I was recently interviewed by Tom Eschen Jr., a sports reporter for For The Fans who is running the Falmouth Road Race for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. For The Fans (FTF) is an award-winning global sports provider delivering world-class international and domestic sports and lifestyle entertainment to dedicated fans everywhere.
The long and short versions of the interview will run sporadically on the “For the Fans” digital channel, which is on platforms like Roku Channel and Xumo TV among others. The pieces will run as filler content after live games and events, so they will be seen by many different audiences.
I’d like to give a special thank you to Tom Eschen and For the Fans for taking the time to highlight my story and talk sports with me. I wish Tom luck in the Falmouth Road Race, and you can donate to Tom’s Falmouth fundraiser for the Flutie Foundation here, which will help raise money for people and families affected by autism.
Week 1 was a wild one, jam packed with lots of upsets and even more reactions. A good number of these reactions are likely overreactions. This week, we may begin to see some players and teams consistently trending in either the right or wrong direction. My NFL Week 2 Picks are here, and throughout this article I’ll not only be predicting games but also outlining overreactions across the league. I started off 6-10 (7-10 including Week 2 TNF), so my track record is not off to a good start. However, I hope to improve after seeing last week’s action.
Lock of the Week
The Texans had an impressive victory over Jacksonville in Week 1, but they’ll receive a rude awakening in Cleveland Week 2. The Browns nearly took down QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Kansas City last week. Expect this well-balanced team to thrive in a much easier matchup as they outmatch the Texans on both offense and defense.
Upset of the Week
The Panthers offense looked very impressive last week. Was it against a weak Jets defense? Yes, but I still expect Carolina to continue to put up points on a consistent basis. QB Sam Darnold was able to utilize RB Christian McCaffrey to the best of his abilities and had a good rapport with all three starting WRs. With CB Marshon Lattimore out for New Orleans, this Panthers receiving corps could be in for a big day. QB Jameis Winston was even more impressive last week, tossing 5 TDs. I think he has a lot of potential, but there’s only so much he can do with this few reliable weapons. Give me the Panthers for a competitive, but comfortable victory.
The Other Games
Miami had an impressive victory in a back and forth game with the Patriots last week. I think this defense has the ability to come up clutch and it’ll shine through again this week against Buffalo. This Bills offense is not going to be as unstoppable as it was last year. While QB Josh Allen should put up a strong game, it’s going to take time for him to return to late 2020 form and get past defenses like Miami’s.
The Jets are already battling injuries at WR like they did last year. That could make it difficult for QB Zach Wilson to put up too many points against a defense that normally feasts on young QBs. Meanwhile, look for the Patriots WRs to perform well against an inexperienced group of Jets corners. It’s these wide receiver-defensive back matchups that will make the biggest difference as Pats QB Mac Jones outperforms Wilson in a New England road victory.
Pittsburgh is missing a couple key defensive pieces in CB Joe Haden and LB Devin Bush. Nonetheless, I’m expecting a fairly comfortable win for them over Las Vegas, as RB Najee Harris runs all over the Raiders front seven. Harris may lack a strong o-line, but that won’t matter in favorable matchups, as he’s a very talented running back.
Last week, it was Sam Darnold’s revenge game against the Jets. This week, QB Andy Dalton gets a chance to compete against his longtime team, the Cincinnati Bengals. I expect QB Joe Burrow to outperform Dalton with ease. However, the big difference here will come down to the defense. While the Bears defensive front should be able to contain RB Joe Mixon, the Bengals front seven is no match for Bears RB David Montgomery. Expect Montgomery to come up clutch in a Bears OT thriller.
It was a rough week for this Colts D in Week 1 as they hosted Seattle. Look for them to redeem themselves against a Rams offense that should be slightly easier to contain. It’ll be tough for the Colts to run away with much of a lead as they face DT Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey. However, I’m expecting Rodrigo Blankenship to kick a game winner in this close, defensive battle.
The Jaguars fell short last week against a flawed Texans team. I’m not expecting much at all out of Jacksonville against this Denver defense. Meanwhile, look for RBs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams to run all over this inexperienced Jaguars D. It’ll be closer than some expect as QB Teddy Bridgewater struggles without his favorite target in Jerry Jeudy. The Broncos should come out on top nonetheless.
While the Eagles aren’t going to be this dominant every week, it’s hard to believe that QB Jalen Hurts’ performance against the Falcons was entirely a fluke. This 49ers secondary is not what it used to be, and hasn’t really been much better than Atlanta’s. Hurts will be able to capitalize on that as he takes down San Francisco in a shootout.
I think this could finally be the year that this Arizona offense is able to click. They put up an impressive performance against the Titans, and I’m expecting more of the same as they host Minnesota. QB Kirk Cousins and the Vikings should be able to put up a fight per usual, but I’m expecting Cardinals QB Kyler Murray to put up a monster game both on the ground and with his arm.
This Falcons offense is eventually going to return to form. It’s built fairly similarly to how it was in 2020, just with RB Mike Davis and TE Kyle Pitts replacing RB Todd Gurley and WR Julio Jones. While I expect improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, Atlanta is no match for QB Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
After their win over Washington last week, I could see the Chargers completing a sweep of this NFC East. Look for QB Justin Herbert to target RB Austin Ekeler more than last week, while also relying on his WR duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The Cowboys are always able to put up some points on offense, but I don’t expect them to be nearly as explosive as usual with WR Michael Gallup and star OL Zack Martin missing among others.
Both of these teams are centered around their offenses, and no matter who wins, this should be an offensive shooutout. I think RB Derrick Henry should be able to bounce back from a rough Week 1 performance. However, you can’t discount the fact that Seattle will have a packed crowd on their side for the first time since the pandemic began. I’m expecting QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to outplay the Titans in a close one.
Baltimore fell short in overtime last week, but I’m expecting a different outcome this time around as the Ravens win an OT thriller against Kansas City. Look for strong games out of both QB Patrick Mahomes and QB Lamar Jackson. It’ll be a Justin Tucker game winner that makes the difference for Baltimore.
