Appearance on the Master Plan Podcast: Way too early AFC Preview

Football season is quickly approaching, and teams have began to prepare for the upcoming year. The AFC could be a very competitive conference, but which teams have enough talent to be playoff contenders? My cousin Michael Philipkosky and I broke it all down in this episode of his podcast, the Master Plan.

MLB 2021 Predictions: National League

April is almost here, and when the month begins, so will the MLB season. Just like in my last 7 years writing this blog, I have put together predictions for the season. We only got 60 MLB games last year, but for this year we’ll have a full 162 game season. I just went on my cousin Michael Philipkosky’s podcast, the Master Plan, to discuss all 30 teams, with one episode for the AL and one episode for the NL. Monday, I posted the AL podcast alongside my predictions. You can check out the NL podcast here, and I have my full NL predictions below.

NL East

  1. Atlanta Braves (100-62, #2 seed)
  2. New York Mets (91-71, #5 seed)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)
  4. Washington Nationals (82-80)
  5. Miami Marlins (78-84)

This might be the best division in baseball. The Braves and Mets will be competing for the division title most likely. Atlanta has a great duo of star hitters in first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. Their rotation is also starting to come together between younger pitchers like Ian Anderson and veterans like Charlie Morton (signed this offseason). The Mets were purchased by Steve Cohen this offseason, and he told Mets fans that the Mets would leave mediocrity behind them and act like the big market team they are. Cohen hired a new GM, and the team made a ton of moves, highlighted by a trade for shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco. You also can’t forget that they have Jacob deGrom who’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

That doesn’t mean the other teams won’t be competitive. It will be difficult to secure a playoff spot in the NL, but the rest of these teams will at least fail trying. Philadelphia has their flaws, but between outfielder Bryce Harper, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and a nice top two starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, they have a lot of talent. This should be a somewhat competitive team, but the bullpen among other minor problems could hold them back, similar to how the Celtics have struggled this season in the NBA. The Nationals experienced a World Series hangover last year, and I think they’ll see some improvement in 2021 even though that will be tough in this division. They brought in first baseman Josh Bell alongside outfielder Juan Soto and an amazing rotation. Washington has as much star power as most teams in baseball, but they lack the depth to make a run in this NL East.

The Marlins were the joke of the division back in 2019, but they saw many young pitchers break out and lead them to a 2020 playoff spot. The outfield has really come along as well with Adam Duvall joining Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. I think the Marlins have definitely made progress in their rebuild, more so than the Tigers and Orioles who saw surprising starts to the season last year. However, it will be hard for Miami to make the playoffs again now that they are back down to 10 teams (you never know though).

Even though the Mets and Braves are frontrunners, I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of these teams in the playoffs.

NL Central

  1. Cincinnati Reds (88-74, #3 seed)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
  3. Chicago Cubs (80-82)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers (65-97)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (53-109)

I doubt more than one team makes the playoffs out of this division. Compared to the depth of the NL East and the star power of the NL West, the NL Central is not in a good spot. I think the Reds and Cardinals will be competing for that spot. The Reds lost starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, but the lineup is still strong and the rotation is still serviceable despite depth problems behind Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. The Cardinals were already decent last year. Now they brought in star third baseman and MVP candidate Nolan Arenado. That could put them in a position to contend, but I still don’t see them dominating this division.

The Cubs were looking like they were in for a long rebuild after cutting contracts early in the offseason. However, after lots of rumors they decided to hold on to third baseman Kris Bryant and add some rotation depth. If they were trying to rebuild, they halted that effort. If they’re trying to contend, I don’t see them achieving that goal. The Cubs haven’t really chosen what direction to go in, and I expect that they will decide by the time the Trade Deadline rolls around. If not, they’ll be stuck in the middle for now.

The Brewers may have 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich in their lineup, but this rotation is not anywhere close to the other teams in this division. They’ll need to add pitching before they think about contending again.

They’ll still be better than Pittsburgh, a rebuilding team in their own realm. They already traded first baseman Josh Bell and I bet outfielder Gregory Polanco will be gone by midseason. That will leave an inexperienced roster with no sign of improvement anytime soon. They’ll need some prospects to develop before they contend again. That development will start by letting the MLB ready prospects like third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes start.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (107-55, #1 seed)
  2. San Diego Padres (94-68, #4 seed)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)
  4. San Francisco Giants (77-85)
  5. Colorado Rockies (65-97)

The Dodgers are another team that will be in their own realm: a realm of dominance. This lineup is highlighted by outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger but has a lot of talent and depth around those two including Corey Seager and Justin Turner. The lineup isn’t even the best part here. The Dodgers have David Price, Dustin May, and Julio Urias competing for their final two rotation spots! That’s because they have Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, and Walker Buehler as their top three. No team in baseball has a rotation that can compete with that. The Dodgers are the closest thing I’ve seen in a while to a lock for the best record in baseball. The question is whether the Dodgers will choke in the playoffs like they did in 2017, 2018, and 2019 before winning it all in 2020.

