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Outside Looking In…

…that’s your defending NFC (and ALMOST Super Bowl) Champion Atlanta Falcons, that is.  With a mere 4 weeks to go until the playoffs start.

Oh wait, this first:

New Orleans (-1.5) at Atlanta

The Thursday Night Football game may actually be one of the few good ones…if the right Atlanta team shows up.  I’m not even sure the right New Orleans team shows up though either.  The Saints are a surprising 9-3.  Their defense has improved throughout the year…talk about surprising.  The offense has morphed a little, featuring not only one running back that can play, but two.  So they are passing less, but still putting up a good amount of points.

If you look deeper at the Saints’ nine wins, that may tell a different story however.  Yes, they have beaten the 8-4 Carolina Panthers twice, the other seven wins are a collection of cream puffs, in reality.  Take nothing away from the Saints improving as a football team overall.  But the 9-3 record may be a smidge inflated.  That Alvin Kamara kid can play though, eh?

Then we have the Falcons.  Yup, they probably should have won the Super Bowl last year.  But realistically, they were kind of lucky to be in there in the first place.  Should the “Super Bowl Hangover” really apply to a team like that?

Taking a look at their season, who the hell knows what’s going on?  They have had some good wins.  But also some bad losses.  Their vaunted offense hasn’t been all that “vaunted”.  Nine points last week…albeit against a good Vikings team.  Still…

The Falcons have had two 3 game winning streaks this season and one 3 game losing streak.  The Blowhard has counted them out more than once.  Just a hard team to figure.  Currently, they sit a game out of the playoffs, behind the aforementioned Panthers and Seattle Seahawks and their 8-4 records for the final NFC Wild Card spot.

So what happens Thursday Night?  Good question.  Does Mark Ingram play?  He hasn’t practiced this week and apparently has a bad toe.  Kamara has been great and Drew Brees is still Drew Brees.  But moving to just the one back may have some effect.  Again, no idea what to expect on a week to week basis with Atlanta.  My gut tells me they show up at home and keep the NFC playoff race (and NFC South division) tight and interesting.

Then two weeks from now, the Saints and Falcons do it again…this time in N’awlins.  We’ll see…

Atlanta 31, New Orleans 27.

Week (against the spread):  10-6

Week (straight up):  12-4

Season (against the spread):  102-90

Season (straight up):  128-64

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Week Thirteen…

…off to yet another bad start, what with the ‘Skins getting their arse handed to them on the most recent edition of Thursday Night Football.  But Sunday is another day…

San Francisco at Chicago (-3.5)

JIMMY FOOTBALL!!  Finally!!  Not sure what the Niners were waiting for.  Playbook?  Please.  Seattle?  Please.  Get him in there.  Get it done.  And?

San Francisco 24, Chicago 13.

Minnesota at Atlanta (-2.5)

This is a tough one.  Atlanta is rejuvenated.  The Vikings seem to be waiting for Case Keenum to crumble.  This may be the week.  Let’s face it…it’s Case F’ng Keenum!!

Atlanta 31, Minnesota 21.

Houston at Tennessee (-7.5) 

I’m honestly not sure the Titans should be favored by this much over anyone…well, except Cleveland.  But Tom Savage really is terrible.

Tennesse 27, Houston 17.

Tampa Bay (-1.5) at Green Bay

Tampa is really favored AT Green Bay?  Seriously?  Brett Hundley notwithstanding, seems like a stupid idea.

Green Bay 23, Tampa Bay 21.

Denver at Miami (-0.5)

Brutal.  How does anyone pick this game?  Shot in the dark here.

Denver 20, Miami 14.

New England (-8.5) at Buffalo 

I shouldn’t do it, but I’m going to.  Pats on the road.  Divisional foe.  Bills hanging on to playoff hopes.  Pats banged up.  Blah, Blah, Blah.  But I am doing it…

New England 38, Buffalo 17.

Detroit at Baltimore (-2.5) 

The Ravens seem rejuvenated as well.  Yes, I already used this word to describe the Falcons.  So be it.  Either way, can’t trust the Lions.

Baltimore 24, Detroit 21.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville (-9.5) 

Jacksonville lost to the Arizona Cardinals last week.  Let that sink in for a while.  And yet, I’m doing it against my better judgement this week with the Jags.