It’s hard to believe that QB Aaron Rodgers is giving his all right now. I’m expecting him to rely on the run game as he edges out an MNF victory over Detroit. Another strong performance from Lions RBs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams (against his former team) could give the Packers a scare. It’s hard to believe Detroit will be able to upset Green Bay at Lambeau Field though.
TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday night)
That’s all for my Week 2 picks. Feel free to comment with your thoughts before you kick back, relax, and enjoy the games. Today, we will all be able to see which of our Week 1 reactions were warranted.
Football season has finally arrived. I’m sure many of you have spent the start of this weekend watching high school and college games; I witnessed my high school’s team come back for a 23-14 victory on Friday night. That was all after Tampa Bay took down Dallas in a close season opener. Now, Sunday is here, and that means NFL action. In this article, I’ll be making my picks and score predictions for each game. I did this all through last season, when I finished with a 162-93-1 record. This year, there will be 272 games as opposed to 256, but I hope to still remain under 100 losses. Now let’s dive into this week’s games.
Lock of the Week
I’m a believer that Saints QB Jameis Winston can fix his interception issues after getting Lasik eye surgery. It could be a rough start for him without star WR Michael Thomas though. Winston could find himself short on receiving options these first few weeks, especially since training camp standout WR Marquez Callaway will have to face #1 corners. This week, I expect Packers CB Jaire Alexander to keep him locked down. RB Alvin Kamara should put up decent numbers, but that won’t be nearly enough to outperform QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, and the Packers offense in the first week of their ‘Last Dance’.
Upset of the Week
Generally, I think the 49ers have been overhyped this offseason. QB Jimmy Garoppolo has been mediocre at best when he’s even able to stay on the field. Even with a decent supporting cast, this offense will not thrive until they see reliable QB play, which I doubt will come in 2021 with young QB Trey Lance still developing. The Lions don’t exactly have an elite QB either, but I expect them to rely on check-downs and the run game. They should have a good level of success with this as the RB duo of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams thrive behind this line and TE T.J. Hockenson contributes as both a receiver and blocker. This won’t exactly be a cake walk for Detroit, as their defense still needs a lot of work and could have trouble containing an elite TE like George Kittle. However, I think the Lions will pull off a last minute upset as their uniquely designed offense keeps up with San Francisco.
The Other Games
The Steelers should be rather successful in stopping a below average Buffalo run game. On the other hand, it’ll be hard for any secondary, including Pittsburgh’s to keep up with QB Josh Allen and a deep group of WRs, including 2020 standout Stefon Diggs. Pittsburgh still has one of the league’s better WR trios plus an exciting rookie RB in Najee Harris, so they should be able to put up a fight. However, I expect Allen to outplay Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and win it for the Bills.
It’s the Sam Darnold revenge game for Carolina: expect a big game from Darnold as he transitions from Adam Gase’s system to Joe Brady’s. I’m also looking for Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey to bounce back strong as ever against this Jets defense. QB Zach Wilson should put up some impressive numbers in his debut, but this Panthers offense will really show what they’re capable of in a high scoring win.
The Bengals may have upgraded their offense this offseason around a healthy Joe Burrow, but this defense could have a hard time containing RB Dalvin Cook and Minnesota’s strong duo of receivers (Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen). Expect a close high scoring game, as Cousins is able to just barely outplay Burrow in his first game back from his knee injury.
Don’t sleep on this Cardinals defense. Look for the pass rushing duo of Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt to keep Titans QB Ryan Tannehill under pressure. It’ll be this Cardinals defense that opens the door for QB Kyler Murray, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and the Cardinals to pull off an upset victory.
A new offensive coordinator and a banged up Colts secondary will be the perfect recipe for a big game out of Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. While QB Carson Wentz and his receivers should put up a respectable performance against a lackluster Seattle D, it won’t be enough to keep up with a cooking Russell Wilson.
It’s not like QB Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars are going to be elite from day one, but that doesn’t matter. Without QB Deshaun Watson, you can’t expect much at all from the Texans. They should put up a decent amount of points against this developing Jaguars D, but even an unpolished Lawrence should be able to outperform them with good skill players around him.
It’ll be exciting to see what QB Justin Herbert can do with this offense in year two. This won’t be a very good window into the season though, as Herbert opens the season against a relentless Washington defense. Meanwhile, I’m expecting RB Antonio Gibson to put up a huge game against a Chargers front seven that has lost some personnel in free agency.
Even without WR Julio Jones, this Falcons offense is going to have some big weeks, starting here in Week 1. I’m expecting TE Kyle Pitts to dazzle in his debut against an Eagles team that tends to struggle in covering tight ends. QB Jalen Hurts and the Eagles could make it close and make Falcons fans nervous about another choke. However, he doesn’t have nearly the kind of supporting cast that QB Matt Ryan has.
In a battle of two former Alabama QBs, I expect a lot of short passes. QB Mac Jones will utilize the tight end duo the Patriots built for him in free agency (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith). Without WR Will Fuller, QB Tua Tagovailoa will have to rely more on throwing to his RB, Myles Gaskin and should give his tight ends, including Mike Gesicki, plenty of looks. I’m expecting a close game, but even former Alabama WR Devonta Smith feels that Mac is better than Tua. Look for Jones and the Patriots to edge out a victory at Gillette.
This one could be an AFC championship preview as two of league’s most star studded offenses face off. Look for WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to put up strong performances against the young Chiefs corners. This won’t be enough to overcome the typical 300 yard, multi-TD performance by QB Patrick Mahomes. Things could turn out differently come January.
In the post-Manning era, both of these teams are led by their defenses. Look for Von Miller and the Broncos defense to put pressure on Giants QB Daniel Jones. Meanwhile, CB James Bradberry should be able to lockdown Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target in Jerry Jeudy. I’m expecting it to come down to a Graham Gano game winner in a low scoring game.
