2016 MLB Preview

One of the most amazing things about professional baseball is its incredible parity.  In other sports, you can count on the same teams rising to the top virtually every year- the Spurs and whatever team LeBron plays for in basketball and the Packers and Patriots in the NFL- but that isn’t the case with baseball.  Last year’s World Series participants, the Royals and Mets, were teams that were branded as perennial strugglers as recent as three years ago; this year, they go into the season among the favorites.  The Red Sox missed the playoffs, something seemingly unacceptable for a team that has one of the largest payrolls in the game.  Both of those facts, and many others, make it plainly obvious that baseball is really, really hard to predict.  You never really know which teams will show up and be contenders and which ones will be pretenders.  This is my best shot at predicting the upcoming 2016 season:

 

NL

NL West

Giants (#3)

Diamondbacks

Dodgers

Padres

Rockies

The top three teams in this division all have legitimate shots at winning the division and making a run at a World Series title, and a good reason for that is each team’s pitching- the Giants will be spearheaded by their pitching trio of Madison Bumgarner and new signees Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, the D-Backs by major acquisitions Zach Greinke and Shelby Miller, and the Dodgers by ace lefty Clayton Kershaw and the phenomenal bullpen headlined by Kenley Jansen.  Each staff is pretty equal talent-wise, so the difference, I think, will come from the lineup.  The Giants, who have Buster Posey, Denard Span, and Hunter Pence to lean on, seem to have a more balanced rivals, and I feel that they’ll sneak into the playoffs as the division winner with the worst record in the NL.  The bottom two teams… well, there just aren’t a lot to them.  The Padres have James Shields and Matt Kemp, and while both are talented players, neither of them, nor anybody else in San Diego, are consistent enough to warrant putting them higher in the division.  The Rockies can boast of their two bona-fide stars, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez, but not much else- their pitching staff is nothing to write home about, especially in the thin air of Colorado, and that will make them one of the worst teams in the whole league despite the efforts of their stars.

 

NL Central

Cubs (#1)

Cardinals (#1 WC)

Pirates

Brewers

Reds

The Cubs have gotten a lot of publicity this offseason, and it has certainly been warranted- Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein filled the teams holes (2nd base, outfielder, 3rd starter, long reliever) about as perfectly as they could have, poaching Jason Heyward and John Lackey from their rivals down in St. Louis and making them the team to beat in this division.  However, despite the losses of two important players, you can’t count the Cards out- they performed unbelievably well last season, and that was without righty Adam Wainwright available to front the rotation.  His return, and the addition of Mike Leake, will allow the Cards to grab the first wild card spot with relative ease.  I feel bad leaving the Pirates out of the playoffs, because Andrew McCutchen is phenomenal and Francisco Liriano has been wowing me since he was fanning countless White Sox as a member of the Twins, but I just don’t think that the rest of their lineup is good enough to carry them to the playoffs.  At the bottom, both the Brewers and the Reds have lineups that feature some good players- Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Bruan for Milwaukee, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce for Cincy- but both teams’ pitching staffs are not that good, Cincinnati’s especially so.  They’ll both land top-ten picks in the 2017 draft.

 

NL East

Mets (#2)

Nationals (#2 WC)

Marlins

Braves

Phillies

The Mets were somewhat of a surprise last year, but they won’t be creeping up on anybody this year- with a new middle infield featuring Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, plus full years from Yoenis Cespedes and Matt Harvey, they might be even better on paper than they were during last year’s World Series run.  That’s not to say that Washington won’t try to make things interesting again, though- with veteran manager Dusty Baker at the helm and megastar Bryce Harper leading the way, the Nats will force their way into the playoffs, where they should have been last season.  If everything goes right for Miami, there’s a chance that Don Mattingly and co. can sneak their way into a wild card spot, but the back end of the Marlins’ rotation just doesn’t do it for me, and I think they’ll start to fade right before the trading deadline.  As for the Braves and Phillies, Atlanta have two solid pieces to build around in Freddie Freeman and Julio Tehran, while the Phils are looking to rebuild with prospects acquired through trades and the draft.  That’s really all there is to say- these two team will be whipping posts for the division’s elite.

 

AL

AL West

Astros (#3)

Rangers (#2 WC)

Mariners

Angels

Athletics

This division always manages to confound me- the Astros, who were perennial doormats for years, weren’t supposed to do much last year, and the Mariners, with their addition of Nelson Cruz, were.  Now, the ‘Stros, led by their young core of Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, look to be legit playoff contenders for years to come.  Coming in behind them will be the Rangers, who will offset the fact that Yu Darvish is on the DL to start the season by getting a full season from Cole Hamels, which will allow Texas to make the playoffs as a wild card team for the second straight season.  The Mariners have some extremely talented players- Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and the previously mentioned Cruz are just a few, but as a whole, the team lacks consistency, and the back end of their rotation isn’t very good.  They’ll be in the race for a wild card spot for a while, but just don’t have enough to get over the hump.  The Angels have the lineup of a playoff team, but their pitching staff beyond Garrett Richards just doesn’t do it for me- I think they’ll struggle to get outs, and therefore struggle to make the final 10.  Oakland has an odd team- if everybody could exceed their potential, they could make some noise in the playoff race, but beyond Sonny Gray, it just doesn’t seem like anyone is capable of doing that.  The A’s will continue to rebuild and snag a top-5 pick.

 

AL Central

Royals (#2)

Tigers (#1 WC)

White Sox

Indians

Twins

I think that this is the toughest division in baseball- it is one of two divisions, along with the AL East, in which every team has a decent shot at the playoffs, and there’s no one team that’s enormously better than another.  The defending champs managed to keep an important piece of their core by re-signing Alex Gordon and have an extremely deep pitching staff that will allow them to pull away from the rest of the pack.  The back end of Detroit’s rotation is a little bit unstable, but owner Mike Illitch spent some major dollars to acquire a great pitcher in Jordan Zimmermann and a powerful outfielder in Justin Upton that should help Detroit recover from last season’s abominable season.  My beloved White Sox are good enough to be in the thick of the playoff race, I just don’t think that they’ll get enough from their outfield offensively, and I’m worried that the drop-off that the rotation suffered last year is a sign that maybe it doesn’t quite have the balance that it should, so I think they’ll miss out (for more on the Sox, please click here).  I picked the Indians to win the division last year, and think that their top three pitchers are the best trio in the division, but just can’t see them getting enough production from their lineup to get them into the playoff conversation.  The Twins had a good record last year, but many stats showed that they got very, very lucky, very, very often.  They have some good players, but no real boppers in their lineup, and their pitching staff just doesn’t impress me- I think they’ll fall back to earth this season.

 

AL East

Blue Jays (#1)

Red Sox

Rays

Orioles

Yankees

Losing David Price to a division rival certainly won’t help the Blue Jays, but full seasons of Marcus Stroman and Troy Tulowitzki definitely will.  The back end of the rotation makes me a little bit nervous, but I think that the team has a lineup that is just so unbelievably loaded that it can be made up for easily; so easily, in fact, that I think they’ll be the AL’s #1 seed.  Price moving to Boston was a big signing for the organization, but I feel that the performance of last year’s rotation, sans Eduardo Rodriguez, was closer to being the norm than it was an aberration, and that the offense relies just a tad too much on a 40 year-old David Ortiz to be considered a playoff team.  Tampa Bay seems to have a fantastic rotation and a vastly underrated bullpen, but lineup anchor is in the middle of a slow, steady decline, and there’s really nobody else in the order that really stands out.  The Orioles are going all-in with the signings of Yovani Gallardo and Pedro Alvarez, and while I think that the Orioles will score a lot of runs with their power this season, beyond Gallardo, I’m not all that impressed with any of the Baltimore pitchers, and I think they’ll struggle, just like they did last season.  As for the Yankees, the pitching staff seems to either be inconsistent or in disarray, and I don’t think that many of the aging core they count on to provide offense will have seasons as productive as they did last year; those things will see the Yanks fall from a wild card spot last year to a top-10 pick this year.

 

 

Awards

NL

NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Even though I don’t though I don’t think that the D-Backs will be making the playoffs this season, I think Goldschmidt will pick up some well-deserved hardware- he’s been arguably the best player not named Mike Trout over the past three seasons, and now that he’ll finally be a member of a contending team, he’ll be recognized for his efforts.

 

NL Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner, Giants

Two starters were signed to take some of the pressure off of MadBum, and I think that’ll do wonders for his stats.  The lanky lefty will have to battle his division rivals, Greinke and Kershaw, for the award, but will ultimately prevail to win his first Cy Young.

 

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Dodgers

Seager is heavily favored to win the NL ROY award, and with good reason- the brother of Mariner’s third baseman Kyle Seager is a freak athlete that is good both at the bat and in the field.  Should be an easy victory.

 

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

The St. Louis ace suffered a gruesome injury last spring while running out of the batter’s box, and if he were healthy all season, the Cards might have performed better in the playoffs.  He’s won 20 and 19 games, respectively, his last two full seasons, and I expect him to approach those totals again this season.

 

NL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Cubs

It’s one thing to have unbelievably high expectations, as the Cubs do this season, and another thing to meet them; I feel that Maddon’s wacky yet easygoing personality will be a perfect foil to said expectations and will win him the award over a former Cub skipper, Dusty Baker.

 

NL Best Offseason Acquisition: Zach Greinke, Diamondbacks

Seeing Greinke leave what seemed like a potentially powerful Dodgers team for an underachieving Diamondbacks one seemed baffling at first, but now, I feel the deal is a win-win: Greinke gets the last massive contract of his unbelievable career, and Arizona gets a bona fide ace for many years to come.

 

NL Worst Offseason Acquisition: Ben Zobrist, Cubs

This isn’t to say that Zobrist isn’t a very talented player that fits Joe Maddon’s ideal vision of a player- a patient hitter that is adept in multiple positions- because he is all of those things.  I just feel that paying $56 million for a 35 year-old guy that doesn’t play a premium position is a little much, even for a team as rich as the North Siders.

 

AL

AL MVP: Carlos Correa, Astros

Last year the young shortstop showed that he is capable of carrying a team to the playoffs.  Even though pitchers will now have had a year to figure out his weaknesses, I think that the talented youngster will continue to improve, eventually beating out fellow shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and a resurgent Miguel Cabrera for the MVP.

 

AL Cy Young: Cole Hamels, Rangers

This was a toughie, since guys like Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, and Chris Archer are all studs that might not warrant any conversation in the Cy Young award race.  The transition that the former Phillie made to the Junior Circuit last season was nothing short of amazing, and I think that Hamels will continue to be a top-flight performer in his first full season in Texas.

 

AL Rookie of the Year: Byron Buxton, Twins

Buxton is an absolute animal that has the athletic ability to fit in playing any sport, and his closest competitor for the award, teammate and former Korean League star Byung Ho Park, will take some time to adjust to major league pitching.

 

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Cobb, Rays

Cobb was slated to be the ace of last year’s Rays team before ending up having Tommy John surgery.  With Chris Archer around to take some of the pressure off of the lefty, I think that Cobb bounces back and has a career-year and keeps the Rays in playoff contention through late September.

 

AL Manager of the Year: Brad Ausmus, Tigers

The Tigers were a high-priced flop last season, and that put Ausmus under a lot of fire from many media members.  Even though I don’t think too highly of Detroit’s moves this offseason, I feel that the success of the Tigers, in the face of last year’s disappointing finish, will win Ausmus his plaudits.

 

AL Best Offseason Acquisition: David Price, Red Sox

I feel that Dave Dombrowski overpaid a tad for the star lefty, but he gives the team a true number one, something that their unstable rotation sorely lacked last season.  Price has been nothing if not consistent, and will almost certainly bring that consistency to Boston.

 

AL Worst Offseason Acquisition: Ryan Madson, Athletics

A lot of the big money that was thrown around this off season was distributed by National League teams, and there weren’t any really glaringly bad moves in the AL.  The A’s addition of Madson, though, seems to make very little sense- a budget-conscious, non-contending team handing out $22 million to a 35 year-old reliever is very out of Billy Beane and company’s wheelhouse.

 

 

Playoffs

NL

Wildcard

Cardinals over Nationals

The quality of this game shows how talented the NL’s elite are this year- the traditionally powerful Cards matching up against the Bryce Harper-led Nats.  Adam Wainwright outduels Max Scherzer, and a 3-run Matt Holiday homer pushes St. Louis on.

 

Division Series

Cubs over Cardinals

The Cubs had a fairly easy time with the Cards in last year’s NLDS, which made sense, considering how hot the Cubbies were and how banged up Mike Matheny’s squad was.  Both teams have improved this offseason, and while having a full team at his disposal will certainly help Matheny, I think the Cubs just have too much talent.  They move on.

