NFL Week 12 Picks: Which Contenders will Lock Up A Playoff Spot?

Welcome to my NFL Week 12 Picks.  I went 10-4 last week, placing my overall record at 88-72.  How will I do in this week’s slate of games?  Read below and comment with your thoughts.  This week could start factoring into the playoff chances of all 32 teams.  Who will lock up a spot?  Who will be eliminated from contention?

 

To see my picks for the Thanksgiving Day games this week, click here.

 

Note: In the images, the team on the top is the road team, and the team on the bottom is the home team.

 

Lock of the Week

 

Emerging as a top QB in the league, Carson Wentz has led the Eagles offense to become one of the best offenses in the league.  The Bears will be their next victim as the Eagles blow them out.  The Eagles offense is as good as it gets.  They have 3-4 strong running backs, who will dominate against a weak Bears defensive front.  They have a trio of great receivers and a top 5 tight end in Zach Ertz, who will just be too much for the young Bears secondary.
The Bears will struggle to strike back as young QB Mitch Trubisky is under too much pressure, and the Bears’ own RB duo is shut down by Philly’s strong run defense.  The Eagles will end up winning by one of the largest deficits seen this season.
Upset of the Week
RB Devonta Freeman is out for the second straight week, and that will cause the Falcons offense to struggle this time around.  They were able to survive without him last week, but this week Atlanta will start to miss him.  The Bucs defense will take advantage of that fact and will shut down the weakened Falcons offense.  For the Bucs, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will continue to do well in the place of QB Jameis Winston, leading the Bucs to victory with the help of his receivers as well as RB Doug Martin.

Sunday’s Games

 

 

QB Tom Brady and the Pats offense will thrive against their divisional rivals, even without key receivers Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett.  The Dolphins secondary will struggle to cover their powerful receivers like Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski.  The Dolphins will also struggle offensively, as their run game looks hopeless without Jay Ajayi.  QB Matt Moore will also struggle to find his receivers and be picked off frequently by a stingy Pats secondary.  Pats win easily.

 

 

The Chiefs will struggle to bring life to their offense, but they will dominate defensively in this game.  The Chiefs will overpressure whoever is at QB for the Bills.  The QB problems will cost them as the Chiefs defense dominates against Buffalo’s troubled offense.

 

 

The Panthers young guns will help lead Carolina to victory, even without WR Kelvin Benjamin and TE Greg Olsen.  The Jets will keep it close with a strong offensive game, as the Panthers secondary struggles to cover the Jets receivers.  But the Panthers defensive front will shut down the Jets run game.  The Panthers will win after the younger players step it up, including RB Christian McCaffrey and WR Curtis Samuel.

 

 The Bengals offense will continue to come up big against the struggling Browns defense.  TE Tyler Kroft will continue to make a big impact for them in the role of the injured TE Tyler Eifert.  The Bengals D will also thrive in this game, shutting down the strong Browns run game.  They will pressure QB DeShone Kizer, causing him to struggle regressively.  The Bengals will win after dominating in all three aspects of the game.
The Titans will win as their balanced attack dominates against a struggling Colts defense.  QB Marcus Mariota will throw for 300+ yards and toss 2 TDs to his group of versatile receivers.  In addition, the Titans RB duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry will rush for 150+ combined yards and one TD each.  Colts QB Jacoby Brissett will also lead his offense to a big game, but it won’t be enough as the Titans outscore them in an offensive shootout.
QB C.J. Beathard will lead the 49ers offense to another strong game, but this time, their injuries, as well as the Seahawks relentless defense, will have a big impact on slowing them down.  For the Seahawks, the offense will continue to thrive, even without new RB Mike Davis playing against his former team.  The 49ers troubled defense will fail to slow them down significantly, and the Seahawks will win.
The Jaguars will win after their defense dominates, shutting down Cardinals RB Adrian Peterson as well as Cardinals new starting QB Blaine Gabbert.  Gabbert will struggle to find his receivers under so much pressure, especially with WR John Brown out.  The Cardinals defense will also hold up QB Blake Bortles and the Jags offense, but the Jags will still win after their amazing defensive performance.
The Broncos beat the Raiders in Denver, but that was without QB Derek Carr.  This time, Carr will lead the Raiders offense to thrive against the tough Broncos defense  His versatile receivers will be too much for the No Fly Zone, scoring 3 TD on them.  Broncos QB Brock Osweiler will try to lead the Denver offense to rebound, but it won’t be enough to outplay the strong Raiders offense.
The Rams will beat the flaming New Orleans Saints, led by RB Todd Gurley’s huge game.  QB Jared Goff will also rebound from a rough against another strong team, the Vikings, last week.  Despite the fact that one of their best receivers, Robert Woods, is out, the big games out of Goff and Gurley will help lead the Rams to victory.  The Saints RB duo will struggle against the tough Rams run defense, and that will cost the Saints.
SNF
The banged-up Steelers offense may come in unprepared, but they will still do well against the Packers defense, especially with Clay Matthews hurt.  For the Packers, QB Brett Hundley will struggle to find his receivers, as the Packers offense fails against the Steelers without their top two RBs.  The Steelers will win as the Packers continue to fall apart without QB Aaron Rodgers.
MNF
The Ravens will win as the Texans continued to struggle without QB Deshaun Watson.  With WR Will Fuller out, QB Tom Savage and the Texans will struggle to produce offense against the tough Ravens D, despite the fact that three of their best defensive players are banged-up.  For the Ravens offense, QB Joe Flacco will thrive against a Texans D that’s also depleted by injuries.  Baltimore will win despite several injuries of their own.
That’s all for my Week 12 Picks.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

