Bracket Preview Day Bracketology: Projecting the Committee’s Top 16 plus more

Today at 12:30 PM, the March Madness Bracket Preview special airs on CBS. The selection committee will reveal their current top 16 teams and divide them by region. I have predicted their top 16 and built a bracketology around it. Just like last time, the conference winners are based off who I feel would win a conference tournament based on what we’ve seen so far. The top 16 is as close to an S-curve as possible, but a perfect S-curve would not allow for top 4 B1G or Big 12 teams to be placed in different regions. Keep reading to see which teams made it, which teams didn’t, and which teams are on the bubble. As always, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Top 16 Teams

  1. Baylor Bears (#1 overall)
  2. Villanova Wildcats (#6 overall)
  3. Ohio State Buckeyes (#12 overall)
  4. Alabama Crimson Tide (#15 overall)

Baylor remains the #1 overall after dominating several strong opponents in the Big 12 and remaining undefeated. Villanova fell to St. John’s, but I still have them as a 2 seed after an impressive season overall. Besides, St. John’s might be better than we thought, as they’ve also taken down UConn.

I’m not fully bought into the Buckeye hype quite yet. They had a very shaky start that included losses to Northwestern and Purdue. If they can beat Michigan this season I’ll be sold, but I just don’t think they have the star power of a #1 seed. Alabama is normally a #1 seed for football, but this is the best they’ve been for basketball in a long time. ‘Bama is dominating in the SEC, and that alone warrants a top 16 resume. However, they’ve struggled outside the conference, falling to teams including Stanford and Western Kentucky, preventing them from the top 10 in my book.

The Rest of the Region

The Jayhawks are normally part of this top 16, but in a year when most of the typical top teams have struggled mightily, even Kansas has been affected. They have still been alright this year, but they haven’t really stood out from the rest of the Big 12 like Baylor and some other teams have. Led by Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State is also a middle of the pack team in a strong Big 12. Their resume gets weighed down by TCU sweeping them. Purdue has had a solid season in the B1G with Eric Hunter Jr. back in the lineup after missing time early. However, the Boilermakers haven’t done anything too mind blowing, and their best wins by far are the ones over Ohio State.

I have Clemson and Colorado in the 8-9 game. Aamir Simms and the Tigers have been inconsistent but they are worthy of a spot on the bracket. Advanced metrics project the Buffaloes as a legitimate contender, but they have a loss to Washington, arguably the worst team in a weak Pac-12. They have some other questionable losses on their resume as well. The Rams, also a Colorado team, have really impressed this year. They began to get on people’s radars when they split with other top Mountain West teams like San Diego State and Utah State. More recently, they also split with Boise State, proving that they’ll be in the mix for the conference title here.

LSU is in an interesting situation. They have been more consistent than pretty much any other team in the league, but their only somewhat notable wins have been against bubble teams like Arkansas and Ole Miss. They’ll need to beat at least one top 25 team to have a solidified tournament resume. I have two New Jersey teams, Rutgers and Seton Hall grabbing two of the final at large bids. I’m lower on Rutgers than most because of their inconsistency and road struggles.

Rounding out the region is projected conference winners in Winthrop, Cleveland State, UMBC, and HBCUs Prairie View and Norfolk State.

Top 16 Teams

  1. Texas Tech Red Raiders (#4 overall)
  2. Illinois Fighting Illini (#7 overall)
  3. Tennessee Volunteers (#10 overall)
  4. Virginia Cavaliers (#13 overall)

Texas Tech has posted a rather strong season in the Big 12 with Mac McClung in the mix. In this competitive of a conference, I think the Red Raiders are deserving of the 1 line. Illinois started off slow, but they have proven themselves as a title contender. Ayo Dosunmu led them past Iowa, and their only notable bad loss has come against Maryland, a team that has been wildly inconsistent and upset top teams despite losing to lower tier ones.

The Vols have had some rough moments, but they’ve been among the top teams in the SEC and I think they have the depth of a championship contender as well. Virginia has been conducting business as usual ever since the San Francisco loss. They did fall to Virginia Tech on the road, but they’ve had a strong season overall. They’ll have their biggest test yet when they face Florida State.

The Rest of the Region

West Virginia has been a middle of the pack Big 12 team, and I don’t know how well they’ll be able to do in the tourney without Oscar Tshiebwe. UConn had a rough patch without James Bouknight, but Bouknight is back so the Huskies should show people how capable they truly are soon enough. It’s become clear that USC is the best team in the Pac-12, so they round out the Top 25 and grab a 7 seed here. Led by the Mobley brothers, they recently took down UCLA. In the 8-9 game, I have MW contender San Diego State against A10 contender Saint Bonaventure. Both these teams have posted strong seasons in conferences that aren’t quite Power Six, but should still be able to send multiple teams to Indianapolis.

Louisville hasn’t been overly impressive in the ACC, but they have a good enough record in the conference for a tourney spot. Both the Cardinals and Terps have been somewhat inconsistent this year, resulting in lower seeds. Xavier is 11-2, but they don’t have many big wins. They’ve performed at an average level in the Big East and their biggest win came against Oklahoma during their strong start to the season. I don’t see them as a surefire tourney team like many people do. Projected conference winners take up the rest of the bracket here.

Top 16 Teams

  1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (#2 overall)
  2. Houston Cougars (#8 overall)
  3. Iowa Hawkeyes (#11 overall)
  4. Wisconsin Badgers (#14 overall)

Gonzaga is clearly a top 2 team in the nation, but I think Baylor edges them out for #1 right now. Houston may have lost to East Carolina, but that loss doesn’t ruin their strong resume that includes a win over Texas Tech and wins over most other AAC teams. Iowa’s had a rough stretch that includes a second loss to Indiana, but you can never count out Luka Garza. Garza has been the best player in the country this season and could take Iowa on a deep run with enough help. I’d say Iowa outmatches B1G rival Wisconsin, who has had some big wins but also several questionable losses.

The Rest of the Region

Oklahoma, like Kansas and WVU, is a middle of the pack Big 12 team that I have on the 5 line. I have the Gators as a 6 seed still. I’m still impressed by the fact that they’ve kept up with the SEC’s best without Keyontae Johnson. They’ll be extra motivated to make a deep run in Keyontae’s honor. Virginia Tech has wins over Villanova and Virginia, but also losses to Pittsburgh and Penn State. That inconsistent resume places them just outside the top 25 in my eyes. I have St. John’s, the other team who beat Villanova, in the 8-9 game. They’ll take on Drake, who I’m still a believer in despite the loss to Valparaiso. Unless the Bulldogs get swept by Loyola Chicago, they should still be a tourney team.

The Ducks are down to a 10 seed as they fall behind USC and Colorado in the Pac-12. I still have Western Kentucky as an 11 seed, as their resume towers over the resumes of most mid-major teams. WKU gets a higher seed than two of the final at large teams, Syracuse and Ole Miss. Jim Boeheim and the Orange definitely have a bubble team after a respectable, but unimpressive season in the ACC. Ole Miss is a bubble team right now but should only move up the bracket from here. I feel that their upset of Tennessee is only the beginning of a strong SEC resume. The rest of the bracket is just projected conference winners. Liberty is the clear cut Atlantic Sun favorite, while Sam Houston State, Colgate, and CSU Bakersfield have a tougher road to an autobid.

Top 16 Teams

  1. Michigan Wolverines (#3 overall)
  2. Texas Longhorns (#5 overall)
  3. Florida State Seminoles (#10 overall)
  4. Missouri Tigers (#16 overall)

I think Michigan is pretty clearly the #3 overall team after a dominant season in the B1G. Texas is among the top teams in a strong Big 12, so I have them just behind Texas Tech and on the 2 line. I’m higher on Florida State than most, but they’ve had several big wins in the ACC and I think they can make it a very close game against Virginia. Missouri has had a lot of big wins, including one over Illinois, but they are too inconsistent to be much higher. Half the time they play like a 1 seed, and the other half of the time they play like a bubble team. They have a strong veteran core led by Xavier Pinson, but I can’t put them top 10 considering their losses to teams like Mississippi State. They also had a very close call against TCU.

The Rest of the Region

Without Ty-Shon Alexander, Creighton hasn’t been the dominant force they were a year ago. Marcus Zegarowski has played well but Creighton has let almost every game get way too close, leading to some ugly losses including Georgetown and Butler. Most see Indiana as a bubble team, but the fact that they swept the Hawkeyes makes me think they are capable of big things. Minnesota should be a tourney lock after handing Michigan their only loss, but their road struggles are weighing down their resume. Saint Louis and North Carolina have both posted respectable, but unimpressive seasons. I think both are good enough for the 8-9 game, but no more than that unless they add some more big wins to their resumes.

