2018 NFL Week 10 Picks & Previews: Contenders Arise in Unsurprising Outcomes

Welcome to my Week 10 NFL picks and previews.  Last week I went 8-5, putting my overall record at 76-56-2 (76-57-2 including TNF Week 10).  I’m still ahead of 2 ESPN experts and a CBS Sports expert. Don’t expect too many upsets this week.  I see this as a week where contenders will begin to rise after underwhelming starts.  This week will mark the beginning of the end of the surprise runs by teams like the Lions, Redskins, and Dolphins.  Meanwhile, expected contenders that have been struggling so far like the Eagles, Jaguars, and Packers will begin to rise. There will be a couple upsets, but who will pull them? Comment with your thoughts below, and keep reading to see my upset picks.  

Lock of the Week (SNF)

Look for QB Carson Wentz to start off the 2nd half of the season strong with a 3+ TD game.  The Eagles don’t have that difficult of a schedule remaining, which could provide an opportunity for Wentz to make a run for MVP with a big 2nd half.  Dallas should look alright on offense here, but Philly’s front seven will limit RB Ezekiel Elliott and overwhelm QB Dak Prescott. Philly will come out on top thanks to Wentz’s big game, as he connects with 7+ different receivers.  

Upset of the Week

Look for the TE duo of Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron to help the Colts offensively.  Jacksonville’s D will improve from the last couple of weeks, but I don’t see them holding Indy TD-less.  The Jaguars offensive rebound will make up for it. With RB Leonard Fournette healthy, this run game will thrive.  They suddenly have a lot of depth between Fournette, Carlos Hyde, and T.J. Yeldon. Look for QB Blake Bortles to improve as well.  He should have minimal issues against a rebuilding Colts defense that’s regarded as one of the NFL’s worst.  Indy will give up 30+ points in a loss here.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 52-21 Steelers)

Carolina should struggle to contain QB Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers.  But they will shut down a Le’Veon Bell-less Steelers run game. At this point, Bell will likely miss the whole season.  The Panthers should also be strong on offense again, as QB Cam Newton and his receivers lead Carolina to victory up against a mediocre Steelers defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

With TE Rob Gronkowski out, the Pats offense will not be up to full speed.  But expect a New England win anyway, as the Pats step it up on D against the young Titans offensive core.  QB Marcus Mariota will struggle to find open men as the Patriots defense keeps him and his receivers pressured.  The lack of WR depth will hurt the Titans in a loss.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

The Bills are down to their fourth string QB with Nathan Peterman struggling regressively and Derek Anderson and Josh Allen hurt.  However, the Jets are also without their starter, Sam Darnold.  Look for QB Josh McCown to succeed in filling in for Darnold, leading the Jets to a high scoring victory.  The defense will slip a little against QB Matt Barkley and the Bills, but Buffalo will not be able to put up enough points with Allen and TE Charles Clay injured.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Saints find themselves with a lack of WR depth with Dez Bryant, Cameron Meredith, and Ted Ginn Jr. all on IR now.  That being said, New Orleans will not be at their best offensively.  But the Bengals shouldn’t look much better without WR A.J. Green.  QB Drew Brees and his receivers should edge out a victory despite an underwhelming performance.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Matt Ryan and his receivers to put up another big game in Cleveland.  The Browns will try to keep up, but their young core won’t quite do it. The Falcons D will continue to struggle and give up a good number of points to the Browns, but the offensive dominance will be enough for Atlanta.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

This will not be easy for Kansas City.  QB Josh Rosen, RB David Johnson, and the Arizona offense should have a day against a banged-up Chiefs D.  However, QB Patrick Mahomes II should keep up the good work and this offense should be enough for the Chiefs to keep rolling at home despite defensive struggles that may cost them when it matters.  I’m honestly surprised they didn’t seek defensive help at the deadline.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick should be able to take advantage of his deep core of receivers to lead Tampa to victory here.  Also expect the Bucs D to surprise many with as they get in the way of QB Alex Smith and the Redskins offense.  Smith will struggle to find his receivers with the Bucs pressuring him and WR Paul Richardson sidelined with an injury.  The Buccaneers will play complimentary football and win triumphantly here.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Detroit’s offense will continue to miss WR Golden Tate as they struggle in Chicago.  Look for another big game by the Bears defense here.  QB Mitch Trubisky and the Chicago offense won’t be on their best either, but the shut down defense should be enough for the Bears to hold on for a victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

The Chargers D should look better than usual against a deep but struggling Oakland offense.  Meanwhile, QB Philip Rivers and his receivers will put up another big game as Rivers throws multiple TD.  The combination of these two things will cause the Raiders to fall short again at home.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST (OT)