 

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NFL Week 1 Picks: America’s Game Will Return with a Bang

It’s that time of year again.  Opening Night is just a few days away.  Soon enough, Tom Brady will be throwing the season’s first TD.   It’s time to figure out who’s going to win the first slate of games.  Who will start the season strong?  Keep reading to find out what I think.

Lock Of The Week 

Note:  The top team listed is the road team for all games listed in my score predictions


The Browns should be a bit better this year but this Pittsburgh offense is just going to be too much for Cleveland.  When the Steelers offense is at full strength they’re nearly unstoppable.  The Ben-Bell-Brown combo is one of the best offensive trios in the league. Martavis Bryant and Vance McDonald also add a nice touch to this potent offense. Although the Steelers offense will go full out, I don’t see this as a shutout.

The Browns offense has gotten better.  Crowell will have a good year and Corey Coleman and David Njoku will help out rookie QB DeShone Kizer.  The secondary is Pittsburgh’s Achilles Heel and the Browns will take advantage of that.  But they won’t come close to topping the Steelers.

Upset of the Week


I wouldn’t consider this much of an upset after the Dolphins lost Ryan Tannehill for the season.  But I want to make sure that A) Everyone knows Jay Cutler will be horrible in Miami and B) Everyone who didn’t read my NFL 2017 Predictions knows that the Bucs are my #1 dark horse team this season.  I believe that the Buccaneers have the potential to shock us all.  They have a solid young defense and the receiver duo of Jackson and Evans alone makes the offense have a good one-two punch.

In addition to that Jameis Winston is primed for a complete break through. Doug Martin is back in football shape and while he’s suspended, Charles Sims is a reliable option.  I also believe that tight end O.J. Howard will have a huge rookie season.  Don’t expect every Bucs game to be a blowout though.  The Dolphins defense could be a challenge for Tampa Bay.  In the end, though, the Miami D is no better than Tampa’s defense and the Dolphins offense just isn’t the same without Tannehill.  I think this calls for a Bucs win.

The Other Games

TNF

The football season will open with this intriguing match-up.  Both of these teams lost key players for the season but I don’t think either team will fall significantly from it.  So this is still going to be close.  But I have to go with the defending champs here.  The Chiefs defense is still solid but their offense is wearing down.  They need breakout performances from Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt to be any more than a one and done wild card team.  The Chiefs are a playoff team right now but they just don’t match up to Brady’s Bunch.

The Pats have improved upon last year’s championship team.  They made some nice moves to keep the defense good and despite the losses of Martellus Bennett and LeGarrette Blount (free agency) as well as Julian Edelman (ACL injury), this offense is still the best in the league.  I see James White as the new starting back after his stellar Super Bowl showcase.  Dwayne Allen and Brandin Cooks will be top receiving targets for Brady and watch out for Chris Hogan.  He was great in Super Bowl LI and is ready to take his game to the next level.  I almost forgot to mention that Gronk was hurt when they won the Super Bowl.  They’ll be even better with Gronk at full speed.  There is no way the Chiefs will upset them on Opening Night.

Sunday’s Games

Meredith’s injury and Cruz’s release just makes these Bears even worse.  Although the Falcons won’t be as good as they were last year, this game will be a clinic.  The Falcons offense knows what they’re doing.  Matty Ice, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones are still one of the league’s best offensive trios.  The Bears have nothing on defense to stop them and although the Atlanta D isn’t great either, the Bears don’t have much left for an offense.

Unless Mitch Trubisky comes in and shocks the world, the Bears have no QB, barely any receiving weapons, and are left with just one quality offensive player, running back Jordan Howard.  I’m even a little worried about Howard’s potential to suffer a sophomore slump.  The Bears could be in some deep trouble going into this season and it will all start in this Week 1 game.

The Jets may be one of the worst NFL teams in history.  They have no reliable receivers, no QB, and Bilal Powell is the offense’s only bright spot.  Their other running back Matt Forte is on the trade block.  What are the Jets doing?  This isn’t a rebuild so I think this might be tanking for the #1 draft pick as they hope for a reliable QB to emerge.  The defense is this team’s only hope which is nothing more than mediocre after trading Sheldon Richardson.

