2022 Special Olympics USA Games Preview: Lagasse is hungry for gold

The Special Olympics USA Games kick off in Orlando next week. Over 5,500 athletes will be competing in 19 different sports. As a credentialed member of the press, I hope to take it all in. I’ll primarily be following the story of one of those athletes: Tyler Lagasse.

Lagasse is a 35-year old autistic adult from Tyngsborough, Massachusetts. He is a three-time silver medalist in the most competitive level of Special Olympics golf. Each of those times he finished second to Scott Rohrer of South Carolina.

Lagasse, like in 2018, will be sponsored by the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism and alongside me and several others, he is now a Flutie Fellow.

Rohrer will not be competing this year, and Lagasse is hungry for gold. However, the gold medal won’t necessarily be a cake walk for him. Lagasse still has to fend off a field of 26 other Level 5 golfers. “Winning gold [is going to be the biggest challenge of this trip], plain and simple,” Lagasse said. “You’re not only competing against yourself, you’re competing against the whole country. The challenges are going to be great but the rewards would be greater.”

Read below to learn more about Lagasse’s preparation for this tournament, the course he’ll be playing on, and the other golfers he’ll face off against.

Lagasse further improves his golf game

Lagasse in 2018 at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle

The last time I covered Lagasse was in 2018 at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. He was already an experienced 18-hole golfer when at the time as he had won Silver at the USA Games 2 consecutive Special Olympics.

Tyler began golfing in 2003 and has traveled to Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, Nebraska, and several other places for Special Olympics tournaments.  He is a member of the Special Olympics hall of fame, won an honorary ESPY in 2017, and was even featured on a Golf Channel program in 2010. Several times including 2014, along with a few other Special Olympics golfers, Tyler has been invited to the Pro-Am, a PGA event.

In the 2018 USA Games, he shot a 79-86-79 for the silver medal. Since then, Lagasse has further improved his golf game. He credits much of this improvement to an increase in the amount of time he has been able to spend training both on and off the golf course.

“In 2018, I was still a student at UMass Lowell while in 2022 I have a part-time job which allows me more time to physically and mentally prepare for this year’s games,” Lagasse said.

Lagasse made sure to squeeze in a lot of golfing before heading down to Orlando. However, mental preparation is also a key part of Lagasse’s success on the golf course.

“I try to remember not to get too hard on myself, a mistake that’s hurt me in the past,” Lagasse said. “But I just try to relax, concentrate on the task at hand, and take it one hole at a time.”

On Wednesday, this mental preparation helped him as he shot a personal best score of 67 on an 18-hole course. Lagasse will look to carry this success into Orlando. Let’s take a look at the course he’ll be playing on as he looks to improve on his 2018 scores.

The Course: Crooked Cat at Orange County National Golf Center

Image via oncgolf.com

All of this year’s golf will take place at the Orange County National Golf Center near Orlando, Florida, located about 6 miles northwest of Walt Disney World, where Special Olympians will be staying. It contains two 18-hole courses, Crooked Cat and Panther Lake. Crooked Cat is the course that Level 1, 3, and 5 Special Olympics golfers will be playing on. This course can be challenging due to significant elevation changes throughout the fairways. However, while 2018’s course (Eagle’s Talon at Willows Run Golf Complex in Seattle) had tree-lined narrow fairways, this is a more open course.

While Lagasse is unsure how the course will affect him until he plays on it, he knows it will allow him more freedom in terms of shot selection.

“I’m free to use my driver and 3-wood and I can forgive myself for misses because it’s more wide open,” Lagasse said. “I just have to play my game, stick to the strategy, and hopefully it’ll work out in the end.”

Weather conditions will also differentiate this course from Willows Run. Lagasse felt the weather was rather comfortable in Seattle, with high temperatures averaging around 70 degrees. This time, high temperatures are looking to be in the 90’s, though golfers may avoid the peak of the heat as most players will start playing early in the morning.

Below is some information about some of the other golfers who will be competing alongside Lagasse.

Familiar Faces (Competed in 2018)

Condon has been playing golf since 2006. In 2018, he was part of Division 1, Tyler Lagasse’s division, in the Level 5 High Performance Individual Stroke Tournament. Playing in his home state of Washington, he finished with the same total score as Lagasse (244). While golfers will not be split into divisions this time around until after Monday’s round, Condon may be competing with Lagasse for a medal once again. Will he be able to adjust to the Orlando heat and keep up with Lagasse?
Curtis joined Special Olympics Maine in 2007.  He will be participating in the Level 5 High Performance competition as he did in 2018, but he has also played Unified golf in the past. Curtis has won gold in the Maine state tournament for 12 consecutive years, and will look to take it to the next level as he competes for his first gold on the national scale.
Braxton is a longtime Special Olympics golfer and swimmer. She has participated since 1981, before Tyler Lagasse was even born. She participated in the USA Games in 2010 (where she won Division 2 gold), 2014, and 2018 as well as the World Games in 1991, 2007, 2011, and 2019. She won gold in 2007 and 2011 competing against all female golfers. When she competed against male and female golfers in 2019, she still came home with silver. While it is still to be determined what division she will compete in, she will look to bring home another medal no matter who her competition is.

Other Competitors to Watch for

Three of the competitors are playing in their home state which could be a factor like it was for Condon in 2018. Below is the list of golfers to watch for with a few highlights about them.