The Rams and Bears still have two of the NFL’s best defenses. LA also upgraded their offense, bringing in longtime Lions QB Matthew Stafford. The Bears should be able to make this close, but look for Stafford to rely on his WR duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to lead the Rams to a prime time victory.
Baltimore has been hammered with injuries this preseason. Nonetheless, I see them running all over this Raiders defense. While QB Lamar Jackson will be lacking reliable weapons, he should be able to break off for big runs and dump it off frequently to his trusted TE Mark Andrews. This won’t be a blowout after all the key players Baltimore has lost, but it’s hard to see QB Derek Carr keeping up with Jackson. It may be a different story if Carr had better surroundings.
Opening Night (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night)
That’s all for my picks this week. There’s lots of exciting action ahead today, and you’re not going to want to miss it. So feel free to comment with your thoughts, and then I hope you enjoy the first Football Sunday of 2021.
It may be hard to believe, but NFL football is back this week. We are a week removed from a shortened preseason, and in just a few days, the first 17 game season in NFL history will kick off. It’s time for my annual tradition of NFL season predictions. In this post, I’ll be predicting how each division will pan out and which team will win it all, beginning with the AFC East. This division, which includes my hometown Patriots, should be more competitive than it has been in a long time.
Buffalo Bills (12-5, #3 seed in AFC)
New England Patriots (9-8, #7 seed in AFC)
Miami Dolphins (9-8)
New York Jets (2-15)
The Jets offense should show flashes of upside with Zach Wilson under center. However, the defense is still among the league’s weakest and Wilson will have to rely on several other rookies in order to succeed. This isn’t quite their time to shine. I’m sure they’ll make things easier for Wilson with a pair of 1st round picks in 2022.
The division will likely come down to the defending champion Buffalo Bills, Bill Belichick’s Patriots, and a young, rising Miami Dolphins squad. I don’t see the Bills taking much of a step back from 2020, so they are in the best spot to win this division. That doesn’t count out the Pats or Dolphins from snagging a wild card spot. Belichick led the Patriots to a 7-9 season with Cam Newton at QB and very few reliable receiving options. After adding tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, and several defensive assets, I think they’ll be back in the playoffs. The Dolphins also supplied QB Tua Tagovailoa with some new weapons in Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller, but in a competitive AFC, I think the Pats will edge out Miami for the final wild card spot.
Cleveland Browns (12-5, #2 seed in AFC)
Baltimore Ravens (10-7, #6 seed in AFC)
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8)
Cincinnati Bengals (4-13)
After years of disappointment, the Browns now have one of the most well-rounded rosters in football. They have an improving defense, an excellent RB duo, a strong group of receivers and tight ends, and a promising quarterback in Baker Mayfield. The trajectory of this team really comes down to how much Mayfield can improve after an impressive 2020. I have confidence that with this supporting cast and a great coach in Kevin Stefanski, he can take that next step and lead Cleveland to their first division win of the century.
Meanwhile, I’m expecting QB Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to take a slight step back. They recently lost running back J.K. Dobbins for the season and rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman has also been placed on IR. Without enough weapons, Jackson could find himself struggling to get rid of the ball and running for his life as he did in parts of 2020. It doesn’t help matters that they face tough divisional competition: an improving Browns squad and a Steelers team that should still be competitive. I don’t think Pittsburgh quite makes the playoffs though. Roethlisberger will continue to decline and the offensive line and defense may take a step back after offseason turnover.
Cincinnati’s future is bright, but they still have several problems to resolve before they can think about competing in this division. The defense could still use plenty of improvement. The offensive line looks a little better but could still cause quarterback Joe Burrow (coming off an ACL tear) and running back Joe Mixon some problems. It’s also seemed to affect Burrow’s psyche in camp. Burrow and his rookie wide receiver, Ja’Marr Chase, have both underwhelmed. Chase’s struggles are likely due to the fact that he’s had two years off, and that could take time to recover from as well. The team looks good on paper, but I just don’t think they’re quite prepared for the highly competitive nature of this conference.
Tennessee Titans (11-6, #4 seed in AFC)
Indianapolis Colts (8-9)
Jacksonville Jaguars (6-11)
Houston Texans (1-16)
The Titans are still flawed on the defensive side of the ball, but the raw talent they have on offense is unmatched. Ryan Tannehill has been a top 10 QB since joining the Titans, and he has a superstar running back in Derrick Henry as well as two very talented receivers in Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. That’ll be enough to win this AFC South. Many believe the Colts will compete for this division, but it’s hard to imagine quarterback Carson Wentz improving very much without better receivers to throw to. If Indy wanted Wentz to improve, they should have gotten him a star #1 receiver to counter Tennessee’s trade for Julio Jones. Wentz will be supported by a strong defense, RB corps and offensive line, but that won’t be enough for him to lead the Colts to the playoffs.
While the Jaguars won’t compete this year, I expect the offense to have its moments with a generational rookie QB in Trevor Lawrence coming in. This defense still needs improvement, but the Jaguars should still finish comfortably ahead of the Houston Texans. Between his court case and his trade demands, it is unlikely QB Deshaun Watson will ever play in a Texans uniform again. Watson was already frustrated by the lack of talent around him, so it’ll be hard for the Texans to do much of anything with Watson out of the picture.
Kansas City Chiefs (15-2, #1 seed in AFC)
Los Angeles Chargers (13-4, #5 seed in AFC)
Denver Broncos (9-8)
Las Vegas Raiders (6-11)
The West is going to be another strong division in this conference, possibly the strongest in the league. The Chiefs will likely finish out on top as they return majority of their back to back AFC champion roster, including superstar QB Patrick Mahomes. The rest of this division should see improvement though. For the Charrgers, quarterback Justin Herbert had a historic rookie year, but it didn’t really translate to success for the team. With a new coaching staff, I expect this offense to stay on track while the defense and special teams also take a step up. That’ll be enough for the team to safely secure a wild card spot.
