…after another somewhat pathetic week of picking NFL games. Though we almost had an exact score involving Kansas City again Monday night…until of course the lateral thing the Redskins were trying to do with 4 seconds left didn’t exactly work out the way they wanted. Or the way many gamblers wanted either. Oh well, at least we didn’t have any money on that game, like many real gamblers did. Sucks for them…or maybe it worked out for them if they had the Chiefs and the over. But that last line is why I can’t really gamble in real life. It’s a fine line between winning and losing. And I’m usually on the wrong side of that line.
So in this space on the first pick of the week, I usually talk about the previous weeks’ Patriots game. Feeling exponentially angry and frustrated since I was in attendance at said game, I really don’t want to talk about it. Especially about how the defense is playing at an embarrassingly low level. Oh wait, I guess I kind of have to talk about it because…
New England (-5.5) at Tampa Bay
…yup, it’s the next game on the docket. 2nd Thursday Night Football game of the year for the Pats. I’m sure they are hoping it goes better than the first. Me too.
A lot of people are have been on the Bucs bandwagon this year. I suppose a 9-7 finish in 2016, missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker, would get some people juiced up about the team. Especially after a last place finish in 2015 at 6-10. Tampa has some weapons on offense. Jameis Winston may take another step up, in this his third year. Mike Evans is a stud receiver and DeSean Jackson has plenty left to offer. Cameron Brate and 2017 top pick O.J. Howard would seem to form a nice TE combo. And Doug Martin is due back this week, if that floats your boat. The defense? I don’t watch a lot of Tampa Bay Buccaneer football. But there are some recognizable names there on that side of the ball. There are a couple that seem to be hurt and may not play, so that may be a factor. I see that they also do only have one sack in three games. But it’s only three games, so I’m not sure if that means anything yet. So who knows how good they are either?
The way the Patriots defense has been playing, the Tampa offense should march up and down the field against these guys. But will they?
TB is 2-1, getting smoked by the Vikings in Minnesota and hammering the Bears and squeaking by the winless Giants at home last week. Not exactly inspiring results, to be frank. They are home and it is a short week, so they have that in their favor for sure.
New England will sure as hell score some points, you can bet on that. The key of course will be stopping the Tampa O. Nothing the Pats have done this season has indicated that they will be able to do this at all on Thursday Night. But…there’s a lot of things this season that haven’t made any sense so far. The Pats and Cowboys at 2-2 have the same record as the Jets and Jaguars. The Jets were supposed to go 0-16, weren’t they? Houston put up 57 points last week, when they scored 53 in their first 3 games. The Chargers and Giants are 0-4, and LA lost its first two games when their kicker missed a kick at the end of the game. Buffalo and the LA Rams are 3-1 and have beaten the defending NFC champion Falcons in Atlanta and another top NFC team in the Cowboys in Dallas, respectively. Not to mention the Rams have 12 games left to score the 83 points they need to pass last years total.
I could go on, but you get my point. It would make sense for New England to need some time to fix things on defense specifically. Short week, on the road, against what should be a good team…and all that. Seems as if there is also some finger-pointing in the locker room to boot. In this season of weirdness, you actually could see the Pats starting out 2-3. Would be easy to pick the Bucs due to all of that. Even though historically this is when the Pats play their best, when their backs are against the wall…or at least somewhat against the wall. 2-3 really wouldn’t kill them. But it also wouldn’t be great either.
I’ve been back and forth on this one long enough. The verdict?
New England 34, Tampa Bay 31. I know, shocker I took the Pats. I was leaning Tampa all week too. The defense is still going to take some time to be fixed. But the offense will continue to put up points. TB’s performance thus far hasn’t exactly been earth shattering. Pats know how to handle short weeks…generally. Does Tampa? Is Tampa ready for prime time? Tampa may be the easy pick based on the Pats woes and lots of other stuff listed above. But Thursday Night games are also pretty unpredictable historically, in and of itself. Add it all up, this is what you get.
Week (against the spread): 7-9
Week (straight up): 8-8
Season (against the spread): 29-34
Season (straight up): 39-24
So we are finally here. Took the Sox forever to clinch the division but they got it done. Does anyone give them a chance in the playoffs however?
I’m not too excited about their chances, to be honest. But in the playoffs, I suppose anything is possible. We all know I have been down on this team since early in the year. How I feel about Manager John Farrell is quite obvious. But the team itself? They won 93 games and the division. How can you feel bad about that? Well, to me, this team has actually underachieved this year. I mean, how many of the players actually improved from last year? Out of the position players, maybe one…and it was Christian Vazquez. He only played 99 games. Of course, I am not counting Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi, who obviously improved from last year, since both were essentially minor leaguers.