Everyone’s been debating whether the Dodgers or Padres will win this division. I don’t understand how you can have that debate. The Padres are a really good baseball team. In some other divisions they’d come out on top. In this division they seem to be a lock for a Wild Card spot. The Padres rotation went from inconsistent at best to one of the better rotations in baseball. This offseason they brought in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove to bolster the pitching staff. The lineup was already strong, headlined by third baseman Manny Machado and the young Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop. However, you can’t put them on the same level as the Dodgers.

Behind those two teams, this division isn’t anything spectacular. The Diamondbacks might be the definition of average. They don’t have many standout players, but they have a serviceable lineup and a serviceable rotation. This is a high floor, low ceiling team. They will most likely be close to, if not exactly .500. They should beat up on the Giants and Rockies but cannot come anywhere close to competing with the Dodgers and Padres.

The Giants have improved between developing young talent and bringing in a couple of veterans. This isn’t their year though. Maybe next year they’ll see more improvement and cook up some even year magic. The Rockies have actually regressed since last year. They dealt away Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story and outfielder Charlie Blackmon could be gone soon too. The core of the lineup is beginning to disband and though the rotation saw some success last year, it’s nothing spectacular.


That’s all for my MLB predictions this year. Stay tuned for more baseball coverage soon, including my MLB playoff bracket which I’ll be posting at some point on Twitter.

MLB 2021 Predictions: American League

April is almost here, and when the month begins, so will the MLB season. Just like in my last 7 years writing this blog, I have put together predictions for the season. We only got 60 MLB games last year, but for this year we’ll have a full 162 game season. I just went on my cousin Michael Philipkosky’s podcast, the Master Plan, to discuss all 30 teams, with one episode for the AL and one episode for the NL. You can check out the AL podcast here, and I have my full AL predictions below.

AL East

  1. New York Yankees (96-66, #2 seed)
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (89-73, #5 seed)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
  4. Boston Red Sox (80-82)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (58-104)

I think the Yankees are in a good position to win this division. They lost some of the pitching depth they had last year, but this lineup is still on another level compared to the other teams in the AL East. Even with some injuries last year, the Yankees were able to dominate the AL East, and I expect the same this year. The question is whether they have the pitching staff to go all the way.

This should be a competitive division behind the Yankees. The Blue Jays, Rays, and Red Sox should all finish somewhat close in the standings. The Jays are really starting to come together. The young talent in the lineup is improving and they’ll be supplemented by new outfielder George Springer and new middle infielder Marcus Semien. Their rotation is also really starting to look sharp.

Tampa was the AL pennant winner last year, but this was a team that was highlighted by its dominant rotation and the Rays lost two of their top three starting pitchers. As a small market team, they tend to subtract in the offseason as opposed to adding. As they lose a key element of their 2020 team, they will see a significant World Series hangover.

The Red Sox should get Chris Sale back towards the end of the year, and when they do they could force the Rays into 4th place. After bringing back Alex Cora and making some underrated signings, I see the Sox finishing around .500 like they did back in 2019. However, this team is hard to read. They have a low floor (they could be a repeat of last year), and a high ceiling (they could potentially contend for a Wild Card). The signings by GM Chaim Bloom have included multiple utility players. Bloom, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus, explained some of his reasoning behind this in a Q&A at a UPenn event on Wednesday. He stated that in the past, utility players were often limited to utility role because they weren’t good enough to play a position every day. However, in modern baseball, there are utility players who can play every day at a variety of positions, like Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez who he signed. These players likely flew under the radar due to the fact that they’re utility guys.

I can’t really see the Orioles competing with these teams. The Orioles have improved since 2019, but their early 2020 success was a bit of a fluke. I think the young talent is starting to come along but it won’t be enough to make a noticeable difference just yet.

AL Central

  1. Chicago White Sox (101-61, #1 seed)
  2. Minnesota Twins (90-72, #4 seed)
  3. Kansas City Royals (77-85)
  4. Cleveland Indians (75-87)
  5. Detroit Tigers (66-96)

The White Sox are really starting to come together. They have a good ace in Lucas Giolito. The lineup is looking great between young talent like Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Nick Madigral and more experienced players like Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal. I think they have what it takes to make a deep playoff run this year. I have them ahead of the Twins, who choked in the playoffs last year. Minnesota has a strong rotation headlined by Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, and Randy Dobnak, but their lack of elite lineup talent compared to other top teams is going to hold them back from more than a Wild Card. The Twins should be able secure 2nd place though, as the rest of this division is unlikely to compete.

The Royals have added talent, including starting pitcher Mike Minor, and they have a decent core led by Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield. However, I don’t think they have quite enough firepower to contend. I think they will get third place over the Indians, who dealt away Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor in an effort to lower payroll. Star hitter and third baseman Jose Ramirez is still in Cleveland, but the Indians don’t have any other big name hitters. They also lack rotation depth behind defending Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. Aside from Bieber and Ramirez, the Indians lack star power. The Tigers got off to a strong start last year thanks to the emergence of outfielder JaCoby Jones. They should perform better than they did in 2019, but I still don’t think they’ll be anywhere close to playoff contention in a 162 game season.