The Broncos struggled mightily last year for a variety of reasons. However, new QB Teddy Bridgewater gives them a fairly safe floor due to his short to medium range reliability, and a fully healthy Denver defense could also impress. That’ll leave the Raiders in the basement of the division. Las Vegas should put up some competitive games, but nothing about this team really stands out, and they’ll fall short of their competition.
New York Giants (9-8, #4 seed in NFC)
Dallas Cowboys (9-8, #6 seed in NFC)
Washington Football Team (6-11)
Philadelphia Eagles (3-14)
This division will look fairly similar to how it did in 2020, though I expect a different outcome in the end. Last year, the Washington Football Team came out on top. However, I feel the Giants have improved their offense enough to surpass Washington and the Cowboys would have been ahead of them if quarterback Dak Prescott was healthy. I have the Giants edging out the division victory. This will be a make or break season for quarterback Daniel Jones. With running back Saquon Barkley back from a torn ACL and Kenny Golladay, Ka’darius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph joining the Giants receiving corps, I expect Jones to make a leap. Even though Washington made some offensive additions, I’m not sure they’ll be able to overcome a suspect QB situation and an offensive line that lacks depth.
I have the Eagles remaining in the division’s basement. I’m not sure the new coaching staff is much of an upgrade over Doug Pederson, and the team seems to be rebuilding around young QB Jalen Hurts. It’ll be a little while before the Eagles compete again, and I’m not sure how much trust I have in Howie Roseman to build the team back up.
Minnesota Vikings (13-4, #2 seed in NFC)
Green Bay Packers (13-4, #5 seed in NFC)
Chicago Bears (8-9)
Detroit Lions (2-15)
I think this division will truly be a neck and neck battle between the Packers and Vikings. It’s unclear if quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be able to repeat his 2020 numbers. It seems he is motivated to make the most of his “Last Dance”, but at the same time a frustrated Rodgers might not play as well. This isn’t about a decline from Rodgers though. The Vikings offense looked very good last year with rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson making a huge impact in a matter of weeks. Now, the defense seems to be in much better shape compared to 2020, and that’ll allow the Vikings to compete not only for a playoff spot, but also challenge the Packers for this NFC North.
The Bears have some nice talent across their roster, but until rookie QB Justin Fields gets his chance, I can’t quite see them competing for anything. Even once Fields starts, we can’t be sure how good he’ll be out of the gate. The Bears should finish ahead of a rebuilding Detroit Lions squad. I think the Lions are on the right track, but it won’t translate to success in 2021.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15-2, #1 seed in NFC)
New Orleans Saints (9-8)
Carolina Panthers (8-9)
Atlanta Falcons (6-11)
After winning the Super Bowl with ease, Tampa returns all 22 of their offensive and defensive starters. This offense should be explosive as QB Tom Brady can utilize the legendary WR trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown for a full season. The Bucs should finish well ahead of the Saints, who I expect to take a slight step back. I’m a believer in the bounce back of new starting QB Jameis Winston. However, his top wide receiver in Michael Thomas will be missing at least the first 6 games of the season, leaving Winston rather short on reliable weapons. Once Thomas returns, I do expect the Saints to go on a good run, but a slow start will prevent playoff contention.
I expect the Panthers and Falcons to start the season ahead of New Orleans before slowing down later. QB Sam Darnold was awful with Adam Gase and the Jets, but he should at least give off the illusion that he’s a good quarterback in this Panthers system. With Joe Brady at offensive coordinator and a plethora of options to throw to, Darnold is set up for success. I just don’t know that he’ll be quite good enough to keep the Panthers in playoff contention, especially considering the fact that Carolina’s defense lacks standout players. Atlanta should also have an explosive offense. As Julio Jones departs, the Falcons have added Kyle Pitts, who might very well be the most talented tight end of all time. The problem is that the defense has not given much support to this high scoring offensive unit since at least 2016, and things will only go downhill for Atlanta as quarterback Matt Ryan ages.
Los Angeles Rams (11-6, #3 seed in NFC)
Arizona Cardinals (9-8, #7 seed in NFC)
Seattle Seahawks (9-8)
San Francisco 49ers (6-11)
This division has been hyped up as the league’s toughest, but I’m not sure it’s really as good as people say it is. Personally I feel like the AFC West is stronger. The 49ers have received a lot of hype as they are seen as the perfect fit for rookie quarterback Trey Lance. I think we all need to hold our horses a bit with the 49ers hype. The future is bright for Lance in San Francisco, but I don’t expect instant NFL success out of an FCS quarterback who last played football in 2019. Right now, the Niners uncertain QB situation is going to hold them back.
The Seahawks and Cardinals should at least compete for playoff spots. Seattle took the division last year but they remain heavily reliant on their home field advantage and have much room for improvement on defense. Arizona has been seen by many as the odd one out in this competitive division, but Kyler Murray has led this team to some big games and will only continue to improve. The defense is also on the rise.
I see the Rams as the clear favorites for this division. They bring in quarterback Matthew Stafford who has gone from a troubled Lions system to a Rams team that is already built for success. So long as Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey can continue to lead this defense to elite performance, the Rams could be title contenders.
I think the historic significance of this season will go beyond the fact that it’s 17 games long. I also have a team that was once the joke of the NFL making history. They will not only win their division, but also by making a surprising playoff run and win their first Super Bowl ever. The team I’m talking about is the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have built up so much talent and hired a good coaching staff in an effort to elevate Baker Mayfield’s performance. In these playoffs, I fully expect that to happen, as Mayfield keeps up with elite QBs like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady on the road to his first ring.
Mahomes, Allen, and Brady will all lead their teams on playoff runs and entertain Super Bowl contention. However, I expect Mayfield and the well rounded Browns roster to stop them in their tracks. I cannot name one weakness that this Browns team has, and that will serve them well as they exploit the weaknesses of the teams around them to boost their Super Bowl run.
