The defense will see improvement with LB Vontaze Burfict back from his suspension.  Meanwhile, QB Andy Dalton will find plenty of open men, even without TE Tyler Eifert.  However, Miami will make it close as WR Kenny Stills and rookie TE Mike Gesicki step it up.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Josh Allen to lead Buffalo’s offense to a close game against an inconsistent Titans D.  Allen has done well in these last couple games.  However, I think the Titans will run away with the victory as the offense finds a way, led by the duo of QB Marcus Mariota and WR Corey Davis.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Broncos defense has been among the NFL’s best for a long time, and the Jets young defense is emerging as well.  Look for both defenses to thrive in a low scoring game.  The Denver secondary will do an especially good job at containing QB Sam Darnold and his receivers.  I don’t expect the Broncos to look amazing on offense, but they should edge out a victory in New York.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think Pittsburgh will look alright on offense despite missing RB Le’Veon Bell.  But the Falcons WR trio will be too much for the Steelers secondary.  The Steelers have never been more than mediocre on defense, and it will cost them here.  Expect Atlanta’s RB duo to thrive with RB Devonta Freeman back and QB Matt Ryan to find open receivers for TDs.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Cleveland’s defense to step it up, leading Cleveland to a home victory.  QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense shouldn’t do especially well against a strong Ravens secondary.  But, look for the Browns’ underrated, young defense to cause QB Joe Flacco and the Ravens receivers to struggle.  That will be enough for the Browns to pull out a win.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I understand the Chiefs are undefeated and their offense looks unstoppable.  But they haven’t seen a defense like Jacksonville’s.  I also think the Jaguars will take advantage of the all offense, no defense Chiefs and put together a strong offensive game of their own.  The Chiefs have a very tough schedule ahead, and this could be the start of a stretch that bring the Chiefs from unbeatable to a borderline playoff contender. The Jags seem like the team to finally put an end to Kansas City’s offensive dominance and undefeated season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

A lot of people see this as a lock in Green Bay’s favor, but this will not be easy.  We’ve seen what Detroit’s offense is capable of at its best, and Green Bay will be without WRs Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.  QB Aaron Rodgers is not at full health either.  Look for the Lions offense to get out to an early lead. But I think QB Aaron Rodgers will have another clutch game, and Rodgers alonMelg with the rising young talent surrounding him will lead the team to a comeback victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for RBs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to make an impact against the Mack-less Raiders run defense.  I also expect QB Philip Rivers and his receivers to have a successful game.  I think this Chargers offense can be all-around dominant against Oakland’s subpar defense.  QB Derek Carr will make this close when he tosses 3 TD of his own, but it won’t be enough in this offensive shootout.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

These teams have two of the best defenses in the NFC, so don’t expect too much scoring.  The Vikings passing game will be somewhat successful in Philly, but you can’t count on the run game with RB Dalvin Cook battling a hamstring injury.  I think QB Carson Wentz will manage to find a way at home, even going up against the lights out Vikes defense.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

QB Josh Rosen led the Cardinals to their closest game thus far last week, and I truly think they can win this one over the Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers.  But I’m not calling a blowout for an 0-4 team.  I think the 49ers versatile offense will find a way to keep this close.  However, led by RB David Johnson, look for Arizona to edge out a victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect QB Jared Goff and his offense to dominate in Seattle.  I think they can easily handle this rebuilding Seahawks defense.  Meanwhile, Seattle’s offense will struggle against a Rams D that has emerged as one of the NFC’s best.  I think QB Russell WIlson and the Seahawks run game will be especially overwhelmed by the Rams powerful front seven, and the shut down defense will secure an LA victory.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

I think QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense will continue to struggle here, especially since they are facing one of the league’s top defenses.  Even star RB Ezekiel Elliott could struggle going up against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and the dominant Texans defensive front. Houston will secure the victory after a decent offensive performance.  
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

I think the Saints will get it done in primetime, boosted by the return of RB Mark Ingram from his four game suspension.  Look for the Redskins to make it close against a mediocre Saints D, but I don’t think Washington will be able to finish the job in New Orleans.

That’s all for today’s picks and previews.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts on any of the games.  

