2018 NLCS/ALCS Predictions

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And then there were four. In last week’s action, I got burned for sticking with my April pick to win the World Series, but I can’t be upset with correctly picking the other three finalists, predicting the first six games winners, and even getting the winning score correct in the first four of those games. I’ll try to keep it rolling. Let’s take a look at who’s moving on to the Fall Classic.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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Things kick off tonight with the Dodgers visiting the Brewers. Both teams cruised through their respective division series with the Brew Crew shutting down the Rockies’ offense, and doing their job to advance, while the Dodgers were one grand slam away from doing the same to the Braves in three games instead of four.

I mentioned before why I love this year’s Brewers team. They actually remind me of the 2003 World Series Champion Marlins. There is just nothing special about them. No superstars, no perfect pitching, not the best coach in the world, but everyone does his job. They consistently manufacture three or four runs a game, and the pitchers can grind out quality starts without giving up the big inning.

The Brewers are a team that doesn’t beat themselves, and when the opposition tries to do too much, Milwaukee’s small ball prevails. They are riding an 11-game winning streak, one shy of the franchise record, as they look to march on and claim their club’s first ever Commissioner’s Trophy. With everyone else having won a championship before, one could argue that the Brewers want to advance more than any of the remaining teams.

The problem is, I don’t see a glaring weakness in Los Angeles. They do have superstars, great pitching, and one of the best coaches in the League. Justin Turner, Max Muncy, and newly acquired Manny Machado lead the way, but I truly believe every hitter in that dugout is dangerous in the right spot. They have a good balance of power and contact that can break down most pitchers and be successful over 9 innings.

The pitching staff is obviously headlined by Clayton Kershaw, who is still looking for his first ring. Arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, Kershaw needs to put his postseason struggles behind him to solidify his legacy. Next in line is rookie Walker Buehler, who was shelled by Ronald Acuna, and Rich Hill, who has been in the NLCS a time or two.

That’s the key for L.A.- experience. The Brewers haven’t seen a spotlight like this in a long time, and the Dodgers were here last year. Manager Dave Roberts has done a fantastic job managing his players through injury and hot streaks, and this series should be no different. He knows his team well, and the outcome of this series is on his shoulders.

PREDICTIONS:

Game 1 – Clayton Kershaw @ Gio Gonzalez, Dodgers win 5-2

Game 2 – Hyun-Jin Ryu @ Wade Miley, Dodgers win 6-3

Game 3 – Jhoulys Chacin @ Walker Buehler, Brewers win 4-2

Game 4 – Junior Guerra @ Rich Hill, Dodgers win 4-3

Game 5 – Brandon Woodruff @ Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers win 3-1

Dodgers in 5.

 

Houston Astros vs. Boston Red Sox

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Easily the two best teams in the American League this year, it’s only fitting that these two titans would clash with a trip to the World Series on the line. The clubs meet for the second October in a row, as the Astros took down the Sox in four games in last year’s ALDS en route to their first World Series in franchise history. Now the question is, do they have the hunger to do what no team has done since the ’98-’00 Yankees and go back-to-back?

The Red Sox boast a dangerous lineup of studs. Mookie Betts leads the way in my AL MVP voting in part due to his deadly combination of power, contact, and speed in the field. J.D. Martinez is a straight slugger with no fear, and it looks like even utility guys can come off the bench and hit for the fist cycle in MLB postseason history like Brock Holt. As good as Houston’s pitching staff is, they have their work cut out for them.

The ALCS most likely depends on the play of Boston’s starting pitching. The bats are there and so is the bullpen, but the starters all have a record of being shaky in the playoffs. Sure, the Yankees can make anyone look bad on any given night, but it’s been a trend for too long from guys like Chris Sale and David Price. It will be interesting to see what first-year manager Alex Cora does if these guys start to struggle early versus late. I’ll bet he wants to beat the Astros more than anyone else, as he was a part of that team that won it all last year.

Minus Cora, the Astros bring back virtually the same team, and in virtually the same form from 2017. If anything, they got better with the addition of former Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole. The pitching staff was lights out against the Indians, taking care of business in a quick three-game series. The Indians’ lineup isn’t mild by any stretch, but the Red Sox are on the next level. Cole along with my Cy Young pick Justin Verlander will have to prove that they are among the best throwers in the MLB if they want to get back to the Fall Classic.

Another great thing about Houston is their patience at the plate. Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Alex Bregman could not be more composed in any given situation. With their leadership and experience, the pressure is on Boston to force a swing-and-miss. As long as the rest of the lineup follows suit, I don’t see the Red Sox doing that four times a game. Then, it’s all about a shootout. These teams are so evenly matched, it’s anybodies guess what happens game-to-game.

PREDICTIONS

Game 1 – Justin Verlander @ Chris Sale, Red Sox win 3-2

Game 2 – Gerrit Cole @ David Price, Astros win 5-3

Game 3 – Nathan Eovaldi @ Dallas Keuchel, Astros win 4-3

Game 4 – Rick Porcello @ Charlie Morton, Red Sox win 7-5

Game 5 – Chris Sale @ Justin Verlander, Astros win 3-0

Game 6 – Gerrit Cole @ Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox win 5-4

Game 7 – Dallas Keuchel @ Rick Porcello, Red Sox win 2-1

Red Sox in 7

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2018 ALDS/NLDS Predictions

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On to the next one. After one anticlimactic victory in the Bronx and an absolute heartbreak at Wrigley, we have narrowed the field to eight. I do feel for Chicago. One day they’re one big hit away from the best record in the National League, and 24 hours later they find themselves out of the playoffs just as it gets started. After a grueling 163 games, their season is as over as the Orioles’ season is… but the validity of the Wild Card game is a discussion for another day. Let’s take a look at the best-of-five Division Series.

