NFL 2022 Preview: Who takes it home in a changing league?

I’ve had a busy first few weeks here in Ithaca. However, this annual article is one I could not miss. Once again, football is back, and I am excited to share my preview for the season.

The NFL seems to be at a sort of crossroads. We may be nearing the end of the story for longtime legends like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile, the story for a new generation of players including Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert is just beginning. It’s left the NFL in an interesting position; there are so many competitive teams that the standard for contention has raised. Two years ago Tom Brady won his 7th ring, and last year veteran QB Matthew Stafford finally took one home. Will this year be another win for an aging team, or will the youth of the league begin to take over? Read my predictions below and find out what I think, starting with my division by division standings.

AFC East

  1. Buffalo Bills (15-2, #1 seed in AFC)
  2. Miami Dolphins (9-8)
  3. New England Patriots (8-9)
  4. New York Jets (8-9)

For many years, the Patriots ruled in this division. Now it’s the Bills and then everyone else. Led by young standout QB Josh Allen, the Bills are as stacked on paper as any team in this league. The defense has its inconsistencies, but still has a lot of talent including what’s arguably the best safety duo in the league (Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde). Offensively, Allen has a plethora of weapons including elite WR Stefon Diggs, emerging WR Gabriel Davis, and TE Dawson Knox. 15 wins is a tough feat for any time, but it’s not out of the question here.

I have the Dolphins edging out second as their defense should win them some games. However, I don’t see them making the playoffs with QB Tua Tagovailoa under center. WR Tyreek Hill can make big plays for days but he’s not going to bail Tua out of every situation. If anyone has the chance to sneak into a wild card slot, it would be the Pats. I have them at 8-9, but this team has a high ceiling and a low floor. It all depends on whether QB Mac Jones can build on his rookie success and if Bill Belichick can coach up the young talent on the defense despite losing several big names like CB J.C. Jackson.

The Jets will remain in the basement here, but they’re definitely trending in the right direction. A year from now, this offense could be a scary sight assuming QB Zach Wilson improves and RB Breece Hall is as advertised.

AFC North

  1. Baltimore Ravens (12-5, #4 seed in AFC)
  2. Cincinnati Bengals (11-6, #6 seed in AFC)
  3. Cleveland Browns (7-10)
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-13)

If there’s any team I’m counting on to go from worst to first, it’s the Ravens. With QB Lamar Jackson injured for much of last season, the Ravens were on the bottom of a competitive division. Now, Jackson returns alongside RB J.K. Dobbins, CB Marlon Humphrey, and CB Marcus Peters. Humphrey and Peters now headline what might be the NFL’s best secondary. There’s plenty of signs that the Ravens can put last season’s struggles behind them.

I do think the Bengals remain competitive after their surprise Super Bowl run last year. QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja’Marr Chase aren’t going away anytime soon. I don’t expect the kind of run we saw last year, but I also don’t expect the Bengals to revert below .500. That leaves the Browns and Steelers falling behind in this division race.

The Browns will be without their new QB Deshaun Watson for the first 11 games. While I think their RB duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and their strong defense can win them a few games in that stretch, Watson would have a lot of ground to make up in order to catch these other teams in the division. I’ve been projecting a Steelers decline for years now, but over the last few years Mike Tomlin has kept them afloat. Between a tough schedule, tough division, and declining defense, I find it hard to believe that Tomlin will extend his above-.500 streak any longer.

AFC South

  1. Indianapolis Colts (12-5, #3 seed in AFC)
  2. Tennessee Titans (8-9)
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-13)
  4. Houston Texans (1-16)

If the Colts played in any other division, I’d have them around .500. In fact, I have them 6-5 in non-AFC South match-ups. However, I can’t see any other team in this division giving them much of a challenge. Their defense is strong enough that QB Matt Ryan will be able to get the Colts out to leads in these games without much pressure.

