Archive for September, 2013

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2013 Record: 97-65, First NL Central

Offense:
St. Louis, like the New York Yankees, seems to always find themselves in contention. This season was no different. Coming into the campaign, many questions were raised about the sustainability of their offense. Those questions were answered very early. Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, and Carlos Beltran all greatly surpassed expectations in leading one of the most efficient offenses in the National League. The Cardinals did not have anyone drive in 100+ runs. But, they did possess eight players with 50 or more RBI; a statistic that led MLB.

Rotation: The Cardinals have, perhaps, the deepest rotation in the league with regards to future success. Adam Wainwright (31), Lance Lynn (26), Shelby Miller (22), and Joe Kelly (25) combined to win 59 games this season. Wainwright, Lynn, and Kelly all have postseason experience whilst Miller, the lone rookie of the bunch, possesses the finest “stuff.” When looking at the National League rotations, there is little doubt that the Cardinals are most equipped heading into October.

Bullpen:
When Jason Motte, the Cardinals’ closer in 2011-2012, went down with a season ending injury; it appeared as though the bullpen would become a weakness for St. Louis. Au contraire! Former Marlins’ reliever Edward Mujica instead became one of the more reliable late-inning arms in the game. Youngsters Trevor Rosenthal and Seth Maness have joined Mujica at the backend to create a trio of fantastic and lively arms for Mike Matheny to utilize this October.

Coaching: It has become obvious that Mike Matheny is one of the best young managers in the sport. That much is abundantly clear after yet another dazzling campaign for the second-year skipper. After losing in the NLCS in his first postseason, Matheny will be looking to replicate the success that his predecessor, Tony LaRussa found twice with the Cardinals.

Outlook:
Lose in NLDS, 2-3

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Postseason Previews: Boston Red Sox

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

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2013 Record: 97-65

Offense:
From worst to first, the 2013 Boston Red Sox have been a storybook tale. Offensively, this team is drastically different from a year ago. Newcomers Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, and Shane Victorino have provided enough offensive punch to supplement a strong pitching staff whilst tossing a changeup into the clubs previously stiff clubhouse atmosphere. Meanwhile, longtime organizational superstars like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury added stability to an overhauled roster. Boston was among the league leaders in runs scored at 853. Napoli, Drew, and Victorino all bring playoff experience to a roster fueled by their past postseason failures

Rotation: Boston’s starting pitching was the biggest question mark surrounding the team heading into this season. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey were all coming off disappointing seasons (the latter two missing most of 2012 with injury). General Manager Ben Cherington added depth last winter by acquiring veteran Ryan Dempster via free agency. The former Cub and Marlin is likely to pitch out of the bullpen this October. He will be replaced in the rotation by midseason acquisition Jake Peavy. The 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner has postseason experience and should be a quality fourth starter come playoff time. As for Lester and Buchholz, their two best starters, the time is now to prove that they can headline a championship caliber rotation.

Bullpen:
While the rotation was the biggest question mark surrounding the team last spring; the bullpen has devolved as we creep towards October. Yes, closer Koji Uehara has been stellar in that role. But, it’s the middle relief that is the main cause for concern. Youngsters Brandon Workman and Junichi Tazawa have each failed in the setup role this year. Dempster, a former closer over five years ago, is likely to get an opportunity to fit that eighth inning role in the playoffs. Boston does not have the starters to go seven or eight innings every time out. So, it will be critical for them to find someone who can reliably pitch between their starters and their closer.

Coaching:
John Farrell, who managed Toronto in 2011-2012, will get his first taste of the postseason as a skipper. There’s no doubt that Farrell is talented. After all, he did orchestrate the dramatic turn of fortune for Boston this season. But, his lack of postseason experience and his propensity to overwork the bullpen could come back to haunt the Red Sox.

Outlook:
Lose in ALCS, 4-2

Head on over to http://www.bestsatellite.tv and get MLB Extra Innings to make sure that you don’t miss and inning of the action.

