Friday, May 12, 2017

Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals Predictions

The NHL’s final four is set to get underway tonight in Anaheim with the Ducks hosting the Predators in game one of the Western Conference Final. Tomorrow night in the steel city the Penguins welcome the Ottawa Senators to town for the series opener in the Eastern Conference Final. Some thoughts below on which two teams will play for the cup.

Western Conference Final: Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks- Nashville has been the biggest surprise of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Peter Laviolette’s team was the final qualifier in the west and took the postseason by storm with a four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Nashville kept things rolling in the conference semifinals against St. Louis winning in six games and has not lost at home through two rounds. Anaheim had a very straightforward first round, dispatching of the Calgary Flames in four games. But, things got complicated in the second round when the Ducks had to rally from a 2-0 series deficit against the upstart Edmonton Oilers to win in seven games.

For the Ducks, there have been many playoff disappointments in recent history. Maybe they exorcised the demons once and for all against the Oilers. In addition to dropping the first two games of the series, Anaheim overcame a three-goal deficit with three minutes left in game five to win in double overtime and bounced back from an early goal against in game 7. Or maybe the moment got to a young Edmonton team that had several key players getting their first taste of playoff hockey. While Nashville is in its first conference final ever, the Predators have made the playoffs in five of the previous seven seasons. Laviolette has been to the Stanley Cup Final with two other teams he coached and players like James Neal and P.K. Subban have played in the conference finals with other teams before. If Nashville is in the same situation Edmonton was in last round, don’t expect a similar letdown. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has been brilliant in 10 starts in the playoffs having allowed three goals or less in all 10 starts, posting two shutouts and sporting a 1.37 goals against average in those 10 starts. Nashville’s back end is better and goaltending is more consistent. I’ll take that over Anaheim’s abundance of offensive weaponry.

Pick: Predators in 6

Eastern Conference Final: Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins enter this series as the favorite to win the cup after eliminating the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. Pittsburgh lost top defenseman Kris Letang for the year to a neck injury before the playoffs started. The Pens needed to make a goalie change before its playoff opener against Columbus thanks to a lower-body injury to Matt Murray and captain Sidney Crosby suffered a concussion in game three against Washington. Crosby returned in game five and Murray was available for game seven in the nation’s capital. Evgeni Malkin leads all players in points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Jake Guentzel is the goals leader. Justin Schultz has stepped up on the blue line with eight points in 13 playoff games and has the second highest ice time average for the Penguins in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury looked like the goalie that won the cup in 2009 on Wednesday night in game seven against the Capitals. After laying an egg in game six, Pittsburgh restored order on the road and enters the conference final as a heavy favorite over Ottawa.

While it’s not as shocking as Nashville’s run, Ottawa still playing right now is rather impressive. Granted, the Senators did have home-ice advantage in both of their prior series in the East, but many experts looked at Ottawa’s first-round series against Boston as a coin flip and pegged the Senators as a clear underdog in the conference semifinals against the New York Rangers. Erik Karlsson has played through a foot injury and still looks like the best defenseman in the NHL. In the first five games against the Rangers, the Senators found themselves playing from behind for most of the regulation time, but managed to win game one late in the third period and steal games two and five in overtime. Ottawa went on to wrap up the series at Madison Square Garden and finally played with the lead for most of the way. One year ago, the Senators didn’t even make the playoffs, now they’re four wins from the Stanley Cup Final. Are they a team of destiny or will they simply be overmatched against Pittsburgh? It’s been a nice run, but the answer is likely the latter.

Pick: Pittsburgh in 5

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2017 NFL Mock Draft

After reading plenty of mock drafts, my best guesses here as to how tomorrow night's first round unfolds.

1.     Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett – DE, Texas A&M: Don’t Browns this, Browns. He’s the best player in the draft.

2.     San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas – DL, Stanford: The 49ers have selected defensive linemen in the first round of the previous two drafts, but are in full rebuild mode and certainly won’t draft for need here.

3.     Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams – S, LSU: Adams flew up boards after the combine and his pro day. He’s the best player available here and fills a big hole for the Bears.

4.     Jacksonville Jaguars: O.J. Howard– TE, Alabama: Hard to think of the last tight end prospect was hyped up as much as Howard has been this year. But, most of it’s justified. Jacksonville spent money on defense in free agency and now will add a weapon down the middle of the field on offense.   

5.     Tennessee Titans (via LA Rams): Marshon Lattimore – CB, Ohio State: In what’s considered a very deep corner draft, the Titans grab the best one here. This is an interesting spot for a trade though as multiple reports are have circulated that the Titans are looking to trade out.

6.     New York Jets: Leonard Fournette – RB, LSU: If Lattimore’s still on the board, it’s hard to think the Jets would pass. But Fournette is a good best player available option for a team with tons of holes.

7.     Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker – S, Ohio State: Admittedly, I typed San Diego first before remembering they’re in LA now. GM Tom Telesco swoops in for a centerfielder for new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

8.     Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey – RB, Stanford: There’s been a ton of buzz about McCaffrey recently and Carolina is in dire need of a playmaker out of the backfield.

9.     Cincinnati Bengals: Jonathan Allen – DL, Alabama: Cincinnati beefs up its defensive line here with a prospect that many experts pegged as a top five pick not too long ago.

10.  Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams – WR, Clemson: Sean McDermott, Doug Whaley and the rest of Buffalo’s brain trust got Tyrod Taylor to restructure his contract back in March. Now it’s time to get Taylor some more weapons other than oft-injured wide receiver Sammy Watkins.  Hard to think of a better option than another Clemson Tiger.