The Titans show some promise as usual, and RB Derrick Henry isn’t going away. Outside of Henry though, this roster looks uninspiring when compared to other AFC rosters. If there’s any surprise contender in this division, it would be Tennessee, but I personally wouldn’t count on it. The Jaguars should see marginal improvement from QB Trevor Lawrence, but I don’t think they spent their money in an optimal way to support him. There are still many holes up and down the roster that leave Jacksonville far from playoff contention. They still show more promise than the Texans though. I don’t see QB Davis Mills as much more than a strong game manager, and outside of WR Brandin Cooks he doesn’t have much proven talent around him to rely on.

AFC West

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3, #2 seed in AFC)
  2. Los Angeles Chargers (12-5, #5 seed in AFC)
  3. Denver Broncos (9-8, #7 seed in AFC)
  4. Las Vegas Raiders (7-10)

Some people expect four teams above .500 in this division, and I think that expectation is a little lofty. That doesn’t take away from the fact that this might be one of the most competitive divisions in recent history. While I do have the Broncos and Raiders losing a decent number of games due to their tough schedules, I think both these teams will be better on the field than their record shows. The Raiders do have some major defensive question marks, but with WR Davante Adams on board, this offense is too good for Vegas to hit rock bottom. I expect the Broncos to be in the mix for much of the season. QB Russell Wilson’s historical late season struggles combined with a tough schedule will cause them to fall behind the Chiefs and Chargers, but I still have them holding onto a playoff spot.

I think the Chiefs maintain the crown here, as QB Patrick Mahomes makes up for the loss of WR Tyreek Hill by utilizing a variety of new faces in the WR corps such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Chargers could be a threat to that, as their defense gets even stronger with the additions of Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson. I also think QB Justin Herbert is almost as capable, if not just as capable as Mahomes. Either of these teams could be in for a deep playoff run.

NFC East

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-6, #4 seed in NFC)
  2. Dallas Cowboys (10-7, #7 seed in NFC)
  3. Washington Commanders (6-11)
  4. New York Giants (3-14)

The NFC East still has not had a repeat winner since the 2003-04 Eagles, and I don’t see that changing this year. The Cowboys, who won in 2021, lost a good portion of the stacked WR corps QB Dak Prescott utilized to get them there. The Eagles, meanwhile, brought in a new #1 WR in A.J. Brown and upgraded the defense significantly. As long as QB Jalen Hurts plays at a serviceable level, I think the Eagles take over in this division, though I still have the Cowboys sneaking into a playoff spot.

The Giants have a lot to prove this year. This might be QB Daniel Jones’ last chance to show that he can succeed with a healthy offense around him. I don’t have much faith in Jones or his WRs though, and I expect now healthy RB Saquon Barkley to get frustrated and leave after another losing season in East Rutherford. The Commanders should outpace them by a little bit, but I don’t see Carson Wentz as the long term answer at QB (who knew Dak Prescott would end up a more reliable QB than either of the top 2 picks from his draft class?). Despite a strong defensive line and some upside across the roster, there are still many problems to address in Washington before they can compete once again.

NFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers (13-4, #1 seed in NFC)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (13-4, #5 seed in NFC)
  3. Detroit Lions (6-11)
  4. Chicago Bears (2-15)

A lot of people are making the case that either the Packers or the Vikings will be the sole success story from this division. Why not both? The Packers may have question marks at WR, but QB Aaron Rodgers has made do with that before and he can do it again. Meanwhile, the Vikings will leave the Mike Zimmer era behind them. I expect the talent they have in all 3 aspects of the game to finally translate into wins under new HC Kevin O’Connell, and O’Connell has already drawn comparisons between WRs Justin Jefferson and Cooper Kupp (who had his historic season in O’Connell’s system).

The Lions can only go so far with Jared Goff under center, but this roster does show some promise. Their defense should be at least serviceable at this point and with a strong supporting cast, Goff could have the occasional big game if he’s not under too much pressure. Bears fans may have faith that Justin Fields can lift this team out of its misery, but I’m not expecting much in Chicago this year. Matt Eberflus is not much of an upgrade over Matt Nagy, and I think the Bears will be giving up too many points for Fields to make up the lost ground.

