Wednesday, April 10, 2019

2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions + a look back at Regular Season Predictions that went wrong

In another installment of this blog's "cheap content" machine, here we'll look back on my regular season predictions for the last NHL season that went terribly, while also giving out my sure to be wrong predictions for the playoffs. Some content is better than none.

Division Winners (predicted): PIT, TB, NSH, SJ
Division Winners (actual): WSH, TB, NSH, CGY

Not too bad. Pittsburgh finished third in the Metro and San Jose finished second in the Pacific, and would have won the division if Martin Jones could have stopped a beach ball.

East Playoff Teams (predicted): TB, TOR, BOS, FLA, PIT, WSH, PHI, CBJ
East Playoff Teams (actual): TB, BOS, TOR, CBJ, WSH, NYI, PIT, CAR

Overrating the Panthers and Flyers might be a sad new trend I've started that I will be sure to end in October. Both teams should have been far better than they were, but a gross combination of bad coaching and bad goaltending sunk them. I had Carolina as team nine in the East, and they ended up being team seven, and I thought the Islanders would be one step removed from the Senators in the East's basement, and they had the fifth best record. Barry Trotz is a wizard.

West Playoff Teams (predicted): NSH, WPG, STL, DAL, SJ, VGK, LA, CGY
West Playoff Teams (actual): NSH, WPG, STL, DAL, CGY, SJ, VGK, COL

Those LA Kings..., I deserve no credit for predicting the Central as it happened because it didn't sort itself out until the last day of the season, and I looked pretty dumb in January when the Blues were terrible. No one saw the Flames being this good, although I did have them sneaking into the postseason.

Awards (prediction then comments):
Hart: Connor McDavid (he could win it every year, but Nikita Kucherov is running away with this)
Art Ross: McDavid (again, Kuch ran away with this)
Rocket Richard: Patrik Laine (he has goalless streaks that make your mind go numb. Also Ovi is immortal).
Norris: Erik Karlsson (spent too much time injured, although over a full season he would have been in the race. Mark Giordano has won this)
Calder: Andrei Svechnikov (good, but not great season. Elias Pettersson has it locked up)
Jack Adams: Jim Montgomery (he did a good job, but not "best NHL team in a quarter century" or "reviving the Islanders from the scrap heap" good.)
First Coach Fired: Todd McLellan (4th of 4 fired in November. Congrats to John Stevens!)

Preseason Conference and Stanley Cup Finals Picks:

All could happen, but they don't look as likely now.

Postseason Predictions:

TB over CBJ in 5
BOS over TOR in 7
WSH over CAR in 6
PIT over NYI in 6

TB over BOS in 6
WSH over PIT in 7

TB over WSH in 6

NSH over DAL in 7
STL over WPG in 6
CGY over COL in 5
VGK over SJ in 7

STL over NSH in 6
VGK over CGY in 6

VGK over STL in 6

2019 Stanley Cup Final:
TB over VGK in 6

Conn Smythe: Nikita Kucherov

Pretty chalky. Enjoy the playoffs!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

2019 MLB Season Predictions

I do apologize for those of you who remember when this blog had fleshed out ideas for columns beyond making jokes about Mike Milbury and prediction pieces to populate the blog with cheap content. Sometimes, the sports media world can chew up your will more than you expect. But for now, here comes another prediction piece, this one for the upcoming MLB season!

After an offseason of drama because of "collusion", big name free agents being frozen out from signing until the start of spring training and long features on how minor leagues can't make minimum wage because of somewhat shady lobbying, the baseball itself can finally begin. Even though baseball's system has created more parity in recent years, the sport has never felt more top heavy with just as many teams openly tanking and tearing down as there are trying to win at the highest level. Such intrigue leads more to talk about the next CBA rather than who wins the World Series, but with baseball to be played, there are predictions to come. And here they are:

NL East:
1. Philadelphia
2. Washington
3. Atlanta
4. New York Mets
5. Miami

The Phillies said openly that they were basically going to spend funny money, and they did. They added not just Bryce Harper, but J.T Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. While their rotation and bullpen are not deep, and Gabe Kapler hasn't exactly endeared himself to Phillies fans yet, sometimes talent may just win out in the end. Washington has an even deeper rotation now that Patrick Corbin is added to the mix, and having super prospect Victor Robles take up some of the Bryce Harper airspace will only help the Nats transition away from him. Atlanta snuck up to win an open division last year, but it feels like the other two teams ahead of them took their shine a little bit, though they will be competitive. It seems as if the Mets picked the wrong time to contend as the rest of the NL East loaded up, but if they can stay healthy and get offense from some unlikely sources, they can be a playoff team. And the Marlins will be good one day, so let's celebrate how awesome their new look is so we can say something nice about them in the present.

