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

2021 NFL Week 9 Picks: A week of Super Bowl rematches and revenge games

Did you know that 5 of this week’s 14 games are rematches of previous Super Bowls? In addition, we’ll have some revenge games (like Stephon Gilmore facing off against the Patriots) and crucial divisional matchups (such as a cross-state battle between Cincinnati and Cleveland). This week’s games are going to draw from many old rivalries, and it should make for some loud crowds and a lot of close matchups. Who will benefit from all this? I have broken down each matchup below. Last week was a rough one for me, as I only picked 7 games correctly, but my overall record stands at 77-46.

Lock of the Week

In recent history, matchups between these two teams have been close. While the Bills might not play at their best in the warm Jacksonville weather, they should still win this game comfortably. I don’t see this Jaguars defense making it very difficult for QB Josh Allen to post another multi-TD game. Expect Allen to thrive both as a runner and a passer.

Upset of the Week

It remains unclear whether Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is truly 100%. I expect his offense to be less explosive than usual against a Denver defense that still has plenty of talent despite trading star edge rusher Von Miller. Meanwhile, look for QB Teddy Bridgewater to lead the Broncos to victory by relying on the run game as well as revitalizing his chemistry with WR Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy is in his second game back from an extended IR stint.

TNF (Actual Score: 45-30 Colts)

While QB Mike White posted a rather impressive game against the Bengals, this Indy defense is a big upgrade compared to Cincinnati’s, and it’s been on a good stretch lately. Look for the Colts to come out on top in a low scoring affair under the lights.

The Other Games

After a couple of higher scoring games by the Patriots, I’m expecting a more defense-heavy battle in this one. This Carolina defense has been sneaky good all year, and the trade for ex-Patriot CB Stephon Gilmore has only helped matters. The return of RB Christian McCaffrey should also give the Panthers offense a boost. However, I have QB Mac Jones and the Pats edging out a victory as they maintain some of the offensive momentum they’ve gathered over the last two weeks.
I’m surprised sidelined Texans QB Deshaun Watson was interested in heading to Miami, because I don’t feel the Dolphins are miles ahead of Houston this year. However, I don’t see QB Tyrod Taylor and the Texans offense putting up many points in this one. The offense was already struggling before RB Mark Ingram was traded to New Orleans. Without Ingram, Houston’s offense will likely be borderline anemic for the remainder of the season.
I think the Browns are ready to move forward after a drama-filled week headlined by the release of WR Odell Beckham Jr. Quite honestly, the Browns have performed better without OBJ as the offense just meshes better. QB Baker Mayfield is continuing to play through numerous injuries, but I think he’ll rely on RB Nick Chubb against an inexperienced Bengals front seven to get out to a lead in this one. QB Joe Burrow should make this one close, as he’s been able to compete in just about every game this year. However, I think this week will be remembered as a turning point for Cleveland’s season.
I’m expecting a close, run heavy game here. While the Ravens have one of the most effective overall backfields in football, they lack a star running back to compete with Vikings RB Dalvin Cook. I have this Ravens team holding onto the AFC North lead with a victory, but Minnesota should provide them more of a challenge than one would expect out of a .500 team.
Until this New York offense is closer to 100%, it’s going to be difficult for the Giants to win games. I do expect RB Devontae Booker to impress against his former team though, and I could see his strong performance making this close. In the end, I do have the Raiders winning as QB Derek Carr relies on slot WR Hunter Renfrow and his star TE Darren Waller. This trio will maintain a high level of production for the offense in the wake of WR Henry Ruggs III’s arrest and release from the team.
This game will come down to which offense can get into a better rhythm despite key players missing. With both QB Jameis Winston and WR Michael Thomas done for the year, the Saints are going to have to make the most of what they have. Against a struggling Falcons defense, I think their current offensive corps will impress. Atlanta’s offense has some of their own challenges as WR Calvin Ridley takes some time away to focus on mental health. As a result, QB Matt Ryan will have to develop chemistry with some unfamiliar faces in his effort to keep up with the Saints.
I have the Chargers coming out on top here as QB Justin Herbert leans on his three main targets: RB Austin Ekeler, WR Keenan Allen, and WR Mike Williams. If I’ve learned anything this season though, it’s that you can never count out QB Jalen Hurts and the Eagles offense from a game. Hurts has been unstoppable late in games. I expect the Eagles to have a late charge against Los Angeles, but it won’t be enough.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is out this week with COVID, so it will be up to backup QB Jordan Love to outperform a flawed Chiefs defense. Love has a talented supporting cast to rely on including RB Aaron Jones and WR Davante Adams. Despite another poor showing by the Chiefs D, I believe QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will come out on top in the end, winning by a field goal.
If QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins both end up having to sit this one out due to injuries, the Cardinals could be in trouble. However, with or without them, in contrast to the low scoring win against San Francisco earlier this season, the Cardinals should win in a shootout. The Cardinals still have several reliable weapons including WR Christian Kirk, WR Rondale Moore, and TE Zach Ertz. The 49ers should see the return of TE George Kittle, but I think it’s the run game that will stand out for the Niners offense as they make this close.
Without RB Derrick Henry, this Titans offense could take a major step back. Tennessee will have to rely on the WR duo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, who will face an elite duo of corners, Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams. Considering this, I expect a smooth sailing victory for QB Matthew Stafford and the Rams against a much weaker Titans defense.
This Bears offense has underperformed for just about the entire season, regardless of match-ups. Facing a highly experienced Steelers defense is likely to be too much for them to handle. QB Ben Roethlisberger won’t need to have a field day to win this one on Monday night.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts on these picks, and stay tuned for more content in coming weeks.