The Bills aren’t much better, but at least they have a star running back in LeSean McCoy, a half decent QB, and a few good receivers.  The defense isn’t that bad either.  Expect a shutout that will completely embarrass the Jets to start the season.


This will be a close one for sure.  Neither of these teams is going to have a great season. But these teams are pretty much evenly matched talent-wise.  The Ravens have a good defense but don’t have anything going on offense.  The Bengals are very similar, except their offense isn’t quite as horrid.  The Bengals may have good depth but none of their players are eye-popping and the defense’s dirty plays will get old very quickly.

They are going to wear each other down so much that by the 4th quarter, the 12th man will be the difference.  This will be a long game and it could even go into overtime.  But in the end, I see Cincy winning with the fans giving them the extra push to squeeze out a win.


The Redskins won’t be as good as they’ve been in previous years and the Eagles have gotten better.  But in Washington, I can’t see Philly winning.  The Eagles have a decent all-around team, but the Redskins have a really strong receiving game and parts of their defense will neutralize Philly’s game plan.  Although the Eagles are the better team, the home field advantage will make things easier for Washington.  It will be close but I’ve got to go with Washington in this one.


This is going to be fun to watch.  Two quarterbacks coming off major injuries ready to come back strong and lead their teams deep into the playoffs.  Both of these teams have superstar offenses this year.  Mariota’s offense has continued to improve.  They now have multiple reliable receivers and a strong RB duo.  The Raiders are coming in with the same offense that may have led them to the AFC Championship last year if Carr wasn’t hurt.  The only differences are that Latavius Murray and Mychal Rivera have been replaced by Marshawn Lynch and Jared Cook.  Those moves just made the offense better.

This game could come down to how good the defenses are.  Home field advantage could also be a factor.  I think this game will be an offensive shootout, with both offenses going all out.  These teams are pretty equal, so I’m going to go with the home team here.  Titans win by a field goal.


Although the Jags looked good this preseason, I’m not going to buy into their interesting off-season moves again.  I made that mistake in 2016.  The Texans should win this game. Their defense will just be too much for the Jacksonville offense especially since J.J. Watt is back to full speed and motivated to uplift a city torn by Hurricane Harvey.  The Jags defense may not be anything special but neither is the Texans offense, so the Jags defense should be alright.  However, as long as the Texans are smart and start Deshaun Watson over Tom Savage in Week 1, I think they’ll have just enough to pull away with the win at home.

The last time these two faced off, the Lions got clobbered.  But that was 2 years ago and a lot has changed since.  The Lions offense has improved significantly and the Cardinals are not the same team that made the NFC Championship in 2015.  Their offense is lacking weapons and the defense just doesn’t have the same powerful core.  The 2015 Cardinals were a strong all-around team but now Arizona has some serious holes.

I like this Lions offense as Ameer Abdullah is very intriguing at RB.  Kenny Golladay could be yet another Lions breakout star at WR, and the Lions have plenty of other key playmakers on offense.  With the highest paid NFL QB, home field advantage, a much better offense, a slightly better defense, and a weaker Cardinals team, the Lions should win this game.

I know that some of you might think I’d pick the Rams in an upset here.  Since my 2017 NFL Predictions, my thoughts about the Rams have changed.  The Sammy Watkins trade was great for them while the Phillip Dorsett trade was not good for the Colts.  If Watkins stays healthy, the Rams have the upside to win as many as 9 games.  But even if Luck is out early on, I can see the Colts doing better than previous years.  They don’t have an established Week 1 QB, but as long as Scott Tolzien can do a decent job filling Luck’s role, the Colts can take advantage of the Rams’ weak secondary.  If Donte Moncrief has the huge season I think he will, the Colts should be able to pull away with the win here, even if it’s an ugly win.

This is starting to become a serious rivalry.  When these two teams play, it’s always a close game.  This game won’t be any different.  The Packers offense has improved since last season.  They added Top 10 tight end Martellus Bennett and drafted running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones.  Jamaal Williams is a first-year breakout pick for me and I think he will greatly improve the Packers run game.  Both these defenses are good, but Seattle’s spotless defense has just gotten better while Green Bay’s stays strong.

I just don’t think the Seahawks have such a good offense this year.  They have a controversy at running back, are very thin at wide receiver, and have offensive line problems as well.  This offense is no match for the Green Bay Packers and although the Seahawks D will make it hard for the Packers, Green Bay will get the win in the end.  Not an easy win but a well-earned win at home.