While I expect the Browns to make it out of a competitive AFC and win it all, I think the Bucs have a much easier road to the NFC title. Matthew Stafford’s Rams could pose a threat to Tampa, as could Aaron Rodgers’ Packers, but these are teams that this Buccaneers squad is capable of defeating. Cleveland is another animal, and I think in a matchup against the Browns, Tampa will have met their match. Mayfield will be able to do the same things with his offense that Brady can do with this Bucs offense, and that will cause Brady frustration in a back and forth game.
There was a lot of hype about last year’s Super Bowl, and it ended up being a blowout. I expect this year’s title game to be much more exciting. However, this is a long way from now, and in the meantime, we await Week 1. I’ll have more coverage on Week 1 action in the coming days, so stay tuned.
On August 21, 2021, Challenger League players had the chance to live in the shoes of a WooSox player as they took the field at Polar Park as part of a Mark Fidrych Foundation event.
This was an awesome opportunity for the players, who were kids of a variety of ages with special needs. It’s all thanks to the WooSox partnership with the Fidrych Foundation.
A longtime partnership
Even back in Pawtucket, the Red Sox AAA affiliate has always given back to the community around them and made their ballpark accessible to all audiences. As part of this, they have longtime partnerships with both the Challenger League, a baseball league for those with physical and developmental disabilities, and the Mark Fidrych Foundation, an organization that enhances the lives of those with special needs through sports and sports education. The Fidrych Foundation was started by the family of Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych after he died in a tractor accident back in 2009. Fidrych, a former MLB pitcher who spent time with the AAA Red Sox, was highly involved in the community of his hometown of Northborough, MA prior to his death and his family wanted to continue his legacy.
When the team moved to Worcester and became the WooSox, it was the perfect opportunity to bring their Fidrych Foundation and Challenger partnerships together, as the Foundation supports Challenger teams in many nearby towns.
I caught up with Ann and Jessica Fidrych from the Foundation as well as Joe Bradlee, the WooSox Vice President of Baseball Operations and Community Relations, who spoke about the partnership.
Challenger League comes to bat
To begin the day, Challenger League players and their buddies were welcomed onto the field and each player got the chance to bat and run the bases.
As players came up to bat, their names were announced, just like the real WooSox players.
Bradlee pitched to the players and multiple coaches and WooSox staff members, including former Red Sox catcher and current WooSox hitting coach Rich Gedman, played the field.
I caught up with Gedman after the game. Gedman is a Worcester native and is proud to be involved not only with the WooSox but also in giving back to the Worcester community.
I also spoke with several long time Challenger League players: Krish from Shrewsbury, Tobin from Southborough, and Jay from Framingham. All three of them had nice hits off of Bradlee, and Krish had one of the biggest hits of the day as he drilled the ball down the third base line. Krish said it was a result of him continuing to work on his swing.
Parents were able to watch their kids from the berm. I spoke with the parents of Ryan Love, a longtime Shrewsbury Challenger League player. They were ecstatic about Ryan having the opportunity to take an at bat at Polar Park.
Outstanding volunteers honored
After the players finished batting and running, the Fidrych Foundation announced the honorees of their annual Citizenship Award. The award was given to four individuals who have volunteered as buddies in Fidrych Foundation programs. According to the Foundation’s website, the Citizenship Award is for “young men and women who have actively participated in and advocated for special needs athletic involvement within their surrounding communities.” This year’s winners were Kyle Daunais, Gianni Colonero, Michael Warwick, and Chase Collins.
Kyle and Gianni, both longtime Challenger League buddies, were in attendance. I had the chance to speak with both of them after they received their awards. They were glad the Foundation was so appreciative of their volunteer efforts and were happy to take part in this welcoming community.
Ken’s Foods welcomes Challenger League back
Thanks to Ken’s Foods, all the Challenger League players, buddies, and their families were welcomed back to Polar Park later that day for the game against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Fidrych Foundation was honored as part of the pregame ceremony. This topped off a fun day for everyone involved in this evolving partnership.
The Fidrych Foundation not only improves the lives of the players, but also gives teenagers in the area a chance to make a difference in their community. I have several friends who have gotten involved either as players or volunteers, and when I played in the Northborough Challenger League for its first five years, I truly saw how much the Foundation did to make the Challenger players feel special.
The WooSox have continued to welcome people from all backgrounds to the ballpark with open arms, and I think it’s amazing that they’re supporting an organization like the Fidrych Foundation.
The Boston Marathon is just about two months away but runners have been training all through the late spring and summer months. On Saturday mornings, runners from a number of different charity teams come together for training runs. This includes Dougie’s Team, the team for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.
Runners alternate each week between longer training sessions to work up to 26.2 miles and shorter sprints to save energy and improve speed. The entire training program takes up 22 weeks. Saturday, August 7, the 13th Saturday of the program, was a longer run in which runners traveled anywhere between 10 and 16 miles. This particular Saturday was my first chance to cover marathon training behind the scenes.
Beating the Heat
Dougie’s Team captain Mike Palmer as well as Dougie’s Team runners Ann Corbett, Ashleigh Holmes, and Hanna Adams all ran 16 miles. Even for experienced runners, running this far was not an easy feat in the hot weather. The runners tried to beat the heat by waking up as early as 5 a.m., but today was an especially warm day even in the early morning hours.
Normally, runners would be training in the winter with the marathon taking place on Patriots Day. This year, with the marathon taking place in October, the training has been a little different. I met with several Dougie’s Team runners at the Boston Common, the endpoint of their run. Lauren Machado, who ran the marathon virtually for retired Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi’s charity team in 2020, was waiting at the Common as well with snacks and water for the runners.
Coach Furey leads runners through all aspects of training
Coach John Furey, who coaches Dougie’s Team, mentioned how this part of the training was a mental challenge and gave some insight into what the runners are currently dealing with.
“What you really have the runners going through is building physical and mental toughness.”
— Coach John Furey
Words of advice amongst runners
Runners also had numerous tips for one another. Lauren explained how the snacks she was giving out benefitted runners, while Mike and Hanna had words of encouragement for their teammates.