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The odds are certainly against the Eagles heading into their nationally televised meeting with the undefeated Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon. Philadelphia has faltered in back to back games after an impressive opening day performance against the Washington Redskins. Sadly, Philadelphia could have easily been 3-0 heading into this weekend. The much-maligned and dilapidated defense let the team down in their week to defeat at the hands of San Diego. Four days later, it was an embarrassing array of turnovers that sank the Eagles’ hopes in a Thursday night letdown against Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Denver, meanwhile, has come out like gang busters. After an impressive seven touchdown performance by Peyton Manning in their Thursday night opener against Baltimore, the Broncos have prayed on poor, turnover prone performances by the Giants and the Raiders. At 3-0, the Broncos along with the Seattle Seahawks, are prognosticated by many as the two best teams in the NFL. The Denver offense, which leads the league in scoring, has scored at least 37 points in each of their first three affairs. This statistic, combined with the failures of the Philadelphia defense, should bring pause to anyone viewing Philadelphia favorably in this matchup.

However, the Denver defense without superstar linebacker Von Miller has been a dramatic letdown in their first three games. Yes, the Broncos are 3-0. But, they have allowed at least 21 points in every game this season. Last week, raw and unproven QB Terrelle Pryor was able to, for all intents and purposes, dice up the Denver secondary. The former Ohio State Buckeye went 19/28 for 281 yards and a touchdown. Pryor, a mobile quarterback in his own right, also galloped for 36 yards on just four carries. If Pryor, considered by many to be one of the worst quarterbacks in football, can succeed in passing and running against Denver, who is to say that Michael Vick cannot experience similar or greater success.

Another facet of the Philadelphia offense that could give Denver fits is the running game. It’s well documented that Philadelphia’s running game is among the best in football. Led by superstar RB LeSean McCoy, the Philadelphia running game has not been stopped in three affairs this season. At the same time, Denver has yet to face a running back of McCoy’s stature. Baltimore’s Ray Rice was limited due to Denver’s huge lead in that game. The Giants and Raiders, meanwhile, have little to no running game to speak of (short of Pryor’s ability with his legs). If Philadelphia can establish a running game early whilst also keeping Denver off balance with the read option and play action pass, the Eagles should be able to keep up with the Broncos.

Let’s face it; the Broncos haven’t faced an offense as dynamic as Philadelphia’s all season long. Baltimore, New York, and Oakland are all one-dimensional in favor of the passing game. Chip Kelly should be able to have a field day by mixing up the run and pass and keeping Manning on the sideline with the help of his vibrant running game. The one concern Philadelphia fans should have is the propensity of the Eagles offense to score too quickly. While this is not a problem against a weak offense; keeping the defense on the field for a majority of the game against Manning will undoubtedly result in disaster.

Finally, the Eagles have the advantage of rest. After playing three games in 11 days to begin the campaign; the Eagles will take the field tomorrow having not played a game in 10 days. The Broncos, who played the Raiders last Monday, were vocally displeased by the NFL schedule makers’ decision to place the Eagles on their schedule in this game. Manning himself, typically a soft-spoken fellow, went on record by saying that the lack of preparation time for Kelly’s versatile offense greatly inhibits the Broncos chances of victory. Granted, this could all merely be grandstanding by a very talented Denver unit. Even so, the Eagles can only find positivity in the fact that their defense has had over a week to prepare for the greatest quarterback of all time.

Offensively, the Broncos and Eagles are a rather even comparison. Denver will get it done through the air and the Eagles will grind it out on the ground. If Philadelphia can get in early lead in this game then they may be on their way to their second road victory of the season.

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A strong bullpen, like a dominant special teams in football, can separate the contenders from the pretenders. As Phillies fans witnessed in 2008, a shutdown closer coupled with a reliable setup man can push a team over the top and towards a world championship.

In 2012, the Phillies had one of the worst bullpens in the major leagues. Philadelphia made blowing late leads look like an art. It didn’t matter who Charlie Manuel went with, the “Pigpen” was as reliable as FEMA in the inner cities.

Heading into 2013, Ruben Amaro aimed to prevent this tragedy from happening again. The Philadelphia general manager acquired veteran setup man Mike Adams to supplement Jonathan Papelbon at the backend of the ‘pen. Adams, 34, inked a two-year, $12 million contract last December. The former Padre and Ranger was expected to provide top-notch relief in the eighth inning for the 2013 club. However, as has been the case with many Amaro signings of late, the injury bug reared its ugly head. Adams was coming into this season with a body already full of aches, pains, and question marks. The right-hander was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome before he even signed the deal. While the Phillies avoided any setback with regards to TOS, the beleaguered ballclub could not avoid major injury to their prized off-season acquisition. Adams was lost for the season in July with multiple tears in his shoulder, leaving Charlie Manuel with a collection of youth and inconsistency at the backend of his pen.