Look for another overtime thriller out of QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers.  Expect the Packers D to nearly cost them the game as they struggle more than they should against a Brock Osweiler-led Miami offense, but look for Rodgers to come up clutch and save the Packers once again.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The dominance of the LA defense should continue with DE Dante Fowler Jr. on board.  Expect them to hold Seattle TD-less here.  The Rams offense won’t be at their best here, but QB Jared Goff and his WR trio will help lead the Rams to victory, supplemented by the shut-down D.  The Seahawks will continue to miss WR Brandon Marshall as the Rams keep Seattle’s other receivers well-covered for majority of the game.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

 

Expect the struggles of QB Eli Manning to continue as he throws just 1 TD and multiple picks.  RB Saquon Barkley will keep this close with a big game despite Manning’s struggles. But the Giants will fall short as the defense limits, but cannot stop QB Nick Mullens and the young 49ers offensive core.  

That’s all for this week.  Stay tuned for my NFL midseason report later today, and stay tuned for my MLB off-season coverage throughout the rest of November.  

2018 NFL Week 2 Picks & Previews: QB Carousel Leads to Surprise Winners

Welcome to my Week 2 NFL picks.  Last week, I went 9-6-1, putting me ahead of 4 of ESPN’s 10 pick’em experts, and 2 of CBS Sports’ 8 pick’em experts.  This off-season, many quarterbacks changed teams as usual. Patrick Mahomes II was named Kansas City’s starter as Alex Smith was traded from the Chiefs to the Redskins.  Kirk Cousins, formerly of the Redskins signed with the Vikings. Case Keenum, Minnesota’s 2017 starter, is now starting in Denver.

I thought that Keenum and Cousins would thrive with their new teams, while Smith struggles without his offensive weapons and the Chiefs offense struggles without Smith.  But all four of those teams succeeded thanks to strong offense in Week 1. Mahomes just made the Chiefs offense look better, and the Redskins just might be better off with Smith than they were with Cousins. Does this have to do with the QB carousel, or is it what surrounds these quarterbacks that leads them to thrive?  Either way, the Chiefs and Redskins could be two surprise teams to watch out for, and the Vikes and Broncos look to stay elite. Will all four win again this week? Read my picks below to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week (MNF)

I thought the Seahawks offense would struggle last week, but things actually turned out alright for them despite a loss.  However, they will be without WR Doug Baldwin this week, so don’t be surprised by a dud out of Seattle’s offense. Plus, the Bears defense looks much better with everyone healthy and Khalil Mack on board.  Expect a strong week by QB Mitch Trubisky as well as the Bears running backs. However, it will be Mack and the Bears D that holds Seattle under 10 and leads the Bears to victory.

Upset of the Week

I learned one major lesson about the Chiefs in Week 1: QB Patrick Mahomes is not a bust, and he is capable of becoming an elite NFL starter this year.  Expect him to lead a talented Chiefs offense to victory despite some iffy defense by Kansas City.  The Steelers offense will begin to miss RB Le’Veon Bell, and their mediocre defense won’t be enough to stop the Chiefs.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted on Twitter on Thursday Night; Actual Score: 34-23 Bengals)

I don’t expect more than 30 total points in this game.  Both these defenses are arguably Top 10 in the league.  They should be successful in pressuring each other’s quarterbacks and shutting down each other’s running backs.  But the Bengals will edge out the victory at home thanks to a strong game by WR A.J. Green.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Jets strong defense and a good day by rookie QB Sam Darnold led the Jets to victory in Detroit.  Expect more of the same in Miami, and watch for an especially strong game out of New York’s secondary.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think QB Josh Allen will lead the Bills to a closer game than they had last week.  But I see the Chargers having a better offensive day and winning this one.  They will rebound from their struggles against Kansas City last week.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Saints QB Drew Brees to excel against a young Browns defense.  But you should expect the Browns to make this a close offensive shootout, even without WR Josh Gordon.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

With TE Delanie Walker on IR, I don’t expect a very strong game by the Titans offense, especially against the elite Houston D.  I think the Texans will be able to squeeze by despite a banged up wide receiver group.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I do expect QB Andrew Luck to look good in his second game back.  However, expect the Colts weak defense to give up 30+ points again in a loss.  They will especially struggle at containing the Redskins receivers.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

This is a battle of two capable backup QBs and two strong defensive fronts.  With QB Carson Wentz and WR Alshon Jeffery hurt, I don’t think the Philly offense will be able to handle this strong Bucs D.  The strong defense will lead Tampa to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST (OT)

Expect the Packers to pull off another last minute comeback here, this one extending into overtime.  It just shows how clutch QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense are.  I do expect strong games by the Vikings receivers that keep this close and give the Vikings an early lead.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for a strong game out of WR Julio Jones and the rest of Atlanta’s receivers against a young Carolina secondary.  This will help lead Atlanta to victory as the Panthers receivers struggle.  However, Carolina’s strong run game will lead the way and make this close.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST (OT)

Expect both teams to rebound from offensive struggles last week.  The Lions have a veteran QB and strong receiver group that may very well be the highlight of this team.  But I think QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the young 49ers offense will look dominant against a below average Lions D.  The 49ers will edge out an overtime victory at home.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

I don’t expect the Rams to have a field day here.  The Cardinals defense is much improved from last season.  But the Rams will edge out a victory as their own defense holds QB Sam Bradford and his receivers below 20 points.  
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Stay tuned for a game preview before the game begins!