 

Giants over Mets

Both of these teams have pitching staffs that are good enough to allow them to reach this point.  In a bummer for the Mets, though, the Giants not having to play in the Wild Card game means that Madison Bumgarner can make two starts, and I just don’t think that New York can do enough to overcome him to prevail in this series.  The G-Men move on to keep the even-year theory alive.

 

Championship Series

Cubs over Giants

Watching Jake Arrieta square off against MadBum will be one of the best pitching duels in the past decade of playoff baseball, and while the Giants may be more playoff-tested than the young Cubs, I just think that the Lovable Losers have a more powerful, and more consistent offense then San Fran does.  Chicago moves on.

 

 

AL

Wildcard

Tigers over Rangers

I’m a big Jordan Zimmermann fan- in fact, I predicted that he would win the Cy Young award last season- and even though the Tigers’ righty-heavy lineup will be ideal for Rangers star Yu Darvish to exploit, I think that the former Nationals starter will shut down Texas, and that Detroit’s slugging trio- Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, and JD Martinez- will find a way to power the Tigers to the ALDS.

 

Division Series

Blue Jays over Tigers

The problem for Detroit will be that, after Zimmermann, they don’t really have anybody to count on in their rotation.  Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez are both obviously on the downturn of their careers, and the Mike Pelfrey/Daniel Norris duo won’t intimidate the powerful Blue Jays.  Toronto advances to their second straight ALCS.

 

Royals over Astros

A rematch of last year’s highly entertaining LDS, in which Houston went up 2-1 in the series before losing the next two games, will surely bring some more excitement this year.  Even though Houston has gotten better after adding Doug Fister and Ken Giles, I just feel that the Royals have enough magic left in them to overcome the young ‘Stros.

 

Championship Series

Blue Jays over Royals

As good, and as pesky, as the Royals are, the Jays will want revenge for last year’s ALCS.  While the Jays have lost David Price, I think that the Royals replacing Greg Holland and Ryan Madson with Joakim Soria, Johnny Cueto with Ian Kennedy, and losing Ben Zobrist to free agency are far bigger hurdles to overcome than losing Price.  The Jays will advance after an entertaining series.

 

World Series

Blue Jays over Cubs

Part of me want my hometown Cubs to break their seemingly never-ending World Series drought this year.  The White Sox fan in me wants that drought to extend one more year.  Regardless of whatever I’m feeling, I think that it’s pretty clear that while the Cubs may have the more well-known, and well paid, players, that the Jays are a better team.  This one won’t end in a walk-off, but it will certainly be a dramatic, back-and-forth series that Toronto and Series MVP Jose Bautista take in 6 games.

2016 NCAA Tournament Preview

To say that the NCAA men’s basketball regular season was unpredictable might be a drastic understatement.  The top ten teams in the country lost a combined 83 games, and the top four seeds have lost a combined 23 games; both of those are the most in history.  Basically, there hasn’t been one major power that has separated itself from the rest.  Conference tournaments saw many teams that underwhelmed during the regular season crash the Dance, and they come in hungry to continue their unlikely run towards a national championship.  The unpredictability will surely make for a very intriguing tournament- here’s how I think it’ll play out:

 

South Region

First Round

#1 Kansas def. #16 Austin Peay

The number one overall seed will not lose in the first round.  Moving on.

 

#9 Connecticut def. #8 Colorado

Colorado has looked like a team on the verge of breaking through to top-tier contender status for the past few years, and this season was no exception- they have a great post player in senior Josh Scott, and the team as a whole is filled with solid defenders and rebounders.  However, the Pac 12 wasn’t really filled with great teams this year, and there were quite a few games when the Buffalos played down to their competition.  UConn is less talented then the Buffs, but they are riding momentum after their win in the American conference tournament.  Kevin Ollie’s Huskies advance.

 

#5 Maryland def. #12 South Carolina State

I’ve thought that Maryland was the frontrunner for the national championship since Day 1, but the end of the season wasn’t good to the Terrapins, and star recruit Diamond Stone did not exactly live up to expectations.  But Stone on an off day can still be a force to be reckoned with, and the presence of veteran guards Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon will stabilize the team and allow them to fend off an upset bid from SCSU.  Mark Turgeon and co. move on.

 

#4 California def. #13 Hawaii

California is an extremely frustrating team- Cuonzo Martin’s skills at recruiting brought in young athletes that are extremely talented, athletes that could eventually be NBA regulars- but because of their youth and inexperience, they have been inconsistent.  Hawaii is a team that seems like it could be a perfect foil to the Golden Bears- they are a cohesive unit that is good enough on defense to limit their opponents’ scoring ability and athletic enough to keep pace with them- but I think that Cal’s talent will just be too much for them to overcome.

 

#6 Arizona def. #11 Wichita State

This was such a difficult game for me to pick- Ron Baker and Fred Van Fleet form one of the best and most experienced guard tandems in the country, and Coach Gregg Marshall is definitely going to have a plan to slow down the Wildcats.  But Sean Miller’s team are dangerous, especially as a team that feels that its talent warrants a higher seed.  This one will be incredibly entertaining, and I think that Miller’s veterans from past teams, along with freshman stud Allonzo Trier, will do enough to push past the Shockers.

 

#3 Miami (Florida) def. #14 Buffalo

The Bulls did well, making it to the tournament for the second straight season despite the departure of Coach Bobby Hurley.  However, they got a bad matchup in Miami- Jim Larranaga’s team is loaded with top-notch talent from top to bottom, as evidenced by their high finish in the extremely competitive ACC, and I just don’t think that anything that Buffalo could throw at the Hurricanes would slow them down enough to pick up an upset.  Miami wins, with ease.

 

#7 Iowa def. #10 Temple

Iowa’s season virtually mirrored the season that its football team had- both teams started the season on fire, contrary to the expectations that many people had for the teams.  Then, as the season drew to a close, both teams fought with dignity, but seemed to slump from their early season high.  Jared Uthoff and his teammates could have been as high as a two seed, but lost a couple of late season games they should have won, including a Big Ten tournament loss to Illinois.  However, now that they’re out of conference play, where their tram didn’t match up well with many of their opponents, Iowa has a chance to find its groove, and they start their quest to make a run through the tournament with a win over a solid, but slightly less talented Temple team.

 

#2 Villanova def. #15 UNC Asheville

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Villanova- they seem to be a far better regular season team than they are a tournament team.  However, I feel like this year’s team has been relatively consistent throughout the season, and that will make all the difference against a UNC Asheville team that will be ready to try and make the Wildcats’ tourney struggles continue.  Jay Wright’s team breezes into the next round.

 

Second Round

#1 Kansas def. #8 Connecticut

In the last round, Connecticut will have been able to get by Colorado due to some March Magic, but the magic will run out pretty quickly for the Huskies- Kansas is better and deeper at every position, and it isn’t really all that close, either.  The Jayhawks dominate and make their way to the Sweet 16.

 

#5 Maryland def. #4 California

An intriguing battle between two exceedingly talented teams that may have fallen a little short of expectations.  There aren’t many upperclassmen in this matchup, but the two that could have the biggest impact on this game both happen to play for Maryland.  As with the last game, Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon lead their team on to the next round.

 

#6 Arizona def. #3 Miami (Florida)

As I said before, I think that Sean Miller’s team can be dangerous because of their lower seeding- it relieves pressure and allows them to try to utilize their explosiveness.  Miami is an extremely good team, and I think that if they met anyone else in their region in this game I would pick them to advance, but I can’t shake the fact that Miami has never really been deep in the tournament before, and that Miller, and the other Wildcat vets, have.  Arizona in a shootout.

 

#2 Villanova def. #7 Iowa

This is a toughie.  It would have been a close game in favor of the Hawkeyes if they were in-form, because ‘Nova’s tough guards would be able to counteract the interior presence of Jared Uthoff and his gang well enough to keep it close.  However, the Big Ten team ended the season in a relative slump, and Villanova played well enough to warrant consideration as a number one seed.  The Wildcats advance.

 

Sweet 16

#5 Maryland def. #1 Kansas

My loyalty to Maryland really shines bright in this game- the Terps have been relatively consistent all year, and the Jayhawks have been good enough to survive adversity in the Big 12 and use their amazing streak of conference domination as a springboard to the number one overall seed.  However, I think that they’ve only really been tested in one game this season- their triple-overtime victory over rival Oklahoma- and in that game, they only had to worry about containing one offensive weapon.  Maryland has two formidable threats in Stone and Trimble, and they are the two reasons I see Mark Turgeon’s team eliminating the top team.

 

#2 Villanova def. #6 Arizona

Both of these schools will be playing with chips on their shoulders- they have both underachieved relative to the talent that each team has.  While Arizona has the big play ability to keep this game within reach, I think that ‘Nova just has a little bit more talent, and a little bit more grittiness, than ‘Zona does; that will allow them to inch ever closer to a Final Four bid.

 

Elite 8

#5 Maryland def. #2 Villanova

This is where I think the Wildcats’ valiant run to prove their detractors wrong finally ends.  Yes, Villanova has been far more consistent than the Terps this season, but I think that Maryland had to play a tougher, more competitive schedule than Villanova did, so I feel like they are more battle-tested for this game.  I also feel that Stone will be looking to prove he is the real deal on a national stage, and that Trimble and Suliamon will look to end their college careers at the summit.  The collective force of those three players will be enough to get Maryland into the Final Four.

 

 

West Region

First Round

#1 Oregon def. #16 Holy Cross

Bill Carmody’s Crusaders are absolutely on fire- they come into this game with four straight road wins in their conference tournament, including one over former Cinderella Lehigh, and a victory over Southern in Dayton.  Despite that, there’s a reason that they entered the tournament with the third-worst record in the history of the 64-team bracket, and a reason that the Ducks are a number one seed; Oregon advances.

 

#8 Saint Joseph’s def. #9 Cincinnati

The Bearcats make it to the tournament of every year through their hard work on the boards and on defense.  They also have an exceptional point guard in Troy Caupain, who could have single-handedly led Cincy to the American conference championship if it weren’t for the amazing luck that UConn always seems to get come March.  But Phil Martelli’s crew, led by potential prospect DeAndre Bembry, have an extremely efficient offense, and the team has been playing well as of late, defeating VCU in their own conference championship game.  Saint Joe’s moves on.

 

#12 Yale def. #5 Baylor

Both teams thrive off of offensive rebounding- especially Baylor, who are led by star forward Rico Gathers.  Despite Gathers’s talent, and the quality of the talent around him, Scott Drew’s men have shown a tendency to be streaky, and I think that against a team like Yale, who will look to conference rival Harvard’s blueprint for winning a first-round game in the Big Dance, that Baylor won’t be streaking in the right direction.  Justin Sears and co. pull off the upset.

 

#4 Duke def. #13 UNC Wilmington

The Blue Devils have a lot of holes, and teams better than the one Coach K has this year have lost to lower seeds earlier in the tournament.  Of course, the team does have the divisive Grayson Allen and Justice Winslow-lookalike Brandon Ingram, and despite the relative lack of talent compared to Duke teams of the past, this squad does have a lot of fight in it.  UNC Wilmington is a good team and will put up a good fight, but Duke will move on.

 

#6 Texas def. #11 Northern Iowa

Texas has exceeded expectations in their first year under head coach Shaka Smart, and has played similar to the way that Smart’s VCU played in their heyday- extremely fast paced, and extremely streaky.  The Longhorns have defeated both North Carolina and Oklahoma this season, but they also lost to TCU and were defeated in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.  Northern Iowa, who have been tournament darlings since their upset of Kansas, have been very good of late, winning 12 of their last 13 games, with two wins coming against Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State.  However, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor has the potential to allow the Longhorns to break this game open, and I believe that Smart will give him enough motivation to do so.  Texas advances.

 

#3 Texas A&M def. #14 Green Bay

It stings a little to watch Green Bay do so well after the departure of Brian Wardle, who used to star at my high school, but I have to admit that the Phoenix are a very high-octane, and high-scoring, offense.  However, Billy Kennedy’s Aggies, an experienced squad that gave Kentucky a run for their money in the SEC tournament final, are a good defensive team that should be able to at least somewhat harness the prolific Phoenix, and are also a good passing team that should be able to control the tempo and play the game at their own pace.  The Aggies move on for an in-state matchup.

 

#10 Virginia Commonwealth def. #7 Oregon State

Both teams have two extraordinary players- VCU’s Melvin Johnson is a fantastic shooter, and Oregon State’s Gary Payton II is one of the best two-way players in the country.  Both teams also live and die by the three, and because of that, have had somewhat tumultuous seasons.  I think that the Rams’ defense will do just enough, though, to prevent the Beavers from draining enough shots to beat them.  VCU moves on.

 

#2 Oklahoma def. #15 California State-Bakersfield

In a year that many top teams have bounced up and down the rankings like bouncy balls, Oklahoma has been one of the most consistent teams in the country, and its star, Wooden Award favorite Buddy Hield, has been truly unbelievable this season.  This Cal State-Bakersfield team has a lot to be proud of, though Hield’s talent alone will be enough to boost the Sooners to the next round.