AL East:
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston
3. Tampa Bay
4. Toronto
5. Baltimore

Everything last year seemed to go perfectly for the Red Sox, from Mookie Betts to J.D Martinez, Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel. Repeating all of those tricks again seems hard, especially if there are more questions at the back end of the rotation and bullpen that are still unanswered. For that, and since the Yankees made a deep bullpen even deeper, and they still have that lineup. It seems like it's their time. For how much everyone hates "the Opener", it certainly worked for the Rays, and for all of their limitations, they manage to find great talent and cultivate it well. It's certainly not enough in the AL East, but perhaps it's enough for a Wild Card. In Toronto, we're all waiting to see Vlad Guerrero Jr., and the sooner the better. And in Baltimore, what's the baseball equivalent of tanking for Tua?

NL Central:
1. St. Louis
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Milwaukee
4. Cincinnati
5. Pittsburgh

Adding Paul Goldschmidt is a big deal for the Cardinals, who needed that extra pop in the lineup last year and didn't get it. They have plenty of young pitching, and it's certainly provided more upside for the predictions machines than a certain rival, who those predictions weren't exactly bullish on. While St. Louis made some upgrades, the Cubs basically stood pat, and that was a team last year who seemed a bit long in the tooth, particularly on the mound. That difference is going to be enough to swing the division. Milwaukee took such a great step forward last year and it couldn't close the deal in Game 7 against LA, and it remains to be seen how long that window for them will stay open. It's good to see a team like the Reds spending and trying to compete even when the in-vogue logic would tell them not too, but losing Scooter Gennett for nearly three months hurts. And for the Pirates, balling on a budget is pretty dang hard to do.

AL Central:
1. Cleveland
2. Minnesota
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City
5. Detroit

Once again, the AL Central seems to be about the Indians and everyone else, and the Indians are starting to falter. They're not as deep as they've been, and Francisco Lindor is already fighting major injury problems. The only issue is that there's no one else in the AL Central that can really touch them, with Minnesota being the closest. Do they have enough with some of their additions to really push the Indians, or is it token competition? The White Sox went big game hunting this offseason, didn't get anyone, and are handing out mega-contracts to players who haven't played a major league game yet. At some point, all their talent has to come good, right? Kansas City is a long way away from the team that won the World Series, and the Tigers are trying to rebuild the old fashioned way, which maybe is the new market inefficiency if you squint hard enough.

NL West:
1. Los Angeles
2. Colorado
3. San Diego
4. Arizona
5. San Francisco

The Dodgers have been left at the altar the last two years in the World Series, and they still don't seem to be a team that got that final piece of the puzzle. Clayton Kershaw not being healthy to start the year doesn't help, but they were awful early in 2018 and that didn't seem to matter. Are the Dodgers going to be able to pitch well enough to win at the highest level? The Rockies were dispatched easily from the playoffs because their highly paid bullpen collapsed, but after re-upping MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, there's a good feeling in Denver. The NL Wild Card race is crowded, but that slight uptick in bullpen performance could get them there. San Diego signed Manny Machado, and brought up a top prospect for an opening day assignment. That will make them interesting, but not necessarily a contender. Arizona wanted to contend, saw how difficult it will be, and decided to tear it all down again. And the Giants would be a World Series contender if this was 2012.

AL West:
1. Houston
2. LA Angels
3. Oakland
4. Seattle 
5. Texas

It's all about the Astros here again, but now that some of their World Series building blocks are elsewhere, how high is the ceiling? They're certainly good enough to win the division, but the Red Sox handed it to them in the ALCS last year. Speaking of ceilings, will the Angels finally be good with Mike Trout in his prime putting up Mickey Mantle like numbers? They should be, but it's still an open question. After last year's impressive run to the Wild Card with seemingly so little, especially in the rotation, one wonders if the A's can hold it together for one more run. Seattle, like Arizona, saw that contending would be hard so they sold off just about everyone and are trying to rebuild from the ground up, though they have a little bit more in the stable than other rebuilding teams. The Rangers are going to open up a new ballpark with a roof in 2020, that's exciting. 

NL Playoff Teams: 1. LAD 2. PHI 3. STL 4. WSH 5. CHC
AL Playoff Teams: 1. NYY 2. HOU 3. CLE 4. BOS 5. LAA

NL Playoffs:

Wild Card: Cubs over Nationals
NLDS: Dodgers over Cubs in 4, Cardinals over Phillies in 5
NLCS: Dodgers over Cardinals in 7

AL Playoffs:

Wild Card: Red Sox over Angels
ALDS: Yankees over Red Sox in 5, Astros over Indians in 3
ALCS: Yankees over Astros in 6

2019 World Series: Yankees over Dodgers in 5

NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt
AL MVP: Aaron Judge
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
NL Rookie: Fernando Tatis Jr.
AL Rookie: Vlad Guerrero Jr.
NL Manager: Dave Martinez
AL Manager: Aaron Boone