 

Expect a lot of passing, as this will be a close game and running backs on both sides are injured.  I think the Jaguars will struggle to find ways to score without RB Leonard Fournette, but the Jags defense will lead them to victory.  As a fan, I really want to see TE Rob Gronkowski prove CB Jalen Ramsey wrong and lead the Pats to victory, and I think he will prove Ramsey wrong.  But as an unbiased reporter, I see this as one of the toughest games on New England’s schedule, and I can’t see them winning with WR Julian Edelman suspended and multiple RBs banged up.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect the Raiders to struggle at scoring against the stellar Broncos defense.  Strong offensive line play by Oakland will be key to protect QB Derek Carr, and I expect to see that at the very least.  But I think Denver’s offense will repeat what they had going last week to pull off another home victory.
Sunday, 8:30 PM EST

I think this is going to be an offensive shootout.  Cowboys QB Dak Prescott will find creative ways to score at home and RB Ezekiel Elliott will have a strong game. Meanwhile, I think the Giants will take an early lead against a young Cowboys D. But I see Dallas pulling away with a victory in the end thanks to a choke by the New York defense.

That’s all for this week’s NFL picks and previews.  Stay tuned for more NFL articles coming soon.

Baseball Bits #10: Not many 100 Win Teams win World Series

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As I publish this post, the Sox need only one win to reach 100 for the first time since 1946. Last year, 3 of the 6 division winners were 100-win teams. But what does this mean for the Red Sox hopes for the post season success?

The American League is a league of extremes. 3 teams in the AL are on pace to win 100 games this year and 1 more is on pace to be very close. But there are a lot of teams in the American League who are on pace for close to 100 losses. The Orioles have already lost 103 games and most teams have 15-20 games left! The 3 worst teams by record are in the American League, and 6 AL teams have already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. The National League has only 3 teams that have been eliminated so far.

The American League playoff picture is practically locked up, while no National League team has even come close to clinching a playoff berth. It’s likely going to come down to the final week in the NL and tiebreakers may be a factor.

Even though the top AL teams will likely finish with a better record, does this mean they are better teams? I don’t think so. Due to the tough competition, talented National League teams have been challenged to reach win totals of some of the top AL teams. For example, the Washington Nationals aren’t even a .500 team. That being said, I think a National League team could win the World Series this year, giving a wake-up call to the AL because regular season wins won’t mean anything once the playoffs start.

I’ve done some research on every 100-win team in the 162-game era. I wrote down the team, the year they did it, their final record, and how they did in the playoffs. Based on 100-win teams of the past, what are the odds the Red Sox or one of the other 100-win teams to win the World Series? Will these teams choke early in the playoffs? (Note: Considering that there could be 3-4 from the American League, it is unlikely that all of them do). Check out my research below and keep reading to find out what the research says and how I interpreted it.

The Research

Baseball Bits #10_ 100-Win Teams – Sheet1

The “Baseball Bits”

  • There have been 57 100-win teams in the 162-game era
  • Only 15 of the 57 (26.3 %) went on to win the World Series, even though 30 of the 57 (52.6%) made it to the World Series.
  • Since the LDS began, there have only been 26 100-win teams. 12 of them (46.15%) lost in the LDS
  • 13 of the 57 100-win teams (22.8%) lost in the LCS
  • 2 of the 57 (3.5%) 100-win teams missed the playoffs entirely. These two teams both played in the era before any playoffs beyond the World Series
  • The Red Sox reached 100 wins three times before the 162-game era: they won the World Series in two of those years
  • However, the Red Sox have yet to have a 100-win season in the 162-game era
  • The Yankees have had 8 100-win seasons in the 162-game era, winning the World Series in 3 of them
  • The best team in 162-game MLB history (the 2001 Mariners) went 116-46 and went on to lose in the ALCS
  • The 2018 Red Sox are on pace to win 111 games, which would make them the third best team in the 162-game era by record behind the 2001 Mariners and 1998 Yankees (who lost in the ALDS)
  • Each of the last two World Series winners were 100-win teams
  • There have been 15 seasons in the 162-game era with multiple 100-win teams
  • 5 of these seasons had three 100-win teams – in only 2 of those years did one of the 3 100-win teams win the World Series
  • The Red Sox, Yankees (on pace for 101), and Astros (on pace for 102) are all on pace for 100 wins this year, and Athletics (98) are close
  • The best team in the 162-game era to win a World Series went 114-48 (The 1998 Yankees)
  • The best team in the 162-game era to miss out on the LCS went 103-59 (The 2002 Athletics)

The Verdict

The fact that an 100-win team won the World Series in each of the last 2 years is very promising. There were three 100-win teams last year and three on pace to do it this year, so I think one of them will pull off a World Series victory. But will it be the Red Sox? The Astros just outplayed the Red Sox in their most recent series and won the series 2-1, and the Yankees always give Boston a hard time in the playoffs. You also have to consider how easy the competition is in the American League compared to the National League. Who knows, there might have been no 100-win teams this year if the MLB’s leagues were more balanced.