UCLA, like Oregon, has fallen behind in the Pac-12. They’ve struggled without Chris Smith, and my expectations for the rest of UCLA’s season are very low. Loyola Chicago should be able to make the tourney alongside Drake, but a lot depends on how the games between those two teams go. Belmont is one of only a few mid-major conference winners that I have above the 13 line. Their one-loss season is very impressive. I also have Wofford, Toledo, Siena, and Eastern Washington earning autobids.

Bubble Watch

The Razorbacks have advanced metrics on their side, but I’m not impressed by any of their wins this year. BYU did lose to Pepperdine, but they still have a borderline tourney resume. The Aggies (also from Utah), would be on the bracket if it weren’t for their South Dakota State loss. That loss isn’t a deal breaker but they’ll need some more impressive wins to make up for it. Michigan State is struggling in a competitive B1G and lacks significant wins. They’ll need Tom Izzo to lead them past some stronger B1G opponents if they want a spot in the tourney.

TCU has wins over Oklahoma State already, so if they can win one more significant Big 12 game I’d say they deserve a spot. Stanford has been decent, but it will be hard to build a tournament resume unless they dominate the Pac-12 the rest of the way. Memphis and Wichita State would likely need to beat Houston to make the tourney at this point.


That’s all for today’s bracketology. Selection Sunday is in just 4 weeks, and the Bracket Preview today will build even more hype for that event.

Super Bowl LV: The Case for Each Team and Game Predictions

This past year has been like no other, but like every year, this first Sunday of February is Super Bowl Sunday. This day has something for everyone, whether it’s the game itself, the ads, or The Weeknd’s halftime show. Before we all grab some snacks and sit in front of our TV for the most viewed event in the United States, I’m taking a closer look at the game in this post. I’ll be writing about keys to the game for both teams and showing you my predictions for the game. As always, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Keys to the Game

Chiefs

The Chiefs offense can thrive as long as star quarterback Patrick Mahomes is able to connect with wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. That trio alone has taken the Chiefs a long way. The Buccaneers defense will likely try to key in on these two, so Mahomes needs to seize the opportunity when they are open. They should outplay the Tampa Bay secondary, but will likely face some double coverage which is difficult for anyone to overcome.

Historically, quarterback Tom Brady has been extremely difficult to stop in the Super Bowl. Brady is still a great quarterback, but he’s not what he was in his prime. Brady has great surroundings, but if the Chiefs can put pressure on him, they can limit Brady to an extent.

Offensive Key: Get the ball to Hill and Kelce
Defensive Key: Put pressure on Brady

Buccaneers

The Buccaneers offense has been somewhat inconsistent this year, but Brady has been known to dig himself out of holes on the Super Bowl. I wouldn’t be counting on that against Mahomes, who also dug himself out of a hole in his first Super Bowl win last year. Brady and the Bucs need to start strong out of the gate so they don’t find themselves in a close, back and forth battle later. This will not be easy to do, but I feel Brady is capable of it. He’ll need to do this if he doesn’t want a repeat of his Super Bowl loss against Philly.

Hill and Kelce can do a lot of damage, so the Bucs secondary needs to focus in on them. They can’t forget about Mahomes either though. Mahomes is the most crucial piece of this Chiefs offense, and even if the Bucs try to focus in on Hill and Kelce, Mahomes will find a way to get by. The Bucs do have a chance if the front seven rises to the occasion. Their front seven outmatches the banged up Chiefs o-line. They should take advantage of that fact and blitz frequently.

Playing in their home stadium could help matters as well. This has never happened before in the Super Bowl, and I’m curious to see what impact it has.

Offensive Key: Get off to a Running Start
Defensive Key: Outplay the Chiefs o-line and get to Mahomes

Game Prediction

I posted some of my prediction in my school newspaper, the Harbinger alongside a few other people. I’ll be providing the full version, including my projected stats, MVP, and scoring summary below.

Expect a close, high scoring game in which both quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, live up to the hype and make it one of the best Super Bowl quarterback matchups we’ve seen. Look for Brady to utilize his deep supporting cast, including wide receivers Mike Evans and Antonio Brown and a familiar face in tight end Rob Gronkowski. Mahomes doesn’t have as many elite options around him, but just the combo of speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill and star tight end Travis Kelce make the Chiefs offense extremely difficult to stop, even for a strong Buccaneers defense. This could go either way, but I expect Mahomes, Hill and Kelce to lead the Chiefs to a last minute win and their second straight Super bowl ring.

Projected Stats

Chiefs

Passing

  • Patrick Mahomes: 30/41, 396 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT

Rushing

  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 13 rushes, 41 yards, 0 TD
  • Le’Veon Bell: 2 rushes, 5 yards, 0 TD
  • Darrel Williams: 2 rushes, 5 yards, 0 TD
  • Patrick Mahomes: 1 rush, 3 yards, 0 TD

Receiving

  • Tyreek Hill: 9 receptions, 170 yards, 2 TD
  • Travis Kelce: 12 receptions, 118 yards, 1 TD
  • Sammy Watkins: 3 receptions, 41 yards, 1 TD
  • Mecole Hardman: 2 receptions, 32 yards, 0 TD
  • Bryon Pringle: 1 reception, 14 yards, 0 TD
  • Demarcus Robinson: 1 reception, 11 yards, 0 TD
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TD
  • Darrel Williams: 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TD

Notable Defense:

  • Tyrann Mathieu: 1 INT

Buccaneers

Passing

  • Tom Brady: 35/53, 351 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT

Rushing

  • Ronald Jones II: 22 rushes, 87 yards, 0 TD
  • Leonard Fournette: 17 rushes, 56 yards, 0 TD
  • Tom Brady: 1 rush, 1 yard, 0 TD

Receiving

  • Mike Evans: 7 receptions, 108 yards, 1 TD
  • Antonio Brown: 7 receptions, 75 yards, 1 TD
  • Chris Godwin: 7 receptions, 58 yards, 0 TD
  • Tyler Johnson: 3 receptions, 31 yards, 0 TD
  • Rob Gronkowski: 3 receptions, 28 yards, 1 TD
  • Cameron Brate: 3 receptions, 22 yards, 0 TD
  • Leonard Fournette: 3 receptions, 18 yards, 0 TD
  • Scotty Miller: 1 reception, 6 yards, 0 TD
  • Ronald Jones II: 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TD

Notable Defense:

  • Jason Pierre-Paul: Sack

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter

  • Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce for 14 yard TD: 7-0 KC
  • Ryan Succop 33 yard FG: 7-3 KC

2nd Quarter

  • Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski for 8 yard TD: 10-7 TB
  • Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill for 50 yard TD: 14-10 KC
  • Ryan Succop 24 yard FG: 14-13 KC

3rd Quarter

  • Tom Brady to Antonio Brown for 14 yard TD: 20-14 TB
  • Harrison Butker 50 yard FG: 20-17 TB
  • Tom Brady to Mike Evans for 15 yard TD: 27-17 TB

4th Quarter

  • Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill for 3 yard TD: 27-24 TB
  • Harrison Butker 33 yard FG: 27-27 TIE
  • Ryan Succop 42 yard FG: 30-27 TB
  • Ryan Succop 24 yard FG: 33-27 TB
  • Patrick Mahomes to Sammy Watkins for 18 yard TD: 34-33 KC

Projected MVP: Patrick Mahomes

That’s all for my preview of this exciting game. This could be one of the best Super Bowls we’ve seen in a while, with the Greatest of all Time taking on the current best QB in the league. I think Mahomes comes out on top, but this truly could go either way. Will Tom Brady win his 7th Super Bowl ring and further assert his status as the G.O.A.T., or will Patrick Mahomes win his 2nd straight Super Bowl and make way for a new Chiefs dynasty? We’ll all find out tonight.

Quick Takes #2: The Celtics should hold onto Kemba Walker

The Celtics have had a rough stretch of late, and many are quick to blame PG Kemba Walker for the struggles. The team is 1-5 so far when Walker plays, and Walker missed a game winner in Boston’s last game against the Lakers. Sure, Walker isn’t living up to expectations, but he is still an important part of this team.

Yes, Walker blew it in that last one, but the Celtics would not have had the Lakers within 1 point if it weren’t for Walker’s leadership. There are a variety of other reasons that are contributing to Boston’s struggles.