 

Cleveland Indians vs. Houston Astros

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The Astros’ journey to repeat as World Champions makes its first stop against Cleveland. One of the first teams to clinch their spot in the postseason, Houston nearly gave up the division lead before ultimately finishing off the final two weeks with a commanding six-game difference. For the Indians, there was hardly any doubt that they would finish at the top of the AL Central. As weak as every other team in that division was, it’s hard to figure why the Indians have the worst record of all playoff teams besides Atlanta… perhaps we are about to find out.

The Astros are the same powerhouse that they were last year, but they are missing one thing: hunger. They have a convincing 103 wins on their resume, but they don’t have the feel of a dominant win-at-all-costs mentality when it counts. A.J. Hinch has proven that he is one of the best managers in the MLB, but he has not instilled the same drive as he did when the Astros claimed their first title in franchise history last year.

The talent is there at the plate with perennial superstars Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman. Arguably more impressive is their starting pitching staff, as my AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander takes the hill in Game 1 following one of the best seasons of his long career. His 2017 playoff exploits are well-documented and he should be a force in 2018 as well. The rotation rounds out with aces Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel along with all-star Charlie Morton. They have all the pieces, but do they want it enough?

The Indians have been surprisingly lackadaisical in their own right…basically the Patriots of the MLB.  There isn’t any reason the Indians shouldn’t have run away with their division, and granted, they did by 13 games, but staying under 100 wins worries me. Preseason, I had the Tribe just behind the Astros for the best record in the MLB, so this match-up is very high-profile, and will be very difficult for the Indians to take on without home field advantage.

Cleveland boasts some big bats too. Of course there’s Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Edwin Encarnacion, but now there is the controversial addition of former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. For those unfamiliar with the situation, Donaldson was on the DL for the Blue Jays when he was reinstated to the MLB roster before being immediately traded and put back on the DL by the Indians. It’s against MLB trade rules to deal an injured player, so this was met with some ire around the MLB. In any case, the man is here now, and we are yet to see what he truly brings to the table for the Indians.

The key for this series is starting pitching. The Astros have the better all-around lineup, and the Indians can control the game beyond the 7th inning. That gives Houston 5 or 6 innings to take a lead and try to hold it. Houston can definitely be confident in their rotation, but Cleveland’s is a question mark. Sure Corey Kluber is one of the best pitchers in the game, but he has yet to play great postseason baseball. Carlos Carrasco is the obvious number two, and he famously missed out on the 2016 World Series run with an injury, so his playoff experience is limited. Beyond that, injuries have left the Indians scrambling for innings, and that will ultimately cost them.

PREDICTIONS:

Game 1- Corey Kluber at Justin Verlander, Astros win 4-2

Game 2 – Carlos Carrasco at Gerrit Cole, Astros win 6-5

Game 3 – Dallas Keuchel at Mike Clevinger, Indians win 5-1

Game 4 – Justin Verlander at Corey Kluber, Astros win 2-1

Astros in 4.

 

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

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This is what baseball is all about. The best rivalry in sports in an abbreviated best-of-five playoff series. It’s hard to believe the last time these two giants met in October was the infamous 2004 ALCS that saw the Red Sox come back from an 0-3 hole to win the pennant. The Sox and the Yankees have had two of the best seasons in the MLB this year, and neither wants to have their work undone by their bitter rival. Let’s get into it.

The Red Sox haven’t played a game in five days, and that could be a huge factor in Game 1. Too much rest is definitely a bad thing, especially when they face a Yankees team that has maintained some hot bats as the season came to an end. However, new manager Alex Cora has led Boston to their best regular season in their long franchise history, and there are countless factors to explain it.

First, they have a nearly unstoppable lineup. From top to bottom, Boston has a deadly combination of contact, power, and an ability to get the important hit. I could single guys out like my AL MVP Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, but truthfully there isn’t a single guy on that roster that I wouldn’t trust with the bat in his hand. The Yankees pitchers will have to do their homework.

The likes of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and even Eduardo Rodriguez have been superb throughout the summer, but their postseason track records tell a different story. We already saw one of the greatest pitchers of all time get benched in Game 1 for his lack of postseason success, but by the looks of it, the Red Sox are going to try to power through. Either these guys find their form in some of the most heated ALDS action in years, or their legacy is already written in stone, and they crumble under the playoff lights.

This is great news for the Yankees, as their biggest weakness is easily starting pitching. They’re down an ace after Luis Severino started the Wild Card game and spun a gem through four innings before Aaron Boone quickly pulled him from the game. I initially questioned the move, but it worked out in the end as Dellin Betances eliminated the threat and the Yanks cruised into this matchup.