“If you want to run a marathon, don’t let anyone say you can’t, because you can fulfill any dreams that you want if you put your mind to it.”
— Dougie’s Team captain Mike Palmer
Dougie’s Team sticks together
While today was a tough run, Dougie’s Team remained motivated with the Flutie Foundation and Marathon Monday in mind. Members of Dougie’s Team have also kept each other motivated, leaving no one behind. Running is an individual sport but during the 22 weeks of training, having teammates to train with can really make a difference. This team is united in running for the Flutie Foundation and helping each other succeed.
Support Dougie’s Team to raise money for autism
Each Dougie’s Team runner is holding a fundraiser for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism leading up to the marathon. Click here for more information on how to support these runners and the Flutie Foundation in their mission to help people and families affected by autism live life to the fullest.
It was Autism Acceptance Day at Polar Park and it was a beautiful day for some baseball. The WooSox faced the Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliates, the Buffalo Bisons. Before the game, the WooSox honored many organizations that support people affected by autism. The New England Center for Children (NECC), a leader in autism education and training (and the school that taught me to talk) was honored during the pregame ceremony. Many NECC students, teachers, and family members also received tickets to the game.
Autism Acceptance Day was also the first 100% capacity sellout at Polar Park (9,508 fans) as Chris Sale took the mound for a rehab start after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in March 2020.
While Sale’s rehab start made this game even more exciting, large crowds can be a challenge for individuals with autism. As a result, the WooSox added an additional sensory-friendly space in the DCU Club. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was also open, as it is for every game, along the first base line adjacent to fan services.
I covered the game and events of the day on behalf of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. I was focusing not only on the game but also on the inclusive environment Polar Park had created.
I caught up with Jared Bouzan, NECC’s Chief Development Officer, before he was honored on the field. I also spoke with Jeff Arnold, a member of the NECC marketing team. Both Jared and Jeff were excited for the events of the day and very appreciative of the WooSox.
Marie Roy, an autistic WooSox employee, was working at the nacho stand. I met Marie last month during the Polar Park open house and caught up with her again at this game at the nacho stand where she works:
Joe Bradlee, WooSox VP of Baseball Operations & Community Relations invited me to come to the park at 1 p.m., three hours before the game, to catch batting practice (BP). It was a pretty incredible experience to be welcomed on the field to cover BP along with several other press members. Many extra media members came to Polar Park for Chris Sale. Red Sox utility player Marwin Gonzalez, like Sale, was also on a rehab assignment and took BP with the team. After BP, I had the chance to interview WooSox first baseman and designated hitter Josh Ockimey as well as WooSox coach Bruce Crabbe.
I also had the chance to speak with reporters like Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram (who I had originally met in 2015 during my first press box experience with the Bruins), and Alex Speier, a Boston Globe baseball writer and researcher who is frequently on NESN during Red Sox games to provide unique insight on the players. I was surprised to learn that despite the wealth of information that Alex shares during a game, like the percentage of change-ups a pitcher has thrown all season, that he is a one-man research team. He noted that he comes up with the good questions and then finds the data on the internet.
After covering BP and the pregame ceremony, I found a spot behind home plate next to the press box to watch the game. I was able to see Sale’s warm-up in right field in front of the Worcester Wall, and the game began shortly afterwards.
In the top of the first, the crowd roared as Sale took the mound. Even though he let a couple of baserunners on in the first, he kept the Bisons scoreless. Marwin Gonzalez, who I saw smash a few balls to right field during BP, gave the WooSox an early lead by crushing a solo homer over the Worcester Wall in the bottom of the first.
Over the first three innings, Chris Sale struck out six batters and he looked very sharp in the third inning when hitters Christian Colon, Corey Dickerson, and Tyler White all went down swinging for strike three. I performed some play-by-play from the stands during the top half of the second inning.
The fourth inning wasn’t as easy for Sale as he struggled with his fastball command. Sale gave up his first run in this inning on a pair of doubles. However, if it weren’t for center fielder Tate Matheny leaping up against the wall to rob Kevin Smith of a home run, the Bisons would have taken the lead. Matheny also had a running catch for out #2, with the third out coming on Sale’s seventh strikeout.
In the bottom of the inning, Matheny showed how great defense can lead to offense by hitting a two-run shot over the wall and onto the left field berm. Michael Gettys, who had reached base in all four of his at bats, scored on the HR blast.
Sale left the game with the score 3-1, after throwing 81 pitches, striking out seven, and giving up one run in five innings. Shortly after Sale was done, several media members exited the press box and a few of them asked me if I wanted to go see Chris Sale, so I followed them out of the ballpark.
The WooSox set up a temporary press tent just outside the ballpark specifically for the Chris Sale post game interview. He spoke to the media during the bottom of the 6th inning. I was told that I could observe, as Joe McDonald and Alex Speier asked the bulk of the questions, but I was encouraged to take a spot up close on the side of the tent just before Sale came out to speak.
Sale said he was very encouraged by the results and that this was different than the previous rehab outings. He said he “felt normal” for the first time in a long while during this game. He knows what the Red Sox are doing is special and that he needs to be ready to help them when he rejoins the club.
While Sale was speaking, the WooSox continued to build on their lead as #2 Red Sox prospect (according to MLB.com) Jeter Downs, hit a huge solo shot into deep left field and well past the berm seats.
Buffalo made the game closer in the seventh inning. Nash Knight who had already knocked in the first Bisons run, tripled for his third hit before scoring on a Rodrigo Vigil groundout.
However, Durbin Feltman came in to pitch the last two innings, and prevented the Bisons from scoring any more as the WooSox secured a 4-2 victory. Sale was the winning pitcher with his first official win since August 2019.
After the win, fans headed onto the field for the Sunset Catch. Fans are invited to play catch after every Saturday WooSox game at Polar Park.