I know Kyle Shanahan was a good offensive coordinator and he will be a better coach than Chip Kelly for the Niners.  But the 49ers need some more talent before Kyle Shanahan has the chance to succeed as a coach.  Brian Hoyer is a well seasoned veteran QB but he lacks good weapons.  Who else do the Niners have on offense worth noting other than Carlos Hyde and Pierre Garçon?  Nobody.  That’s why Carolina will win this game.  Their defense will have it easy and their offense should be good enough to overcome a decent San Francisco defense.

The Panthers have young talent on offense in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel and established veterans in Greg Olsen, Jonathan Stewart, and Kelvin Benjamin.  Their offense will be strong this year or at least better than last year.  Enough to win them a game against the struggling 49ers.

SNF

This classic rivalry is set for Week 1 once again.  These teams are the two frontrunners for the NFC East and this game will be close.  The Giants are beginning to become an all around team.  They have a good running back in Paul Perkins and arguably have the best receiving trio in the league with OBJ, Marshall, and Shepard.  They lack a tight end and need some O-line help, but those are their only noticeable holes.  They are solid on defense as they have a great D-line and secondary.

The Cowboys will be a challenge for them though.  They may be missing Ezekiel Elliott but with the offensive line that Dallas has, any running back can be set up for success. Remember what Darren McFadden did with them in 2015?  It can happen again until Zeke comes back.  Their offense is as sharp as it was in 2016 except they’re without Zeke for 6 games.

The defense may be a problem though.  The secondary suffered some serious losses.   But the front seven is looking good going into the season, and they will be able to try and stop the New York run game.  It will be tough for the Cowboys secondary to stop these receivers.  However, despite the Giants making 4 TD catches, I think the Cowboys will be able to find the Giants’ weaknesses and pull away with the win with home field on their side.

MNF

The Vikings may not have the offense that the Saints have but the Vikings defense may be able to slow the Saints down.  The Saints offense isn’t as good as it was last year now that Brandin Cooks is in New England.  They will probably have trouble with this tough defense especially with Willie Snead suspended for the first 3 games.

The Vikings may not have the best offense especially without Peterson but I believe they can have success against a weak Saints defense.  Dalvin Cook and Kyle Rudolph will give the Saints tough match-ups.  Stefon Diggs should have a better year too.  So, if all goes well for Minnesota, they should be able to win this game.

The Broncos just aren’t the same anymore.  But although I think the Chargers will be better, they’re a mediocre team.  They’re not quite good enough yet to beat the Broncos in the thin air of Denver.  The Denver defense is going to slow down the Chargers revamped offense significantly.  The Chargers offense will only be good if they stay healthy.   Even at full health, they are not good enough to put up 30 points on the Broncos D.

The Broncos should do well offensively in this game because the Chargers defense doesn’t have too much to stop them.  The Chargers have a good front seven but Denver’s run game is not their strength and Denver will attack in the air against a weak Chargers secondary.

I see this one going to Denver in the end.  It will not be easy for the Broncos though, as they are far from the Super Bowl team led by Manning.  At least they’ll have Osweiler again if Siemian struggles, and Osweiler has already proved he can play in Denver.

This week will be full of surprises with close games, non-stop action, and a few blowouts. I expect to give the CBS reporters good competition like I did last year.  How do you think Week 1 will unfold?  Share your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for more NFL and MLB articles soon.

 

Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: The Ugly

Each year since 2014, David Schoenfield has ranked all 30 teams in tiers during the preseason.  For the third year straight, I am creating my own version.  I am out of school this week, so throughout the week, I will be posting my rankings.  Today they start with the bottom 6.  

30. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins

Off-season Review

Image result for jason castro twins

In the process of a rebuild, the Twins let older players Kurt Suzuki and Trevor Plouffe sign elsewhere in free agency.  However, they also lost young pitcher Tommy Milone.  They signed veterans Jason Castro, J.B. Shuck and Ryan Vogelsong.  These guys are nice veteran boosters and mentors, but are unnecessary signings.  The young Minnesota Twins just need a little time to develop before coming back to contention.  

The Case for the Twins

The Twins will not contend in any way this year.  They are in the midst of a rebuild, and actually have a bright future ahead.  The Tigers and Royals will get old and decline which will leave room open for the Twins in coming years.  For now, they need to focus on establishing their young players, and wins and losses will not matter for them this year.  But in coming years, look for the Twins to finally get better.   

The Bright Spot

Image result for miguel sano byron buxton

Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier are getting older, and I’m liking the young talent on the Twins.  The younger players they have will do well this year, and eventually bring the team up with them. Third year player Miguel Sano is one guy who could make an impact.  He will take a full time job at third base in 2017, and will be a bigger contributor to the lineup.  He could be a team leader in the future.  Byron Buxton is another player to keep an eye on.  Despite a disappointing 2016 for both of them, 2017 should be a good year for Buxton and Sano.  

Best Case Scenario: The Twins surprise many, as their young guns bounce back and lead the Twins to a second place finish in the AL Central.

Worst Case Scenario: Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano continue to regress and the Twins finish with the worst record in baseball.