However, I don’t think the Red Sox will choke in the ALDS, even though 12 of the 26 100-game winners in the ALDS era did. They are on pace for 110 wins. The winning-est team that missed the LCS was the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who were 103-59. But I do think there’s a good chance the Yankees come close to topping the Red Sox in the ALDS, and there’s an even better chance the Astros beat them in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. In the end, I think the World Series goes to one of these teams: the Astros, the Red Sox, the Cubs (best NL team), the Dodgers (always a contender), or the Rockies (a young team with a stacked lineup and drastically improving pitching).

I’ll be going to the game tonight against Toronto. Will David Price lead us to our 100th victory? We’ll all find out tonight.

UPDATE: I just witnessed Red Sox history! The Red Sox have reached 100 wins. Hopefully they become the 16th 100-win team in the 162-game era to win the World Series.

Day 4 in Seattle: Round 2 Recap from the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Level V Golf Tournament

If there was only one thing I could say to describe the current state of the USA Games Level V Golf Tournament, it would be that this is still anybody’s game.  The Flutie Foundation sponsored golfers, Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer, came to Seattle as the heavy favorites to win gold and silver medals, and Scott is currently leading the tournament by seven strokes.  But Peter Condon of Washington, Brock Aoki of Utah, and Thomas Cleek of Missouri among other golfers have challenged Tyler and Scott through 2 days on a course with greens playing very fast causing many 3-putts and few 4-putts.

Round 2 Total Scores.png

Peter Condon is currently in 2nd (+22) after shooting an 82 (+11) in both rounds.  Tyler Lagasse is tied for 3rd with Thomas Cleek, and Brock Aoki is in 5th after starting Round 2 as the leader.  However, Cleek, Lagasse, and Aoki are all within two strokes of 2nd place.

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Scott Rohrer (middle) with his Round 2 tee-off group, including Thomas Cleek (left) and Chris Lussier (right)

Unlike Day 1, Tyler and Scott were not paired up.  Tyler was paired with Tony Marino, and they started on Hole 3.  Scott started on Hole 2 with Chris Lussier and Thomas Cleek.

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Despite facing more putting challenges than yesterday, Tyler Lagasse did well again today, shooting an 86.  “There were some putts that just didn’t break the way I wanted them to and other times it was just a case of the yips” (Tyler Lagasse).  He had some very strong moments, like his birdie on the par 5 hole 11, and an excellent par save on Hole 18, which he said was his best hole.

On hole 18, his drive did not reach the fairway but he made 2 great shots to reach the green in 3 shots despite the long yardage he had to make up on the long and difficult 566 yard par 5 hole.

Hole 18
Tyler’s 2nd shot on 18 after failing to reach the fairway with his tee shot

Tyler did have some very nice drives and had little difficulty sticking the green when he needed to.  He pulled out the driver more often, trying to play more aggressively than yesterday.   I asked him why he used his driver more and he said, “I just had to be aggressive, I was getting a little bit emotional, I just wanted to push myself to be the best I can possibly be.”

Scott Rohrer played even better than he did in round 1, shooting a 76 (+5) to take the tournament lead.  In response to my question about how he thinks he did today vs. yesterday, he said, “I played a lot better than yesterday, I’ve improved somehow over the past day.”  He was very consistent, making par on each of the first three holes.  Like Tyler, he birdied the 11th.  However, he has no doubt in his mind that his best hole was hole 1, which due to the shotgun start on hole 2, he actually ended his round on hole 1.  He had a huge drive on the 386 yard par 4 that nearly landed the green in one.  He says it was his longest drive in the two tournaments he has played at Willows Run.

For some video footage from the day, including my stand-up live from Willows Run and my interviews with Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer, see below:

Although Scott Rohrer has a 7-stroke lead, we have learned from this week to expect the unexpected and that the leaderboard can shuffle around very quickly.  Someone who is in 4th or 5th right now could be the leader in their division by the end of the final round on the 4th of July.  Who will take home the gold?  Will Scott hold on to the lead for his third straight gold medal at the USA Games, or will Tyler or someone else catch him?

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This post is also available on the Flutie Foundation blog.

