On January 25th of this year, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired outfielder Christian Yelich from the Marlins for four prospects, including top prospect Lewis Brinson. At the time, many criticized the Brewers of this trade. They claimed that someone who was going to hit .270 with 20 home runs wasn’t worth a top 20 prospect. That the Brewers would regret this trade forever. Instead, this may go down as the greatest trade in Brewers history, as Yelich is making the critics eat their words.
A change of scenery was benefited Yelich dramatically. He is on pace to set career highs in batting average (.318), home runs (31), OPS (.955), and Wins Above Replacement (5.7). Yesterday, Yelich hit for the cycle for the SECOND time this season. That’s simply astonishing. How could this get any better for the Brewers? Well, Yelich is controlled through 2021 on a very team friendly contract, so Milwaukee has him for another three seasons at a price well below market value. With his emergence, it’s no surprise the Brewers are 86-65 and will almost certainly get the first NL Wildcard spot, while they still remain in distance of the first place Cubs at 2.5 games back.
Meanwhile, Brinson no longer looks like the star he was made out to be. The 24-year-old is hitting just .203/.243/.354 and has just a 0.1 WAR. He also has an atrocious 107-15 K-BB ratio. Since he’s already 24, he’s running out of time to make adjustments. Sure, he almost certainly will improve from this season and still could be an everyday player. However, Yelich is only two years older and is an NL MVP candidate while Brinson is making a case for the National League’s least valuable player.
What lessons should we learn from this trade? Well for starters, this should remind us that it’s impossible to critique a trade at first. Yelich looked like just an everyday player, while Brinson had the ceiling of a star. However, the roles have now been dramatically changed and the Brewers can now look forward to a bright future with Yelich while the Marlins have no future at all with a very weak farm system. If the Brewers listened to the critics and didn’t make this trade, they’d probably be a .500 team. However, with Yelich, the Brewers now are a lock for the playoffs and could very well end up hoisting the World Series trophy. Even if they don’t, more years of Yelich playing at an MVP level while Brinson continues to struggle will make this look like one of the greatest trades in MLB history for the Brewers. Congratulations to Brewers General Manager David Stearns. No matter what the future holds for him and the Brew Crew, he’ll have his name associated with this trade forever.
After a wild week one, it would be expected if Week 2 failed to match the same excitement. Instead, it exceeded that, with so many field goals and yet another tie, this one between the Vikings and Packers. Let’s take a look at the biggest winners and losers from Week 2.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
Without running back Leonard Fournette, it was fair to question if the Jaguars were going to be able to put enough points to compete with the reigning AFC Champion Patriots. They were able to do more than that. Jacksonville put up 31 points on the Pats, as quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 377 yards and 4 touchdowns, while also rushing for 35 yards. All the Jags need is for Bortles to be a game manager, however, their ceiling is through the roof if Bortles continues to make plays like he did on Sunday. The defense did everything they could so as well, as they pressured quarterback Tom Brady constantly and held tight end Rob Gronkowski to two catches for 15 yards. Jacksonville’s 31-20 win was done in dominant fashion, and they are starting to look like possibly the team to beat in the AFC.
Loser: Pittsburgh Steelers
After last week’s tie with the Browns, the Steelers were expected to take care of business at home against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Instead, Mahomes threw for 6 touchdowns, the Chiefs had two receivers with over 100 yards, and the Chiefs dropped 42 points on them. It was a pathetic effort by the defense, as there were countless amounts of blown coverages and missed tackles. The defense simply looked too slow to keep up with all the playmakers Kansas City has. The offense scored 37 points, but their slow start caused them to fall behind 21-0. Because of this, their offense became completely one dimensional as Ben Roethlisberger had a whopping 60 pass attempts, while James Conner rushed the ball 7 times for 18 yards. Add in the fact that receiver Antonio Brown added an extra level to their drama by ranting on the sidelines and sending skeptic tweets, and the Steelers sure don’t look like Super Bowl contenders at the moment.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Instead of slowing down like everyone expected after beating the Saints in New Orleans 48-40, the Buccaneers continued to roll along in Week 2 against the defending Super Bowl Champion Eagles. Ryan Fitzpatrick is currently playing like an MVP candidate, as he threw for 402 yards and 4 touchdowns. His chemistry with the team’s top two receivers is evident, as #1 receiver Mike Evans had 10 receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown while DeSean Jackson had four receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. Second-year tight end OJ Howard also turned in a promising performance with 96 receiving yards and a touchdown. With so many playmakers, Tampa’s offense should continue to produce at a high level, at least until Fitzpatrick comes down to earth. On defense, Tampa did allow 412 total yards, but they only allowed 21 points. They bent, but they didn’t break, and that’s all that matters. Tampa Bay was expected to start the year 0-3 in what was considered a brutal opening stretch, but they have a chance to start 3-0 if they can beat the Steelers and their horrendous defense at home on Monday Night Football.