Projected Finish: 63-99, 5th in AL Central

29. san diego-padres San Diego Padres

Off-season Review

The Padres didn’t do much in the off-season.  After losing veterans they shouldn’t have spent their money on, the Padres are at a desperate state.  They will not compete this season, so it’s time for a rebuild.  They did sign veteran Erick Aybar to a minor league deal, but he’s no more than a veteran mentor, and will not lead the Padres to contend.  The Padres will focus on building upon their young roster, and if they did that a couple of years back, they might of had a legitimate chance this year.

The Case for the Padres

The Padres may be at their worst ever.  While building a young roster, they will not compete this season.  None of their starting pitchers are very established yet, and the lineup has some bright spots, but needs work.  This rebuild could take a long time, but it’s worth it.  If the Padres tried to go for it this season, the end result would be the biggest MLB failure in a long time.

The Bright Spot

Image result for wil myers padres

One investment from a couple of years ago that was worth it was the signing of Wil Myers.  Myers has done well for the Padres, and him, Yangervis Solarte and Erick Aybar make up a nice infield of veterans to teach the younger players.  Myers will actually put up some impressive stats in 2017.  In 2016, he was a Home Run Derby participant and All Star.  Myers will continue to put up good numbers in 2017, and he will make the Padres look just a tiny bit better.

Best Case Scenario: Wil Myers boosts the lineup, and the young rotation breaks through as the Padres finish just under .500.

Worst Case Scenario: The Padres have their worst season in history, the young players struggle at the major league level, and the Padres barely endure a dismal season.

Projected Finish: 63-99, 5th in NL West

28. oakland-a's Oakland Athletics

Off-season Review

Image result for rajai davis a's

The Athletics weren’t quite as active as they usually are this off-season, but they did fine-tune their team.  They aren’t anywhere near contending, but adding some depth with experienced players will at least prevent disaster in 2017.  Rajai Davis recently came back to Oakland.  Alejandro De Aza, Ross Detwiler and Jaff Decker were invited to spring training among other veterans.  They also signed young third baseman Trevor Plouffe.  They filled most of their major off-season needs, and that will help them despite other problems.

The Case for the Athletics

The A’s have a nice mix of veterans and younger players.  Once their prospects develop, this will benefit them and they will thrive.  But that might not happen for a while, and right now, they’re just going to be considered an old team that won’t contend.  If they rebuild a little, maybe they’ll season their young players more and see more success soon.  But whether they rebuild or stay put, the Athletics aren’t going to have a winning season.

The Bright Spot

Image result for khris davis a's

Khris Davis was acquired from Milwaukee in the 2015-16 off-season, and since joining the Athletics, he has been their best hitter, and has been a bright spot on the Athletics by putting up impressive stats.  Davis was a home run hitter in 2016, with 42 dingers.  He drove in 102 runs and got a career best 137 hits.  The 42 dingers, also his career best, were enough to tie Edwin Encarnacion and Brian Dozier for 3rd in the MLB.  Encarnacion and Dozier are team leading stars, and Davis may be developing to be just that.  Davis had more home runs than the Rockies’ star third baseman Nolan Arenado!  I also think starting pitcher Sonny Gray could look good in a bounce back year, but Davis is the safest bet.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation bounces back, the lineup finally finds a way to do strongly and the A’s attempt to return to the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: The injury bug hits Oakland at its hardest, and the Athletics finish terribly, with one of the worst records.

Projected Finish: 65-97, 5th in AL West

27. philadelphia.phillies Philadelphia Phillies

Off-season in Review

Image result for howie kendrick welcome to phillies

The Phillies have finally established a young roster, but it will take a couple years to return to stardom.  The rotation still needs work but they added some veteran mentors/big hitters to help their case.  They acquired starting pitcher Clay Buchholz, and added Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders to the lineup.  Now, with veteran mentors to help a young, talented roster, the Phillies could be back to contention a couple of years from now.

The Case for the Phillies

Image result for jimmy rollins phillies

The era of washed up, old Phillies is over.  Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ben Revere, John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown are all gone. Now, it’s time for the young guns to take over this team.  This puts this year’s team pretty low in the rankings.  However, don’t be surprised if the Phillies are the next surprise wild card in 2018.  These young players are very talented, and once they’re developed, which will happen over the next year or two, the Phillies will be good once again.

The Bright Spot

Image result for maikel franco

Putting the older guys aside, there are a few talented young guns that have already broke out.  Odubel Herrera, Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco are already doing strongly.  Franco is the Phillies’ bright spot.  He is keeping this lineup alive.  In a couple of years, Franco could be a superstar.  The new environment in Philly leaves him with an important role in the lineup, and I think he will come through in that role.

Best Case Scenario: The Phillies return to contention with an impressive season by a lot of young players.

Worst Case Scenario: The Phillies fail again, and the young guns go full bust.

