2018 NFL Week 9 Picks & Previews: Contenders Keep Going with Close Wins

Welcome to my Week 9 NFL Picks & Previews.  Last week I went 7-7, putting my overall record at 68-51-2 (69-51-2 including Week 9 TNF).  I am ahead of 3 ESPN experts and 1 CBS Sports expert.  Look for a lot of the borderline contenders to prove themselves this week with important wins.  I think the Ravens will shut down the Steelers for the 2nd time this year, the Vikings will silence the Lions, and the Chargers will dominate the 4-3 Seahawks coming off the bye week.  The Chargers had put a 4-game win streak together prior to the bye.  Although some of these contenders will win, some will be upset. Who will fall in a shocking upset?  Who will remain elite?  Keep reading to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week

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Expect LA’s explosive offense to embarrass the young Seattle D in a blowout.  With WR Brandon Marshall a free agent, QB Russell Wilson will also struggle to find reliable open men.  Meanwhile, QB Philip Rivers will lead the Chargers to a blowout victory with 4+ TD.  

Upset of the Week

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I don’t think WR Amari Cooper will make much of a difference for QB Dak Prescott and the troubled Dallas pass offense.  Their big week against Jacksonville is a sign of big things to come, but it won’t happen this week as Tennessee’s secondary steps it up.  The Titans will bounce back from a rough October with a triumphant Monday Night victory coming off the bye as they shock the Cowboys in their first home loss of the season.  

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter on Thursday Night; Actual Score: 34-3 49ers)

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Even with their third-string QB starting, I think this young 49ers offense can put together a big game considering how bad the Oakland D has been without DE Khalil Mack.  Oakland’s season will begin to fall apart despite looking okay on offense.  I don’t think they will win many more games with RB Marshawn Lynch out and WR Amari Cooper gone.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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QB Brock Osweiler somehow led for the Dolphins to victory in Week 7.  But I don’t see him winning against the Jets elite secondary.  Expect multiple interceptions here, even on Osweiler’s home turf.  QB Sam Darnold will step it up to secure a Jets victory on the road.  QB Ryan Tannehill spoiled New York’s home opener.  Darnold will look for revenge with Tannehill injured for the third straight game.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for Chicago’s defense to lead them to victory against another banged-up AFC East team in the Bills.  Buffalo will have to settle for Nathan Peterman at QB, although they did add another weapon in Terrelle Pryor Jr. for him.  I think Peterman will look better than usual and make this close, but there’s no way he leads the Bills to victory against this Bears defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Pittsburgh was starting to look alright without RB Le’Veon Bell.  But there’s no way they get past this versatile Ravens run defense without their star running back.  This will make it hard for Pittsburgh to outscore Baltimore.  I don’t see the Steelers defense performing any better than usual against this deep Ravens receiving corps.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Against a rebuilding Browns defense, QB Patrick Mahomes II should be dominant as usual.  I could even see him throwing 4 TD in this game. The Chiefs defense will slip a little against QB Baker Mayfield and an improved Cleveland offense, but Mahomes’ field day will be enough for them here.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for the Redskins to play complimentary football here in an all-around strong game.  They will utilize their versatile roster as they win at home. Atlanta’s washed-up defense will also struggle to contain QB Alex Smith’s deep receiving corps.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for serious regression from Detroit’s offense as they face one of the league’s best defenses without WR Golden Tate.  I have the Vikes holding them under 10 here. QB Kirk Cousins and his receivers won’t look much better, but they should manage to get by.  Don’t expect many more losses by the Vikes either. With RB Dalvin Cook healthy, things should be smooth sailing.  They’ve really only had one concerning loss this whole season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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QB Cam Newton and the Panthers offense should ride the momentum they gathered in Week 8 to beat the Bucs in Carolina.  They should not be concerned about facing a Buccaneers D that has struggled all season. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be enough to lead Tampa to victory here as Carolina shuts down Tampa’s run game.  That puts a lot of pressure on Fitzpatrick, which could cause him to struggle.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