Note that three of the games the Celtics lost with Walker were also without star player Jayson Tatum. Since Tatum returned, the Celtics have at least come within 5 points in every game.

There were other factors contributing to Boston’s recent losses. The lack of bench depth is a problem, but that will improve when Payton Pritchard returns. They could trade Walker in exchange for a lesser point guard and bench depth, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The Celtics really haven’t been able to catch a break with injuries, as Marcus Smart went down last night.

Now you may ask how Walker has positively impacted the team. It’s not obvious through his inconsistent stats. I feel that Walker is a part of the environment that has allowed for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to dominate. Walker, Tatum, Brown, and Smart make for great chemistry in Boston.

I hear people saying we should have kept Kyrie Irving, but if Irving was here Tatum and Brown would not be maximizing their potential like they are. Trading Walker could ruin this chemistry. Whether he’s on the court or off the court, Walker is a leader on this team that makes everyone around him better.

Kemba Walker isn’t the problem, and we’ll see that in time. You may notice I blamed a lot of the team’s problems on injuries, but the real problem with this team is its inability to adapt when key players are missing. The Celtics have failed to step up their game in place of injured players.

However, this team could contend for a title at its best. Between the point guard duo of Walker and Pritchard, the star power in Tatum and Brown, and a defensive standout In Smart, this team has potential and I’m excited to see what this team can do later in the season. Walker makes a big impact as a leader, and we can only hope he improves on the court to add to it. He’s showed signs that he’s still capable. Prior to last night’s 4 point game, he had posted 4 consecutive games of 14+ points. Either way, it’s not the time to trade him.

After a lot of criticism from fans, the 5 game west coast road trip starting tonight will be a big test for Walker. I have confidence that he’ll bring something to the table for the team.

2021 March Madness January Bracketology: Where teams stand midway through conference play

We are just over 6 weeks away from Selection Sunday, and we are midway through regular season conference play. I last posted a bracketology around New Year’s before conference play had really began. I come to you 4 weeks later with an update. Which teams improved? Which teams declined? Which teams are on the bubble? Keep reading to find out what I think.

Note: Conference winners were not based on current conference standings — they were based on who I think would win if the conference tournaments were played today.

I have Baylor edging out Gonzaga as the #1 overall team. Baylor is one of five remaining undefeated teams at 14-0 and comes off a strong week in which they took down Kansas and Oklahoma State. I have Tennessee as a 2 seed despite a rough week that included losses to Florida and Missouri. They should be back to business as usual once Jaden Springer returns. The Hawkeyes fall to a #3 seed after the loss to Indiana, though they should be back to a 2 seed soon if Luka Garza keeps playing like he has been. Florida State is definitely a top 16 team as well after some strong ACC wins over North Carolina, Louisville, and Clemson (who they lost to earlier in the season).

I’m higher on UConn than most. Sure, they had a rough week, but when James Bouknight is healthy the Huskies are a dangerous team. Bouknight nearly led UConn to upset Creighton in their first meeting, and I think UConn will play like a top 25 or possibly even top 16 team once Bouknight returns. The Hoosiers have won the games they should be winning, and I think the upset over Iowa gives them a borderline top 25 resume as well. Both the Hoosiers and Purdue should do well in the tourney this year considering the fact that it will be played entirely in Indiana. I have the Boilermakers as an 8 seed in this same conference.

The recent departure of Oscar Tshiebwe hurts West Virginia, but the Mountaineers did just upset Texas Tech. I still think they’re a top 25 team even if I’m lower on them than the consensus. I had LSU as a top 25 team to begin the year, but they won’t be back there until they beat some better opponents. Their biggest win so far is against Arkansas. USC is another team that lacks big name wins despite a strong season overall, so I have them in the 10 slot. The Friars are just about the opposite of those teams I just mentioned. They stand at 8-7, but they’ve had some pretty impressive moments. They were able to pull off an upset over Creighton after 36 points from David Duke and they have some other impressive Big East victories to add to it. That should be enough to secure a bye, while Utah State and Memphis have just enough of a resume to secure some of the final at-large bids.

Liberty, Montana State, Colgate, UMBC, and Jackson State fill out the rest of this region as I think they would win their conference tournaments based on what we’ve seen so far. Liberty was impressive at the Space Coast Challenge and has followed it up with a strong Atlantic Sun showing, so they get the highest seed of these teams. Montana State and Jackson State are undefeated in conference play, while Colgate and UMBC are close to it, so they should all get auto-bids as well.

Michigan’s only loss so far is in Minnesota, and the Gophers have been pretty impressive on their home court this year; I have them as a 1 seed despite their upcoming 2 week COVID pause. The Longhorns came pretty close to a 1 seed as well, but I think Michigan has a slightly better resume. Creighton is a very tricky team to rank. Every single Blue Jays game this year has come extremely close. The Jays nearly took down Kansas, but they also have three conference losses: Butler, Providence, and Marquette. Alabama is another team that’s hard to rank. They started off the season extremely shaky, falling to Stanford and Western Kentucky and nearly losing to Furman, but they have yet to lose an SEC game. Virginia, similarly, started off with a loss to San Francisco but is undefeated in ACC play. I have all three of those teams over Ohio State, who despite road wins over Wisconsin and Illinois got swept by Purdue and has a loss to Northwestern.

Oregon lost to an extremely inconsistent Colorado Buffaloes team, but they still appear to be the best squad in a weak Pac-12. I have them facing off against Duke in Round 1. Duke, like fellow 10 seed USC, lacks a big name win this year. I have Boise State and Drake in the 8-9 game. Both the teams play in fairly strong conferences (though they aren’t Power Six) and are undefeated in those conferences. Drake is undefeated on the season, while the Broncos have only lost once (to Houston). We’ll see if Drake can maintain their undefeated season when they return from their pause for COVID protocols.

Saint Bonaventure should snag one of the last four byes, as they’re off to a rather strong start in the Atlantic 10. Western Kentucky is the 12 seed here. While they are on this as an auto-bid, I think they would find a way into the tournament regardless after an impressive start that includes a win over Alabama.

I have Sam Houston, Grand Canyon, Northeastern, and Coastal Carolina winning their respective conferences to round out the region. Sam Houston is undefeated in the Southland Conference, as is Grand Canyon in the WAC, so they should get higher seeds than the Huskies and Chanticleers.

Gonzaga and Winthrop, two of the other undefeated teams this season (in addition to Baylor and Drake), are included in this region. The fifth remaining undefeated team is Alabama A&M, who is banned from the 2021 tournament due to poor academics. I have the Bulldogs slightly below Baylor, but they do have wins over Iowa and Kansas as a part of their 15-0 start to the season. Houston was undefeated for a while as well, but they split the season series with Tulsa. I have them as a 2 seed since they have been dominant for the most part as Quentin Grimes posts another strong season for the Cougars. Speaking of Kansas, I have the Jayhawks in the 3 slot for this region. They have wins over Texas Tech and Creighton, but they’ve also dropped 3 straight, falling to Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Oklahoma. Kansas was lined up to be a 1 seed last year, but without Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, they profile as more of a 3 seed for now.

I still have Illinois as a top 16 team despite their recent loss to Maryland. The Terrapins have been inconsistent, but they’ve had a lot of big wins lately, and that loss doesn’t really ruin the resume for Illinois. I’m higher on the Fighting Illini than most, and I’m also pretty high on the Florida Gators. Even after Keyontae Johnson’s scary collapse, the Gators have gotten off to a strong start in SEC play that includes a victory over Tennessee. If Johnson can return before the year ends, watch out for Florida in this tourney.

Yes, Minnesota did pull off upsets over Iowa and Michigan. However, both of those wins were at home, and the Gophers lost to each of those teams on the road. They aren’t invincible at home either, as they recently hosted Maryland and lost. It’s hard to put the Gophers much higher than I have them considering their inconsistency. A lot of people have Virginia Tech as a clear cut top 25 team and some have them over teams like Florida, Illinois, and Minnesota. Yes, they beat Villanova, but I don’t see how they’re any better than a team like Indiana; both lack a good resume around the big upset they pulled off.

In the 8-9 game here, I have Syracuse and San Diego State. I did not think I would end up putting Syracuse here, but all they really needed to prove was that they could beat other tourney contenders. Headed into this week, their best win was against Georgetown, but this week they added wins over Miami FL and Virginia Tech to legitimize their resume. SDSU has been inconsistent in the Mountain West, but they’ve had some impressive wins like their opening night victory over UCLA, which was back when UCLA star Chris Smith was healthy. UCLA gets one of the last four byes. I’m not as high on them considering Smith is done for the year and the Bruins already lacked a big name win. Unlike Syracuse, I don’t see them winning too many big games down the stretch.