I had a thrilling day at Polar Park as I had the opportunity to enjoy all the events of the day as a press member, a fan, and a member of the autism community. I’ll be back at Polar Park again on Friday August 13 to see the game and watch fireworks afterwards, something Polar Park does for every Friday night game. If you haven’t had the chance to go to a game yet, I highly recommend it.
The Red Sox lead the MLB in comeback wins, with today being their 32nd. Even with all these comebacks, today was probably the most impressive of the entire season.
Domingo German absolutely dominated most of the game as he had a no-hitter through seven innings, and there were no signs of him slowing down. In the seventh inning, German had to face the middle of the Red Sox lineup: Jarren Duran, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. In what one might see as an opportunity for the Red Sox to break up the no-hitter, German was looking unstoppable. He ended up with a total of not three but four strikeouts in the inning. Bogaerts reached first on a passed ball after striking out. German remained focused and was able to strikeout Devers and Martinez, and keep the no-hitter going with 10 K’s on the day.
This game started out as a pitchers duel but the Yankees quietly got out to a lead, scoring single runs in the third, fourth, sixth, and eighth. Second baseman Rougned Odor was a large part of the scoring, as he had two RBI including a solo homer.
The Red Sox headed into the bottom of the eighth in a bad spot. It appeared they were about to lose the AL East lead, split with the Yankees, and let the Yankees get back to within seven games of first place. However, even with German’s dominance, the Red Sox were inspired by Alex Cora’s words during the seventh inning, as Kike Hernandez noted during the postgame press conference.
“Things weren’t looking great,” Hernandez said. “When [Alex Cora] went up to the mound and he took Yacksiel [Rios] out of the game and brought in [Josh Taylor], he said to us, ‘If JT gets out of this inning we’re winning this game…’ You trust what AC says, a lot of times he sees things before they happen and you just go with it. If he says we’re going to win this game, it’s probably going to happen… we’ve said it many times, we’re not out of a game until a game’s over and we proved that today.”
Alex Verdugo led off the bottom of 8th by breaking up the no hitter as he nailed the ball to deep right center for an off the wall double. With that hit, Yankees manager Aaron Boone decided to pull German after 93 pitches. Jonathan Loaisiga entered the game in relief, but he didn’t have any success against this Red Sox lineup.
Against Loaisiga, Hunter Renfroe drilled the ball down the third base line for another double to knock in Verdugo. The Red Sox were on the board, but they weren’t done there. They were ready to rally. Christian Vazquez’s ball dropped into the outfield for an RBI bloop single. Franchy Cordero, who was up next, had struggled at the major league level so far this year despite success in Worcester. Cordero, the potential tying run surprisingly tried to bunt on the first pitch. Fortunately, the bunt was hit foul and out of play and then with two strikes, he hit a ground ball single right up the middle quickly over the mound and by second base.
Kike Hernandez was 0-3 on the day, but after playing a major part in the two other victories of this series, he came up clutch. He drilled another one down the third base line for a double and made it a one run game. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The Red Sox had gone from a hitless day to five consecutive hits, two runners in scoring position, and still nobody out in the inning as Kevin Plawecki came in to pinch hit for Duran. The Sox were down 4-3 and now had a chance to take the lead.
Duran had struck out three times on the day so Sox manager Alex Cora opted for Plawecki to face the tough lefty Zack Britton who had come in to replace Loaisiga. Plawecki, a good contact hitter, hit a soft roller to short, but with both Hernandez and Cordero running on contact, both were able to advance with Cordero touching home to tie the game. The Red Sox still had Bogaerts, Devers, and Martinez ready to hit after Plawecki. Bogaerts hit a fly ball into right field just deep enough for Hernandez to try to tag up and score. He began charging towards home plate and arrived just in time to beat the throw with a diving head first slide. The crowd was on their feet as the Sox now had a 5-4 lead and a well rested Matt Barnes ready in the bullpen to record his 21st save and secure another Red Sox comeback win, and the 10th win against the Yankees out of the 13 games with their longtime rival.
Barnes came in to pitch the top of the ninth inning and retired the first Yankee batter helped out by a good running catch by Verdugo on a hard liner to left by Greg Allen. D.J. LeMahieu grounded out to second for out number two. DH Giancarlo Stanton followed with a base hit off of Barnes though, and the Yankees brought in Tyler Wade to pinch run. Meanwhile, coming up to bat was Rougned Odor, the same guy who had knocked in two of New York’s four runs. Wade stole second, and with a runner in scoring position, Odor had the chance to get another run on the board for the Yanks and tie the game back up. However, Odor popped one up to third base and Devers was there to end the ballgame. Barnes had survived a scare and the Red Sox had gone from being no-hit to pulling off their best comeback of the season.
I think this game really shows what the 2021 Red Sox are capable of, and I’m excited to see how the Red Sox can improve themselves with Chris Sale close to returning and the MLB trade deadline approaching fast.
The Sox are now 61-39 after 100 games. With 62 games left in the regular season and 13 of them against the second place Rays, fans may look back on today’s game the as the one that defined their season of success.
The WooSox were set to play two games on Sunday, July 18. Saturday night’s game had been postponed after just over an inning, and was scheduled to resume at 12:05 on Sunday followed by Sunday’s regularly scheduled game, which would be reduced a to 7 inning game.
Sunday was also Advocates Day as a group from Advocates, a non-profit organization that supports people with disabilities like me, was in attendance. The game was originally set to start at 1PM but with two games being played, the start time was moved up an hour.
Despite the change of plans, Advocates Day went forward. I was invited to join Advocates, and they collaborated with the WooSox so I could have special press credentials to report on the happenings of the day around most areas of the ballpark.
I started out on Polar Park’s Hanover Deck, a great viewing area high up in right field with views of the field and the city of Worcester. I spoke with Diane Gould, President of Advocates:
Advocates, like the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, continues to help individuals like me. Meeting with Diane, a big sports fan, was a great start to the day despite the overcast skies and expected rain. I was given the opportunity to report on all the action so I watched the continuation of the first game from the Hanover Deck, and did some play by play of my own with my dad serving as my personal cameraman:
Rain began to fall during the 5th inning, so after 5 scoreless innings combined for the first game carried over from Saturday, the WooSox grounds crew brought the tarp out for another rain delay.