As for Papelbon, it would be difficult to describe his first two years in red pinstripes as a disappointment. The former All-Star, who signed a four-year, $50 million contract with a vesting option for 2016 prior to 2012, has saved 67 games since joining the club. In 2013, Papelbon started tremendously. In the first half, opposing hitters batted just .207 against him. After the All-Star break, on the other hand, he was raked to the tune of a .283 batting average. The Phillies have to hope that “Pap’s” second-half woes are merely a sign of short-term fatigue and not a preview of things to come.

Papelbon and Adams will return next year to man the backend of what should be an improved bullpen. In the second half of 2013, the Phillies not only have to deal with Adams’ injuries and Papelbon’s inconsistency; but, they also had to endure a 50-game suspension to left-hander Antonio Bastardo (3-2, 2.32). With both Adams and Bastardo sidelined, youngsters like Justin DeFratus (3-3, 3.91), Jake Diekman (1-4, 2.65), Luis Garcia (0-1, 3.99), BJ Rosenberg (2-0, 4.82), and Cesar Jimenez (1-1, 2.20) were promoted from Lehigh Valley and played crucial roles down the stretch for both Manuel and Sandberg.

DeFratus and Diekman were perhaps the two most impressive arms of the season. The former began the season as the IronPigs’ primary closer. It didn’t take long for the right-hander to be promoted once injuries hit the Phillies’ bullpen. DeFratus had his struggles, as any young pitcher does. But, the fast array of roles that he filled during the course of the season proved just how valuable he can be to an organization. Diekman, meanwhile, is a talented lefty who replaced DeFratus as Lehigh Valley’s closer following the latter’s promotion. After ranking among the league leaders in games finished during his time in the International League, Diekman flourished in his second stint with Philadelphia in 2013. Against southpaws, Diekman was nearly untouchable (.148 opponents’ batting average, 0 extra-base hits allowed). The 26-year-old was brilliant in the second half, going 1-4 with a 2.08 ERA. It would be absolutely stunning if we didn’t see both of the “Killer Ds” in the Ryne Sandberg’s bullpen next spring.

So, there are four pieces already cemented. If one assumes that Bastardo, who was moderately reliable prior to his suspension, returns to begin the year, Amaro likely won’t have much shopping to do with regards to bullpen pieces.

Some pitchers that the Phillies relied on this year are unlikely to return. Phillippe Aumont, whose million-dollar arm is only matched by his ten cent head, claimed following his AAA campaign that he did not want to be back. The centerpiece of the December, 2009 Cliff Lee trade has clearly lost his motivation in this organization and should expect to be traded. Jeremy Horst, acquired prior to 2012 from Cincinnati for Wilson Valdez, regressed this season after a stellar first campaign in Philadelphia. He was lost for the season due to injury. But, the LOOGY should be expected back by spring training.

Other pitchers who contributed this season included Zach Miner (0-1, 3.08), J.C. Ramirez (0-1, 7.48), Raul Valdes (1-1, 7.46), Ethan Martin (2-5, 6.32), Michael Stutes (3-1, 4.86), and Joe Savery (2-0, 3.32). Of all of these names, the most likely duo to make the squad out of spring training are Martin and Savery. The former, as mentioned in part one of this series, has an electric arm and knee buckling curveball. Endurance and emotion seem to be the only things holding him back. Savery, a first-round pick in 2007, has bounced between AAA and the major leagues for three years now. It is becoming clear that he will never be a front-line reliever. But, the left-hander provides valuable depth behind Bastardo and Horst on the Phillies’ organizational depth chart.

Clearly, the Phillies don’t have a lot of shopping to do to improve the bullpen. The available arms in free agency hardly stick out. A return of Ryan Madson, who hasn’t pitched since the 2011 NLDS, could be considered as it would be a low cost, low risk move. Other veterans like LaTroy Hawkins, Jose Valverde, and Carlos Marmol all are massive question marks.

As of now, it would appear that Papelbon, Adams, DeFratus, Diekman, Bastardo, Martin, and Horst/Savery will make up the bullpen next year. This makes the bullpen the easiest fix heading into 2014 for Amaro. How do you improve the ‘pen? Let them go for it again.