Seton Hall is 9-6, but if they just finish their games a little stronger they have the potential to be a lot better. They’ve come within minutes of taking down Oregon, Louisville, and even Villanova. I have them grabbing the 10 seed, and I have Belmont, South Dakota State, UC Irvine, Siena, and Coppin State rounding out the region with at-large bids. Belmont is 16-1, and South Dakota State upset Utah State, so those two have the highest seeds of the bunch.

I have Villanova joining Baylor, Gonzaga, and Michigan as a 1 seed. Aside from the Virginia Tech loss, the Wildcats have dominated this season. Their resume would be up there with Baylor and Zags if it weren’t for the loss. They’re not there yet, but I could see Texas Tech making the case for a 1 seed as well. They didn’t really play too many good teams early on, but they’ve now taken down Texas and would be competing for the Big 12 if it weren’t for Baylor. They lost to the Bears about a week ago, but they play Baylor again in 3 weeks and a road win over Baylor could be what they need to make a leap in the rankings. Even if they don’t snag a 1 seed, I think Georgetown transfer Mac McClung could lead them on another Final Four run. Oklahoma State is another Big 12 team I think people are sleeping on. They put up a good fight against Baylor and Texas and led by freshman stud Cade Cunningham, they took down Kansas and Texas Tech. I think they headline that second tier of Big 12 teams; I have them ahead of West Virginia and the Oklahoma Sooners (who I have as a 10 seed here).

The Badgers have lost to Marquette and Maryland, two lesser teams that have been extremely inconsistent. I think those games were a fluke though, because Wisconsin has a very impressive resume aside from that. They annihilated Louisville early in the season and are 6-3 in an unforgiving B1G. I have 10 B1G teams making the tournament, including Michigan State and Rutgers from this region. The Spartans could be performing better in the conference, but I expect Tom Izzo to lead them on a turnaround and they’ll end up with an 8 or 9 seed as they usually do in down years. I have them taking on Louisville in the 8-9 game. The Scarlet Knights have similar inconsistencies to fellow B1G team Minnesota: they rarely win road games and they are even somewhat inconsistent at home. The difference between Rutgers and Minnesota? Rutgers doesn’t have wins over the B1G’s top two teams. Rutgers will have to make it out of a First Four game against another streaky team in Clemson. I have an Oscar da Silva-led Stanford squad ahead of both of these teams as they secure one of the last four byes.

Missouri and Saint Louis are two teams that have exceeded expectations. I didn’t really see Missouri as a tournament team before the season, but an experienced core led the Tigers to victories over Illinois, Oregon, and Tennessee (who had beaten them just a few weeks prior). The Billikens started off the season strong with wins over LSU and NC State and just one loss (in Minnesota). They’ve been on pause due to COVID but they’re starting Atlantic 10 play this week and that will be a test to see if this team is a legitimate top 25 squad.

Rounding out the region with auto-bids are Wofford, Toledo, Bryant, and Cleveland State.

Bubble Watch

Just outside the field of 68 is BYU. It’ll be hard for them to legitimize their resume unless they can upset Gonzaga, but they may be able to sneak into the tournament if other bubble teams struggle. Kentucky, unlike most years, is also just outside the tourney. Kentucky might very well be the most inconsistent team in the country right now. The Wildcats will need their young core to step up and finish games stronger if they want a slot in the tourney. Maryland is below .500 in B1G play despite some big name upsets. If they can win Big Ten games on a more consistent basis they should make it. South Florida has pretty much met expectations so far. If they can knock off Houston or another big name team, they might have a chance to get in.

I think Pittsburgh and Mississippi State have fairly good chances to get in as well. They play in a strong conference, they just need to prove themselves to be capable against some better conference opponents. The Shockers and Rams have an uphill climb, though either could have a chance if they upset their conference’s top team (Houston for Wichita State and Boise State for Colorado State).


That’s all for today’s bracketology. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Quick Takes #1: Tough division could make season difficult for Bruins

Welcome to quick takes, my new series of shorter posts with my sports opinions. I’m starting this series off with a post about the Bruins. I’ll be posting my full NHL predictions later, and I’m fairly high on Boston, but I want to point out why it might be tough for them to meet expectations this year.

All sports fans know just how easy the NFL’s NFC East was to win this year. 7-9 Washington snagged a playoff spot simply because they were the NFC East’s best team. They beat out the 6-10 Giants, 6-10 Cowboys, and 4-11-1 Eagles. Now think of the opposite of the NFC East. That’s like the NHL’s East Division this year.

This year, the regular season will utilize realigned divisions and make up of divisional play only, and the playoff bracket will be divided into four quadrants based on division. Four teams in each division will make it. When I was making my NHL predictions, I noticed that it was extremely hard to decide which East Division teams I’d put on my playoff bracket, because there were so many playoff caliber teams in the division. I calculated the combined points % of each of this year’s divisions. Notice the gap between the East Division and the other three:

Combined Points %

East: .597
Central: .542
West: .549
North: .542

In addition to this, 5 of the last 7 President’s Trophy winners have come from this year’s East Division.

Don’t get me wrong, I like this realignment. It’s going to revive classic rivalries, and I’ve always liked the idea of an all-Canadian NHL Division. I even proposed a way to keep this realignment around beyond COVID in my article about What Should Stick Around from 2020 Sports. It’s not the NHL’s fault the East Division is the toughest division to play-in, they just didn’t want teams traveling so far. The competitiveness of this division will impact the season though.

Yes, I have the Bruins taking this division, because the duo of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand is hard to beat. However, this feat won’t be easy, and even a short term absence of Pastrnak could hurt the Bruins in this merciless division. I don’t think any of these teams win the President’s Trophy; they’ll be too busy beating up on each other.

The Bruins will face competition from most of the teams in this division. The Flyers are coming off a big season thanks to the heroics of young goalie Carter Hart. The Rangers improved last year after bringing in Artemi Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere will help them get even better. Alex Ovechkin still leads a very strong Capitals squad. I think those four teams will end up in the playoffs, but none of these four are locks.

The Sabres, Penguins, or Islanders could all make a case for the playoffs too. Buffalo has slowly improved as the young talent develops, and the additions of Taylor Hall and Eric Staal will only accelerate things. The Penguins are getting older but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could still make a case for the playoffs. The Islanders lack big name superstars, but coach Barry Trotz has kept them competitive. I suspect the teams in this division will be beating up on the New Jersey Devils a lot. While the Devils are looking better than last year, they are no match for these other teams.

The Bruins may very well be the best team in this division or possibly even one of the best in the league. The issue is this division is so close that there’s going to be no margin for error. A bad stretch by the Bruins could cost them the division, or even cost them a playoff spot. For the Bruins this year, my expectations are low, but my hopes are high.

That’s all for my quick take today. Stay tuned for more NHL content on Twitter later today.

2021 NFL Playoff Predictions: How far can Henry take Titans, who wins it all?

The largest NFL playoffs in history start tomorrow with a crazy Wild Card Weekend. 6 playoff games will air over the next two days. Even though the Patriots missed the playoffs, I’ll be excited to watch as I keep an eye on Tom Brady’s Buccaneers among other teams. Below I have my playoff bracket and have broken down each game. However, before we get to that, I thought it would be interesting to touch on a big storyline from last week that could have implications for the playoffs: Derrick Henry’s 2000 yard season.