  • Vince Egan, Colorado
    • Has competed in Special Olympics basketball and alpine skiing as well
    • Won gold in alpine skiing at 2017 World Games
    • Has played golf in his spare time and is competing at Level 5 this year
  • Matthew Glumac, Southern California
    • Autistic golfer who vlogs about his golf experiences
    • Won gold in 9-hole competition at SoCal state games in 2019 (shot a 67)
    • Has since shot a 68 (-4) on an 18-hole course
    • Will compete in 18-hole golf at 2022 USA Games
  • Ian Kelley, Florida
    • Has been golfing in Special Olympics for 7.5 years
    • First USA Games
    • Before the USA Games, worked with John Brown, one of just 352 PGA professionals
    • Per WFTV in Central Florida, Brown sees “massive upside” in Kelley’s game
  • Ryan Luck, Florida
    • Won silver at 2015 World Games in Los Angeles
    • Golfs daily with his dad, Robin
  • Jonathan Baylor, West Virginia
    • 8-year Special Olympian in basketball, golf, and softball
    • First time at USA Games for any sport
  • Nathan Cheverton, Tennessee
    • Has competed in six different Special Olympic sports at varied levels over the last 36 years
  • Drew Dormagen, West Virginia
    • Competed in World Games golf back in 1999, his first year with Special Olympics
    • Has continued Special Olympics golf at various levels leading up to 2022 USA Games
  • John Flynn, South Carolina
    • Went to USA Games in 2014 as a basketball player
    • Returning as a golfer in 2022
  • Steven Foley, New York
    • Won in 9-hole golf (red level) at New York state competition in 2021
    • Will switch to 18-hole golf for the USA Games in 2022
  • Brett Geiger, New York
    • Competed at national level in Team Brightspot Unified Golf Challenge in preparation for the USA Games
  • Andrew Hay, New York
    • Won in 9-hole golf (blue level) at New York state competition in 2021
    • Will switch to 18-hole golf for the USA Games in 2022
  • Andrew Johnson, South Carolina
    • Won silver in unified golf with his dad at 2018 USA Games
    • Will compete in Level 5 by himself at 2022 USA Games
  • Michael Ladieu, Florida
    • Has fetal alcohol syndrome but refuses to let it limit him
    • Played at 2021 Florida state golf tournament leading up to USA Games
  • Adam Leitko, Texas
    • Played level 5 golf at 2019 Special Olympics Fall Classic
    • Will take his talents to USA Games at the same level this year
  • Shawn Palmer, New Mexico
    • Has participated in seven Special Olympic sports
    • Works at local golf course and has gained golf experience over the last few years
  • Ben Purick, New York
    • Won gold in 2021 Special Olympics New York games as a Level 5 golfer
    • First USA Games despite golfing for 19 years
  • Andrew Williams, Tennessee
    • Has been competing in Special Olympics for 16 years
    • Won bronze in golf at 2010 USA Games
  • Graham Wright, Virginia
    • Has competed in basketball and softball as well
    • Has been in Special Olympics for 33 years, not all golf though

Lagasse is Ready to go

Lagasse has a competitive field of golfers to fight for gold with, but it seems he is up for the challenge. I spoke with Tyler briefly just before he left for Orlando and he said he’s ready to go for Gold.

His excitement remains high today because when he landed in Orlando, NFL legend Peyton Manning greeted him soon after and he had the chance for a photo opportunity (see below)!

Round 1 is Monday so stay tuned here to learn how Lagasse channels his energy towards his golf game.


Ready for Special Olympics, Park Scholar Program after Graduation

CLICK HERE TO SEE ALL 2022 OLYMPIC COVERAGE

CLICK HERE TO SEE ALL 2018 OLYMPIC COVERAGE

CLICK HERE TO SEE MY WRITING FOR THE ITHACAN AT ITHACA COLLEGE

After a busy 4 years at Algonquin Regional High School, I will be graduating this Sunday, June 5.

Right after graduation, I’ll be hopping on a flight to Florida to cover the Special Olympics USA Games for the second consecutive time to follow the story of 3-time silver medalist golfer and Flutie Fellow Tyler Lagasse. You’ll be able to follow my coverage on this page.

Once I return, I will be preparing for my next four years as a sports media major in the Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. In case you have not heard, I was recently selected into the Park Scholar Program, Ithaca College’s full-ride scholarship program centered around service in the communications industry. I’d like to thank the entire Park Scholar Selection Committee for choosing to bring me on board for these next four years.

Check out this video of my official announcement from the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism’s 26.2 Can Do Fest before the Boston Marathon. I was there alongside football legend and Foundation co-founder Doug Flutie and voice of the New England Patriots Bob Socci, who have been a tremendous help with my goal to become a professional sports journalist.

I am really excited to begin the next chapter in my journey!

2022 NFL Mock Draft: Ripple effect follows bombshell at 1

Welcome to my annual NFL Mock Draft. This is one of the deepest classes in a long time, but it lacks standout names at the top. For the first time since 2018, we cannot be sure who is going #1 overall. Many believe it is between edge rushers Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson, but is that really true? Keep reading to find out who I have at 1 and how it will affect the rest of the first round. I have also included a Patriots mock for Rounds 2-7 below.