These are sure to go wrong quick, so sorry to all who I picked to do well. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

2019 MLS Predictions

Remember when I promised at the end of 2018 that I wouldn't fill this blog with solely preseason prediction columns and/or cheap looks back at what I got wrong when the seasons end? Two months in to 2019 and I'm doing a terrible job of that already. I personally blame Kingdom Hearts 3 for that, but since this blog is not about explaining the intricate plot details of a game I have waited for since I was sixth grade, let's focus on a new season starting this weekend: MLS. The league that is constantly changing, growing and evolving by the second is beginning a new campaign, and even now as some teams try to break free of single entity's chains, the league still feels as wide open as ever. With that, here are some predictions that are sure to be wrong in May, let alone October:

Eastern Conference:
1. Atlanta
2. Red Bulls
3. DC United
4. Union
5. Crew
6. Impact
8. Toronto FC
9. Fire
10. Orlando
11. Revolution
12. FC Cincinnati

Western Conference:
1. Sporting KC (Supporters Shield)
3. Timbers
4. Sounders
5. Galaxy
6. Real Salt Lake
7. Minnesota
8. FC Dallas
9. Colorado
10. Vancouver
11. Houston
12. San Jose

MLS Cup 2019: Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls

Award Predictions:
MVP: Zlatan (obviously)
Coach: Jim Curtin
Defender: Walker Zimmerman
Rookie: Andre Shinyashiki
Golden Boot: Zlatan
Comeback: Jordan Morris

Zlatan will singlehandedly will a broken LA Galaxy team to the postseason after a two year absence. Atlanta United will still be very good, but with everyone gunning out to beat them, inconsistencies will slip in with a manager that hasn't ever hit his stride outside of Holland. MLS' best and most consistent team will be Sporting Kansas City, and that should allow them to outlast everyone and win the Cup. The best surprises will be the Union taking to Ernst Tanner's style better and quicker than anticipated, Montreal mastering a counter-attacking style to make the postseason, and Minnesota United finally making with a core of solid MLS veterans to push that team over the line.

One final predictions: CBA negotiations starting after MLS Cup in November are going to be wild, nasty and fascinating. How much if at all will the league's structure change?

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 NFL Season Predictions in Review (plus playoff predictions)

Before making the standard "cheap content" joke I usually make when writing these pieces, I would like to apologize to the few of you that still bother to click on this link for the lack of content this year. I got lazy. One of my New Year's resolutions I will try my best to keep will be to write more here, and not lazy season predictions in review pieces such as this. But looking back on how awful my preseason predictions were, it's worth making fun of myself as a nice goodbye to 2018. Let's look back at the carnage:

Division Winners (Mine): NE, PIT, JAX, LAC, PHI, GB, NO, LAR
Division Winners (Actual): NE, BAL, HOU, KC, DAL, CHI, NO, LAR

Three out of eight ain't bad...? To be fair, at least the Chargers and Eagles did make the playoffs even as wild cards, but it was quite a bad year for the Packers, Jaguars and Steelers, who all fell off a proverbial cliff. It's probably the fewest division winners I've picked correctly in the years I've done them on this website, and the gory evidence is plain for all to see. I got four of the six AFC playoff teams right, missing on the Steelers and Jaguars (in place of the Chargers and Ravens) and in the NFC, I got three of the six right, missing on Seattle, Dallas and Chicago (in place of Green Bay, Minnesota and Atlanta). Seven out of 12 is at least a passing grade.

Worst overestimations: Jacksonville, Green Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta, Minnesota

My team at the top of the list. I legitimately thought even the Jaguars couldn't screw up what they did last season, and boy was I ever wrong. I will never predict the Jaguars to be good again until they make the postseason in three consecutive seasons, that's a hard and fast rule. Green Bay, Atlanta and Minnesota all collapsed for various reasons, injuries, defensive lapses and less than stellar QB play, and we'll never know how good the 49ers could have been because of Jimmy G's injury.

Worst underestimations: Indianapolis, Chicago, Dallas

Andrew Luck's comeback this year is only one of the great transformations from Frank Reich's Colts. Their defense and offensive line play have sparkled this year, which is why they're such a dangerous team. They have an underrated running game too. The Bears made bold moves in adding Khalil Mack and now have a lethal defense to go along with a growing Mitchell Trubisky, and now this Bears team is dangerous too. But the best Bears teams in recent years have flopped at home in the postseason and turned out to be one-and-done teams, so that is a concern. Dallas took advantage of a bad division to win it, even after a 3-5 start.

