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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. Serious Contenders: Germany, Brazil, Spain, France. Dark Horse pick: Croatia.

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 technically 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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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.

 

 

 

2018 MLB Predictions

Posted: March 28, 2018 in Baseball, Sports
Tags: ,

Major League Baseball seems to start their season earlier and earlier every year, which just shortens the time I have to do my due diligence with coming out with my predictions for the upcoming season. The 2018 season was especially tough considering lots of marquee free agents still have not signed. Anyway, I will try to make this as brief as possible. I originally planned on doing a division by division break down, but I found that in past years more people read my overall predictions rather than by division, so here goes.

Until recently the American League East used to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball. There would always be one surprise team outside of the Yankees and Red Sox that would sneak up on them. Those days are gone though. But with that said that doesn’t mean the AL East is not a tough division to predict. It’s gone back to a fairly level playing field after New York and Boston. The Blue Jays went from an overnight powerhouse to one of the worst teams in the division, while the Rays have quietly improved. The Orioles are another team hovering around .500 who make it next to impossible to predict the correct final standings after 162 games.

The Yankees were ahead of schedule last year, with almost everyone (including Yankees brass) predicting that 2018 would be the year they would be contenders again. Coming within one game of the World Series with a team full of rookies and other inexperienced players thanks to Brian Cashman finally putting long overdue stock in the farm system has led to a resurgence in the Bronx. The addition of Giancarlo Stanton is the nail in the coffin of this division. And the fact that they did it for next to nothing is even more worrisome for the rest of baseball, not just the American League. The Yankees landed the best power hitter in baseball to go along with the second best power hitter in baseball who they already had in Aaron Judge, and it presents a lineup that is arguably the most fearsome since murderer’s row. Add in Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorious, whomever of the platoon of center fielders, and you have a recipe for a pennant.

My only worry is their rotation, which is a real head scratcher. They re-signed former ace CC Sabathia, but other than that made no additions to what is the weakest part of their active roster. Jordan Montgomery was named the fifth starter. You’re still not sure what Masahiro Tanaka can provide considering his health is always a question mark. If you take away the brilliant performance CC turned in during the post season you’d be asking questions as to why Brian Cashman re-signed him. Sonny Gray was less than convincing since coming to the Bronx from Oakland, and he looked like a guy who just couldn’t play in New York. And until Luis Severino proves that last year was not a fluke, the most realistic Yankee fans will be on the edge of their seat.

I started writing this piece last week, before the news of the Greg Bird injury. This presents a hurdle for the Yankees that will leave them stumbling towards the finish line with aim for a World Series title. The fact that they don’t have a legitimate replacement in place for the oft injured Bird is worrisome, and I know the Yankees were really counting on Bird’s productivity in the lineup. Bird is expected to be out for six-to-eight weeks, and my money is on the latter part of that scenario. This is his second surgery on the same foot that had him miss most of the 2017 season. The fact that a bone spur popped up now, about six months after the first surgery is very concerning. Add in the fact that Bird missed all of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury and the question begs asking; is Greg Bird one of those players whose career is shortened due to chronic injuries?

The Red Sox won the division last year in what should have been a runaway. But the aforementioned premature Yankees made it interesting down the stretch. But it didn’t play out as the Red Sox wanted as they were booted from the playoffs in the divisional round. Boston made very little additions in the offseason to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. That fact is even more troublesome considering what the Yankees did in the offseason. Boston’s pitching staff is worse than the Yankees, but they will still make the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

Tampa Bay will sneak up on people, even without Evan Longoria. They have a good core of young players, and will also benefit from Baltimore rebuilding yet again and Toronto being caught in the dreaded no man’s land of not being in rebuild mode but also not being iserious contenders.

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Rays
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Moving west, the AL Central was a bit of a surprise last season as the second wild card came from there. Nobody had Minnesota being contenders last year. In fact, lots of people had them finishing dead last in the division and being one of the worst teams in the league. Paul Molitor did a great job at the helm, and with a few key additions the Twins should be back in contention this season as well. But they still want dethrone the reigning division champ Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland suffered the infamous Champions loss let down in 2017, losing the World Series in heartbreaking fashion after coming back to take the lead in the bottom of the 8th at home in Game 7. They still made the playoffs, but were beaten by the aforementioned Yankees in the divisional round. The Tribe will be back in the hunt again next year, but will fall short of making it back to the World Series. I think they will benefit from the weakest division in the American League.