But the guys that were supposed to be the centerpieces of the offense…Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez and I suppose even Jackie Bradley Jr…all regressed this year. Dustin Pedroia probably was about as good as he can be these days. But he missed 57 games this season. Very frustrating.
The pitching staff? Drew Pomeranz and Craig Kimbrel took a step up. And of course Chris Sale came over and dominated. But the rest? Meh. We don’t even need to talk about Rick Porcello’s pathetic year. Well…at least he will have one great year under his belt to look back on.
In my opinion, the Sox have been an unlikable bunch all year and we’ve hashed through a lot of that…the David Price and Dennis Eckersley thing, the Pedroia/Manny Machado thing, just about everything Farrell does…and all that other off the field stuff. Add it all up and it can be tough to root for them. But of course I will…
So now they go up against a 101 win Houston Astro team in the American League Division Series. How do they matchup? Glad you asked! Let’s have a brief look at how the rosters should stack up and see if we can come up with any way the Sox can win this series. Only a 5-gamer, so as noted above, anything can happen. Rosters have not been announced, so a little bit of guesswork involved here…especially for the ‘Stros:
*Catcher: Bos: Vazquez, Sandy Leon. Hou: Brian McCann, Evan Gattis.
I think we can sum this matchup as “defense vs. offense”. I know, Vasky hit .290 this year, but let’s be real. Anyway, not that percentage of base stealers caught is the “be all, end all” here. But Vazquez was 42% and Leon 37%. The Astros? McCann 13%, Gattis 10%…and if they end up keeping a 3rd catcher, it will likely be Juan Centeno…who tossed out 8%, though admittedly in few opportunities. I don’t think Houston cares as long as their guys hit a little and don’t have too many passed balls. I’ve already written enough here.
Edge: Even, believe it or not.
*Infield: Bos: Mitch Moreland (1B), Pedroia (2B), Bogaerts (SS), Devers (3B). Hou: Yuli Gurriel (1B), Jose Altuve (2B), Carlos Correa (SS), Alex Bregman (3B).
Pedey is still hobbling, X has been painfully average all year, Devers has slowed down a bit since his electric debut and Mitch Moreland is…Mitch Moreland. Compare that to two studs who will get MVP votes in Altuve and Correa (who may have been a top candidate if he hadn’t missed over 40 games), a potential future star in Bregman, who got better as the year went on, and a solid first sacker in Gurriel…need I say more?
Edge: Houston, by a landslide.
*Outfield: Bos: Benintendi (LF), Bradley (CF), Betts (RF). Hou: Marwin Gonzalez (LF), George Springer (CF), Josh Reddick (RF).
Josh Reddick? Does anyone know he was .314/13/82 this year? .314? Springer had an awesome year. Gonzalez was a sort of super utility guy until he started playing more left down the stretch. Lot of offense here and the defense is not all that bad either. Reddick did win a Gold Glove in 2012…though that also may have been because he hit 32 homers that year…you know, because that’s sometimes (often) how Gold Glove voting goes. Bradley and Betts are true Gold Glovers, though I know JBJ hasn’t actually won one. And offensively, the Sox OF’s are pretty good too, though the feeling is they could be better. This is a close one.
Edge: Houston, by a smidge.
*Designated Hitter: Bos: Ramirez. Hou: Carlos Beltran.
Hanley is infuriating, but can still hit a little. Beltran looks done. He may not be in this spot this series, but I’m putting him here for now.
Edge: Boston, as much as it pains me to say.
*Bench: Bos: Eduardo Nunez (IF), Brock Holt (INF/OF), Chris Young (OF), Rajai Davis (OF/PR). Hou: Tyler White (IF), Derek Fisher (OF), Cameron Maybin (OF/PR).
Seemingly a wasteland on both sides. Sure, Nunez made a difference when he got to Boston. But he got hurt, then came back for a couple of innings and got hurt again. Do we really think he will all of a sudden ready to go this week? Holt should be replaced by Deven Marrero on the roster. Neither one can hit, but Marrero has the better glove. Young stinks and Rajai should only be a runner. The Astros bench may be worse. Maybin can still play a bit (at least run) and Fisher has some promise. But nothing impressive here. Only three bench guys for Houston because of Marwin’s versatility. And because they need as many bullpen arms as possible…since most of them are not necessarily good.