Award Predictions (mine first, then thoughts):

MVP: Aaron Rodgers (Not even close, it will be either Mahomes or Brees and I lean Mahomes)
OPOY: Antonio Brown (good season but not great, whoever loses MVP wins this)
DPOY: Aaron Donald (lead the league in sacks and was dominant, so he could actually win)
OROY: Saquon Barkley (there are good choices, but Saquon will win this)
DROY: Roquan Smith (good season but overshadowed, Darius Leonard of the Colts had a spectacular year)
Comeback: DeShaun Watson (would be the winner if not for the QB he's facing in the playoffs)
Coach: Bill O'Brien (nothing wrong here, but Frank Reich and Matt Nagy will be the leading contenders).

Now, for some playoff predictions, with a few thoughts on each game along the way:

Wild Card Round:

(6) Indianapolis over (3) Houston)
(5) Seattle over (4) Dallas
(5) LA Chargers over (4) Baltimore
(3) Chicago over (6) Philadelphia

The Colts have a solid defense that will be able to get after DeShaun Watson, who was sacked 62 times this season. That's a critical weakness that Indy will exploit, and their offense is more balanced. It's easy to trust Russell Wilson over Dak Prescott, and Seattle has just enough to edge out Dallas, even though this is the most even game of the round. The Chargers are a nasty team to face when they're on the road, and the Chargers won't play as poorly as they did two weeks ago, and will now defend Lamar Jackson better. The Bears have the balance to frustrate Nick Foles and end his magic carpet ride while making the plays on offense that are needed.

Division Round:

(1) Kansas City over (6) Indianapolis
(3) Chicago over (2) LA Rams
(2) New England over (5) LA Chargers
(1) New Orleans over (5) Seattle

Kansas City has too many weapons for the Colts to contend with, which means the Chiefs will win a playoff home game for the first time in multiple presidential administrations. The Bears have the balance to frustrate the Rams again, just as they did in Week 14. New England is such a great proposition at home, which the Chargers won't be able to contend with. New Orleans is a force that has too much for Seattle to keep up with in the Superdome.

Conference Title Games:

(1) New Orleans over (3) Chicago
(1) Kansas City over (2) New England

Both one seeds have too much for their opposition, but these games will be fascinating tilts. Chicago can maintain balance on both sides of the ball that will keep New Orleans at bay, but that can only happen for so long. New England's weaknesses will be exploited by Kansas City even though they already beat the Chiefs once before, but in Foxborough.

Super Bowl 53:

New Orleans over Kansas City

If these predictions hold, we'll have the highest scoring Super Bowl ever. New Orleans has just enough defense to hold out over Kansas City in this scenario.

Happy new year, and I'll do my best to put more content on this website in the next 365 days.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

2018-19 NHL Season Predictions

Amidst Lebron's Lakers debut, Pat Mahomes' domination of the universe and the Red Sox and Yankees playing what will likely be a one sided playoff series, the NHL's new season is about to begin. In many ways, the NHL is less relevant but more exciting than ever. The paradox makes it immense fun to be a hockey fan, while also wondering why so few people are excited then remembering #pleaselikemysport nonsense exists.

Anyway, this season could prove to be one of the most fun yet, with an influx of amazing young talent, offense on the rise and a more competitive race for the Cup than almost ever. There is more reason than ever to put the NHL's baggage out of your mind for a minute and remember how good the game itself is now. That's worth something, right? Here come the predictions, sure to be hilariously wrong come April:

Metropolitan Division:

1. Pittsburgh
2. Washington
3. Philadelphia
4. Columbus
5. Carolina
6. New Jersey
7. New York Rangers
8. New York Islanders

It's hard for the Penguins to have a chip on their shoulder, but watching the Caps finally beat them in the playoffs and oust them from the postseason may well give them a chip they almost have never had before. With Sid, Geno, Phil and a cast of players who will become household names because they play with those players, the Penguins will actually win the division for once this year. Washington will slide neatly in behind, probably starting a little slow because that summer party was a banger, wasn't it? Philadelphia is also sneaky good in terms of their foundation, but they don't have the top end talent yet to firmly challenge those two for division supremacy.

Every question in Columbus is about the future of two Russian stars, Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. They are integral to what the Blue Jackets are trying to do, and it seems like both don't want to be there beyond next year. So does Columbus trade them, or hold onto them for one last run? It's a dilemma that will define the franchise for perhaps a decade, but right now, they are a playoff team. Everyone's in-vogue team, Carolina, has new ownership, process and ideas, but whether that translates to results may come down to goaltending and getting a real center. New Jersey made the postseason last year on the back of a historic season from Taylor Hall and flukey goaltending that's not likely repeatable, and both New York teams are in the midst of long rebuilds to see which team can get more lottery balls for Jack Hughes.