Jacksonville 31, Indianapolis 17.

Kansas City (-3.5) at New York Jets

KC has plummeted since their Opening Day win over the Pats.  Good for them.  Then they lost at home to a mediocre Bills team last week.  This week?  At least the Jets won’t be the New York team starting Geno Smith this weekend.

Kansas City 23, New York Jets 13.

Cleveland at Los Angeles Chargers (-13.5)

Josh Gordon is back!  I guess you can still make it back to the NFL after ingesting all kinds of drugs for several years.  If Aaron Hernandez was still alive, maybe he would have a chance to get back.  Wait, he (allegedly) murdered several people as well, so maybe not…

Los Angeles Chargers 34, Cleveland 20.  

New York Giants at Oakland (-6.5) 

Oakland is miraculously only a game out now in the AFC West.  The G-Men just turned to…Geno Smith.  I hate Eli Manning of course.  But Smith simply cannot play in the NFL.  And the way the team handled the whole benching was absolutely atrocious.  Realistically, I could have just said “GEEEEEEEENNNNNNN-OOOOOOOOOOO” here and that would have been all that needed to be said.

Oakland 23, New York Giants 7.

Los Angeles Rams (-6.5) at Arizona

Still not in on the Rams?  Not sure I am either.  BUT…I think I am this week.

Los Angeles Rams 38, Arizona 20.  

Carolina at New Orleans (-3.5) 

Matchup between a pair of 8-3 teams.  Who saw this one coming?  No one.  Yup.  No one.

New Orleans 30, Carolina 23.

Philadelphia (-5.5) at Seattle

I say it every week, Philly is on a roll.  The Seahawks are believe it or not a pedestrian 3-2 at home.  Plus they are ravaged by injuries.  But you know what?  Seattle is getting it done this week.  Another hunch.  But a legit one this time, I will promise you.

Seattle 33, Philadelphia 30.

Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Cincinnati

Speaking of hunches, I am going against myself this time.  The Steelers play down to their competition.  Seems like 5.5 is too high, especially on the road.  Even against the Bungles.  So, we shall see…

Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 20.

Week (against the spread):  0-1

Week (straight up):  0-1

Season (against the spread):  92-85

Season (straight up):  116-61

Red Sox Offseason Primer-Conclusion

We’ve covered the pitching, let’s move on to the rest of the roster:

Catchers (3):

Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez

No need to rock the boat here.  Other than having Vazquez take more playing time away from Leon, that is.  Last year, they essentially split time and hopefully that will be adjusted a smidge in the upcoming year.  It would appear that these two will be the tandem again.   I can live with that.  Defensively, they are a solid duo.  They threw out about 40% of base stealers, an impressive number in this era.  Swihart at one point was a “can’t miss” prospect.  Think that one missed.  He will be 26 in April and catchers supposedly do develop late.  But he has been injured in recent years and also jerked around by the team position-wise.  His bat was his primary asset as a potential pretty good offensive catcher, but .190 in almost 200 at-bats in Pawtucket last year does not inspire confidence.  I’m not sure if he has options left.  If he does, he will likely go back to Pawtucket.  If not, it wouldn’t surprise me if he played a ton in the spring to try to pump up his value and then shipped elsewhere before the season starts.  Too bad.

Infielders (9):

Xander Bogaerts (SS), Rafael Devers (3B), Marco Hernandez (UT), Brock Holt (UT), Tzu-Wei Lin (UT), Deven Marrero (UT), Dustin Pedroia (2B), Hanley Ramirez (1B), Sam Travis (1B)

This is where some work needs to be done.  Based on what the rest of the 25-man roster would look like all around at this very point in time, it would appear 7 of these 9 would have to make the squad.  With Pedroia out injured until around June, that would seemingly leave everyone else but Lin on the major league roster.  Not ideal.  Bogaerts and Devers obviously set on the left side of the infield.  Ramirez, in this scenario, remains the designated hitter.  That puts Travis full-time at first.  And a combination of Hernandez, Holt and Marrero holding the fort at second until Pedroia comes back.  Ugh…

Dave Dombrowski insists that Hanley will be ready to play first base next spring.  That may well be true in a physical sense.  But does anyone really think that Hanley will be up for that plan?  Travis looks like he may be able to hit a little.  But I’m not sure he is the full-time solution.  I don’t think the Sox think he is either.  And that is a positive, because it would seem to spur the team on to make a major move involving a 1B or DH.  Or an outfielder, but we will cover that in a second.