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Houston will struggle offensively, as WR Demaryius Thomas doesn’t provide much of an upgrade over WR Will Fuller.  Plus, Denver’s secondary knows Thomas very well and will be able to shut him down. The Broncos will edge out a victory in a low scoring game as WR Courtland Sutton steps it up with Thomas flipping sides.  Don’t expect much scoring though. This is a battle of two of the AFC’s best defenses.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

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The Rams will stay undefeated with a road win over New Orleans.  Their elite defense will come ready to shut down QB Drew Brees, RB Alvin Kamara and the Saints offense.  Even with WR Cooper Kupp back, the Rams won’t be at full speed on offense. But they should get past the Saints thanks to elite defense and a last minute, victory-securing TD.  
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

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If RB Sony Michel and TE Rob Gronkowski are healthy, this will be a blowout.  Otherwise, it could be close.  QB Aaron Rodgers will struggle to find open men here, as the Patriots secondary will keep Rodgers’ small number of dependable receivers well covered.  The Pats offense will be back to dominance if they have Gronk and Michel.  But after New England’s hiccup without them last week, I don’t think the offense would be the same without them.  I think they will be able to play, but I’m not an injury expert. Either way, New England should win and remain undefeated at home.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for more NFL posts soon, including my mid-season report (I usually post it after Week 8, but have delayed it until after Week 9 to the chaotic playoff picture we have right now).  Hopefully, Week 9 will settle some things.

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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.

 

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 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

Each year since 2014, David Schoenfield has ranked all 30 teams in tiers during the preseason.  For the fourth year straight, I am creating my own version.  Throughout the week, I will be posting my rankings.  However, I started a little late this year due to the MLB’s slow off-season.  Today they start with the bottom 6.

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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?

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Saturday, March 24: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Saturday, March 24: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

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

 

 

30. miami-marlins Miami Marlins

Off-Season Review

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The Marlins underwent a complete overhaul this off-season.  They traded four key pieces from their lineup last year: Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon.  Those guys were leaders for the Marlins.  They could have gone on to contend with that group, but after no success making the playoffs in recent years, they decided to fully rebuild.  Rather than signing a couple pitchers and going for an NL East title, they decided not to sign too many pitchers and to make the series of trades they made.  In these trades, they added members of their future core, such as Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, and Magneuris Sierra.  They also acquired Starlin Castro to play second and signed a veteran or two including Cameron Maybin to be placeholders in the new look outfield.  These trades further advanced teams like the Yankees, Cardinals, and Brewers as well.

The Case for the Marlins

The Marlins have no intention of contending in 2018.  This year, expect to see veteran placeholders make up the lineup alongside their more seasoned prospects like J.T. Riddle and Lewis Brinson.  In the meantime, the Marlins will be getting their next generation of players ready to play at a big league level.  Starlin Castro was only acquired as a veteran mentor, don’t think he’s a sign that the Marlins aren’t ready to rebuild yet.  They are in full rebuild mode.  But did they rebuild too early?  Could they be contending down the stretch rather than sitting in the basement of the NL East, waiting for their prospects to further develop, and carrying around a bunch of older veterans who are past their prime?

The Bright Spot

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The Marlins may have overhauled most of their lineup, but they still have a couple strong pieces in catcher J.T. Realmuto and first baseman Justin Bour.  Their lineup will remain their strong point in 2018, especially the very core of it.  Their rotation needs work.  They may have a couple good pitchers, but they need to find guys within their system who can lead the next generation of pitching in Miami.  They have plenty of hitting/fielding prospects already making their way towards the majors.

Best Case Scenario: The veterans Miami has signed are consistent and show signs that they still have what it takes to be as successful as they were earlier in their career, and Miami’s prospects get called up quickly and thrive in the majors, leading the Marlins just over 70 wins in Year 1 of a rebuild.

Worst Case Scenario: Miami’s top prospects struggle at the major league level, and their veteran leaders fail to find momentum, as the Marlins lose 100+ games.

Projected Finish: 64-98, 5th in NL East

 

29. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox

Off-Season Review

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As they plan to let a strong group of prospects lead the team in 2018, the White Sox were relatively quiet this off-season.  They added Wellington Castillo after several young catchers failed them, and they added a few guys to their bullpen.  They also signed Hector Santiago to top off the rotation.  But for the most part, they are happy with their young roster.  Sure, they could’ve added a veteran leader in the outfield or at third, or even added a new ace, but they can manage with the roster they have, especially if their younger players begin to break out.