#TeamPlayerPositionCollegeWhy
1Ikem EkwonuOLNC StateMany are projecting the Jaguars will take an edge rusher with this pick due to the strength of this class at that position. I have also heard whispers about d-lineman/edge rusher hybrid Travon Walker, but I feel this might be a bit early for him despite his recent rise up draft boards. Jacksonville already has a solid edge rushing duo in Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson though. I see them giving Chaisson more time to develop and opting for an offensive lineman here. The Jags have worked to improve the line already this offseason, but a better blindside protector for Trevor Lawrence can’t hurt, and it gives the team flexibility to move Jawaan Taylor or Cam Robinson inside. Doug Pederson reportedly liked Ekwonu and I see them taking him here.
2Aidan HutchinsonEDGEMichiganThe Jaguars may pass on Hutchinson, but I cannot see him falling any further. Edge rusher is not Detroit’s biggest direct need, but the defense could use help overall. Hutchinson was a Heisman finalist and he should be an instant playmaker wherever he goes. I can’t see the Lions passing on this Michigan hometown hero.
3Derek Stingley Jr.CBLSUStingley has been a playmaker since the Joe Burrow era at LSU, even though he was only a freshman at the time. While the 2021 season initially hurt his draft stock, his name has gained steam in the last couple weeks. The Texans have a decent secondary, but they lack a truly dependable #1 corner. I think they’ll trust Stingley, the longtime LSU standout, with that role over the other rising name at corner in this class, Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner. 
4Kayvon ThibodeauxEDGEOregonPrior to this season, Thibodeaux was seen as a generational talent. Much like Stingley, I doubt he falls very far. The Jets have been in the market for star wide receiver Deebo Samuel, but if they want to contend their priority should be on fixing up this defense. While the Jets could consider a top corner in Gardner here, it’s hard to pass on Thibodeaux with a need at edge rusher. Gardner is also more likely to fall to the Jets’ next first rounder at #10.
5Evan NealOLAlabamaI honestly think Neal is the best tackle in the class, and he would be a huge help for QB Daniel Jones. Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart are a decent duo of tackles, but with all the injuries the Giants suffered last year, this o-line clearly was not cutting it. Ekwonu gives the Giants skill players a higher chance of staying healthy and the team a better chance of success.
6Kenny PickettQBPittsburghThe Panthers may claim they’re sticking with Sam Darnold at starting QB, but it may be time for a change after Darnold’s inconsistencies last year. Pickett is one of the most NFL ready QBs and is a safer bet to perform at a starter quality level out of the gate. With strong QB play, the Panthers have a window of opportunity for contention, and Pickett could help them get there.
7(TRADE)Travon WalkerDLGeorgiaI don’t see the Giants staying in this spot as they would be reaching to fill needs. Walker might very well be the hottest name in this draft class and as they have multiple holes to fill on this defensive line, I feel the Ravens would be willing to make a move for him. Walker has the versatility to play defensive line or edge rusher and should be a staple of this Baltimore defense for years to come alongside star corner Marlon Humphrey. While I don’t buy the Walker rumors at #1, I don’t think he falls much further than this.
8Garrett WilsonWROhio StateIt’s up in the air as to whether WR Calvin Ridley will ever play again, and if he does, it probably won’t be for the Falcons. While Atlanta is left with star TE Kyle Pitts, they won’t be able to get by with Damiere Byrd and Olamide Zacchaeus as their best receivers. Wilson was splitting targets with Chris Olave at Ohio State, but he is a huge upgrade over any receiver the Falcons have and should be an instant alpha dog receiver in Atlanta. 
9Malik WillisQBLibertyWhile Pickett offers a safer floor, I’d argue Willis has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in this class. The Seahawks will likely roll with QB Drew Lock in the short term, but I see Willis as a strong long term replacement for Russell Wilson. Like Russ, Willis has a nice combo of arm talent and mobility. This isn’t Seattle’s year, but Willis could help them speed up the process of their rebuild and put them in position to contend a couple years down the line.
10Ahmad GardnerCBCincinnatiWhy don’t you look at that, between the slide of Travon Walker and the run of offensive players, Gardner makes it back to the Jets at #10. This would be a steal for them, as the combo of Gardner and Thibodeaux would immediately change the narrative on this Jets defense. 
11Kyle HamiltonSNotre DameWhile Washington isn’t necessarily a Super Bowl contender, they are a fairly well rounded team with very few holes. The safety position is one exception. The signing of Landon Collins did not work out so well, and it leaves the Commanders with unproven options to start at safety. Hamilton is seen as one of the most talented safety prospects in a long time, and he would provide a major boost to a struggling Commanders secondary.
12Charles CrossTMississippi StateI’d like to think Minnesota’s defensive struggles had more to do with coaching than personnel. The offensive line is just as big of a concern as the defense. The Vikings miss out on Neal and Ekwonu, but Cross, who has been a rumored top 10 selection, still provides good value here. I expect him to make an immediate difference opposite last year’s first rounder, Christian Darrisaw. 
13Jameson WilliamsWRAlabamaBrandin Cooks’ name has been floating around in trade rumors, and even if Cooks sticks around, the Texans lack depth at receiver behind him, and I think that takes priority over another defensive first rounder. Williams was putting up insane stats at Alabama before tearing his ACL late into the season. His recovery is also reportedly going faster than expected. While I personally prefer guys like Drake London or Chris Olave over Williams, it would be surprising to see him fall much further than this, and the Texans are a strong fit. Williams could have the opportunity to shine alongside Cooks. It really comes down to whether they have a competent QB. 
14
(TRADE)
Devin LloydLBUtahThe Giants could use some more help at linebacker beyond Blake Martinez. Lloyd twould provide that immediately and should still be available for the Giants at this spot, making the trade down worth it. I see the Giants choosing the Utah product, who has gained momentum on draft boards, over Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean.
15Andrew BoothCBClemsonThis may be a slight reach for Booth, but the Eagles are in dire need of some more corners alongside Darius Slay. In the two years since the departure of A.J. Terrell, Booth has had a total of 44 tackles and 5 interceptions. He quickly established himself as a top corner in Clemson’s defense and should be able to fit right in immediately in Philly.
16Jordan DavisDLGeorgiaMany have the Saints focusing on offense in Round 1, and I expect that to be the case at #19. However, the Saints could definitely use another defensive lineman next to David Onyemata. Walker will be off the board here, but he has two teammates in Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt that joined Walker in a historic Georgia Bulldog defensive line. All three have a good amount of draft stock, and Davis and Wyatt are definitely reasonable options here. I give Davis, once touted as the top d-lineman in the class, the slight edge.
17Trevor PenningOLNorthern IowaThe Chargers added Rashawn Slater and Corey Linsley last offseason, but this offensive line still has a lot of holes. With the top tier of offensive linemen off the board, Penning seems like a logical pick here. While he’s not on par with Neal or Ekwonu, he is capable of starting opposite Slater from day one.
18Tyler LinderbaumOLIowa StateJason Kelce is likely nearing retirement. At one point he had even retired and unretired. As the top interior lineman in the class, Linderbaum is a fitting long term replacement for Kelce, and could even see some reps at guard in the meantime.
19Drake LondonWRUSCWhile I do have the Saints starting off this draft on the defensive side of the ball, it would be shocking to see them ignore the offense with both their first rounders. London is a physical, big-bodied receiver who would make for a great complement to Michael Thomas. Even if Thomas left New Orleans or missed time, London would be fine. He has the talent to thrive as a #1 receiver for a team if necessary.
20
(TRADE)
Jermaine Johnson IIEDGEFlorida StateMany have Johnson going even earlier than this, but not many teams have a need for an edge rusher. The Chiefs are one exception to that predicament, and I feel they will trade up for Johnson. Johnson may be taken simply as the best player on the board if he falls too far, so the Chiefs need to make a move if they want him.
21Trent McDuffieCBWashingtonWith Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson on the outs, the Patriots need their star corner of the future. Bill Belichick has never been shy drafting corners, so I expect him to take care of business in Round 1. Washington has produced some of the Pac-12’s all time best DBs like Budda Baker. The Huskies have also produced many other NFL starters like Byron Murphy and Kevin King. Groomed by the same staff as these successful NFL players, McDuffie has posted a strong college career and should be ready for NFL action from the beginning, which the Patriots are looking for.
22Chris OlaveWROhio StateThe Packers have been hesitant to draft WRs for Aaron Rodgers in early rounds, but with Davante Adams on the outs, they do not have much of a choice. As long as they want to contend this year, they’ll need some new receivers. Olave was already a top college receiver for a handful of QBs including Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields. and C.J. Stroud. Rodgers should help elevate his game to a high level in the NFL. 
23Roger McCrearyCBAuburnThe Cardinals may have a decent secondary, but much like the Patriots they lack a true standout corner. McCreary is no guarantee at that, but likely a safer bet than anyone else on the roster, in free agency, or remaining on the draft board at this slot.
24Tyler SmithOLTulsaThe Cowboys are on the lookout for a La’el Collins replacement. One option is to move Connor Williams to tackle and find another guard. However, Smith could be a smart selection here as it keeps everyone in place on this Dallas offensive line. I honestly think he’s just as good a pick here as someone like Kenyon Green or Zion Johnson.
25Nakobe DeanLBGeorgiaThe Bills may have a great LB in Tremaine Edmunds but lack depth behind him. I don’t think it would be as huge of a problem if they made it a solid duo by adding Nakobe Dean. Dean has the potential to make this the best LB corps in the league, and even at his floor he’ll provide a rotational option for in Buffalo.
26DeMarvin LealDLTexas A&MDevonte Wyatt is a popular pick for the first round, but I have the Titans deviating from the Georgia d-line and taking Leal, the Texas A&M product. Leal may be the best non-Georgia d-lineman in this class, and he could make for a great duo with Jeffery Simmons at the line of scrimmage.
27
(TRADE)
David OjaboEDGEMichiganThis is a very deep draft class, so there is little reason to trade up. However, with the excess of top level edge rushers compared to teams who need them, I expect a couple edge rusher needy teams to make a move for a safe player at the position. The Bears have a lot of needs, but Ojabo would definitely be a good start for the rebuild of this defense after the departure of Khalil Mack.
28Chad MumaLBWyomingWith Lloyd and Dean gone, I have the Packers dipping into the next tier of linebackers to fill their need at the position. Muma has been touted as an early 2nd round option, and with a lack of proven linebackers on the inside, I don’t see any reason why the Packers can’t reach a little and snag him here. I could also see Quay Walker in this spot, but I give Muma the slight edge.
29
(TRADE)
Kyler GordonCBWashingtonGordon, another Washington corner, has fallen down draft boards as McDuffie, his teammate, rises. That doesn’t mean Gordon has lost his ability to become a successful NFL corner. Gordon is almost as talented if not just as talented as McDuffie, and they put up similar numbers this past year. If all goes well, look for Gordon to take Joe Haden’s spot as Pittsburgh’s new top corner.
30Treylon BurksWRArkansasBurks may not have the tape of guys like Wilson and Olave, but that’s to be expected considering he played for Arkansas. Compared to other Razorback receiving options, he put up impressive numbers this past season. The Chiefs are in need of an outside complement to free agent addition JuJu Smith-Schuster. Burks could definitely fill that role.
31Travis JonesDLUConnJones may have gone to UConn, but he stood out within this Husky defense. Jones totaled 8 sacks over his final two years at UConn. He is a versatile defensive lineman with strong pass rushing ability. While the Bengals already have two excellent edge rushers, they are in need of a long term replacement on the inside for Geno Atkins. Jones could be their guy, and I think he has the upside for even more.
32Matt CorralQBOle MissI’m far from Corral’s biggest fanboy, but QB Jared Goff was not meant to be Detroit’s franchise guy. I don’t see what other QB the Lions would take here, and if they wait too long they could miss out on the QBs with any potential at all.