Loser: Houston Texans
It’s safe to say that the Texans are not the team that they were hyped up to be. After a tough loss to the Patriots last week, Houston had a chance to get to 1-1 by simply defeating a Titans team that was without its starting quarterback, tight end, or either of its tackles. Instead, Houston found a way to lose this game. They won almost every statistical category. They had nearly 200 more total yards, more yards per play, and were much better in third downs. Tennesee, however, was able to sneak away with the win with a 66-yard fake punt touchdown pass thrown by safety Kevin Byard, and a couple late field goals by Ryan Succop. The main reason Houston lost this game was that they put themselves in a 14-0 hole early. They’ve yet to have a lead in a game and are constantly playing in catch up. If Houston wants to contend with top-tier teams, they can’t be practically giving teams a free two-score lead. The Texans’ ultimate goal is to compete for a Super Bowl, but right now they can’t even beat Blaine Gabbert. It might be time for the Texans and head coach Bill O’Brien to part ways, as he doesn’t look like the right fit to lead this team.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
Before the season, many saw the Dolphins as the worst team in football. I had them for three wins. Well, they better go 1-13 the rest of the season because they’re already 2-0 and turning heads. Miami’s victory at the Jets yesterday wasn’t flashy, but it didn’t need to be. A couple Sam Darnold interceptions gave Miami an early edge, and they never looked back from there. They jumped out to a 20-0 lead at halftime and ended up winning 20-12. Ryan Tannehill didn’t put up super numbers with 168 yards and two touchdowns, but he completed 74% of his passes and also rushed for 44 yards. If he continues to be efficient and not careless with the football, Miami’s offense should consistently produce. Running back Kenyan Drake had 4.8 yards per carry, and seven different players had a reception for the Dolphins. On defense, Miami forced four turnovers and held the Jets to 42 yards. They weren’t perfect- they missed an extra point and had two fumbles- but they were good enough to win on the road, which is never a small task. They may not be as talented as other teams, but the Dolphins seem to mesh together extremely well. With an extremely winnable game at home against the Raiders next week, Miami has a chance to be 3-0 when they travel to New England to try to dethrone the Pats.
Loser: Washington Redskins
With the Eagles losing and going to 1-1, the Redskins would have been in first place if they were able to beat the mediocre Colts at home. They instead came out flat, losing 21-9. On offense, their running backs combined for just 22 rushing yards and they struggled on third down. They continuously failed to capitalize on their opportunities and looked completely out of sync with a struggling running game. The defense wasn’t much better, as Washington let rookie running back Jordan Wilkins average 6.1 yards per carry and sacked Andrew Luck just once, surprising considering Indianapolis’ offensive line is still one of the weaker ones in the NFL. Washington had first place right in front of them and just let it slip away in a game they needed to have. With a tough schedule, they may have just squandered any chance of them making a playoff push unless they are able to win some of their tougher games they aren’t expected to win. Next week’s matchup against the Green Bay Packers should give us a quick understanding of what this team’s identity truly is.
When Sam Darnold threw a pick-six on his first ever pass, fans quickly went on social media to throw him under the bust. Darnold was called a bust and was thrown off as a “typical Jets quarterback”. Then, Darnold silenced all the haters. He finished completing 16 of his 21 passes, threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns and led the Jets to 48-17 win. Had it not been for the fact that they ran the ball so much with such a big lead, those numbers would’ve skyrocketed further. Between him and an up and coming defense, Darnold and the Jets seem to be heading towards a bright future, as long as they don’t find a way to screw it up.
While his stats were impressive, Darnold’s calm demeanor is what made him so impressive. After throwing that horrendous pick-six, Darnold showed no fear and learned from his mistake. A rookie quarterback isn’t expected to come on and light the world on fire. However, he’s expected to be hit by adversity and how he responds to it is the most important key to his development. Darnold got hit extremely hard by adversity and he was able to respond by learning from his mistake and not letting that one bad play gets in the way of what would turn out to be an amazing night. Darnold isn’t necessarily in a position to succeed- his offensive line isn’t good, doesn’t have a tight end- but he has shown the ability to make his teammates better, a trait very few quarterbacks have. That trait to go along with his accuracy and elite ability to throw on the run will help turn him into one of the league’s better quarterbacks for years to come.
On defense, the Jets have several key young defenders. Safety Jamaal Adams had an excellent rookie season and continued to show improvement with his impressive performance Monday Night. (1 INT, 5 TKL, 1 TFL) He looks like the face of the Jets defense and will one day become the best safety in the league with his ability to stuff the ran and be excellent in coverage. Third-year linebacker Darron Lee looks primed for a breakout season after a two-interception outing where he also totaled 7 tackles. It doesn’t stop there. The defensive line anchored by an elite run stuffer in Leonard Williams, Adams has a solid safety partner in second-year safety Marcus Maye, and free agent signing Avery Williamson is still just 26 years old and could develop a potentially lethal linebacking duo with Lee.
That being said, the Jets aren’t perfect. Their offensive line is horrendous, they have no tight end and need more certainty at cornerback and need to add one to two edge rushers. However, that’s where they can utilize free agency and the draft. They have over $100 million in cap space next offseason, which means they could be in on every big name. They should be smart though and they can’t spend just to spend and put themselves in a troubling financial system past 2019 like what often happens when teams have way too much cap space. It may not be flashy, but the Jets should avoid signing any skill position or pass rushers in free agency. The reason being that next couple drafts are stacked with pass rushers and skill position players (especially running backs). It may not be flashy, but the Jets should focus on players such as tackle Darryl Williams, guard Ali Marpet, cornerback Ronald Darby, and tight end Tyler Kroft. All of these players are either young or will probably be affordable with “low bust” potential. They all would fit needs that need to get solved in order to build a winning team. I would not necessarily sign all of them, with $70 million seeming to be a maximum of money to spend, but the primary thing that needs to happen is that the Jets can’t overpay for any player in free agency. It’s important to mention that, since overpaying for players they don’t need seems to be right up the Jets ally. Let’s try to give them a chance. After all, they finally drafted the right quarterback in Darnold.