The Case for the White Sox

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After a rebuild, the White Sox are ready to take steps back towards contention.  They will start off slow, but they will improve over the next few years, slowly but surely.  Guys like 2B Yoan Moncada, SS Tim Anderson, and CF Adam Engel are hoping to have strong seasons and help lead the team.  Meanwhile, guys like Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, and Lucas Giolito are looking to make an impact at the big league level.  This year will be about finding young leaders to help lead the team in the future alongside veteran 1B Jose Abreu.  I could see Giolito and Engel having strong seasons.

The Bright Spot

It’s younger players who are looking to become the new faces of the team.  But in the meantime, the White Sox have some strong veteran leaders.  Expect Jose Abreu to build upon a strong season.  I could also see James Shields bouncing back to lead the pitching staff and become a mentor for young pitchers like Kopech and Giolito.  Also, keep an eye out for younger breakout players.  Who do you think will emerge as a star on the White Sox in 2018?

Best Case Scenario: Chicago’s strong group of prospects are successful in the majors very quickly and lead the White Sox to a decent year in the AL Central alongside their veteran influences, who have very strong seasons.  In this scenario, they would come in 3rd over Kansas City and Detroit.

Worst Case Scenario: Jimenez, Kopech, and others fail to succeed at the major league level, and Abreu and Shields begin to decline quickly as the White Sox crumble.

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

 

28. detroit-tigers Detroit Tigers

Off-Season Review

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The Tigers started off 2017 expecting to contend.  But injuries and old age caught up with them, and they ended up trading away their older players and heading into rebuild mode.  They still held onto Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, and Victor Martinez though.  Those four will mentor the younger players taking over, like Jeimer Candelario and Dixon Machado.  They could’ve used another veteran infielder, but instead, Candelario and Machado will start full time, and the only major free agent signings by Detroit were signing OF Leonys Martin and SP Mike Fiers, both of which they got done much earlier in the off-season than most of the free agent signings occurred.  Meanwhile, veterans Jordan Zimmermann, Francisco Liriano, and Mike Fiers, as well as younger starters Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris, will headline the new look rotation.

The Case for the Tigers

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The Tigers don’t have any blatant holes on their roster, but their roster lacks upside.  They have a lot of average players, but no clear superstar.  Even Miguel Cabrera’s numbers have taken a dip from dominant to average.  The question is, can Miggy rebound and lead this young team in 2018?  The Tigers will need someone to step it up and emerge as a true leader.  They have a good amount of veteran mentors, but nobody who can carry the team.  Who will break out and emerge as a star for them?

The Bright Spot

Like I said, it’s hard to name one leader or bright spot on this mediocre team, and mediocre teams with a lack of a leader and few experienced players are known to struggle.  I see Miggy and Victor Martinez rebounding for strong seasons and emerging as leaders.  Once the Tigers can find themselves a leader, they could be going places, as the younger players follow in their footsteps and help bring the Tigers back to the playoffs a couple years down the road.

Best Case Scenario: Detroit’s young roster gets off to a hot start, the well-balanced rotation thrives and Miguel Cabrera bounces back to lead the team as the Tigers jump right back into third place in Year 2 of a rebuild.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation cannot find an identity, Detroit’s younger players struggle and disappoint, Miggy continues to struggle, and nobody else steps up to lead as they end up in the American League basement.

Projected Finish: 69-93, 4th in AL Central

 

27. pittsburgh-pirates Pittsburgh Pirates

Off-Season Review

In 2016 and 2017, the Pirates found themselves stuck in the middle.  They had a strong, but declining lineup and a rotation that was beginning to collapse.  This off-season, they made a definitive choice to begin a rebuild, and they started by trading Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, their best hitter and their best pitcher.  After that, their off-season was very quiet, and Spring Training will be focused on getting their young prospects ready to play every day in the MLB.  They got some of those prospects as a return from the Astros (who acquired Cole) and the Giants (who acquired Cutch).  That group includes RHP Kyle Crick, RHP Joe Musgrove, and 3B Colin Moran.