 

Second Round

#1 Oregon def. #8 Saint Joseph’s

The Ducks and the Hawks both have extremely efficient offenses, and both teams come into the tournament on a relative hot streak.  It could come down to who can get the most out of their frontcourt, or even who happens to have more overall ability.  I think that Oregon, with versatile big man Chris Boucher, wins the front court, and I feel the Ducks have a greater variety of scoring options than St. Joe’s does.  The Ducks roll on.

 

#4 Duke def. #12 Yale

Even though Yale is a gritty team who has a major strength- rebounding- that is one of Duke’s major weaknesses, I don’t think that the Bulldogs will have an answer for the two Blue Devil stars.  Duke wins a fairly easy one.

 

#3 Texas A&M def. #6 Texas

As well as Shaka Smart has done with the Longhorns, the Aggies could be the cream of the crop coming from the SEC, and I feel that for all the pressure that Texas will try and put on its in-state counterparts, A&M has enough talent, and enough leadership, to deftly maneuver the press.  The Aggies advance.

 

#2 Oklahoma def. #10 Virginia Commonwealth

VCU has used its Havoc defense and exceptional shooting to upset some big-name schools in past tournament runs, and they’ll be looking to do the same against the Sooners.  However, Buddy Hield and his teammates have had a couple of very solid games against West Virginia, a team that, while not as aggressive as the Rams, have far more talent than them.  Oklahoma should be able to ease to victory.

 

Sweet 16

#1 Oregon def. #4 Duke

Duke has played in a lot more competitive games than Oregon has this season, and I feel that they are a lot more scrappy for it.  In order to knock off the Ducks, they’ll have to be-whereas the Blue Devils primarily revolve around two players, there are multiple guys that Dana Altman can count on to step up on any given night.  As tough as Coach K’s team is, I don’t think they have enough in them to contain all of Oregon’s weapons; the Ducks live to quack another day.

 

#2 Oklahoma def. #3 Texas A&M

A battle of former Big 12 foes will make for a very interesting game- they seem to be relatively equal to each other in every facet of the game, from passing to rebounding to transition defense.  The difference in this one, I believe, will be what has carried the Sooners to the heights that they have reached this year- Buddy Hield.  The superstar guard will allow his school to sneak by their rivals to the south and into the Elite Eight.

 

Elite 8

#2 Oklahoma def. #1 Oregon

Both teams are exceptional offensive teams that have multiple players who can be the focal point of their respective game plans.  Oregon has a frontcourt that can stretch the Sooners out a little bit, and Lon Kruger’s crew has a more explosive backcourt that can open up a big lead very quickly.  In the end, I think it will come down to toughness, and I think that the Sooners, who come from the ultra-competitive Big 12, will have more fight in them than the Ducks, which will allow them to prevail in a tightly-contested game.

 

 

East Region

First Round

#1 North Carolina def. #16 Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast managed a couple of giant killings in their last tournament appearances, but the teams that they defeated were nowhere near as solid as the team that Roy Williams is running out this season.  North Carolina wins with ease.

 

#9 Providence def. #8 Southern California

This is a game between teams with contrasting styles- Andy Enfield’s USC, a balanced squad that has six players who average double figures, and Providence, whose success has typically been determined by the type of game that Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil turn out each night.  In tournament play, when gameplay slows down and efficient teams typically take the cake, a team like USC would seem like a straightforward pick; that’s probably why they have a higher seed in this game.  However, in what could be his last game as a Friar, I think Dunn steps up, and that Bentil provides a great foil, allowing Providence to squeak by into the next round.

 

#12 Chattanooga def. #5 Indiana

I love Indiana- I think that Tom Crean is a fantastic coach, and that Yogi Ferrell is one of the three best point guards in the country.  However, I think that Chattanooga, one of the few mid-major teams that won their conference tournament as a number one seed, have enough cohesiveness to limit Ferrell’s effectiveness and prevent his up-and-down teammates from getting going.  The senior won’t go down without a fight, but I think Chattanooga advances.

 

#4 Kentucky def. #13 Stony Brook

Kentucky started the season slow and had a tough time coming together as a unit, but the team found their rhythm as the season went on, culminating in their recent victory in the SEC tournament.  Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the game, and even though this Kentucky team isn’t as loaded as its been in past years, they are still good enough to make a decent run in the tournament.  The Wildcats will move on.

 

#6 Notre Dame def. #11 Michigan

I must admit that I’m a little bit biased towards the Fighting Irish- I’ve been a fan of theirs for as long as I can remember.  However, Mike Brey’s squad has proven that they are capable of a deep run in the tournament- they came thisclose to knocking off a loaded Kentucky squad last season, and have an extremely efficient offense.  North Carolina showed the way to dominate the Irish- defend the perimeter and work from the inside-out on offense- and while Michigan has extremely talented perimeter players, I don’t think that the underrated duo of Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson are strong enough inside to eke out a victory over the Wolverines.

 

#3 West Virginia def. #14 Stephen F. Austin

West Virginia, along with Texas, is a big team that plays with the mentality of a little team.  They play outstanding defense and count on the depth of their team to keep the tempo up all game and wear out opponents.  That means bad news for the Lumberjacks, who might have been hoping for a team that was a little bit more susceptible to a giant-killing.  The Mountaineers will advance easily.

 

#7 Wisconsin def. #10 Pittsburgh

Early on in the year, it looked like both of these teams would struggle all season- Wisconsin under the burden of defending their Big Ten championship, and Pitt with the reality of playing in a conference with as much talent as the SEC.  However, both teams have managed to find their footing, and come into the tournament capable of winning a couple of games.  This match-up will be a tight one, but the sidekick to last year’s Frank Kaminsky show, Nigel Hayes, will carry his Badgers on to the next round.

 

#2 Xavier def. #15 Weber State

Weber State has a couple qualities that could allow them to topple the Musketeers- a star to rally around, Joel Bolomboy, and a lot of grit.  However, Xavier is capable of being tough when it needs to be and explosive when it senses weakness in its opponent.  This game might be closer than some expect, but eventually, I think Xavier will pull this one out.

 

Second Round

#1 North Carolina def. #9 Providence

There’s always a possibility that Kris Dunn puts up 40 points, Ben Bentil turns in a double-double, and the rest of Ed Cooley’s Friars pick up enough of the slack to squeak out a win against the Tar Heels.  That’s the only way that I can really see Providence moving on from this game, and despite my fondness for Dunn, I just can’t see it happening; North Carolina advances.

 

#4 Kentucky def. #12 Chattanooga

Yogi Ferrell is good, but he alone can’t hold a candle to Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray; Chattanooga won’t be able to contain both of the Wildcats’ elite guards, and Kentucky should breeze through to the Sweet 16.

 

#6 Notre Dame def. #3 West Virginia

West Virginia has an absolutely ferocious defense; Notre Dame has one of the country’s most efficient offenses.  West Virginia’s offense is either really good or really bad; Notre Dame’s defense is lackluster at best, but has been good enough to limit some good offensive teams.  So…  something has to give, right?  I think that the Mountaineer defense will try its very hardest to crack veteran guard Demetrius Jackson; if he plays well, the Irish win, and if he plays poor, Bob Huggins and company will win.  I think Jackson rises to the occasion.

 

#2 Xavier def. #7 Wisconsin

Both of these teams were among the top performers as the season came to a close, and are relatively similar in the fact that they don’t really stand out in the front or backcourt.  However, I feel that Xavier has been consistent for longer than the Badgers due to their superior talent, and that talent will propel the Musketeers to the Sweet 16.

 

Sweet 16

#1 North Carolina def. #4 Kentucky

This might be the dream Sweet 16 match-up, a game between two of the biggest powerhouses in men’s basketball history.  Ulis and Murray are superior to what the Tar Heels will run out at guard, but Brice Johnson and North Carolina’s frontcourt is arguably the tops in the country, as well.  I feel that the experience that UNC has in relation to the Wildcats will see Roy Williams’ squad move on to the Elite Eight.

 

#6 Notre Dame def. #2 Xavier

This will be a game between two teams with extremely efficient offenses and extremely inconsistent defenses.  I think that Xavier is slightly better in the paint, but Notre Dame is superior on the perimeter, and has had more experience making forays this deep into the tournament than Xavier’s core has.  This will be an exciting one that I think the Irish will pull out.

 

Elite 8

#1 North Carolina def. #6 Notre Dame

              These two teams have already squared off twice this season.  In their first matchup, back on February 6, the Fighting Irish upset the then-second ranked Tar Heels in South Bend, winning by 4.  In their most recent match-up, in the semifinal of the ACC tournament (on a neutral court, I might add), North Carolina shellacked the Irish, winning by 31, neutralizing the interior presence of Zach Auguste and playing tight perimeter defense to limit the Irish’s shooting effectiveness.  While I expect this game to be a little bit closer than the blowout UNC laid on Notre Dame a week ago, I still expect the Roy Williams’s team to win easily.

 

 

Midwest Region

First Round

#1 Virginia def. #16 Hampton

Hampton might be the best 16 seed in the tournament, but Virginia is a giant killer’s nightmare due to their ability to control possession.  Tony Bennett’s crew wins with ease.

 

#8 Texas Tech def. #9 Butler

Butler hasn’t been as impressive as it was when Gordon Heyward, Shelvin Mack, and Brad Stevens were hanging around campus, but they are still a very formidable team- led by Kelan Martin, the Bulldogs can put the ball in the hoop when they’re on their game; however, they seem to be nothing special on defense.  Texas Tech, which held its own in the always treacherous Big 12 thanks to Coach Tubby Smith’s patented defensive approach, has the ability to cause Butler to lose its rhythm, but aren’t overly talented with the ball.  As is the case in most postseason tournaments, the team with better defense will win out; the Red Raiders will go on.

 

#5 Purdue def. #12 Arkansas- Little Rock

Purdue wasn’t overly flashy this season- and they probably never will be under coach Matt Painter- but the Boilermakers impressed many as the season drew on, and they came into greater national prominence after their run to the final of the Big 10 tournament.  Boilermaker senior AJ Hammons leads a very large, and very strong, frontcourt; while Little Rock is a very good defensive team, and seems to have the toughness required to pull off a giant-killing, Purdue’s size will just be too much to overcome.  The Big Ten team advances.

 

#4 Iowa State def. #13 Iona

Both of these teams are fast paced, transition oriented squads with legit stars- Iona’s AJ English is an absolute baller; his ability to score would cause even the best defenses headaches, and his ability to pass keeps the amount of double teams he sees to a minimum, or else his teammates would be constantly left open for easy buckets.  ISU’s Georges Niang is coming to the conclusion of a career that will see him remembered as one of the best two-way players in the history of Cyclones basketball.  While English may be a slightly better players, Niang’s supporting cast is far superior to English’s, and will allow the Cyclones to grind out a tough win.

 

#6 Seton Hall def. #11 Gonzaga

Seton Hall really came on at the end of the season, winning the Big East tournament and showcasing the shifty star that is Isaiah Whitehead.  Even though Gonzaga has two unbelievable players in Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis and come into the tourney on a little run, the ‘Zags haven’t really been consistent all year, struggling in a West Coast Conference that only had one other true contender.  I feel like they fail to find a rhythm, and the Pirates capitalize on that to pull out a victory.

 

#3 Utah def. #14 Fresno State

The Bulldogs have shown that they can handle some relentless defensive match-ups, and they also have Marvelle Harris, a proven scorer they can turn to if all else fails.  But Fresno hasn’t play a team that was as effective from top to bottom as the Utes have been this season (they played Oregon before the Ducks caught fire), and they haven’t seen a player as talented as Utah bruiser Jakob Poetl.  Utah prevails in a tight one.

 

#7 Dayton def. #10 Syracuse

Both of these teams have underwhelmed this season- Archie Miller’s Flyers struggled as the season drew to a close, and the Orange have hit some weird rough patches throughout the entire season.  While Dayton’s offense isn’t all that great, Syracuse comes close to being a team that lives and dies by the 3, and I think the Flyers are good enough to prevent the ‘Cuse shooters from getting going.  Dayton wins.

 

#2 Michigan State def. #15 Middle Tennessee State

MTSU played VCU tough earlier this season…  And that’s the only thing they really have going in their favor.  They performed very well within their conference tournament and certainly deserve to be here, but Denzel Valentine and the rest of his Spartans are just too big and too fast to handle.  Michigan State wins in a rout.

 

Second Round

#1 Virginia def. #8 Texas Tech

Both teams are capable of playing some real lockdown defense, so I think that this one will be a low scoring affair.  The difference will be Malcolm Brogdon- he is creative enough to find enough cracks in the Red Raider defense to give his team some breathing room here.  The Wahoos advance.