 

 

 

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 6-1: My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up

Welcome to the 5th and final part of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Although the season has started, I am still finishing this series.  I will also have my first Red Sox Report article of 2018 coming soon, as well as coverage on NFL free agency and the upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.

Last time, I covered the teams that are true contenders but are not quite on the level of the MLB’s best.  That consisted of 5 wild card competitors and the Indians, the lowest ranked of what is known as the MLB Super Seven.  They just missed the Top 6, at #7.  I looked at how they did this off-season, how they’ll do this season, and what’s holding them back.  I also discussed best and worst case scenarios for each team and projected their records and division placements.  Today I will do the same for the for the Top 6 teams in the league.  What are their chances of winning it all, and what are their Achilles Heels?  Read below to find out how the best of the best line up.  Every team on this part of the list is part of the Super Seven I have been mentioning.

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

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

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

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

Thursday, April 5: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*My pre-season Baseball Bits are also up.

6. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

Off-Season Review

JD-Martinez-RedSox-BaseballBits7

The Red Sox were pretty quiet for much of the off-season despite the rumors that they were the front-runners to sign OF J.D. Martinez, and that it was near inevitable that the Red Sox signed him.  They did bring back 1B Mitch Moreland and 2B Eduardo Nunez.  With that, they had a pretty good roster.  But they had no home run hitter, which was crucial after the Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton and formed what has the potential to be a historic HR duo between Stanton and Aaron Judge.  Eventually, they did sign Martinez despite a lack of a position for him to play.  If there was an open position called “designated home run hitter (DHH)”, it might be fitting, but now he has to split his time between left field and DH, with Moreland, Hanley Ramirez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. losing at-bats to him.

The Case for the Red Sox

Image result for xander bogaerts

If the Red Sox are meeting their expectations, they will make the playoffs, and they will make it to at least the ALDS.  Red Sox reporter Tony Massarotti thinks we are a good team but can do a lot better, and I agree.  Sure, the Yankees had a great off-season and are now favorites to beat us out in the AL East.  But the Sox are capable of winning the division, and if they cannot win the division, they are definitely capable of making the playoffs.  Hopefully, Chris Sale and David Price will be able to lead the rotation together after Sale’s strong 2017 and Price’s strong Spring Training, and I’m hoping J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts can lead the lineup (with the help of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, who are off to a great start).

But if they cannot, we need someone else to step up their game.  In fact, no matter what, we need someone else to step it up.  Whether Bogey keeps going and breaks out, or Devers builds on his late 2017 success, or Andrew Benintendi has the season he was supposed to have one year ago, I will be satisfied.  They just need one more player to build on the consistency they have had and turn it into dominance.

The Achilles Heel

Like I said, the Red Sox have an ace, and they have a pretty strong lineup. But they just need some of their good players to achieve greatness. It would be nice if they could have the beastly rotation people were expecting of them, and so far, it’s looked pretty good. It would also be nice if the Red Sox had a couple more players who broke through and joined Betts and Martinez as the All-Stars of the lineup. World Series contenders aren’t led by a couple superstars and a bunch of other good, but not great players. They are led by a group of star players that work well and fit well together.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates, several players in the lineup breakout and the Red Sox go on to win the World Series, which you will notice is the Best Case Scenario for all 6 of the top teams.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation continues to be inconsistent, the lineup is no more than good, and the Red Sox lose out to other teams like the Twins and Angels in the Wild Card race.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 2nd in AL East

 

5. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

Off-Season Review

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The Cubs lost star pitcher Jake Arrieta, but they made up for it by signing SP Yu Darvish and SP Tyler Chatwood.  They also added Brandon Morrow to a strong bullpen.  The Cubs appear to be pretty confident in their lineup, but does their lineup need an upgrade if the Cubs want to win another World Series ring?

The Case for the Cubs

About a year ago, the Cubs were viewed as the best team in the MLB.  But the competition has caught up with them, and the Cubs experienced a World Series hangover early in 2017.  The Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros have all caught up, and the Indians, Nationals, and Red Sox are close.  They have a nice young roster with a dominant rotation, and their lineup is great but could use a bit of a boost in the power department.

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs have a lot of good, consistent, hitters.  But they were hoping that they could get some power out of guys like Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo that they have signed/kept around.  Bryant and Rizzo have done well at the plate, but are good hitters for average, not good hitters for power.  Heyward was signed to add some power to the lineup, and it would have been nice to see some power out of Ben Zobrist.  Who will emerge as a home run hitter for the Cubs?  If they cannot find one, then that means the league’s elite teams are one step ahead of them.