The White Sox, Tigers and Royals are all in rebuilding mode, with the White Sox likely being the best of the lot in my opinion. As expected, the Royals continued to lose key players in free agency from their 2015 World Series Championship team. The Tigers are an odd mix of once great veterans and unheralded youngsters. It’s tough to get a read on them. But with basically the same roster last year they finished dead last in the division and were tied with the Giants for the worst record in baseball. I think given the caliber of players the Royals lost, they will finish slightly ahead of the Tigers.

  1. Indians
  2. Twins
  3. White Sox
  4. Royals
  5. Tigers

 

I see no reason why the Astors won’t run away with the Al West once again in 2018. The only real completion they will face is for the best record in the American League with the Yankees. There was lots of hype around the Angels after they signed Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. But it looks like he will be an epic bust in America. It looks like it will come down to pitching between the Angels and Mariners to determine who finishes in second place. Both teams have lots of pop in their lineups, but their pitching has been the thing to really let them down in recent years.

Oakland will frustratingly be Oakland yet again, but I don’t see them finishing last in the division next year since Texas made no significant additions in the offseason. Considering Oakland only finished three games behind the Rangers last year, and I think they have a better roster than Texas this year, I see Oakland getting out of the cellar next year. Still nowhere near contenders, but if there was one team in the American League that would be a surprise contender next year like the Twins were last year, Oakland would be a strong candidate.

  1. Astros
  2. Angels
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s
  5. Rangers

 

The Nationals will once again be NL East champs in what is undoubtedly the worst division in baseball. The 2015 season is looking more and more like a fluke for the Mets, as they are back to being the Mets. The Marlins, after being one of the teams man people picked as being on the cusp of something great, are once again in tear down mode. Not just rebuilding, but a complete gut job is underway. New ownership traded away all their best players, and it honestly seems like the Marlins just never recovered after the untimely death of Jose Fernandez.

I want to add this in; I attended one game at Marlins Park while living in Miami for a year, and was fortunate to see Jose Fernandez pitch. I’ve been to a lot of baseball games in my life. I’ve witnessed Mark McGwire take batting practice in person. I’ve was at the final game of the old Yankee Stadium. Been in the ballpark when a World Series title was clinched. Sat there dumbfounded after the Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza bat throwing incident in the 2000 World Series. Stood on my seat cheering bench clearing brawls as Daryl Strawberry dove into the visiting Orioles dugout. Was there for the Mr. November game. I even saw a perfect game. But watching Jose Fernandez pitch that night was a thing of beauty. Hands down the best pitching performance I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in person.

  1. Nationals
  2. Mets
  3. Phillies
  4. Braves
  5. Marlins

 

It’s the end of an era in the NL Central as Andrew McCutcheon played his final game as a Pirate in 2017 and joined the San Francisco Giants in what has become a masterful job at retooling that ball club. If it wasn’t for the Reds I think the Pirates would finish in last place. That is how big of a loss McCutcheon is to Pittsburgh. Lots of people are high on the Brewers this season, but I’m just not quite there yet. I see them being a contender, but I think they’re still one or even two pieces away from getting into the playoffs. The Cubs will win the division again. Actually, I see this division finishing the same way as it did last year. You can never count the Cardinals out though.

  1. Cubs
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Reds

 

The NL West is the most intriguing division in baseball. The Dodgers will once again be the crème of the crop. But the Giants will come roaring back with all the additions they made in the offseason. It will be night and day with San Francisco. Their lineup got better practically overnight with the additions of Evan Longoria and the aforementioned Andrew McCutcheon. Also on the horizon are the San Diego Padres, who are finally on the uptick. I don’t think they will be able to contend in this division for another few years though, as they have to leap frog too many teams. They’re just not quite there yet. Either Arizona or Colorado will miss out on the playoffs. This was by far the hardest division to predict for 2018. Nobody saw the Rockies contending last year, and with the loss of Carlos Gonzalez, that will leave them on the outside looking in this year. But with that said, Arizona lost a key piece too. But I think they are still better equipped to make it back to the playoffs, quite frankly thanks to a sharp drop of in quality after the top teams in the National League.