Atlantic Division:

1. Tampa Bay
2. Toronto
3. Boston
4. Florida
5. Buffalo
6. Montreal
7. Detroit
8. Ottawa

Predicting this year's Atlantic is one of the easiest tasks in sports predictions ever. Almost everyone agrees on that order above. Tampa is a dominant team in all facets that would have won the Cup last year if they played their fourth line less, so it figures this year they probably will learn from their mistakes. Toronto finally got a prodigal son to return which should help push this team up a notch, but they still don't match up pound for pound up and down the roster with Tampa just yet. Boston has a good group of young players and an ageless Zdeno Chara backstopping them, but their stars are a little older, and last year's flameout against Tampa shows they may be a fair way away from true contention. Florida has a dominant top six and may be just good enough everywhere else to not just make the playoffs, but give someone fits in the first round, if they can get out of their own way.

The rest of the division is varying levels of mess. Buffalo resembles an actual NHL team this year, and with Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Middelstat around to help Jack Eichel get out of his Buffalo blues, there should be progress in Western New York at long last, maybe even a playoff race. Montreal has Carey Price back and a couple of interesting young forwards, but the blue line is a mess with Shea Weber, let alone without him. Detroit is firmly in rebuild territory with what seems like more cap dollars on IR than on their opening night roster, but there are promising future signs. And the less said about Ottawa, the better.

Central Division:

1. Nashville
2. Winnipeg
3. St. Louis
4. Dallas
5. Colorado
6. Minnesota
7. Chicago

It should be Nashville and Winnipeg once again duking it out for central supremacy, and they are on basically equal footing. Nashville's biggest weakness may be figuring out if and when to go to Juuse Saros, and hoping Zac Rinaldo doesn't cost them games. Winnipeg is thinner than they were last year, but boy are they going to be fun to watch. Their playoff experience now has to be an asset, especially having beaten Nashville when the chips were down already. St. Louis added some beef up front in Bozak, Perron and O'Reilly and to go along with their young bursting stable of prospects, they could be really, really good... if the goaltending holds up. Dallas has more depth up front now than they had in the last two years, and their top end talent is still fantastic. They should have enough gas now for the postseason.

Colorado's amazing run to the postseason last year was almost entirely Nate MacKinnon fueled, and while he's fantastic, he needs more help from his running mates to repeat the feat this year, and it's an open question whether he can get it. But don't weep for the Avs, the Sens gave them a potential #1 overall pick to make this group even better. Minnesota has Bruce Boudreau, a coach who is an expert in getting his teams to the postseason, but if he can do it this year, it will be his best job yet with an older group and a core that might not be all it was hyped up to be. Chicago's bottom finally fell out last year with injuries and a top heavy roster, all problems that haven't really been fixed this year. They won't be terrible, but that's a bad place to be in the Central.

Pacific Division:

1. San Jose
2. Vegas
3. Los Angeles
4. Calgary
5. Anaheim
6. Arizona
7. Edmonton
8. Vancouver

San Jose went big game hunting this offseason. They couldn't get John Tavares or Ryan O'Reilly, but they got one heck of a consolation prize in Erik Karlsson. Him and Brent Burns on the same power play? Yes please. Doug Wilson is going for it and kudos to him for knowing his group and knowing the chance his team has this year. Are they the best team in the West? Probably not, but facing an easier division than the Central helps their cause. Vegas will not surprise anyone this year, and they are deeper up front than last year with Paul Stasny and Max Pacioretty buffering an already fantastic group. But some of that magic last year with a less than stellar D corps and a historic Marc-Andre Fleury season is probably not repeatable. They are still absolutely a contender in the Pacific though.

LA is still fairly old and slow up front, and Ilya Kovalchuk in spite of his offensive gifts won't change that. Their difference makers could be Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan because they may be the only players with foot speed on the roster. They have enough to make the playoffs, but probably not enough to do anything when they get there. The fourth spot in this division was wide open, but I leaned towards Southern Alberta because of Johnny Hockey, Sean Monahan and James Neal. If some of their offensive additions can help a D corps in flux, and Mike Smith can make a save or two, this team may finally live up to its own hype.

Anaheim is primed for a Chicago style fall because of their injury issues and roster construction from a by-gone era in the league. John Gibson is great, and some of their younger talent is good, especially on the back end, but last year's playoff exit against the Sharks is a warning sign too big to ignore. Arizona should be a lot better than last year, especially if they can keep their fantastic second half play up and get good-ish goaltending from Antti Raanta. Edmonton is a team I will not predict anything good for until they prove to me they deserve it, because Connor McDavid cannot do it on his own, nor should he. And while Vancouver gushes over Elias Pettersson, it's worth reminding them how much money they spent on Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle.