Best Case Scenario: The Cubs go on to win a World Series after Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward have dominant years at the plate and get help from Chicago’s younger players.  The rotation also continues to dominate.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation underperforms, the lineup cannot find their power hitter, and the Cubs just barely snag a Wild Card after losing their division to the Cardinals or Brewers.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in NL Central\

 

4. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers

Off-Season Review

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The Dodgers kept their roster at World Series level.  They did lose some of their starting pitchers, but they had at least eight viable starters on their World Series roster.  They added Tom Koehler to the bullpen, and he could even start in the case of an injury to another starter.  They also brought back Chase Utley and acquired Matt Kemp from the Braves in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez and a couple extra starters they had.  Gonzalez was no longer needed with Cody Bellinger ready to start at first base full time.

The Case for the Dodgers

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The Dodgers could still be a World Series contender, but other teams may beat them out.  The Astros are looking even better this year, the Nats have extra motivation to do well with many star players in contract years, and the Yankees have more power in their lineup than any other team in the league.  Their lineup and rotation still look great.  Clayton Kershaw has continued to dominate the league, and the lineup has done well despite the lack of a true leader.

The Achilles Heel

The Dodgers do not have any major holes.  But they need two smaller things.  The first thing is some bullpen help.  They need to find a reliable set up man for Kenley Jansen, and even Jansen has struggled so far.  They also need a leader for the lineup.  They have a lot of great hitters, but who is their true star?  Kershaw is the rotation leader.  Who will be the Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers lineup?

Best Case Scenario: Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner will lead the Dodgers lineup to dominance, the rotation continues to thrive, and Kenley Jansen gets back on track as the Dodgers win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: Kershaw, along with the rest of the rotation regresses, the lack of depth hurts them, and the lineup cannot quite dominate without a leader.  Jansen and the bullpen continue to struggle too, and the Dodgers are left to compete for a Wild Card.

Projected Finish: 95-67, 1st in NL West

 

3. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

Off-Season Review

Image result for giancarlo stanton yankees

The Yankees already had a strong lineup, and they made a splash this off-season by adding to that.  They acquired Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, and with that, they had the top two home run hitters in the league in Stanton and Aaron Judge.  They also added 2B Neil Walker late in the off-season to help out while Gleyber Torres recovers from his injury and continues to develop.  They acquired Brandon Drury to help out Miguel Andujar at third too.

The Case for the Yankees

The Yanks have a lineup that is stacked with home run hitters, but they are lacking depth, especially in the infield.  Judge and Stanton will balance things out though, making the lineup look dominant.  The rotation also looks good but is the one portion of their roster that does not quite match up with the Red Sox, who can rely on the combo of Chris Sale and David Price.  The good thing is, the rotation will be backed up by a strong bullpen, much stronger than the Red Sox bullpen.

The Achilles Heel

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The Yankees do have a bit of an infield depth problem, but their real depth problem is in the rotation.  Jordan Montgomery has been forced into the #5 starter role, while the Sox will have E-Rod and Steven Wright once everyone is healthy.  The Yankees have a nice group of starters, but they lack depth, and they lack a true ace.  Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino are great but are not quite ace material.  The Red Sox have Chris Sale to lead their rotation, so they are ahead of the Yankees in that department.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates the league with multiple #1 level starters, the bullpen backs them up, and the lineup hits the most home runs in the MLB by a long shot as the Yanks win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: Depth problems come back to bite the Yankees, the Yanks must depend on their bullpen after rotation struggles, and the lineup cannot find much talent around Gary Sanchez, Stanton and Judge.  The Yankees are left with a Wild Card spot and do not make the ALDS.

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

 

2. houston-astros Houston Astros

Off-Season Review

Image result for gerrit cole astros

After winning the World Series (as I predicted) in 2017, the Astros only got better.  They acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pirates, and now they will have Justin Verlander for a full season.  They arguably have seven viable starters, and their first three starters were all #1 starters on different teams before this season.  They also added Joe Smith to a strong bullpen.

The Case for the Astros

Image result for jose altuve

The Astros are coming off a World Series title, and I do not expect much of a hangover.  They have a dominant rotation, and a strong lineup led by Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and AL MVP Jose Altuve.  I don’t see much of a chance for them to regress.  But will they be beaten out by a motivated contender who was not won in recent years?

The Achilles Heel

Image result for derek fisher astros

The Astros do not have any major weaknesses, but with DH Carlos Beltran gone, and 1B Yulieski Gurriel suspended, they will have some depth problems in the lineup.  They will have to rely on Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick, Derek Fisher, and J.D. Davis more this season.  Other than that, they do not have any other problems, at least major problems.  That will likely resolve itself as the season progresses.

Best Case Scenario: The stacked lineup dominates, the rotation is led by three aces, and the Astros dominate the league for the second consecutive year, winning the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation underperforms and struggles, depth and World Series hangover problems affect the lineup, and the Astros fail to make the ALCS after losing the division to the Angels surprisingly.