  1. Dodgers
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Giants
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

 

Now on to the playoffs. I hate to basically repeat what happened last year, having the same teams in the playoffs, but I really don’t see much changing. It’s basically the rich got richer. The National League Wild Card spots were the toughest to predict. It was a tossup between the Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, Rockies, Diamondbacks and I even contemplated the Giants. In the end I went with the Cardinals and Diamondbacks. You can never trust the Mets. Like I said above the Brewers are still one or two key pieces away. And the Giants will be one of those pesky teams sticking around till the end, but they have some key pitching injuries that leave one of the weaker spots in their roster, much weaker.

I have the Red Sox beating the Twins in the AL Wild Card game, and the Diamondbacks beating the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card game. The Astros will beat the Indians in the AL division series, with the Yankees, having the best record in the AL, beating the Red Sox in the other division series matchup. The Cubs will beat the Nationals in the NL division series, and The Dodgers, having the best record in the NL, will beat the Diamondbacks in the remaining division series. The Nationals, once again, can’t get out of their own way.

The Dodgers will get back to the World Series, and I see their old friend Yu Darvish, now of the Cubs, playing a prominent role in that. The Yankees will get past the Astros this time. Lots about baseball, well sports in general, is a gut feeling you get. I have that gut feeling about this Yankees team. I think getting as close as they did last year with be extra motivation for them. The youngsters clearly showed they could handle both the big stage of playing in New York in general, and all the added attention that comes with being in the post season.

I think the Dodgers ownership group will do whatever it takes to win a World Series after finally getting over the hump of winning a pennant last year, especially after coming oh so close to winning it all. Before Greg Bird’s injury, I was tossing the idea of who would win the World Series back and forth between the Yankees and Dodgers. But considering Bird’s injury and the fact that the Yankees, in all their wisdom, did not go out and get a suitable backup, I have the Dodgers winning the World Series in 6 games. I think the bird injury is more serious than the Yankees are letting on to, and it will keep him out much longer than the two months. And if he does somehow get back in May, his production just won’t live up to expectations because of it. Maybe the Yankees were scared off after what happened with the free agent signing of Chris Carter last year. But Tyler Austin, and the possibility of Neil Walker filling in at first, are not going to be enough to get the job done in the Fall Classic.


Here is my bracket for the 2018 NCAA Division I Tournament. See gallery below for all my picks. Figured it would be better to take screenshots of my bracket than list out in writing all my picks.

I don’t have a formula for my picks; I don’t pick schools based on colors or mascots or funny names or what state they’re from. I use my gut, which is based on a team’s record (good wins vs. bad losses), coaching and the history of the program. I have schools I always go to, I call them my tournament teams. And then I have schools I never pick because they inevitably lose way earlier than they should. Unfortunately this year there were far fewer teams in my never pick category and many in my tournament team category, which made it a bit tougher. But I inevitably get burned by one of my teams that I never pick after they go on a deep run.

Teams I never pick include Purdue, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Ohio St., Texas and Baylor. My tournament teams, who I always lean on, are North Carolina, Michigan St, Minnesota, West Virginia, Villanova, Wisconsin, Miami, Florida, Arizona, Rhode Island, Temple, Gonzaga, Xavier and Syracuse. Obviously within reason I either pick or don’t pick a team. So say if Purdue is ever a 1 seed, I won’t have them lose in the first round, but I also won’t have them making a deep run. And I won’t have a team like Rhode Island make the Final Four this year.

As for upsets, I don’t have many this year. In the first round I have South Dakota St. over Ohio St., Syracuse over TCU (if you can call Syracuse winning an upset, but rankings wise it technically is an upset). In later rounds I have #10 Providence beating #7 Texas, #7 Nevada over #2 Cincinnati,  #7 Arkansas beating #2 Purdue (one of the teams I never pick), #7 Rhode Island over #2 Duke and #6 Miami over #3 Tennessee.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see #2 Duke lose to #15 Iona, #5 Clemson lose to #12 New Mexico St., #6 Miami lose to #11 Loyola-Chicago or even #3 Texas Tech lose to #13 Stephen F Austin in the first round. Heading into Selection Sunday Loyala-Chicago was going to be one of my upset picks had they not drawn one of my tournament teams. There are inevitably bracket busters out there, but in this year’s tournament I don’t see a big snafu happening like a few years ago when Michigan St. losing to Middle Tennessee St. That was the only time I lost a Final Four team in the first round of the tournament.