Henry is the 8th 2000 yard rusher in history. You would think teams with 2000 yard rushers would come from dominant teams. However, teams with 2000 yard rushers don’t really have an amazing history. Check out some data I gathered on the 2000 yard rushers and their teams:

Here’s some quick facts I have about the data:

  • Of the other 7 teams with 2000 yard rushers, 2 missed the playoffs, 4 lost a wild card game, and 1 (the 1998 Broncos) won the Super Bowl
  • Titans are the first franchise with two 2000 yard rushing seasons – the first was by speedster Chris Johnson in 2009
  • The all time single season rushing record belongs to Rams legend Eric Dickerson (2105 yards). Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season came close to that marker, but not Henry’s 2020 performance
  • Only two of the other teams with 2000 yard rushers had Pro Bowl QBs, the 1998 Broncos had John Elway and the 2009 Titans had Vince Young
  • The 2020 Titans were top 5 in offensive PPG and total offense. Only two of the other teams with 2000 yard rushers (the 1997 Lions and 1998 Broncos) had a top 5 offense in both categories
  • Of the 8 teams, only the 1998 Broncos were top 10 in total passing
  • All 8 teams were 1st or 2nd in total rushing. The 2020 Titans trailed their wild card opponent, the Ravens in total rushing
  • 6 of the 8 teams were top 16 in both total defense and PPG allowed. Both Titans teams were 28th in total defense. The 2009 Titans were also 28th in PPG allowed, while the 2020 Titans were 24th in that category
  • The 2020 Titans, at 11-5, have the second best record of the 8 teams. The Super Bowl winning 1998 Broncos had the best at 14-2
  • The 2020 Titans won the AFC South. Only two of the other 7 teams, the 1998 Broncos and 2003 Ravens won their division

The 1998 Broncos were a breed of their own among this group of teams with 2000 yard rushers. Terrell Davis’ 2000 yard season was in addition to big years by Hall of Fame QB John Elway and legendary TE Shannon Sharpe, as well as 1000 yard seasons by WRs Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. They were top 10 in PPG, total offense, total passing, and total rushing, and they had a top 12 defense to compliment it. The Broncos were a 14-2 super-team.

The 2020 Titans are definitely not as good as that Broncos team. However, they have a strong offense around Henry with QB Ryan Tannehill and the WR duo of A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. They did have the 2nd best record of these 8 teams, and they were one of three that were top 5 in total offense and offensive PPG. The question is whether they are more similar to the 1998 Broncos, or more similar to the other 6 teams, none of which made it past the wild card round.

The 1997 Lions, like the Titans, had a top 5 offense around RB Barry Sanders. However, their turnover prone QB Scott Mitchell and their inconsistency led them to a 9-7 record and a wild card loss. I think Ryan Tannehill and the 2020 Titans are better than this. However, the Titans have one of the worst defenses of these 8 teams, which could be a problem in these playoffs. I do think they’ll make it past the Ravens in the wild card round, as they know how to stop Lamar Jackson. They do also have the best offense with a 2000 yard rusher since the ‘98 Broncos. However, I can’t see them even coming close against if they have to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs or Josh Allen and the Bills. Those two teams are on another level.

Now, let’s get to the rest of my bracket:

2021 NFL Playoff Bracket

I have QB Josh Allen and the Bills taking it all. While the Chiefs have the #1 seed in the AFC, the Bills have looked really good down the stretch as Allen and the Bills defense improve.

Here’s my prediction and breakdown of each matchup:

Wild Card Weekend

Bills, 30, Colts, 17

The Colts defense has been pretty good this year, but it’s no match for dual threat QB Josh Allen, WR Stefon Diggs, and a stacked Buffalo Bills passing attack. Indy will lean on RB Jonathan Taylor in order to put up some points, but it won’t be enough for the victory.

Browns, 28, Steelers, 27

This one could truly go either way. QB Ben Roethlisberger will give the Steelers a boost compared to Week 17, but this Browns team is still no joke (even though Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster seems to think so). Even with HC Kevin Stefanski off the sidelines due to COVID, I think QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense will edge out a victory and win their first playoff game of the 21st century.

Titans, 24, Ravens, 16

These two teams have a history, and I think history will repeat itself here. This Titans offense is too strong to lose in the wild card game. I have RB Derrick Henry running all over this defense. While the Ravens will do a good job establishing the run between QB Lamar Jackson and RB J.K. Dobbins, Jackson will struggle to establish the passing game and break away for big plays.

Saints, 33, Bears, 30

I think Chicago is going to give the Saints a scare. QB Mitch Trubisky has looked good lately. Meanwhile, the Saints will be getting back into a rhythm with RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray alongside WR Michael Thomas returning. The Saints will struggle early on but eventually get their act together and advance.

Seahawks, 23, Rams, 17

These teams split the regular season series, and now they face off for one last time. QB Jared Goff won’t be 100% even if he plays, so I don’t see the Rams winning this one. It will be close since the Rams defense knows how to slow down QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

Buccaneers, 27, Washington, 17

The Bucs should be grateful they have the 5 seed. They get to play the winner of a division that didn’t even have a team above .500. Even without WR Mike Evans, QB Tom Brady and his strong group of receivers will be too much for any NFC East defense, even Washington’s, to handle. I think QB Alex Smith will post a decent performance, but not enough to keep up with Brady.

Divisional Round

Chiefs, 45, Browns, 41

This Browns offense has looked really good lately.  I have them powering their way past Pittsburgh’s D and putting up even more points on this Chiefs defense.  The RB duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has worked really well and they will thrive here.  The Browns will make this a shootout, but I think QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will prevail.  Mahomes was clutch in the regular season and could continue to show that in the playoffs.  With the help of WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce, Mahomes and the Chiefs will hang on for victory and move on to the AFC Championship.

Bills, 33, Titans, 13

The Titans may beat up on the Ravens (again), but they’re no match for this Bills team. I’m expecting that Allen and Diggs will dominate against a flawed Titans D here. He should significantly outperform QB Ryan Tannehill, who will face pressure from a stronger Bills D.

Buccaneers, 31, Packers, 28 (OT)

I think QB Aaron Rodgers will make this matchup closer than it was last time, leaning on star WR Davante Adams. This one could go either way, and I have it going to overtime after strong performances from both Brady and Rodgers. In overtime, Brady will prevail once again, helping his legacy as a clutch playoff QB.

Saints, 38, Seahawks, 28

The Saints will have gotten into more of a rhythm after finishing strong against the Bears. This game will be easier for them, as QB Drew Brees and his offense thrive against a Seattle D that has struggled all year. Yes, Russ will look better in this one than the wild card game, but it won’t be enough to keep up with Brees in his element.

AFC/NFC Championships

Bills, 38, Chiefs, 34

Mahomes will stay in this game until the very end. However, the Chiefs still have flaws on defense, and even if Mahomes dominates, it won’t guarantee a Chiefs win. I think the Chiefs secondary will struggle to keep up with Allen and his receivers, especially Diggs. The Bills will expose Kansas City’s defense as they advance to the Super Bowl.

Saints, 34, Buccaneers, 31

Brees has beaten Brady twice this year, and this one will be very close, but it seems the Saints defense knows how to limit Brady. I have the Saints prevailing in the end. I think both QBs will post dominant performances in this one, adding to their amazing careers, but motivated to get his second ring, Brees will beat out a six-ringed Brady in an intense game.

Super Bowl LV: Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints

Bills, 21, Saints, 16

This is a battle of two of the most well balanced teams in football. A lot of these playoff teams are offense heavy, but both the Bills and Saints have established a strong defense, so I’d expect a low scoring Super Bowl if this is the game. While Brees will be motivated to win another ring, he’ll struggle under pressure from this Bills D and CB Tre’Davious White should be able to shadow Michael Thomas. Meanwhile, Allen won’t post his typical numbers, but he’ll perform just well enough to lead the Bills to at long last, a Super Bowl win. That’s something Bills legend Jim Kelly could never do.

I’m really excited to see how these playoffs turn out, as there are many possibilities. Feel free to comment with your thoughts on these predictions and stay tuned for more NFL coverage in the coming weeks.

NFL Week 17 Picks: Which teams try, which teams win, and what that all means

As I said in my post about the unique changes in 2020 sports, the 14 team NFL playoffs leads to more exciting late season action. Well, here we are. It’s Week 17, and there are still 18 teams in contention. Only 7 have clinched. The other 11 are fighting over another 7 playoff spots. My Week 17 picks are here. I have predicted which teams will put an effort in, which teams will win, and what that all means for the playoff picture. Last week I went 10-6, bringing my overall record to 148-91-1. Which teams will be in? Which teams will be out? Will I break my single season pick’em record of 160-94-2? Keep reading for my picks and comment with your thoughts.

Lock of the Week

It seems the 49ers are playing for pride to an extent, as star TE George Kittle will be active despite lingering injuries throughout the year. WRs Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will sit out though, as well as a handful of Niners defensive players. The Seahawks could be in competition for the first round bye if they win this game, so they have plenty on the line. While Kittle should help the 49ers put some points on the board, it won’t be enough to even come close against a motivated Seahawks offense.

