The greatest sporting event is upon us once again. Yes, it’s a World Cup year, and yes you should care about it. Even if the U.S. are not taking part. Though it will be one of the oddest tournaments in recent memory, if not ever. As many traditional powerhouse nations like Italy and the Netherlands missed out on qualifying. Other countries most tabbed as sure qualifiers like Chile and the aforementioned Americans will not be taking part. But there will be World Cup debutants like Iceland and Panama, along with countries breaking long qualifying droughts like Egypt and Peru. One thing is for certain, for the next month or so the vast majority of the world will be on the edge of their seat watching the beautiful game.

I will try to be as brief as possible with my predictions, going group by group. With 32 teams it will still be wordy, so be forewarned. I will give a brief rundown of every team, staring with the group winner and working down the table.

Group A

This is by far the easiest group, possibly in World Cup history. Three joke teams with one talented team. But even that talented team still won’t be serious contenders to win the tournament. As hosts Russia automatically get slotted in to Group A, and with no other European team drawn into the group (each group can have at max 2 Europeans nations), you wind up with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay all in a group together. Once you see the other groups it will become obvious why this group is a joke. And it also lends credence to conspiracy theorists and FIFA haters that Russia somehow finagled things.

Uruguay

Without doubt the best team in this group, they should take all 9 points with ease. Their only stumbling block will be Egypt, who I wouldn’t be surprised to see steal a point by earning a draw. They’re a technicality gifted team but also play a physical (and arguably dirty) game, the latter of which can lead to disaster later in the tournament.

Egypt

The pharaohs have a bonafide star in Mohammed Salah, but after him there is literally nobody. It will take more than one star player to lift the trophy at the end. And if Egypt were in any other group I doubt I would have them advancing to the knockout rounds.

Russia

Even being drawn into this group won’t help Russia save face. The only point(s) they will be able to claim will be against Saudi Arabia. I have them beating the Saudis, but I could see them playing out an ugly draw. Which is where goal differential comes into play, and seeing as the Russians have a more experienced and downright talented squad, I see them conceding fewer goals that the Saudis. It also help that in Saudi Arabia’s last three appearances in the World Cup they’ve scored a total of four goals while conceding 26, thanks in large part to an 8-0 shellacking at the hands of the Germans 8-0 back in 2002.

Saudi Arabia

Without a doubt one of the worst teams in the tournament. They qualified thanks in large part to being in one of the weaker confederations; Asia. And further benefit from oil money being pumped into their program. They have no star players, and none that play anywhere in Europe let alone any of the top five leagues.  It’s no wonder they’re the lowest ranked team in the tournament (by FIFA rankings).

 

Group B

This is where the tournament actually starts to take shape. It has arguably the best matchup in the entire tournament, and possibly the best group stage fixture of all time. The group features Spain, reigning European champions Portugal, Morocco and Iran.

Spain

Up until they finally won the World Cup back in 2010, they were one of the perennial disappointments in international football. You could pretty much set your watch to it; Spain will not lift the trophy at the end despite having one of the most talented squads in the world. La Roja has reloaded in recent years, getting younger in the process while still retaining an important veteran presence. They will easily lift make it out of the group, and their math against Portugal will be a key early test for them to keep them honest and on their toes. And winning this group is important, because it sets you up on the more favorable side of the bracket for the knockout rounds should the tournament go as expected.

Portugal

The Portuguese are the prototype for relying on one star player and the pitfalls and windfalls in can bring. As Cristiano Ronaldo gets older, the Portuguese National Team has had to change tactics, playing a more defensive game with a potent counter attack. Notice how I said potent instead of deadly? For whatever reason the Portuguese either click or don’t click while wearing their national team kit. It’s either a beautiful display of attacking prowess or a total disaster. Their goalkeeping has also left a lot to be desired. And it’s for these reasons I have them finishing second in the group.

Morocco

Having a stout defense can only take you so far in this game. Playing the likes of Spain, they will eventually break you down. It’s impressive that Morocco did not concede a single goal during qualifying, but on the other hand they lack the offensive firepower to advance to the knockout round.

Iran

Iran is a similar side to Morocco, but their defense is not as well organized nor capable. While they rely on their defense to keep them in games as a last resort, playing for a draw; Morocco’s defense is their strength. And that ultimately will be the difference maker. It also helps that Morocco has slightly better attacking threats and options than Iran.

 

Group C

Another of the weaker groups, but not as big a joke as Group A, Group C features France, Australia, Peru and Denmark. There are two potential trap games here for both France and Denmark, as they each have their eyes on their head to head matchup on the final math day for their group.

France

France should win this group, but it won’t be as easy as everyone thinks. Denmark poses a threat, as does Peru. I don’t think Peru will beat France, but they may give them a run for their money. And in France has one of their typical bad days that they are prone to, Peru might be able to steal a point.

Denmark

The Danes have solid goalkeeping, a star attacking player in Christian Ericksen and a strong leader in the back line in Simon Kjaer. This should be enough to see them through to the knockout round. Aside from France, Peru will be their toughest test, and it will be a good benchmark game have to face them in their opening game.

Peru

One of the surprise qualifiers for this edition of the World Cup, Peru will be one of the teams just happy to be here. They ended a 36 year drought, thanks in large part to a topsy turvy CONMEBOL qualifying cycle. They have a good mix of veteran and young talent, but it won’t be enough to get past either France nor Denmark in the end.