I have (in alphabetical order) Michigan St., North Carolina, Villanova and Virginia getting to the Final Four. I then have Virginia and Michigan St. squaring off in the National Championship game and Michigan St. winning the title.


I’m trying to get this blog more about sports than just records. Which was the idea behind this blog, and hence its name. And considering how well by Premier League predictions went last year, I decided to branch out into the obligatory NFL predictions for the upcoming 2017 season. Let’s get this out of the way now. I waited until the day before the season kicked off to post this for the sole reason of waiting to see if any injuries, suspensions or last minute additions would occur that may impact a team’s season. Just like I don’t do fantasy drafts in August, why shouldn’t I take advantage of any and all information?

 

NFC East

One of the topsey turvey divisions in recent years, the NFC East will buck that trend and again be a two team race between the same two teams; the Giants and Cowboys. Only they will swap positions in the standings with the Giants winning the division and the Cowboys finishing a close second. I think the Giants and Cowboys will split the season series, with each teaming winning at home. And both will sweep the remaining division schedule. So it will come down to who has the easier schedule, and since the Cowboys will be playing a first place schedule they will face a tougher road of the two teams.

A lot has been made about Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension. After appealing, it has not been reduced from the six games he was initially served, and in a surprise turn of events he can play in Week 1. But since Elliott is suing the league in hopes of blocking the suspension, the curtains are far from closed on this drama. The way I see it, the Cowboys would still have the same results in the games during Elliott’s suspension, with or without him. And it’s actually more favorable for the Cowboys now after having his suspension pushed back to take effect after Week 1, because at it stands they play the 49ers in Week 7, which would be the final week of the suspension.

There aren’t enough pieces around Kirk Cousins in Washington to have them contend for a Wild Card spot. The Eagles will be better than they were last year as Carson Wentz has a year of experience under his belt. Put Philadelphia in another division, say like the AFC South, and they would probably win it. But playing in the NFC East they’ll be on the outside looking in come January.

  1. New York Giants 10-6
  2. Dallas Cowboys 9- 7
  3. Philadelphia Eagles 8-8
  4. Washington Redskins 6-10

 

NFC North

Is Aaron Rodgers still playing for the Packers? Yes? Well there is your division winner. I can’t see the Lions being as good as last year because the Vikings got better. The Vikings might have lost one of the best running backs in NFL history, but they replaced him with 2 backs who will complement each other nicely. At the very least Latavius Murray will be healthy enough to pay in more games that Adrian Peterson, and that provides crucial carries from a reliable back. Why waste time talking about the Bears.

  1. Green Bay Packers 11-5
  2. Minnesota Vikings 9-7
  3. Detroit Lions 7-9
  4. Chicago Bears 4-12

 

NFC South

Despite the Falcons being one of the more impressive teams last year, this division was actually one of the tougher ones to predict. Not the winner, but the division as a whole. Atlanta should easily win the division again this year, how far they go in the playoffs depends on how bad that epic choke job in the Super Bowl affects them.  I don’t see the Panthers being much better. Sure, the addition of Christian McCaffrey is great on paper. But will Cam Newton actually utilize him to the maximum his potential? McCaffrey is a great receiving option out of the backfield, and should help Newton avoid getting pummeled, but does anyone actually think Cam will give the ball to McCaffrey when he leaves the pocket rather than keeping the ball himself and scrambling? The Saints don’t have enough pieces to contend even though Drew Brees keeps them in more games than they should be in. Tampa Bay goes as Jameis Winston goes, and giving him DeSean Jackson should help tremendously. Even if it only means Mike Evans sees more single coverage.

  1. Atlanta Falcons 12-4
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6
  3. Carolina Panthers 6-10
  4. New Orleans Saints 6-10

 

NFC West

On paper the Cardinals have a very easy schedule. Probably one of the easiest in the NFL. If they can at least split the series with Seattle, they face a favorable run down the stretch facing teams that will likely have nothing to play for. After their bye, which is Week 8 (how nice of the NFL huh) they play San Francisco, Jacksonville at home, the Rams at home and Washington. The biggest problem with their stretch run is that they play Seattle twice, the first time in Week 10 and the second time in the final game of the season, which is in Seattle. So that 49ers game in Week 9 right after the bye could easily be a trap game, something that hurt the Cardinals last year.