Projected Finish: 65-97, 5th in NL East

26. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves

Off-season Review

Image result for bartolo colon braves

The Braves are in the midst of a rebuild.  The starting rotation is getting old after they added Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey, but the older players are still good.  The lineup also includes veteran mentor Matt Kemp.  The rest of it consists of young stars and players ready to breakout.  Dansby Swanson is the favorite for the NL Rookie of The Year, Freddie Freeman continues to shine, Nick Markakis has done alright in Atlanta, and new acquisitions Brandon Phillips and Kurt Suzuki will help this team improve.

The Case for the Braves

Image result for freddie freeman

The Braves won’t compete this season, but they’ve put together a nice mix of old and young that could do well in the future.  The pitching staff still needs to develop and be fine-tuned, but the lineup is looking better, and could be a lot more powerful this year and in future years.  The Braves currently lack depth, but once more prospects break the majors, the Braves could have some of the best hitting in the MLB, with a strong lineup led by Freddie Freeman.

The Bright Spot

Image result for dansby swanson

Some of the older players provide power to the lineup, but younger players Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson make the Braves a little more fun to watch.  Freeman really broke out last year, with a stellar performance especially in the 2nd half.  Freeman had already established himself as a franchise player, but he really went all out in 2o16.  Swanson has a potentially great rookie season ahead of him.  The Braves have opened up a spot at shortstop for him, and Swanson will take advantage of that.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation finally gathers itself, the lineup is dominant, and the Braves compete for a wild card in the NL East.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is a bust, the lineup doesn’t perform like it should, and the Braves finish last in the NL East.

Projected Finish: 67-95, 4th in NL East

 

25. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays

Off-season Review

rasmus-rays.jpg

The Rays didn’t have a huge off-season.  They lost some crucial guys, and they traded away Logan Forsythe and Drew Smyly.  However, they added to their pitching depth in that trade by acquiring Jose De Leon.  Despite losing Desmond Jennings, they resigned Logan Morrison and signed Colby Rasmus to help fill out the starting lineup.  Wilson Ramos and Nathan Eovaldi were also signed but are recovering from injuries.  They made a lot of small moves, but nothing major enough to impact the Rays.

The Case for the Rays

The Rays play in the toughest division in the MLB.  They have a talented team, but just don’t stack up to the rest of the AL East.  They would be a mediocre team in a weaker division.  But this is just how it is.  The Rays don’t stack up with everybody else.  A rebuild is not needed, now is just a big wait.  A big wait for the Rays to able to do well again.  They have a good roster, but some of these guys are getting old, or just aren’t as good as the other stars of the league.

The Bright Spot

Image result for chris archer

The lineup is just mediocre.  The true bright spots in Tampa are Chris Archer and Alex Cobb.  Archer struggled in 2016, but is still the ace of the Rays.  Cobb has been injured the last two years, but will perform well when healthy.  Both of these guys should make a big impact for the Rays in 2017.

Best Case Scenario: The strong rotation leads the Rays to compete towards the top of the AL East, in hopes of a playoff spot.

Worst Case Scenario: Injuries hit hard again, and the Rays look worse than ever, finishing not just last in the AL East, but the whole American League.

Projected Finish: 69-93, 5th in AL East

 

Baseball season is almost here.  This is just the start of my rankings series.  Comment your thoughts and predictions, and check back tomorrow for my 24-19 rankings.  Who will be next on the list?  Check tomorrow to find out!

Sox Lineup Delivers After Slow Start

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Pedroia on first.  Bogaerts at the plate.  He hits it high into left, will it be enough?  GONE!!!! Xander Bogaerts nails a homer over the Green Monster and the Red Sox are on the board!  

The Red Sox got the job done, beating the Rays 4-1.  Rick Porcello pitched 7 strong innings, giving up just 1 run.  He is now 11-2 on the season!  I was at the game, starting a new winning streak as a fan at Fenway.  I am now 8-3 when I go, the 3 losses all coming last season.  

I’d like to give a shout-out to David Gagne for giving us the tickets with a great view in the right field box near Pesky Pole!  

The Red Sox couldn’t find their groove in the first three innings.  Porcello’s home run issues continued as he gave up a moonshot over the monster to Brad Miller in the first. Porcello gave up 3 hits and let one batter into scoring position in the next 3 innings.   There was also a throwing error by Xander Bogaerts on a routine ground ball in the 4th but Souza Jr. was caught stealing to end the inning.

The Sox offense was quiet in the first 3 innings other than a Mookie Betts blooper robbed by Oswaldo Arcia with a miraculous sliding catch.