Australia

The socceroos switched allegiances to the Asian Federation from Oceania to have an easier and more direct route to qualifying for the World Cup. But you wouldn’t know it by this qualifying cycle. They had to go through not one, but two, two-legged home-away playoffs just to qualify for the World Cup. A squad with enough talent to avoid this arduous path to the World Cup, saying the Aussies are underachieving right now is an understatement. The best Australia can hope for in this tournament is being a thorn in everyone else’s sides.

 

Group D

What I feel is the toughest group in the tournament; it features four teams that could all legitimately advance to the knockout round. Argentina are perennial favorites to win the tournament, Croatia is loaded with talent but has underlying turmoil as a potential distraction,  Iceland is capable of shocking the world, again, and Nigeria can claim a few scalps is you rest on your laurels.

Argentina

As the tournament draws closer, I’ve been shocked to see more than one person make the bold predict that Argentina will not make it out of the group stage. They had a shaky qualification, but with Lionel Messi you can never be counted out. It also doesn’t hurt to have Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala,

Croatia

I went back and forth as to who finishes second in this group, pretty much a tossup between Croatia and Iceland. I knew Iceland would have a strong performance in the Euros two summers ago, but I don’t think anyone thought they would make it to the quarterfinal. While Iceland does every well, Croatia is capable of jaw dropping greatness. And that will be the difference in this group. Croatia star players, and there are many of them, will take over games. My only doubt is whether or not the political and social turmoil that reared its ugly head at the most recent Euros will make another appearance.

Iceland

Sadly I don’t think Iceland will be able to duplicate the magic from two years ago. Their squad is older (and some were already old at the Euros), they face stiffer competition in the group stage this go round and they won’t be able to take anyone by surprise anymore. Though if I were to pick one dark horse, it would be Iceland. If every player and every national team put in as much effort and dedication  while playing for their respective national teams as the Icelandic players do, the sport would be far better for it.

Nigeria

No strangers to conflict, the Super Eagles played the previous World Cup under protest with their own Federation over a pay dispute. They’re one of the better African sides in the tournament but that won’t pay dividends in the end. Nigeria frankly does not put in consistent enough performances to be a real threat of advancing to the knockout round.

 

Group E

One of the more intriguing groups in this edition of the World Cup, Group E features Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. A well balanced group, it should provide for some great games. It has a perennial powerhouse, perennial overrated underachiever, surprise underdog and a wild card.

Brazil

Brazil is already dangerous enough without a chip on their shoulder, and now they have something to prove after their humiliating defeat at home against Germany in the last World Cup. They seem to have somewhat corrected their one area of weakness; their defensive third. But with that said it’s still not a world class defense. So the Brazilians are still vulnerable, but won’t be dethroned from this group.

Switzerland

The Swiss are one of the teams in world football that are seemingly always ranked higher than most feel they should be. They did have an impressive qualifying campaign, where they didn’t lose a single game but still somehow didn’t win their group and clinch automatic qualification. But they don’t do any one thing great, and they’re not disciplined, but they still manage to get results. It’s a formula that could catch up to them, but not in this group. Had Switzerland been drawn into a different group in this World Cup, things might be different for them.

Serbia

Serbia qualified directly for the World Cup after winning a wild European group. They have a venerable defense, potent midfield and more than capable strikers who all add up to a well rounded team. And that is key. A team. It’s one of the things that has made the Germans so successful. My only area of concerns for the Serbs is their goalkeepers.

Costa Rica

After the Costa Ricans’ head turning performance in the last World Cup, many people have them as their dark horse to advance past the group stage. I just don’t see it happening. I think the stars aligned for Los Ticos last time and it will be a struggle for them in 2018.

 

Group F

Pegged as the group of death by the American media, it is in actuality far from it. The American media loves to look for drama even if there isn’t any. And with the U.S. not in the tournament, their defacto story line is Mexico. Germany is a shoe in to advance to the knockout round. But after that it is anyone’s guess. I could see any of Mexico, Sweden or South Korea advancing should things go just right for the any of the trio.

Germany

Die Mannschaft has only lost one game in group stage play in their entire history at the World Cup. And even that was not as it seems, as if not for a late missed penalty from Lukas Podolski the Germans would have come back to earn a draw with Serbia instead of a bitter defeat. They are the most well rounded team in the entire tournament, and arguably their few areas of weakness;  a lack of strikers and who will replace veteran right back Philip Lahm after his retirement from international football were both addressed with relative ease with young stars in the making Timo Werner and Joshua Kimmich.

Mexico

I’m going with Mexico to finish second in Group F frankly because Sweden and South Korea and not good enough. It’s not that Mexico is a particularly talented side; they’re just the least rotten of the eggs in the fridge.

Sweden

Let me put it this way; without Zlatan there is no Sweden. They were literally lucky just to qualify for the tournament, beating Italy in the two-legged playoffs due to an own goal. But thanks to a squad full of European based players, they will edge out South Korea to not finish dead last in the group

South Korea

They just lack the caliber of players needed to be serious contenders in a tournament of this stature.

 

Group G

Yet another group that offers no real competition, at least on paper. Any group that features England can be turned on its head. But with Belgium, it shouldn’t go too awry. The likes of Panama and Tunisia should make things easy though. Again, at least on paper.

Belgium

Blessed with yet another golden generation (how you can have more than one is beyond me), the Belgians are poised to make another deep run in the tournament. They have arguably the most talented squad top to bottom, position to position in the entire tournament. The only issue is will they be able to gel and put egos aside for the greater good.