Despite the rain delay, there was plenty to enjoy at this brand new ballpark. Behind home plate in the upper level is where the press box and broadcast booth are located. The WooSox provided me special access to the DCU Club which is adjacent to both. It’s a huge premium area with couches and other special seating areas where you can avoid the elements outside but still watch the game.
In the DCU Club, I ran into WooSox broadcaster Mike Antonellis, who I had met at the open house on July 10. He was very generous with his time and gave me the chance to speak with him for a spontaneous rain delay report:
I also had the chance to stop by the press box, which was full during the game but had space during the delay. In the press box I met Cassandra Riley, a graduate of my current high school (Algonquin Regional High School) who is now a WooSox photographer. She had always been interested in photography and baseball, so this was a dream job for her. It turns out that Cassandra’s mom, Patricia Riley, is a teacher at Algonquin who has been a big supporter of my career aspirations and has gone above and beyond for me during my time at Algonquin. It was a pleasant surprise to meet Cassandra because I did not know she worked at the WooSox and we had a lot in common to discuss:
The day was also the first Bark in the Park day at Polar Park, where fans were allowed to bring their dogs to the stadium. The remainder of the games scheduled for the day were eventually called off due to the on and off rain (game 2 was rescheduled to August 19 as another Bark in the Park day), but the WooSox did an excellent job keeping fans (employees too) and their dogs engaged, allowing them onto the field to walk the warning track after the game was called:
Despite weather complications, it was a fun day at the ballpark thanks to Advocates and the WooSox staff. While I wish I could have watched more baseball, the rain delay opened the door for opportunities I may not have had at a typical WooSox game. In addition, even though there wasn’t much action on the field, it’s really exciting watching players like Jeter Downs and Marcus Wilson who could be playing for the Red Sox at Fenway some day, maybe even in September when major league roster sizes are expanded. I’ve been invited to return to Polar Park again as a reporter on July 31 for Autism Acceptance Night and I can’t wait.
We’re coming off a quiet, yet also busy week in baseball, both for the Red Sox and the rest of the league. The week started off with the MLB draft, in which the Red Sox landed top shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer. Pete Alonso took home his second straight Home Run Derby, despite impressive performances by two-way star Shohei Ohtani, Coors Field hometown hero Trevor Story, and cancer survivor Trey Mancini among others. Five Red Sox players contributed to the AL’s All Star Game victory, with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers each knocking in a run, Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Barnes each pitching a shutout inning, and J.D. Martinez also batting in the game. Additionally, after strong performances in Worcester, the Red Sox announced that Jarren Duran and Tanner Houck would get the call to the majors. They had been set to join the team in this weekend’s series against the Yankees. With Yankee COVID problems postponing the first game, everything’s up in the air, but when the Red Sox play again, Duran and Houck will be able to make their mark. This is all happening while Chris Sale begins his rehab assignment with the FCL Red Sox.
The first half has come to a close, and I’ve written about my thoughts on the Red Sox’s first half performance as well as what I expect in the second half, from the rest of this month to the trade deadline to the playoffs. I’ve also included my power rankings from the end of June, and while a couple things have changed since then it seems we have already began to establish which teams have a chance at a playoff run.
Red Sox: First Half in Review
Heading into the year, I was expecting a middle of the road type of season from the Red Sox, but at the same time, I saw a low floor and a high ceiling. In this first half, this team has played close to their ceiling. Martinez, Bogaerts, and Devers have led the way for one of the best lineups in baseball. The team has come up clutch as they lead the league in 2 out runs. Chaim Bloom has hand crafted the outfield that leads the league in outfield assists, bringing in Alex Verdugo in the Mookie Betts trade and signing Hunter Renfroe and Kike Hernandez this past offseason. The rotation has been inconsistent, but it has definitely had its moments. After a rough patch in May and June, Eduardo Rodriguez has began to rebound. Eovaldi was in that All Star Game for a reason, as a healthy season from him has been exciting to watch. Additionally, Nick Pivetta has been able to completely revitalize his career in Boston after struggling to maintain a starting job in Philadelphia. The question in whether the Red Sox can keep playing at this level to secure the AL East victory and make a playoff run.
Red Sox Outlook for the Second Half
I think what we’ve seen so far this season is the ceiling of what the current Red Sox roster can do. However, there’s more talent on the way. Jarren Duran has a lot of potential between his power and his speed, and he’s a great addition for the outfield that can allow Kike Hernandez to spend more time at other positions and show off his versatility. Tanner Houck can be another talented arm for this rotation. The Red Sox could be looking for ways to further improve the team at the approaching trade deadline. However, what might be the most significant is the fact that Red Sox ace Chris Sale is working his way back to the majors, and could rejoin the team as soon as August. The rotation is decent right now, but adding Sale to it (assuming he can return to pre-injury form) puts the Red Sox at another level. I think the combo of young talent, trades, and the return of Sale can fix some of the issues the team has had and put them in an even better position to contend this October.
The Red Sox do have some tough competition though. The Astros’ lineup has been unstoppable even after the resolution of the cheating scandal. The White Sox rotation has been near unstoppable. The Dodgers, Padres, and Giants are all battling it out for the NL West and could also end up battling it out for a World Series title. Whether the Red Sox win a title is going to come down to how they handle this elite competition. Will they falter against some of the league’s best talent and end up back in the middle of the pack, or will they stand strong and win a ring in a historic season? Boston’s outlook likely falls somewhere in between, but there are lots of possibilities.
Check out my midseason power rankings below. The Nationals have began to slump and the Reds have began to rise since the end of June, but many of these teams are still in the same spot.
Midseason Power Rankings (as of June 30)
That wraps up the first half this baseball season. During the All Star Break, I also began to look ahead to football season. Check out this podcast my cousin and I put together to begin to preview this year’s AFC.