J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka aren’t major steps down, though on paper they are inferior to the Red Sox’s rotation. So, with a small advantage going to Boston’s bats and the pressure on the ace pitchers to play like it in the playoffs, the pressure is on the Red Sox to win. This is sure to be another exciting chapter in this great rivalry, and we are all lucky to see it unfold starting tonight.

PREDICTIONS:

Game 1 – J.A. Happ at Chris Sale, Red Sox win 5-3

Game 2 – Masahiro Tanaka at David Price, Yankees win 7-1

Game 3 – Rick Porcello at Luis Severino, Yankees win 6-3

Game 4 – Chris Sale at C.C. Sabathia, Red Sox win 8-5

Game 5 – Masahiro Tanaka at David Price, Yankees win 4-2

Yankees in 5. (I have to go with my preseason World Series Champions)

 

Colorado Rockies vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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I’ll be honest, I never really thought I’d be making a playoff prediction between the NL regular-season champion Milwaukee Brewers and the Colorado Rockies. Both of these clubs have had absolute fairy-tale seasons and it’s going to be a shame to watch one of them bow out now. Before going any further, I know Game 1 happened yesterday, but it hasn’t influenced my overall series prediction.

An advantage that the Brewers have, unlike the Red Sox, is that they haven’t had to wait quite as long for their next game. However, the Rockies haven’t gotten much time to breathe and take in the moment having to play in some extremely important baseball games over the past week. Well, now Colorado made it. How do they respond?

Ironically, it’s been stellar pitching. They are known for the hitter-friendly Coors Field and dangerous bats of Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story, but they have failed to truly produce so far this week. Luckily, the Rockies have played great defense and kept their dreams alive by silencing their opponents’ bats as well. I don’t really expect that to continue, as last night was proof that the Rockies will need to string runs together to win ball games at this level.

The Brewers lucked out last night as they were virtually shut out but for a Christian Yelich two-run homer to give them some comfort. With a pitching staff like Milwaukee’s, who didn’t even have a true starter for Game 1, it’s probably only a matter of time before the Rockies wake up at the plate.

I love the style of the Brew Crew. Yes, Yelich is probably the NL MVP, but even he isn’t truly a “big name”. You have the Bryants, the Altuves, and the Trouts, but the Brewers don’t really have a true star. Across the board they do their job and contribute. Cain, Yelich, Moustakas, Shaw, Aguilar… they do what they’re good at, and they do it well. That wins you an even-matched playoff series.

PREDICTIONS

*Game 1 – Antonio Senzatela at Brandon Woodruff, Brewers won 3-2

Game 2 – Tyler Anderson at Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers win 4-3

Game 3 – Wade Miley at Kyle Freeland, Rockies win 9-2

Game 4 – Gio Gonzalez at German Marquez, Rockies win 4-1

Game 5 – Antonio Senzatela at Jhoulys Chacin, Brewers win 3-2

Brewers in 5

 

Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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I saw the score for Game 1 here too, but it only reaffirmed my belief that the NL is the Dodgers’ to lose. They have by far the best and most experienced batters, pitchers, and coaches. It really is that simple. The Braves are young and have had a tremendous season out of nowhere, but they have the worst record among playoff teams, and they just aren’t ready for baseball like this. The nothing-to-lose attitude is great, and maybe they can steal a game from L.A. with that mentality, but it isn’t sustainable in a must-win format.

I don’t really have much more to say on the matter. The Dodgers held out Kershaw from Game 1 due to his postseason miscues, and they were still all over Atlanta from the first batter… literally. This should be quick and painless for the Dodger faithful, and at least Atlanta can say they made it this far. Congrats to the NL East Division Champions, it was well deserved and it’s only the beginning with guys like Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman sticking around for the long haul.

PREDICTIONS:

*Game 1 – Mike Foltynewicz at Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers won 6-0

Game 2 – Anibal Sanchez at Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers win 2-1

Game 3 – Rich Hill at Julio Teheran, Dodgers win 4-3

Dodgers in 3

2018 MLB Wild Card Predictions

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We may have finished the regular season a day later than some anticipated, but we don’t have to wait any longer for postseason baseball. Before I get to my predictions for the midweek games, indulge me as I detail my MLB predictions since creating Sports Thoughts: 6 division winners in 2017 and 3 in 2018 (75%), 7 of 10 playoff teams in both 2017 and 2018 (70%), as well correctly predicting that a Game 163 would occur in 2018. If it wasn’t for the Cubs dropping to the Brewers at home on Monday, I’d be 83% effective when picking division winners, the only misses being a disappointing 2018 Nationals campaign, and a historic Red Sox season that saw them outlast the Yankees for the AL East title.

Last year, I also correctly predicted both Wild Card games and both Conference Championships, but my Achilles heel was a 1-3 record in the Division Series, and so I finished with an improvable 56% postseason record. We’ll see if I start just as hot as last season with my picks for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Let’s take a look at my 2018 Wild Card predictions.

 

Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs

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Unfortunate scheduling sees the two tiebreaker losers playing the very next night to keep their seasons alive. The Cubs were looking at the #1 seed in the National League 24 hours ago, and now they’re facing elimination. The Rockies made it interesting against the Dodgers late, but still suffered a tough loss. Now they hop on a plane to Chicago with their season on the line. It was an emotionally draining day for both clubs, so who can pick up the pieces first?