Patriots Training Camp with Bob Socci

Today, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Patriots training camp as a member of the press, shadowing Patriots radio play-by-play announcer and Patriots.com Beat Reporter Bob Socci.  I first met Bob at the NFL Kickoff event with the Patriots broadcast team, held at Mr. Sid last year.  (Note: I will be going back to a similar event on September 6th).

Bob learned about the work I had done as a sports blogger and offered to help me by inviting me to Patriots training Camp with him.

Before Practice Began:  “Pre-Game” Videos and Fan Experience

I arrived a little bit early so I could do a live stand-up in front of Gillette Stadium and also conduct some interviews with fans.

First, I interviewed a long-time Pats fan named Jan.  She meets a friend at Gillette every year who gives her the insight on the players at Patriots training camp.

After that, I interviewed Arjun, a 6th grader from Philadelphia who likes the Patriots so much that his parents decided to make the trip north this year.  He was very excited to see the team live for the first time.

Many young fans like Arjun also had the opportunity to take advantage of Fan Experience activities held around the practice fields.  My Dad further explored some of the activities while I was with Bob and the rest of the media.

They had football activities where they tracked your performance and created a Player Profile.  Jimmy from the Patriots staff was really nice and created my card with Pat Patriot’s stats.

Training Camp Profile Card

There were also a number of booths with give-aways for participating in small games like mini-golf skee ball and photo opportunities like the one with my dad.

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Becoming Official Pats Media Member for the Day

Bob Socci met me soon after my interviews in front of the stadium.  I said goodbye to my dad and Bob took me to go get my press pass.

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We walked to the other side of the stadium and went through media security there.  After I gave them my name and affiliation, they handed me my press pass.

My press pass from training camp

All media members received a detailed Patriots preseason roster and media guidelines from the media security table to help us learn about who we were covering and what coverage was permitted and when.

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On my way to the media tent, Bob explained a few things to me about the training camp roster:

  1. Since there are many players on the roster and the roster is not finalized, there may be pairs of players who share a number
  2. Rookies wear numbers based on when they were drafted during training camp and their camp numbers do not usually correspond with their position.  The team’s first draft pick, T Isaiah Wynn wears #50, their second pick, RB Sony Michel wears #51, their third pick, CB Duke Dawson wears #52, and so on.  For the regular season they receive new numbers.
  3. During training camp, quarterbacks wear red while the rest of the offense wears white and the defense wears blue.  On the roster, offensive players who share a number with defensive players (and vice versa) have (o) for offense or (d) for defense next to their name.

Bob also mentioned that during camp, there would only be a 10-20 minute session for media to take photos and videos, and that no tweeting was allowed during camp for media members.  We were allowed to take notes during the no photo/video portions of practice.

Bob told me that after practice the media guidelines would be more flexible.  The only major rules were to stay within certain interviewing boundaries and not take any photos or video of players with their families without permission.

Before practice began, Bob introduced me to the vice president of media relations at training camp, Stacey James, as well as fellow media member Jim McBride.  I also had time to catch up with ESPN Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss, who I had met earlier in the week at Sports Broadcasting Camp.   I also met a friend of Bob’s, Steve Yood, along with his sons Alex and Josh.

Watching Practice from the Media Tent

Practice started about 5 minutes after we arrived at the media tent.  During practice, I also met Marc Cappello of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Josh Brogadir of WCVB, and Steve Atkinson of Boston Sports Extra.  They were surprised to see someone my age in the media tent.  Some of them told me what they did at my age and how they wished they had started earlier.

The Patriots practice began with some warm-ups.  The team stretched, jogged a little bit, and threw the ball around.  Afterwards they began a walk-through of some plays they would use later in 11 on 11 drills.

Positional drills began after the walk-through portion practice.  This was the portion of practice when the media photo and video session took place.  Offensive lineman competed 1 on 1 against defensive lineman, wide receivers caught balls from a receiving coach, and quarterbacks stayed together as well to take practice throws.  During this time, PK Stephen Gostkowski practiced field goals.  Here is some of my video coverage.

After the photo and video session ended, positional drills continued.  The QBs began throwing to the receivers directly.  Soon after that, they had the Pats secondary go 1 on 1 against receivers catching passes from QBs Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Danny Etling.  The Pats ran a few more offense vs. defense practice plays before starting the 11 on 11 drills.