Featured in best of SNO: Xu runs Boston Marathon to support autism community

Enchee Xu, a member of my graduating class at Algonquin Regional High School, recently ran the Boston Marathon with his mom, Connie Cao to raise money for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.

I wrote about them for my school newspaper, the Algonquin Harbinger, and it was featured in Best of School Newspapers Online (SNO)!

I would like to thank the Harbinger staff for asking me to do this story, thank the Harbinger adviser, Lindsay Coppens, for forwarding this article along to Best of SNO, and thank Best of SNO for choosing this article. I’d also like to thank Connie Cao, Enchee Xu, and Mike Palmer for allowing me to interview them. Last but not least, I’d like to thank the Flutie Foundation for their continued support of me and the rest of the autism community.

2021 NFL Week 8 Picks: Who will emerge as contenders with deadline nearing?

The trade deadline is almost here, and this week could be a big indicator for what moves are going to happen, including the destination of QB Deshaun Watson. My picks for the week are below. Last week I went 10-3, bringing my overall record to 69-38. After two straight weeks with 3 or less incorrect picks, I hope to keep it up.

Lock of the Week

I doubt this Texans offense will be able to get much done with DT Aaron Donald in QB Davis Mills’ face and CB Jalen Ramsey locking down WR Brandin Cooks. Meanwhile, I’m expecting QB Matthew Stafford to toss multiple TDs, continuing along on his MVP trajectory in this blowout victory.

Upset of the Week

Even without WR Corey Davis, I have the Jets pulling off an upset here. The Jets run defense has been awful thus far, but I could see improvement in this one against a lackluster Bengals o-line. Look for a big game out of RB Michael Carter to make a difference as well. QB Joe Burrow will put up a fight as usual, but fall short as the Bengals begin to fall back to Earth.

TNF (Posted to Social Media Thursday night)

The Other Games

The Bills took down the Dolphins with ease in Miami. While I think the Dolphins will be able to make some adjustments the second time around, I still have the Bills coming out on top. QB Josh Allen and his receivers will be able to significantly outplay QB Tua Tagovailoa.
This one could be closer than most people expect as the Browns continue to fend off the injury bug. I’m expecting a big game out of RB Najee Harris. However, I still have Cleveland winning a close one in the end as QB Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles continue.
Without WR Julio Jones in the game, this Titans offense is much easier to shut down. Look for the Colts defense to come up big again as Indy continues to trend in the right direction and fight for a playoff spot.
Look for the Lions to come close yet again, but I’m beginning to have doubts that the Lions have the talent to finish the job. Against an inexperienced Lions defense, look for QB Jalen Hurts and his offense to have a field day and outpace QB Jared Goff.
Honestly, I feel that head coach Matt Nagy is holding this Bears team back. With Nagy dealing with COVID while the Bears face a young Niners secondary, I could see QB Justin Fields putting up a surprisingly strong game. I don’t think QB Jimmy Garoppolo will be able to keep up without his star TE George Kittle.
Even without WR Calvin Ridley, I have the Falcons coming out on top here. QB Sam Darnold is really struggling without his star RB Christian McCaffrey, and the only thing that I could see saving him is McCaffrey’s return. QB Matt Ryan will have to rely on RB Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Russell Gage, and TE Kyle Pitts in Ridley’s absence, but it will be enough to outperform Darnold.
Bill Belichick is always able to make it a close game. However, QB Mac Jones is not Tom Brady. I expect the Patriots to fall just short in LA. They were able to shut down QB Justin Herbert as a rookie, but this is an even stronger Chargers team than the Pats faced a year ago.
I do not have much faith in these Seahawks without QB Russell Wilson. Under head coach Urban Meyer though, Jacksonville has not been much better. Look for QB Geno Smith to lead the Seahawks in a close one on their home turf.
I don’t expect much of an improvement out of QB Teddy Bridgewater with WR Jerry Jeudy back. However, I do see Denver’s defense comfortably shutting down an ailing Washington squad. This will allow the Broncos to snap their skid at Mile High and jump back into the playoff race.
The Saints defense should be able to keep this close against a Tampa Bay offense that’s missing WR Antonio Brown. However, I don’t think the Saints will be able to defeat Tampa until they get their own star WR in Michael Thomas back. Even then, a victory would be a tall task.
I think the Vikings will come out on top here whether QB Dak Prescott plays or not. Look for RB Dalvin Cook to dominate against the Dallas defense, and I’m expecting a strong game out of QB Kirk Cousins to add to it. If Prescott does play, the Cowboys offense should put up a significant amount of points as usual, but I don’t see it being enough to win in Minnesota.
The Chiefs defense has not lived up to expectations this year, but I don’t think that will be much of a problem against an ailing Giants team. Meanwhile, I expect QB Patrick Mahomes to return to form after suffering a mid-game injury last week.