Eastern Conference:

Tampa (A1) over Florida (WC2) in 6
Toronto (A2) over Boston (A3) in 6
Pittsburgh (M1) over Columbus (WC1) in 5
Washington (M2) over Philadelphia (M3) in 7

Tampa (A1) over Toronto (A2) in 7
Pittsburgh (M1) over Washington (M2) in 6

Tampa (A1) over Pittsburgh (M1) in 6

Western Conference:

Nashville (C1) over Calgary (WC2) in 5
Winnipeg (C2) over St. Louis (C3) in 6
San Jose (P1) over Dallas (WC1) in 6
Vegas (P2) over LA (P3) in 5

Nashville (C1) over Winnipeg (C2) in 7
San Jose (P1) over Vegas (P2) in 6

San Jose (P1) over Nashville in 6

2019 Stanley Cup Final: Tampa over San Jose in 6


Hart: Connor McDavid (EDM)
Art Ross: McDavid
Rocket Richard: Patrik Laine (WPG)
Norris: Erik Karlsson (SJ)
Vezina: John Gibson (ANA)
Calder: Andrei Svechnikov (CAR)
Jack Adams: Jim Montgomery (DAL)
First Coach Fired; Todd McLellan (EDM)

So please feel free to tell me how wrong I'm going to be, because I often am. Happy hockey season!

Monday, October 1, 2018

2018 MLB Season Predictions in Review (plus Playoff Predictions)

I can say I sometimes neglect this blog in lieu of my other work, so I feel bad when there's a clear barren spell on this website I've had up and running for over eight years. So sometimes, that means I go for the easy way out and write up pieces like looking back on preseason predictions, which means as the pair of Game 163's in the NL just ended, that's what I'm going to do. I always enjoy seeing where I was right, wrong or in the wrong galaxy, so let's do that. And of course, playoff predictions follow too.

What I got Right: Not as much as I should have. I predicted three of the five NL playoff teams (LAD, CHC and MIL) and four of the five in the AL (NYY, BOS, CLE, HOU), but all of those seemed like givens. Everyone missed on the Nats implosion, and didn't quite see the rise of the Braves coming, but maybe I should have listened to myself a little more than I did when writing about the A's:

"Oakland signed Jonathan Lucroy, which allows this writer who needs to pay more attention to teams not named the Mets to name someone on this team. But the A's often find a way to surprise in spite of everything working against them, but their lineup seems balanced and they have a farm system worth mentioning. Someone is going to be like Milwaukee or Minnesota of last year and contend out of nowhere, and if it's not the Phillies, it'll be their AL equivalent."

Well, I was right, but didn't predict that they would be this good. In any other year, they'd be one of the best teams in all of the AL, and this year, they'd have the best record in the NL! But those super teams ruin fun sometimes, and the A's wonderful rise is stifled by geography and history when it comes to October fortunes. And the Phillies were contenders until mid-September too!

What I got wrong: Overhyping the Nats (as most everyone did), the Cardinals and Angels, but there weren't any predictions that were overtly awful, other than expecting the Rays to bring up the rear of the AL East when they ended up winning 90 games. Most of the wrong came in underestimating how bad certain teams would be, like Baltimore, the White Sox and Kansas City. And in awards predictions too. Speaking of...

NL MVP: I predicted Bryce Harper. Nope. Christian Yelich should be the favorite based on how he carried the Brewers to winning the NL Central, and he has some strong competition from Javy Baez, who

AL MVP: I predicted Carlos Correa, who was very good, but Mookie Betts was better, and his team was better than Mike Trout's, who is always the AL MVP, but his team never backs him up.

NL Cy Young: I said Noah Syndergaard, and at least I got the team right. Jacob DeGrom's season was historically good, and if he doesn't win the award based on wins and losses, it's an embarrassment to the sport of baseball.

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale was not a bad shout, but his slowdown in the latter half of the season should tip the award to Blake Snell of the Rays, who for a team that coined "the opener" ended up having the best ace of any staff in the Junior Circuit.

NL Rookie: Ronald Acuna was a pretty easy yet smart call, because he is the face of the Baby Braves renaissance. Juan Soto was also pretty dang good too as well Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler (who was great in Game 163) and Harrison Bader for the Cardinals.

AL Rookie: How could it not be Shohei Otani, even with the Tommy John surgery coming?

NL Manager: Craig Counsell did a dang good job with the Brewers, but Bud Black getting the Rockies to consecutive postseasons is one that probably gets some more value, as does Brian Snitker's season with the Braves.

AL Manager: Hey, Aaron Boone was great! But everyone expected the Yankees to be great, and they were. No one expected the A's to be good, or nearly as good as they were. Kevin Cash deserves a dap too.