Upset of the Week

Yes, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is far better than Bears QB Mitch Trubisky. However, division games are never truly locks, because it’s hard to beat the same team twice. Trubisky is on a hot streak, and at Soldier Field, I think Trubisky and his offense will post respectable numbers with a playoff spot on the line. The Bears D will also step up in this pressing situation, limiting QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, and the Packers offense to just 24 points. I have the Bears securing their playoff spot as the Packers falling short, opening the #1 seed up to the Saints and Seahawks.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1PM
The Bills and Steelers are fighting over the #2 seed, and with Pittsburgh resting QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Bills should seize this opportunity. They will be resting some banged up players, but I expect the duo of QB Josh Allen and WR Stefon Diggs to post a strong performance. QB Tua Tagovailoa will rely on RB Myles Gaskin and WR DeVante Parker to make this close with a playoff spot on the line, but it won’t be enough to outperform the Allen-Diggs duo. That will leave Miami’s fate in the hands of teams like the Steelers (without Big Ben), Bengals, Texans, and Jaguars.
Sunday, 1PM
No matter how far out of the playoffs they are, Bill Belichick will never throw a game. Could he give QB Jarrett Stidham a chance? While he’s leaning towards starting veteran QB Cam Newton, that remains to be seen. I think this will be a close one, as the Jets have nothing to lose either way and should put their best effort in for a 3rd straight win. I have Belichick and Pats winning in a nail biter though.
Sunday, 1PM
The Browns should have a fairly easy win against a Steelers team that is without QB Ben Roethlisberger, TE Eric Ebron, and several key defensive players. The Browns did lose to the Jets last week, but they’ll get WRs Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Donovan Peoples-Jones back for this one, as well as several offensive linemen. I expect QB Baker Mayfield to pick up where he left off when this offense was last at full health and lock up a playoff spot for Cleveland.
Sunday, 1PM
The Bengals would be better off losing this one since they have a chance to win back the #3 overall pick. Meanwhile, the Ravens have a win and they’re in scenario, so this shouldn’t even be a contest. QB Lamar Jackson and his RBs should run all over the Bengals D.
Sunday, 1PM
Both of these teams still have a chance at the playoffs. Yes, they would also need an Eagles win over Washington, but both of these teams need this win badly. Neither QB is great here, but they’ll post respectable performances in this one. I think this will come down to the wire with both offenses playing well. I have the Giants winning thanks to a Graham Gano game-winning field goal.
Sunday, 1PM
The Vikings will be without RB Dalvin Cook, which means QB Kirk Cousins will have to air out the ball. I expect WRs Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to dominate against a below average Lions secondary. QB Matthew Stafford is suiting up and should help the Lions keep this competitive, but I see them falling short as they lack the star power to keep up with Thielen and Jefferson.
Sunday, 1PM
While QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski are questionable, it appears the Bucs will put their best effort in for this one. I think Brady will rely on a deep group of receivers to outplay the Atlanta defense and win this game fairly easily. I think QB Matt Ryan and WR Calvin Ridley will put on a show to stay in the game to an extent, but Brady and the Bucs should win rather comfortably.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
If the Titans win this, they clinch the AFC South and a playoff berth. The Texans won’t get much from throwing this game, as their first round pick belongs to Miami. I see QB Deshaun Watson and this offense putting up some points, but it won’t be enough against Tennessee. RB Derrick Henry is going for 2000 rushing yards, and he has already posted multiple 200 yard games in his career against Houston. I expect Henry to lead the way for a dominant offensive performance by the Titans.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
With the Dolphins falling short to Buffalo, the Colts will have a win and they’re in scenario here. The Colts lost to Jacksonville in their season opener, and they’ll be hungry for revenge. I have the Colts winning this easily as they utilize the 1-2 punch of RBs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Jacksonville won’t even really be trying here, and they’ll be guaranteed the top pick in the draft whether they win or not.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Chiefs have clinched everything they can possibly clinch. They come into Week 17 with the #1 seed and the best record in the NFL guaranteed. They have every right to rest this week, and they plan to rest QB Patrick Mahomes and WR Tyreek Hill at the very least. The Chargers don’t have anything to play for, but QB Justin Herbert should lead the Chargers to an easy victory here. He nearly upset the Chiefs at full strength back in his Week 2 debut.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
Neither of these teams have anything to play for, but they wouldn’t really gain all that much from a higher draft pick, so I expect both to play for pride. While the Raiders D will give up some points as usual, I’m expecting a strong offensive performance from QB Derek Carr, RB Josh Jacobs, and TE Darren Waller. The Raiders should finish the season with a .500 record while the Broncos fall to 5-11 and likely get a top 10 pick in the draft.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Saints will be missing RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray (COVID protocols) as well as WR Michael Thomas (lingering ankle issue). If they lose this, they’d have to play a playoff game without Kamara. This is QB Drew Brees’ final playoff run of his career, and he’ll be motivated to make the most of it. The Saints D will slow down Carolina’s strong group of WRs to allow Brees to edge out the victory despite missing multiple teammates. With the win, the Saints will lock up the first round bye, which should make it easier for Kamara, Murray, and Thomas to return for the next Saints game.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Rams are in a rough situation with a playoff spot on the line. They’ll be without QB Jared Goff, RB Darrell Henderson, and WR Cooper Kupp. RB Cam Akers is also questionable. QB Kyler Murray and the Cardinals also have a playoff spot on the line here, so they should be able to get past this banged up Rams offense.
SNF
This game will decide the fate of whoever wins the Cowboys-Giants game. The Jalen Hurts experiment will continue here for the Eagles, but they’ll be without TE Dallas Goedert, RB Miles Sanders, and WR DeSean Jackson among others. That should allow Washington to slow down Hurts and the Philly offense and win this game. With the win they’ll take the NFC East and take on Brady and the Bucs on Wild Card Weekend.

That’s all for my picks this week. I referred to the playoff scenarios on the line throughout the article. If my picks are right, the playoff picture will look like this:

I hope you all enjoy the final week of the NFL’s regular season, and I’ll have my playoff predictions out in another few days.

2020 Sports: Which changes from this year should stick around?

2020 was not an easy year for the sports world.  From March to July, there were no sports.  Sports looked very different in the second half of the year.  Some of these differences should stick, while others will not.  Below is a change I liked and a change that I didn’t like so much for each of the four major US sports. 

MLB

What Should Stick Around: Universal DH

The concept of universal DH has been in talks for years.  2020’s modified schedule involving more inter-league play was just the final factor that convinced the MLB to implement it.  Before universal DH, it was almost like Major League Baseball was two separate leagues.  The World Series was a matchup of an AL champion and NL champion who got there playing slightly different versions of the game.  The NL champions tended to have more pitching because they didn’t need as good of a lineup, while the AL champions usually had to have strong lineups.  The NL is still more pitcher-heavy than the AL, but at least this unites the MLB under one rulebook.  It was long overdue, and it needs to stay this way.  

What Should be Left Behind: The Endless Negotiating

The MLB could have started the season safely as early as the end of June and they would have the whole sports market to themselves for about a month.  Instead, they delayed the start of the season even more because of what was essentially a lockout.  Rob Manfred did not handle the preseason negotiations well, and in the process he probably lost some MLB fans.  If the MLB and MLBPA don’t get their act together and come to faster agreements, it could jeopardize the long term success of professional baseball.  The financial toll on the league is already having an impact, as this off-season seems to be even slower than previous baseball off-seasons.  Most of the top free agents are still available (I’ll have an article about that out soon).

NFL

What Should Stick Around: Expanded Playoffs

The 14-team playoff bracket causes more exciting late-season action and allows more teams to stay competitive throughout the year.  Only the worst of the worst have really given up on this season, and even they might still be trying if it weren’t for Trevor Lawrence.  The expanded playoffs also make the #1 seed more valuable, as only the #1 seed gets a first round bye.  The only bad idea surrounding these expanded playoffs?  That would be putting one of the extra wild card games on Nickelodeon to try to get more kids interested.  Plenty of kids watch football without Nick having to get involved.

What Should be Left Behind: The Lack of a Preseason

While the season generally went well without a preseason, there were definitely more injuries than usual.  Teams with lackluster offensive lines were especially vulnerable, like the Giants (who lost RB Saquon Barkley to an ACL tear) and Bengals (who lost rookie QB Joe Burrow to an ACL tear and RB Joe Mixon to a foot iniury).  In addition, many talented rookies, such as Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, got off to extremely slow starts.  Jefferson posted an 1000 yard season and even broke some of Randy Moss’ Vikings WR rookie records, but he barely participated at all in the first two games of the year.  Yes, the preseason should be cut down a bit, but I think you need to have at least a couple preseason games to get the players ready to go.  I’d propose a two game preseason, one preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the season, and one preseason game prior to roster cut down day.  