Edge: Boston, simply because of Nunez, if he’s even somewhat healthy. If not, even, since they then both stink.
*Starting Pitchers: Bos: Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez. Hou: Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers.
Sale alternated good and bad starts through September. Pomeranz pitched well Saturday, but was hammered his previous start. Always have to wonder when his bubble will burst. We don’t need to go through Porcello again. E-Rod? You just don’t know. Porcello and E-Rod are probably the right choices for Games 3 and 4, if indeed those are the choices. I really can’t do Doug Fister. You know Farrell will not go away from Porcello in this series too. If that is the case, and it would be hard to do, but it may be worth considering starting him in Game 2. His ERA was about a run and a half better on the road than at Fenway. Would take some serious stones to push Pomeranz back to Game 3. I don’t think anyone thinks Farrell has those stones though. In all seriousness, I doubt I would have the stones to do that either.
The Astros will start with 2 studs in Verlander and Keuchel. Then they have like 12 guys that could start the rest of the games. Morton, McCullers, Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock…they have options. And some pretty good ones.
Edge: Houston, and it’s not as close as one may think.
*Relief Pitchers: Bos: David Price, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Brandon Workman, Carson Smith, Addison Reed, Craig Kimbrel. Hou: Peacock, James Hoyt, Michael Feliz, Francisco Liriano, Chris Devenski, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Ken Giles.
I’m not sure Price can be “this year’s Andrew Miller”. But you have to like the way he has responded to his bullpen role. Guys like Barnes, Kelly and Workman have pitched better than expected this year. But I’m not sold on them for the playoffs. As long as they are 6th inning guys, maybe 7th, I suppose I can accept it. Who else do you want? Heath Hembree? Fernando Abad? Blaine Boyer? Austin Maddox? Nah. I’m not sure Smith is ready, but when your next option is Robby Scott, I suppose we can see what Carson has to offer. I think they will put him on the roster and pick spots with him. Reed and Kimbrel are pretty stout at the end.
Total stab on the Houston bullpen. Peacock was in the rotation and did very well the latter half of the year. But he’s used to coming out of the pen, whereas it doesn’t appear Morton or McCullers are, so it’s easy to shift him back there. He’s about 16 innings away from his career high in innings too, so you know managers like to protect those guys. Devenski, Harris, Gregerson and Giles are decent enough, but are we afraid? Liriano hasn’t been great, but he is a lefty you know. Feliz, Hoyt, Mike Fiers, Tony Sipp, Joe Musgrove, Tyler Clippard? Take your pick. McHugh could actually be here too.
Edge: Boston, primarily due to Reed and Kimbrel at the back end.
So who wins the series? Houston, 3-1. Sox win one of the first two. Then some combination of Porcello, E-Rod, Fister and Hector Velasquez get blasted out of Fenway in Games 3 and 4.
Looks like I got the Thursday Night game right finally…fantastic…now, the rest:
New Orleans (-2.5) at Miami
Next one up in London. Are we still considering putting a franchise there? God, I hope not. Never been for the idea. Doesn’t make sense to me. I suppose for the simple reason of what happens when a team like Seattle has to travel to London when it’s the NFC West divisions turn to play the AFC East/South team that ends up there? Just doesn’t seem like logistically a good idea. I know, I know, built-in bye weeks, teams travel all the time it shouldn’t be a problem, etc. But the London team will have a steep travel schedule for its 8 road games a year. I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it too much, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. Seems like the NFL getting greedy (again) but labeling it “expanding the reach of the sport” or something like that so they can pretend money isn’t the real reason. Whatever…
As for the game, New Orleans actually won big on the road last week. That tells me more about how the Carolina offense performed in that game, instead of how good the Saints actually were. Miami was embarrassed by the Jets in New York. Crazy week last week in the NFL and I don’t think many people predicted those results. I expect things to get back to some sort of normal this week. Not that Miami is any kind of great team, but…and of course it is their “home” opener!
Miami 27, New Orleans 24.
Tennessee (-1.5) at Houston
These two teams seem like they are still the teams in the very mediocre AFC South. No, I’m not in on the Jags yet. Houston is home. Deshaun Watson is getting more comfortable. Maybe Will Fuller makes a difference. I guess I just don’t feel like the Texans will start 1-3.
Houston 24, Tennessee 23.