NFC South

  1. New Orleans Saints (12-5, #2 seed in NFC)
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5, #6 seed in NFC)
  3. Carolina Panthers (8-9)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (5-12)

The Saints are the team I’m expecting to exceed most people’s expectations this year. To start off, their defense might be the most well-rounded, filled out defense in football. In addition, a lot of people are concerned about a RB Alvin Kamara suspension, WR Michael Thomas’ health, or QB Jameis Winston’s capability as a starting QB. I don’t think these are really valid concerns at this point. Winston has been fine and thrown far less picks since his eye surgery a few off-seasons ago, Kamara’s suspension is unlikely to happen until 2023, and all signs point to Thomas being a full-go this season. At their peak, this team could be scary.

I have Saints sweeping the Bucs in the regular season (as usual), but that won’t stop Tampa Bay from staying neck and neck with them in the division race. Even without WR Antonio Brown and TE Rob Gronkowski, any team with Tom Brady (even an aging Tom Brady) under center is going to be competitive. Besides, Brady still has one of the NFL’s best supporting casts.

QB Baker Mayfield should allow the Panthers to avoid the basement of the division and win a few extra games. Mayfield has RB Christian McCaffrey and WR D.J. Moore to lean on, so that should help him out, but this team still doesn’t quite stack up with the Saints and Bucs. That leaves the Falcons at the bottom, who despite an improving defense don’t have much to be excited about this season.

NFC West

  1. Los Angeles Rams (11-6, #3 seed in NFC)
  2. Arizona Cardinals (9-8)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (8-9)
  4. Seattle Seahawks (2-15)

Despite a tough schedule, I expect the Rams to remain on top of this division. QB Matthew Stafford may start off a little slow due to his elbow injury, but he has a strong supporting cast, and Rams DT Aaron Donald is still in every other QB’s nightmares.

Behind the Rams, I don’t see much promise in this division. The Cardinals have relied on strong starts in years they’ve made the playoffs. They’ll be without WR DeAndre Hopkins for 6 games, so that might be more difficult than usual. There is a lot to like about the 49ers, but the secondary is a concern and we haven’t really seen how much QB Trey Lance is capable of. I’ve seen Patrick Mahomes comparisons, and people who expect Lance to be like Mahomes and lead San Francisco to the playoffs in his first year starting may be disappointed.

I still expect those two teams to finish well ahead of Seattle. The Seahawks have no proven options to start at QB, which will likely hold this offense and the entire team back throughout the season.

Playoff Predictions

There’s a lot of competitive teams in the league right now, so I’m expecting a lot of playoff upsets much like last year. I have 4 of 6 wild card teams winning their first playoff game, and essentially half the teams advancing to each round after that are wild card teams.

In the NFC, I have Tom Brady clutching up for the playoffs and beating the Rams, Packers, and Saints on another Wild Card Super Bowl run. In the AFC, I think the Chiefs or Chargers could put up a good fight, but in the end I have Josh Allen leading the top-seeded Bills to a conference title.

A Bills-Bucs Super Bowl will bring a very interesting narrative: Tom Brady against his former divisional rival. I’m expecting a Super Bowl LII like game, with Brady putting up a serious fight, but falling short in the end. It will signal a new era for the league in which the Bills, not Tom Brady, are the team to beat.

If the Bills do actually win this Super Bowl, I may not hear the end of it now that I’m living in Ithaca which is clear cut Bills territory. However, my unbiased opinion is that they are the most likely team to come out on top. This could be the year their roster is talented enough for them to put it all together and win on the biggest stage.

Will Brady retire after playing in another Super Bowl? If he wins, I think it’s pretty likely he does. However, after a loss, he may still be hungry for more.

Before I wrap up this article, I want to include one more prediction: my pick for tonight’s opener.

Opening Night

It would be easy to predict a shootout here. However, I’m expecting more of a close, defensive battle in this one. QB Matthew Stafford should play it a little safer considering his elbow problems, but I still expect him to connect well with WRs Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson. In the end though, QB Josh Allen is better equipped to win this game. Allen and his receivers at full health are a scary sight, and even if Stafford was healthy I think Allen would be likely to outperform him.