I initially thought Seattle would not win the division, losing out to the Cardinals, who I think will surprise people this season. But after the acquisition of Sheldon Richardson, I had second thoughts and put the Seahawks back atop the NFC West. But I have both teams reaching the playoffs, with Arizona as the first wild card team. Why bother wasting time talking about the Rams or 49ers? They will be also-rans.

  1. Seattle Seahawks 11-5
  2. Arizona Cardinals 10-6
  3. Los Angeles Rams 4-12
  4. San Francisco 49ers 3-13

 

 

AFC East

Patriots win the division yet again. Shocking I know. But that is basically all you need to know. The Dolphins have a fairly easy schedule, but one that may present some problems with Jay Cutler as their new starting quarterback. They could easily finish at 9-7, or below .500 if Cutler is his typical self. I will err on the positive side though. If Miami can win one game against New England they will make the playoffs for the second straight season, if not they will be without a seat when the music stops in a very competitive AFC.

  1. New England Patriot 13-3
  2. Miami Dolphins 9-7
  3. Buffalo Bills 6-10
  4. New York Jets 2-14

 

AFC North

Everyone will be interested in hearing this at the end of the 2017 regular season: “The New York Jets are on the clock.” Because you read it here, the Browns will not be the worst team in football. I can see them getting at least 2 wins and losing out on the top pick because they will beat the Jets. All jokes aside, the Steelers will run away with the division. Baltimore will be their only real threat, and even if they lose split the series with Baltimore, they will still win the division by three games. And yes you read that right, I think the Browns will win two games this year; over the Jets and Colts.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
  2. Baltimore Raves 8-8
  3. Cincinnati Bengals 7-9
  4. Cleveland Browns 2-13

 

AFC South

Once again the AFC South will be the worst division in football. There are no dominant quarterbacks in this division, which is the root of the problem. Yes, Andrew Luck is on the cusp of being an elite quarterback, but that is when he is healthy. And that is a huge but. He is coming off surgery and is already confirmed to miss the first game of the season. Plus, there are no pieces around him like in years past. The Titans were a bit of a surprise team last year, narrowly missing out on the playoffs. Marcus Mariota will only get better entering his third season, and giving him new weapons like Eric Decker and rookie receiver Corey Davis presents a scary proposition for opposing defenses. Because Houston still doesn’t have a standout quarterback, I’m not picking them to squeak out the division again. They can only rely on their defense for so long. And because they won the division last year, they will play a first place schedule, which further helps the Titans.

  1. Tennessee Titans 10-6
  2. Houston Texans 8-8
  3. Indianapolis Colts 8-8
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12

 

AFC West

Before Derek Carr broke his leg in the final week of the regular season last year I thought the Raiders stood the best chance of beating the Patriots in the playoffs. The only thing I could see derailing them this year is the huge distraction of the team re-locating, yet again. It’s something fans in Oakland should be use to, but it doesn’t mean the black hole won’t turn on them and make a hostile home environment for the soon to be Las Vegas Raiders. How the Chiefs do so well with a mediocre quarterback and no running game is beyond me. This year will see them lose the division crown but still make the playoffs as a wild card team with a 10-6 record. Of course that could change if the Broncos get great quarterback play out of Trevor Siemian, and they manage to win both games against the Chiefs. Or if the Chiefs manage to lose both games against the Broncos and Raiders (For simplicity reasons of predicting records I have all 3 of them going 1-1 against each other. And also because of how fierce those rivalries are), which would have the Chiefs’ record sink to 8-8 and result in KC missing the playoffs.

