Tuesday, October 3, 2017

2017 MLB Postseason Preview

The Major League Baseball playoffs begin tonight with the AL Wild Card game in The Bronx as the New York Yankees host the Minnesota Twins.  There are a lot of arguments to be made for several of the qualifiers to make deep runs as eight of the 10 playoff teams won over 90 games. Here’s how I see each of the playoff teams faring this October.


American League

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are an example of an overachieving team that’s playing with house money in the playoffs. Paul Molitor’s team became the first to make the postseason one year after losing 100 games. There are many reasons to be excited about the Twins and their young core moving forward, but this doesn’t look like a good spot tonight on the road. Ervin Santana gets the ball for the Twins and his 0-5 record at Yankee Stadium certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Toss in the fact that Minnesota is without Miguel Sano, a power hitter who could change the game with one swing of the bat, and it doesn’t feel like the Twins season goes any further. Nevertheless, hats off to the entire organization for such a drastic turnaround in 2017.

New York Yankees: The Yankees also exceeded expectations this season going 91-71 and proving that their hybrid rebuild was wrapping up quicker than expected. Remember, the Yankees are just over a year removed from trading Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller for hefty prospect packages. They were in the Wild Card game in 2015 with a roster that included several veterans that are not with the team anymore. However, there’s always going to be a certain degree of pressure on the Yankees when they make the playoffs. Brian Cashman made it clear he felt they could compete this season by going out and adding Sonny Gray and David Robertson in July. It would be a big surprise if the Yankees lost this game tonight at home against Minnesota. A win puts the Yankees up against the Cleveland Indians. The defending AL Champions would enter that series as the favorite, but the Yankees are certainly capable of making a run. Having Gray, Luis Severino, and CC Sabathia to go with a potent young lineup gives the Yankees a chance in a short series.

Cleveland Indians: This is the best team in baseball. For a while, it looked like it was the Dodgers, but after Cleveland’s red-hot finish to the regular season, the tribe look to be in a great spot to avenge last year’s World Series defeat. Jose Ramirez had the best season of his young career and Edwin Encarnacion gives Terry Francona a big bopper in the middle of the order that the Indians didn’t have last year. Everyone already knew about Cleveland’s pitching depth both in the rotation and bullpen which leaves little to question about its legitimacy as a World Series contender.

Boston Red Sox: Their lineup is good. Their bullpen is good. But will their starting pitching be able to keep Houston’s bats at bay? That’s the question that determines if Boston can beat the Astros in the ALDS. It feels like Thursday’s game one is a must-win for the Red Sox with Chris Sale on the bump. This just doesn’t look like a great matchup for the Red Sox.

Houston Astros: If you like offense, this is your team. Houston was first in batting average, runs scored, and OPS in the regular season and second in home runs. Adding Justin Verlander fortified their rotation and Dallas Keuchel bounced back after a down year in 2016. If Houston can find ways to win the low-scoring games, then it could certainly win its first World Series. Their lineup should be good enough to at least get them into the ALCS.

National League

Colorado Rockies: Tomorrow will be the first playoff game for Colorado in eight years. The Rockies lineup is loaded and they have an above average bullpen. Jon Gray is the right man to start tomorrow’s NL Wild Card game but the Rockies lack the rotation depth to make a deep run. They could win tomorrow, but would be a heavy underdog against Los Angeles.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona is more complete than Colorado and has better starting pitching, but that doesn’t really matter in a one-game series. Zack Greinke toes the rubber for the Diamondbacks tomorrow night in a game that features two evenly-matched opponents. The Yankees are a clear favorite in tonight’s AL Wild Card game but the National League Wild Card game looks like a coin flip. Arizona poses a bigger threat to the Dodgers with some big hitters in the middle of the order to go with decent starting pitching, but it would still be a surprise if the Dodgers lost to either team.