Enjoy tonight’s game, and enjoy the rest of the season. I’ll have more NFL coverage on this website as well as weekly Flutie Foundation-sponsored NFL episodes on The Master Plan Podcast with my cousin, Michael Philipkosky.

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

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.

Featured on For the Fans Network

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.

You can also see a shortened version on Twitter.

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.

Polar Park, a ballpark experience everyone can enjoy

On Saturday, July 10, I visited Polar Park for the “Saturday at the Park” open house event. With the WooSox on the road, the park was open to the public for a few hours for fans to explore all areas of the the new ballpark in the heart of Massachusetts.

Fans were also encouraged to give their feedback on how to improve the ballpark. The WooSox value fan feedback so much that they had 21 planning meetings with fans that resulted in 877 ideas and suggestions on how to design the ballpark (me with WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg holding a book with the 877 fan ideas pictured below).

The event was held on what would have been the 100th birthday of Harvey Ball, the Worcester-born inventor of the smiley face. Much of the design of Polar Park and the WooSox logos were also based on Worcester history. Smiley Ball, the team’s mascot, is a reference to Harvey Ball’s roots in Worcester. Since Worcester is often called the “heart of Massachusetts,” the road signs around Kelley Square, Worcester’s downtown area, contain hearts.

Polar Park is located in a redesigned Kelley Square, so it’s fitting that the team’s logo contains a heart and this theme is incorporated throughout the ballpark including the seats as you can see pictured below.

The sides of the game seats are not only a reference to Worcester being the heart of Massachusetts but also a tribute to the Worcester’s, an 1800s baseball team that played in the city.

The ballpark also took inspiration from both Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park. The WooSox wanted to make sure that they had a lot of unique and good seating options. I caught up with a WooSox employee on the Hanover deck, where there’s a great view of both the city and the ballpark. We spoke about a wide variety of seating options.

I had the chance to visit the seats behind home plate later on, which were in front of NESN’s broadcast booth.

The left field berm is a grassy area that’s just about to open. Berm tickets will be sold to the general public for $9, and kids under 12, college students, and veterans can purchase tickets on the berm for $8.

The Worcester Wall is Polar Park’s version of the Green Monster. The main differences? The Worcester Wall is located in right field and stands at 22 feet high, as opposed to Fenway’s Green Monster which is in left field and stands at 37 feet high. In addition, as opposed to Fenway green, the Worcester Wall was painted with a new color known as “Woo Blue.”

I also had the chance to see some of the private suites.

In addition to good seating options, the WooSox have found ways to accommodate fans that may need a break from typical ballpark noise. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was designed to make Polar Park welcoming to fans with disabilities like autism who may have sensory overload challenges. The room is located adjacent to Fan Services.

According to WooSox employee Marie Roy, the organization is a very welcoming employer. I spoke with Roy, who shared with me that she is autistic and described her experience working at the ballpark.

This day was also filled with opportunities to explore ballpark areas not normally open to the public. Everyone was welcome to check out areas usually reserved only for members of the media: the press box, the broadcast booth, and the control room.

In the broadcast booth, I had the chance to meet Mike Antonellis, one of the WooSox broadcasters. He was extremely friendly and even provided me advice on my sports broadcasting pursuits.

In the control room I saw a lot of familiar graphics and designs on screens across the room, and caught up with two control room employees.

Just outside the control room, I was able to meet WooSox Chairman of the Board (and former Red Sox owner) Larry Lucchino and WooSox president Dr. Charles Steinberg. Steinberg has been a part of many memorable events with the Red Sox organization. He orchestrated the ceremony at the April 20, 2013 Red Sox game right after the Boston Marathon bombings that I attended and wrote about. I caught up with Steinberg about his thoughts on how Polar Park has done in its first few months as well as plans to improve the ballpark.

After the event, I interviewed some fans to see what they thought about the experience at the ballpark.

Before leaving, we also stopped by the Team Store to pick up inaugural season merchandise.

The Team Store has merchandise containing the main WooSox logos as well as their “Los Wepas de Worcester” logos. The WooSox have worn “Los Wepas de Worcester” uniforms for a couple of their games to honor the Latino community. “Wepa” is Spanish slang for words like “wow” or “amazing”, and the logo contains rockets to honor Worcester-born rocket inventor Robert Goddard.