The pitching matchup features the veteran Jon Lester for the Cubs taking on an upstart young pitcher in Kyle Freeland. I wouldn’t say either can necessarily take over the game, thus I expect the bullpen to make the difference late. Both lineups are pretty much equally dangerous at the plate. The likes of Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story get help from a red-hot David Dahl and a steady DJ LeMahieu for the Rockies. The Cubs return all of the crowd favorites to the postseason as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Ben Zobrist.

The X-factor for Chicago is Daniel Murphy, the former Mets second baseman who nearly single-handedly crushed the Cubs’ World Series dreams in 2015. Now, he can change the North Side’s opinion of him if he can deliver for Chicago on Tuesday night. Additionally, with the luxury of staying home for a good night’s sleep on Monday, the Cubs have a huge advantage in not only rest, but a raucous home crowd in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Despite struggling in the 8th inning against the Brew Crew, I think the combination of a relentless, experienced lineup and a rested pitching staff gives the Cubs a best-of-five rematch with Milwaukee.

Cubs win 5-3.

 

Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees

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The story is far different for the American League Wild Card game. As the seeding was locked in way before Game 162, the A’s and Yanks could afford to go into cruise control as they prepared for their upcoming elimination game on Wednesday night. It’s hard to predict how the players and coaches will deal with the emotions that come with playoff baseball in Yankee Stadium, and without announced starters at the time of this article, it’s even harder to foresee how the early innings will go down.

I’ll be blunt: the Athletics’ starting pitching is pretty abysmal. Luckily, they boast one of, if not the best bullpens in the MLB. Mike Fiers is really the only starter that has a shot in this game, and he was just shelled by the Angels in his last start. Meanwhile, word has it that Liam Hendriks, who hasn’t allowed a run since September 1, may throw the first inning or two before turning the game over to the rest of the pen. It would be a smart move to play to their strengths, but that puts a lot of stress on Oakland’s bullpen not only on this game, but down the road if they are fortunate enough to advance.

For the Yankees, I’m giving the start to ace Luis Severino over J.A. Happ, who is 7-0 in a Yankee uniform. While Severino hasn’t been the Cy Young candidate fans were expecting, he has a pretty superb 3.39 ERA on the season, and he has held opponents to three runs or less in his last six quality starts. However, it’s worth mentioning that in the middle of that span he had his worst start since July. On September 5, he allowed 6 runs on 6 hits in 2 2/3 innings to.. guess who? The Oakland Athletics.

With all of that said, the pitching isn’t the story of this matchup. The A’s and Yankees have two of the best offenses in the MLB and it’s going to be feast or famine at the plate. There really isn’t a single guy I’d want to face on the Yankees roster, as they bring sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Gary Sanchez, and Luke Voit who is absolutely on fire. If Oakland goes with their bullpen strategy, I expect double-digit strikeouts, but also at least three home runs.

The A’s aren’t as dangerous from top to bottom, but they sure can swing it at the heart of the lineup. Khris Davis has crushed 48 home runs while playing games at a very deep Oakland Coliseum, Jed Lowrie has 99 RBIs to trail only Davis’s 123 on the team, and Matt Chapman and Matt Olsen seemingly always come through in the final innings when Oakland needs a rally. In a hitter’s park like Yankee Stadium, it doesn’t matter who is on the mound… the A’s will take them deep.

The flow of the game will echo their respective seasons. They feel each other out for innings 1 and 2. The bottom of the Yankees order hits Fiers after he comes in for Hendriks, and the Yankees finish the 3rd up 3-0. Severino gives one or two back, but that’s it through 5. The Yankees go hitless until the 6th when they string a few together to take a commanding 7-2 lead by the 7th inning stretch with a couple of long bombs. However, when the mighty A’s closers come in, they are unable to extend the lead as Oakland starts their comeback. Two runs in the 7th, another in the 8th, and an RBI double with one out in the 9th. Now clinging to a one-run lead, manager Aaron Boone opts to leave in Aroldis Chapman who strikes out the final two batters and strands the tying run in scoring position.

Yankees win 7-6.

NFL Week 4 Pick 6

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I hope this does not become routine, but I’ve got another abridged version of my Sunday picks. Along with some West Coast excitement in the afternoon, fans will be treated to one of the best rivalries in the NFL in primetime. To cap it off, Monday Night Football showcases a young Patrick Mahomes setting records as he continues to prove my early predictions about him wrong. Let’s take a look at who wins these grudge matches in Week 4.

 

Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders

This is a critical game for both teams. The Browns have to answer questions about their legitimacy after their first win in 624 days, and the Raiders need to get their first win under new coach Jon Gruden. I would also venture that both teams put out a bigger weakness more so than any strength, so we’ll see the Raiders mediocre defense take on Baker Mayfield in an offense that hasn’t truly gotten off the ground yet. Browns win 28-21.

 

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are going to have a tough time winning a game this year. In an 0-3 hole and tons of issues on both sides of the ball, it might be a while until Arizona sees their first W. The Seahawks are definitely not the same as the dominant team we’ve seen in years past though, so this rivalry could be closer than it should be. Seahawks win 24-14.

New Orleans Saints at New York Giants

In what I still believe could be a future playoff clash, the Saints and the Giants meet at MetLife Stadium underperforming thus far. Despite a very potent offense paced by the Drew Brees to Michael Thomas connection, the defense continuously surrenders just as many to the opposition. I’d like the Giants to pull it out and stay competitive in the NFC East race, but I think they fall just short today. Saints win 31-23.