Speaking of second, I can even live with that combination of stiffs at second base for 60 games or so until Pedroia comes back.  Does it really makes sense to go out and (re)sign a guy like Eduardo Nunez to a decent sized deal when you are locked into Dustin for like 14 per until 2021?  I think not.  I’d personally try to move Pedroia, but the knees, age, contract and 10/5 veto rights pretty much make that impossible.  Dombrowski has been talking up Marco recently.  But maybe that’s for trade purposes, who knows?

The move to be made at 1B/DH?  Could be Eric Hosmer.  But I’m not sure I want to spend a ton of dough on a good glove but someone who (other than batting average) may not even be a better hitter than what you had there last year in Mitch Moreland.  Carlos Santana?  Meh.  Again, would seem to be too much money for not much of an upgrade.  I don’t care how many home runs Logan Morrison had last year, he’s probably the last guy I want them to sign.  Lucas Duda?  Surely, you jest.

Hopefully there are some big bats that may be available that we don’t know about.  Because I can’t say I totally love the names being thrown out there now.

Oh, and Xander?  Part of me (actually, most of me at the present time) wants to unload him now.  Underachievement for the last year and a half.  Frustrating.  But the rest of me tells me they have to keep him.  25-year-old shortstop that presumably has his best years ahead of him.  Push comes to shove, I’d probably deal him in the right situation.  But it has to be EXTREMELY right.  I’m not giving him away.  Though I really wanted to last year…

Outfielders (4):

Andrew Benintendi (LF), Mookie Betts (RF), Jackie Bradley (CF), Bryce Brentz (LF/RF)

On the surface, Benintendi-Bradley-Betts left to right would seem to suffice, right?  But when teams are searching for a power bat, that bat may be in the outfield.  Which would necessitate some sort of adjustment to this outfield alignment.

And no, even though Brentz hit 31 homers in Pawtucket last year, he is not the “power bat” that the Sox are looking to add.  Or he shouldn’t be anyway.  It’s a nice story, since Brentz was designated for assignment last summer and anyone could have claimed him for nothing.  But a nice story is all it is.  Dombrowski has been talking Brentz up as the 4th outfielder too.  But I’m not even buying that at this time.

Obviously, newly minted National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton is the hot name out there for the power bat.  All sorts of reports on him this past week…he wants to play on the West Coast and won’t approve of a trade to the Sox; that his reps are trying to get him to Boston because they think it will be the best fit, on and off the field; the Marlins want the world for him, even though he has almost 300 million left on his contract and on and on.

Stanton is the easy answer.  He plays right field though.  Right field in Fenway?  I suppose if that’s what he wants.  You could move Mookie back to center and keep Benny in left.  Maybe Stanton would agree to play left and then you would move Benny to center.  Giancarlo could of course DH, but he may not be ready to do that.  Either way, if he comes here, those “problems” will likely work themselves out.

I’m all for Giancarlo, even if the price is somewhat high.  I suppose it depends what “high” is, but the Sox should explore all options to get this done.  J.D. Martinez?  Ok…it’s only money for him I suppose.  And the Sox print money.  If it’s a fallback option, I guess you could do worse.  Other names?  Haven’t heard much.  Again, you never know who may be available, so maybe it’s a name we haven’t heard yet.

Any way you slice it, a big bat is absolutely imperative.  The Sox never really replaced David Ortiz last year.  Huge hole there, to state the obvious.  Where that bat comes in positionally, it doesn’t really matter.  Things could be maneuvered to make it work.  Bradley is one way things can be maneuvered.  I’d look to move him.  His ceiling has been reached.  Especially offensively.  His glove is nice, but can Mookie or Benintendi do at least 90% of that?  I think so.  And that should work out fine.  There has been rumored interest in JBJ.  If that is truly the case, I would strike while the iron is hot.

I’d actually like two bats, even if one is a little inferior to the other.  Can’t have enough power.  But, all in all, this may be the only move the Sox have to make.  Some tweaks to the pitching staff, sure.  But the big bat should be the one move the Sox should be all in on.  Anything else after that should be gravy, no?

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