 

#5 Purdue def. #4 Iowa State

The Cyclones are true to their nickname- they play at a fairly fast pace- but that doesn’t translate very well to tournament play, when the game typically slows down.  It also doesn’t translate very well to a game against Purdue, who can easily dictate any game’s tempo with their impressive array of bigs.  Purdue will dominate the paint and walk away with an easy victory.

 

#6 Seton Hall def. #3 Utah

I think that talent wise, these teams are about even, but Utah came into the tournament off a beat down from Pac 12 rivals Oregon while the Hall come in to the tourney after knocking off a good Villanova team in the Big East championship.  The Pirates pull the upset.

 

#2 Michigan State def. #7 Dayton

This one might not be all that close- Michigan State’s patented tough defense is tough to crack, even for good teams, much less a mediocre offense like the one Dayton has, and as good as the Flyers are on the other side of the ball, the Spartans are good enough at passing and shooting to give Archie Miller’s team fits.  Sparty is Sweet.

 

Sweet 16

#1 Virginia def. #5 Purdue

The Boilermakers will be an interesting test for the Wahoos, because Purdue is superior in the paint and has the ability to frustrate any team’s attempt to control possession.  However, I think that Virginia is seasoned enough, and gritty enough, to impose their will on the game and grind out a win over Matt Painter’s team.

 

#2 Michigan State def. #6 Seton Hall

Both of these teams are fairly balanced from top to bottom and come in to the Dance on hot streaks.  The thing that the Spartans have that Seton Hall doesn’t, though, is veteran know-how- Denzel Valentine and co. have been here before, and their experience will be the deciding factor that allows them to topple the Pirates.

 

Elite 8

#2 Michigan State def. #1 Virginia

This is a game that coaches can watch for a clinic on solid defense and possession-oriented basketball.  This was also a match-up that we saw last year, one that the Spartans were able to win because of their superior offensive ability.  I don’t see the result of last year’s game changing- Sparty moves on to the Final Four.

 

 

Final Four

#2 Oklahoma def. #5 Maryland

              Watching Buddy Hield and Melo Trimble go at it will be a dream to watch for any aspiring guard- seeing two guys square off, at the top of their game, on a national platform.  I feel that the Sooners are more consistent and cohesive as a unit than the Terps are, and that will allow them to frustrate Stone and put too much of the burden on the Maryland backcourt.  Oklahoma moves on to the title game.

 

#1 North Carolina def. #2 Michigan State

              This game is sure to be the match-up of the tournament- two balanced teams, starring two fundamentally sound players and coached by two of the game’s legends.  I think that Roy Williams’s squad is better on offense and that Tom Izzo’s crew are stronger on defense; however, I feel like the ACC tournament showed that Carolina can bamboozle teams that play a variety of different defensive systems, and that their defense has largely improved since the season began.  The Tar Heels move on in a thriller.

 

 

National Championship

#1 North Carolina def. #2 Oklahoma

              With all due respect to Maryland and Oklahoma- they are both very talented teams with phenomenal athletes led by exceptional coaches- as soon as I saw the bracket, I knew that North Carolina would meet Michigan State in the Final Four, and that that match-up would be the de facto championship game.  As good as Buddy Hield is, and as underrated as Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, the Tar Heels have an efficient offense, know how to buckle down defensively when they need to, and have the veteran know-how to get them out of tight spots.  North Carolina wins to give North Carolina another championship under Roy Williams.

Will MLS Ever Be an Elite League?

My first exposure to professional soccer came through the FIFA video game series.  FIFA 2005, to be exact.  At that point in time, I didn’t really know any teams like Manchester United or Real Madrid, much less David Beckham and Wayne Rooney, the English stars that were the headliners for those teams.  After a few months of playing it, I started to pick up on a few things- which leagues had the best teams (England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and Germany’s Bundesliga are considered to be the best) which teams I liked, which players were faster than others (Samuel Eto’o from Cameroon and Ronaldinho from Brazil), et cetera.  The game developed my love for Arsenal, a team based in London, and its scoring force, the Frenchman Thierry Henry; both of them remain my favorites today.  It also developed my hatred for Tottenham and Chelsea, two other teams based in London, which the video game said were Arsenal’s arch rivals.

Major League Soccer (MLS), the professional league in the United States, was represented in the game, which meant that my hometown team, the Chicago Fire, was available to play with.  However, I very rarely chose to do so (only when I felt like playing with defenseman Denny Clanton, whose brother, Derek, was my trainer for the now-defunct Hinsdale Hawks soccer club), and I never played with any of the other MLS teams.  While so many of the English and Spanish teams were rated 4 or 5 stars, I can’t remember an MLS team that was rated above 3.  The passes seemed less sharp with MLS players, and the speed of the players seemed significantly lower.

Of course, the reason that it seemed as if those things were true is because they were.  The reason the MLS teams had less stars in relation to European teams is because the clubs in Europe were of a far better quality than those in America.  And, in all honesty, it made sense.  MLS was formed fairly recently, in 199().  The English Premier League (considered to be the best league in the world, with the greatest variety of talent), had been in existence in some form since the late 1800’s.  Soccer was not a mainstream sport in the US as football and baseball were; there wasn’t even a thought of formulating a true high class league until the US was awarded the 1994 World Cup, which is why MLS has been existence for such a short time.  In Europe and South America, though, soccer was the top priority, and in some countries, the only priority, when it came to athletics.  The best athletes didn’t dream of playing for the Chicago Bears or the New England Patriots, but rather Sao Paolo FC, FC Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, or Liverpool FC.

Of course, the very thought of something in America being second best was a travesty to those in charge of MLS.  The league started as a way for Americans to be able to play professionally, and therefore compete with other countries internationally.  However, as time has passed, it has tried to compete with the leagues abroad, and draw in more fans, by competing for more elite players.  Beckham, one of the biggest celebrities in the entire world, signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in January of 2007, which resulted in rule changes that allowed teams to circumvent the low salary cap by signing three Designated Players (DP’s) at an unlimited salary.

Beckham’s signing was supposed to be the catalyst for star foreign players to come to America, in search of more fame and more money.  And, in a sense, it did just that.  Later in 2007, the Columbus Crew brought in Argentinian star Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who won the MLS MVP award, and the championship, in 2008.  In 2010, Henry joined the New York Red Bulls from FC Barcelona.  Other stars, such as American Claudio Reyna, Colombian Juan Pablo Angel, Swede Freddie Ljungberg, and Mexicans Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Rafa Marquez, all flooded to MLS.  All of these players were big names and elite players.  But there was just one problem- all of these big name players were over 30.  At 32, Beckham was the youngest of these players at the time of his signing.  While the international profile of MLS was rising, the reputation that it was gaining wasn’t one of an elite league, but of a retirement league, for players looking to make one last hurrah and make one last (huge) paycheck.  This season saw many players over 30 join the league, such as David Villa, Steven Gerrard, Kaka, and Didier Drogba, only adding to the idea that the league was for washed up superstars.

There are other problems with MLS, too; it has an allocation order for signing international players, which forces teams to sign players through the league instead of doing it directly, making things more complicated than they need to be.  There are also the issues of expansion and promotion.  The majority of the top soccer leagues in Europe have twenty teams, which is the number that MLS has now.  However, the league has plans to expand to 24 teams by the year 2020.  This increase in teams will stretch the existing talent pool to its limit and make it harder for truly elite teams, and rivalries, to form; these things are what make the elite leagues great- in England, everybody wants to beat Manchester United, and the large talent pool allows even the league’s bottom dwellers to have rivalries amongst one another.  The lack of a promotion system also harms the league; in all elite soccer leagues, if you finish in the bottom 3 of the league, you are moved down to a second-tier league, and the top three from the second tier league move up to the top league.  Without a system of promotion, MLS allows its lesser teams to dwell in mediocrity without fear of demotion to another league, and loss of profits

Of course, the league has made other, more positive developments that have brought it closer and closer to the upper echelon of soccer leagues.  Soccer-specific stadiums have been built for teams throughout the country, allowing soccer teams to sign lucrative stadium and advertising deals, which earns them millions of dollars to filter into their clubs.  The salary cap has risen, to about $3.5 million for roughly 18 players, allowing teams to retain domestic stars and fish for international players while remaining under the cap.  The manager and technical director of the men’s national team, Jurgen Klinsmann, has filtered more money into the country’s youth development programs, which has improved the quality of many players coming through the system of MLS teams; youngsters Clyde Larin and Matt Miazga of Orlando SC and the New York Red Bulls, who have come into their own this year, are prime examples.  Younger players and elite internationals, such as Italian dynamo Sebastian Giovinco, Mexican speedster Giovani dos Santos, Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta, and American stars Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, have all joined MLS within the past year, and with the increased salary cap, more players are bound to join in the near future.

So, the jury is still out on whether or not MLS will ever reach the top-tier status that it wishes to obtain, whether it will always be more of a retirement league, a league that draws in elite players from across the globe, or something in between.  What do you think?

Why We Should Do Away with Political Parties

I have grown up in a family that is largely conservative in its view on politics.  Some of my relatives do not like President Barack Obama, at all.  Others are strongly against abortion.  One of them, bless her heart, has the Swaggart family on the television seemingly 24/7.

By choice, I am largely conservative myself.  I believe that the trickle down economic principles introduced by former President Ronald Reagan can be very effective, possibly MOST effective for our country, if they are properly executed.  I believe that we need to have more strict immigration policies.  I believe wholeheartedly in the use of military force to deal with our international enemies, and have a short leash on it if diplomacy does not work.  I am religious- I have held the belief that God is my Maker and my Savior since the 6th grade- and think that the idea of removing His name from our money is completely preposterous.

Despite my upbringing, and my own personal beliefs, there are some things that I believe in that are typically viewed as liberal.  I think that, if proper recourse is accounted for, that universal health care and the drastic raising of the country’s minimum wage can be very good things.  I think that women should be able to choose whether or not they want to have an abortion.  I believe that climate change is a very real issue, both in the US and everywhere else across the globe, and that not acting to change our ways to combat climate change will lead to destruction for our planet.

If I were to be put into a category based on my beliefs, I would either be a “realist” or a “liberal conservative.”  For all I know, there are many people like myself, or people that are conservative liberals, or something that doesn’t fall into the “traditional” liberal/conservative categories, as my views do.  However, BECAUSE of the fact that they don’t fall into these categories, their opinions are frequently discounted, and these people are forced to choose one side or another in order to feel like their opinion, or their vote, really makes a difference.  This choosing of sides is the type of environment that the two major political parties in our country, the Republicans and Democrats, have created in American politics.  In the leadership of these parties, it is rare to find a person that does not have a core belief that isn’t fairly extreme, and in direct opposition to the opinion of the opposing party.  This, to me, is a very serious problem- these views frequently cause major conflicts between the two parties, which takes away valuable time that should be spent focusing on extremely important issues.  Those people that want to solve problems without having a political solution, or motivation, for doing so, that aren’t interested in pushing the view of a party, largely ignored.  This problem is deepened by the hundreds of millions of dollars of money, sometimes TAXPAYER MONEY, that is spent developing advertisements attacking the opposing party, developing campaign strategies to land a particular candidate, and their extreme views, in a particular office, and bolstering the cash reserves of the Republican and Democratic behemoths.  To know that so much time and money is spent conflict-inducing ideals when vital problems are at hand that could be solved if politicians would just OPEN THEIR MINDS to some of the views from opposing parties, is a depressing and sickening thought.

The easiest way to eliminate these hopeless conflicts, and to limit this egregious spending, is to eliminate the giants that are fostering these kinds of behavior.  For good measure, we should also revise the structure of donations for those running for public office, which are largely centered around private (and anonymous) donations and super PAC’s.  These two actions would encourage three things that I think are among the most important things we could do to fix the political culture in this great country.  First off, it will encourage political problem solving, because everyone in office will not have to worry about facing backlash from a major party leader over a vote on a hot-button issue.  Secondly, with no “big brother” above them and no set policies on which to rely, politicians will have to run for office not based on celebrity, as current poll leaders Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (for the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively) are, but by trying to win over the hearts and minds of voters using their own minds, their own ideals, their own policies.  And, thirdly, these said ideals, and the restructured donation structure, will trump (pun intended) the impact that large donors currently have on the results of our elections.  The common person will be able to truly feel that they have an impact on an election that they are voting in, which, in turn, could increase voter turnout and (hopefully) get a President in office that the majority of this country actually agrees should be in office.

I don’t fancy myself to be a political expert- at 19 years old, I have not yet voted in a state election, much less a national one- and I don’t know if what I am proposing is realistic in our country, or if it would really work based on the structure that we already have in place.  There could be logistical reasons that this wouldn’t work; the politicians currently in office might not find the proposition of changing the current system to be feasible, especially if it jeopardizes their spot in Congress.  For all I know, what I am proposing may be a system to manipulate than the current one is.  But I think that it’s plainly obvious that SOMETHING needs to change in America’s political environment, and based on what I can see, eliminating political parties would be a good way to go.