 

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Chargers

This one got a whole lot less interesting when Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a torn ACL late in the 49ers’ Week 3 tilt with the Chiefs. The Chargers had a tough schedule to kick off their promising campaign, but there’s nothing like a weak defense and a new opposing quarterback to help them get to .500. Chargers win 31-10.

 

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

One of the fiercest rivalries in sports today, these arch-rivals clash under the lights of Heinz Field for Sunday Night Football once again. The Steelers look anything but sharp after committing 6 turnovers against the Browns, getting manhandled by the Chiefs, and surviving a comeback from the Buccaneers. The Ravens’ bread and butter has traditionally been a stout defense, but it’s the offense that’s been taking care of business this year as they average over 32 ppg. Ravens win 30-24.

 

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos

I stand by the awful draft pick reaction when the Chiefs traded up to get Patrick Mahomes, but I have to admit he has been a major catalyst for an otherwise talented Chiefs offense. I didn’t believe a rookie unfamiliar with the system could perform the way he has, and for that, I sincerely apologize, Patrick. Chiefs win 28-13.

 

For the record, here are my other predictions for this weekend’s slate:

Falcons over Bengals

Bears over Buccaneers

Lions over Cowboys

Packers over Bills

Eagles over Titans

Texans over Colts

Patriots over Dolphins

Jaguars over Jets

Week 3 NFL Pick 5

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It’s been a busy week for the writer here at Sports Thoughts, so I’m coming at you with the afternoon and evening picks of this week’s NFL action. There are plenty of marquee matchups from the Battle of LA to a Monday Night showdown from two surprise teams in their own rights. Let’s take a look at how we’ll finish this weekend.

Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams

We start with the spotlight on two of my favorite teams in the NFL this year. The Chargers are traveling 40 minutes north to take on the Rams at the famed Rose Bowl Coliseum. I really can’t say enough good things about these teams on both sides of the ball, and I can’t wait to watch what happens when their similar strengths meet. Rams win 28-24.

Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are a mess this year, and while the Bears haven’t been dominant by any means, they have shown that they can compete with the best of them. The Cardinals are not among the best. I foresee a big day for Jordan Howard and more overhype for Mitchell Trubisky. Bears win 31-14.

Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks

The nationally-televised game showcases two squads that haven’t gotten off to the start they were looking for. The Cowboys we’re completely shutdown in Week 1 before surviving against the Giants, and Russell Wilson is feeling the heat for Seattle’s 0-2 start. However, it’s the Seahawks’ first game in front of the 12th man, and they cannot fall to 0-3. Seahawks win 27-24.

New England Patriots at Detroit Lions

The Patriots haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2015, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks they will again tonight. Even the Lions’ signature passing game isn’t working well, and I know the Patriots aren’t about to get burned that easily on Sunday Night Football. Patriots win 38-13.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Steelers have played anything but Steeler football, and the Bucs somehow can’t be stopped. With a million storylines hovering over a franchise that hates distractions, it appears to be very hard for the Steelers to perform on the field. Meanwhile Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t slowed down yet, and he has a chance to hold up the Steel Curtain for another week. However, I’m going with my gut, and ending the madness. Steelers win 31-21.

For the record, here were my other Sunday picks:

Ravens over Broncos

Chiefs over 49ers

Jaguars over Titans

Raiders over Dolphins

Vikings over Bills

Giants over Texans

Saints over Falcons

Packers over Redskins

Panthers over Bengals

Eagles over Colts

NFL Week 2 Predictions

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I’m back in the saddle for an exciting Week 2 in the NFL. From checking in on some surprise Week 1 performances to a rivalry renewed on Sunday Night between Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott, we have an awesome day of football ahead. If you haven’t already, go check out my 2018 NFL Predictions to see what’s in store for the rest of the season. For now, let’s take a look at what to expect this weekend.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

I didn’t like much about what these teams offered in Week 1, but consider the rust knocked off. The game will be decided when the Falcons offense goes against a hard-nosed Carolina defense. I don’t see the Panthers putting up more than a couple touchdowns with their one-dimensional attack, so even if the Falcons don’t explode without Devonta Freeman, it should be juuuuust enough. Falcons win 21-20.

Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills

The Bills’ opening day starter barely got past halftime before getting pulled. The Chargers had a tough matchup in Week 1 and are in need of bouncing back. It’s another game where both teams are looking for something to build off of moving forward, and I think the Chargers have way too much talent to lose, even with a cross-country flight to shake off. Chargers win 24-10.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is still a question mark for this game and the Packers need him to have a shot. If he doesn’t play, the Vikings are going to torch Green Bay in Lambeau. With him, we have a great rivalry game, but I still lean towards the Vikings. Kirk Cousins fits like a glove in his new offense, and the Vikings’ corners can cover Green Bay man-to-man. I’ll predict as if Rodgers plays: Vikings win 31-21.

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans

I’m not too high on either of these teams, so this one could go either way. However, with Marcus Mariota nursing an elbow injury and one of his main targets in Delanie Walker already out for the season, I think the Texans’ stout defense can shut the Titans down. This will also be a good test for Deshaun Watson to see if he’s back in his stellar rookie-year form. Texans win 28-13.

Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Chiefs just pounded their rival Los Angeles Chargers to kick off their season while the Steelers survived six turnovers to get an arguably undeserving half-win. Now the stakes ramp up as another rivalry game pits KC against the team that continually ends their Super Bowl hopes in early January. Does a rookie quarterback understand the bad blood between these recent division conquerors? Steelers win 24-21.

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints

The Browns are going to be alright this year. It’s hard to say after an opening week tie with Pittsburgh, as they always play each other closely, but even after the drubbing they’re about to suffer in the Superdome, Cleveland will get some wins this season. That said, if New Orleans starts their season 0-2 with losses to the Buccaneers and the Browns, their season is just about over. Coach Sean Payton won’t have that. Saints win 31-14.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets

Don’t be fooled – Sam Darnold did not have a good game against the Lions. I know you heard about his first career NFL pass attempt, but after that he absolutely did NOT settle in. While his defense crushed Matthew Stafford, Darnold was pretty neutral with only 198 yards and two scores. Normally, that’s not going to be enough to win a football game. However, when it’s Miami, it could be again. Jets win 17-13.

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ryan Fitzpatrick is an underrated quarterback. I’m not saying he’s going to take the Bucs anywhere… I don’t even know if he has the starting job… but he threw a hell of a game against the Saints. He will not do that against the Eagles. While they aren’t the flashiest bunch, they get the job done week in and week out on both sides of the ball. Philly rolls in Tampa. Eagles win 38-14.

Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins

An impressive D.C. debut for Alex Smith has the Redskins looking realllly good. Andrew Luck didn’t do too badly in his first game back for Indianapolis either, but some tough luck (no pun intended) on the final drive cost them in the end. This will be a battle, but I’m riding ‘Big Mo’ and taking the ‘Skins. Redskins win 17-14.

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams

The usually scary Cardinals defense was cut to ribbons by Alex Smith last week, and the Rams can do the same. Jared Goff isn’t nearly as imposing as Smith, but the diversity of threats could keep Arizona on their heels. Furthermore, the Rams have a scary pass rush, a battering ram, if you will, in Aaron Donald, and they have their eyes downfield for a historic season. Rams win 27-15.

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers.

Matthew Stafford had to be feeling the heat when his backup was cheered following Stafford’s departure from Detroit’s own home opener. It turns out the Jets do their homework, and I’ll bet San Francisco saw some film too. Jimmy Garoppolo is coming off his first NFL defeat since his debut three years ago, so it will be interesting to see how he responds in what should be an old-fashioned shootout. Lions win 35-27.

Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos

Jon Gruden definitely didn’t have the return he was hoping for, but today’s a new day in the Mile High City. The Raiders will surely look to air it out and give Lynch some slip screens to beat a dangerous Denver blitz. With the question marks still surrounding the future of the Broncos, I look for Oakland to find their feet first. Raiders win 28-13.

New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars

All eyes in the afternoon should be on this AFC Championship rematch. This is going to be packed with strategy and every play is going to mean something. The Jaguars’ defense had New England on the ropes last year, and they look to go 2-0 when they’re in front of their home fans for the first time this season. But not so fast- the Pats have Tom Brady. He came from behind to win last year and the Patriots look as good as ever. I’m excited for this one. Patriots win 17-10.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

The classic Sunday Night Football matchup returns early as division foes come together following close losses. I love that Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott meets Penn State’s Saquon Barkley again in a rivalry of arguably similar stakes. Even if one team falls to 0-2, it’ll be fun to watch two electric offenses go at it. Giants win 28-20.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears

The Seahawks limp into Chicago after a disappointing Week 1 defeat to the Broncos. Russell Wilson struggled against Denver, and Chicago’s defense won’t be any easier. Luckily, the offense is so bad it might not matter. Monday Night Football will be fun for fans who want to see some grind-it-out football. Seahawks win 14-13.

2018 NFL Predictions

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Week 1 is in the bag and the anticipation for this NFL season is boiling over across the country. The best thing about an underdog winning the Super Bowl last February is that everyone has a different opinion on who’s taking the Lombardi Trophy this year. With football already underway, there’s no time to waste as I throw my two cents out there. Let’s take a look at my predictions for the 2018 NFL season.

AFC EAST

  1. New England Patriots (#1 seed)
  2. Miami Dolphins
  3. Buffalo Bills
  4. New York Jets

This is the easiest division winner out of all of them. The Patriots have only missed out on the AFC East crown once since 2003, and they have made seven straight AFC Championship Game appearances. I have no reason to expect anything different from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady this year.

Elsewhere, no one is taking any steps to threaten New England’s reign. The Dolphins are the same old average 8-8 team, the Bills traded away not one but two starting quarterbacks (the one they went with barely got past halftime before getting pulled), and the Jets are going to run Sam Darnold into the ground by starting him way too early. With that, I see the Patriots getting close to another perfect season, but ultimately getting upset a couple times to finish a league-best 14-2.

AFC NORTH

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (#2 Seed)
  2. Baltimore Ravens
  3. Cleveland Browns
  4. Cincinnati Bengals

Another easy choice for me is seeing Pittsburgh three-peat as AFC North champions. As the rest of the division apart from Cleveland failed to make any improvements, the Steelers just need to take care of business against their rivals in order to lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs.