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It is amazing how far the Philadelphia Phillies have fallen. Just two Septembers ago this weekend, the Phillies were eclipsing 100 victories en route to fifth straight NL East title. The pitching staff was dominant, fueled by the fervor of veteran superstars like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Those days are long forgotten. As the Phillies conclude their dismal 2013 campaign this weekend, we look ahead at the daunting task that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has ahead of him this winter.

Heading into 2013, the Phillies’ rotation was slightly top-heavy. Lee and fellow southpaw Cole Hamels were expected to continue the dominance they experienced in 2012. Meanwhile, right-hander Roy Halladay was coming off the worst season of his Phillies career. Hope was high that “Doc” could rebound from his disappointing 11-8, 4.49 line. That prayer was never answered; as Halladay, who missed most of the season with injury, delivered a dismal 4-5, 6.82 line in what may be his final season in red pinstripes.

Coming in behind the trio formerly called the three aces were Kyle Kendrick and Jon Lannan. The former experienced a renaissance of sorts in the first half of the campaign. Prior to July’s All-Star break, Kendrick was exhilarating. The right-hander went 8-6 with a 3.68 ERA before the mid-summer classic. Afterwards, Kendrick reverted back to his old ways, finishing 2-7 with a 6.91 ERA in the second half of the season. Lannan, meanwhile, struggled with injuries and inconsistency. The southpaw was never able to regain the poise and precision that made him the Nationals’ opening-day starter two seasons in a row.

During the campaign, the Phillies saw many youngsters make their debut at Citizens Bank Park. Right-handers Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin got their professional careers underway. Pettibone, who was a pleasant surprise during the first half of the season, should get an opportunity to break spring training as a member of the rotation next year. Martin, who was phenomenal with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, saw his role transition from young starter to fiery reliever. It is unlikely that Martin will have a shot at a rotation spot to begin 2014.

So where does that leave us as we look ahead to next spring? Lee (14-7, 2.93), Hamels (8-14, 3.60), and Kendrick (10-13, 4.70) are all but guaranteed spots in Ryne Sandberg’s rotation. The latter two are signed to multimillion dollar megadeals, and Ruben Amaro has evaded all possible deals for the veteran Lee. Kendrick, on the other hand, is an interesting topic.

The right-hander has been the baseball personification of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He will put together 6-7 starts of top of the rotation starting pitching. However, he is also almost guaranteed to have 8-9 starts in which his right arm resembles that of a beer leaguer, worn from years of abuse and swollen like the gut of a Washington Redskins fan. Kendrick’s two-year contract with the organization concludes after this season. If Mr. Amaro wants to bring his veteran back he will need to offer arbitration. Kendrick would likely receive a salary of $8 million on a one-year contract for 2014. While this is certainly an acceptable salary for a team with Philadelphia’s payroll, one has to wonder if those assets couldn’t be better spent improving the offense or adding a situational reliever. Still, this writer believes that Kendrick, who can eat innings, is the best option at that salary level. After all, former Phillie Joe Blanton received a two-year, $18 million contract from the Los Angeles Angels last winter.

Assuming that Lee, Hamels, and Kendrick are on the roster and healthy next April, Sandberg will have two spots to fill. I doubt the Phillies will pursue another topline starter, even if Roy Halladay is not retained. Veteran options who may fit the Phillies price range include: Bronson Arroyo, Erik Bedard, Bruce Chen, or Gavin Floyd, who is coming off Tommy John surgery. None of those options are particularly satisfying, and resemble the patchwork stopgaps of the past like Lannan and Oswalt. The top starters available like Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, and Tim Lincecum will have high price tags especially considering their inconsistencies of late.

In-house options that Amaro could turn to include: Pettibone, Martin, Adam Morgan, Tyler Cloyd, and David Buchanan. Pettibone has to be considered a favorite for one of those spots. Martin is likely to continue his transition into a reliever. Cloyd, who experienced a dismal campaign in both Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, is unlikely to get another shot. Meanwhile, Morgan and Buchanan have showed plenty of promise at the AAA level, but will likely be brought along slowly. Jesse Biddle, who came into the campaign with much fanfare, is likely to start 2014 in the Lehigh Valley after experiencing an up-and-down 2013 with Reading.