AL West

  1. Los Angeles Angels (87-75, #3 seed)
  2. Houston Astros (84-78)
  3. Oakland Athletics (76-86)
  4. Texas Rangers (65-97)
  5. Seattle Mariners (63-99)

This division is not nearly as strong as it was last year. The Angels always tend to disappoint with a lack of success surrounding star outfielder Mike Trout, but I think they’ll be able to win this weakened division. That doesn’t necessarily imply playoff success. The Angels did add some pitching help and that should put them in position to win the AL West but taking down the Yankees or White Sox will be a difficult feat. The Astros should come close as well, even though they lost outfielders George Springer and Josh Reddick. This lineup’s success between 2017 and 2019 was likely boosted by sign stealing, and the depth of the rotation is slowly dwindling, so I have the Angels edging out Houston here, but it will be close.

The A’s will probably have the biggest drop off in the division. They have a very talented young rotation, but without shortstop Marcus Semien and designated hitter Khris Davis, this lineup is lacking standout hitters. Corner infielders Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are improving at the plate, but that’s not enough lineup talent for a playoff team. I have them falling to third place, but finishing ahead of the Rangers and Mariners.

The Rangers failed to contend last year with an awkward mix of young talent and older players, so they’ve torn it down and prepared for a rebuild headed into this season. Joey Gallo is still here but I don’t expect him to stay for long. Seattle has some young talent that is starting to develop and could have a very strong outfield soon once Kyle Lewis and top prospect Jarred Kelenic fully develop alongside Mitch Haniger. Even with the outfield and the rotation improving, this isn’t the year for Seattle to contend.


That’s all for these American League predictions. I’ll have my NL predictions out in the next couple days. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

2020 NFL Week 1 Picks: Lots of Close Games in Competitive Season

The NFL off-season has been one of the craziest ever. Tom Brady left Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Instead he went to Tampa, building his own offense. This caused the biggest off-season QB carousel in a long time. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NFL Draft virtual and canceled the NFL preseason. But despite the pandemic and all the unusual events, football is coming back. With or without fans attending the game, this NFL season will go on, and so will my weekly NFL pick’em posts. Each week, I’ll have my NFL picks on this website as well as some fantasy content on my fantasy football Instagram account, @bsmfantasyfootball. I think this could be one of the most competitive seasons in a while, and that will mean a lot of close games. Keep reading to see my predictions of them all. I’ll say one thing, we could see multiple games go to overtime this week alone.

Lock of the Week

As I said, there should be a lot of close games this week. This is not one of them. I expect the Bills to have a lot of success running the ball. The combo of Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, and running QB Josh Allen will just be too much for a Jets front seven that will be without LB C.J. Mosley. Allen will also rely on his new star WR Stefon Diggs in this one. QB Sam Darnold will struggle, as a strong Bills defense shuts down his banged up arsenal of weapons.

Upset of the Week

I think the 49ers are the better team here. But WRs Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are recovering from injuries, leaving QB Jimmy Garoppolo with solely star TE George Kittle to rely on. The Cardinals defense will focus in on Kittle, making it difficult for Garoppolo’s offense to function. QB Kyler Murray won’t be that much better against a strong San Francisco D. But with WR DeAndre Hopkins in the mix, I think Arizona will put up enough points to pull off the upset this time around. The Niners will have a chance at revenge later this season after Garoppolo’s receivers heal up.