The Patriots alternated personnel during the 11 on 11 drills with quarterbacks Brady and Hoyer getting most of the reps at QB .  Before practice ended, the Pats held a few more running drills on the hills around the field.  Then, for most of the team, practice ended.  A few guys, including Danny Etling, put in a little extra work after the full team practice.

Some of my Observations from Day 4 of Patriots Training Camp

Keep an eye out for Phillip Dorsett and Jacob Hollister

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WR Phillip Dorsett (#13) after catching a ball from the coach during positional drills

I kept a tally of Brady’s ball distribution during a couple of his drills, and his most frequent target during those drills was Dorsett.  Dorsett had an especially strong catch on a deep pass from Brady during the offensive walk-through.  Hollister had a nice jumping catch in the end zone that Brian Hoyer threw to him during 11 on 11 drills.

Patriots RBs could be a big part of the offense again this season

Brady wasn’t just throwing to receivers and tight ends today.  Brady, Hoyer, and Etling all participated in a drill where they threw short passes to RBs including James White and Pats 2018 2nd draft pick from the first round, Sony Michel.  Michel caught a short pass at the 30 yard line and took it to the house during 11 on 11 drills.

After practice, I was happy to see Meredith Gorman who I worked with last summer at the Boston Herald.  Meredith, now with Patriots.com, conducted a 1 on 1 interview with Michel.

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Meredith Gorman, who now works for patriots.com, interviewing rookie RB Sony Michel after practice

Great to see Julian Edelman back on the field

I enjoyed seeing Tom Brady connecting with WR Julian Edelman for the first time since Super Bowl LI.  Even though he is suspended for the first four games, Edelman missed the entire season last year and now he is back and seems ready to play and make more amazing catches like the one that most remember as “the catch” from the Pats 5th Super Bowl win.   Edelman looked like his old self out there making some good plays along with Pats newcomer WR Jordan Matthews.  Other pass catchers I liked seeing were TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Chris Hogan.  Gronk had a catch deep up the seam even though he was tightly covered, which is one reason Pats fans love watching him.

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Super Bowl LI “the catch” by Edelman

Brian Hoyer had some good end zone connections

I watched all 3 of the Pats quarterbacks perform today but the QB I was most impressed with was Brian Hoyer.  Hoyer made successful end zone connections on his first two passes, including a great throw to Jacob Hollister in the corner of the end zone.

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QBs Hoyer (2) and Etling (58) during practice
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Brian Hoyer after practice

 

Don’t Discount New England secondary

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Stephon Gilmore being interviewed after practice

Even though one of last year’s starting CB and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler signed with the Titans in the offseason, I still believe that Pats will have a good secondary.  For example, today I saw CB Stephon Gilmore break up several pass plays in 1 on 1 coverage against Julian Edelman, nearly intercepting one pass thrown by Tom Brady.  Rookie and Pats 2018 #3 draft pick CB Duke Dawson also came close to picking off Brady while covering Phillip Dorsett.

Trey Flowers was back at practice with bandage on forehead

Flowers returned to practice after leaving yesterday with an ice pack on his head.  In other injury news, Jordan Matthews left today’s practice with an unknown injury, and CB Keion Crossen (back) and RB Mike Gillislee (unknown) did not practice.  Bob Socci told me that WR Kenny Britt, CB Cyrus Jones, CB Jonathan Jones, and WR Matthew Slater were on the PUP list.  However, I did notice Britt participating in warm-ups.  According to the official training camp roster, WRs Darren Andrews and Cody Hollister are on the Reserve/NFI list.

After Practice: Media Session and Tour

After practice ended, Bob and I headed to the designated player interview zone.  I watched some of the interviews.  Bob Socci conducted a stand-up recap with Megan O’Brien as they discussed their own observations from the day.  Some of the topics he mentioned in the interview were things we talked about in the media tent together during the practice:

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Bob Socci and Megan O’Brien Day 4 Recap

James White, Sony Michel, RB Rex Burkhead, T Trent Brown, DE Derek Rivers, and QB Brian Hoyer were among those interviewed.  Although he didn’t stop for interviews, I did see Gronk walk by, as well as a few other players like Phillip Dorsett and Dont’a Hightower.  I also saw the McCourty twins with all their family on the field.  I think it is really cool that after many years on different teams they will now play on the same team and they seem to be enjoying camp together.