I had a great time visiting Polar Park on this open Saturday. It’s a really nice ballpark and I’m looking forward to attending some games at the ballpark this season. The team has a lot of exciting players to watch and some of them could be called up to Boston soon. Polar Park is a great venue to see a game.

If you want to see a game this week, the WooSox come home to Worcester on Tuesday, July 13 for a seven game series against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. I’ll be attending on Sunday, July 18, and you can buy tickets for any of these seven games at https://www.milb.com/worcester/tickets.

No Tuukka, No Problem: Why the Bruins could still win it all

This morning, the Bruins announced that Tuukka Rask would be opting out of the remainder of the playoffs in order to spend time with family. The team will have to rely on Jaroslav Halak at goalie for the rest of the playoffs. With Rask out and David Pastrnak day-to-day, I was skeptical of Boston’s chances to win it all. But today, the Bruins proved that they still have a shot, as they took down Carolina 3-1 with Halak in the net and Pasta out of the lineup for the second straight game. The Bruins now lead the series 2-1.

Charlie Coyle stepped up for two points as he played with the first line in Pastrnak’s place for a good portion of the game. Coyle, like Pastrnak, is a great finisher, so he’s an underrated player that can at least help fill the gap Pastrnak leaves. Brad Marchand and David Krejci also had two points of their own.

Jaroslav Halak was pretty good in Rask’s place. The one mistake he did make led to Carolina’s only goal. Halak was out of the net, and used his stick attempting to air the puck out. Instead, he shot it close to the net, where Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter was waiting and scored.

The Bruins’ third goal was an empty net goal by Brad Marchand. In addition to the empty netter, there was one power play goal and one shorthanded goal scored on Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek.

Late in the game, the Hurricanes lost forward Andrei Svechnikov, one of their top goal scorers, and the Bruins should have Pasta back soon. So I think the Bruins should be able to finish this series on top. Their success from that point on could depend on their opponents. If the Lightning and Capitals are both eliminated, the Bruins have a good shot to return to the Stanley Cup Final. But facing the Lightning might be tough without Rask. The good news is, they proved today that they can win games without Rask. Halak’s struggles against Philly concerned me, but the Bruins are clearly getting back into playoff form, so I’m not giving up hope yet.

Highlights of “Life Without Sports”, my Social Distancing Journal

Below, I have shared some of the highlights of “Life Without Sports”, my journal of the 75 days I spent in social distancing without any sports to look forward to. This spanned from Friday, March 13, the first sports-less day, to Tuesday, May 26, when the NHL announced its plan for return and many people tried to return to some sense of normality after Memorial Day weekend. You can also check out my Return to Sports series, in which I discuss major sports leagues’ transition and plans for return.

Friday, March 13

Day 1 Without Sports

It was Friday the 13th, and that fact was fitting.  On this day, the world was cursed by the coronavirus.  Schools closed for weeks at a time.  People, including my family, were afraid to leave the house out of worry of infecting others unknowingly or becoming infected.  There were lots of questions, and many different answers.  It was hard to know who to trust because nobody knew the real answer to the questions people had.  With social distancing in full effect for my family, I passed time by instead of watching games like baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, like I usually do, taking on my family in games like Monopoly and Scrabble.  Usually, I have a very busy life between school, maintaining this website, and other extracurricular activities.  But I found myself searching for things to do this first day.  I wasn’t enjoying the lack of sports, but I was glad people were taking this seriously, as the virus can spread really fast without our knowledge.