Patriots Round 2-7 Mock

54. Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati

85. Sean Rhyan, OL, UCLA

127. Myjai Sanders, EDGE, Cincinnati

158. Jordan Williams, DL, Virginia Tech

170. Abram Smith, RB, Baylor

210. Kellen Diesch, OL, Arizona State

That’s all for this year’s mock draft. However, I will be live streaming tomorrow with my cousin, Michael Philipkosky on The Master Plan YouTube, so check that out.

2022 Boston Sports Mania Apparel Fundraiser

For the second year in a row, Boston Sports Mania apparel is being sold for a limited period of time. All profits will go to the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. The Flutie Foundation is an organization who helps people and families affected by autism live life to the fullest.

I also want to give a special thanks to Spectrum Designs, a business that helps individuals with autism lead full and productive lives through the world of work. They produced the apparel and donated the ordering website.

The best part of this campaign is that every dollar raised will benefit the autism community in some way, because the Flutie Foundation helps people and families affected by autism and Spectrum Designs employs people with autism.

Apparel can be purchased until May 3, 2022. We’ll also have a chance for everyone to see the apparel in person on that day.

Come attend an in-person event on May 3rd from 5:30PM to 9:30PM at Apex Entertainment in Marlborough, MA (21 Apex Drive) to support the Flutie Foundation for Autism and conclude the Autism Acceptance month online apparel fundraiser.