With Pettibone likely joining the aforementioned trio at the top, Amaro will need to find at least one quality arm this off-season. Yes, international free agent Miguel Alfredo González has an abundance of potential. However, he will undoubtedly need some seasoning to begin his professional career and is unlikely to begin 2014 in the Philadelphia rotation. The earliest I would expect to see González would be in late May after he has had an opportunity to face minor-league hitting.

So, Ruben Amaro, the time is now for you to act. Gone are the second and third chances. As 2014 approaches so too does the ultimatum levied upon you. Yes, the Phillies have missed the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006. But, they are not rebuilding. A team with that large of payroll and an abundance of talent should under no circumstances need to rebuild. Instead, it is time for an Amaro retooling. With one or two starters acquired either via free agency or trade, the Phillies could once again return to contention next season.

Week Four NFL Predictions

Posted: September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Last Week: 5-9-2
Overall Record: 19-25-4

San Francisco 49ers (1-2) AT St. Louis Rams (1-2)

The Spread: San Francisco by 4
The Pick: St. Louis
The Score: San Francisco, 20-17
The Rationale: The 49ers have a short week after a surprising blowout at the hands of the Colts. They also face a team that they did not beat last year in the Rams. However, the St. Louis offense has been inconsistent at best and I highly doubt they’ll find their moxie against a tough defense like San Francisco’s.

Baltimore Ravens (2-1) AT Buffalo Bills (1-2)

The Spread: Baltimore by 3
The Pick: Baltimore
The Score: Baltimore, 26-16
The Rationale: The spread for this game is shockingly narrow. Buffalo certainly garners some home field advantage. But, the defending champions proved last week in their victory over Houston that they were a force to be reckoned with at least in the short term. EJ Manuel still has a lot of work to do if he hopes to beat a team like the Ravens.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) AT Cleveland Browns (1-2)

The Spread: Cincinnati by 4
The Pick: Cincinnati
The Score: Cincinnati, 31-24
The Rationale: Brian Hoyer awoke a lackluster Cleveland offense last week even without Trent Richardson. What will he have for an encore? Something tells me that even if Hoyer mimics his 300+ yard week three performance, Cleveland will be in trouble.

Chicago Bears (3-0) AT Detroit Lions (2-1)

The Spread: Detroit by 3
The Pick: Chicago
The Score: Chicago, 27-26
The Rationale: It’s a huge early season showcase in the NFC North. The Lions have the offensive firepower and notoriety. But, it’s been the Bears that have seen everything go right so far this season. This will be a back and forth affair that could turn on yet another Chicago forced turnover.

New York Giants (0-3) AT Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)

The Spread: Kansas City by 5
The Pick: Kansas City
The Score: Kansas City, 23-14
The Rationale: Two teams heading in drastically different directions after three weeks, the Giants and Chiefs duel from Arrowhead this Sunday. While the Chiefs’ offense hasn’t really opened too many eyes this fall, their defense has proven to be better than advertised. That doesn’t bode well for a Giants team that scored all of 0 points last time out.

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) AT Minnesota Vikings (0-3)

The Spread: Pittsburgh by 1
The Pick: Minnesota
The Score: Minnesota, 19-13
The Rationale: For the first time, the NFL will play two games in London during the regular season. Their first “showcase” features two of the worst offenses in football through the first three games. Exciting stuff to market the brand to the Brits, eh?

Arizona Cardinals (1-2) AT Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)

The Spread: Tampa Bay by 1
The Pick: Arizona
The Score: Arizona, 21-17
The Rationale: The Cardinals are 0-2 on the road this season and have to travel to Tampa to play a 1:00 game on Sunday. Typically, this would be a recipe for disaster for a west coast team. But, the cards certainly fell in Arizona’s favor. Tampa Bay is going with unproven rookie Mike Glennon. The behemoth stands at 6-6, 236 and sort of looks like he has got gigantism. Regardless, he won’t fare very well in start number one.

Indianapolis Colts (2-1) AT Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)

The Spread: Indianapolis by 10
The Pick: Indianapolis
The Score: Indianapolis, 33-14
The Rationale: When an NFL team cannot cover 20 points, they’re a lost cause. Time to bet on every team that plays Jacksonville this season.

Seattle Seahawks (3-0) AT Houston Texans (2-1)

The Spread: Seattle by 3
The Pick: Seattle
The Score: Seattle, 27-17
The Rationale: The Texans are who we thought they were; a good team with little ability to defeat the contenders. There aren’t many contenders clicking more than Seattle right now. The Seahawks humiliated Jacksonville on Sunday and will look to replicate that success in Houston.