I’m sure the Ravens will have a similarly tough defense as in years past, even without names like Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs in the secondary. I see them making a push for the postseason, but when you play as physical as Baltimore, you’re prone to some injuries and emotional loses. So, I have them falling just one game short of the Wild Card Round.

The Bengals are about the same as last year as well, with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Joe Mixon forming their offensive trio. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee any success a long as Marvin Lewis is still at the helm allowing his team to be among the most undisciplined in the NFL.

I’m believing in the Browns this year. Now I’m not saying they’ll make the playoffs or even hit .500, but I’ve got them at six or seven wins to officially mark the turnaround of the franchise. I love their new-look offense behind Todd Haley, and their defense has been top-15 in the NFL in years past, even with a 1-32 record. Don’t get too excited, but here comes Cleveland.

AFC SOUTH

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars (#4 seed)
  2. Indianapolis Colts
  3. Houston Texans
  4. Tennessee Titans

There is a lot of parity in the AFC South which makes for a lot of meaningful Sundays throughout the regular season. I’ve gone with the defending Division Champions again, if only by means of a head-to-head tiebreaker. The Jags’ defense aims to be as stout as last year, and even with a young offense, some fearless attacks can pay dividends.

Just behind the Jaguars I have the Colts and the Texans with returning quarterbacks. The Texans have one of the most imposing defenses in the NFL, but I’ve put them in third for fear of a sophomore slump from Deshaun Watson. I hope not, but I see another Robert Griffin III situation where he has had a tremendous rookie season, but an ACL tear last year could derail this season and hurt his confidence for the remainder of his career. Worse, it’s now his second torn ACL in the last three years, so durability could be an issue anyway.

With that, even with Andrew Luck also recovering from injury for Indianapolis, I trust his veteran leadership and knowledge to dissect Houston in big games and come close to a Wild Card spot in January. I was a believer in the Titans last year and they put up a strong showing in the playoffs, but I’m just not excited about anyone on that roster anymore. Especially with the luxury of knowing about a few injuries yesterday, I’m a little more comfortable pegging them at 6-10 and a tough-luck last place this year.

AFC WEST

  1. Los Angeles Chargers (#3 seed)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (#5 seed)
  3. Oakland Raiders (#6 seed)
  4. Denver Broncos

The Chargers haven’t won the AFC West since 2009, and this year they have as good a chance as ever. Even with stiff competition across the division, the Chargers look strong with a veteran quarterback, an extremely athletic running back, and an underrated but talented receiving core. Furthermore, a physical defensive line and quick set of defensive backs gets me excited to see L.A. play.

With the Broncos unable to address any of their offseason concerns, it’s pretty easy for me to put them towards the bottom of the entire AFC, even with a competitive defense. The issue is that the Chiefs and Raiders can flat-out score. Derek Carr has a cannon, and he’s a hard guy to bring down when he’s healthy. Without Michael Crabtree the offense could struggle at first, but they’re definitely in the playoff picture towards the season’s end.

I’m really not a fan of Patrick Mahomes yet. Longtime readers may recall my displeasure with the trade for the Texas Tech product when a much more talented Deshaun Watson was still on the board. However, he has every weapon he could ask for with Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill surrounding him. Even if he falls short as a leader of this group, a hungry defense should always keep Kansas City in tight ball games. With that, and a hostile crowd in Arrowhead Stadium, it’s just enough for the Chiefs to sneak into the playoffs again.

 

NFC EAST

  1. New York Giants (#3 seed)
  2. Philadelphia Eagles (#5 seed)
  3. Washington Redskins
  4. Dallas Cowboys

My bold prediction of the year: The Giants go from worst to first in the NFC East. Riddled by injuries last year, the Giants managed just three wins and were rewarded with a gifted Saquon Barkley. Not only is he a perfect fit in the Giants’ system, he takes some pressure away from franchise quarterback Eli Manning. Now with a fully-healthy receiving core and an consistent above-average defense, I am undeterred by an opening week loss to the Jaguars. The Giants win the NFC East. You heard it here first.

Of course, the defending World Champions get the short side of the stick with that prediction, but I see them having another strong season and drawing a relatively favorable matchup on the road in the Wild Card Round. I’m rarely a fan of repeat champions, especially when a team wins their first title like the Eagles did. A lack of hunger and drive, in addition to some injuries before the season has even started, results in a small step back for the time being.

Besides the fact that the Redskins can’t catch a break with the injury bug, I think Alex Smith can reel in a couple more W’s for the District. Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson are a strong duo that compliment each other, and Smith spreads the field very well. If the defense is half as strong as it was last year, the ‘Skins should be heading in the right direction.

The Cowboys won’t be terrible this year, but after winning the NFC Conference regular-season title two years ago, Dallas was quickly ousted by the Packers after a disappointing 9-7 season. Granted, now that the off-the-field issues are out of the way, the Cowboys could do better without distractions, but again, I see a lack of hunger that results in a sub .500 campaign.