Tuesday, March 17

Day 5 Without Sports

I woke up, and it was all over.  The Patriots dynasty was over.  On this St. Patrick’s Day, Tom Brady had announced his departure from the Patriots. Sports stations continued to ramble on about where Brady would go, but later that day, it was reported that Tom Brady would become a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.  Meanwhile, as Brady and other QBs signed, Bill Belichick just sat pretty.  He let Brady leave, and he let go of the opportunity to sign a good replacement.  I trusted in Bill Belichick for all these years, but the truth is that he has been very stubborn with players’ contracts, refusing to maintain relationships with or resign expensive players and instead trying to find hidden gems in free agency or the draft.  Sometimes this works out well, but other times, it doesn’t.  Brady did a good job leading the team, allowing other players and the whole team to succeed.  Belichick’s coaching did help get him to where he is today, but Belichick refused to pay Brady like the superstar he is.  For that reason, he left.  I’ve grown up in the Brady-Belichick era, and as the two of them split, I’m still a Pats fan, but I will always be a Tom Brady fan.  He had every right to leave, and I don’t think he wanted money simply to get richer.  I think he wanted the money he felt he deserved as a top player in the league.  He wanted to be making as much as most other starting QBs.  It was good to have some sports news, but it was a sad day for Boston sports fans.  

Saturday, March 28

Day 16 Without Sports

I woke up to my dad playing on a Monopoly app on my iPad.  We ended up playing with my cousins, but the “house rules” we usually use in Monopoly weren’t working right the first game, and without money bonuses like Free Parking and $400 for landing on GO, everyone ran out of money fairly quickly.  We found a way to add the house rules and played two more games with my other cousin Michael.  Michael was my cousin from my dad’s side of the family, and back during the blizzard of ‘78, my dad played a ton of Monopoly with Michael’s mom (my dad’s sister), Stacey.  They would face off the next day, bringing back memories, but after 3 games, we all wanted a break.  A bad trade my brother had made in our final game had ruined my game, ruined his game and allowed my dad to win as usual.

Monday, April 6

Day 25 Without Sports

I had set up a new routine for myself, including when I would get work done, when I would work on blog articles, and more.  On the first day of online school, it went well.  I attended four online classes on Zoom and got the chance to catch up with some school friends.  Even though I couldn’t see my friends, I didn’t mind the online school because I do most of my assignments on a computer anyways. On Day 1, I did my work fairly quickly, went on a walk since it was a 60 degree day, and relaxed.  

Wednesday, April 8

Day 27 Without Sports

It was my half birthday today, a very special half birthday.  I had turned 16.5.  I thought maybe I’d get the chance to drive on this day (although I haven’t had the chance to start driver’s ed yet).  I never would’ve thought I would spend my half birthday in quarantine, but it was worth it to avoid becoming a carrier of this deadly virus.  With New York approaching its peak and Massachusetts looking like it was next, I was hopeful that a decline would come in another several weeks and we’d be able to return to normal life.  

Friday, April 10

Day 29 Without Sports

It was Good Friday, so we would’ve had a day off from school normally.  For Algonquin, every Friday of online school was simply a day to catch up on work.  All of my work that was left to do was due Monday, not that night.  So I decided to just relax and save my work for the weekend.  I needed to take days off sometimes, especially since April Break was canceled.  

Wednesday, April 15

Day 34 Without Sports

It was the anniversary of another crisis, the Boston Marathon bombings.  It was the last time Boston went into lockdown.  We were Boston Strong back then, and we need to be Boston Strong now.  Andrew Cuomo has even used a similar phrase for New York, “New York Tough”, during this crisis.  I got my work done a little earlier today as well, but I was distracted by Jay Glazer’s hint at big football news that night at 11.  What could it be?  There were rumors of Gronk’s return.  There were rumors of another Odell Beckham Jr. trade.  But I wouldn’t know for sure until later that night.  It turned out the big news was just another coronavirus update, though Gronk would unretire later. 

Thursday, April 23

Day 42 Without Sports

Sports seasons were still on pause in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but after 6 weeks sports fans finally had a live event to watch: the 2020 NFL Draft.  The draft would be conducted virtually, as one of the most important parts of the NFL’s virtual 2020 off-season that despite modifications has been 100% on schedule so far.  I got my work done fairly quickly so I could watch the draft after.  But I was distracted by draft rumors throughout the day.  I live tweeted during round one, providing my grades for each pick.  In the meantime, I created a draft group chat with two of my friends who are also huge NFL fans.  The draft was fairly unsurprising on night one, but it was about to get crazy.  I didn’t understand why the Patriots traded down, but looking back at the player they wanted, I’m glad they did.

Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3

Days 51 and 52 Without Sports

On Saturday, I ended up taking the day to relax with my parents and we discovered two Amazon Prime shows, Catastrophe and Red Oaks.  We started Catastrophe Saturday night.  Sunday, we visited my grandparents (with social distancing of course) to pick up some groceries they got us and catch up in person.  We all stood in their yard, keeping our distance while we chatted with them.  It was hard for my grandpa, who has hearing problems, but he was happy to see our faces.  Plus, it was my brother Ryan’s first time outside in 52 days, and the perfect weather for it.  Once we got home and cleaned off, we got into Red Oaks, which was even more addictive than Catastrophe and hard to stop watching.  The show is about a country club and the community around it.  The main characters are all college-age and work there for summer jobs.  

Monday, May 18

Day 67 Without Sports

Massachusetts had begun to reopen.  Essential businesses were back today, and in a week public parks and some other places would be back open.  It was a nice sliver of hope during a tough time.  I was hopeful Boston sports were up next, and I was hoping I’d be able to see some of my friends soon.  As usual for Mondays, I took a while to get my work done.  Plus, “Mock Draft Monday” had become a regular occurrence for fantasy football fans, and I joined another live mock draft today before my work was done.  

Tuesday, May 19

Day 68 Without Sports

I took a while to get started off the bat today, but got my work done in time to play Monopoly with a family friend, Mark Goldfinger per the usual on Tuesdays. While I did my work, my parents returned my mom’s car (the lease had expired).  We would use my dad’s until he had to go back to work.  Today, for the first time in our Tuesday games, I won.  I started off with just one small Monopoly, but knocked out my brother and my dad to grab hold of more Monopolies.  After the game, we had tacos for dinner and continued another Amazon show we had found, Upload.

Tuesday, May 26

Day 75 Without Sports

I had a busy week of school ahead, which I wasn’t happy about.  But I got my work done quickly, and when I finished, I realized that Life Without Sports was about to come to an end.  No, a major sports league was not returning the next day.  But the NHL had announced they’d be dropping the official schedule for their 24-team playoffs, which had been approved by league owners and the NHLPA.  With this, I wouldn’t have sports back, but a return would be in sight.  Plus, until hockey did actually return, I had found ways to incorporate sports into a sports-less world, and I had found other things to distract me from their absence.  I had learned to live life without sports, but did I miss them?  Definitely.  Would life be better with sports back?  No doubt about it.  Did I still want to work in sports?  Absolutely.

MIAA Tennis Finals: My Cousins Help Weston win D3 Boys & Girls

Due to bad weather taking place throughout most of the week, all of the MIAA’s Tennis Finals were moved to today.  The girls played at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, and the boys played about a mile away at Shrewsbury High School.

12 teams across 3 divisions played in the finals, but only two schools had both a boys team and a girls team in the finals.  Those schools?  Algonquin, my high school, and Weston, my cousins’ high school.

Algonquin, a division 1 school, lost both finals.  The boys team lost to Brookline 5 matches to 0.  The girls team, led by freshman Olivia Almy among others, came into these finals undefeated but fell to Acton-Boxborough 4-1.

Weston, on the other hand, is in Division 3.  They became the only high school in the state where both the boys team and the girls team won their respective divisions.  Both my cousins played on these teams.

My cousin, freshman Lola Philipkosky and the Weston girls played first, taking on Lee High School, who traveled all the way from the Berkshires.  In high school team tennis, 3 singles matches and 2 doubles matches are played.  Twins Kayla and Jayme Leschly won Weston two of the singles matches before the 2nd set of Lola’s doubles match even began.  Lola and her partner Livvy Lathrop had won the first set 6-2.  Starting the 2nd set, Lola and Livvy knew if they could win their match over Lee freshmen Caroline Maloney and Rachel Wendling, Weston would clinch the MIAA Championship.

Livvy and Lola worked well together and won several short points with powerful deep returns.  Their return game helped them break service games in both sets.  The senior-freshman 1st doubles pair also served very well and held most of their service games which helped them win both sets 6-2, 6-2 and clinch the championship for Weston.