New York Jets (2-1) AT Tennessee Titans (2-1)

The Spread: Tennessee by 4
The Pick: Tennessee
The Score: Tennessee, 23-10
The Rationale: The Titans

Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) AT Denver Broncos (3-0)

The Spread: Denver by 12
The Pick: Philadelphia
The Score: Philadelphia, 37-34
The Rationale: Upset city! The Broncos have not exactly faced the stiffest competition so far. At least in the form of daunting offensive talent. The Ravens were on a Super Bowl hangover and without TE Dennis Pitta. Meanwhile, the Giants’ and Raiders’ offenses have been more successful turning it over than scoring touchdowns. Chip Kelly and the Birds have had 10 days to prepare. If they avoid the turnovers, they can beat anyone.

Washington D.C. Football Team (0-3) AT Oakland Raiders (1-2)

The Spread: Washington by 3
The Pick: Oakland
The Score: Washington, 23-21
The Rationale: The Redskins are clearly not a  good team. Their defense is mediocre and the offense just is not the same with RGIII still recovering from his knee injury. They should get a win this week. But, the Raiders have proven to be feisty early on this season.

Dallas Cowboys (2-1) AT San Diego Chargers (1-2)

The Spread: Dallas by 2
The Pick: San Diego
The Score: San Diego, 31-29
The Rationale: Both of these teams have stellar offenses. Dallas’ defense has been strong, as well. But, the loss of Anthony Spencer for the season should allow the Chargers (and future teams) to focus solely on DeMarcus Ware, limiting the Cowboys’ pass rush.

New England Patriots (3-0) AT Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

The Spread: Atlanta by 1
The Pick: Atlanta
The Score: Atlanta, 28-24
The Rationale: The Falcons need to win as a 1-3 start would cripple their chances of catching New Orleans this season. Meanwhile, New England has faced the likes of Josh Freeman, Geno Smith, and EJ Manuel in their three victories this season. Something tells me that Matt Ryan brings a bit more to the table than that trio.

Miami Dolphins (3-0) AT New Orleans Saints (3-0)

The Spread: New Orleans by 7
The Pick: Miami
The Score: New Orleans, 26-20
The Rationale: A great MNF matchup features two undefeated teams here in the early-going. I think that Miami will eventually come back down to earth. But, their defense is strong and New Orleans’ offense has been a bit inconsistent this campaign. The Saints will likely win. But, it won’t be by a touchdown.

Week Three NFL Predictions

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Last Week: 11-4-1
Overall Record: 
14-16-2

Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) AT Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)

The Spread: Philadelphia by 3
The Pick: Kansas City
The Score: Kansas City, 30-27
The Rationale: The Eagles’ defense proved last week that it was not ready for primetime. Something tells me Andy Reid will find enough fire-power to put up 30+. It doesn’t help that the Eagles have played three games in 11 days.

Green Bay Packers (1-1) AT Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)

The Spread: Green Bay by 1
The Pick: Green Bay
The Score: Green Bay, 23-20
The Rationale: A lot of close spreads this week, beginning with this doozy of a matchup. Green Bay is coming off a blowout victory over Washington in which their offense clicked on all cylinders. They’ll face a better pass rush this week. But, Aaron Rodgers and co. should be able to come out of this one with a win.

St. Louis Rams (1-1) AT Dallas Cowboys (1-1)

The Spread: Dallas by 4
The Pick: Dallas
The Score: Dallas, 28-21
The Rationale: The Cowboys will continue to be flaky offensively as long as they have Garrett and Romo in tow. But, the defense has proven to be strong.

San Diego Chargers (1-1) AT Tennessee Titans (1-1)

The Spread: Tennessee by 3
The Pick: San Diego
The Score: San Diego, 24-20
The Rationale: The Chargers may be in for a letdown after their offense ripped through Philadelphia last week. But, Tennessee’s offense has not shown a lot in two games. The Chargers are off to a strong start.