England

If not for the three lions’ history of underachieving I wouldn’t be going out on a limb here. But given the teams in this group, I feel comfortable, not confident, that England will advance past the group stage. They have loads of talent at their disposal, it’s just a matter of focusing all that talent together. In a way is sort of destiny that Belgium and England be placed in a group together; the two nations synonymous of late with lots of great individuals that just can’t seem to mesh into a great team.

Tunisia

Tunisia would finish in last place in this group if Panama did not get drawn in as well. Tunisia has just enough talent, and they play well as a team, to finish ahead of Panama. I can see them causing England fits, and beating Panama, but other than that they won’t amount to much

Panama

Undoubtedly the biggest benefactor of the U.S. falling flat on their face, Panama makes their World Cup debut. But that is all they will get. They will be lucky to score a goal.

 

Group H

The final group does offer some intrigue. Will Poland amount to anything? Can Sadio Mane propel Senegal into the knockout round? Can Colombia repeat or even improve upon their 2014 performance?

Colombia

I’m going with Colombia to top the group mainly because they have an even better squad than they did in 2014. A less so because I just can’t trust Poland. They gained the system in order to get an easier draw in both qualifying and the World Cup itself. Plus they had high hopes for the Euros with pretty much the same squad and struggled where they shouldn’t have. Having Radamel Falcao at their disposal will be a difference maker for Colombia.

Poland

Poland again is their own worst enemy. They have one of the best strikers in the world, a capable keeper, decent midfield but a questionable defense with the absence of injured Kamil Glik. Another example of a team that can rely too heavily on one key player (Robert Lewandowski), it’s a matter of can the rest of the team reliably perform in order to take enough pressure off Lewandowski so he can contribute rather than be marked so heavily he’s almost nonexistent. A second place finish in this group puts the Poles on the tougher side of the bracket, where they wil flounder.

Senegal

With one of the more well rounded squads of all the African teams, they would be poised for a relatively deep run; had they not been drawn into this group. Ultimately they don’t have the talent in enough spots on the pitch in order to compete with the likes of Colombia and Poland.

Japan

Japan has made strides at the domestic level in terms of technical ability, IQ and organization. But they’re still lacking that key ingredient to succeed on the international stage. They’re a nation that is grooming their youth players the right way, but for the current generation it’s too little too late. Japan just lacks the talent in all areas to be able to compete in this group.

 

Knockout Rounds – Round of 16

Uruguay (1A) vs. Portugal (2B)

I’m tabbing Uruguay to get past Portugal, as Portugal is too one dimensional to go any further. Take away Ronaldo and you beat Portugal. And I don’t think Portugal’s recent mentality shift of circling the wagons in an attempt to outlast their opponents when facing stiffer competition will work against Uruguay.

France (1C) vs. Croatia (2D)

This is primed for one of the best matches in the entire tournament. It will be France’s first real test, and hopefully for Le Bleu they will have everything figured out by now and will be firing on all cylinders. Because if not Croatia will have a field day. But as it stands I have France beating Croatia by 1 goal, 3-2.

Brazil (1E) vs. Mexico (2F)

This will be a rough and tumble game. Whoever scores first will be pummeled either until the end of the game or whenever the trailing teams scores; whichever comes first. It’s also interesting to see two teams with a physical style clash, but it’s not entertaining. Brazil should win this game by multiple goals, but will come out worse for wear on the other end.

Belgium (1G vs. Poland (2H)

The Belgians will win this game on the simple fact that they are more well rounded. Poland is just too overmatched. They won’t be able to penetrate Belgium’s defense, will grow frustrated by it and change tactics prematurely to their further detriment. Belgium will win 4-1 or by some margin of 3.

Spain 1B vs. Egypt (2A)

Egypt is in for real trouble here. They won’t be able to hang with Spain. So it’s just a matter of if Spain goes full throttle from the opening whistle to see how bad the score line is. At some point they should take their foot off the gas, but by that point it could already be a three goal deficit for Egypt to overcome. I could see Mo Salah sneaking one past David De Gea as a consolation for the Egyptians.

Argentina (1D) vs. Denmark (2C)

This is where Denmark becomes overmatched. Though it will be more competitive than people think, mainly because Argentina won’t capitalize on all their chances, not because of anything Denmark does. It will be a one goal difference in the end, with Argentina coming out victors.

Germany (1F) vs. Switzerland (2E)

The Germans will make quick work of the Swiss, exploiting their midfield (in particular Granit Xhaka) to open a relatively early lead that will have the Swiss on their heels the rest of the match. To the point where they will be forced to come at the Germans in attack, which will only further the Germans stranglehold on the match by leaving even larger holes for them pick apart.

Colombia (1H) vs. England (2G)

This is a tricky pick. Colombia will try to play a physical game, but it won’t work against the English as the bulk of them play in the Premier League; a fast paced and physical league. When in attack the Colombians will take too long on the ball, which also plays into England’s hands. This will either be a high scoring affair or a dramatic one goal win for whoever is victorious. With all that said, I am going with England to win because too many things play into their favor. My gut also says England is the pick to make.

 

Quarterfinals

Uruguay vs. France

France is the far superior team in the matchup. Uruguay coasted up until now, but their luck runs out here.

Brazil vs. Belgium

This is where Belgium woes catch up to them. Brazil will toy with them and frustrate them into making mistakes. And for good measure Brazil will be physical off the ball, forcing Belgium to lose possession. Which will only further frustrate the Belgians, and have them fall further down the slippery slope. Brazil wins by two goals.