Lola Philipkosky serving

I spoke with Lola and Livvy shortly after their match:

Lee won the final singles match and the final doubles match, but it didn’t matter after Lola and Livvy had won to give Weston the 3 wins they needed to be crowned MIAA champions.

Shortly before the Weston girls were given their MIAA trophy, my cousin, sophomore Michael Philipkosky, and the Weston boys took on Hopedale in the MIAA finals for the second straight year.  Last year, Michael did not get the opportunity to play in the finals.  This year, however, he worked his way up and ended up playing 3rd singles for Weston in the state finals.  All 5 matches were dominated by Weston, not losing a set.  Michael’s match was the 2nd to finish.  Michael watched the final three finish soon after and went to celebrate with his teammates.  Check out some highlights of their celebration as well as my interview with him after he received his medal:

It was a big day for the Weston Wildcats, as both teams and both my cousins became MIAA tennis champions.

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Boston Marathon 2019: Runner Spotlight – Michael Palmer and the Snow Angel Challenge

Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day.  As you may know if you have read this blog before, I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.  Doctors said I may never speak.  But almost 14 years later, not only am I talking, I am a budding sports journalist who has written this blog for 5 years.

In honor of Autism Awareness Day, the Boston Herald asked me to tell my story for today’s paper!  I met Joe Sciacca, the editor-in-chief of the Boston Herald at a Red Sox game in 2015.  Since that day, I have gained multiple exciting sportscasting experiences from the Herald, including guest co-hosting a Boston Herald Radio show.

Now, I also serve as a Flutie Fellow for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism so I’d like to share a story about a Dougie’s Team Boston Marathon runner named Michael Palmer.  Leading up to the marathon, he started something inspirational within the autism community.  Below is my video about Michael alongside what I said in the video:

For Michael Palmer, running the Boston Marathon to raise funds for the Doug Flutie, Jr Foundation for Autism has personal meaning. Michael has Aspergers. He wants to spread the message that people on the autism spectrum are not alone in their daily struggles to connect with others.

Michael literally spread his wings in creating a “snow angel challenge” as part of his marathon efforts. Michael put out the challenge for people to overcome their fears and barriers and support people like him who overcome challenges daily. I can relate to Michael’s challenges and I am grateful for his efforts, as they benefit me as well. I’m Flutie Fellow Andrew Roberts, and thanks in part to Michael’s efforts, the Flutie Foundation is helping me pursue my goal of being a sports broadcaster.

Michael’s “snow angel challenge” spread through other team members and friends of the Flutie Foundation. Then, recently-retired All-Pro New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski got word of the challenge. While he didn’t jump in the snow, Gronkowski did participate in his own way. Thanks Gronk!

If you’d like to support Michael Palmer’s efforts to raise funds and awareness for autism, please check out the Flutie Foundation website at FlutieFoundation.org.

This is not the last of my Boston Marathon coverage.  I will be writing more runner spotlights this year, including one about a runner for Get Air Sports, a partner of the Flutie Foundation.  On a side note the Pats need a replacement for Rob Gronkowski who had fun in contributing the video for Michael.  Will they address the TE position in the draft?  Find out what I think in my upcoming 2019 NFL Mock Draft.

Stay tuned for more sports coverage soon.  But as the Herald headline noted, my sportswriting journey is only just getting started.

Covering Algonquin Basketball for Harbinger

I have written recaps on multiple Algonquin Tomahawks boys’ and girls’ basketball games since football season ended for the Algonquin Harbinger – the school’s newspaper.  Most recently, the boys’ team defeated a top team in the state – Catholic Memorial.  Click the links below to read my articles on their website:

January 17 Boys’ Game vs. Catholic Memorial: Boys’ basketball wins against previously undefeated Knights

December 21 Girls’ Game vs. Millbury: Girls’ basketball comeback falls just short against undefeated Millbury

December 7 Boys’ Game vs. Doherty: Karaban leads boys’ basketball to victory in season home opener against Doherty Highlanders