Los Angeles Dodgers: There’s no team with more pressure this month than the Dodgers. Adding Yu Darvish at the deadline with Darvish set to be a free agent this winter was a clear indication that the Dodgers were all in. With Clayton Kershaw and Darvish at the top of a deep rotation and Kenley Jansen slamming the door in the ninth, the Dodgers should be in almost every game they play this October. But if you believe in momentum carrying over from the regular season, then the Dodgers were simply not the same team in the last six weeks of the season that they were for the rest of the year. If they can wipe the slate clean and start over, there’s plenty of talent on the roster in LA to win it all.

Washington Nationals: Maybe it’s not the pressure the Dodgers have, but clock is certainly ticking in the nation’s capital. Bryce Harper is now just one year away from becoming a free agent and the Nationals have unsuccessfully tried to supplement their roster around Harper for years. Washington has not made it past the NLDS and certainly had its fair share of opportunities. They’ll still enter 2018 as a heavy favorite in the NL East, but if this isn’t the year with this core for the Nationals, it’s fair to wonder when that year will come.

Chicago Cubs: It feels like the reigning champions are not garnering the attention you would expect as they set out to begin their title defense. With all the pressure being on Los Angeles and Washington in the National League and given how Cleveland ended the regular season, the Cubs come in slightly underrated, for lack of a better term. That could work in their favor heading into the NLDS against the Nationals. The addition of Jose Quintana gave them the necessary stability in the starting rotation and Wade Davis has been money all year replacing Aroldis Chapman.  They did not look like the champs during the first half, but the Cubs got it going after the All-Star break and are still one of the best offensive teams in baseball. I like them to beat the Nationals.


World Series Prediction: I’ll take the Indians over the Cubs in a rematch of last season’s Fall Classic. The Indians are the most complete team which leads me to believe they’ll ultimately prevail. In the National League, it’s hard to trust the Nationals or Dodgers in October until proven otherwise and from a pure talent standpoint, the Cubs are just as good anyway.

Friday, September 22, 2017

College Football’s power five at the quarter turn

There have been several high-profile non-conference games in the first three weeks of the season. Many power five teams play their conference openers this weekend, while some teams have already played games within their league. Here’s how I see the power five shaking up with conference play getting underway in earnest this weekend.
 
SEC: The Southeastern Conference ruled college football during the end of the BCS era. Since the inception of the playoff in 2014, Alabama has been the only team from the conference to make the playoff. The Crimson Tide have qualified for the playoff in all three seasons and played for National Championship the last two seasons. Early on, it appears it may be another Alabama or bust season for the SEC in the playoff. Mississippi State may be Alabama’s biggest competition in the SEC West after a blowout win last week against LSU, but Dan Mullen’s bunch has a difficult road test in Athens this weekend against Georgia. Georgia looks like the favorite in the East and had a nice win out of conference at Notre Dame in week 2. However, it would be a surprise if any team other than Alabama ended up in the playoff from the SEC.


ACC: This looks like the least predictable of the power five conferences so far. Florida State was the runaway favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the Seminoles were steamrolled by Alabama in week 1 and lost their starting quarterback Deondre Francois in the process. Clemson made a statement last week going to Louisville and dominating the Cardinals and reigning Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Virginia Tech, though currently outside the top 10, is worth keeping an eye on as the Hokies opened the season with a nice non-conference win against West Virginia and host Clemson next week.

Big 12: The Big 12 has been perhaps the most impressive conference so far with Oklahoma winning in Columbus in week 2 and Oklahoma State arguably looking like the best offensive team in the country. The Cowboys have a marquee Big 12 opener this weekend with No. 16 TCU rolling into Stillwater. Oklahoma travels to Oklahoma State on November 4 for a game that could decide who represents the Big 12 in the playoff. While TCU could spoil the party this weekend, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both look like title contenders one month in.