Spain vs. Argentina

What will likely be the most anticipated and watch game in the entire tournament should this play out as I predict, Spain will sneak by Argentina by one goal. Messi will score in what will in all likelihood be his swan song with the national team, but it won’t be enough to keep Spain from advancing as they will carve open the Argentine defense late in the game to take back the lead.

Germany vs. England

In one of the classic matchups in international football, Germany will give England a clinic on how to operate as a team with their eyes on the prize. Germany will once again exploit holes, this time in England’s back line; playing balls in from the wing, long balls over the top and one two combinations that carve a path through England’s center backs. England will hang in there, but ultimately won’t have enough to get past the reigning World Champs.

 

Semi-finals

Brazil vs. France

I have an inkling this game might go to a shootout. France’s defense and most importantly; their goalkeepers Hugo Lloris, whill frustrate the Brazilians. It will get to the point where Brazil will commit too many men forward and France will execute a deadly counter attack to score. This may happen more than once throughout the course of the match. But ultimately Brazil will settle down, and depending on how things go figure things out at half time to assert their dominance on the game, take it by the horns and win.

Germany vs. Spain

An interesting matchup, it will feature youth and cunning vs. discipline and efficiency. Ultimately Germany will win, beating Spain at their own game (or at least from a few years ago). The Germans are deadly in all facets of the game; they can press, they can counter attack, they play a patient possession game and they’re organized in defense. They’re also flexible and have the versatility to play multiple formations throughout the course of a single game. In the end all this will overwhelm the younger players in Spain’s squad, and all it takes is one weak link and the Germans will not only find it, but exploit it.

 

Third Place Game

France vs. Spain

Spain will win what both team will feel is a consolation medal. Neither wants to play this game, but taking into account Spain has more younger players who might be driven to put in a strong performance in order to secure their spot going forward, they will edge out the French. Who at this point have turned off.

 

Final

Brazil vs. Germany

For anyone expecting a repeat performance from 2014, think again. Brazil will be more organized in defense, and won’t concede five goals before half time. They will ultimately lose though, as the Germans tend to get better as tournaments go on. And the fact they that faced tougher and tougher competition as it went on does not bode well for the Brazilians. Germany will win by two goals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vagrant Records snuck in some final releases into their 20th Anniversary pressings towards the tail end of 2017, and boy was one of them a doozy. One of the only outstanding Saves The Day releases to not be released on vinyl was their b-sides album, and Vagrant finally decided to press it as part of their aforementioned 20th Anniversary celebration.

Ups & Downs: Early Recordings And B-Sides was pressed on only one color; 180 gram black limited to 900 copies. An insert is included with the record, which has the liner notes printed on both sides. The liner notes for this album are pretty good, as the band gives a brief but detailed history of each and every song on the album. Along with these descriptions are photos of the band whilst on the road touring as well as shots of them performing live. So ignore what Discogs says about the insert as it’s wrong; there are no lyrics printed anywhere on it. All copies come with two hype stickers; one advertising that this release is part of Vagrant’s 20th Anniversary celebration and another saying the record is on 180 gram vinyl.

The only place to buy this record is via Vagrant’s official web store, which is hosted by Kings Road Merch (KRM). Retail price on it is $20, and because Vagrant and KRM rarely run sales, at least on anything worthwhile, I wouldn’t wait to buy this hoping to get it cheaper. Case in point, I waited almost two years for the Dustin Kensrue covers album to go on sale or for a coupon code to use on it, but KRM never did either. While Ups & Downs: Early Recordings And B-Sides has not sold out in the seven or so months it’s been available, there really is no reason to wait and buy it if you have the money to afford it now.


The All-American Rejects released their first new material in five years in the form of a two song EP. The two songs are “Sweat” and “Close Your Eyes.” The only physical release for the EP is vinyl, which comes as a 7”.

Pressing info was never released, but this 7” is being advertised as being “limited edition.” All copies are pressed on black vinyl, and come in a traditional jacket instead of a paper sleeve. And yes, that parental advisory notation is printed into the artwork. It’s not a sticker on the jacket or the shrink wrap.

Retail price on this is a bit higher than it should be; $8 before shipping. Considering this is actually a tough record to find anywhere other than directly from the band’s web store, you’re pretty much forced to pay shipping. My local store, which gets pretty much everything, didn’t even have copies of it. And when they don’t carry something they take special orders, but they couldn’t even special order it for me either, which I found strange as some indie record stores were able to somehow get copies. And it’s not like my local store is some hole in the wall store in a Podunk town.

Shipping was an additional $6 directly from the band. But I was able to find one on ebay for a bit cheaper thanks to lower shipping charges (plus my ebucks code). This 7” was released in August 2017, and hasn’t seen a sale or price drop. Plus taking into consideration the limited buying options mentioned above, I figured now was a good time to buy it. Especially since my ebucks code was going to expire the next day.

If you needed another reason to hate major labels, here is one more; Interscope Records, who released this 7”, along with a handful of other major labels, are starting to not put download cards in physical releases anymore. Instead, they are opting to only issue them to those who order the record from either the label’s or band’s official online store. The digital downloads are either delivered via e-mail or are redeemable after placing your order through a link on your order form/receipt. It’s yet another shady marketing strategy aimed to get people to buy records for a higher price in the form of full retail price if not for a mark up on it, and directly from the label/band so they make even more money by not having to pay middle man like a distributor to get copies out to say Amazon, Best Buy, indie record stores or other online distros. I know Interscope Records, which is owned Universal Music Group as well, and Reprise Records, which is owned by Warner Music Group, employ this no download card strategy, so it wouldn’t surprise me if every label under those respective umbrellas do the same.