NBA

What Should Stick Around: The 2020-2021 Schedule

I’ve got to be honest with you all, I like this year’s NBA schedule more than the normal NBA schedule.  Shifting the start of the season to Christmas is smart, as the NBA playoffs can cut into sports viewership ratings during the dog days of summer when baseball is the only other sport on TV.  Having a different season timeline than the NHL and stretching across winter, spring, and summer makes the NBA a little more unique than other leagues.  Who knows, maybe outdoor summer playoff games are in the NBA’s future.  In addition, I like the simple breakdown of the schedule: 2 games against every team in the other conference and 3 games against every team in your own conference.  Divisions in the NBA are barely utilized to begin with, and shifting to a more balanced conference schedule without extra division play is a smart idea.  

What Should be Left Behind: Universal Location Playoffs

The NBA bubble worked extremely well during the pandemic.  It’s not going to work in the future.  The lack of home-field advantage was probably a factor in the insane amount of upsets in the NBA bubble.  Yes, a universal location playoffs might be a good way to check the power of super teams, but taking away home field advantage entirely is not the answer.  I think the NBA bubble may have given an unfair advantage to certain teams.  Lowering the salary cap might be a better idea.

NHL

What Should Stick Around: The Realigned Divisions

I actually really like the idea of an all-Canadian division.  It was utilized this year to minimize border crossing, but it’s also going to revive classic Canadian hockey rivalries.  It’s not going to work when the Seattle Kraken join the league, but the Arizona Coyotes were already going to have to change divisions.  Why not stick with this realignment, put Seattle in the Western Division, and have the Coyotes pack their bags and relocate to Quebec City?  The Coyotes don’t have a very good hockey market in Phoenix.  In Quebec City, there are more hockey fans, and the Videotron Centre would easily be able to host an NHL team.  I could see the North Division sticking around if the Coyotes move to Quebec. It may take a couple years, but I think the all-Canadian division should return in future seasons.

What Goes: The 24 Team Playoffs

Some of the teams in the NHL’s bubble did not deserve to be there.  I don’t think there’s any reason to expand the NHL playoffs.  16 teams is plenty in what’s soon to be a 32 team league.  If anything it’s too easy to make the NHL playoffs, but the 16 team bracket works.  If they realign the league like I was talking about, they could even make the playoff bracket a four quadrant bracket by division (like they did in the NHL bubble) and make a big event out of the “Final Four” with the four divisional round winners.  

To Conclude…

2020 has forced and inspired a lot of change in the sports world.  Along the same lines, this website is about to undergo some change.  At certain points during the year, I didn’t have much to post about, and I think the entire sports world is ready to move on from this crazy year.  To begin 2021, I will be upgrading to WordPress Premium and changing my URL from andrewr1008.wordpress.com to simply be bostonsportsmania.com.  This is to make my website more accessible by making the URL easier to remember.  I may make some other changes to the site and start with some new kinds of posts as well, so be on the lookout as 2021 begins.  In the meantime, I hope you all have an enjoyable and safe New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s March Madness Bracketology: How the league stacks up as Conference Play Begins

March Madness will be far from typical this year. All 67 games will take place in Indianapolis, and bracket “regions” won’t be based on location. However, it’s still happening, and I’ve had the chance to watch more college hoops than ever this year. I normally don’t get into the bracketology game until February, but some conference play has already started and I think we have a good sample size to start to talk about the bracket with a little less than half of the season complete. Keep reading to see my bracket with analysis, and as always feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Gonzaga looks like the best team in the nation. Led by Cole Kispert and Drew Timme, they have multiple big wins including ones over Iowa and Kansas. I have Texas and Missouri securing high seeds in their first bid since 2018; Texas is keeping up with the top teams in a stacked Big 12 and the Tigers have upset Oregon and Illinois to give themselves a significant resume. Illinois may have the loss to Missouri and a loss to Rutgers, but the duo of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn have led the Fighting Illini to victories over Duke, Minnesota, Indiana, and others.

Duke should drop to a 5 seed (or possibly lower) after losing their three best players to the NBA draft and struggling without much of an upperclassman presence. Meanwhile, Northwestern is posting their best season since 2017 when they made their first ever NCAA Tournament, possibly better than that even. They have crucial B1G wins over Michigan State, Indiana, and Ohio State and have a top 25 resume at the moment. UConn’s move to the Big East has gone well so far, as James Bouknight nearly led them to upset Creighton. They should be able to get back to the tournament this year. Maryland should also be in line to make the tournament after their win over a top 10 Wisconsin squad. Xavier only has one loss, and that came in a close game with Creighton. They are yet another team that has outperformed expectations and should make it.

San Diego State may not have Malachi Flynn, but they still have a strong squad that has taken down teams like UCLA and makes a good case for the top 25. UCLA is one of the better teams in a weak Pac-12, they don’t have many big wins but they have a better resume than most of the conference. I have SMU and Alabama just barely making it as well.

Right now, I’m judging conferences based on which team I think would win the conference tourney. Mercer and South Dakota State both have impressive wins that makes me think they can win their mid-major conferences. Grand Canyon, Texas Southern, and Navy are far from tourney locks but the first two look like the best in their conference thus far and Army and Navy are the only Patriot League teams who have started their season at all.

Villanova may have lost to Virginia Tech but they have been spotless otherwise with some impressive wins, so I’m expecting a 1 seed for them. Iowa has had some rough losses, but Luka Garza has looked really good and they can compete with the best teams in the nation as well. Texas Tech hasn’t really had a big win yet, but they’ve come very close against top teams like Kansas and Houston so I think they’re legit with Georgetown transfer Mac McClung leading the way. Florida State has looked very good as well, led by the duo of freshman Scottie Barnes and returnee M.J. Walker. Michigan is undefeated, so they should have a pretty high seed until they lose. They haven’t played any fellow top 25 teams yet though; the first big test for them will come on Sunday when they host Northwestern.

The only Saint Louis loss this year came against the Minnesota Gophers, who have upset Iowa. I have them beating out Richmond (who lost to Hofstra) in the Atlantic 10 and securing a top half seed. UCF has played with grit in every game this year; their biggest win came against Florida State but they came close against Houston too. I see them as a legit AAC contender alongside Houston. Oregon looks like the best team in this year’s Pac-12, but they haven’t really stood out without Payton Pritchard. I have them facing Florida in an 8-9 game, who should stay competitive even with Keyontae Johnson recovering from a scary in-game collapse.

Syracuse doesn’t have any big wins yet but they look better than last year and were missing coach Jim Boeheim’s son Buddy for several of their early games. BYU has been inconsistent but they did knock off San Diego State. I have a conference winner, Liberty, in the 12 slot here, as they were very competitive with Power Six teams at the Space Coast Challenge to open the season. Bryant, Georgia State, Iona, and Eastern Washington should also make it after their own conference wins.

Baylor doesn’t have as many big wins as Gonzaga, but they look like a title contender and likely 1 seed this year. Houston is currently undefeated, and with a relatively easy schedule there’s a chance they keep it up. If they do I’d probably call them a 1 seed but for now they slot in as a 2 seed as their only big tests came against Texas Tech and UCF. Wisconsin has some bad losses, falling to Marquette and Maryland, but they’ve also taken down Michigan State and annihilated Louisville. If the inconsistency continues they could fall a bit but for now they look like a top 10 team. Creighton has competed with the best of the best too, but they also lost to Marquette and nearly lost to UConn. Their success is dependent on Marcus Zegarowski’s ability to take the leap we were expecting, and he has been inconsistent thus far. Virginia also has a big loss to San Francisco but they’ve looked like a typical Tony Bennett team otherwise.

NC State made a name for themselves by knocking off UNC this past week, and they are a top 25 team for now. Rutgers is playing in a very competitive B1G but their win over Illinois and the success of Ron Harper Jr. help them stand out. I have them facing off with Virginia Tech, who knocked off Villanova, in the Round of 64. I don’t see Virginia Tech getting that high a seed unless they pick up some more big wins; they did also lose to Penn State so I don’t see them as a top 25 team right now. I have another B1G team, Indiana, and LSU in the 8-9 game. Both have been competitive despite a lack of big wins.

Western Kentucky has looked better than most mid-major teams and competed with Power Six teams so I have them as an 11 seed ahead of all of the Last Four In. Southern Illinois looks like the best team right now in a strong MVC, so I have them as a 12 seed (though that conference is very close so several teams could win it and easily secure a 12 or 13 seed). I also have Winthrop, Stephen F. Austin, and Belmont making it on auto-bids with Norfolk State and CSU Fullerton edging out their weaker conferences to make it as well.