The Jets have solved their biggest question by finding their franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, who has all the traits of an elite quarterback. With him, a young defense, and loads of money, the Jets could become the class of the AFC very soon. As long as they don’t screw it up, in typical Jets fashion.
After a crazy week one, it’s time to predict the outcome of each game in week 2.
Ravens (1-0) at Bengals (1-0) TNF
Thursday Night Football gives us a great matchup between two AFC North teams currently in first place. The Ravens and Bengals are so evenly matched, that it’s extremely difficult to predict a winner for this game. Joe Flacco has struggled in Cincinnati throughout his career, as he has a 3-6 record when on the road vs the Bengals. Cincinnati also has more playmakers than the Ravens with receiver AJ Green and running back Joe Mixon. Also, the Ravens defense lacks speed and youth, so expect speed threat John Ross to make a big play or two in this game. Baltimore’s upgrades at receivers look good in their opener vs the Bills, but that was the Bills. The Bengals have a very underrated secondary and should be able to contain a receiving corps that lacks a game changer. Baltimore also struggled to establish the run with Alex Collins in their opener and that likely won’t change against a Bengals run defense that looks much improved with the addition of linebacker Preston Brown. It should be relatively close, but Cincinnati should be able to be victorious in what is a very important matchup, despite it being just Week 2. Prediction: Ravens 20 Bengals 24
Panthers (1-0) at Falcons (0-1)
It’s just Week 2, but similar to Ravens at Bengals, this is a very important divisional matchup. A win for the Panthers would send them to 2-0 while a loss for the Falcons would send them to 0-2 and diminish their Super Bowl aspirations. We’ve only had one week of regular season football, but both teams are dealing with major injuries. Atlanta is without arguably their best two defensive players in S Keanu Neal (Torn ACL) and LB Deion Jones (foot) and is also without running back Devonta Freeman (knee). As for the Panthers, they’ll be without tight end Greg Olsen, who is easily Cam Newton’s most reliable target. It won’t be your typical Panthers-Falcons matchup without these guys, but one thing should stay the same: the Falcons should win this game. Atlanta has won three straight games at home against the Panthers and has won by at least a touchdown in each of those games. Carolina’s secondary is also too thin to be able to guard Atlanta’s stellar receiving corps. Even though Freeman is hurt, running back Tevin Coleman would be the starting running back for most NFL teams, so he is more than capable of filling in as the starter. Carolina also looks awful offensively at home against the Cowboys in Week 1 and once again looked like they didn’t know how to get running back Christian McCaffrey involved. Atlanta’s injuries should make this relatively close, but Atlanta is still the better team and will come out on top in this important NFC South matchup. Prediction: Panthers 17 Falcons 24
Vikings (1-0) at Packers (1-0)
Speaking of excellent divisional matchups, this matchup between the Vikings and Packers is a very interesting one. Aaron Rodgers just led a 20 point comeback on one leg against the Bears, but is he healthy enough to take on arguably the best defense in the NFL? In this case, the answer doesn’t matter. The Vikings are the better team and have a real shot to dominate this game. Their solid running game should destroy a Packers defense that gave up 5.1 yards per carry against the Bears. Minnesota’s pass rush should also dominate Green Bay’s offensive line that looked awful, which means Rodgers will be taking hit after hit. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense were expected by many to struggle at first when adjusting to new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, but they looked solid against the 49ers in Week 1, as Cousins threw for 244 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Packers secondary struggled at times vs Mitchell Trubisky, so Cousins should have no problem in this game, despite being on the road. Prediction: Vikings 27 Packers 20
Browns (0-0-1) at Saints (0-1)
Many were surprised by the Saints’ performance on Sunday in their 48-40 loss at home against the Buccaneers, but they shouldn’t be. Without running back Mark Ingram (PED suspension), they weren’t able to control the time of possession like they did last year. They also committed two fumbles, including one by new running back Mike Gillislee that led to a scoop and score that changed the momentum of the game. Those two things are a direct result of not having Ingram, and his suspension isn’t up until Week 5, which means they’re in trouble, considering Cleveland’s defense forced six turnovers last week against the Steelers. On defense, New Orleans should have been expected to go through some growing pains with corner Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams having to make the big leap from their rookie season to their sophomore season. They let Ryan Fitzpatrick leave the pocket and run twelve times, and now they have the face arguably the most mobile quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. Cleveland’s defense is good enough to hold the Saints offense just enough to let the offense take care of business against this lackluster defense. Prediction: Browns 30 Saints 23
Colts (0-1) at Redskins (1-0)