The All-American Rejects - Sweat - Copy

 


This is a record I’ve spent years trying to track down. It might not seem like a record that people are clamoring over, and it doesn’t sell for ridiculous prices. At this point in my record collecting it’s more about price than anything. I have a strict budget I stick to. Not an overall monthly budget or anything like that, but a certain price I want I don’t want to go over based on the record. Typically $15 for a single LP, $18 for a double LP, and under $10 for a 7”, all with shipping included. Sure there are a few exceptions here and there, but for the most part I’ve done very well sticking to that budget the last couple years.

Hellogoodbye wasn’t even a band I was heavily into or liked all that much. It’s one of those cases where when a pre-order is announced or a new album is released you sometimes go and listen to that band, or in the case of Hellogoodbye go back and listen them again, which leads to re-discovering them. Like most people, I was familiar with Hellogoodbye from their Drive-Thru Records days, which led me to their latest album, the self released Would It Kill You?, which I think is an underrated and fantastic album. That led me to want to collect them, which was somewhat easy considering they’ve only released three records to that point, which shortly increased to four total with the releases of their debut self-titled EP on vinyl. I eventually got around to buying all of their vinyl releases except for one; this picture disc 7” for Here (In Your Arms).

Since this is a UK release, it was rather hard to find in the U.S., and it eventually swelled into just finding a copy at all. Copies rarely popped up on ebay, and if they did, it was a UK seller with a Buy It Now (BIN) that lasted a month, and then when it didn’t sell they would just re-list it for the same price until it sold. But since I lived in the U.S., I would be hampered by not only the exchange rate, but international shipping, the latter of which sometimes cost more than the record itself. It took a long time, but I finally found someone, well stumbled upon someone in the U.S. selling a copy of this 7”. And to sweeten the deal they were selling it for only $5. I bought a few other things from this seller, which helped on shipping costs, so I wound up buying this 7” for $8 when all was said and done.

Pressing info was never released for this 7”, but all copies were done as a picture disc. The artwork is pretty much the same on both sides of the record; a photo of the Southern California band frolicking on the beach. All copies come in a less traditional picture disc sleeve, as it has crimping running from top to bottom on the left and right hand sides. And considering most picture discs just come by themselves in picture disc sleeves, this particular picture disc has a backing board, which serves as an insert. It’s on very thin paper, and one side is blank, but it’s better than nothing. The only info printed on is it the track listing, which is the single on the a-side and a live version of “Baby, It’s Fact” on the b-side.

No Doubt – s/t

Posted: June 5, 2018 in Vinyl
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No Doubt released their debut album on vinyl in 2017 to commemorate the album’s 25th anniversary. It’s an often overlooked album, as many people aren’t even aware of its existence, thinking that Tragic Kingdom is the band’s first album. That fact, or well, misguided fact, affects lots of bands, but mainly those who burst into the mainstream with a breakout album while being relative unknowns prior to the release of said album. The band’s self-titled album, released back in 1997, is what the band originally set out to be; a new wave ska band. Which doesn’t help people be aware of its existence, as the album sounds nothing like Tragic Kingdom and all subsequent albums.

There are a handful of variants for No Doubt, but all copies were pressed as a single LP in a single pocket jacket with a printed dust sleeve. There is also a large white circle hype sticker on all copies, which denotes the color of the record. The variants are blue limited to 500 copies, opaque yellow/black split limited to an unknown amount of copies and black 180 gram limited to an unknown amount of copies as well. So far it seems like the colored vinyl variants are only available online, while black is available both online (band’s web store and other online outlets) and via physical retail outlets. When the record was put up for pre-order the band’s official web store was selling autographed copies (signed on the jacket) on your choice of variant for $100. And they sold out well before release date. Retail price on this record is $25 otherwise.


Now that the 2017/18 English Premier League season has completed and all domestic competitions have concluded, it’s time to review my predictions. For the second straight year I correctly predicted the champion; Manchester City. It was an easier pick than the 2016/17 campaign, where I was spot on with picking Chelsea to lift the trophy. But after that pick it was mostly downhill for me. My relegation picks were all wrong. Every single one of them. Which marks the first time I did not get a single relegated club correct.

Normally I would be a bit bummed having gotten all three picks wrong, but considering how abysmal each club was this season, I can’t complain as hopefully the league will get better next season as some of the more dysfunctional teams (not necessarily clubs) were finally sent down. But the two clubs who earned automatic promotion (Wolverhampton and Cardiff City) and the winner of the Championship playoff; Fulham, don’t offer much promise in terms of competition for next year. But for the first time in about 10 years all three newly promoted clubs avoided relegation; which coincidentally seems to be a feat that is repeated every 10 or so years.

Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong about West Bromwich Albion. I should have known better, but there is always one club who surpasses all expectations. Unfortunately for me and my picks it wasn’t West Brom. Last year it was Bournemouth, and this year it was Burnley, who earned a European spot for the first time since the 60s. I just thought that West Brom had the talent and that Tony Pulis would not let his team rest on their laurels like they did last season after they assured safety in the top flight.

Like I just said, Burnley out performed everyone’s expectations. Lots had them tabbed for relegation, but I knew they would survive. They made the perfect signings, and they all performed. Up until their clash with Arsenal, they actually stood a chance of finishing in the top six and assuring themselves a direct qualification spot for the Europa League Group Stage. But they ultimately lost that fixture as Arsenal consolidated sixth spot in the table.