The Case for the Pirates

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The Pirates have made it clear what direction they’re headed in, and they will not contend in 2018.  They have some nice pieces that will help them alongside their top prospects in the coming years, but right now, the veterans are just there to keep the Pirates playing at a major league level (at the very least).  In the meantime, the Pirates will focus on getting their prospects ready.  Expect to see a lot of Austin Meadows, Colin Moran, Jordan Luplow, Josh Bell, Bryce Brentz and Max Moroff in the Pirates lineup.  All those guys are potential leaders for the next generation in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, their biggest need is a successful young pitcher.  They have yet to find one, but as soon as they do, expect to see him up in the majors getting a chance to prove himself.  The Pirates still have a decent lineup, so if they can get a few young hitters ready and fix up their rotation, expect to see them back in the playoffs in a few years.

The Bright Spot

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The Pirates still have a great group of guys in the outfield.  Not only do the Pirates have some good defense out there, but these guys will continue to lead the Pirates lineup.  Despite trading away Cutch, they have brought in Corey Dickerson, another power hitting outfielder to replace him.  They also have plenty of prospects who will see time back there including top prospect Austin Meadows.  Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco will also continue to serve as leaders on this team.  Their rotation may need work, and the infield has yet to find their starting mix, but this Pirates outfield is all set.

Best Case Scenario: Pittsburgh’s prospects crack the majors and make an impact quickly, Polanco and Marte continue to serve as leaders and mentors, and the young rotation looks a little better as the Pirates get right above the 70-win line.

Worst Case Scenario: Injuries and struggles plague the Pirates rotation, Pittsburgh’s veterans decline, and the prospects are forced to lead the team and fail to handle the pressure as Pittsburgh collapses in Year 1 of their rebuild.

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

 

26. san diego-padres San Diego Padres

Off-Season Review

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Last season I said the Padres were in a horrific rebuild after making a mistake in signing a bunch of veterans past their prime to lead the 2016 team and some of you disagreed, saying that the Padres have talent that will anchor their next generation.  Whoever said that is correct because now that the Padres have gotten their top prospects MLB ready, they are ready to take steps back toward contention mode.  Manuel Margot and Fernando Tatis Jr. are some of the young guns who can help lead this team, and the Padres have added a couple veterans to further boost the roster.

They may have made the biggest signing of the off-season when they added 1B Eric Hosmer.  They also acquired SS Freddy Galvis and 3B Chase Headley (who was here to start his MLB career) after giving up infielder Yangervis Solarte.  Wil Myers will also continue to be a veteran mentor as he returns to the outfield.  He will allow San Diego’s younger outfielders to platoon, and they will not be pressured to perform like everyday starters.

The Case for the Padres

After a brief rebuild, the Padres are headed back in an upward direction.  But legitimate playoff contention will take a year or two.  This year, their young roster will continue to develop as their veterans lead the team in an upward direction.  Once guys like Carlos Asuaje and 19-year old prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. are ready to contend alongside Hosmer, Myers, and co., the Padres will be going places.

The Bright Spot

In my opinion, Hosmer will emerge as a leader, star, and mentor on his new team.  With the Royals, Hosmer was never a sole leader or the face of the team, but he was on the brink of stardom as he continued to thrive in Kansas City.  In San Diego, he will emerge as one of the league’s premium position players as he leads the team and emerges as a superstar.  He is already an All-Star Game regular, but he hasn’t received the love and respect he deserves.  Now that he’s arguably the best player on his new team, he will completely breakout, and the league will recognize that.

Best Case Scenario: With an upgraded, well-balanced roster, the Padres will get off to a fast start and compete in the NL West.  However, in what’s arguably the toughest division in the league, they will not see the playoffs quite yet.

Worst Case Scenario: San Diego’s prospects disappoint in their first years, and the Padres fail to find leaders and mentors in their veterans, which will further affect the young guns as the Padres end up in dead last after they cannot handle the pressure of their division.