Things changed for the Sox in the bottom of the 4th.  For the first three innings Moore was efficient with his pitches and only faced 10 Sox batters.  Matt Moore had less than 40 pitches through 3 innings.  But Pedroia led off the inning by working an 8 pitch walk.  That was the turning point of the game.  Moore struggled terribly after that.  Bogaerts launched a badly located 2 strike fastball for a 2-run HR over the monster seats.  Moore escaped the inning but not before walking Ortiz and giving up a single to new Sox Aaron Hill.

It looked like Porcello would fail to hold to the lead as he missed location on a 3-2 fastball to Nick Franklin.  The Rays left fielder started the inning with a double off the wall.  According to quora.com, 60% of the time at least one run scores after a leadoff double!

But Porcello got what he needed to get out of the inning without letting Franklin score.  He struck out the 8th and 9th batters, Arcia and Casali.  Then Bogaerts flashed his glove with a diving stop of a Forsythe one hop liner.  Shaw helped finish the play with a nice scoop of Xander’s 1 bounce throw.  And the Sox and Porcello escaped the top of the 5th still holding a 2-1 lead.

And the Sox kept their momentum going in the next inning.  Sandy Leon got things started with an infield single.  Mookie Betts then lined a shot to the center field gap that Souza Jr ran down but he took his eye off it as he almost ran into the wall.  He dropped it! A costly error put Betts and Leon into scoring position.  Pedroia made the Rays pay with a hard base hit to left and just like that it was 4-1 Red Sox.  Pedroia hit it so hard but Betts’ aggressive base running helped him beat the off-line throw and Pedroia took second.  The Sox would not score again but the damage was done.  

The next inning, Porcello got in another jam.  He gave up back to back singles with one out.  But Steven Souza Jr’s bad day continued as he grounded into a routine double play to short.   

Things settled down after that.  Matt Moore was pulled after 6 innings as the Sox got his pitch count up to 107 pitches after rough 4th and 5th innings.  Porcello went for one more inning before calling it a day, giving up only 1 earned run through 7 innings, doing what he needed to do to earn a victory.

Both bullpens shut down the sides through the 7th and 8th.  Dylan Floro did get in a bit of a pickle in the 8th when JBJ doubled and the Sox had 1st and 2nd after an intentional walk to Shaw.  Then Forsythe bobbled what should have been an inning ending double play ball hit by Bryce Brentz.  Brentz was called out on a fielder’s choice.  John Farrell challenged the play because replays showed what appeared to be a tie to the runner.  But the call was too close to overrule and then Sandy Leon struck out to end the inning.

Koji Uehara, the acting closer, came in to pitch for the 2nd straight day a go for his 2nd straight save.  A difficult task for a pitcher Koji’s age.  

Farrell had no choice but to use Koji as Craig Kimbrel is having knee surgery and will be out 3-6 weeks.  Dombrowski traded 2 prospects to Arizona for their closer Brad Ziegler but Ziegler couldn’t make it in time for the game as the trade was made just before midnight in San Francisco where Arizona was playing.  

So Koji Uehara took the closer role and got the job done anyway.  He gave up a lead-off single but settled down to strike out the last two batters, the 1st looking on a questionable call and the last batter on a splitter in the dirt.

The Red Sox got the job done as they begin to gain in the division.  Can they lock up the sweep before the All Star Break despite the Orioles winning?  Can David Price pitch the way he’s supposed to and will the Red Sox go into the break in good shape and come out of it as playoff hungry buyers?  Today’s 1:30 game decides it all and a 7-2 homestand before the break would feel much better than 6-3.  Go Sox!

NFL In Detail 2.0: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers may be bad again, even after drafting Jameis Winston with the first overall pick.  Winston was the Florida State quarterback, using tight end Nick O’ Leary as his main weapon.  He should start at QB, but Mike Glennon will challenge his throne as starter.

Fantasy and Training Camp Outlook

We already talked QB, so lets move on to running back.

RB

Three running backs should all compete for the starting position.  They have Doug Martin, who was supposed to have his outbreak year in 2014, but struggled.  He could be back to being close to his normal state.  Bobby Rainey will chase him though, and Rainey had stats higher than his projection last year, but Martin’s improvements get in Rainey’s way.  I doubt he’ll be the number 1, but the third spot definitely goes to either young Charles Sims, or fullback Jorvorskie Lane, even fullback Evan Rodriguez.

WR

Winston’s Tampa weapons should be between veteran Vincent Jackson, and 2014 outbreak rookie Mike Evans.  I expect Evans can keep it up, but Jackson has some skills to show this year too.

TE

Austin Seferian-Jenkins should be the number 1 again to at least start the year, but I could forecast him having a break down season.  That opens the door for returning Buccaneer and Pats XLIX champ Tim Wright.  Wright was Gronk’s second hand man last year, and he can do the same, maybe even surpass the skills of Seferian-Jenkins.

Defense

Both the offensive and defensive line shold be great, between Logan Mankins on offense, and Gerald McCoy and Larry English on defense.  They need another defensive back though, and are left with safety D. J. Swearinger, but no star corners.