Nobody was interviewed at the podium today like Tom Brady was yesterday.  This area is primarily used for interviews with star players like Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

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The empty podium at practice today

In between and after the media interviews, I met some media members including Levan Reid of WBZ, Joe Gallant of WNRI (a radio station in Providence), and Megan O’Brien of Patriots.com.   I also said hello to patriots.com’s Meredith Gorman and the Boston Herald’s Meghan Ottolini.

After the post practice interviews were over, Bob took me inside Gillette Stadium so I could see the media area.  He showed me the TV studio where Patriots All Access is aired.  The studio was filled with football helmets on the shelves and Patriots logos all around.  Bob mentioned he hosts a show with Scott Zolak in the studio next door.  We also walked by the game day media workroom, the writing rooms for various newspapers and blogs, and the weekday press conference room which was the biggest room of them all.

In total, I spent about 4 hours with Bob today and feel like I learned so much about covering the Patriots.  In addition, I saw so much from the media’s point of view.  It was truly incredible and surreal at times.

I’d like to thank Bob Socci and Stacey James for making this experience possible for me.  I’d also like to thank all the media members who spent the time to talk to me and give me tips on sports reporting.

My 2018 NHL Playoff Bracket

I have finished my predictions for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here is my bracket:

The Bruins have a very tough road ahead. They will face a tough Maple Leafs team in the first round, and will likely see the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, another tough team. Their defensive struggles will definitely hurt them in the later rounds, especially if they face the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, or the dominant Nashville Predators. I do think the Bruins will win in the end though. If they can stay healthy from here, they have a lot of talent that is capable of keeping the offense going. The defense should be alright without Brandon Carlo, especially if Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and Torey Krug do well in the playoffs.

Here are some other notes about my bracket:

  • I have picked most of the higher seeds in the East besides the Bruins and Penguins. But in the West, I have picked several upsets. The Golden Knights were the league’s biggest surprise this year, but they are inexperienced in the playoffs, and regressed down the stretch after appearing to be the league’s best team in the early months. I think the Kings will give them a rude awakening and Vegas will struggle under pressure.
  • The Sharks will also go deep. I think they have a better roster than the Ducks and will outmatch them head to head. They will top the Kings, a lower seed after LA shocks the Golden Knights and advance to the Western Conference Finals. The Kings will win in Round 1, but do not expect them to go any further. But the Predators are too good for them. I also picked the Wilds over the Jets for similar reasons.
  • I think the Bruins would’ve been much easier off against the Devils. The Lightning will dominate in New Jersey. I think the Florida Panthers, who just missed the playoffs and a lot of other teams would have given their opponents a bigger challenge than the Devils.
  • In my opinion, although the higher seeds in the East will win in the 1st Round, lower seeds like the Maple Leafs, Flyers and Blue Jackets will give their opponents a good challenge. As I said earlier, I think the Devils will be the easiest first round opponent.

That’s all for my NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions. Stay tuned for more coverage.

Ranking The Teams 24-19: My Version: Teams That Will Struggles

Welcome to Part 2 of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Last time, I covered the bottom 6 teams.  I talked about what they did in the off-season, what the case for them this season is, and what their bright spot 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 next 6.  Some of these teams at least have a chance to contend, but things do not look great for them.  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.

 

24. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays

Off-Season Review

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The Rays are headed in a rebuilding direction.  I would be shocked to see them contend anytime in the next three years.  This off-season, they began their rebuild, trading away SP Jake Odorizzi, star 3B Evan Longoria, DH Corey Dickerson, and OF Steven Souza Jr.  They did acquire Denard Span in the Longoria trade to add outfield depth, which will be needed without Dickerson and Souza.  They also added veteran slugger and RF Carlos Gomez.  They brought in C.J. Cron to replace Corey Dickerson, the one dumb move they made during the off-season.

They could’ve just kept Dickerson or let a prospect take over at DH, but they had to bring in a new DH who was worse than Dickerson.  It shouldn’t even be considered rebuilding; Cron is practically the same age as Dickerson.  These moves will give key roles to younger players though.  3B Matt Duffy, SS Christian Arroyo, SS Willy Adames, OF Mallex Smith, and SP Jacob Faria are all in line to have a significant role this season.