Projected Finish: 69-93, 5th in NL West

 

25. oakland-a's Oakland Athletics

Off-Season Review

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Oakland did not do much this off-season, as many of their younger players are finally ready to become everyday players.  But they did make a few moves to enhance the roster.  They added young OF Stephen Piscotty to take some pressure off rookie CF Dustin Fowler.  Now Boog Powell and Jake Smolinski will be able to back Fowler up.  They also signed SP Trevor Cahill when Jharel Cotton lost his 2018 season to Tommy John Surgery.  Now the rotation will look something like this:

  1. Kendall Graveman RHP
  2. Sean Manaea LHP
  3. Andrew Triggs RHP
  4. Trevor Cahill RHP
  5. Paul Blackburn/Daniel Mendgen*

* A.J. Puk could eventually snag this rotation slot

Other than that, Oakland was pretty quiet this off-season, and it will not hurt them.  They didn’t need to do much to keep the roster in good shape.  But they will not contend yet.  That all depends on when guys like Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and A.J. Puk breakout.

The Case for the Athletics

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Like I said, the A’s are on the brink of contention, but they need a breakout star or two first.  They have a lot of great young pieces, and they are headed in an upward direction now.  They have a home run hitter too.  But they need a couple younger players to lead the A’s if they want to get back to the playoffs.  I don’t care who.  It could be Matt Olson, Sean Manaea, Matt Chapman, Andrew Triggs, anyone.  I could personally see Manaea or Triggs breaking through, and I also like Olson and Chapman.  A.J. Puk is also a breakout candidate.  Although I do not have the Athletics contending this year, they could be in a great position by Opening Day 2019.

The Bright Spot

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The A’s may not be contending yet, but if they can combine rotation and lineup consistency with the power hitting core they already have, they can make a run at the playoffs.  Khris Davis was one of the Top 5 HR hitters of 2017 (the top three are now all part of the AL East).  Yes, only Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and J.D. Martinez hit more.  I see Davis repeating this over the next couple years, and combining that with Oakland’s flurry of young talent on the brink of a breakout could make for great things.  The future is very bright in Oakland.

Best Case Scenario: Davis continues to keep up with the best in the power-hitting department, many of Oakland’s younger players break through, and the A’s jump right back into contention with a record around .500, putting them in great shape for 2019.

Worst Case Scenario: Davis drops off, the rotation is plagued by injuries, and nobody emerges as a leader/star as the A’s disappoint and bore many in 2018.

Projected Finish: 68-94, 5th in AL West*

Note: Although I see a lot of potential here, they need to prove themselves before I can rank them too much higher.

 

That’s all for this article.  Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon.  I will also have my preseason Baseball Bits up before the regular season begins next week.  On a side note, I was unable to finish my March Madness previews, but my bracket is busted anyway, and you can click here for my second chance picks.  Also, stay tuned for my update on NFL free agency.

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

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

(6) Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles (1)

Saturday: 4:35 PM EST on NBC

Eagles, 37, Falcons, 30

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

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

Saturday: 8:15 PM EST on CBS

Patriots, 31, Titans, 23

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

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

(3) Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2)

Sunday: 1:05 PM EST on CBS

Jaguars, 27, Steelers, 23

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

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

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

Sunday: 4:40 PM EST on FOX

Vikings, 37, Saints, 33

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

 

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

NFL Playoffs: Bracket and Wild Card Weekend Picks

Welcome to my NFL playoff predictions and Wild Card picks. I finished the regular season with a 150-108 record. Below are my wild card weekend picks. How will I do this week? Keep reading and comment with your thoughts.

Before we begin, I’m going to reveal my playoff bracket:

I have the Patriots topping the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. A lot of people have said the Vikings will make the Super Bowl in their home stadium. If they did that, they would be practically invincible. But I think RB Todd Gurley will lead the Rams past them in Minnesota, and the Rams will fall short in Philly, allowing Philly to advance to Super Bowl LII, losing to New England.