The Other Games

Thursday Night Football
I expect the Chiefs to come out on top in the end here. QB Patrick Mahomes’ offense is a dominant force and I doubt this weakening Texans D will be able to keep up. However, the Texans will make it close, as the duo of WR Brandin Cooks and WR Will Fuller should be able to outplay Kansas City’s secondary. I think they might even force OT.
I think QB Cam Newton will rely on pass catching RB James White and slot WR Julian Edelman to beat out an improved, but still below average Dolphins defense. On the other hand, WR DeVante Parker and TE Mike Gesicki are no match for Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty.
The Browns have a good front seven, but it won’t be enough to stop dual threat QB Lamar Jackson. I expect Kevin Stefanski to completely modify the Browns offense and that will allow them to make this competitive. However, in Baltimore I see them falling short.
QB Gardner Minshew II is lacking surroundings. I expect WR D.J. Chark to have a good game thanks to their chemistry, but it’ll be tough against this improved Colts D. The Colts also have an improved run game behind an elite o-line that should dominate against a crumbling Jaguars defense.
The Raiders do have an improving offense centered around RB Josh Jacobs and TE Darren Waller, and they will make it close against an unproven Panthers defense. But I expect RB Christian McCaffrey to run all over the Raiders D in this one.
Washington’s defense is looking better than it has in a while, with a front seven led by rookie Chase Young and veteran Ryan Kerrigan, plus a secondary that includes CB Kendall Fuller and S Landon Collins. They will hold the Eagles to just 1 TD, but fall short due to anemic offense.
The Vikings D is looking strong after adding DE Yannick Ngakoue, so I expect a strong Week 1 performance against Green Bay. RB Dalvin Cook will lead Minnesota to victory, but it will be close with natural slot WRs Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson rotating outside.
The Lions won’t put up too many points as I expect the Bears D to improve upon last year. But the Bears QB troubles will cause them to fall short. I think QB Mitch Trubisky will have some success with RB Tarik Cohen and WR Allen Robinson, but be too inconsistent to finish the job. I have Detroit taking it in OT.
This is definitely going to be a close one. But on the road, I have the Seahawks falling short. QB Matt Ryan will lean on his strong WR duo and RB Todd Gurley to lead Atlanta to victory in overtime.
The Chargers secondary is looking strong, but the loss of S Derwin James hurts. I think QB Joe Burrow will capitalize on his connection with WR Tyler Boyd and find ways to beat out this strong Chargers D, pulling off the upset in his debut. The Chargers offense will show flashes of a strong performance but struggle overall with Tyrod Taylor at QB.
QBs Tom Brady and Drew Brees face off twice this year. In this one, I’m expecting the Saints to squeeze by for a victory in a back and forth offensive shootout. WRs Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin will all get the chance to stand out here.
Sunday Night Football
I’m expecting an OT thriller in the first edition of SNF this year. QB Jared Goff will be under center in a pass heavy offense that outplays the Cowboys secondary and makes this one close. But QB Dak Prescott will rely on what’s arguably the best WR trio in the league alongside RB Ezekiel Elliott as he leads the Cowboys to last minute victory.
Monday Night Football
This could be tough for the Giants as Pittsburgh has one of the best defenses in the league. But the Giants defense has also improved, and I expect them to slow down RB James Conner and make things difficult for QB Ben Roethlisberger in his return. This could go either way, but I have New York pulling off an upset in overtime.
Monday Night Football
I think the Broncos will shut down QB Ryan Tannehill and make it hard for the Titans offense to put up much. But RB Derrick Henry will just be too much for Denver, allowing the Titans to stay in this game. Denver’s offense will take time to click after all the new additions, but I think RB Melvin Gordon and rookie WR Jerry Jeudy will make a difference as the Broncos narrowly get by here.

Which teams do you have winning this week? Comment with your thoughts.

2019 NFL Draft Report Cards: AFC West Edition

Training camp is here, and it’s time for my final batch of NFL Draft Report Cards.  Last time, I reviewed the AFC South, where several teams struggled.  But the AFC West had some teams with much better draft classes.  Who are they?  Keep reading to see my grade for each pick as well as my final grades.  As I post more articles, I will also include links to the rest of my draft grades.

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NFL Draft Report Cards 2019

NFC East

NFC North

NFC South

NFC West

AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

  Denver Broncos

Overall Grade: A-

Draft Report Card:

Analysis:

The Broncos put together one of the league’s best draft classes. The trade down in Round 1 was very smart, as Fant fills a huge need and was an amazing fit. They added a tackle (Risner) in Round 2, and if he can make a successful move to guard, he could really help the team. Lock was a bargain as well, and Dre’Mont Jones will fill another big need for Denver. The Broncos could’ve added more secondary help and another WR, but every pick had a purpose, and with just six picks, they filled a good amount of needs.

 Los Angeles Chargers

Overall Grade: B+

Draft Report Card:

Analysis:

The Chargers started this draft off very strong.  But they made some confusing choices later on.  They didn’t have too many needs to fill, and they filled them early.  Tillery and Adderley were great adds, and Pipkins was a reach but should still compete for a tackle job and have success.  Later on though, they reached a bit on several picks.  It was smart to take a QB, but Round 5 is too early for Stick.  They also reached for Tranquill, Broughton, and Egbule.  Still, LA filled their needs earlier and more efficiently than any other team, making for a strong draft class where the later rounds didn’t matter nearly as much.

 Kansas City Chiefs

Overall Grade: B-

Draft Report Card:

Analysis:

The Chiefs reaches on a handful of these selections, but they did filled a decent amount of needs.  They boosted the interior o-line.  They drafted extra RB and WR help.  They even added a safety with their first pick.  But even with Frank Clark on the roster, the Chiefs’ biggest need for an edge rusher, and that need has yet to be filled.  That fact, alongside the lack of interior o-line depth and the numerous reaches the Chiefs made, brings down KC’s grade.

  Oakland Raiders

Overall Grade: B-

Draft Report Card:

Analysis:

The Raiders went into this draft with a handful of defensive holes and a few offensive holes as well.  They filled most of these, but they took players that they could’ve drafted in later rounds.  If they had traded down a couple times, they would likely have more help at guard and defensive tackle than they got, and they’d get some of their targets at better values.  Clelin Ferrell could’ve been taken at #24 or #27.  They took him at #4.  The Raiders did have some really good picks as well though.  I liked the choices of Trayvon Mullen, Foster Moreau, and Hunter Renfrow.  But they could have done a better job at managing their draft picks and focused more on value.