NFC NORTH

  1. Minnesota Vikings (#1 seed)
  2. Green Bay Packers
  3. Chicago Bears
  4. Detroit Lions

I’m a huge fan of the Vikings this year. They filled a huge hole with a stable contract of Kirk Cousins behind the center, and the athletic Dalvin Cook returns to provide more depth in the backfield. So, what was already a high-powered offense just became even more lethal. Not to mention, the duo of Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith lead a highly-touted Minnesota defense. It’s another tough division, but I have the Vikings on top by two or three games.

It’s tough for me to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers out of the playoffs for the second straight year, but only six teams can make it from the NFC. I don’t have any complaints apart from their unproven secondary, but even that isn’t a hurdle Rodgers can’t match touchdown-for-touchdown. I guess it comes down to how much one man can do for a city.

I LOVE the Bears this year, but there is just one problem: Mitchell Trubisky. Again, you may recall my disdain for this pick in 2017, and I stand by it. Their defense is among the toughest (and most disciplined) in the NFL by tradition, and the offense is reloaded around their “future” quarterback. It’s just too bad that Trubisky hasn’t won a truly meaningful game in his life since high school. Sunday night proved it, as he watched Chicago blow a 20-0 lead and failed twice in his two-minute drill to simply get a field goal. Trubisky is a liability and until he is out as the Bears QB, they will not win big games.

NFC SOUTH

  1. Atlanta Falcons (#4 seed)
  2. New Orleans Saints (#6 seed)
  3. Carolina Panthers
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is another hard division for me to predict, not only because the top three teams are so evenly matched (Sorry Tampa Bay, after last year you’re dead to me), but because they have each taken three of the last nine division titles, often as a preseason underdog pick.

I’ve decided to go back to the well with the Falcons. Their lethal offense is well documented, and their athletic corners should hang with other elite receivers in the NFC South. The Saints will give them the most competition, as Brees is sure to be among the League’s best in passing yards again. That leaves the Panthers who are again a huge question mark. Are they more like the NFC Champions from 2016, or the massive disappointment of 2017? I presume the latter.

NFC WEST

  1. Los Angeles Rams (#2 seed)
  2. Seattle Seahawks
  3. San Francisco 49ers
  4. Arizona Cardinals

We end in the NFC West where the youthful Rams have come out of nowhere to take a stranglehold on the division. Jared Goff isn’t anything special, but he is smart. His talented receivers are incredibly hard to stop due to their height and soft hands. Aaron Donald scored a huge contract on the defensive line and he looks to prove that he’s worth it, while Todd Gurley continues to dominate the run game. Look forward to another great year for L.A.

The Seahawks are another tough team to leave out, but they’ve lost some pieces in their secondary, Russell Wilson’s receivers are already banged up, and their are still question marks in their backfield. That’s not a recipe for success in Seattle. The 49ers are going to be much different with Jimmy Garoppolo behind the center, but they can only turn so much around. The problems are that the defense is still sketchy, the receivers are good when they want to be, but I can’t rely on them week in and week out, they lost Carlos Hyde, and an injury to Jerrick McKinnon has them on the off foot to start the season, too. It won’t be a total loss, but the rebuild will take more than just one season.

Playoff Predictions

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AFC Wild Card 

(6) Oakland Raiders at (3) Los Angeles Chargers – Both teams can move the ball well, but L.A.’s defense is significantly better. Chargers advance 35-24.

(5) Kansas City Chiefs at (4) Jacksonville Jaguars – Complete opposite from above. I don’t trust either quarterback, but both defenses are going to make this one a slugfest. Jaguars survive 16-14.

NFC Wild Card

(6) New Orleans Saints at (3) New York Giants – Assuming they are healthy at this point, the Giants can handle the Saints’ attack, and put up points of their own, but New Orleans is just too good down the stretch. Saints march on, 31-24.

(5) Philadelphia Eagles at (4) Atlanta Falcons – Easily the most anticipated matchup of the first round, a rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional clash that saw Philadelphia move towards Minnesota. Falcons are hungrier, win 27-17.

AFC Divisional Round

(3) Los Angeles Chargers at (2) Pittsburgh Steelers – These teams will meet in 13 in what what should be an exciting preview of this one. They match up well together, but Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have the experience to move on. Steelers coast 34-20.

(4) Jacksonville Jaguars at (1) New England Patriots – Another thrilling rematch that saw David nearly take down Goliath. in the AFC Championship last year. Patriots should be ready again. Goliath triumphs 21-10.

 NFC Divisional Round

(6) New Orleans Saints at (2) Los Angeles Rams – In what is sure to be a classic in the Rose Bowl Coliseum, the game will be decided by Drew Brees’ arm against the Rams’ pass rush. Rams escape 30-28.

(4) Atlanta Falcons at (1) Minnesota Vikings – Two mighty offenses meet in Minnesota for an exciting battle of the League’s best. The difference is the Vikings equally elite defense. Vikings win the shootout 42-38.

 

AFC Championship Game – (2) Pittsburgh Steelers at (1) New England Patriots – It’s the  classic meeting between big brother and little brother once again. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, this one again goes to big brother. Patriots move on 24-17.

NFC Championship Game – (2) Los Angeles Rams at (1) Minnesota Vikings – It might not work out this way, but since I seeded my teams based on how good I thought think they are, it makes sense to have a lot of chalk in the playoffs. So don’t be surprised that the Vikings win 28-21.

 

Super Bowl LIII Prediction: Vikings beat Patriots 35-24.