As I predicted, Arsenal had a poor finish, dropping further down the table than their already record low fifth finish last season. Arsene Wenger ultimately announced his departure late in 2018, after the Gunners crashed out of both domestic cups but before their unceremonious departure from the Europa League after blowing a ridiculously early man advantage in the first leg in the semi-final. I had the Gunners in seventh, so one spot off for them, which is where West Brom rears their ugly head again.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about Huddersfield Town. They did a remarkable job. They did struggle for goals, as predicted, but they stole points from some of the big boys to not have to deal with any drama on Championship Sunday.

Crystal Palace, who went not just winless but goalless through their first seven games, somehow avoided relegation. Watford soared early but faltered as time went on to finish in the bottom half. I tabbed those two for relegation, but they stave off the drop for another season. The one thing I predicted right about Stoke was the awful use of transfer funds. They had awful dealings in the transfer market, and it reflected in their performance on the pitch as it resulted in relegation. To further prove the club’s fallacies they fired Mark Hughes in favor of hiring Alan Lambert, who guided Aston Villa to relegation a few years ago and did no different at the helm of Stoke. While Hughes ultimately got the last laugh steering Southampton clear of relegation.

If not for goal difference Southampton might have well been relegated though, as they were awful this season spending much of it in the relegation zone. They were a club I did not know what to make of, because they tend to be just competitive enough to be thorns in everyone’s sides while not really competing for any trophies. Had Swansea City not suffered a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of Man City in the closing weeks of the season, Championship Sunday would have been more dramatic. But the Swans couldn’t overcome several key late season defeats, including to Southampton, so they were relegated.

I got the top four wrong as well, though I did successfully pick three out of the four. I didn’t expect Antonio Conte to become so unsettled at Chelsea that it would disrupt the team to the effect of a fifth place finish. Liverpool did eventually sign a quality center back, and Mohammed Salah lit the world on fire on the way to earning the golden boot.

What does next year have in store? Here are my way too early radical predictions. Liverpool wins the league on the back of tearing through the Champions League (despite losing the final) and bringing in more great signings. Tottenham finishes outside the top four because they can’t compete financially and it finally catches up to them. Arsenal finishes in the top four with new manager Unai Emery, who reinvigorates the club as Aubameyang wins the golden boot. Man City regresses under Pep as the rest of the league wises up. Newcastle is the surprise over performer, challenging for a European place as Rafa Benitez stays to finish what he started. Burnley is overwhelmed by the rigors of European football, potentially making signings that don’t mesh and upsets the squad, resulting in them in a relegation fight; ala Cologne in the Bundesliga this season.  Cardiff, Palace (based purely on financial reasons with their new/renovated stadium plans), and Fulham. I’m tabbing Fulham because though their owner might be willing to spend in the transfer market to improve the squad, their open, flowing playing style will not fly so well in the top flight.

 


My first ever attempt at a Mock Draft. Now I realize why I never even thought about doing one; once you get into the teens onward, it’s fairly hard to predict. I am not taking trades into account; though I will say what teams I feel may trade up or down. I am just going pick by pick as the order currently stands. Picks are based on what I think a team should do and what I think they will do. But in most cases it will be what I think they should do with the pick based on positional need and value.