11.  New Orleans Saints: Derek Barnett – DE, Tennessee: The Saints need all sorts of help on defense and adding the best pass rusher in the draft not named Myles Garrett is a good place to start.

12.  Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia Eagles): Mitchell Trubisky – QB, North Carolina: Perhaps the worst-kept secret is Cleveland’s desire to move up from this spot for Trubisky. In this situation they don’t have to but either way it’s expected Cleveland will do everything it can to leave the first round with Garrett and Trubisky.

13.  Arizona Cardinals: Reuben Foster – ILB, Alabama: There’s some off-the-field baggage here, but not enough for a team that could use an upgrade to its linebackers to pass on Foster. Quarterback may be tempting, but in this scenario the Cardinals take the best player available

14.  Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota Vikings): Charles Harris – DE, Missouri: Many mock drafts had Gareon Conley going to the Eagles here before the sexual assault allegation came out against the Ohio State cornerback. Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas both acknowledged lots of depth in this draft at running back and cornerback. Mock drafts are a guessing game and that could mean the Eagles wait on a back and a corner and go for the pass rusher from Missouri.

15.  Indianapolis Colts: Haason Reddick – LB, Temple: Much like New Orleans, Indianapolis needs loads of help on defense. Reddick’s speed and versatility to play inside or outside linebacker should be appealing to a team like Indianapolis with lots of holes on the defensive side of the ball.

16.  Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis – WR, Western Michigan: Baltimore must get some more playmakers on offense. Deciding between Mike Williams and Corey Davis is tough, but a decision the Ravens won’t have to make here with Williams already off the board.

17.  Washington Redskins: Dalvin Cook – RB, Florida State: Washington is certainly in the market for a linebacker and Reddick would make a lot of sense here if he is available. However, a three-down back like Cook would add another dimension to an offense that still has lots of weapons in the passing game despite losing Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in free agency.

18.  Tennessee Titans: John Ross – WR, Washington: Adding a burner like Ross will aid young quarterback Marcus Mariota in a big way. Given how successful Tennessee was running the football last season, a vertical threat like Ross would take the its offense to the next level.

19.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tre’Davious White – CB, LSU: Cook seems like an easy pick for Tampa Bay if he slides past Washington. But if not, the Buccaneers could use some more help in the secondary and find it here in White.

20.  Denver Broncos: Cam Robinson – OT, Alabama: It’s not the best offensive line class, but considering Denver could very well have its choice of any offensive lineman in the draft, it will likely take one and Robinson would be my best guess.

21.  Detroit Lions: Jarrad Davis – ILB, Florida : Lions’ GM Bob Quinn gets a plug and play instinctual linebacker with their first round pick.

22.  Miami Dolphins : David Njoku – TE, Miami : Davis and Reddick would both fit well for the Dolphins, but with both gone, Njoku gets to stay in Miami and join the Dolphins.

23.  New York Giants: Ryan Ramczyk – OT, Wisconsin: There are a couple of ways the Giants could go at 23. Any of the tight ends in what’s considered a good tight end class could be in play, as well as a linebacker. But there’s no doubt the Giants’ offensive line struggled last year and Ramczyk comes in to bolster things.

24.  Oakland Raiders: Zach Cunningham – ILB, Vanderbilt: Earlier today the Raiders filled their biggest hole on offense bringing Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. In the first round they address their biggest hole on defense by selecting Cunningham.

25.  Houston Texans: Patrick Mahomes – QB, Texas Tech: General Manager Rick Smith has made it clear he feels no pressure to take a quarterback early in the draft, but with Mahomes sitting here after Arizona passes, the Texans bite on the Texas Tech signal caller.

26.  Seattle Seahawks: Kevin King – CB, Washington: King stays in the state of Washington and should step in and play early opposite Richard Sherman for the Seahawks.

27.  Kansas City Chiefs: DeShaun Watson – QB, Clemson: I’m not sure there’s a better spot for Watson to land. All he did was win in college and Andy Reid has won a ton of games in the NFL and won a lot with mobile quarterbacks in Philadelphia with Donovan McNabb early in his career and Michael Vick in 2010.

28.  Dallas Cowboys: Gareon Conley – CB, Ohio State: Edge rushers like Takkarist McKinley, Jordan Willis and Taco Charlton would certainly be in play here for Dallas, but the Cowboys don’t have many players they can rely on in the secondary. Jerry Jones has not backed away from players with off-the-field concerns before and won’t do so here either. It’s almost impossible to peg Conley anywhere right now, but if he is going to go in the first round, the Cowboys are the most likely landing spot.

29.  Green Bay Packers: Takkarist McKinley – OLB, UCLA: The Packers don’t often draft bad football players and this ends up being a steal as McKinley falls into Ted Thompson’s lap at 29.

30.  Pittsburgh Steelers: Jordan Willis – OLB, Kansas State: The Steelers need to improve their pass rush and their secondary. It’s a coin flip here between Willis and Marlon Humphrey, but I’ll go with the pass rusher.

31.  Atlanta Falcons: Malik McDowell – DT, Michigan State: The interior of the defensive line was a weak spot for the NFC champions last year and after signing Dontari Poe, they solidify the trenches on the defensive side of the ball with McDowell.

32.  New Orleans Saints (via New England Patriots): Marlon Humphrey – CB, Alabama: The Saints select their second defensive player in the first round with the pick they acquired from the Patriots in the Brandin Cooks trade. For weeks the Saints had been rumored to be looking into a trade for Malcolm Butler, but they find a corner with the last pick of the first round instead.