  • The May 3rd event is an in-person fundraiser and people are invited to come at any time between 5:30 PM and 9:00 PM EST to have fun with colleagues, family, and friends
    • Everyone who visits the host table at the entrance will receive a 30-minute Apex game card valued between $10 and $15
    • Additional Option for more free games: Anyone who donates to the Flutie Foundation for Autism in any of the following ways will receive an additional Apex attraction voucher valued between $10 and $15:
      • Bring proof of donation at the Boston Sports Mania Apparel sales site here
      • At the event, donate with a credit card at the check-in table 
      • Purchase Boston Sports Mania apparel (see below) with a credit card at the check-in table

Purchase your apparel and/or make a donation to support the Flutie Foundation by clicking HERE.

2022 MLB Preview: The lockout is over, now what?

Come March, when the offseason is generally winding down as Spring Training games, begin, we weren’t even sure if there was going to be an MLB season. However, the lockout has ended, and despite a shortened preseason and slightly delayed Opening Day, baseball is finally back. While it’s a little later than usual, the MLB preview is a staple of this blog, and I couldn’t miss the boat on it. I once again collaborated with my cousin Michael Philipkosky for this. Our predictions can be found in my article below or his podcasts, which I was a guest co-host for:

Podcast Links

AL Preview

NL Preview

Let’s get right into our division predictions, starting with the AL East.

AL East

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Toronto Blue Jays Boston Red Sox
2 Boston Red Sox (Wild Card 1) Toronto Blue Jays (Wild Card 1)
3 New York Yankees (Wild Card 2) New York Yankees (Wild Card 2)
4 Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay Rays
5 Baltimore Orioles Baltimore Orioles

Everything is really starting to come together for the Blue Jays. To add to a flashy lineup including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., they have built one of the deepest rotations in baseball. I have them taking this division, but it won’t necessarily be a runaway. This is a very strong division and the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays could all be competitive.

If all goes well after the signing of infielder Trevor Story and several relievers, the Red Sox have World Series upside. The Yankees come back with a similar team to last year, and while they have less upside than the Sox and Jays, they should definitely be in the mix. After getting rid of several key players like they do every year, I’m expecting a step back from Tampa. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the playoffs either though, as Kevin Cash’s rapid development of pitching talent is unmatched.

Whether the Orioles see more production out of their youngsters or not, I expect Baltimore to be in rock bottom of this division. There’s just too much competition for them. I’m thinking at least 3, if not 4 AL East teams will make the playoffs in this expanded field.

AL Central

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox
2 Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers
3 Minnesota Twins Minnesota Twins
4 Cleveland Guardians Cleveland Guardians
5 Kansas City Royals Kansas City Royals

I think the White Sox definitely stand out within this division. As the Twins declined last season, there is no team that I feel is capable of keeping up with their budding young roster, and I could even see someone like Luis Robert or Eloy Jimenez posting an MVP-caliber breakout season.

The Twins and Tigers have decent teams, but I don’t think they’re division-winning material or even playoff material this year. It appeared the Twins were gearing up for a rebuild, but their signing of SS Carlos Correa will keep them competitive. The Tigers may start slow, but with a combo of incoming free agents and young talent that will improve throughout the season, I could see them heating up later on. While they aren’t a playoff team this year, watch out for them in 2023.

That leaves the Guardians and Royals towards the bottom of the division. The Guardians are unwilling to spend money to build around their core of 3B Jose Ramirez, OF/DH Franmil Reyes, and SP Shane Bieber. I thought the Royals were starting to put it all together last year, but I think it may be getting to the point where they may need to rebuild within their already existing rebuild. The window is closing for this era of Royals players like infielders Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier. Neither of these teams will be anywhere close to contention this year.

AL West

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Los Angeles Angels Houston Astros
2 Houston Astros (Wild Card 3) Seattle Mariners (Wild Card 3)
3 Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers
4 Texas Rangers Los Angeles Angels
5 Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics

Michael and I were split on the Angels. Assuming nobody gets hurt, it’s hard to bet against Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. However, things always seem to go wrong in Anaheim. It’s not a crazy take to keep the Angels out of the playoffs, but I’m not going to predict injuries, and a healthy Angels squad is playoff material. Despite the losses of OF George Springer and Correa in the aftermath of the cheating scandal, I think we can agree that the Astros are still playoff material. This team still has one of the strongest lineups in the league, still including 2B Jose Altuve, OF Michael Brantley, and 3B Alex Bregman.

The Mariners are going to be set in the long term, and it’s possible they do sneak into the expanded playoff field, though I have them taking a slight step back compared to last year. Can we really guarantee that youngsters like Ty France and Kyle Lewis will match their 2021 numbers? I have them more towards the middle of the pack alongside the Rangers. As for Texas, they may have built one of the best middle infield duos in baseball by signing free agents Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. This team still lacks the existing talent around those two, especially in the pitching staff.

Both these teams should still beat out the Athletics. The A’s decided to tear it down this offseason by trading SP Sean Manaea, 3B Matt Chapman, and 1B Matt Olson. They will have to suffer the consequences for the time being.

NL East

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Atlanta Braves Atlanta Braves
2 New York Mets (Wild Card 1) New York Mets (Wild Card 1)
3 Philadelphia Phillies (Wild Card 3) Philadelphia Phillies
4 Washington Nationals Washington Nationals
5 Miami Marlins Miami Marlins

I know I said this last season, but this division should be a neck and neck battle between the Braves and Mets. Last year, the Mets disappointed while the Braves won it all. This year, the Mets may have the chance to put an end to their rotten luck with one of the best pitching duos of all time in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. Personally, I also have the Philadelphia Phillies in the playoffs. Now that Bryce Harper has become better adjusted to the Phillies, I think he has returned to his typical elite status and expect him to lead the offense in 2022.

That leaves the Nationals and Marlins on the outside looking in. The Nationals tore things down at the deadline last year, though they did leave behind a strong foundation that includes OF Juan Soto and 1B Josh Bell. The Marlins are slowly building back from their own massive rebuild in which they traded away Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich among others, but it’s still going to be another year or two before this team is playoff material.