The Redskins looked a lot better than people expected last week, as they demolished the Cardinals in Arizona 24-6. Alex Smith had a very typical Alex Smith day, completing 70% of his passes while completing most of his passes to running backs and tight ends. That will work against a Colts defense that has a very weak linebacking core that got absolutely exposed by running back Joe Mixon of the Bengals last week. Indianapolis has an awful rushing attack that averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, and if they become too one dimensional, Andrew Luck may get absolutely destroyed by Washington’s solid pass rush. Washington is the better team and is at home, so they should win this game comfortably. Prediction: Colts 13 Redskins 30
Texans (0-1) at Titans (0-1)
Both the Texans and Titans underwhelmed last weekend, as both lost 27-20 in games I picked them to win. The Titans were absolutely crushed with injuries in Week 1, as tight end, Delanie Walker will be out for the season, tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin are ruled out for this game, while quarterback Marcus Mariota may be limited with a hand injury as well. With Mariota dinged up and without Walker, Tennesse will not be able to establish any sort of rhythm on offense. Without Lewan and Conklin, Houston’s pass rush led by JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney should wreck havoc regardless of who is at quarterback for the Titans. Houston’s offense struggled last week, but as quarterback, Deshaun Watson continues to shake off the rust after tearing his ACL last season, Houston’s offense should progress into a very explosive unit. Prediction: Texans 23 Titans 10
Eagles (1-0) at Buccaneers (1-0)
In a matchup of overachieving backup quarterbacks, Nick Foles and the Eagles will travel to Tampa to take on Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers who are coming off of a 48-40 win over the Saints in New Orleans. Fitzpatrick may have thrown for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns in Week 1, but there is a reason he’s been a career backup. Facing a much tougher defense with an elite pass rush in the Eagles, Fitzpatrick should regress heavily in this game. Tampa Bay is also without their top two corners in this game, so Foles is in a great position to succeed in this game. The Eagles are coming off of a 10-day break after playing Thursday Night Football and should absolutely destroy the Bucs, who may be just a bit too comfortable after that impressive Week 1 win. Prediction: Eagles 31 Bucs 7
Chiefs (1-0) at Steelers (0-0-1)
The Chiefs and Steelers had very different games last week. Kansas City went into Los Angeles as underdogs and defeated the AFC West favorite Chargers as Patrick Mahomes threw for four touchdowns. On the other hand, the Steelers blew a fourteen point lead in the fourth quarter against Cleveland, committed six turnovers, and missed a game-winning field goal in overtime; resulting in a tie. So many people have jumped to conclusions that A) Kansas City is now a top ten team and B) The Steelers are doomed and this is the end of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. What they are forgetting is that Kansas City gave up 541 yards of offense, and the Steelers were greatly affected due to poor weather conditions in Cleveland. Back at home, where Roethlisberger is notoriously better, the Steelers offense should dominate Kansas City’s atrocious secondary. This will also be Mahomes’ first true road test (the Chargers don’t count- more than half the fans there were Chiefs fans) and it is exceptionally hard to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh. This game will serve as a reminder to not overreact after Week 1, as the Steelers will prove to be the superior team. Prediction: Chiefs 20 Steelers 34
Dolphins (1-0) at Jets (1-0)
This is a very hard game to pick. Both Dolphins and Jets had impressive showings last week as underdogs. Miami defeated the Titans 27-20 and impressed on offense and defense. The Jets absolutely destroyed the Lions on Monday Night Football, winning 48-17. Yet, there are some doubts for both teams. There were two lightning delays in the Dolphins-Titans game, while Tennesee suffered a lot of injuries, including one to Marcus Mariota. It looked more like the Lions were doing everything wrong rather than the Jets doing everything right, while they practically admitted their defense was outstanding primarily because they could tell what play was coming. When in doubt, pick the home team and the better team. The Jets are much more talented than Miami and will have a home crowd behind them eager to see the Sam Darnold era start with a 2-0 start. While Ryan Tannehill threw for two touchdowns, he also threw for two interceptions, which will be a problem against a Jets defense that had five interceptions. All signs point to Gang Green in this matchup. Prediction: Dolphins 14 Jets 24
Chargers (0-1) at Bills (0-1)
The Chargers are expected to be a Super Bowl contender this season, but they definitely didn’t get off to a great start in a 38-28 loss to the Chiefs at home. Los Angeles is a notoriously slow starting team, but there is no chance that they’ll find a way to lose this game. The Bills look like easily the worst team in football after losing 47-3 to Ravens. Their passing attack is extremely weak with an awful receiving corps and with 7th overall pick Josh Allen making his debut under center for them. Allen is a project and is clearly not NFL ready and should get absolutely pummeled by the Chargers pass rush, as the Bills have the worst offensive line in football. On the other side of the ball, Buffalo’s secondary allowed to have a 121.7 quarterbacking rating, so Phillip Rivers and the high flying Chargers offense should have no problem scoring points. This looks like the most likely game to be a blowout. Prediction: Chargers 38 Bills 6
Lions (0-1) at 49ers (0-1)