  1. Oakland Raiders 13-3
  2. Kansas City Chiefs 10-6
  3. Denver Broncos 9-7
  4. Los Angeles Chargers 3-13

 

Now on to the playoffs, what most people will be concerned with. Here are the matchups I predict:

NFC Wild Card Round

#3 Green Bay vs. # 6 Tampa Bay

#4 New York Giants vs. #5 Arizona

 

AFC Wild Card Round

#3 Pittsburgh vs. #6 Miami

#4 Tennessee vs. #5 Kansas City

 

NFC Divisional Round

#2 Seattle vs. #3 Green Bay

#1 Atlanta vs. #4 New York Giants

 

AFC Divisional Round

#2 New England vs. #3 Pittsburgh

#1 Oakland vs. #5 Kansas City

 

NFC Championship

#3 Green Bay vs. #4 New York Giants

 

AFC Championship

#1 Oakland vs. #2 New England

 

Super Bowl

Oakland vs. Green Bay

 

Super Bowl Champions

Oakland Raiders

 

The Patriots are too easy a pick to win the Super Bowl. That decision was made easier with the Julian Edelman injury, but I had them not even reaching the Super Bowl prior to Edelman being out for the year. I felt last year that the Raiders would be a serious threat to the Patriots throne, but then Derek Carr broke his leg and the rest was history.  So I’m going with them to reach the Super Bowl out of the AFC. The Steelers will be very good this year, but I think they will run out of steam towards the end with an aging Ben Roethlisberger. The Chiefs will win a playoff game in back to back years for the first time in who knows how long, but then they will run into the Patriots, who have been a thorn in their side for quite a while now.

As easy as the AFC is to pick, the NFC is a complete toss up. There are no serious contenders in my opinion. Sure, there will be the perennial winners, like the Packers and Seahawks. But who else amongst the playoff teams would mount a serious title challenge? I’m hedging my bets and going with the fact that I can’t see the Packers losing to the Seahawks twice in one season, and Seattle will be arrogant heading into my predicted Divisional Round matchup after what happened in the 2014 NFC Championship . Starting the season 0-2 will be a wake up call for the Packers, and they will learn from their mistakes after losing to Seattle in Week 1. They will trudge through the playoffs, thanks to what would be a miss match on paper against the Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round, as the infamous warm weather team traveling north to a cold weather team matchup playing out in the Packers’ favor.

While the Packers will learn from past mistakes, collapses and choke jobs to finally reach another Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers, ultimately they won’t have enough to beat the Raiders, who are a well balanced team. Rodgers should be able to carve apart Oakland’s defense, but Green Bay’s shaky defense won’t be able to stop the Raiders. I see Oakland’s defense being able to do just enough to slow down Rodgers and company with their pass rush to hold on to and a very tight Super Bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

 


So now that the summer transfer window has closed, it’s time to revamp my predictions for the 2017/18 season. Last year I didn’t make any changes, but this year it’s a different story. I’m moving some pieces around, mainly Arsenal, who I’m dropping two spots to 7th place. I initially had them in 5th, but so much has gone wrong with them only three weeks into the season it’s mind boggling.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Arsenal will struggle this season, but what should surprise everyone is just how bad they actually are. It’s ineptitude both on the field and behind the scenes. Arsenal is no stranger to bungling the transfer market, but this summer window took that to new, epic levels. There appeared to be a mass exodus at the Emirates, as more players wanted out than in. It was no secret Alexis Sanchez wanted out, but as the summer wore on, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain turned down a 180,000 a week contract to remain at Arsenal and instead accepted less money just to get out of dodge and sign with Liverpool. Lucas Perez, who never really settled in with the Gunners, wanted back to his former club in Spain. Shkrodran Mustafi wanted to abandon ship after only one season in North London as well, hoping to escape to Inter Milan. Joel Campbell wanted to be sold rather than be loaned out, yet again. Kieran Gibbs smartly waited for a move to West Bromich Albion instead of heading off to Watford. Jack Wilshere was even weighing his option over a permanent move away from Arsenal. You know things are bad at Arsenal when academy players are shoving to be first out the exit door.

And all that is on top of not unloading dead weight like Mathieu Debuchy, who clearly does not feature in Arsene Wenger’s plans yet remains at Arsenal. Wenger is so daft he’d rather pay Debuchy to not play than just release him from his contract. In all Arsenal sold 10 players, and loaned out a further nine. There will surely be turmoil at the Emirates, it just depends on how much and how big of an impact it has on their performance.

While Arsenal is stagnant, others made significant improvements in the closing days of the transfer window. Tottenham finally made some signings, landing a suitable (and arguably better) replacement for Kyle Walker and not only added more striker depth, but stealing a player away from Chelsea. Everton also finalized their long speculated deal with former Swansea star Gylfi Sigurdsson .