The Case for the Rays

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The Rays have some nice pieces that could’ve led them to contend if they had held on to Odorizzi, Dickerson, and Longoria, but now they’ve made it clear that they’re ready to rebuild.  This year, the Rays will need to find younger guys to lead the rotation with Odorizzi gone.  They will start with a 4 man rotation but should hope to add a prospect in the #5 slot eventually.  Brent Honeywell is out of the picture; he is now recovering from Tommy John Surgery.  They will also need to find new leaders in the lineup with Evan Longoria gone.

The Strong Point

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Tampa Bay made some interesting moves last season that we now know were preparing them for a rebuild, and some of the guys they acquired have major league experience but are still young, and they could serve as mentors for even younger players this season.  SS Adeiny Hechavarria, OF Mallex Smith, and 3B Matt Duffy are among these guys.  They will help lead a relatively strong Rays lineup.  OF Carlos Gomez will also be a leader in this lineup.  The rotation still needs plenty of work during this rebuild, but the lineup is in a pretty good position, despite a need for a first baseman/DH alongside C.J. Cron that they failed to fulfill.

Best Case Scenario: The Rays find a pitcher to round out the rotation, and he helps another young Rays rotation dominate the league.  The Rays also do well at the plate, leading them just above .500.

Worst Case Scenario: The Rays cannot find a fifth man for their rotation, Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Faria struggle from the start, and a Rays 4 man rotation lacking depth falls apart by July.  Meanwhile, they cannot get anything better than decent out of the lineup, as guys like Hechavarria, Smith, and Duffy do not break out, and the Rays finish last in the American League.

Projected Finish: 70-92, 5th in AL East

 

23. Baltimore-Orioles-Logo Baltimore Orioles

Off-Season Review

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I was not so high on Baltimore in the making of my MLB predictions.  But they have since finished off their rotation by signing Alex Cobb, who could serve as their ace.  Cobb was the last big name starter left on the market.  They also resigned Chris Tillman and signed Andrew Cashner in order to at least pursue a respectable rotation after losing many starters to free agency.  They were also in talks with teams about Manny Machado, who’s in a contract year, but decided to hold onto him for now.  Their roster is looking better than it did before the late off-season moves they are known for.  But it’s still nothing more than mediocre.

The Case for the Orioles

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The Orioles have to decide what direction they are going in.  They have a nice roster but need a little more to contend.  That will be decided this season.  They will either sell at the deadline after early season disappointment, or they will add a couple key pieces after a decent start and head in an upward direction.  The O’s have a good lineup, and their new look rotation could surprise us, but it’s nothing extra special, and the team is getting old.  Adam Jones and Chris Davis are past their prime, Manny Machado is in a contract year, and the Orioles lack the young talent to take over.  Could it be time to rebuild?

The Strong Point

The Orioles have relied on their lineup over the years, but this year, I think their pitching is their strong point.  Their bullpen could still be great if they can get healthy, and the rotation looks much better with Cobb, Cashner, and Tillman on board.  Dylan Bundy will also be a factor.  Their lineup is getting older and declining, but despite questioning what direction they should be going in, the Orioles have really made some nice upgrades to their pitching staff.  But will they pay off?

Best Case Scenario: The O’s new look rotation takes the league by storm, Chris Davis bounces back to lead Baltimore’s lineup, and the Orioles head in an upward direction and contend for a wild-card slot.

Worst Case Scenario: The bullpen is plagued by injuries, the rotation and lineup are no better than average, and the Orioles are forced to enter rebuild mode.

My Prediction: 73-89, 4th in AL East

 

22. philadelphia.phillies Philadelphia Phillies

Off-Season Review

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The Phillies are another team that has improved since my early March MLB predictions.  They signed Jake Arrieta to serve as the ace to a young, but improving rotation.  They could have added a veteran outfielder to fill in if their younger guys struggle, but the Phillies need to establish their new core post-rebuild.  Relying on veterans is not what they want to be doing too much unless they’re 100% ready to contend and want to add a star player, which is not quite the case yet.  They did sign 1B Carlos Santana though, moving Rhys Hoskins to the outfield and trading Tommy Joseph.