 

That’s all for my 2019 NFL Draft Report Cards.  Stay tuned for more NFL coverage as the regular season looms.

Basketball Bits #1: What do the Celtics need to win it all?

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This year’s NBA off-season will be pivotal for many teams across the league. Going into free agency, I see no clear favorite to win the NBA Finals. Even the Warriors could fall out of contention if Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins all leave as free agents. A handful of big names will be on the open market, and whoever dominates in free agency should have a good chance to win it all. Even teams who struggled mightily in 2018-19 like the Knicks and Lakers have the chance to jump into title contention with the help of a strong off-season.

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The Celtics are in an interesting situation. Last season, they were expected to be serious title contenders with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injury alongside the rise of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others. But Kyrie Irving did not mesh well with the team, and he grew to dislike Boston. The expectation going into the season was that Kyrie Irving would return to the Celtics on a long term deal or at least 1 more year on his player option before agreeing to a long term deal. But now, Irving is expected to leave for Brooklyn, LA, or somewhere else.

With Irving expected to leave, what do the Celtics need in order to stay relevant and a potential championship contender? Do they need a star who will be a better leader than Kyrie was? Do they need multiple stars? Will they just roll with the young core of Tatum and Brown? Do they have enough cap space to do what they need to do? I researched every NBA champion in history and looked at how many star players they had, using 20 PPG as criteria for stardom. I also included the number of 25 PPG and 30 PPG scorers, as these players are less common. Check out my research as well as some Basketball Bits.

The Research

Basketball Bits #1_ Stars on Championship Teams – Sheet1

The “Basketball Bits”

  • The NBA has 73 champions all-time
    • Just 14 of 73 (19.2%) lacked a 20 PPG scorer
      • 35 of 73 (47.95%) had 1 20 PPG scorer
      • 22 of 73 (30.1%) had 2 20 PPG scorers
      • Just 2 of 73 (2.7%) had 3 20 PPG scorers:
        • The 2017-18 Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry, Thompson, Durant)
        • The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (Curry, Thompson, Durant)
    • 47 of 73 (64.4%) lacked a 25 PPG scorer
      • 20 of 73 (27.4%) had 1 25 PPG scorer
      • 6 of 73 (8.2%) had 2 25 PPG scorers
    • 67 of 73 (91.8%) lacked a 30 PPG scorer – nobody had more than 1
  • The Boston Celtics have won 17 championships:
    • None of them had a 30 PPG scorer
    • Only 2 of 17 (11.8%) had a 25 PPG scorer
    • 5 of 17 (29.4%) lacked a 20 PPG scorer
    • 8 of 17 (47.1%) had 1 20 PPG scorer
    • 4 of 17 (23.5%) had 2 20 PPG scorers 
  • In the last 25 years:
    • Only 3 teams (12%) have won it all without a 20 PPG scorer:
      • The 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs (Most recent)
      • The 2007-08 Boston Celtics
      • The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
    • Only 10 teams (40%) have won it all without 25 PPG scorer
  • In the NBA’s first 25 years:
    • 6 teams (24%) won it all without a 20 PPG scorer
    • 21 teams (84%) won it all without a 25 PPG scorer
  • Between 1972 and 1994 (everything else):
    • 5 teams (21.7%) won it all without a 20 PPG scorer
    • 16 teams (69.6%) won it all without a 25 PPG scorer
  • There are only 3 franchises who have ever won a championship with a 30 PPG scorer:
    • The Chicago Bulls (4 times, Michael Jordan)
    • The Milwaukee Bucks (1 time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
    • The Golden State Warriors (1 time, Rick Barry)

The Verdict

In this era, the Celtics will need at least one consistent 20-25 PPG scorer to win a title, and a second would be helpful. You never know, maybe Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can be our guys. But I think pairing Tatum and Brown with a star point guard or star center would be ideal. The Celtics did win with a handful of 15-20 PPG scorers in 2008. That was in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen era. I doubt they can put something like that together again in today’s NBA with all these stars on the open market.

But if they sign one star player that can allow Tatum and Brown to thrive while that player still puts up 25 PPG, such as PG Kemba Walker, PG D’Angelo Russell, or C Nikola Vucevic, this team could have the chance to contend. They aren’t going to pull the trigger if it puts their future at risk. I don’t think that will happen. But do they have enough money? Do these stars want to sign in Boston unlike Kyrie Irving? I can’t wait to find out, and I’ll be releasing my predictions soon.

2019 NFL Draft Report Cards: NFC West Edition

Welcome to Part 4 of my NFL Draft Report Cards.  Today, I’ll be wrapping up the NFC draft reviews with the NFC West.  Which NFC West teams will benefit from this draft the most?  Keep reading to see my Draft Report Card for each team, including a grade for each pick as well as my final grades.  As I post more articles, I will also include links to the rest of my draft grades.