Week 1 was a very tough week for both the Lions and the 49ers. Detroit lost 48-17 on Monday Night Football, looked awful in all aspects, and first-year head coach Matt Patricia already has fans wanting him to be fired. It came as no surprise that the 49ers lost at Minnesota, but what was concerning was how quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played in his first game after signing a $137 million contract extension. He had a quarterback rating of 45.1, threw three interceptions, and the offensive line allowed him to be pressured on every single play. If I had to pick one team to bounce back, I would definitely pick the 49ers. San Francisco was still getting over the loss of running back Jerrick McKinnon, but they should finally be able to move on after another week to plan without him. Detroit is also coming off of a short week and does not deserve anyone’s confidence after that atrocious showing on Monday Night Football. Expect this game to be somewhat close, but with the 49ers in control throughout the whole game. Prediction: Lions 21 49ers 27
Cardinals (0-1) at Rams (1-0)
The Rams are favored by 13 points, a godly amount for the NFL. However, there is no reason to think they can’t cover that massive spread. After starting off slow at Oakland, the Rams outscored the Raiders 23-0 in the second half to win 33-13 on Monday Night Football. Meanwhile, the Cardinals lost 24-6 at home to the Redskins. The Rams have the better quarterback, rushing attack, receiving corps, offensive line, defensive line, and secondary. Heck, they have a significantly better special teams unit and have a much better head coach. The Rams should have complete control of this game, which will likely be over by halftime. Sorry, no upset alert; these teams are way too unevenly matched to even think about the Cardinals win this game. Prediction: Cardinals 3 Rams 27
Patriots (1-0) at Jaguars (1-0)
In this week’s game of the week, the Pats and Jags will face off in an AFC Championship matchup. New England may have won that game, but the Jags will get their revenge in this game. It’s important to remember that Jacksonville was on the verge of winning that game. They had a ten point lead in the fourth quarter, and then Tom Brady happened. A lot has changed since that game, however, as New England lost several pieces on offense, while Jacksonville has only upgraded their team. Unlike the AFC Championship Game, this game will also be in Jacksonville; another factor in the Jags favor. Jacksonville’s elite pass rush should pressure Brady all day with New England’s weak offensive line. It’s also unclear what type of running game the Pats will be able to have, with three of their running backs dealing with injury. The Jaguar’s elite secondary should shut down New England ‘s weak receiving corps while corner Jalen Ramsey should shut down tight end Rob Gronkowski just enough to make him a nonfactor. As long as Blake Bortles and the Jags offense doesn’t turn the ball over and scores 1-2 touchdowns against New England’s weak defense, they should have no problem winning this game. It won’t be a pretty win, but just like last week’s 20-15 victory, it counts just the same as any other victory. Prediction: Patriots 14 Jaguars 20
Raiders (0-1) at Broncos (1-0)
Jon Gruden and the Raiders are an absolute mess right now. Quarterback Derek Carr continues to regress from his MVP caliber 2016 season, they have no pass rush, and their team is way too old. Expect the Broncos to take advantage of all of those things. The pass rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and their solid secondary should exploit Carr. With all time to throw, quarterback Case Keenum should have a very efficient game after a shaky debut. Denver’s young running back duo of Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay should also be able to wear the old Raiders defense down. This one shouldn’t be a blowout, but it also won’t be that close. Prediction: Raiders 13 Broncos 23
Giants (0-1) at Cowboys (0-1) SNF
On Sunday Night Football, the Giants and Cowboys will face in an NFC East matchup that should be a doozy. Both teams are incredibly different, which makes this an intriguing matchup. On one hand, the Giants are a team with a lot of playmakers on offense with a lack of a pass rush. On the other hand, Dallas is a team that wins in the trenches and has a solid pass rush. However, the Cowboys offense is too bland for them to compete with a high powered Giants offense. If this game turns into a shootout, which it could, quarterback Dak Prescott has no chance of keeping up. The Giants are a team that could get exposed against teams with good passing attacks while the Cowboys are a team that will get exposed against high powered offenses. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the Giants match up extremely well with Dallas and should come out of At&T stadium with a big win. Prediction: Giants 27 Cowboys 13
Seahawks (0-1) at Bears (0-1) MNF
Don’t believe what critics may be trying to say, the Bears are for real. Chicago had a 20 point lead in Green Bay, that’s pretty impressive. Yes, Aaron Rodgers came back and beat them, but that can be expected from a young team that will go through growing pains. In Soldier Field on Monday Night Football, the Bears should play at a whole new intensity that the mellow Seahawks can’t match. Chicago’s dominant rushing attack should be effective against Seattle, while Mitch Trubisky should continue to show progression with a solid outing against Seattle’s weak secondary. On the other side of the ball, Chicago’s elite pass rush led by Khalil Mack will simply be too much for Seattle’s awful offensive line to handle, and Russell Wilson will be forced to go into survival mode. This one could get ugly quick. Prediction: Seahawks 9 Bears 34
Week 1 of the NFL was filled with so much excitement. Let’s recap this incredible week of football with the biggest winners and losers from Week 1.