The Case for the Phillies

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The Phillies are getting ready to contend in coming years after a rebuild.  Now that they have filled the roster with young talent, it’s time to find out who will lead them.  That all depends on who breaks out this year.  Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, and Aaron Nola are potential candidates.  I do think it is good that they have started to add veterans though because they will need to surround their young talent with elite, experienced players in order to reach the playoffs in coming years.

The Strong Point

The Phillies have a pretty consistent lineup that does not have any major holes, and that really helps in an MLB that can be very streaky.  They have a lot of strong players that full out their lineup, but no breakout stars yet, which is what they need.  I personally think that by the end of this season, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, or someone else in the Phillies lineup will emerge as a breakout star and carry the team in coming years.

Best Case Scenario: Many of Philly’s young stars breakout, their rotation improves as Jake Arrieta, Jerad Eickhoff, and Aaron Nola make a great trio while Vince Velasquez also makes major contributions, and the Phillies finish 2nd or 3rd in a relatively weak NL East.

Worst Case Scenario: Arrieta and the Phillies rotation bust, the lineup is nothing more than mediocre, and the Phillies don’t get any better, finishing with just below 70 wins.

Projected Finish: 71-91, 4th in NL East

 

21. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals

Off-Season Review

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The Royals were planning to rebuild after losing much of their core to free agency.  But they brought back both 3B Mike Moustakas and SS Alcides Escobar in the end.  They also signed CF Jon Jay and 1B Lucas Duda to replace Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain.  They still aren’t the same team they were a couple years back though.  If they were still attempting to contend, they would’ve added another starting pitcher and they would have held on to DH Brandon Moss.

The Case for the Royals

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The Royals were planning to rebuild, but I think their decision to keep their lineup pretty much the same implies that guys like Hunter Dozier and Cheslor Cuthbert might not be MLB ready yet.  The Royals need a couple years before they’ll be able to successfully rebuild. But in the meantime, they’re not making any long-term investments, so you shouldn’t expect more than mediocracy from them.

The Strong Point

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The Royals have no plans to be legitimate contenders, but their lineup is underrated.  I don’t know why people think their lineup is old and washed up.  I could see Alcides Escobar bouncing back for a half decent season.  Mike Moustakas is still elite.  He may be frustrated back in KC, but if he’s not elite, why were other contending teams making such a big push for him?  There were other options.  Yunel Escobar and J.J. Hardy are still free agents.  At this point, they are unlikely to be signed.  Moose was picked over those two, who are decent players.  Lucas Duda and Jon Jay can hit too, although it’s been a while since they were in their prime.

Best Case Scenario: Escobar and Alex Gordon bounce back for strong seasons, Moose, Duda and Jay do well in the lineup as well as young 2B Whit Merrifield, and the Royals finish just above .500 after strong hitting and decent pitching.

Worst Case Scenario: The Royals lineup collapses, Moose, Gordon, and Escobar want out, and the Royals are forced to rush prospects to the majors in order to prevent the Royals from falling due to a bad decision/unwillingness for change.  The prospects then struggle due to needing more time to develop, and the Royals collapse, finishing last in the division, with below 70 wins.

Note: The Royals are one of those teams that will be very hard to predict this season.

Projected Finish: 73-89, 3rd in AL Central

 

20. Toronto_Blue_Jays Toronto Blue Jays

Off-Season Review

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The Blue Jays had a very interesting off-season.  It’s almost like the Jays are rebuilding without overhauling, which is a unique way to do things.  Rather than trading Josh Donaldson or even Troy Tulowitzki, and completely emptying out all the vets on their roster, they just made a few good decisions that will help them get younger.  They let OF Jose Bautista walk, which was good after his 2017 decline, but they brought in OF Randal Grichuk in a trade.  Grichuk is a younger option for them who is also a viable starter, so it works out.

They also brought in Curtis Granderson to platoon with younger outfielders like Dalton Pompey.  But they’re still holding on to Tulo and Donaldson for another year to give prospects Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. more time.  They also acquired young infielder Yangervis Solarte from San Diego to assist in that job.  They signed a couple good relievers as well, just so they could have a full bullpen.