Kansas looks good with several freshmen standing out alongside returnees Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett; they have several big wins already. Tennessee got their season off to a late start but looks dominant so far, possibly better then they were when Grant Williams was on the team. West Virginia has also competed with the best of the Big 12, coming close against Kansas, so they should secure a high seed. The UNC Tar Heels have had a tough schedule thus far, but look much, much better than last year with Caleb Love and other freshmen supporting returnees like Garrison Brooks. Michigan State has had some bad losses too but the B1G is not an easy conference to play in this year and I see them picking up some big conference wins and bouncing back. Minnesota and Ohio State are also borderline top 25 teams from the B1G after impressive in-conference wins.

In the 8-9 game, I have Louisville, who looks to be a mid-tier ACC team this year, and Stanford, one of the better teams in a weak Pac-12. Marquette and Clemson should also secure at-large bids after some big victories to start the season. San Francisco and Richmond also have some impressive wins and should edge out tourney bids. I have Akron, Hofstra, UMBC, and Cleveland State securing auto-bids in this region. If Cleveland State can hold on to win the Horizon League, they’d make their first NCAA tournament since 2009 and their third ever.

Bubble Watch

These teams could all easily make the tournament; they could all also easily miss. Their fate will come down to how they do in conference play. Dayton, USC, Providence, Arizona State, Miami, and Oklahoma State are pretty much regulars here, while normally dominant teams like Kentucky are also here after rough starts. If Kentucky does well in conference play, they could still make the tourney. Teams like South Florida could make it as well, the Bulls are better than usual with David Collins getting better and just need some big wins on their resume.

That’s all for today’s bracketology. You may notice that I included a lot of B1G teams. The B1G is a very strong conference this year; I had them securing 11 (yes, 11) tournament bids here and teams like Purdue and Penn State could make a case for the tourney as well. So far, Nebraska seems to be the odd team out in this conference; everyone else has a chance at the tourney. Yes, that’s how good this conference is. Some B1G in-conference games will be national TV events throughout the start of 2021, and I’ll be watching as it looks to be one of the best college hoops conferences in history.

NFL Week 16 Picks: Plenty on the Line over this Holiday Weekend

Merry Christmas everyone! Week 16 is here, starting with today’s Christmas matchup between the Saints and Vikings. Today I’ll be writing about all 16 of my weekly picks as usual. Last week I went 11-5, bringing my overall record to 138-85-1. Keep reading to see how I have each game ending and what the implications of it are.

Lock of the Week

The Jets picked up their first win against the Rams, a playoff contender. I don’t see them winning a second game in a row, especially against a Browns squad that has beaten up on bad teams all year. RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should dominate against this Jets defense. Meanwhile, I think QB Sam Darnold will be able to rely on WR Jamison Crowder but struggle without other weapons stepping up for him.

Upset of the Week

The Vikings have had success against this Saints team in the past. They pulled off the Minneapolis Miracle against the Saints, and they beat the Saints in another wild card game during the 2019 season. WR Michael Thomas is out, so I don’t think QB Drew Brees and his receivers will do as well as some teams have against this Vikings secondary. Meanwhile, the Vikings offense will score just enough points to take down the Saints, relying on RB Dalvin Cook and slot WR Justin Jefferson.

The Other Games

Look for QB Tom Brady and his strong group of WRs to post a strong showing against a struggling Detroit secondary. Meanwhile, a Buccaneers front seven that has stopped top RBs all year should be able to slow down Lions RB D’Andre Swift. I think QB Matthew Stafford will connect well with WR Marvin Jones and TE T.J. Hockenson, but that won’t be enough to outplay TB12 with a Bucs playoff berth on the line.
I originally thought the 49ers would heal up for this one and even the series with Arizona after a loss in Week 1. The 49ers still have injury issues, and they have regressed significantly from last season. TE George Kittle will be a big help for San Francisco in his return, but that won’t be enough against QB Kyler Murray and an explosive Cardinals offense. This win should put Arizona in a good position to grab a wild card spot.
The Dolphins are off to a 9-5 start and currently hold a wild card. In the last two weeks, they face two tough matchups, traveling to Vegas and facing Buffalo. The Raiders have beat playoff contenders many times this season, and whether it’s Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota starting, I think the Vegas offense will post a strong showing and win this won. QB Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins should make this very close though, especially with RB Myles Gaskin among others back in the lineup.
The Steelers offense hasn’t been the same the last couple weeks, and I’m not expecting a huge game here either. However, I think Pittsburgh’s D will make things difficult for QB Philip Rivers, RB Jonathan Taylor and the Colts. This front seven is amazing at stopping the run and OLB T.J. Watt has led a strong pass rush. That will be the key in the Pittsburgh victory.
The Giants D has been pretty good so far this year, but the secondary is mediocre aside from CB James Bradberry, and I don’t think the front seven is any match for QB Lamar Jackson and RB J.K. Dobbins. Meanwhile, the Baltimore defense should be able to slow down QB Daniel Jones and secure the Ravens victory and put them in a good position to make the playoffs.
The Bengals offense has struggled mightily without rookie QB Joe Burrow. I think QB Deshaun Watson and the Texans should win here, but it won’t be a blowout. Watson lacks the surroundings for an offensive domination in this one. This Bengals defense isn’t anything special, but it isn’t terrible either.
The Bears won’t dominate this one like the Ravens did against Jacksonville last week. QB Mitch Trubisky should be able to rely on RB David Montgomery and WR Allen Robinson to put up enough points for the victory. If the Jaguars weren’t tanking though, they’d probably have a chance. Jacksonville has enough talent that they should be set up for success once they draft QB Trevor Lawrence.
If the Falcons were fully healthy, this would be a shootout. With RB Todd Gurley and WR Julio Jones banged up, I can’t even see Atlanta coming close. Even without RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, it should be business as usual for the Chiefs against the Atlanta D.
I don’t see the Broncos winning much more this season with Drew Lock at QB, and they’d probably rather have a higher draft slot at this point in order to find Lock’s replacement. Meanwhile, QB Justin Herbert and the Chargers will be playing for pride, as they are in good position to improve next year with some better luck and some small changes. This will be close with the Chargers a bit banged up, but Herbert will rely on RB Austin Ekeler here and ultimately lead LA to victory.
Even without WR Terry McLaurin, I think the Washington offense will find success here against a flawed Carolina D. They’ll have to rely on the RB duo of Antonio Gibson (who’s trending in the right direction to play) and J.D. McKissic, as well as TE Logan Thomas. The Panthers would probably have a better chance if it weren’t for the injury to RB Christian McCaffrey, but it seems like McCaffrey is gearing up for a 2021 return with the Panthers out of contention.
As crazy as it sounds, both of these teams still have a chance at the NFC East. The Cowboys won last week as they hosted San Francisco, and Philly has looked better with Jalen Hurts under center. I think Hurts will post an impressive game against the Cowboys D. However, this will be a classic Cowboys shootout. QB Andy Dalton and his strong group of WRs will make this close and I think Greg Zuerlein will make a last minute game winning field goal for Dallas here to allow for a Cowboys upset.
I think CB Jalen Ramsey will do a good job slowing down WR D.K. Metcalf, but QB Russell Wilson will rely on WR Tyler Lockett and his backfield to lead the Seahawks to split the season series with the Rams. Sean McVay seems to have Seattle’s number, but the Rams lack momentum after the Jets loss and it’s hard to beat the same team twice in a year. QB Jared Goff and his receivers should make this close, but in Seattle I don’t see the upset happening as the Seahawks stay in first place.
SNF
This will be a shootout as both RB Derrick Henry and RB Aaron Jones dominate. I think the difference here will be CB Jaire Alexander shutting down Titans WR A.J. Brown while Packers WR Davante Adams posts a strong showing against the Titans D. The Packers should come up clutch despite a big game from Henry.
MNF
The Patriots will be playing for pride here, as Bill Belichick historically does not tank. I still think they’ll come up short against a strong Bills squad. QB Josh Allen won’t be quite as good as usual against the New England D, but CB Stephon Gilmore would have covered WR Stefon Diggs and he is done for the year. Allen should be able to rely on his star WR and lead the Bills to victory in a close one.

That would be all for my picks this week. Stay tuned for more posts this coming week as I have a break from school, and be sure to check out the 2020-21 NBA Predictions I posted yesterday.