NL Central

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
2 Milwaukee Brewers Milwaukee Brewers (Wild Card 2)
3 Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds
4 Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
5 Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Pirates

This division looks to be a two horse race. You have the always competitive Cardinals, who have the perfect mix of longtime veterans such as Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Albert Pujols and younger, rising talent like Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. Then there’s the Brewers, who had the biggest year to year turnaround from a pitching staff in a long time. It really comes down to whether the numbers of Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, and the rest of this rotation are sustainable in the long term. While Michael has both these teams making the playoffs, I don’t think this division is strong enough for two playoff teams, and that will make for an exciting race as the Cards and Brewers compete for one.

Despite being in different stages, the rest of the division is rebuilding. The Reds sold off a good portion of their batting talent from last season to save money. The Cubs got rid of the core group of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant that won them a World Series in favor of a younger crop of players that will need time and experience to develop. The Pirates are the deepest into their rebuild, and I still see them as far away from contention.

NL West

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers
2 San Francisco Giants (Wild Card 2) San Francisco Giants (Wild Card 3)
3 San Diego Padres San Diego Padres
4 Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies
5 Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Diamondbacks

The Dodgers were already stacked up and down the roster with talent in 2021. Now they come into this season and somehow look even better?! With two former MVPs in Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger already on the roster, the Dodgers went out and added a third in Freddie Freeman! They signed former Royals ace Danny Duffy and he won’t even make the starting rotation! It’s getting to the point where it’s unfair how much talent the Dodgers have. I honestly feel they could staff two borderline playoff teams. However, given the unpredictability of baseball, they obviously cannot win every game.

The Padres have continued to add to a talented roster as well, but this National League wild card race is going to get extremely competitive. It’s the Giants I have joining the Dodgers in the playoffs. While it’s easy to call the resurgences of infielders Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria a fluke, I believe these guys have something left in the tank. The Giants did lose Kevin Gausman, but they found an ample replacement in ex-White Sox star Carlos Rodon. San Diego will be missing SS Fernando Tatis Jr. until June, and that could cause them to get off to a slow start. The Padres won’t make the playoffs in this NL if they have to play catch up. They still have a far higher chance than the Rockies or Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are not the team I expected when I thought of potential suitors for Kris Bryant. Playing at Coors Field could make an already strong hitter like Bryant look even stronger, but his power alone won’t be enough to overcome poor pitching and a lack of lineup depth. The Diamondbacks have even less to be hopeful about. While I could see Madison Bumgarner or Zac Gallen bouncing back to bolster the rotation, this lineup has very few significant names. Ketel Marte is the only guy who comes to mind, and he could want out of Arizona if things don’t improve soon.

Playoff Bracket

While I do have the White Sox taking the #1 seed in the AL due to an easy division, it’s the AL East that will end up with two teams in the ALCS. The Red Sox could give the Blue Jays a hard time, but this Toronto lineup just has too much power for Boston’s pitching staff to handle.

Here’s a fun fact: since the tainted Astros-Dodgers World Series in 2017, either the Astros or Dodgers has made every World Series. The Astros have made it in odd years (2019 and 2021), while the Dodgers have made it in even years (2018 and 2020). I expect that pattern to continue in a pretty clear runaway for LA. Everyone used to associate even years with their rivals up in San Francisco, but I think that could become the Dodgers’ thing in years to come. The Mets or Braves could pull off a surprise if luck goes their way, but the Dodgers are the logical pick here.

Toronto may be a flashy team, and they could make it a fun series. Regardless, I still think it’s foolish to bet against the Dodgers to prevail.

I hope you enjoy your Opening Day. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

February 2022 NCAA Tournament Bracketology: Who are some early contenders for the Final Four?

March Madness is under a month away, and today the selection committee will be revealing their top 16. It’s a good time to begin thinking about which teams could be a good pick to take home a title. In this post I have my latest bracketology, including my prediction of which teams the committee will include in their top 16.

Top 16 Teams:

  1. Gonzaga (22-2, #1 overall)
  2. Arizona (23-2, #8 overall)
  3. Baylor (21-5, #10 overall)
  4. LSU (19-7, #16 overall)

Gonzaga started this season with a mix of big wins and underwhelming losses. However, every team has had their fair share of rough losses this year. In WCC play, they have been as dominant as usual and if they can carry that momentum into the tournament they have a shot to return to the NCAA Championship. Arizona has slowed down a bit since their undefeated start to the season, but wins over high-powered teams like UCLA prove the Wildcats are still among the top teams in the country. The Baylor Bears are another team that has slowed down since an undefeated start. However, Scott Drew’s defense has made the difference in crucial wins for Baylor such as their early season victory over Villanova, and this defense should make them a difficult team to knock out. LSU has struggled in the absence of Xavier Pinson, but when Pinson is healthy they are among the SEC’s best. I expect a turnaround before the season ends, so they just barely make the cut for the top 16.

Final Four Dark Horse: Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish came insanely close against Duke, and they also hold a win over Kentucky. After a rough 2020-21 season, Notre Dame’s roster has gained experience and now has the talent to compete with the nation’s best. I could see their veteran core pulling off some surprising upsets this year.

Top 16 Teams:

  1. Purdue (23-4, #4 overall)
  2. Duke (22-4, #5 overall)
  3. Tennessee (19-6, #12 overall)
  4. Providence (21-3, #13 overall)

Purdue got off to a flaming start this season, taking down teams like UNC, Villanova, and Florida State. In conference play, they’ve had a few concerning road losses, but led by Jaden Ivey, they have developed a strong enough resume to sneak onto the 1-line. They just barely edge out Duke, a team that has taken down other top contenders in Gonzaga and Kentucky in Coach K’s final season, but also has fallen short late into a few of their conference matchups, against Virginia, Miami, and Florida State. Tennessee has delivered when they were expected to, and they have had a couple of big wins as well. It’s easy to forget that they were the team to end Arizona’s undefeated season, and they were also able to split with a strong Kentucky squad. They receive a slight edge on the 3-line over Providence, a team that has been hard to stop recently but lacks a resume against the country’s other top contenders.