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NFL Draft Report Cards 2019

NFC East

NFC North

NFC South

NFC West

AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

az-cards Arizona Cardinals

Overall Grade: B

Draft Report Card:

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Analysis:

What I love about this draft is that every pick was made for a good reason.  New head coach Kliff Kingsbury knows Kyler Murray is capable of leading the Cards, so there was no problem with trading Josh Rosen in favor of more security.  Murphy and Thompson add secondary depth at a great value.  The team also filled needs, drafting a trio of receivers, a tackle, a center, and a couple d-linemen.

The team could’ve found a way to fill a few more holes, such as linebacker.  But there was not a single pick in this draft class that I had a real problem with, and Arizona really made their biggest needs a priority.

sf-49ers San Francisco 49ers

Overall Grade: B-

Draft Report Card:

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Analysis:

Much like Chicago, this draft class is top heavy.  The 2nd overall selection of Nick Bosa was one of my favorite picks in this draft.  He’s a great fit and could eventually lead this rebuilding defense back to glory.  I didn’t mind the Deebo Samuel pick, but D.K. Metcalf would’ve been the smarter choice.  Kaden Smith was a steal in Round 6, so I’m not going to complain there either.

But some of these other picks confused me.  Despite the steal of Smith, the rest of San Francisco’s later round picks were major reaches.  They did need a punter, but taking one in Round 4 is unheard of.  They didn’t need to draft WR Jalen Hurd either.  Deebo Samuel will provide them enough at receiver and Hurd was drafted way too early.   The strong picks early on definitely boost this draft class, but the Niners could’ve added a few more quality players and filled a couple more needs.

los-angeles-rams-symbol Los Angeles Rams

Overall Grade: C+

Draft Report Card:

img_4500

Analysis:

It’s hard to start a draft strong without a first round pick, but the Rams definitely could’ve done better.  They could’ve waited on the safety and running back till later rounds.  There was no need for a corner in Round 3, especially someone who I didn’t have being drafted.  The team did rebound in the later rounds, snagging a strong tackle in David Edwards and a replacement for Ndamukong Suh in Greg Gaines.

There were some needs that weren’t filled as early as they should’ve been or were completely ignored.  The Rams interior o-line still needs serious help.  But there were some strong selections in the later rounds that will definitely highlight this draft class.

seattle-seahawks Seattle Seahawks

Overall Grade: C

Draft Report Card:

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Analysis:

There weren’t too many straight up confusing picks in this draft, but there weren’t many eye popping picks either.  The team made a lot of reaches in the early rounds, and that definitely brings their grade down significantly.  But the Seahawks did, to an extent, redeem themselves.  They received a blatant steal when they drafted WR D.K. Metcalf at the end of the 2nd round.  They continued to add to their depleted receiving corps throughout this draft, as Doug Baldwin will no longer be on the team.

But while they hyperfocused on finding Russell Wilson some guys to throw to, they threw aside some of their other needs.  The team is still in desperate need of secondary depth despite drafting a safety.  It wouldn’t have hurt to take a new TE either.  But the team did manage to fill a good number of holes despite their reaches, so you have to give them some credit for that.


 

That’s all for this portion of my NFL Draft Report Cards.  Next time, I’ll shift my attention to the AFC, starting with New England’s division, the AFC East.  Did the Pats outwit their division rivals again this year?  Stay tuned to find out what I think.

 

NBA 2019 Playoff Predictions: Who Finally Takes Down Golden State?

I know, it’s a little late.  But before we know the surefire winner of each series, I figured I’d share my NBA Playoff bracket.  Believe it or not, I don’t think Golden State’s championship-winning streak will stay alive.  But who could possibly beat the Warriors?  See my prediction below:

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I have the Celtics taking down the Warriors in a 7-game series.  But how will they get there?

I think Boston should easily take down the Pacers.  With Victor Oladipo out of the picture, I cannot see Indiana doing much in these playoffs.  Kyrie Irving ruined the Celtics’ chemistry during the regular season, but I don’t think this will be as apparent in the playoffs, where the whole team will be motivated and willing to do whatever it takes to win it all.

The Pistons may have Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond to lead them, but that won’t be enough to pull off a series upset over Giannis Antetokounmpo and a powerful Milwaukee Bucks team.  However, the Celtics have multiple star players on their roster who will outplay Greek Freak’s teammates and help Boston win in the Eastern Conference semifinals.  I can’t see anyone getting in Toronto’s way until they face the Celtics.  The Raptors are by far the strongest team in their quadrant of the bracket, led offensively by Kyle Lowry and defensively by Kawhi Leonard.

But I do see Boston riding the momentum and overcoming adversity as they take down Toronto.  Their roster is stacked, so if the Celtics are on the same page motivation-wise and get off to a strong start (as I see them doing against Indiana), they could be a threat to Golden State.

The Warriors should not have a hard time with Western Conference opponents though.  Besides Boston, the Warriors are the only team I have sweeping their first round opponent.  The Rockets won’t be as easy an opponent as the Clippers, but a healthy Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will outplay James Harden and Chris Paul.  I could see the Thunder, KD’s old team, making a run as well.  Portland is known for playoff choking, and Denver’s lack of experience could come back to haunt them.  I think they should be able to handle the San Antonio Spurs, but the Thunder might be a bit much for an inexperienced team like the Nuggets.