The Buccaneers have developing, but older talent that shouldn’t do much, but will do something to make an effort to make the team at least 31st rather than 32nd of 32, although like all teams, they aim towards going to Super Bowl 50.

Napoli, Red Sox Edge Rays

The Red Sox edged over the Rays in a 7-5 win last night.  Mike Napoli’s 7th inning home gave the lead back to the Red Sox after losing it.

The Rays scored first, walking and then singling into first and third.  Then a walk by Logan Forsythe loaded the bases. Joey Butler grounded into a force out and lead runner Brandon Guyer scored.  Evan Longoria made it safely to third, but Forsythe was out at second.

In the bottom of the 1st, Xander Bogaerts reached on a fielding error, by Logan Forsythe.  Bogaerts went to second on Erasmo Ramirez’s wild pitch.  Tim Beckham made another fielding error that made it first and third.  Mike Napoli walked the bases loaded, and De Aza kept it that way with an RBI single.  1-1.  Rusney Castillo then grounds into a force out, getting Ortiz at the plate.  Blake Swihart knocked 2 runs in on a single the next at bat.  3-1 Sox.

The game stays action packed as recently called up Mikie Mahtook doubles.  With two down, Brandon Guyer struck out, but on a wild pitch sending him to first and Mahtook to third.  Steven Souza Jr. singles a run in.  Then Evan longoria walks the bases loaded, but it doesn’t do it to tie things up.  That inning, the Sox blow it with Brock Holt on second.

In the 3rd, Asdrubal Cabrera singles, and Mikie Mahtook singles him in.  1 run, 1 RBI for 2015 debuting Mikie Mahtook.  the Red Sox struck again in the 5th.  Holt singled, and Bogaerts advanced him to second.  Then Napoli walked, and De Aza singled Holt in.  In the 7th, the Rays struck.  With 1st and second, John Jaso pinch hit doubled Mikie Mahtook in for his second run of the night.  Joey Butler also scored from first, and Jaso went to third on a Blake Swihart error, and just like that it was 5-4 Rays.  In the bottom of the inning, big Papi hit a ball just foul that could ave gone for a double.  He ended up walking.  Napoli hit his dinger to give the Sox a 6-5 lead.

For the most part, it was a quiet game after that.  Blake Swihart douled, and scored on a wild pitch off Brandon Gomes followed by a Josh Rutledge single to extend the lead to 7-5, but that was it.  Uehara got the save.  The Red Sox beat the Rays 7-5, Junichi Tazawa the winning pitcher, Jake McGee the losing pitcher.  Tampa Bay had 3 errors and the Red Sox had 2.  A win today and it a winning streak. A 6-0 lead and Travis Shaw’s first career dinger after 4 innings looks good.

Home Runs Boost Red Sox Past Rays

The Red Sox hit 3 homers in their 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.  Justin Masterson made his first start of June, striking out six, and only giving up one run.  Masterson should keep his starting job over Joe Kelly, sent to Pawtucket recently.

In the second inning, the Red Sox had two solo blasts, by Pablo Sandoval and Alejandro De Aza, Panda’s seventh and De Aza’s sixth.  De Aza’s hit 3 for the Red Sox this season, and only the same amount in double that time with the Orioles.  Napoli also got ejected for fighting the call, and Deven Marrero took over second, moving Brock Holt to first base.  In the 4th, David Ortiz hit a 2 run homer to right, scoring along with Xander Bogaerts, coming from first base.  It was 4-0 Red Sox on only four hits!!!!!!  So far, nobody had been left on base.

In the fifth, Justin Masterson began to get tired and gave up his earned run.  Brandon Guyer reached on an infield single, and Asdrubal Cabrera singled Guyer in.  Guyer only had two bases to run, because he advanced to second Blake Swihart’s first of what would be two passed balls.

In the sixth inning, the Sox struck again.   Xander Bogaerts doubled.  He went to third on a passed ball.  It was first and third as Ortiz walked.  It was a fly ball hit by Sandoval, and it was caught, but Bogaerts came around to score on the sacrifice fly.  The Red Sox took a 5-1 lead.

In the seventh, Jonathan Aro, recently recalled from Pawtucket, made his second MLB appearance.  But he didn’t help, in fact he collapsed.  Guyer had doubled, and Asdrubal Cabrera doubled to score him.  On an error by JBJ, Cabrera advanced to third.  Then Sizemore singled him in.  It was 5-3, and technically, it wasn’t all Aro’s fault.  Tazawa came in to face Sizemore on his final pitch, and he was responsible for the third Rays run.

From there, it was quiet, and despite giving up a double to Sizemore with Longoria on deck, Koji Uehara earned the save for the Red Sox.  The Red Sox defeated the Rays 5-3, the home runs being the deciding factor.  Let’s just hope the Sox  keep on winning like they have.