Final Four Dark Horse: Memphis

I know, Memphis was looking really shaky to begin the season. However, Penny Hardaway and the Tigers have quietly began to get their act together, recently knocking off UCF, Cincinnati, and most importantly Houston. As they boast one of the most talented rosters in the country, I would not be surprised to see them make a run if they can peak at the right time.

Top 16 Teams:

  1. Kansas (21-4, #2 overall)
  2. UCLA (18-5, #6 overall)
  3. Auburn (24-2, #11 overall)
  4. Illinois (18-7, #15 overall)

The Jayhawks suffered a rough loss to Dayton early in the season, but since then this talented squad has gradually built one of the nation’s strongest resumes. In a highly competitive Big 12, they are 10-2 including wins over Baylor and Texas Tech. You cannot forget their early season wins over Michigan State, Villanova, and Oregon either. UCLA has been on a rough stretch recently, but they still have a very talented team after their Final Four run last year, and they have shown it by taking down teams like Villanova, Arizona, and Marquette. Auburn is another one of those teams kind of like Providence: they’ve been hard to stop, but aside from a January matchup with Kentucky, they have had a fairly easy schedule. Illinois, on the other hand, has come up big against the nation’s best despite some concerning losses to teams like Cincinnati and Rutgers. Kofi Cockburn has allowed the Fighting Illini to stay competitive in most games, but this team may lack the clutch ability necessary to make a deep tournament run, and they could be upset prone.

Final Four Dark Horse: Florida

I have the Gators projected higher than most, so I think it’s fair to call them a dark horse as not many people are expecting much out of them. While they did get taken down by Texas Southern in an embarrassing loss earlier this season, they’ve also put together some quality wins. Keyontae Johnson has moved to a role as player-coach, and I feel he can still make an impact on the strong roster around him in the locker room. After being knocked out by Oral Roberts last year, this Gators team will be hungry for revenge.

Top 16 Teams

  1. Kentucky (21-5, #3 overall)
  2. Texas (19-7, #7 overall)
  3. Villanova (20-6, #9 overall)
  4. USC (22-4, #14 overall)

John Calipari’s Wildcats have turned things around after a rough 2020-21 season. Led by West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky has been able to compete with the SEC’s best and knock off Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Texas lacked quality wins to begin the season, but that has changed after their recent wins over Tennessee and Kansas. Between Courtney Ramey, Marcus Carr, and many others, Texas has a lot of talent on this team and could make a deep run if they can work well together. Villanova has more losses than your typical top 16 squad, but they’ve also faced one of the nation’s toughest schedules. They’ve had to face UCLA, Tennessee, Purdue, Baylor, Xavier (twice), Marquette (twice), and Providence. They only won about half of those games and it still makes for an extremely impressive resume. USC is another one of those teams that has slowed down after an undefeated start, but they have been competitive against other Pac-12 contenders like UCLA and Arizona, giving them the resume to remain on the edge of the top 16.

Final Four Dark Horse: Murray State

This is a bit of a bold one, but Murray State has been unstoppable in the OVC and even took down a talented Memphis squad. Just imagine what kind of things they could do with a more competitive schedule. They’ll receive that opportunity in the NCAA Tournament.

All of these teams come into the final few weeks of the regular season with something to prove. A good number of them have had extremely mixed resumes, with brutal losses in addition to huge wins. The best way for them to secure their NCAA Tournament bid would be winning the conference tournament, which would add several more big wins to their resume and secure them a spot. However, for those of them play in extremely competitive conferences, it will come down to how they fare against the top contenders on their schedule. Teams here like Arkansas, Michigan, Butler, and SMU do have a lot of potential if they make the tournament, but they’ll first have to prove themselves down the stretch.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts, and you can enjoy today’s bracket preview at noon on CBS.

Who will take home Super Bowl LVI?

Super Bowl Sunday is here, and we could have one of the more underrated matchups in a while. Check out this article in the Harbinger where my friend Tucker Paquette and I each make the case for the team we think will win.

I have also included my projected stats for the game in this post:

Los Angeles Rams

Passing

NameComp/AttYardsTDINT
Matthew Stafford28/4127921

Rushing

NameAttYardsTD
Cam Akers21911
Sony Michel18691
Matthew Stafford110

Receiving

NameRecYardsTD
Cooper Kupp101131
Odell Beckham Jr.6711
Van Jefferson3310
Cam Akers4260
Kendall Blanton2140
Brandon Powell1100
Ben Skowronek180
Sony Michel160

Cincinnati Bengals

Passing

NameComp/AttYardsTDINT
Joe Burrow25/3824610

Rushing

NameAttYardsTD
Joe Mixon23721
Samaje Perine260
Joe Burrow250

Receiving

NameRecYardsTD
Ja’Marr Chase6770
Tyler Boyd6511
C.J. Uzomah3410
Tee Higgins3350
Joe Mixon4240
Drew Sample170
Chris Evans160
Samaje Perine150

NFL 2022 Playoff Bracket and Wild Card Prediction Podcast

The NFL playoffs are finally here. This is one of the most wide open years we have seen in a while, and I truly believe almost anyone on this playoff bracket has the chance to win it all. However, this is how I see these playoffs going down:

I went on The Master Plan Podcast with my cousin and Syracuse University freshman, Michael Philipkosky to break down the Wild Card Weekend games.

After most of the higher seeds win this weekend, I expect chaos to ensue in the later rounds. Look for QB Mac Jones and the Patriots to keep up with QB Ryan Tannehill and the #1 seeded Titans to advance to the AFC Championship. I think they could even give the Chiefs a hard time in the AFC Championship.

On the NFC side of the bracket, I expect QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to suffer another playoff choke in what might be the final year before a major rebuild.

The conference championships I am predicting will create the potential for four very exciting Super Bowl possibilities: a third Super Bowl battle between the Patriots and Rams, a Chiefs-Buccaneers rematch, a rematch of the 105 point shootout between the Chiefs and Rams, or the most hyped matchup of all: Tom Brady and the Buccaneers versus Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

As much as I would like to see a Pats-Bucs Super Bowl, I see QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs edging out the Pats despite defensive struggles. In addition, I see QB Matthew Stafford fixing his turnover problems to lead a highly talented Rams offense past a Buccaneers team that has lost two of their three big name WRs in Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.