 

 

I would love to get feedback on this post- whether or not you think my proposition is a good idea, whether or not you have any other ideas as to how to fix America’s political system, or maybe a brief overview of how the political environment currently works so that I, and any other readers, may become more educated about something that is vital to our country’s present and future.  Please, comment with any thoughts you have, or contact me directly here.

2015 NBA Preview

Last season was an exciting one in the NBA.  The season began with controversy in Los Angeles, moved along with big contributions from rookies, was cut short for many due to catastrophic injuries, and culminated in a championship matchups between a traditional power (a LeBron led team) and a group of up-and-coming superstars (the Warriors).  This season is sure to bring just as much excitement and drama as the last, but how will it shake out?  This is my prediction for the upcoming season:

 

Eastern Conference

Atlantic

Celtics (#5)

Raptors (#7)

Knicks

Nets

76ers

This is, by far, the worst division in basketball, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some decent players here.  The C’s unexpectedly crashed the playoffs in Brad Stevens’s first year and got a good playoff spanking from LeBron James and the Cavaliers, but are in a good position to be even better than last year.  The experience gained by last year’s players, and the additions of David Lee from Golden State and Amir Johnson from rival Toronto, will boost Boston above the Raptors.  I love DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and I think they’re two of the most explosive players in the game.  But they also have a tendency to be fairly streaky, and their supporting cast is fairly flawed- Patrick Patterson isn’t great on offense, DeMarre Carroll has only had one truly good year and hasn’t shown any consistency, and Jonas Valanciunas has hit to fulfill his potential- so I see them finishing towards the bottom half of the playoff places this year.

The bottom half of this division has 3 teams that could be vying for top-10 picks at the end of the year.  Carmelo Anthony will get his points for New York, as always, but the rest of Anthony’s supporting cast is either unproven (Kristaps Porzinigis, Jerian Grant) or very hot-and-cold (Robin Lopez, Aaron Afflalo), and they might take a while to gel.  Their neighbors in Brooklyn, the Nets, also have some talented players in Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, and Thaddeus Young.  But Lopez struggles with consistency and injuries on a yearly basis, Johnson is losing his scoring touch as he ages, and Young is more of a steady sidekick than he is a player than can carry a team on his shoulders.  And in Philadelphia, nobody really knows what’s going on.  They could have a very, very good frontcourt if Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor develop, and that isn’t even considering Joel Embiid.  The rest of the team, though, is…  suspect, to say the very least.


Southeast

Wizards (#3)

Hawks (#4)

Magic (#8)

Heat

Hornets

Picking a winner in this division was fairly easy- Atlanta was fantastic last year, but with the loss of DeMarre Carroll and an expected regression to the mean, I think that Washington will be the top dog.  John Wall and Bradley Beal have transformed into one of the best backcourts in the entire league, and big men Kris Humphries and Marcin Gortat have been fairly good wingmen.  The difference maker for Randy Wittman, though, is that Otto Porter Jr. is finally starting to translate his first-round talent into solid production.  Atlanta will still be a very good team- as a club with Jeff Teague and Mike Budenholzer running the show, and a philosophy that allows them to excel even if a couple of their starters have off days, they will certainly be one of the top teams in the East- but the Wiz will be the team leading the way in this division.

The bottom half of this division has a few interesting teams.  The core in Orlando, highlighted by Victor Oladipo, is very fairly inexperienced, but new coach Scott Skiles is very disciplined and might help the team’s talent finally break through.  The Miami Heat have a two high volume scorers in Goran Dragic and Dwayne Wade that are complimented nicely by Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside, but the team isn’t very good on defense and has an on/off switch when it comes to offensive consistency.  The Hornets, headlined by Kemba Walker, made the playoffs two seasons ago, but haven’t been able to gel as a team since the departure of Josh McRoberts.  Each of these teams has the potential to be in the race for the final playoff spots in the East, but I think that the one that will make the playoffs, and that’s the Magic.  I can’t see the youngsters having their talent go to waste this season under Skiles, and I think they’ll hold off their division rivals to sashay into the playoffs for the first time since Dwight Howard was in town.

 

Central

Cavs (#1)

Bulls (#2)

Bucks (#6)

Pistons

Pacers

Cleveland is unquestionably the class of the Eastern Conference.  Even though Kyrie Irving will start the season out with injury, having LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Iman Shumpert as your core players isn’t too shabby.  The Cavs still need to figure out how to have a more balanced offense, but their talent alone will propel them to the top of the conference.  Right behind them will be the Bulls.  Joakim Noah had a longer postseason than normal to rest his troubled knees and should return as the leader of one of the deepest frontcourts in the league.  New coach Fred Hoiberg will bring in a breath of fresh air into a team that seemed fatigued by Tom Thibodeau’s non-stop attitude.  If Mike Dunleavy can stay consistently healthy and Derrick Rose can produce at high levels, there’s even a slim chance that the Bulls can surpass Cleveland, but I just can’t see that happening at this point.  Lurking behind both these big Eastern powers are Milwaukee.  The Bucks were one of last year’s surprises under Jason Kidd, going from a team in the lottery to a tough out in the playoffs.  This year, with the addition of Greg Monroe and the return of Jabari Parker from his ACL tear, the Bucks might even be able to find a way to sneak into the top half of the playoff bracket.  For now, though, I see them staying in the bottom half as a 6-seed.

The bottom two teams in this division are building on something special- they won’t make the playoffs this year, but could make some noise the following season.  Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy shuttled Greg Monroe out of town and has decided, rightly, to build his team around Andre Drummond.  Van Gundy acquired Marcus Morris and locked up Reggie Jackson to a long-term deal to help support Drummond, and the team has the contracts and players (Brandon Jennings and Steve Blake come to mind) to make a deal for another solid supporting player, if necessary.  In Indiana, Paul George will be able to play for the entire season, and he will be ably supported by George Hill and Monta Ellis.  Once Myles Turner develops and the team establishes some depth, they could be on their way to making it back to the upper echelon of the East.

 

Western Conference

Southwest

Rockets (#1)

Spurs (#3)

Grizzlies (#5)

Pelicans (#7)

Mavericks

The best division in basketball houses half of the playoff teams in the superior conference.  They’ll be led by Houston, which is led by two bona-fide superstars in James Harden and Dwight Howard.  The trade for Ty Lawson will make this one of the most exciting offensive teams in recent memory, and while there are worries about Lawson’s defense, I think that Patrick Beverly is more than capable of being the defensive spark plug off the bench.  San Antonio will be right on the heels of their in-state rivals.  GM RC Buford made arguably the biggest offseason move by signing star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to bolster a roster that already included do-it-all Kawhi Leonard and the ageless wonder that is Tim Duncan.  The aging of Tony Parker and the lack of real depth are the only things preventing this team from being the top dog out West.

The other three teams in this division are all capable of making the playoffs.  The Grizz have an amazing frontcourt led by Marc Gasol, and point guard Mike Conley Jr. has finally come into his own.  The Pelicans are led by the otherworldly Anthony Davis, and have good players like Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Jrue Holiday to support him.  The Mavs have Chandler Parsons, an aging but still silky smooth Dirk Nowitzki, and Deron Williams.  I think that the injuries to Mark Cuban’s big signing Wesley Matthews, and the loss of Tyson Chandler to Phoenix, will hurt the team a lot, though, and prevent them from making it to the postseason.  However, the other two team s have enough to hang around the middle of the pack, and possibly challenge for a higher seed.

 

Pacific

Warriors (#2)

Clippers (#4)

Suns (#8)

Kings

Lakers

This team is, of course, headlined by the defending champion Warriors.  The only real loss from last year’s star-studded roster is veteran big man David Lee, who saw his minutes decrease as Draymond Green grew into a superstar.  Because of that, there is no doubt in my mind that Golden State, despite whatever health complications coach Steve Kerr is having, will be very competitive in a loaded conference.  Right on their tails will be the Doc Rivers-led Clippers, who overcame the adversity of the Donald Sterling scandal to have a very solid season, advancing to the conference semifinals.  The addition of Paul Pierce, one of Rivers’s best players when he was the coach in Boston, can only serve to help the players in Lob City, as can the controversy surrounding the re-signing of DeAndre Jordan, which should give the mercurial center some extra motivation.  I also see the Suns, who have tried to use outstanding guard play the past two seasons to overachieve relative to what was expected of them, to make the playoffs as a number 8 seed.  The signing of Tyson Chandler gives the team an interior presence that should take some pressure off of Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe on offense and a true stopper on defense.  This balance should be enough to break into the playoffs after two years of coming close.

The two teams at the bottom of this division are both in states of disarray.  The Kings have two big-name players, DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, that seem to be frequently conflicting with coach George Karl, and have a very messy ownership situation.  The Lakers, meanwhile, have done well to build for the future through the drafting of college superstars Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell, but the team is still centered around an aging Kobe Bryant, and the signing of big man Roy Hibbert is in direct opposition to the balanced “small ball” approach that the Warriors, and other successful teams, have made almost commonplace.  Both teams will have trouble getting going this coming season, and might need to take a serious look at the structure of their organizations before they can really become competitive.

 

Northwest

Thunder (#6)

Jazz

Trailblazers

Nuggets

Timberwolves

This division is the weakest in the West, but all of the teams here have enough talent to make some noise in the playoff picture if the right things fall into place.  The Thunder, led by the electrifying trio of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka, should top the division.  They shouldn’t end up in the top half of the playoff bracket, because when one of the team’s stars gets hurt their depth isn’t very good- and one of the previous players is almost bound to get hurt.

The other four teams in the division are quite literally in the middle of the road.  They are stuck in a place between building with youth and using the existing talent they have to try and be competitive.  The Jazz, for example, have two solid players in Gordon Heyward and Derrick Favors, but those two haven’t been enough to make Utah a playoff worthy team, so they have landed college stars like Alec Burks, Trey Burke, and Dante Exum in recent drafts.  The Blazers, who lost big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez to free agency, will give more responsibility to youngsters Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee, as well as third-year guard CJ McCollum.  The Nuggets have jettisoned Ty Lawson and hung on to Danilo Gallinari, but the Italian’s playing time is diminished, and the keys to the team belong to Kenneth Faried and rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.  The Timberwolves have two former NBA champs on their roster in Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince, but have two number one picks as the faces of their franchise in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.  All of these clubs are going to need to make up their minds as to how to proceed from here- what to do with their vets and how aggressive to be in free agency- because as of right now, they are all AT LEAST two solid rotation players away from being true contenders.

 

 

Playoffs

 

Eastern Conference

First Round

Cavs def. Magic

Bulls def. Raptors

Wizards def. Bucks

Hawks def. Celtics

Just like Boston last year, the Magic have some good talent that they can build on, but they won’t ever be able to topple a team led by a grizzled veteran like LeBron.

The Bulls-Raptors matchup might be the most intriguing of the playoffs- a typically disciplined Chicago team against a Raptors squad filled with many explosive players.  I think that the difference here will be Hoiberg taking over the Bulls- the players will still have the discipline from previous seasons in their heads, but Hoiberg will allow them to be more free-thinking and creative when coming up with offensive and defensive sets, and that will make the Bulls the victors.

The Wiz against the Bucks is like matching the vets against the young guns, both playing and coaching-wise.  I think that Randy Wittman’s flexibility with his lineups in last year’s playoffs really enhanced what his team is able to do, and even if the Bucks are able to neutralize some parts of Washington’s offense, the Wiz still have John Wall, and he will make the difference in this series.

The Hawks both have unorthodox coaches and unorthodox rosters- the Mike Budenholzer-led Hawks don’t have one star that really stands out, while the Brad Stevens and his Celtics seem to be strongest in their front court.  The Hawks’ depth, and their playoff experience relative to Boston’s, will allow them to move on to the next round,

 

Conference Semifinal

Cavaliers def. Hawks

Wizards def. Bulls

When the Cavs and the Hawks met in the postseason last year, Cleveland romped all over Atlanta, winning the series 4-0.  One could argue that the loss of Kyle Korver in Game 2 upset the balance of the Hawks’ offensive game plan, which caused them to be largely underwhelming, and that person would be right.  However, Cleveland was missing Kyrie Irving for two games of that series, and as much as I love Korver, Irving’s ability, and impact on his team, is far greater than the sharpshooter’s.  I think Cleveland waltzes to the next round, just as they did last season.

It hurts to think that my Bulls won’t have the chance to face LeBron in the coming season’s Eastern Conference finals, but given the problems that Chicago has had with the Wizards in past playoff series, it makes sense not to pick them to move on.  Washington’s recent lineup adjustments to play more unorthodox lineups will cause the Bulls some problems, and, at this point, I think that having a John Wall-run team is better than having one run by Derrick Rose.  Washington moves on.