That’s all for my picks this week. Stay tuned for more Boston and national sports content in the coming weeks.

2021 NFL Week 7 Picks: Which teams keep their momentum with bye weeks widespread?

After a brief hiatus, my NFL picks are back for this week. My record is now 60-35 after going 11-3 in Week 6. I had 10 correct picks in a row before the later games broke that streak. Maybe a new streak will begin with this week’s games. There’s also been a lot of streaky NFL teams, but with lots of bye weeks occurring, it could impact the momentum of certain teams. Which teams will stay hot? Keep reading to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week

This Cardinals offense continues to improve. After losing TE Maxx Williams for the season, they went out to acquire an even better TE in Zach Ertz. Look for QB Kyler Murray to have a field day against a rebuilding Texans defense. The Texans won’t even be able to come close despite putting up some points.

Upset of the Week

The 49ers are still figuring out their QB situation, and I’m expecting even less from this offense without TE George Kittle and against a strong Colts run defense. QB Carson Wentz won’t have to do anything special to pull off the upset here.

TNF (Actual Result: 17-14 Browns)

With a good portion of the Browns offense including QB Baker Mayfield out, this could be close. The Broncos have yet to prove themselves capable of taking down contenders though. While I expect their run game to thrive, they will fall just short against a well-rounded Browns squad.

The Other Games

Look for QB Mac Jones and his receivers to put up an impressive game against a young Jets secondary. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick will be able to outsmart another rookie QB, making it 3 wins over rookies despite none over veteran QBs.
With several receivers missing, I think QB Tua Tagovailoa is going to have a hard time putting up enough points here. He’ll be no match for a well rested QB Matt Ryan and a fully loaded Falcons offense that already looked sharp headed into their bye.
The Bengals have exceeded expectations thus far this season. While I expect the Ravens to win this game after establishing the run, Cincinnati will make this closer than usual. QB Joe Burrow and his reliable trio of receivers are fueling their explosive offense.
Look for this Chiefs defense to rebound against QB Ryan Tannehill and a banged up Titans receiving corps. Meanwhile, I’m expecting both QB Patrick Mahomes and his speedy, reliable WR Tyreek Hill to meet their typical high standards.
This Giants offense is really lacking the personnel to put up many points, regardless of opponent. I do not think we’ll see a full bounce back from QB Sam Darnold as RB Christian McCaffrey remains on IR. However, Darnold will put up enough points to outperform QB Daniel Jones with depleted surroundings.
I don’t expect this to be an amazing game by Aaron Rodgers standards, but he’ll still put up a respectable amount of points as he relies on RB Aaron Jones and WR Davante Adams. It’ll be hard for Washington to compete with that trio as RB Antonio Gibson continues to deal with a shin injury and WR Curtis Samuel remains out.
QB Jalen Hurts is likely going to help the Eagles establish the run. That will be enough to make it close in Las Vegas, especially if TE Darren Waller sits. However, I expect QB Derek Carr to come up clutch and hold on for another victory, keeping the Raiders in the race for this competitive AFC West.
Look for QB Jared Goff to rely on TE T.J. Hockenson to stay in this game. Goff is still no match for his former team, now led by QB Matthew Stafford and his former head coach in Sean McVay. I’m expecting an explosive game out of Stafford as he turns to WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods in a high scoring victory.
QB Tom Brady will be missing some familiar faces in WR Antonio Brown and TE Rob Gronkowski. Look for WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to step up and allow the Buccaneers to remain comfortable favorites over the Bears. The Bucs secondary may have trouble against Bears WRs Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, but there is still little chance QB Justin Fields can keep up with the G.O.A.T.
WR Marquez Callaway was a preseason standout, likely due to light competition. Most of this year, he’s had to fend off star cornerbacks. However, this matchup against an inexperienced Seahawks secondary could allow him to finally blow up for a big game. Look for QB Jameis Winston and Callaway to connect for several big plays. The Seahawks offense will struggle to match that performance with QB Russell Wilson sidelined. Wilson is a big part of what makes these Seahawks special, so it could be difficult to win without him.

That’s all for my picks this week. Stay tuned for more content to come, both about the NFL and other sports.