Projected Finish: 95-67, 1st in AL West

 

1. washington-nats Washington Nationals

Off-Season Review

The Nats did not make any big moves this off-season besides resigning Howie Kendrick, and I think their roster looks good as it is, although it could have used one more starting pitcher.  They should sign somebody who’s still available if A.J. Cole struggles in the rotation.  But the Nats have many star players, including Bryce Harper in contract years, so the Nationals are in win now mode, and for that reason, they are my favorite to win the World Series.

The Case for the Nationals

Image result for bryce harper

Like I said, the Nats are in win-now mode.  The window is closing for this team to win a World Series with this era of players, but I think this could be the year.  With a great roster flooded with young talent and led by superstars in Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are in good position to take advantage of the fact that they have one more year to win it all before they lose Bryce Harper and other strong players on the roster to free agency.  But will they be motivated enough to lead themselves past other dominant teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees?

The Achilles Heel

Image result for aj cole

The Nationals have a nice lineup that is still doing well early on, even with Daniel Murphy starting on the DL.  Later in the season, Murphy will help lead them.  But the rotation has a depth problem.  If A.J. Cole struggles, the Nationals have nobody to replace him with Joe Ross injured. There is no guarantee that any free agent pitcher will willingly sign here, but if Cole struggles, they will need to try, or it may hold them back from winning now like they are hoping to.

Best Case Scenario: Motivated to win it all before losing Harper, the Nats lineup dominates, carried by an MVP season by Bryce Harper where he nearly wins the Triple Crown.  The rotation also dominates as A.J. Cole does well and Strasburg and Scherzer dominate all year.  The Nationals win the World Series triumphantly.

Worst Case Scenario: Depth problems cause rotation struggles and injury problems add to it, Bryce Harper cannot carry the lineup alone in a contract year, and the Nats just edge out a division win and struggle in the NLDS.

Projected Finish: 97-65, 1st in NL East

 

That’s all for my MLB pre-season power rankings.  My next power rankings update will come at the end of April as I begin my Monthly Power Ranking series.  I will also have Red Sox recaps, more Baseball Bits, and my first Red Sox Report of 2018 coming soon (The Red Sox Report article will be up tomorrow and I will try to post them every Friday from here on out.)

NFL Week 17 Picks

Welcome to my Week 17 Picks.  Last week I went 10-6, putting my overall record at 144-101.  With playoff contention and seeding on the line, who will come out on top this week?  Read below to find out, and comment on your thoughts.

Note: Due to continuous technical difficulties with one of my editing apps, I was not able to include the score images.

Lock of the Week

Redskins, 30, Giants, 0

Led by QB Kirk Cousins, I expect the Redskins to rout and shutout the Giants in New York.  The Giants will be without WR Sterling Shepard and TE Evan Engram due to injuries, and they are still missing WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall.  Without those four receiving weapons, the Giants will fail to challenge the Redskins D.  That will make it easy for Cousins to lead the Redskins to victory, causing the problematic, injury-riddled Giants to finish 2-14.

Upset of the Week

Panthers, 31, Falcons, 27

I see the Panthers winning in a shootout here.  QB Cam Newton will connect with his favorite target, TE Greg Olsen to help lead Carolina.  RB Christian McCaffrey will also make major contributions to their victory.  The Falcons will challenge them though, as they figure out how to outsmart the Panthers secondary.  WR Julio Jones will dominate, and I think he’ll catch at least 2 TD from QB Matt Ryan.  Their run game will also contribute, but it will not be enough as Carolina snags a victory.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Patriots, 23, Jets, 16

Expect a better performance out of the Pats front seven.  They will pressure QB Josh McCown and slow down the Jets run game as new LB James Harrison leads them.  I expect him to come through as he is seeking revenge on his old team, the Steelers.  I also think QB Tom Brady will find his receivers against the young Jets secondary and will avoid being picked off for the first time in weeks.

The Pats secondary will also have a big game in my opinion.  They will also be motivated to beat the Steelers.  They will make it hard for McCown to find his receivers and slow down the rhythm of the Jets offense.  This motivated Pats team will play complementary football and win the game.

 

Steelers, 28, Browns, 20

The Browns will try to grab their first victory of 2017, but will not succeed against the playoff-bound Steelers, who are fighting for a chance at the #1 seed.  The Browns offense will actually look decent here, but the Steelers offense will top that, even without WR Antonio Brown.  QB Ben Roethlisberger will find other options with Brown hurt.  Pittsburgh should grab a victory with ease, even without Brown, as the Browns go 0-16.

 

Colts, 23, Texans, 21

I think Texans QB T.J. Yates will actually look decent against the weak Colts defense, but he won’t be able to do as much without his #1 receiver, DeAndre Hopkins.  The Texans run game will also do well, as the duo of Lamar Miller and Dont’a Foreman will score two of the three Houston touchdowns.  But the Colts offense will get the edge as QB Jacoby Brissett tosses 2 TD and leads Indy to victory.