Golden State, however, will end Oklahoma City’s run.  With Marcus Smart back and the team united by a common goal, the Celtics should have a chance at Golden State and I’m staying optimistic with this bracket.  I’m sick of Golden State winning, and it would make it even better if the Celtics could be the team to finally beat them.  As long as Kyrie Irving’s selfish ways don’t come back to haunt them, the Celtics should have a chance.

That’s all for my playoff predictions this year.  Stay tuned for more Celtics playoff coverage soon.

Ranking the Teams #18-13, My Version: Who Else Misses out on Playoff Contention?

Welcome to Article #3 of my 2019 MLB preseason power rankings.  In this article, I will be covering teams in the middle of the pack, and determine whether or not they will contend.  Click the links below for other articles in the series (I will add them as I post them):

 

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2019 MLB Preseason Power Rankings Series:

Ranking The Teams #30-25, My Version: The Bottom of the Barrel

Ranking The Teams #24-19, My Version: Who will have to Wait till Next Year?

Ranking The Teams #18-13, My Version: Who else Misses out on Playoff Contention?

Ranking The Teams #12-7, My Version: Who has Playoff Chances?

Ranking The Teams #6-1, My Version: Super Six?

I also released my 3rd annual preseason Baseball Bits!

18. cincinnati_reds_logo Cincinnati Reds

The Case for the Reds

The Reds began to gear up for contention this off-season by acquiring OF Yasiel Puig and multiple starting pitchers including Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, and Sonny Gray. This team is still headlined by 1B star Joey Votto as well. The NL Central is a really tough division, so that may hold the Reds back this year unless one of last year’s top three in Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis takes a step back.  When Cincy last made the playoffs in 2013, there were two other teams ahead of them in the NL Central standings, so they may just need a few more pieces and one team to crack in order to contend. However, I can’t see that happening this year.  Expect a sub-.500 season in the meantime.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Pretenders: The Reds are definitely closer to contention after making some big moves this off-season.  But I wasn’t so crazy about some of the moves they made.  The Puig trade was a steal, but they could have done a better job fine-tuning the rotation.  Getting rid of Homer Bailey was not smart, as he is a consistent mid-tier starter when healthy.  Sonny Gray, one of the pitchers who replaced Bailey, is far less consistent.  They made some good moves, but it’s not enough for a playoff run.

Projected Finish: 80-82, 4th in NL Central

 

17. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins

The Case for the Twins

The Twins didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2018. They were expected to chase the Indians for the AL Central for the 2nd straight year. But they ended up a few games below .500, dragged down by the struggles of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.  Those two were expected to lead this team when they first made the majors. This off-season, the Twins did add Nelson Cruz, but at his age, I don’t know how much longer he can produce at an elite level. Michael Pineda’s return will also boost them, but I don’t know how much they can improve with Sano and Buxton both remaining question marks. A Jose Berrios breakout could help, but I still can’t see them being a legitimate 2019 playoff contender.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Pretenders: The Twins made some nice moves to add to a roster that was already intriguing.  They added Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and others.  But the lingering questions surrounding Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano remain, and the bullpen is also a question mark.

Projected Finish: 80-82, 3rd in AL Central

 

16. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox

The Case for the White Sox

The White Sox may have lost out in the Manny Machado sweepstakes despite adding Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay to intrigue Machado. But their off-season is not a full failure. They added some nice pieces in Jay, Alonso, and SP Ervin Santana while still allowing their young core to receive playing time. Yoan Moncada (once he breaks out), Adam Engel, and Eloy Jimenez give me optimism about the future in Chicago. As they start to develop, Chicago will jump into the mix in a weak AL Central. But they may have to add a few more pieces and wait till 2020, or maybe even 2021 for legitimate playoff contention. They could have won the division and done it in 2019 with Machado.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Contenders: I don’t expect the White Sox to win the AL Central this year, but this next wave of talent may begin to make the White Sox appear capable of contending.  Moncada, Engel, Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, and others should significantly boost the roster and allow this team to show flashes of greatness in a weak division.

Projected Finish: 81-81, 2nd in AL Central

 

15. new-york-mets New York Mets

The Case for the Mets

Brodie Van Wagenen made things very interesting in his first off-season with the Mets. After refusing to trade Jacob deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard and instead acquiring Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from Seattle, he made it clear that the Mets were hoping to contend for one more season. He proceeded by continuing to beef up the roster, adding Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Carlos Gomez, and others. The Mets will at least be competitive this season, but I can’t see them standing out in the league’s best division, the NL East. They will not be able to keep up with the Braves, Phillies, and Nationals. Maybe it’s time to rebuild if this season is indeed another failure.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Pretenders: The Mets added some nice pieces, such as Cano, Diaz, Ramos, and Lowrie.  But they did not address their direct positional needs.  Sure, they added a catcher, and an outfielder.  But until they get the infield situation figured out, this team will have trouble finding an identity and jump-starting back into contention.  Lowrie and Cano are nice pieces, but where do they fit, and will 1B Peter Alonso be on the roster come Opening Day?