 

Conference Final

Cavaliers def. Wizards

The big difference maker that will have propelled Washington to this point is most certainly John Wall.  In Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers have a man that matches up to Wall better than virtually any point guard in the Eastern Conference.  Bradley Beal is a very well-rounded player, but the length of Iman Shumpert, the scoring ability of JR Smith, and the energy of Matthew Dellavedova are sure to cause the former Florida Gator some fits.  And, of course, there are LeBron James and Kevin Love to consider.  I don’t think that the Wizards have anyone that can really match up with either of those two guys- not that many teams do, consider that they are both top-25 talents- and for that reason, Cleveland will advance to its second straight NBA Finals.

 

Western Conference

First Round

Rockets def. Suns

Warriors def. Pelicans

Spurs def. Thunder

Clippers def. Grizzlies

The Phoenix Suns used to the ultimate example of what talented players could do in a high paced offense.  Steve Nash was the playmaker on a team that broke numerous scoring records.  Houston is the modern-day equivalent of those Suns, and shouldn’t have much difficulty outscoring the present Suns to move on to the next round.

These teams met in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and despite Anthony Davis’s best efforts, the Warriors won the series fairly simply.  I don’t expect this season to be any different- the Warriors are simply a deeper and more talented team than New Orleans.  The champs move forward.

This is the most intriguing first round matchup of the entire playoffs for me.  Both teams certainly have star power- OKC has Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka, and the Spurs can counter with LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, and Tim Duncan.  However, I think that San Antonio’s playoff know-how, and their depth (which isn’t great, but is better than Oklahoma City’s) will propel Gregg Popovich’s squad into the next round.

The Clippers are going to have a chip on their shoulder this coming season- they underwent a lot of heat for the resigning of DeAndre Jordan, and haven’t been as successful in the playoffs as many have expected after Chris Paul came to town.  They’ll steamroll over a Grizzlies team whose window for success is quickly closing.

 

Conference Semifinal

Rockets def. Clippers

Spurs def. Warriors

The Clips will come into this series fired up and filled with confidence after their easy first round win.  But they won’t be able to topple a team that, on the whole, doesn’t have as much depth that they do, but has a much more talented starting 5, one that should especially challenge them on the defensive end.  It will be close, but I think Houston pulls it out.

San Antonio realizes that the window of success with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker is very, very narrow, and they’ll be upset that they were knocked out in the first round last year trying to defend their title.  The addition of LaMarcus Aldridge gives this team a more balanced attack than they had last year, though, and I’m sure of the fact that The Big Fundamental, Parker, and their buddy Manu Ginobili have enough left in the tank to compliment the new big man and help pull off the upset over the defending champions.  The Spurs move on.

 

Conference Final

Rockets def. Spurs

The Spurs have a distinct coaching advantage here- I would take Gregg Popovich over Kevin McHale any day- and both teams have talented players and a squad with below average depth, so it seems that the Spurs have an advantage.  The thing is, I think that while Kawhi Leonard may be unguardable for San Antonio, the Rockets have two, if not three, players on offense that are extremely tough matchups, and Leonard obviously can’t cover them all.  At least one of the Harden-Howard-Lawson trio will be able to do his thing each night, and that makes the difference for me in this series.  Houston moves on.

 

NBA Final

Cavaliers def. Rockets

Obviously, all eyes would to be on the two superstars in this series, Harden and LeBron.  The two scorers effectively cancel each other out, as do Dwight Howard and Kevin Love.  And both coaches, Kevin McHale and David Blatt, are not known for their exceptional motivational abilities.  The outcome of the finals, then, will come down to the teams’ lesser heralded players.  Ty Lawson and Kyrie Irving can both be offensive forces, but the former Duke star is a much better defender.  Cleveland also has a deeper, more experienced bench- Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson in the frontcourt, with JR Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Mo Williams in the backcourt, while Houston has only two real experienced backup is point guard real impact backups in Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley.  The greater talent level, and depth, that the Cavaliers have will, I believe, bring Cleveland the long-awaited championship it deserves.

 

Individual Awards

MVP: James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets

It makes sense for the best player on the team that I see winning the toughest conference in the league, both record wise and in the playoffs, to be the MVP.  Many argued that Harden was a more worthy victor than the man that won it last year, Stephen Curry, and I think that the addition of Ty Lawson will only help boost Harden’s stats, catapulting him over his closest competitors- Curry, LeBron, and John Wall.

Rookie of the Year: D’Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

Many NBA scouts thought that Russell’s game would translate the best to the NBA out of all the other prospects, and while I’m not a scout, I can sure see where they are coming from.  Russell is a capable scorer, but is also relatively strong on defense and seems to be very tough, very resilient.  All of those things are very important when transitioning from the college game to the pros, and I think that as Kobe’s role begins to diminish, Russell will step in and take up his mantle as the face of the Lakers.

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, C/PF, New Orleans Pelicans

Being from a suburb Chicago, it’s always fun to make up lineups of great players in the league that have come from the city.  Derrick Rose.  Dwayne Wade.  Jahlil Okafor.  Patrick Beverley.  The man that makes an all-Chicago team so great, though, is obviously Davis.  His offensive game exploded this past season, and he has become one of the top-5 players in the entire game.  However, while his offense has gotten him a lot of plaudits recently, Davis has been a defensive animal since his time at Kentucky, and this year, I expect him to be rewarded for it.

 

6th Man of the Year: Paul Pierce, Los Angeles Clippers

This is assuming that Lance Stephenson will keep his starting job throughout the season, which will not happen if he plays like he did last year in Charlotte.  If he does, though, Pierce will be coming off the bench for, really, the first time in his career.  While teammate Jamaal Crawford has won this award twice in his career, I just can’t see a fiery, pure scorer like The Truth being kept down, even if he is coming off the pine.

 

Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

I don’t think that there were many people that expected much out of the C’s last season, and yet they ended up making the playoffs anyway.  Many experts consider the Raptors to still be the favorites in the Atlantic, but if the season goes the way I think it will and Boston wins the division, it will be difficult to overlook how impressive Stevens’s work will have been in his 2 years at the helm of one of the league’s most historic franchises.

 

10 Bold Predictions for the 2015/16 NHL Season

Let me preface this: I am not a knowledgeable hockey fan. When my dad, a former college hockey player, screams at the TV screen at players, two-thirds of the time I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. But I know enough about hockey to know what a good team looks like and what a bad team looks like, which players are on the verge of superstardom and which players are over the hill. So, without further adieu, here are my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season:

 

1. Neither the Blackhawks nor the Lightning will make this year’s finals

Saying that the Lightning won’t make the Cup this year is a fairly easy proposition for me. Jon Cooper’s squad will certainly make the playoffs, and I think that Steven Stamkos will have a much better year in the playoffs than he did this past season. However, I think that the more involved the captain becomes in the Lightning offense, the more off-balanced it will become, taking away valuable ice time for “The Triplets,” Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, who carried throughout last year’s run. But being a Chicago boy, saying that the ‘Hawks won’t be able to reach the final, much less retain the Cup, is very hard for me to think about. However, I think that the loss of Patrick Sharp, the dependence on new (and somewhat unproven) role players to fill the second line, and a lack of defensive depth will destabilize the team enough to allow one of their challengers topple them.

 

2. The Minnesota Wild will win the Stanley Cup

The challenger that will do so will be the team from the north, the Wild. I realize that Mike Yeo’s squad have been battered by my ‘Hawks in the past two postseasons, and that the Anaheim Ducks, led by Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, are probably the prohibitive favorites to lift the Cup this season. However, I think that there are a couple of points in the Wild’s favor for this upcoming season. Chicago purged some good players after Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s extensions kicked in, and they will have a weakened roster compared to last year’s, so the Wild’s nemesis is weakened. The Wild also developed some valuable playoff experience last season, with tough series against the ‘Hawks and the St. Louis Blues. These two factors, and their talented roster, will lead to the first Cup in team history.

 

3. Tyler Seguin will win NHL MVP

In 2013, after the Boston Bruins lost the Stanley Cup to the Blackhawks, moves had to be made to cut salary. One of the moves GM Peter Chiarelli made was to trade youngster Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. Since then, Seguin has become a bona fide goal scorer, but the Stars weren’t built to be a top team primed for a playoff run. Now, with the acquisitions of Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Antti Niemi, they are. While Jaime Benn is the best all-around player on the Stars, and his new teammates are very good players, Seguin is the highest scorer and the face of the franchise, so his production will not diminish. That new supporting cast will allow his team to make the playoffs, which will give a big boost to Seguin’s MVP candidacy. A candidacy that I think will see him lifting the Hart Trophy next summer.

 

4. Michael Therrien will win Coach of the Year

Montreal’s lack of success in the playoffs has brought a lot of heat down on Therrien, and many fans have urged Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin to fire the coach. Some of the criticism levelled at Therrien is fair, but most of it is not. For a team that has relatively limited offensive potential, and without the threat of the legitimate top-tier superstar that other teams have (PK Subban is close, but not quite there), the Canadiens under Therrien sure do finish with a hell of a lot of points. I think that this is the year that the Canadiens finally get the recognition they deserve for their consistency, and that Therrien will be honored for heralding said consistency.

 

5. Max Domi wins Rookie of the Year

Connor McDavid might be the next Sidney Crosby. Jack Eichel seems to be primed to take Buffalo by storm. But I think that Domi will win the Calder Trophy over the both of them. I think that pressure makes the difference here- McDavid and Eichel will be in the spotlight all season long as the faces of their franchise, and they don’t really have experienced players to help show them the path to success. In Arizona, meanwhile, the Coyotes have little to no expectations, so Domi will be in the lineup making a difference virtually every night, and he has grizzled veteran captain Shane Doan to show him how to play. It’ll be close, but Domi will win.

 

6. The Maple Leafs will make the playoffs

Yes, the Maple Leafs were atrocious last year. Yes, they lost arguably their best rotation player in Phil Kessel. But the trading away of their leading scorer might be a good thing- he seemed somewhat malcontented in Toronto- and the signing of legendary coach Mike Babcock will help breathe some fresh life into one of the NHL’s most important teams. They might not have the prettiest season, but I think that Babcock will get enough out of his role players to allow the Leafs to sneak into the playoffs.

 

7. The Red Wings will not make the playoffs

This is as much a product of Mike Babcock’s departure to Toronto as my prediction involving the Maple Leafs is- Babcock is a master motivator, and keeping a team of aging superstars and raw up-and-comers together, as he did last year, will not happen under new coach Jeff Blashill. The stability at the back of their team also worries me a little bit- Petr Mrazek showed that he can be very good and very bad, while veteran Jimmy Howard struggles with injuries and is inconsistent when he plays. I also think that they will put too much dependence on a defenseman, Mike Green, that isn’t as good as he looks. It’ll be a shock, but the Red Wings will be out of the playoffs for the first time since 1990.

 

8. The Avalanche will end up with a top-5 pick

I love Patrick Roy. I don’t doubt his leadership abilities, and the fire that he will consistently try to light under his team. I love Nathan MacKinnon, and think that he very closely resembles a younger version of Jonathan Toews. But I just don’t find the rest of Colorado’s roster all that impressive, even with the addition of Jerome Iginla. It also doesn’t help, of course, that the Avalanche play in the toughest division in the game, where each team is capable of making a run in the playoffs. Every team, that is, except for Colorado’s. I expect them to slump and end up being fairly bad this upcoming season.

 

9. Cam Ward and Eric Staal will both be traded

The Hurricanes won a Stanley Cup in 2006 on the back of their stars, captain Staal and goalie Ward. Today, both players are still in Carolina, but the team around them is far different. That is, to say, it’s much worse. The only player that might crack the rotation of another top-level team besides the previously mentioned players is Eric’s brother, Jordan. The presence of the Staals, and Ward, prevented the team from being bad enough to fall into the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes, and will keep them on the outside of a truly enviable drafting position until they are all gone. After a couple years of rumors, I think that this will be the year that GM Ron Francis finally pulls the trigger on getting rid of his highest paid players, sending them to teams needing a #1 or #2 center (Florida, Montreal, Nashville) and veteran stability at goalie (St. Louis, Washington, Anaheim), respectively.

 

10. John Tavares will score 50 goals

The last season in the Nassau Collesium was not a bad one for the Islanders. After an extended period of slumping brought upon by Rick DiPietro’s albatross of a contract, GM Garth Snow built a team around its captain, Canadian John Tavares, that was in the race for the President’s Trophy for much of last season. Tavares himself had a pretty good season; not a traditional scorer in any sense, the center put away 38 goals, good for 4th in the league. Now, with the Isles entering a new stadium, I expect the team to up their game even further. To topple their in-state rivals, the Rangers, it will, of course, take a full team effort, but I think that Tavares will step up to the plate and produce more than he ever has. I believe he can, and I believe he will. 50 goals is A LOT of goals.