Winner: New York Jets
With a rookie quarterback starting his first game in Sam Darnold, no one would’ve blamed the Jets or Darnold if they struggled on the road in Detroit. Instead, the Jets scored 31 unanswered after being tied 17-17 in the second half and won 48-17. Darnold started off the game in the worst way possible by throwing a pick-six on his first ever pass. After that, however, he was able to shrug it off and ended up putting together an impressive performance. He completed 16 of his 21 passes, threw for 198 yards, and also threw for two touchdowns. He showed true poise in the pocket and looks like a star in the making. On top of that, the Jets got 100+ rushing yards from their free agency signing Isiah Crowell and receiver Quincy Enuwa returned with 63 receiving yards and a touchdown after missing the entire 2017 season with an injury. On defense, the Jets young defenders showed promise and the defense had five interceptions. Leading the way was linebacker Darron Lee, who could be heading towards a breakout season after a two-interception performance. Overall, the future looks incredibly bright for the Jets, while the present doesn’t look too bad after all.
Loser: New Orleans Saints
Most people coming into the season deemed the Saints as Super Bowl contenders. That idea needs to be revised immediately. Against a backup quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Saints allowed over 500 yards of offense in a 48-40 loss. On offense, Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas all had solid games, but two fumbles cost them. A Mike Gillisee fumble and scoop and score for the Bucs changed the momentum of the game while a Thomas fumble later in the game was the dagger. On defense, they had no pass rush yet so ever and their young secondary get absolutely exposed. Some regression was expected from the young defense, but the Saints have to be worried after seeing reigning defensive rookie of the year cornerback Marshon Lattimore get absolutely destroyed by receiver Mike Evans. With a brutal schedule coming, the Saints better fix the mistakes in a hurry, or this will just be another year of wasting Drew Brees’ greatness.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs gave up 28 points and allowed Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers to throw for 424 yards, yet the game couldn’t have gone any better for Kansas City. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes sure looks like the future of the Chiefs, as he had 256 passing yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, Tyreek Hill had seven receptions for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns and also had a 91-yard punt return. Ideally, you’d wish the defense, Kareem Hunt (16 rushes 49 yards), and Travis Kelce (1 reception 6 yards) would’ve done more, but this game was a test for Mahomes against one of the best defenses in the NFL, and he delivered. He and Hill look a deadly superstar duo for years to come.
Loser: Tennesee Titans
The Titans came into Week 1 with what looked like an easy win in Miami against a lackluster Dolphins team. Instead, they lost 27-20 and did not look like a playoff caliber team at all. Practically everything went wrong. Marcus Mariota threw two interceptions and looked like the mediocre quarterback he was last season. Running back Derrick Henry averaged 2.6 yards a carry and certainly didn’t look like a franchise running back. On defense, the seemingly physical Titans defense allowed Frank Gore to average 6.8 yards a carry and allowed receiver Kenny Stills to get over 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns despite having just four receptions. Tennesee simply gave up too many big plays while not having any creativity on offense, which is a recipe for disaster. The biggest blow, however, was the injuries. Mariota had the leave with a hand injury, and even though he seems to be fine, may be limited going forward. The critical injury though was tight end, Delanie Walker, dislocating his ankle, as he will miss the rest of the season. The Titans lost to arguably the worst team in football and lost one of their most important players, making them a big loser in Week 1.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
Instead of putting the Bills as a loser, which would be almost too obvious, let’s give some credit to the Ravens. Baltimore was practically flawless in all aspects in their 47-3 beatdown of Buffalo and looks much improved from a season ago. Quarterback Joe Flacco was extremely efficient, completing 73%of his passes while throwing for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions. Baltimore also had 117 rushing yards and each of their three of their acquisitions at wide receiver (Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, John Brown) had a touchdown. The defense held the Bills to 98 passing yards, forced two interceptions, held LeSean McCoy to 22 rushing yards, and had 6 sacks. They have a big test in a divisional matchup in Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football and it will be interesting to see if this performance was a fluke or a sign of things to come.
Loser: Arizona Cardinals
No one expected the Arizona Cardinals to contend in 2018. However, they were expected to take care of business under a new regime and defeat the Redskins, a team of a similar fate, at home. Instead, they got absolutely embarrassed, losing 24-6. Their offense was absolutely horrendous. Sam Bradford threw for just 153 yards, no touchdowns, and had an interception. Running back David Johnson only had nine rushing attempts, a definite concern considering they have a new offensive coordinator, so it’s not surprising he was limited to 37 rushing yards. On defense, Arizona was totally defeated in the trenches, allowing a 33-year-old Adrian Peterson to rush for 96 yards and a touchdown while giving up 182 total rushing yards. The secondary also allowed Alex Smith to throw for 255 yards and two touchdowns. Nothing went well for the Cardinals, and with a tough schedule (including the Rams next week), they could be in contention for the number one overall pick.
Coming into the season, many people wrote the Tampa Bay Rays off as a bottom dweller. Who can blame them? They had just traded away their franchise player in Evan Longoria, and practically gave away pitcher Jake Odorizzi and outfielder Corey Dickerson in the offseason. Right now, their $73 million payroll is the second-lowest in baseball and they have traded away many key pieces during the season. The result? A 78-64 record. Now, due to an extremely competitive American League, Tampa Bay is 19 games out of the division and 8 games out of the AL Wildcard. However, what the Rays have done this season is tremendous and needs to be recognized. Let’s take a look at all the different “cast-offs” they’ve used to compete this season.