I’m not changing my pick to win the league, Manchester City, nor having Chelsea fall out of my originally predicted second place finish, but I am rearranging the next few places in the table. I originally had Tottenham in third and Manchester United in fourth, but I’m flip flopping them.

Many people are high on United after their dominant start to the season, but I just can’t see them being disciplined enough to maintain that pace the entire season. I foresee some hiccups for United along the way that will see them drop crucial points to mount a title charge, or even take over the second spot from Chelsea. It will be a close race for the second spot, but I see Chelsea holding on by a few points. I could see it being as close as 3 points, if not less.

Tottenham’s struggles at Wembley were well publicized heading into this season, and I brought up those concerns in my preview for Spurs. It was one of the reasons I had them finish lower than they did last season. Even after the addition of Serge Aurier at right back and Fernando Llorente up top, it’s not enough to have them hang with both Manchester clubs and Chelsea. I have them moving down from my original predicted finish of third, to fourth place.

I already touched on Arsenal, who I originally had in fifth place. But after the whipping they suffered at the hands of Liverpool, and how they not only struggled to beat Leicester, but lost away at Stoke yet again, I fear it will be worse than the “same old Arsenal.” Liverpool, who I had in 6th, moves up to 5th place in my updated predictions post deadline day. Despite their attacking prowess, Jurgen Klopp still didn’t improve his defense. Holding on to Philippe Coutinho despite multiple offers close to 200 million, shows their intentions to the rest of the league.

You may be asking yourselves, who is in 6th place since you dropped Arsenal down to 7th and bumped up Liverpool to 5th. Well, I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and tab Everton for that 6th position. Yes, despite how much cash they flashed in the transfer market, their goal differential is in the negatives. But it will take time for the new squad to gel. Everton will be the biggest beneficiaries of Arsenal being in shambles.

I feel a whole lot more comfortable about having West Brom in 8th place. They added lots of key pieces in the closing days of the summer window. The Baggies added more veteran leadership with Gareth Barry, and taking Polish international Grzegorz Krychowiak on loan was a smart move by Tony Pulis. They also managed to keep Jonny Evans. Should I go out further on that limb and say if Arsenal continue their dreadful form that West Brom would be keen to leap frog them into 7th place?

Huddersfield Town is the biggest surprise of the season so far, but I’m still not moving them out of the relegation zone, nor am I dropping Brighton & Hove down into it based on their lackluster performances. I’m not going to make knee jerk reactions based on only three games. Brighton gets back their talisman, Anthony Knockaert, who was the Championship Player of the Year last season. Brighton also added Davy Propper, who just scored two crucial goals for the Dutch in World Cup qualifiers.  Would it surprise me if Huddersfield avoids the drop and Brighton goes down instead? No. But like I said, I’m going to stick to my guns here.

Looking at other relegation predictions by bonafide pundits, I was shocked not to see more mentions of Crystal Palace. They have been dreadful so far his season, not scoring a single goal while conceding six. West Ham may have a worse goal differential, but at least they have scored. I just can’t see West Ham being this pitiful the entire season. If they do, Slaven Bilic, who is already on the hot seat, will surely be sacked. And whoever takes over the Hammers could be the boost they sorely need.

Watford is another surprise performer in this early stage of the season. But considering they only managed a draw with Brighton, I’m still tabbing them for relegation. But on a bright note, they put on an admirable performance against Liverpool where they walked away with what could be a crucial point. I threw Swansea City into the relegation hat, but they managed to pull off a miracle in the transfer market by adding Renato Sanches on loan and bringing back striker Wilfried Bony, which will help them tremendously in their fight to remain in the top flight. Many people had Burnley going down, especially after selling their top striker to Watford of all clubs, but I wasn’t so hasty. They managed to replace Andre Gray with two strikers; not only stealing a striker from Huddersfield, but also managing to snatch the signature of Championship top scorer Chris Wood from other EPL clubs he was linked with.

Other than the movers around the top of the table, I foresee everything remaining the same as my original predictions. So here is a brief rundown of my updated predications in order of finish (at least for the top half):Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, West Brom, Bournemouth, Southampton. Bottom half (in no particular order): Leicester, Stoke, Burnley, West Ham, Newcastle, Swansea, Brighton. Relegation (in no particular order): Huddersfield, Watford, Crystal Palace.