 

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic

Canadiens (#1)

Lightning (#2)

Panthers (#6)

Maple Leafs (WC#2)

Bruins

Red Wings

Senators

Sabres

 

Metropolitan

Penguins (#3)

Islanders (#4)

Rangers (#5)

Capitals (WC#1)

Blue Jackets

Devils

Flyers

Hurricanes

 

 

Western Conference

Central

Blackhawks (#2)

Wild (#3)

Stars (#4)

Predators (WC#1)

Blues (WC#2)

Jets

Avalanche

 

Pacific

Ducks (#1)

Kings (#5)

Canucks (#6)

Flames

Sharks

Oilers

Coyotes

 

 

PLAYOFFS

 

Eastern Conference

First Round

Canadiens def. Maple Leafs

Lightning def. Panthers

Penguins def. Capitals

Islanders def. Rangers

 

Conference Semifinal

Canadiens def. Lightning

Islanders de. Penguins

 

Conference Final

Islanders def. Canadiens

 

 

Western Conference

First Round

Ducks def. Blues

Wild def. Stars

Blackhawks def. Predators

Kings def. Canucks

 

Conference Semifinals

Wild def. Ducks

Blackhawks def. Kings

 

Conference Finals

Wild def. Blackhawks

 

 

Stanley Cup

Wild def. Islanders

2015 NFL Season Preview

              The past 7 months of professional football have been relatively dramatic, considering that nothing that has happened has been on the field.  Since the Patriots topped the Seahawks in a dramatic 28-24 victory, a lot has happened in the National Football League.  Many big stars have switched teams.  High-profile coaches have been fired, and new up-and-comers have been hired.  New hotshot rookies were drafted or signed into the league.  Some underperforming veterans were released.  Deflategate has constantly lingered in the background, as have deeply serious issues about concussions.  But all of those things can finally, FINALLY be pushed to the side.  In a couple short hours, Tom Brady and his Patriots will square off against Ben Roethlsiberger’s Steelers.  Football will be back.  How this season will play out is anyone’s guess- here’s my guesses for what will happen, ON THE FIELD, in the coming months.

 

 

Regular Season Standings

NFC

 

NFC West:

Rams (#2)

Seahawks (#1WC)

Cardinals

49ers

              The Seahawks are a very trendy pick to win the Super Bowl this upcoming season.  And I understand why- Russell Wilson led his team to a Super Bowl last year, and now he has a legitimate passing game weapon in Jimmy Graham at his disposal.  But I think there are a couple of issues with this team- the loss of Max Unger, whom they traded away to get Jimmy Graham, being the first and foremost one.  His loss cannot be understated.  I also think that some cracks are starting to show in the ‘Hawks vaunted secondary- Kam Chancellor might hold out for a good chunk of time, and while Cary Williams is a decent cornerback, he will get beat up on more than Richard Sherman’s other partners did.  These weaknesses will allow the Rams to supplant them.  The Rams front 7 are filled with absolute beasts, and that doesn’t even include the soon-to-breakout Alec Ogletree, their first round pick in 2013.  The acquisition of Nick Foles will allow the team to better utilize their speedy wide receivers, and the drafting of Todd Gurley gives the running game perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the entire league.  The Rams also happen to have a slightly easier strength of schedule than their rivals.  All of those things will allow the Rams to top what is arguably the best division in the game

The Cardinals and the 49ers are not bad teams, by any means.  The Cards get Carson Palmer back after an injury caused him to a good portion of the season, and he will have a trio of athletic receivers to throw to.  In San Fran, the signing of speedster Torrey Smith and the promotion of young, powerful back Carlos Hyde will keep their offense at least above average.  The problem for both of these teams will be their defenses.  The Cardinals lost run-stuffing defensive tackle Dan Williams and elite cornerback Antonio Cromartie to free agency, while the 49ers were decimated by retirements by three major contributors.  In a league that is well into a period of offense-first mentalities, these two teams’ shortcomings will see them fall short of playoff places.

 

NFC North:

Packers (#3)

Vikings (#2 WC)

Lions

Bears

              The Pack were dealt an early-season blow when Jordy Nelson tore his ACL, and things got really scary after Randall Cobb landed hard on his shoulder.  Thankfully for Mike McCarthy’s club, the speedy Cobb didn’t get a serious injury, and will be at close to 100% when the season starts.  With Davante Adams and Jeff Janis stepping in to help fill the Nelson-shaped void, Green Bay’s offense will be a step below high octane, but Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, and Cobb are talented enough to boost this team to the top of the division by themselves.

The best of the rest will be the Vikings, who will be one of my two “surprise” playoff picks for the upcoming season.  Obviously, the return of Adrian Peterson will get the most publicity, but I think that the addition of Mike Wallace as a compliment to Charles Johnson at receiver, as well as the drafting of potential superstar corner Trae Waynes, are the two moves that will make the biggest difference for this team.  Teddy Bridgewater’s development will accelerate faster than many anticipated, and the former Louisville man will help guide his team into the second wild card spot.

The other two teams in this division could be fighting for a wild card spot or a first round pick, depending on how their season starts.  The Lions will have to depend on their offense more than they have had to in the past few years, thanks to the losses of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but I expect Calvin Johnson to continue to struggle with injuries and for Golden Tate to fall off a bit after a career season last year.  If Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah can pick up a lot of slack, then the team could be ok.  But otherwise, they could be in some trouble.  The Bears have a much improved defensive coaching staff this year, and picked up a couple of intriguing players (Pernell McPhee and Antrel Rolle) to fill pressing needs.  However, major injury concerns at wide receiver, and a merry-go-round at offensive line, present major problems.  If the Monsters of the Midway can get them sorted out, they may be a fringe contender- otherwise, Bears fans could be in for another long year.

 

NFC South:

Falcons (#4)

Panthers

Buccaneers

Saints

This is perhaps the weakest division in football- their division winner finished under .500 last year, for goodness sakes!  There are a couple of reasons that I think that the Falcons will be able to rise to the top.  The first is the dedication to a younger running game on offense- by starting rookie Tevin Coleman and backing him up with second-year man Devonta Freeman, the Falcons will have some explosiveness in the backfield to take pressure off of Matt Ryan.  The second, and most important reason, is the hiring of Dan Quinn as the head coach.  He will bring a fiery leadership to help rejuvenate a defense that has been pretty vanilla in the past couple seasons.  The third reason is that Atlanta has the easiest strength of schedule of any NFL team this season.  I don’t expect them to make it look easy, but I do think they will win the division.

The next two teams, the Panther and the Bucs, have relatively similar defenses- a few good role players in certain places and a middle linebacker that wreaks havoc.  They both have running games that have the potential to be special, but have largely failed to do that in recent years.  This, to me, means that the play of the teams’ two quarterbacks will determine who finishes second in this division.  Though Jameis Winston will be a better, more polished version of Cam Newton once he matures, and currently has better weapons than the Auburn man, but at this point in their careers, Newton has more ability to carry his team, so I think the Panthers will sneak above the Bucs.

I feel badly putting the Saints in last place in the division because of how much respect I have for Drew Brees.  But the offense has lost some of its luster with the trades of Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham, as well as the parting of ways with Pierre Thomas.  Even the normally dependable Marques Colston is starting to slow up a little bit.  And on the defensive side of the ball, after the release of troubled pass rusher Junior Galette, there just aren’t any real playmakers.  Despite Brees’s best efforts, this is a team headed for a top-10 pick.

 

NFC East:

Cowboys (#1)

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

              I’ve never seen the problem that people have with Tony Romo- yes, he doesn’t always perform the greatest in high pressure situations, but only a select few are able to consistently do so.  After an impressive statistical season last year, the only offensive starter that departed the team was DeMarco Murray, and Joseph Randle has enough talent to make up for most, if not all, of his production.  The quality of the defense worries me a little bit, but the ‘Boys offense is solid in every area imaginable, and will help guide them to a division title and the number one seed in the NFC.

I, unlike many football experts, liked most of the move that Chip Kelly made this past offseason (except for the Byron Maxwell signing).  However, the Eagles defense just doesn’t seem like it will be all that great at stopping the pass, and while DeMarco Murray is a solid NFL running back, he benefitted greatly from playing behind a beastly O-line in Dallas, and I don’t think he’ll do enough to prevent many teams from sending 5 or 6 players in all-out blitz mode, gunning for the oft-injured Sam Bradford.  The Eagles have a talented pair of wideouts, but that won’t be enough to see them to the playoffs.

The bottom two teams in this division will be one of the two worst teams in football.  The Giants offense has a lot of firepower, with Eli Manning and two elite receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz (and even a solid slot guy in Rueben Randle), but the defense is no longer what it once was, and will struggle to stop many teams.  The Redskins, outside of Alfred Morris, are a complete mess.  Their quarterback situation is extremely chaotic, the weapons they have outside of Morris are very streaky, and their defense doesn’t have anyone on it that really stands out outside of Ryan Kerrigan, who, as a defensive end, can only do so much with the players he has around him.

 

AFC

AFC West:

Broncos (#4)

Chargers (WC #2)

Chiefs

Raiders

              The Broncos and Chargers are, to me, two fairly evenly matched teams.  At this point, Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers are very similar ability-wise.  Both teams have an above-average pass rush and two Pro Bowl-caliber players in their secondary.  The biggest difference between the teams, to me, is the talent level of the skill players on offense.  I really like Keenan Allen, but he doesn’t compare to the freak of nature that is Demariyus Thomas.  Emmanuel Sanders is far better than Malcolm Floyd.  The combination of Virgil Green and Owen Daniels will outperform the combination of Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates.  CJ Anderson is far more explosive than Melvin Gordon.  The Chargers will make it tough on Denver, but the Broncos offense has more firepower than Denver’s does.  Both teams will make it into the playoffs, but Gary Kubiak’s men will take the division.

The futures of the Chiefs and Raiders have me really conflicted.  I think that both teams made some nice additions this offseason- Jeremy Maclin and Marcus Peters for the Chiefs, Amari Cooper and Curtis Lofton for the Raiders- and both clubs have solid, experienced veteran coaches in Andy Reid and Jack Del Rio.  However, it just feels to me like something is…  missing.  I don’t quite know what it is, but the two things that come to mind for me are offensive consistency and defensive talent.  I think that those two things will make it difficult for either team to make a real playoff push, and they both finish in the bottom half of the league.

 

AFC North

Bengals (#1)

Steelers

Ravens

Browns

              I know what you’re thinking.  You’re wondering, “Why do you have the Bengals winning this division, and as a #1 seed?”  Well, Jeremy Hill is a top-5 NFL running back with a quality backup in Giovani Bernard.  Marvin Jones is back after losing all of last year to injury, and Tyler Eifert is returning from a major injury, too, giving Andy Dalton the most potent offense he’s ever had.  Marvin Lewis’s front 7 is filled with talent, and added Super Bowl winner AJ Hawk to provide a capable backup and steady veteran leadership.  Steady corner Leon Hall works opposite the fleet Adam Jones.  The team is somewhat weak on its back end safety, but other than that, it’s impossible to find a flaw in this team that they can’t easily compensate for.  So while it is altogether possible for Dalton and co. to flop in the playoffs, this is a good enough team to be the top AFC team in the regular season.

Each of the remaining teams in this division were in playoff contention for most of last season, but have flaws that, to me, will be enough to keep all of them out of the playoffs, and maybe even keep them from being as successful as they were last year.  The Steelers have one of the best offenses in the entire league, but their defense, despite strong efforts to improve it, is nowhere near the quality that it once was, especially in the secondary.  The Ravens defense, too, isn’t as strong as it was in its glory days, but its biggest problem is that its offense can’t be counted on to be super effective- Dennis Pitta is injured, Steve Smith is aging, Breshad Perriman is unproven, and Justin Forsett can’t be counted on to recreate his career year.  The Browns have a decent defense, led by All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden, but their questions at quarterback, and their lack of weapons in the passing game, will prevent them from making it anywhere in a league where the teams with the better passing games are likely to trump other teams.  The AFC North was definitely the AFC’s best division last year, but I can’t see them repeating the performance this season.

 

 

AFC South

Colts (#3)

Jaguars

Texans

Titans

              The Colts have been considered one of the weaker division winners of the league because of the lack of quality within the rest of the division.  But the team made a couple of veteran additions that might make Indy a threat to be the top team in the AFC.  Putting Andre Johnson opposite TY Hilton gives them a possession-orientated threat to complement Hilton’s speed, and signing former San Fran running back Frank Gore gives the team a true top-10 back for the first time since Edgerrin James left for Arizona.  The defense still has some weaknesses, but the offense is good enough to carry this team to a very solid record this year.  Following them in the standings will be one of my surprises of the year, the Jaguars.  Despite the injury to first round pick Dante Fowler Jr. and many people’s doubts about the development of Blake Bortles, but by bringing in former Denver star Julius Thomas and drafting running back TJ Yeldon to help the offense, along with the signing of defensive end Jared Odrick to improve the team’s pass rush, the Jags, who will be playing 4 games this season against two teams that will be among the worst in the game, will definitely see their record from last year, and maybe, just maybe, they can make a run at the playoffs.