Cincinnati (-3.5) at Cleveland
I wrote this last week for Cleveland/Indianapolis, “Ugh. Someone has to win. Ummm…I guess they don’t. But someone has to cover…”. Seems about right here as well. Both teams are 0-3. Close losses last week. Since Cincy played a better team and almost pulled off a road upset (actually, they really should have), I’m going with them here too…yaaaaaaaaawn…
Cincinnati 21, Cleveland 17.
Detroit at Minnesota (-2.5)
Should be a good divisional battle, even if the immortal Case Keenum is still at the helm for the Vikes. The Lions were inches away from 3-0. Now I’m thinking they drop back to 2-2. Going with the home team for the win here, but if everyone else goes with Detroit I wouldn’t be offended.
Minnesota 28, Detroit 27.
Buffalo at Atlanta (-8.5)
Who saw the Bills beating Denver? Even in Buffalo? Thought that was an easy Bronco win last week. So did most I would bet. Anyway, it would seem highly unlikely they go to Atlanta and do the same. Buffalo has given up 37 points in three weeks…albeit in two of those were the Jets and Panthers. Wouldn’t surprise me to see the Falcons come close to that in this game alone.
Atlanta 35, Buffalo 17.
Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Baltimore
Both teams most assuredly want to forget last week. Pittsburgh is probably the better overall team. And Joe Flacco is no Hall of Famer. But can he put up a stinkbomb like that two weeks in a row? Doesn’t seem likely. My gut is telling me the Ravens here.
Baltimore 21, Pittsburgh 20.
Los Angeles Rams at Dallas (-8.5)
The Rams have been nice story. And they’ve had a week and a half to get ready for this one. But remember, they gave up 39 points to the 49ers last Thursday.
Dallas 45, Los Angeles Rams 24.
Jacksonville (-3.5) at New York Jets
Told you above I wasn’t sold on the Jags. But I also thought the Jets were going 0-16. I’m going to buy in on the Jags for at least this one week.
Jacksonville 34, New York Jets 13.
Carolina at New England (-8.5)
Another high spread for the Pats. And again I think pretty undeserving. The Pats offense is trucking along. But the defense, as noted in the last Blowhard piece, has been absolutely abysmal. Houston does not have a great offense, but they put up 33 last week. Carolina’s offense has been embarrassing. And they seem to have better offensive players than the Texans, even without Greg Olsen. Would it shock anyone if Carolina scored 30 plus as well? Not me.
New England 38, Carolina 31.
Philadelphia at Los Angeles Chargers (-0.5)
Chargers can’t go 0-4, can they? If it’s close, they very well could. LA’s kicker is questionable, while Philly’s kicker hit a 61-yarder to beat the G-Men last week. Not sure that will happen again though.
Los Angeles Chargers 24, Philadelphia 23.
San Francisco at Arizona (-7.5)
I don’t necessarily love the Cardinals…and the spread is probably too high. But although the Niners have had a week and a half to prepare, I’m not buying into that offensive outburst against the Rams.
Arizona 31, San Francisco 19.
New York Giants at Tampa Bay (-3.5)
Can the Giants go 0-4? If there is a God, they will.
Tampa Bay 24, New York Giants 17.
Oakland at Denver (-2.5)
Hopefully both teams bounce back from their atrocities last week, since this should be a good one. Well, Denver wasn’t all that horrible, but they weren’t good either. Losing to Buffalo, even if it was at Buffalo? Shouldn’t happen to a team the caliber of the Broncos. The Raiders? Simply didn’t show up last week. I don’t know what the hell happened there. Gonna stick with the home team here. But hopefully a great game to watch.
Denver 34, Oakland 31.
Indianapolis at Seattle (-13.5)
Part of me thinks this spread is waaaaaay too large, since the Seahawks offense has played fairly awful this year thus far. But the rest of me tells me this is where they start lighting it up again. Plus, although Jacoby Brissett has performed admirably so far this season, this seems to be the type of game he comes crashing back to reality.
Seattle 42, Indianapolis 13.
Washington at Kansas City (-6.5)
That Kareem Hunt sure is the real deal, eh? And think, KC was going to go into the season with Spencer Ware before he tore his PCL. Ware is a solid back for sure. But could he possibly be as explosive as Hunt?
Kansas City at home is tough to beat. But the ‘Skins are a solid bunch that I feel can keep the game close.
Kansas City 23, Washington 20.
Week (against the spread): 1-0
Week (straight up): 1-0
Season (against the spread): 23-25
Season (straight up): 32-16