Now here are my picks for this week:

(5) Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs (4)

Saturday: 4:35 PM EST on ESPN

Titans, 30, Chiefs, 27

Titans QB Marcus Mariota and his group of versatile receivers will be dominant against the Chiefs secondary, who is still without S Eric Berry. But the Chiefs will make it close. They will shut down Titans running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and they will be competitive offensively. WR Tyreek Hill will outsmart the young Titans secondary, as well as star TE Travis Kelce. But in the end, Mariota will lead the Titans to victory, as the Chiefs fall just short.

(6) Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams (3)

Saturday: 8:15 PM EST on NBC

Rams, 31, Falcons, 23

Atlanta will fall short in LA. RB Todd Gurley will overtire the Falcons front seven in a dominant game. QB Jared Goff will also do well, tossing a trio of touchdowns. The Rams defense will also help, shutting down Atlanta’s running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. WR Julio Jones will have a good game, but it will not be enough in Los Angeles.

(6) Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars (3)

Sunday: 1:05 PM EST on CBS

Jaguars, 31, Bills, 26

The Jaguars defense will dominate here, slowing down a strong group of Bills receivers with their young, elite secondary. They will also slow down star running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy. The Jaguars will also contribute offensively although QB Blake Bortles will be under a lot of pressure. RB Leonard Fournette will do well against the Bills defensive front though, and Jacksonville’s young receivers will outdo the Bills stingy secondary.

(5) Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints (4)

Sunday: 4:40 PM EST on FOX

Saints, 30, Panthers, 19

QB Drew Brees and his versatile receivers will lead the Saints to victory here. They will dominate against the young, inexperienced Carolina secondary although the tough Panthers front seven will shut down the Saints RB duo. But the New Orleans defense will also do well, overwhelming QB Cam Newton, shutting down the strong Carolina run game, and holding Carolina to just one TD. The Saints defense has significantly improved since last season. They support the dominant offense, and that will bring New Orleans a successful playoff run as they win here at home.

That’s all for my playoff Predictions and wild card picks. Check back next week for my updated divisional round picks. In addition, stay tuned for my predictions on where the top free agents and players on the trade block will land. I will also be releasing more recaps on the Patriots and my middle school’s basketball teams, so check back soon.

Pats Stun Pittsburgh and Steal Win

With 8 minutes left in the game, the Pats were down by eight points, and I was losing hope.  I don’t know how they won.  They had a nice drive going, but Pats QB Tom Brady was sacked, and they were held to a field goal.  Then they took a 27-24 lead in a 2-minute drill by scoring a TD and a 2-point conversion.  But they left 1-minute for the Steelers.  They almost blew it.  On the first play with 52 seconds left, the Pats couldn’t get their hands on Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster on a short pass over the middle as he escaped tacklers and scurried down the field for 69 yards.  On the next play, TE Jesse James scored a TD on a pass up the middle diving into the end zone.  But video replay reversed the call.  2 plays later with no timeouts left and about 15 seconds left, Big Ben faked the spike and then tried to force a pass up the middle.  Eric Rowe deflected it right into the hands of Harmon, stunning the Steelers, and stealing the win

The Patriots won in comeback fashion in what was arguably the game of the year, as the Pats beat Pittsburgh 27-24.  You could argue that there was no tangible evidence to overturn the Steelers last-minute touchdown but the resilience the Pats showed leading up to the play, they deserved a call in their favor.  It all started on New England’s first drive.

QB Tom Brady and WR Brandin Cooks tried to set the tone early as Brady threw Cooks a 43-yard pass that brought the Patriots into the red zone within the first five minutes of the game.  RB Rex Burkhead ran in for the TD and the Pats took the early 7-0 lead.

Image result for brandin cooks 43 yard catch vs steelers

But the Steelers weren’t about to let New England win easy.  Using the Patriots’ defensive weaknesses to their advantage, they marched down the field and responded with an 18 yard TD of their own, tying the game at 7.

The Steelers didn’t stop there.  In the next drive, their defense thrived, sacking Tom Brady and forcing them to punt.  Led by a 39-yard Martavis Bryant reception, they had another big drive following that.  But after Bryant’s nice catch, the Pats were at least able to hold Pittsburgh to a field goal.  It was now 10-7 Steelers as Chris Boswell made a 51-yard field goal.  But Steelers superstar WR Antonio Brown had hurt his calf, and he was taken to the hospital.