Cleveland Browns (0-2) AT Minnesota Vikings (0-2)

The Spread: Minnesota by 6
The Pick: Minnesota
The Score: Minnesota, 27-13
The Rationale: The Vikings could just as easily be 2-0 right now with a competent QB. Unfortunately, their faith in Christian Ponder has not been realized. On the other hand, they are playing a Browns team that just shipped their best player out of town. Enjoy another generation of losing, Cleveland.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) AT New England Patriots (2-0)

The Spread: New England by 8
The Pick: New England
The Score: New England, 28-14
The Rationale: The Patriots’ defense has impressed me over the past two weeks even though their offense has been stagnant. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has let two easily winnable games slip away. One would think this would present a quality matchup in Foxborough. Of course, you throw in the fact that Josh Freeman is erratic and Greg Schiano is already feuding with Darrelle Revis and you have the makings of a disaster.

Arizona Cardinals (1-1) AT New Orleans Saints (2-0)

The Spread: New Orleans by 9
The Pick: Arizona
The Score: New Orleans, 27-20
The Rationale: Bruce Arians is a great coach. He’ll be able to get enough out of his team this early in the season to keep this game close enough to cover the spread. New Orleans’ offense didn’t look like world beaters last week in Tampa Bay.

Detroit Lions (1-1) AT Washington D.C. Football Club (0-2)

The Spread: Washington by 1
The Pick: Washington
The Score: Washington, 34-31
The Rationale: I know that everyone and their mother thinks the D.C. football Club is going to be 0-3. On the contrary, I think this is an easily winnable game for Washington. Keep in mind that Detroit has significant injuries to their skill position players.

New York Giants (0-2) AT Carolina Panthers (0-2)

The Spread: Carolina by 1
The Pick: New York
The Score: New York, 24-17
The Rationale: I suppose it is possible that the Giants could turn it over four more times this week. But, it does not seem likely.

Houston Texans (2-0) AT Baltimore Ravens (1-1)

The Spread: Houston by 1
The Pick: Houston
The Score: Houston, 23-20
The Rationale: The Texans’ two victories have not been all that impressive. They defeated the Chargers after trailing 28-7 in the third quarter. Then, Houston overcame another deficit to defeat Tennessee in overtime, last week. They’ll face their stiffest test of the season and improve to 3-0 by defeating the Ravens in Baltimore.

Atlanta Falcons (1-1) AT Miami Dolphins (2-0)

The Spread: Miami by 1
The Pick: Atlanta
The Score: Atlanta, 30-20
The Rationale: Easiest pick of the week. The Dolphins are riding high right not, as they should be. Their wins over Indianapolis and Cleveland were nice. But, they were teams that were completely one dimensional on offense. Now, the Falcons come to town. Even though they don’t have Steven Jackson, Matt Ryan and co. have more weapons in tow than the Colts and Browns combined.

Buffalo Bills (1-1) AT New York Jets (1-1)

The Spread: New York by 2
The Pick: Buffalo
The Score: Buffalo, 29-23
The Rationale: The first matchup between Geno Smith (NYJ) and EJ Manuel (BUF) should be an exciting affair. Both teams may come into this game with 1-1 records. But, Buffalo’s offense directed by Manuel has been much more impressive over the last few weeks.

Indianapolis Colts (1-1) AT San Francisco 49ers (1-1)

The Spread: San Francisco by 12
The Pick: Indianapolis
The Score: San Francisco, 28-19
The Rationale: I don’t think that Trent Richardson will have a colossal impact on this game. However, his mere presence will force the 49ers’ linebackers to respect the run more, which should open up the middle of the field for Andrew Luck. Still, the 49ers are the better team. They’ll win, but likely won’t cover.

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) AT Seattle Seahawks (2-0)

The Spread: Seattle by 20
The Pick: Jacksonville
The Score: Seattle, 33-14
The Rationale: Woah. I mean…come on. A 20 point spread in an NFL game? I don’t care if this is the 2007 Patriots against the 2008 Lions. I am taking the 20 point underdog every single time.

Chicago Bears (2-0) AT Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2)

The Spread: Chicago by 2
The Pick: Chicago
The Score: Chicago, 23-7
The Rationale: This Steelers’ offense might be the worst they have had in over 20 years. Meanwhile, the Bears are certainly getting accustomed to their new head coach, Marc Trestman. Of course, for Chicago; it’s not how they start, it’s how they finish

Oakland Raiders (1-1) AT Denver Broncos (2-0)

The Spread: Denver by 16
The Pick: Denver
The Score: Denver, 48-14
The Rationale: The Broncos’ defense forced a handful of Eli Manning turnovers last week. Something tells me they’ll do even worse to Terrelle Pryor. Book it.