I do not think this Chiefs-Rams rematch will have nearly as much scoring. However, I expect the same result, as Sean McVay is able to figure out how to limit QB Patrick Mahomes and allow for a Rams Super Bowl title. Their high spending and win-now trades over the last few years will finally pay off.

What’s your Super Bowl prediction? Comment below.

2021 NFL Week 12 Picks: Expect lots of close games, surprises

After an action-packed Thanksgiving Day, Sunday brings us a full slate of NFL action with a lot of intriguing matchups that could go either way. Below are my predictions for each game (as well as my predictions from Thanksgiving). Last week I went 9-6, bringing my overall record to 102-62-1.

Lock of the Week

It’s hard to say that there’s any locks this week, but this is the closest thing to it. I don’t think people have given enough credit to the amount of raw talent the Broncos have in their backfield. RB Melvin Gordon has continued to play at a high level, and RB Javonte Williams has an extremely bright future. Look for the Broncos offense to rely on this duo against a flawed Chargers run defense. It will be difficult for the Chargers to keep up, even though their own RB, Austin Ekeler, has been dominant of late.

Upset of the Week

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is out of the picture and the Giants receiving corps are close to full health. I see this as the final chance for Daniel Jones to prove himself as the Giants long term QB in what could be a close matchup. While I do have the Giants edging out a victory here, I think it will have more to do with RB Saquon Barkley being fully healthy than Jones playing well.

Lions Thanksgiving Game (Actual Score: 16-14 Bears)

This may be head coach Matt Nagy’s last chance to save his job. Look for the Bears to rely on their run game to keep this close. In the end though, I have Detroit coming out on top as Lions QB Jared Goff outperforms Bears QB Andy Dalton with the help of his own RBs.

Cowboys Thanksgiving Game (Actual Score: 36-33 Raiders)

Without WRs Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, it’s going to be difficult for this Cowboys offense to keep up with QB Derek Carr and the Raiders. Look for a big game out of TE Darren Waller as the Raiders win big on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Primetime Game (Actual Score: 31-6 Bills)

After a rough week last week, I’m expecting QB Josh Allen to rebound in a prime time battle with the Saints. With QB Trevor Siemian’s top targets, RB Alvin Kamara and TE Adam Trautman out, he will have to rely on other options to fill the void. With more talent and better surroundings, Allen should outplay Siemian by a significant amount for the Bills victory.

The Other Games

Half of Tennessee’s core is on injured reserve right now. While their defense has stepped up this season, the Patriots defense has performed even better. The Pats should be all over a Titans team that’s missing three of its best skill players: RB Derrick Henry, WR A.J. Brown, and WR Julio Jones. Meanwhile, I’m expecting a respectable game out of QB Mac Jones as he keeps the hot streak going and leads the Pats to an important victory.
I think this game will come down to who can run the ball better. While I expect some success from RB Myles Gaskin and the Dolphins, he is no match for the legs of QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey. Look for Carolina to come out on top in the end here despite a close game.
I think we’re going to see a different Zach Wilson in his first game back from injury. I’m expecting WR Elijah Moore to keep up his success with Wilson under center as the duo lead the Jets to a road victory in Houston. Will Wilson carry the momentum into the rest of the Jets schedule? That could prove to be much more difficult.
Cincinnati embarrassed the Steelers in Pittsburgh earlier this season. However, it seems the Steelers have gotten their act together to an extent in the weeks since. Look for a big game from RB Najee Harris, who has posted a rather dominant rookie year, as the Steelers split the season series.
This one could be difficult for Tampa as WR Antonio Brown remains out. The Colts defense should have the ability to shut down the Bucs run game and limit QB Tom Brady’s other receivers. Meanwhile, QB Carson Wentz could benefit from the banged up nature of the Buccaneers secondary. I have the Colts edging out a victory at home.
This Jaguars offense has the raw talent to improve on its recent performance. However, I can’t really say the same about Jacksonville’s D. QB Matt Ryan tends to eat up bad defenses. Look for him to rely on TE Kyle Pitts in an extremely favorable matchup as the Falcons hand the Jaguars yet another loss.
Without RB Aaron Jones, this Packers offense will not be difficult to shut down. Look for CB Jalen Ramsey to shadow WR Davante Adams, leaving QB Aaron Rodgers with minimal other options. Meanwhile, QB Matthew Stafford should have no problem connecting with his receivers as CB Jaire Alexander remains injured. I’d like to believe that LA’s first game with WR Odell Beckham Jr. was a fluke. If so, the Rams will show off their full potential in this one.
Both of these teams find themselves in the race for a wild card spot due to the large drop off after the NFC’s top 5 seeds. I think Minnesota is going to begin to pull ahead in this race as QB Kirk Cousins posts another big game against an inexperienced 49ers secondary. I don’t think QB Jimmy Garoppolo will be able to keep up with Cousins, and it’s not like QB Trey Lance would be much better (at least in his rookie year).
The Ravens may have lost several RBs to injury, but this run game has continued to impress nonetheless. Look for QB Lamar Jackson to rely on his legs and his running backs to take down the Browns in prime time. The return of RB Kareem Hunt should give the Browns a boost, but it will not be enough in Baltimore.
While I do see WR Terry McLaurin posting a big game against this Seattle secondary, I have QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks winning this one in the end. Look for QB Taylor Heinicke to put up some flashy drives and score some points, but Wilson just posts successful drives on a more consistent basis.

In the coming weeks, check out my Twitter to keep up with my NFL picks.

Fundraiser: 2021 Flutie Foundation Fantasy Football League

The second year of the Flutie Foundation Fantasy Football League is underway! While we compete for the belt TrophySmack generously donated as pictured above, we are all raising money for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism through Facebook fundraisers.

You can learn more about the fundraiser by watching this video from The Adam Jones Show on November 16.

Click here to donate and help people and families affected by autism live life to the fullest