Reliever Sergio Romo
After nine successful seasons for the Giants, Sergio Romo was cut loose by the club, as they made no attempt to sign him back in free agency. Romo signed with his hometown Dodgers in free agency but was traded the Rays for nothing after he had a 6.12 ERA in 30 appearances. It looked like his career was pretty much over, but then Romo finished strong by posting a 1.47 ERA as a Ray in 25 appearances. He has shown that last season wasn’t a fluke with a 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a 3.29 FIP. He even has been utilized as a closer, as he has 19 saves this season as well. He was written off by the team he spent his entire career with and was written off by the team he grew up rooting for. But the Rays gave him a chance and he’s returned the favor by being an extremely reliable reliever.
Second Baseman Joey Wendle
Drafted in the 6th round by the Indians in the 6th round of the 2012 draft, Joey Wendle never actually played for Cleveland as he was traded to the A’s for Brandon Moss. After putting up mediocre numbers in limited MLB action, Oakland pretty much sold him away for the Rays. With a chance to play every day, Wendle has rewarded the Rays with a .294/.341/.422 slash line and a 3.4 WAR. In fact, that 3.4 WAR leads all American League position player rookies. He’s limited as a player, as he doesn’t have a very on-base percentage nor does he hit for power. However, he’s a great hitter, a good fielder, and most importantly is under team control for five more years and $545K this season. He’s been a tremendous story and should be a key piece of the Rays now for years to come.
Left Handed Pitcher Vidal Nuno
When the Rays signed Vidal Nuno to a minor league contract, no one seemed to notice. For good reason, as the Rays were already his fifth team in his six-year career and he had a 10.43 ERA in limited action last season for the Orioles. However, he’s turned to be a useful asset with a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings in 11 appearances. Now, his FIP is 4.26, which means regression may soon come. But he’s only making $545K and has helped the Rays be able to use the “opener” and strictly use their bullpen for games through his ability to pitch multiple innings effectively. He also has two years of arbitration left to go and should continue to come at a cheap cost for the Rays, who found yet another possible gem.
First Baseman/Designated Hitter CJ Cron
During the offseason, the Rays made an important trade to get some more power by acquiring CJ Cron from the Angels. What did they give up to get him? You guessed it, a player to be named later. He pretty much was written off by the Angels and has now proved to be a valuable asset when used correctly. Cron has his limitations, he has a low on-base percentage (.321) and is an average defender at best. However, he has plenty of pop (.487 SLG 26 HR) and is in the midst of a breakout season, as his 26 homers are already ten more than he has ever had in a season, while his .808 OPS is a career-high as well. He is making $2.3 million in his first-year arbitration and probably will get a little pricer. However, due to the next player on this list, the Rays will have the option to trade Cron for a couple mid-tier prospects if they want to and ended up getting amazing value for simply a player to be named later.
Designated Hitter/First Baseman Ji-Man Choi
When the Rays designated infielder Brad Miller for assignment this season, it looked like they would get nothing for him. It seemed that way to some when they traded Miller to the Brewers in exchange for Ji-Man Choi. Instead, the Rays were simply able to add another piece to this super team of “cast-offs”. Choi, 27, has hit .286/.379/.521, has an incredible K-BB rate of 30-18 and has 5 home runs in 119 at-bats. He checks the box as the perfect designated hitter and should step right into hitting in the middle of the order assuming Tampa Bay trades Cron. Making just $850K and with another five years of control, Choi should continue to mash for the Rays for years to come. All they had to do was give him a chance and the Rays have found yet another diamond in the rough.
Outfielder Tommy Pham
This one is controversial since Pham had established himself as a solid player before coming to the Rays. However, besides still being in the mix, the Cardinals decided to trade Pham for three low-end prospects in a move that seemed to be made to strictly get rid of him. He was having a down year, yes, but this was a man who finished 11th in NL MVP voting last season despite playing in just 98 games. Ever since being traded to Tampa, Pham has re-established himself as a high-end player with a .312/.404/.558 slash line. Despite playing in 78 fewer games as a Ray than a Cardinal, Pham’s WAR with the two teams is also already the same. All the 30-year-old Pham needed to succeed was a team to appreciate him and believe in him and now the Rays are being awarded for doing so with an All-Star caliber player who is under team control for another three years after this. He may end up being the face of their next contending team possibly and all it cost were three prospects who weren’t rated highly at all.
It’s unclear how the Rays are so good at finding these diamond in the roughs. Maybe it’s manager Kevin Cash or maybe the front office is just that good at identifying talent. Nonetheless, the Rays are building a special team. This team is the super team of cast-offs, players written off by other teams that are going to make those teams pay for not believing in them.
Now that we’re done with the division previews, let’s take those record predictions and predict the playoffs to find out who will win Super Bowl 53.