Big 10: This is the conference nearly got two teams in the playoff last season, and has most teams in the top 10 entering this weekend. There are a lot of paths to the playoff for the Big 10 right now, but it’s hard to pick a favorite in this conference. Penn State looks to be in the driver’s seat, but James Franklin and company have a difficult stretch coming up in a month that has them playing Michigan, then traveling to Ohio State and Michigan State. Tomorrow’s game at Iowa could also be a tricky one for Penn State. This should be a competitive league from start to finish.


Pac 12: USC was generating all the preseason buzz with quarterback Sam Darnold entering the season as one of the Heisman favorites and likely top five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Trojans had a scare last week at home against Texas and if we’ve learned anything about USC after the Pete Carroll era, it’s that the Trojans have often failed to live up to expectations. Washington State, Oregon and Utah are teams at the bottom of the 25 that could climb up into contention for the conference championship while defending champion Washington is the biggest challenger to the Trojans. UCLA was another team that had some preseason buzz thanks to quarterback prospect Josh Rosen and a miraculous comeback in week 1 against Texas A&M, but a loss to Memphis last week has the Bruins behind the eight ball in the Pac 12.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017 NFL Season Predictions

Here's how I see 2017 unfolding in the NFL. Playoff seeds are listed to the left of each team.

NFC East:
 
(3) New York Giants: 11-5
(5) Dallas Cowboys: 10-6
      Philadelphia Eagles: 9-7
      Washington Redskins: 6-10


Analysis: This should be one of the most competitive divisions in football as it was last season. The Giants are loaded with weapons on offense and saw their defense improve significantly last year. They’ll enter the season as a slight favorite in this division and their offensive line is the only serious question mark. Many experts are forecasting a regression to the mean for Dallas after a 13-win season in 2016.  The win total should decrease for the Cowboys, but there’s enough talent on their roster to return to the playoffs, regardless of how many games Ezekiel Elliott plays this year. The Eagles had a good offseason, filling several holes, and should compete for a playoff spot while the Redskins appear to be the odd team out.

NFC North:

            (2) Green Bay Packers: 12-4
                  Detroit Lions: 8-8
                  Minnesota Vikings: 7-9
                  Chicago Bears: 4-12

Analysis: It’s hard to think of a team challenging Green Bay here, although Detroit did make the playoffs in 2016 and Minnesota got off to a hot start before coming back to earth. The Packers are the team with the fewest flaws in the NFC North. Detroit’s offensive line and pass defense both appear to be suspect entering the season and the ceiling for Minnesota’s offense remains low. Chicago is in a rebuilding phase and the biggest question of its season will be when the reins are handed to number two overall pick Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback.

NFC South:

            (4) Carolina Panthers: 10-6
                  Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9-7
                  Atlanta Falcons: 9-7
                  New Orleans Saints: 7-9

Analysis: While this division holds the defending NFC champions, it’s likely to be at least a three-team race all season. Carolina’s schedule is favorable early and the Panthers close with three of their last four in their backyard in Charlotte. Therefore, a path to 10 wins is very conceivable for Ron Rivera’s bunch. Tampa Bay and Atlanta will certainly be in the playoff picture, but in a crowded NFC, some teams are bound to be left out. Atlanta’s offense likely will not be as good as it was one year ago with the departure of Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco and Tampa Bay doesn’t appear to be all that much better from its 9-7 season in 2016. If New Orleans can piece together even an average defense this year, the Saints could hang around, but that remains to be seen.

NFC West:

(1)   Seattle Seahawks: 13-3
(6)  Arizona Cardinals: 10-6
       Los Angeles Rams: 7-9
       San Francisco 49ers: 3-13

Analysis: Seattle won the NFC West last year with Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Thomas Rawls all hampered by injuries. Their offensive line is still a mess, but it’s been a concern the last couple seasons and the Seahawks have still posted double-digit win seasons every year since 2012. A healthy Seattle team should be the NFC’s top seed. Arizona is a good bounce back candidate after finishing in the top 10 in total offense and total defense last season but missing the playoffs. The Rams will improve in year one of the Sean McVay era, but still have a long way to go and San Francisco will be in the running for the first overall pick all year long.