Projected Finish: 83-79, 4th in NL East

 

14. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants

The Case for the Giants

In Bruce Bochy’s last season, I expect the Giants to exceed expectations. Though injuries have held them back the last couple of years, they still have a very strong roster on paper. Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija lead a rotation that now contains more depth. So long as Buster Posey can bounce back at the plate in 2019, the lineup should be set as well. Who knows, maybe Evan Longoria could be a bounce back candidate as well. Behind Posey and Longoria, they have new additions Yangervis Solarte and Gerardo Parra, SS Brandon Crawford, 1B Brandon Belt, and others. The Giants have not done very well in these last two seasons. But assuming they are healthy, 2019 contention isn’t too farfetched.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Contenders: The Giants will at least be closer to the playoffs this season than most people expect.  It’s injuries that has held them back over the last couple of years.  Neither MadBum nor Posey had been healthy in 2017 and 2018.  With those two feeling alright, the rotation beginning to come together after Dereck Rodriguez’s emergence, and the lineup looking okay despite outfield depth issues, the Giants could come close to the playoffs if they don’t make it.

Projected Finish: 84-78, 3rd in NL West

 

13. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers

The Case for the Dodgers

The Dodgers have now lost two World Series’ in a row. Expect a hangover this time around. The loss of Brian Dozier to free agency hurts their infield depth significantly, and it was a rough off-season. They traded Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Matt Kemp to the Reds for Homer Bailey, who they ended up releasing. It did clear up crowding in the outfield, and they signed A.J. Pollock to maintain depth out there, but it’s still a waste of a trade. The rotation has plenty of depth, but Clayton Kershaw’s health and Walker Buehler’s ability to replace him remain question marks. Bullpen depth could also be problematic. Expect the Dodgers to try to contend, but fail to make the playoffs in a weak NL West.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Pretenders: The Dodgers should finish with a fairly strong win-loss record as usual.  But I think the team will take a step back after a rough off-season, and despite their strong record, they may have a hard time getting into the mix for the Wild Card.  Even in a weak division, the Dodgers will have trouble relying on repeat performances from two older 2018 breakouts, Max Muncy and Chris Taylor.

Projected Finish: 85-77, 2nd in NL West

 

That’s all for this portion of my MLB preseason power rankings.  Stay tuned for my next set later today.

The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game

Welcome to my 7th and final post in my series of Super Bowl LIII Preview articles.  With just hours till game time, I will be giving you guys a final update on injuries among other things before the game begins.  In addition, I have included an iMovie trailer to get everyone excited. You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

February 1: Super Bowl LIII Fast Facts and Their Significance

February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 3: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

Part 1: iMovie Trailer: Back to their Roots

Part 2: Final Injury Report

Both teams are pretty much at full health, which will make for an exciting game.  RB Todd Gurley may not be 100% after an injury suffered late into the regular season, and DE Deatrich Wise Jr. of the Patriots was hurt in the weeks leading up to the game, but unless Wise is a healthy scratch, both Gurley and Wise are expected to play.  I’m hoping DE Adrian Clayborn isn’t an inactive instead of wise.  We need some good pass rushers in this game.

Part 3: Final Outlook

I’m pretty confident that the Patriots can win this.  But in addition to winning the turnover battle, scoring early, and stopping the run, they’ll need the special teams to step it up.  If the Patriots want to win, they need to play complimentary football: good offense, good defense, and good special teams.  Though a big game from Edelman or Gronk would be nice, I see WR Phillip Dorsett as an X-factor for us.  Some games, he has made next to no impact.  In other games, he has been an unsung hero.  I saw Dorsett at training camp, and he looked like one of the best receivers there.  Apparently, Bill Belichick had wanted to draft this guy in 2015 (he traded for him later on).  There’s got to be a reason for that.  I have confidence that Dorsett has the potential to make a big impact.  Plus, if he does well, he may be rewarded with a return to the Patriots (he is an upcoming free agent).

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If the Rams can outrun the Pats, they’ll be in good shape.  But they’ll also have to outplay QB Tom Brady, which will require not only Gurley and Anderson but also QB Jared Goff to be at his best.  If Goff has a big game, and the Rams defensive line (who I see as their X-factor) is at their best, pressuring Brady and stopping the run, the Rams have a chance.  But I still have more confidence in my home team.

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This will definitely be close, and it could be another classic, as most Patriots Super Bowls are.  But I think this is the year that the Pats finally get their sixth ring and tie the Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins ever.

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That’s about all I can say that I haven’t already said.  With just about six hours left, food has been purchased.  Parties have been planned.  Commercials have been made.  Now, it’s just time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the game with friends and family, commercials, halftime, and all.  Unlike other football games, anyone can enjoy the Super Bowl thanks to the funny ads and the halftime show added in to appeal to all audiences.  I hope everyone enjoys the game, and stay tuned for my recap when it all ends.  Go Pats!