With all that taken care of, here are some playoff predictions:

National League:

Wild Card Game: Cubs over Rockies
NLDS: Dodgers over Braves in 4, Cubs over Brewers in 5
NLCS: Dodgers over Cubs in 6

American League:

Wild Card Game: Yankees over A's
ALDS: Red Sox over Yankees in 5, Astros over Indians in 4
ALCS: Red Sox over Astros in 6

2018 World Series:

Red Sox over Dodgers in 5

It was Yankees over the Dodgers in the spring, but now it's the Red Sox. Go figure.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

2018 NFL Predictions

For these predictions last year, I did think New England would make it to the Super Bowl and beat... Seattle. I didn't have the Eagles in the postseason, nor did I have their NFC Title game opponent, Minnesota. I also picked Oakland to win the AFC West, which was probably not wise either, and didn't see the rise of the Jaguars coming. You try to guard against foolish predictions at this time every year, but no matter how well thought out your arguments are, they end up meaning little because reality is stranger than anything the wilds of your mind can cook up.

With that said, here's what I think we see in 2018 in the NFL. May these predictions be better than the last set, and never as bad as I fear they could be.

AFC East:
New England: 12-4
New York Jets: 7-9
Miami: 6-10
Buffalo: 3-13

So long as those Brady and Belichick surnames are on the Pats payroll, they're going to win the AFC East, especially as everyone below them has yet to figure out what they're doing. With the Jets, they will see improvement on offense with Sam Darnold and they have a solid defense to backstop some growth at long last, though it will be well short of anything meaningful record wise. Miami finally gets Ryan Tannehill back after missing nearly 20 meaningful games, but will that change the Dolphins fortunes with a mediocre roster? And after finally ending their playoff drought, the Bills dumped their QB, drafted a new one who has been compared to Blaine Gabbert and will start someone who threw five interceptions in his first career start. They're a contender for the number one pick in April's draft.

NFC East:
1. Philadelphia: 11-5
2. Dallas: 8-8
3. New York Giants: 7-9
4. Washington: 6-10

Philly, Philly. They will have one of the tougher runs in the NFC to get back to the Super Bowl, but will probably have the easiest run to win their division. Nick Foles can steer the ship steadily until Carson Wentz is healthy, and they certainly have the defense to pick up the slack. Their problems come in the postseason, where everyone else got better and they were forced to stand pat. Dallas suddenly has health issues in their most important unit on the team: the offensive line. If they can't get what they need there, Dak and Zeke will underwhelm. Their cap mess has prevented them from substantially improving, so it's more likely they stay flat than anything else. The Giants will improve with a real running game and a better offensive line, but the defense has plenty of holes. Washington is relying on the aging Alex Smith to be a better answer at QB than Kirk Cousins, which is a bold call considering Cousins gave them their only meaningful successes in recent years. So long as Daniel Snyder owns the team, this is where they'll be stuck.

AFC North:
1. Pittsburgh: 11-5
2. Ravens: 9-7
3. Bengals: 8-8
4. Cleveland: 5-11

While the Steelers wait to see if Le'Veon Bell will ever show up again, they won't be wanting for much in terms of offensive talent elsewhere, and James Connor isn't getting the appreciation he deserves. In the mediocre AFC, Pittsburgh is still absolutely a favorite to make the Super Bowl, but oddly, it's their defense that may hold them back. Baltimore was a fourth down meltdown away from making the postseason, and since they're really no worse than last year, it stands to reason even with Joe Flacco that they'll compete for the postseason again. The Bengals changed both coordinators and added some young talent to go along with Dalton, Green and Mixon, and since last year was about as bad as its been in recent years, odds are it will get a little better in 2018, but not enough to make the playoffs. And yes Cleveland, five wins. There's talent on this team and Hue Jackson seems to have struck a cord with this group, if Hard Knocks is an indication. It's a step in the right direction, at least.

NFC North:
1. Green Bay: 12-4
2. Minnesota: 11-5
3. Detroit: 8-8
4. Chicago: 7-9

Now that the Packers have Aaron Rodgers back and healthy, and handsomely paid, the Packers become a Super Bowl favorite. With a new GM in place and a slightly tweaked philosophy, the roster is in better shape than it has been in recent years. Rodgers' presence puts them over the top. Minnesota will not be easy to dethrone though, because with Kirk Cousins, in theory they have more stable QB play plus a newly healthy Dalvin Cook, great receivers and a young and hungry defense. There may be a new coach in Detroit, but they seem to be the same team they've been in recent years: hanging around the playoff race but not good enough to make it or win a game. Chicago went for broke with the Khalil Mack trade, which means their window is now open to win for Matt Nagy, but they need a year to grow. Next year, could the Monsters of the Midway be back?