AFC East:

(1)  New England Patriots: 14-2
Miami Dolphins: 8-8
Buffalo Bills: 5-11
New York Jets: 2-14

Analysis: Another year, another uncontested AFC East title for the Patriots.  Many feel New England could flirt with perfection and the Pats should wrap up this division by late November. Miami quietly won 10 games and got to the playoffs last year. But the loss of Vance Joseph to Denver could cause its defense to regress this season and we’ll see how Jay Cutler holds up filling in for Ryan Tannehill.

AFC North:

            (4) Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-6
                  Baltimore Ravens: 8-8
                  Cincinnati Bengals: 6-10
                  Cleveland Browns: 5-11

Analysis: This division should be a two-horse race between two bitter rivals. Pittsburgh is far superior to Baltimore offensively and made efforts to bolster its defense with the recent signing of Joe Haden and spending a first-round pick on T.J. Watt. The Ravens are always in the mix, and this year is likely no exception, but they lack the appropriate playmakers on offense to hang with the Steelers. Maybe this will finally be the year Cincinnati fires Marvin Lewis while the youth movement continues in Cleveland.

AFC South:

            (3) Tennessee Titans: 11-5
            (5) Houston Texans: 10-6
                  Indianapolis Colts: 7-9
                  Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-12

Analysis: Tennessee was in contention for this division in 2016 until Marcus Mariota went down with the season-ending injury late in the year. With Mariota healthy, one of the league’s best rushing attacks and added weapons for Mariota to hook up with in the passing game, the Titans are the best team in the AFC South and will be one of the league’s best offenses. There are concerns about Tennessee’s secondary, which will likely limit its ceiling, but the Titans will still win this division. Houston has a talented roster, but its quarterback play remains a question mark entering the season. Nevertheless, the Texans are good enough to make the playoffs which would be a great story for the NFL after Hurricane Harvey. Indianapolis will start the year without Andrew Luck and the rest of its roster still has glaring holes, and the Jaguars remain the Jaguars.

AFC West:

(2)  Oakland Raiders: 12-4
(6)  Los Angeles Chargers: 9-7
       Kansas City Chiefs: 8-8
       Denver Broncos: 7-9

Analysis: This is the year the Raiders take over in the AFC West. Oakland has slowly built up a promising young nucleus and a high-powered offense. There are question marks about the team’s linebackers, but the Raiders did address a glaring weakness in the secondary spending their first two draft picks on defensive backs to go with young safety Karl Joseph and veteran Reggie Nelson. The Chargers have enough talent to make the playoffs and will if they stay healthy.  However, second-round pick Forrest Lamp is already out for the year and first-round pick Mike Williams started camp on the PUP list and could be limited all season. However, if they can get a full year with Keenan Allen, Jason Verrett and Joey Bosa, they could play into January. Kansas City falls back here due to the Chargers’ ascension while quarterback questions will continue to limit Denver’s ceiling.


AP Awards:

MVP and Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers
Defensive Player of the Year: Earl Thomas
Coach of the Year: Anthony Lynn
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Joe Mixon
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Myles Garrett
Comeback Player of the Year: Marshawn Lynch

Playoffs:

Wild Card Weekend:

NFC
(3)  New York Giants over (6) Arizona Cardinals

(5)  Dallas Cowboys over (4) Carolina Panthers

AFC

            (3) Tennessee Titans over (6) Los Angeles Chargers

            (4) Pittsburgh Steelers over (5) Houston Texans

Divisional Weekend:

NFC
            (1) Seattle Seahawks over (5) Dallas Cowboys

(3) New York Giants over (2) Green Bay Packers

AFC
            (1) New England Patriots over (4) Pittsburgh Steelers
           
            (2) Oakland Raiders over (3) Tennessee Titans

Championship Weekend:

NFC
            (1) Seattle Seahawks over (3) New York Giants

AFC
            (2) Oakland Raiders over (1) New England Patriots

Super Bowl LII:


Oakland Raiders over Seattle Seahawks