  1. Browns – Sam Darnold; QB, USC. Darnold is the best QB in the draft, and with Tyrod Taylor in place there won’t be an overwhelming cry for Darnold to start Day 1. For once the Browns have actually set themselves up smartly. Let’s be honest, Browns fans aren’t expecting much in terms of on field success in 2018. Everyone’s eyes are on the future, and nobody is expecting greatness out of Taylor, but he is a serviceable QB who took a fledgling team to the playoffs last year. And the more important thing, he will keep Darnold from being thrown into the fire and possibly failing because of it. As so many Browns QBs have.
  2. Giants – Josh Allen; QB, Wyoming. Lots of people find this the most intriguing spot in the entire draft. There are lots of ways the Giants can go here; take the best player on the board in Saquan Barkley, who can help them win now. Take much needed offensive line help, take the best pass rusher in the draft in Bradley Chubb or they could even be tempted to trade down given an overwhelming offer. Then there is the Odell Beckham Jr. trade bait lingering out there, who if traded, will change the landscape of the entire draft, not just what the Giants do. The Giants shouldn’t be picking this high in the draft, ever. And they need to take advantage of this opportunity to find Eli Manning’s successor. Yes, they took Davis Webb in the draft last year, but since they opted to start Geno Smith over him when Eli was benched, that shows they don’t have much faith in Webb. Josh Allen probably has the most upside of any of the QBs in the draft. He has things that can’t be taught and the few things he needs to work on can be easily taught. Learning under Eli will take Allen to the next level. And Allen’s big arm will play well in the NFC East, especially the Meadowlands. If they don’t take a QB here and take say Barkley here, and helps them win, get into the playoffs but don’t reach the Super Bowl, it will actually set the Giants back as they will have to find their future QB working with a late pick in the first round.
  3. Jets – Josh Rosen; QB, UCLA. If the Jets had their hearts set on one specific QB they would’ve, or let’s put it this way; should have, traded up higher than the third pick (from 6th overall mind you). With Rosen being the best available QB left on the board the Jets are a logical landing spot for him. The Jets are in a similar position as the Browns; having a transition QB in place so whoever they take in the draft doesn’t have to start Day 1. They have even more insurance with the signing of Teddy Bridgewater, who showed flashes of greatness in Minnesota before destroying his knee in training camp two years ago. Bottom line is the Jets need to find the franchise QB they’ve sorely been missing for what seems like forever.
  4. Browns – Saquan Barkley; RB, Penn State. One of the bigger question marks in the draft is what will the Browns do at #4. There are lots of roads they can take here; much like the Giants at #2. With Barkley still available I don’t see how you can pass on him. The only reason you don’t take him is because you don’t want to invest a pick this high on a running back. But this route clearly paid off for the Jaguars last year, as they went from one of the worst teams in the league to making the AFC Championship game. Bradley Chubb will be awfully tempting here though.
  5. Broncos – Denzel Ward; CB, Ohio State. The Broncos need to replace Aqib Talib, and Ward is the best corner in the draft. The only reason I see why Denver traded Talib and eat $1 million is because they would target Ward in the draft, especially considering how little return they got for him. Denver tolerated Talib’s off the field issues so that is not a likely reason for the trade of a guy still under contract of for another two years and wasn’t pushing for an extension. With all that said, I could see Denver trading down to a team wanting to move up to take a QB. And they could take advantage of one of those teams to stockpile picks, as Denver has a lot of needs.
  6. Colts – Quenten Nelson; G, Notre Dame. Bottom line here is the Colts need to do a better job protecting Andrew Luck. They have too much invested in him, and when healthy he has one of the best arms in the league. Nelson is the best offensive lineman in the draft, let alone guard. They already traded down once, and I wouldn’t put it past them to trade down again to stock pile even more picks to help plug all the holes in their roster. Especially if there is a team out there desperate enough for a QB or is in love with Baker Mayfield should he still be available.
  7. Buccaneers – Bradley Chubb; DE, N.C. State. The Bucs will be thrilled that Chubb falls to them here. Yes, they traded for Jason Pierre-Paul, but you can’t pass on a talent like Bradley Chubb, the top pass rusher in the draft. I thought about them selecting Minkah Fitzpatrick here simply because of his versatility.
  8. Bears – Minkah Fitzpartrick; S, Alabama Derwin James; S, Florida St. Facing the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and now Kirk Cousins twice a year will force the Bears to get better in the secondary. With Fitzpatrick still available, and the fact that he can play all over the secondary, it’s a no brainer for the Bears.
  9. 49ers – Marcus Daveport; DE, UTSA. San Francisco needs to rebuild the defense that got them to the Super Bowl in -, and for a defense towards the bottom in sacks last year, drafting the best available edge rusher is a good starting point on the path back to the quarterback. They need to get receiving help for Jimmy Garrapolo, but the ninth overall pick is too high to do it. There is enough receiver talent in this year’s draft that they can grab a receiver in the second round, and maybe if they’re lucky, land a first round talent in the second round
  10. Raiders – Roquan Smith; OLB, Georgia. There have been rumblings that the Raiders have been in discussions to trade out of the 10th overall pick. It wouldn’t surprise me if they do trade down, but to be honest I can’t see Jon Gruden passing up the opportunity here. Especially when Roquan Smith is still available. Watching the National Championship Game it seemed Gruden fell in love with Smith. The Raiders do need help at linebacker, so all the pieces of the puzzle fit.
  11. Dolphins – Vita Vea, DT, Washington.  To be quite honest, I have no idea where the Dolphins will go with this pick. They’re kind of in no man’s land here; they don’t need to waste a first round pick on a QB yet, too early to go after a tight end too, they don’t need help at inside linebacker so the best linebacker option is off the board for them, all the top corner talent is gone, and the top two edge rushers were already taken as well. People either love or hate Vea, at least in terms of a high first round pick. But considering all of the Dolphins’ options, he is the best pick here.
  12. Bills – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The Bills risked a lot by trading away their starting QB and not trading up higher in the draft than #12. But in the end they still get a QB without further mortgaging the future.
  13. Redskins – Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Virginia Tech. With Vita Vea off the board, the best remaining defensive option is where Washington has to go here. The fact that they need to get younger at the linebacker position makes taking Edmunds here that much more sense.