AFC South:
1. Jacksonville: 11-5
2. Houston: 10-6
3. Tennessee: 8-8
4. Indianapolis: 6-10

The Jaguars have built their roster in such a way that they will try to win without asking Blake Bortles to do much of anything, which is much how the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Bucs became champs. It may be harder to do that in 2018 than then, but with their talent on defense and on the offensive line, they sure could pull it off. Don't discount them either, because that will make them angry. The Jaguars angry could be more dangerous than the Jaguars out of the blue. With Houston's big stars now healthy, they will absolutely be a contender to win the division and perhaps make the Super Bowl, if DeShaun Watson's growth curve wasn't stunted in any way by the ACL injury. Tennessee is a bland and mediocre team that lucked out in both getting to the postseason and winning a game last year, but with other teams around them getting better, average won't be good enough in the AFC this year. Indianapolis finally has Andrew Luck back which means they won't be a disaster, but with very little on the roster, they won't be that great either.

NFC South:
1. New Orleans: 12-4
2. Atlanta: 10-6
3. Carolina: 9-7
4. Tampa Bay: 3-13

Another team going for broke are the Saints, who last year were a miracle play away from the NFC Championship game. They may have been favorites against Philadelphia too. They don't really have many serious weaknesses on their team, even with Mark Ingram suspended for four games. They seem to be a cut above the rest of the very good NFC South and perhaps the NFC too. If it wasn't for some poor play calling in 2017, the Falcons may have not just beaten the Eagles, but won the NFC too. With Calvin Ridley, they have even more talent on offense, and aren't exactly lacking it on defense either. In another division, they'd be favorites to win it. Carolina looks like the odd one out here, which is a shame because they're pretty dang good too. Christian McCaffrey is going to be an amazingly fun to player to watch, but perhaps the entire team will be undone by a slightly bare roster in their front four and secondary. And for the Bucs... a housecleaning is in order. Justin Herbert, anyone?

AFC West:
1. LA Chargers: 11-5
2. Kansas City: 10-6
3. Denver: 7-9
4. Oakland: 5-11

If it wasn't for the Chargers being snakebit with terrible kicking and injury luck, they would have waltzed away with the AFC West last season. They still have bad injury luck, but with Philip Rivers looking rejuvenated, an immensely talented running back in Melvin Gordon and a great defense, they're AFC West favorites, perhaps even sneaky Super Bowl contenders. Kansas City went to Pat Mahomes at QB and he will not be the reason why the Chiefs fail to make the playoffs, if they do. That will be their lackluster defense. But with all their offensive talent, they should be just fine. Denver will be better than last year with any semblance of offense, but they seem deficient talent-wise in key areas compared to their rivals. Jon Gruden has come back to Oakland only to see the Raiders now accumulate the oldest roster in the league and trade away their best player for futures. That doesn't seem like a winning formula for a coach who seems to be stuck in 2008, when his team gagged away a playoff spot.

NFC West:
1. LA Rams: 11-5
2. San Francisco: 10-6
3. Seattle: 8-8
4. Arizona: 6-10

The Rams have gone completely Hollywood with all the star power they've added, meaning that after stunning the world to win the NFC West last year, there can be no surprises this year at the Coliseum. It'll be Sean McVay's task to glue everything together, which he seems apt to do. Jimmy G will lose games he's starting this season for sure, but the improvement the 49ers made was good enough to think they will contend for a playoff spot, even with injuries playing a role. The Seahawks are not the Legion of Boom they once were, and may now just want to put Russell Wilson's outline on their helmet, because it is on him alone that they will succeed or fail, but he can't do that much himself. In the desert, Larry Fitzgerald's career will end with a whimper as Sam Bradford guides a flawed roster until Josh Rosen takes over.

AFC Playoff Order:
1. New England
2. Jacksonville
3. Pittsburgh
4. LA Chargers
5. Houston
6. Kansas City

NFC Playoff Order:
1. Green Bay
2. New Orleans
3. LA Rams
4. Philadelphia
5. Minnesota
6. Atlanta

AFC Playoff Predictions:

3. Pittsburgh over 6. Kansas City
5. Houston over 4. LA Chargers

1. New England over 5. Houston
2. Jacksonville over 3. Pittsburgh

1. New England over 2. Jacksonville

NFC Playoff Predictions:

6. Atlanta over 3. LA Rams
5. Minnesota over 4. Philadelphia

1. Green Bay over 6. Atlanta
2. New Orleans over 5. Minnesota

1. Green Bay over 2. New Orleans

Super Bowl LIII:

Green Bay over New England

Award Predictions:

MVP: Aaron Rodgers (GB)
OPOY: Antonio Brown (PIT)
DPOY: Aaron Donald (LAR)
OROY: Saquon Barkley (NYG)
DROY: Roquan Smith (CHI)
Comeback: DeShaun Watson (HOU)
Coach: Bill O'Brien (HOU)

No fantasy columns for me this year, but you can always solicit me on Twitter if you need help. And here's hoping these predictions are better than last year, and sorry in advance if they aren't.