#1 New England Patriots (12-4)
#2 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
#3 Los Angeles Chargers (11-5)
#4 Tennesee Titans (10-6)
#5 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
#6 Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
#6 Seed Bengals at #3 Seed Chargers
This matchup may be one of the most lopsided ones in the entire playoffs. The Bengals may be a playoff caliber team, but the Chargers are better than them in every aspect. Los Angeles should make quick work of them as they head on to the divisional round. Prediction: Chargers 27 Bengals 17
#5 Seed Jaguars at #4 Seed Titans
In an AFC South matchup, the Jags and Titans will meet up in what should be a low scoring affair. The Titans had the Jaguars’ number last season and they still look to be a more complete team than Jacksonville with a better quarterback in Marcus Mariota. It should be very close, but with home field advantage, the Titans should be able to come out victorious. Prediction: Titans 16 Jags 10
AFC Divisional Round
#4 Seed Titans at #1 Seed Patriots
For the second straight year, the Titans will travel to Foxborough to face the Patriots in the divisional round. This one should be closer than last year’s 35-14 Patriots win, but New England should be able to pull away with a victory with Tom Brady. Expect this one to be close heading into the 4th quarter, and then Brady will throw for a couple touchdowns to secure the win for the Patriots. Prediction: Titans 20 Patriots 31
#3 Seed Chargers at #2 Seed Steelers
This will be one of the most entertaining matchups in the entire playoffs. The Chargers and Steelers are so evenly matched that it’s a toss-up to who comes out victorious. Due to having the advantage of playing at their home field, the Steelers should be able to pull away late from the Chargers and advance to the AFC Championship Game. Prediction: Steelers 27 Chargers 23
AFC Championship Game
#2 Seed Steelers at #1 Seed Patriots
Suprise! The two best teams in the AFC will match up in the AFC Championship Game as the Steelers will take on the Patriots in a rematch of the 2016 AFC Championship Game, where the Patriots blew them out. This time it should be different. With so many departures in free agency, the Patriots have actual holes on their roster for the first time in a while. One of them is their offensive line after losing left tackle Nate Solder. The Steelers defense had the most sacks last year, so they have the advantage their. New England also has a subpar defense, which isn’t good for them considering the Steelers have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. The Steelers are finally the better team, and will finally defeat the Patriots to move on to the Super Bowl. Brady will make it close, but Ben Roethlisberger will lead a late-game drive and kicker Chris Boswell will hit a game-winning field goal to win it for Pittsburgh. Prediction: Steelers 30 Pats 27
#1 Atlanta Falcons (12-4)
#2 Chicago Bears (11-5)
#3 Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
#4 New York Giants (10-6)
#5 Green Bay Packers (10-6)
#6 Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
NFC Wild Card Round
#6 Seed Eagles at #3 Seed Rams
This Eagles-Rams matchup will be one of the best in the entire playoffs, even though it’s in the first round. Assuming quarterback Carson Wentz comes back healthy, he’ll want to get his revenge after he tore his ACL in a matchup against Los Angeles last season. It’s close, but at full health, the Eagles are the slightly better team and proved last season that they are capable of winning in the playoffs. Prediction: Eagles 20 Rams 17
#5 Seed Packers at #4 New York Giants
You may expect the Packers to walk in and beat the Giants for one reason only, they have Aaron Rodgers. But rethink that. The Giants have the potential to have the league’s best offense in 2018, and that will just be too much for a subpar Packers defense. New York, unlike Green Bay, will be able to control the clock using new running back Saquon Barkley to their advantage and will win and move on to the Divisional Round as a result. Prediction: Giants 38 Packers 20
NFC Divisional Round
#6 Seed Eagles at #1 Seed Falcons
In a divisional round rematch from last season, the tides will be turned as the Falcons will get the host the Eagles this time around. That will make a huge difference, as with an extra week to prepare, the Falcons should be fresh and will storm early and completely blow out the Eagles and advance to the NFC Championship Game as they are the better team. Prediction: Falcons 31 Eagles 10
#4 Seed Giants at #2 Seed Bears
In a matchup between two teams who finished last in their respective divisions a year ago, the Bears will host the Giants at Soldier Field. These two teams are evenly matched, but quarterback Eli Manning’s experience will help the Giants get out the gate quickly as Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky gets settled into his first playoff game. Once Trubisky settles in, the Bears may be the better team, but it might be too late once he does settle in. Prediction: Giants 23 Bears 17
NFC Championship Game
#4 Seed Giants at #1 Seed Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons may be the better team, but one thing will cost them from being the first team to host a Super Bowl. That would be their problems scoring in the Red Zone, which will prove costly against an extremely explosive Giants offense. It should be close, but Atlanta’s inability to put up points on the board due to these deficiencies while the Giants are able to pound it into the end zone will be the deciding factor as the Giants will advance to the Super Bowl. Prediction: Giants 23 Falcons 19
Super Bowl 53
#2 Seed Steelers vs #4 Seed Giants
In a matchup that will feature arguably the league’s best offense, the Steelers will pull away due to being the more complete team. The Giants secondary simply can’t contain all the Steelers’ offensive weapons, and the Steelers will blow them out as a result. Prediction: Steelers 34 Giants 17
Super Bowl Champion: Pittsburgh Steelers
In my opinion, the Steelers are the most complete team in the NFL with or without Le’Veon Bell. Once Bell ends his holdout, the Steelers will add just another weapon to their offense. For now, they have a very capable running back in James Conner. There should be no issues with Bell once he returns, as the Steelers are an extremely well-run organization and should be trusted to handle things properly. It all comes down to if they can get over the hump and beat New England in the playoffs, and they are finally the better team. The Super Bowl MVP will be Ben Roethlisberger, as he will torment the Giants defense in the Super Bowl, throwing for over 400 yards and 3 touchdowns.