As I said earlier, I believe the bottom two teams in this division will struggle mightily this season.  I really like Brian Hoyer, and (kind of) have since his days at Michigan State, but the uncertainty surrounding the injured Arian Foster, as well as the departure of franchise icon Andre Johnson, will make it tough for the team to really get any momentum going, despite two freaks like JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney leading the defense.  The Titans have a similar problem to the Texans.  I love Marcus Mariota, and I think that the defense will be much improved with Brian Orakpo joining longtime defensive anchor Michael Griffin.  But having Bishop Sankey as your running back and Harry Douglas as your number 1 receiver will not strike fear into any opposing defenses, especially when your quarterback has yet to play an NFL game.  Look for these AFC South squads to land a top-10 pick.

 

 

AFC East:

Patriots (#2)

Bills (WC #1)

Dolphins

Jets

              The AFC East will battle with the NFC West to be the top division in football.  The Jets, while surrounded by controversy brought on by the punch to Geno Smith’s face, have improved in many areas.  They’ve brought in star receiver Brandon Marshall to bolster the passing game.  The brought back Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie while drafting former USC star Leonard Williams to bolster the defense.  The Dolphins brought in megastar defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to work with Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes on defense, and added receivers Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings to help out Ryan Tannehill.  All of those players are very talented, and have the potential to push their teams into contention.  But one team in front of them has made moves that will make them a legit playoff contender, and the other one… well, the other one is the defending champion.

The Bills are my dark horse this year- I like Tyrod Taylor more than most people do, and I think that the unbelievable amount of explosiveness surrounding him, highlighted by LeSean McCoy, supplemented by Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin, will make things easier on Taylor and allow him excel.  Plus, with Rex Ryan coming in to help provide his own wrinkles to a defense that finished 4th overall in total yards allowed last season, I think the Bills will be good enough to take the first wild card slot.  The Patriots, meanwhile, may have lost Darrelle Revis to the division rival Jets, but a full year of Tom Brady and a healthy Rob Gronkowski will make the Pats tough to beat.  Combine those two with Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount, and they will be VERY tough to beat.  The Pats take the division, but Ryan continues to be a thorn in Coach Bill Belichick’s side.

 

Playoffs:

NFC

 

Wildcard

Seahawks defeat Falcons

Packers defeat Vikings

              The Falcons will have a home field advantage, and also happen to have one of the best receivers of his generation.  And those are about the only things they have over the Seahawks.  Russell Wilson is better than Matt Ryan and has more valuable playoff experience, and Marshawn Lynch can top the Falcons’ running back duo any day.  And then there’s defenses- Atlanta’s may improve this year with Seattle’s old defensive coordinator at the helm, but they have a long way to go to match Pete Carroll’s team in terms of personnel.  The ‘Hawks will literally run over the Falcons and into the divisional round.

Meanwhile, in the other wildcard matchup, it’ll be an intra-divisional matchup between the star QB of the NFC North, Rodgers, and his heir apparent, Bridgewater.  The Pack have two major advantages over their rivals.  The first is home field advantage- Packers fans are very passionate, and will be even more so when the playoffs come around, making Lambeau Field a real fortress.  The other advantage, and the one that determines this game, is playoff experience.  Rodgers has been there before and Bridgewater hasn’t.  The former Cal man keeps his cool and guides his team on to the next round.

 

Divisional

Rams defeat Seahawks

Cowboys defeat Packers

              Both of these games have winners that may seem against the grain in terms of predictions, especially the Rams winning over the 2-time defending NFC champs from Seattle.  But I think that the same flaws that make allow the Rams to win the division will let them triumph over Pete Carroll’s squad here.  The multifaceted Rams offense will keep the ‘Hawks guessing and make it harder for the team’s ferocious pass rush or Richard Sherman, from taking over.  The Rams’ phenomenal front 7 is able to penetrate the Seahawks’ line without their anchor, Max Unger, there to provide a steady calm.  The Rams will move in.

A rematch of last year’s game!  How perfect!  I think this year, though, the result will be different- Tony Romo will want to make up for his loss last season, and the advantage of having the game of Dallas instead of the raucous Lambeau Field will make it much easier to do so.  Plus, I think it will be easier for the Cowboys to hone in on their tormenters from last year’s game, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, without having to worry about Jordy Nelson.  “America’s Team” advances to the conference championship.

 

Conference

Rams defeat Cowboys

              During most of this of this post, I’ve frequently emphasized a team’s offensive prowess in regards to whether or not the team ends up being successful.  But, as the old saying goes, “Defense wins championships,” and defense will be the determining factor in who wins this game.  And the Rams defense is on a far higher level than Dallas’s.  Yes, the Cowboys have a great offensive line, but the fearsome front 7 of the Rams (there are just so many ways to describe these guys!) will give them some issues, taking some pressure off of their average secondary.  The Dallas front 7 doesn’t come close to comparing to St. Louis’s, and won’t provide the secondary much relief.  St. Louis moves on to the Super Bowl in their first playoff appearance since 2004.

 

AFC

Wild Card

Bills defeat Broncos

Colts defeat Chargers

              Peyton Manning is a competitive person, and I know he wants to win again, but in all honesty, I think that he should have retired last season.  Playing against a ferocious defense in colder weather, with a weakening arm, will not do the legendary quarterback any favors.  And while the Broncos defensive members are no slouches, there are explosive players all over Buffalo’s offense, and I think that Denver will have a harder time stopping Buffalo than vice versa.  Rex Ryan and co. pull off the upset to move on.

Both of these teams have relatively middling defenses and offenses that are right on the edge of being great, so talent wise, these teams are pretty even.  However, I think that the matchups in this one favor the Colts.  Vontae Davis is the perfect foil to Keenan Allen, while Brandon Flowers will have a tough time matching up with the towering Andre Johnson.  Melvin Gordon will have trouble evading D’Qwell Jackson, while the wily Frank Gore should be able to mess with the young Manti Te’o and the inconsistent Donald Butler.  The Colts win a close one.

 

Divisional

Patriots defeat Colts

Bengals defeat Bills

              Back in the day, this game would be the matchup of matchups- Tom Brady facing off with Peyton Manning.  The rivalry between Brady and Andrew Luck isn’t anywhere near as strong, but will still make for an amusing game.  Both teams will be fighting to prove last year’s result wasn’t a true reflection of their team- the Patriots with Deflategate and the Colts for getting blown out.  In the end, though, I think Brady’s playoff savvy is enough to hold off the league’s best young QB to advance to the AFC championship game.

Out of all the playoff games, this was probably my toughest to call- I don’t think anyone really expects either of these teams to make it this far, so I’ve become kind of fond of them, and it was difficult to pick one to knock out.  However, I think Cincy prevails in this one, solely because of playoff experience on the part of the Bengals.  Yes, they’ve lost every game they’ve played with Andy Dalton as their quarterback, but they only lost last year due to a superhuman performance from Andrew Luck.  Tyrod Taylor is not Andrew Luck, and while the Bills defense is far better than Indianapolis’s, Dalton and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will have a few things up their sleeve to allow Cincy to prevail.

 

Conference

Patriots defeat Bengals

              Both teams have offenses that match up fairly well against each other’s defense- New England does not have a great run defense, which will allow Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to take advantage, while the Bengals have nobody that can truly match up well with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski (I mean, who does, really?)- so I see this one as being somewhat of a shootout.  And, having played, and won, many, many shootout games against Peyton Manning when both quarterbacks were in there prime, Brady will know what it takes to win.  New England advances to its second straight Super Bowl.

 

Super Bowl

Patriots defeat Rams

              I really thought about the Bengals being here and winning it all, giving a deserving Marvin Lewis a Super Bowl win and allowing Andy Dalton to stick his tongue out at all his haters.  Instead, we get a rematch of the Patriots first ever Super Bowl victory.  The Rams offense may not be the “Greatest Show on Turf” anymore, but their balanced attack, with two high quality running backs and a pair of speedy receivers, might make trouble for the Pats’ newly rebuilt secondary.  Jeff Fischer’s front 7 is filled with talent, and will be gunning to slow the Patriots all game long.  The problem for St. Louis is the same problem they had the last time they squared off against New England in the Super Bowl: Tom Brady.  Brady will be fired up to show that last year’s victory over the Seahawks was no fluke, and if he was able to have his way with Seattle’s secondary last year, I expect him to do the same to the Rams this year.  So while most of the players that take the field for both teams will be different from the last matchup back in 2002, the one that remains, Brady, will make the difference.  The Pats will win 27-20.

 

 

Awards/Individual Predictions

NFL MVP: Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

              Let me start by saying how much I love Giovani Bernard.  I wholeheartedly believe that if he hadn’t gotten injured last year, he would still be the starter in Cincy, and Hill would be his solid backup.  But that isn’t the case- Hill is the starter and will get most of the carries.  The former LSU is a powerful runner that averaged over 5 yards a carry last season while running for 1,124 yards, despite only starting his first game in week 9.  With a full season as a starter approaching for Hill, I can see his YPC average dropping a little bit, but his running style and talent are conducive to him having another huge season.  I can see him having an Adrian Peterson-type season and pull away the MVP award from Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers.

 

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers

              The three front runners for this are, to me, the obvious choices: Gordon, St. Louis running back Todd Gurley, and Oakland receiver Amari Cooper.  Gurley will not start the season as he completes his recovery from a torn ACL and will be splitting carries with Tre Mason for at least part of the season, so I don’t think he’ll have the stats to win the award.  I love the potential that Cooper has, and he is very similar to his predecessor at Alabama, Julio Jones, but he isn’t the freak of nature that Mike Evans is, and I think it will take at least half the year for Cooper and David Carr to get on the same page.  Therefore, I think that Gordon, San Diego’s undisputed #1, with a solid offensive line in front of him and a good play action quarterback, will excel in San Diego to win the ROY.

 

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Atlanta Falcons

              Atlanta has been crying out for a decent pass rusher after John Abraham left for Arizona following the 2012 season.  Beasley is quick off the edge and, due to his exceptional football mind, can play both defensive end and linebacker if needed.  Just imagine the different uses that Coach Dan Quinn will have for the former Clemson player.  It’s actually a little bit scary how good he could play in Quinn’s Leo role.

 

Coach of the Year: Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills

              Ryan definitely wore out his welcome with the Jets, but he gets a fresh start in the division he is most familiar with after taking over the Bills.  Ryan inherits a solid defense that he will be able to bring his own special twist to, and due to a couple of controversial offseason moves he has a few playmakers to work with on offense.  An unproven quarterback is a little bit of a worry, but that hasn’t stopped Ryan from making the playoffs before, and I think he’ll take a Bills team with relatively low expectations to the playoffs.

 

Best Acquisition: Orlando Franklin, OT, San Diego Chargers

Franklin outperformed his more heralded teammate Ryan Clady last season, and yet, after leaving Denver, he signed on in San Diego with a contract that is worth $20 MILLION less than the deal Clady is currently working on.  On top of that, Franklin is reunited with his former offensive coordinator (and a former offensive lineman) Mike McCoy.  Peyton Manning still has enough in the tank to keep the Broncos above the Chargers, but once Melvin Gordon settles in to San Diego, he, Phillip Rivers and Franklin will combine to make a lethal combination for the Chargers.

 

Worst Acquisition: Byron Maxwell, CB, Philadelphia Eagles

              Here’s a little newsflash for people that haven’t picked up on this yet- the Seahawks defense of the past 3 years makes everyone seem better than they really are.  Brandon Browner was thought to be the next star after having a great year opposite Richard Sherman, and Walter Thurmond III was thought to be a high quality nickel back.  Both of them failed to live up to their potential after leaving the comfy confines of the Northwest.  Maxwell may be a decent corner, for all we know, but to splash $62 million on a guy that may just be “average” was a big mistake by Chip Kelly.

 

Biggest Surprise: Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills

              In order for the Bills to make the playoffs, in an era of high volume passing, the Rex Ryan is going to need his quarterback to step up.  After a few years of backing up Joe Flacco under QB guru Cam Cameron’s tutelage, Taylor looked sharp and accurate in preseason action, and it seemed that he worked out the kinks that caused his completion percentage to be low.  With a couple quick receivers and a solid running game to take the pressure off of him, don’t be surprised if Taylor is the best QB in the entire AFC East.  Yes, even better than Tom Brady.