  14. Packers – Harold Landry; DE, Boston College. The Packers are pretty well screwed here. If you thought the Dolphins were in no man’s land; the Packers are there but surrounded by land mines with dozens of hand grenades being lobbed their direction and barbed wire preventing their escape. They need so much defensive help, and by this pick all the top players at each position of desperate need, not just need, are already taken. Do they risk taking yet another corner with their first pick? Damarious Randal proved a bust and has been traded away after only two years in Green Bay. Everyone thought Kevin King was a steal at the top of the second round last year, but his play in 2017 leaves a lot to be desired. So I just can’t see Green Bay going after a corner with their first round pick. At least I hope not. So they resort to a typical Ted Thompson move (yes, I know TT is no longer the GM) by selecting Harold Landry, who is fresh off an ankle injury that cut his 2017 season short and prevented him from recapturing his dominant form from 2016. It’s a high risk/high reward pick, and a value pick as well. Had Landry put in a similar season in 2017 as he did in 2016 he would likely be a Top 5 pick.
  15. Cardinals – Calvin Ridley; WR, Alabama. The Cardinals need to find a replacement for Larry Fitzgerald because he can’t play forever (even though he looks like he will). Ridley is the best receiver in the draft, and picking at 15 is actually beneficial for Arizona. Yes, they should be looking for a quarterback of the future, but unless they trade up to get one taking one of the remaining QB’s here at 15 is not a smart decision. Arizona’s game plan should be to take Ridley here, and hope Mason Rudolph or Lamar Jackson fall to them in the second round. Possibly even trading up to get one of them.
  16. Ravens – Mike McGlinchey; OT, Notre Dame. The Ravens are yet another team that needs to start looking for their quarterback of the future. But it’s not here at #16. They’re in the same boat as Arizona. As is usual Baltimore needs more help on the offensive side than the defensive side, and the signing of Michael Crabtree takes them out of the market for a receiver in the first round. It’s still too early to take a tight end, which is another need for the Ravens. Considering they might need to do some re-shuffling along the offensive line, taking the best offensive tackle in the draft is not the flashy move fans might be looking for, but it’s the smart move.
  17. Chargers – Derwin James; S, Florida St.  At this point in the draft it seems like we’re hitting a bunch of teams that need to look for their future QB, but again, the Chargers are in the same boat as Arizona and Baltimore when it comes to this. They’re defensive front is pretty good but their secondary could use another playmaker.
  18. Seahawks – Josh Jackson; CB, Iowa. Seattle needs to replace Richard Sherman, and Jackson is the best available corner. UCF corner Mike Hughes might get some consideration here, but Jackson has better ball skills.
  19. Cowboys – D.J. Moore; WR, Maryland. It felt like everyone knew it was coming, but not this close to the draft. The release of Dez Bryant leaves the door open for Dallas to take a receiver in the first round. They just missed out on Calvin Ridley, who was picked four picks before Dallas went on the clock in my mock draft. I feel like Moore has more upside than SMU’s Cortland Sutton. And the fact that Moore put up the numbers he did at Maryland given the revolving door quarterback situation there proves he is a reliable pass catcher.
  20. Lions – Will Hernandez; G, UTEP. With all the best pass rushing options off the board by this point, the Lions will be forced to address another key need; improving their running game. But it won’t be by selecting a running back in the first round, they can do that later as after Saquan Barkley the running back crop falls off steeply. So Hernandez, a road grader at guard, is the smarter pick here.
  21. Bengals – Mike Hughes; CB, Colorado. Pacman Jones is gone (at least for now) so the Bengals need to find his replacement. Hughes is the best available corner after a run on corners in the first round.
  22. Bills – Da’Ron Payne; DT, Alabama. I could see Buffalo trading back here, as do many other people. But since I’m not including trades in my mock draft, I have to make a selection for Buffalo. And getting another piece for the defensive line is where I see them going here.
  23. Patriots – Kolton Miller; OT, UCLA. New England makes use of their first of two first round picks to solidify a pressing need after the departure of LT Nate Solder in free agency. Miller is one of, if not the most athletic tackles in the draft. He was moved from the right side to the left in his senior year, doing a more than ample job of protecting the golden boy Josh Rosen.
  24. Panthers – Courtland Sutton; WR, SMU. After the top two receivers went off the board before the Panther’s selection, it will increase their urgency to snag one here in the first round rather than wait. Carolina’s passing game can’t be one dimensional again with Christian McCaffrey coming out of the backfield, so they need a receiver. Between Courtland Sutton and the other best remaining receiver; Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Sutton gets the nod. Think of this as another Kelvin Benjamin.
  25. Titans – Arden Key; DE, LSU. Tennessee is in desperate need of pass rushers, and Key is the best available.
  26. Falcons – Taven Bryan; DT, Florida. Atlanta needs to fill a big hole in the interior of the defensive line with the departure of Dontari Poe in free agency. Bryan is best available.
  27. Saints – Hayden Hurst; TE, South Carolina. It was no secret the Saints wanted to sign Jimmy Graham in free agency. Since they missed out on him they turn to the best tight end in the draft; Hayden Hurst. He has a similar build to Graham, and with Drew Brees slinging the ball, there is a high ceiling for the former baseball star. Dallas Goedert will get some consideration here, as it’s a toss up to who the best tight end in the draft is. I would lean more towards Hurst, hence why I have him being picked here.
  28. Steelers – RaShann Evans – OLB, Alabama. The Steelers always seem to strike gold in the draft when selecting defensive guys. And outside linebacker is a need for Pittsburgh given the current situation of their linebacking corps.
  29. Jaguars – Isaiah Wynn; G, Georgia. The Jaguars need to keep building on their strengths, and last year that was clearly the running game. While Wynn played left tackle and left guard in college, but his build lends itself to the guard position in the NFL. But for the Jags’ it has to be a comfort knowing he can play on the outside in the toughest conference in college football and still be able to help the running game. Just look what Georgia running backs have done with Wynn along the offensive line.
  30. Vikings – Connor Williams; OL, Texas. The Vikings don’t have many holes; it’s why they’re picking this late in the first round. One of their weaknesses is along the offensive line, and Connor Williams is versatile enough to play anywhere and is capable of being a plug and play guy at tackle or guard. It’s why I have him marked down as an offensive lineman and not penciled in at guard or tackle. Some project him to be relegated to guard while others have him being a strong right tackle.
  31. Patriots – Mason Rudolph; QB, Oklahoma St. Their second of two first round picks gives New England some flexibility. Depending on how the board shapes up at this point, they may feel safe not selecting a quarterback here. To be perfectly honest here, I see them trading down with a team who wants to move up from early in the second round back into the first round. And with that early second round pick New England will take Mason Rudolph. Of late there has been lots of buzz about them liking Lamar Jackson, but it wouldn’t’ surprise me if that was misinformation purposely being sent out by the Patriots in order to have a team make a trade in order to draft Jackson before he falls to the Patriots. But since I am not predicting trades on this mock draft, I have New England taking their man, Mason Rudolph at this pick.