Image result for antonio brown injury

The Pats countered with another big play drive, this time a 31-yard catch by Pats TE Rob Gronkowski and the Pats were able to tie it up again at 10.   This was just one of two catches Gronk made in the 1st half, but he made a huge impact in the 2nd half.  But before the half, the Steelers were able to score 1 more TD, while also preventing a Patriots double score opportunity as their drive burned most of the 2nd quarter clock.  The Steelers clock-eating drives were led by star RB Le’Veon Bell, who dominated against the depleted Pats front seven.  They did not slow down even with Brown out of the game.  The Pats would get the ball in the 2nd half but would have to do so without RB Rex Burkhead who was knocked out of the game with a knee injury.

Image result for leveon bell vs pats

The Pats began the 2nd half with a strong drive as Brandin Cooks scored a touchdown after Gronk began to make a bigger impact.  But they missed the extra point which put them down by one 17-16.  After they shut the Steelers down, the Pats were ready to score again.  But Tom Brady was intercepted early in the drive.  Le’Veon Bell led the Steelers into the end zone quickly, and the Pats were now down by eight, 24-16.

As the 4th quarter began, the Steelers had the ball, and they began to eat up a lot of time as they tried to hold off the Patriots.  They held onto the ball for the first 7 minutes of the 4th quarter, leaving the Pats down by eight with just 8 minutes to come back.  In their first drive of the 4th quarter, they started off strong.  Gronk almost caught a 23-yard pass and the Steelers were penalized for clear pass interference.  However, Brady got sacked on third down after a pair of incompletions, and they were held to a field goal.

It wasn’t over though.  The Pats shut down the Steelers on the next drive with the only 3 and out for either team and got the ball back with a little over two minutes to go.  If they could successfully complete this 2-minute drill for a TD, they could secure a victory.  They marched down the field, as Gronk caught three straight passes for a total of 69 yards.  You could argue that his final catch was almost as good as WR Julian Edelman’s catch in Super Bowl LI.  Gronk just barely saved the ball before it hit the ground.

Image result for rob gronkowski vs steelers 2017

RB Dion Lewis ran it in for the touchdown, but New England scored too fast going 77 yards in 1:10.  They needed to go for the 2-point conversion to take a 3-point lead and at the very least hold Pittsburgh to a field goal and head into overtime.  Brady tossed it to Gronk for the conversion.  Gronk finished the 2nd half with 7 receptions for 135 yards, making a huge impact.  The Steelers had a little under a minute to respond.

The Steelers were confident that they could still win it, and Big Ben completed one 69-yard pass to WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.  As the Pats couldn’t get their hands on Smith-Schuster, the Steelers were able to do what the Pats did in three passes in just one big play.  The Steelers then scored with what was ruled a touchdown by TE Jesse James.  But the call was reversed, giving hope to all the Patriots fans out there, including me.  Two plays later, Big Ben tried to throw a TD again, but this time, he was picked off by Duron Harmon!  The Pats had done it again!

Image result for juju smith schuster vs pats

A couple minutes earlier, I had thought the Pats were done, and I was hoping they could hold on to the 3rd seed.  But now they lead the AFC after a stunning comeback victory.

There were two huge plays that secured the Pats their current #1 seed edge showing #1 seed confidence under tough road pressure in Pittsburgh.  Without the 2-point conversion, Pittsburgh would’ve likely won on a field goal after Smith-Schuster’s catch and run play.  The Pats held on with a great goal-line interception by Harmon.  The Pats lead the league in goal-line stops and today’s play was arguably the most clutch of the year.

This game reminded me of Super Bowl XLIX.  The Pats won in a comeback, a lot of points were scored late in the game, and the Pats secured victory with an interception after the opposing team almost scored.  The one major difference was the time left on the clock.  Super Bowl XLIX ended with a bad coaching decision, but in this game, Big Ben made the mistake forcing a pass instead of throwing it away to give his team a shot in overtime with a short field goal.

With this win, the Pats clinch the division and take the AFC lead.  They control their own destiny and will secure the #1 seed with 2 division wins at home.  Can they do it?