The Case for the Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have managed to hold on to a decent MLB ready roster while still rebuilding, and I think it’s a very good idea that will keep them close to contention throughout their rebuild.  But it’s nearly impossible to rebuild and contend at the same time, so the Blue Jays won’t be anything more than decent until they are fully rebuilt.  This approach will get them there quickly though.  It will be like nobody even noticed their rebuild due to their fast execution.  The future is bright.

The Strong Point

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The lineup in Toronto is nothing more than decent right now, although they have a nice core between Josh Donaldson, Kendrys Morales, and Justin Smoak.  But the rotation is their real strength.  They don’t really have an ace, but many of their pitchers could emerge as an ace and are pretty good despite inconsistency.  Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ have all had good stretches.  They just need to remain healthy and consistent, which is the difficult part.

Best Case Scenario: The mix of youth and experience in the Jays lineup thrives, the rotation takes the league by storm, and the Blue Jays finish as a close third to the Red Sox and Yankees despite missing the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is plagued by inconsistency and injuries and the lineup’s older players struggle, forcing prospects up early.  The Blue Jays find themselves in a pickle with both veterans and prospects struggling and finish right around 70 wins.

Projected Finish: 76-86, 3rd in AL East

 

19. texas-rangers Texas Rangers

Off-Season Review

The Rangers need to make up their mind.  Are they rebuilding, or are they contending?  They went out and signed Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon, Matt Moore, Mike Minor, Jon Niese, and Tim Lincecum to compete for rotation slots but ended up releasing Colon and Niese after they only made the roster older.  The rotation will now look something like this, and I still can’t tell you if this will be accurate:

  1. Cole Hamels LHP
  2. Doug Fister LHP
  3. Martin Perez LHP
  4. Matt Moore LHP
  5. Tim Lincecum RHP

I put Lincecum in there over Minor so they could at least have one RHP in the rotation.  Jesse Chavez could also occupy that role.  But they also declined to sign an outfielder or a 1B/DH, implying that they might consider a rebuild.  They did add 3B Trevor Plouffe and 1B Tommy Joseph though.  This is a very confusing team.  They don’t even know for sure where guys are starting for them.  Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, and Adrian Beltre could all play third, first or DH.  The Rangers have gotten younger, but if they want to rebuild, why did they sign five veteran starters, and why did they hold on to their veterans like Adrian Beltre?

The Case for the Rangers

The Rangers are one of the hardest MLB teams to predict this year.  They could dominate or be terrible.  They have the tools to contend but also face the risk of holding on to the wrong veterans and collapsing.  This season is all about choosing a direction.  If they do well early, they’ll get what they need at the deadline and make a run.  If not, they’ll likely sell Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, and other veterans in a rebuilding effort.  They did not make it easy for themselves to choose a direction.  They could very well end up stuck in the middle if they decline to choose.

The Strong Point

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The Rangers still have a lot of power hitters.  Big hitters Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus will lead this lineup alongside younger sluggers like Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo.  If Beltre and Andrus stay elite, you can still expect a lot of dingers and big hits in Texas.  Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo are also strong hitters who are very familiar in Texas.

Best Case Scenario: The new look rotation actually does surprisingly well, the lineup continues to thrive as usual, and the Rangers finish above .500, placing 2nd or 3rd in the AL West.

Worst Case Scenario: The Rangers decline, as the older players on the team struggle, and the Rangers are forced to rebuild.

Projected Finish: 74-88, 4th in AL West

 

That’s all for Part 2.  Stay tuned for Part 3 coming soon.  On a side note, I am proud to announce that we have reached the 4 year anniversary of this blog.  I have come a long way, writing 534 posts in 4 years.  In that time, I have received almost 20000 views and almost 300 followers.  I will be posting more about that later today.

 

 

Super Bowl LII Video Preview

 

Welcome to the final article in my series of Super Bowl LII previews.  Today, I have summed it all up in my video preview.  I was going to make an iMovie trailer as well but was not able to finish as I spent the day preparing for the big game.

Here is my schedule for the series.  Articles that already up include links to the article.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance 

Friday, Feb. 2Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Sunday, Feb. 4: Super Bowl LII Video Preview 

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

 

Below is my final preview of the game, in video form.

I hope you all have a great Super Bowl Sunday, whether are throwing the Super Bowl party of the century or just enjoying the game with your family.  Who do you think will come out on top?  Make your prediction in my Instagram contest (My username is andrewr.1008).