 

Eagles, 30, Cowboys, 27

The Eagles will top Dallas, but it will not be as high scoring as last time.  QB Nick Foles will have a decent game, but he will not be able to do the same thing that star QB Carson Wentz was able to do.  But the Eagles offense will still do well, and they will also use their run game to their advantage.  The Eagles defense will also do well, holding off Dallas as Philly wins, going 14-2 on the season.

 

Lions, 27, Packers, 6

Unfortunately, I think the injury-riddled Packers will end up finishing the season in shambles, losing to the Lions in 2017 season finale.  Lions QB Matthew Stafford will throw a trio of TD to take the early lead, and Green Bay will fail to fight back.  The Lions will win with ease as the Packers start focusing on next season, hoping to come back healthy in 2018.  This year, they were devastated by injuries to their QB, Aaron Rodgers among other stars.  This week, Rodgers is out, and so are wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams.

Vikings, 28, Bears, 9

Expect the Bears offense to struggle against the tough Vikes defense.  Their run game will be shut down, and QB Mitch Trubisky won’t be able to start an offensive rhythm as there is a lack of receiving weapons in Chicago right now.  On the other hand, the Vikings offense will continue to strive as the Vikes win, led by dominance on both sides of the ball.

Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Bills, 27, Dolphins, 24

The WR trio of Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, and Jordan Matthews will help lead the Bills to victory in Miami against the young, struggling Dolphins secondary.  The Dolphins will be able to slow down RB LeSean McCoy, but not the Bills’ receiving trio.  The Miami receiving trio will also do well, but their lack of a run game will cost them as Buffalo wins.

Ravens, 20, Bengals, 13

The Ravens defense will be dominant in this game, shutting down Bengals QB Andy Dalton and holding him to just 1 touchdown.  The Ravens offense will also thrive, even without starting WR Jeremy Maclin and even against a tough Bengals defense.  They will be led by their other starting WR Mike Wallace.  Baltimore will win in a low scoring game after a strong performance on both sides of the ball.

 

Titans, 23, Jaguars, 20

The Titans will edge out the Jaguars in a relatively low scoring game.  The Jags defense will slow down Titans RB Derrick Henry, and the Titans will fail to run the ball with Henry well covered and RB DeMarco Murray out.  However, the Jags will fail to do the same against the versatile group of Titans receivers.

The Jaguars will struggle to perform offensively without some of their key weapons like receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee.  But they will come close to spoiling the Titans’ chances, led by their younger receivers like Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole.   In the end, the Titans will grab the victory.

 

Chiefs, 16, Broncos, 13

The Chiefs offense will not be the same with WR Tyreek Hill resting up for the playoffs, and the Broncos defense will be able to hold the, down early.  But TE Travis Kelce, the run game, and other receivers will help the Chiefs take the lead later on.  Denver will also struggle offensively without a definitive starter at QB and with both WR Emmanuel Sanders and WR Cody Latimer hurt.  But the combo of QB Trevor Siemian and WR Demaryius Thomas will grab the lead early.  However, they will blow it later on as the Chiefs make an effort to come back and succeed.

 

Chargers, 45, Raiders, 34

The Raiders will make a good effort here.  They will target the Chargers’ weakness in the secondary by going with a pass-heavy offense.  QB Derek Carr will dominate, throwing for 350 yards and 4 TD.  But it won’t be enough against the dominant Chargers offense.  LA’s offense will electrify as they play for one last shot to make the playoffs.  With playoff contention on the line, the Chargers will score 5 or more offensive touchdowns, led by QB Philip Rivers as well as their TE duo among others.  The Chargers will win in a shootout as Oakland cannot keep up despite Carr’s huge game.

 

Saints, 30, Buccaneers, 26

QB Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense will come close against the Saints, but the powerful New Orleans secondary will slow them down as they play great red zone defense.  The Saints will also put up another strong offensive performance as Brees tosses 3 TD, leading the Saints to victory.

 

Seahawks, 27, Cardinals, 24

Despite a strong effort by the Cardinals with WR John Brown, the Seahawks will comeback to win at home.  The Seahawks defense will not be able to shut down the Cardinals receivers without CB Richard Sherman, but the TE Jimmy Graham and the Seahawks offense will lead Seattle to victory.

 

Rams, 34, 49ers, 27

The success of new 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo will not be enough against the powerful Rams offense.  The 49ers offense will come close though, as Garoppolo connects with multiple receivers for touchdowns.  But it still will not be enough, as RB Todd Gurley, QB Jared Goff and WR Sammy Watkins lead LA to victory in a close game.

 

That’s all for my Week 17 Picks.  If my predictions are right, according to the ESPN Playoff Machine, the playoff seeding will look like this:

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Stay tuned for more NFL preview videos and picks coming soon.  In addition, with MLB free agency kicking into gear, my prediction article is coming soon.  Also stay tuned for my article about 2017 in sports as we ring in 2018 tonight.