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Which 1-2 NFL Teams Have a Hope of Reaching the Playoffs?

2011-NFL-Week-1-Picks1Oh the perils of your favorite NFL team getting off to a poor start! For every team savoring in their early good fortune this season, there are equal numbers of team feeling quite the opposite; battered and bruised after several losses and unsure of where to turn for hope in the duration of this season. And while I’d be expecting the worst for any team that has started 0-3 (Oakland RaidersJacksonville Jaguars, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers), for those 1-2 teams there is still a small hope of salvaging this season, but they’ll need to pick up their game in a hurry.

While there are some of the typically poor teams currently sitting at 1-2, there are also several usually strong teams who were even involved in the playoffs last year that have gotten off to bad starts. These surprising poor starters include the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Indianapolis Colts, the New Orleans Saints, and the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s nearly half of last season’s playoff teams now suffering below .500!

In my mind these are the teams most likely to rescue their seasons. And history actually beckons warmly for several of them, including the Packers and 49ers, who both started 1-2 last year only to resurrect their hopes and make a strong playoff push.

The key ingredient for such teams is in how they finish the season, not how they’ve started it. Football teams are an organic being, as injuries, player development, and unforeseen future obstacles can alter a team’s shape and style immensely over the course of the year. NFL rosters look very different in September than they do in January and it’s the teams that can handle such change effectively that do well in the later months and typically end up claiming a playoff spot. Unquestionably, a great quarterback can also go a long way to leading a team back from a poor start to a potentially championship-winning season.

Each of the 1-2 teams I mentioned carries great starting quarterbacks (including Aaron Rodgers, Colin Kaepernick, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, and Alex Smith) and this is why they still have hope. Other 1-2 teams that I wouldn’t expect to hear much of a whimper from are the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns, the Minnesota Vikings, the Tennessee Titans, the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins, and the St. Louis Rams. These teams look to lack any sort of presence on the field and have been pretty marginable for years. Their poor records are due to simple lack of talent.

But for the better teams, they’ve just not clicked into high gear or have been unfortunate in the couple of key plays that can often decide a game one way or the other. Another thing to realize is that 1-2 is just a single game away from 2-1. A play here and there could have made the difference, and I’m sure you’ll find that most fans of 2-1 teams are more than satisfied with their seasons’ beginnings.

As the NFL season wears on, those slight hiccups or mistaken plays will carry less weight as the true contenders of the league emerge and get their needed wins. While I certainly wouldn’t be expecting a Super Bowl following two early losses for teams like the Packers, Chiefs, Colts, 49ers, or Saints, I think it’s far too early to be writing them off as has-beens or incapable of salvaging the season. In many cases they’ve done it before and these specific teams certainly have the talent capable to make a serious run at their respective divisions. But be careful, with their collective poor starts, I would only suspect 2 or 3 of these teams manage to right the ship and make the playoffs this year…

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Which MLB Playoff Races will come Down to the Wire?

TFMBBKANWS85__39284.1392865651.1280.1280It’s practically an inevitable occurrence within the current landscape of professional baseball; each and every year there are several MLB division races that go down to the last day. Meanwhile, the wildcard race can also crack the playoff door open for several lucky teams while leaving others ruthlessly out of the glorious postseason that encompasses baseball and reminds us why this sport truly is America’s sport. Like any other, this year figures to be a tight contest all the way to the end! Here’s some of the more enticing MLB playoff races on the horizon and how I expect them to pan out:

The AL Central – While the Cleveland Indians seem to be fading and fading fast, the main culprits are going head to head, tooth and nail to the final day! The free-spending Detroit Tigers are the clear choice to win based on their roster and pre-season hopes, but the Kansas City Royals could be the surprise team of the year, and are currently right on their heels. James Shields has been his usual tremendous self, but the collective hitting and unity has seen the Royals play far beyond their talent and has brought about a new level of belief. While everyone is rooting for them, who knows if they’ll be able to muster enough wins to overtake Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, and the rest of the tremendous Tigers. The upcoming 3-game duel between these two clubs this weekend could decide the AL Central division’s fate, though the wildcard certainly presents an outlet for either team, but both know that facing an entire season’s hopes on one game is certainly far from ideal… These teams will desperately want to claim the division. I think the Royals will do it.

The NL West – Between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants a tremendous west coast rivalry has been simmering for years. But while the Dodgers have been spending big to recruit top players in the last few seasons, the Giants are the one with two recent World Series Championships. Nevertheless, with guys like Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers are rapidly becoming the team to beat and have been getting hot just in time to claim the division and potentially start a deep playoff run. Meanwhile, the Giants with Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner actually have a proven track record of getting hot just in time for the MLB playoffs. The pinnacle series will be early next week between the two sides and could decide their fates, leaving the loser in the dreaded wildcard match. The Dodgers look too good to mess this up, and I suspect they may win it all.

It’ll be interesting to see how these teams fare once the playoffs begin. While other baseball clubs may benefit from being able to rest their players in the last few weeks of the season, teams like the Dodgers, Giants, Royals, and Tigers could benefit from the momentum gained by winning such a tight race. By the time the October playoffs arrive, they’ll be hardened by a full month of living on the edge and could be better equipped to handle the playoff pressure. As such, the winners of these close divisions might just be hoisting the World Series trophy at the end of it all!

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NFL Season Picks Up Right Where it Left Off Last Season

1The wonderful thing about the NFL is that with the worst teams getting the top draft picks, and with the inclusion of the salary cap, predicting who will remain dominant from one year to the next is a very inexact science.  Once great teams can implode very quickly while a “worst to first” occurrence in one of the NFL divisions seems to happen annually.  However, after watching week 1 of the 2014 NFL season, it seems like this year has picked up right where we left off from a year ago, with little substantial change.

In short, both Super Bowl participants of last year won big.  The Seattle Seahawks’ tough defense beat up on the Green Bay Packers (whose weak defense continues to look shaky).  Meanwhile, Peyton Manning and his high-octane Denver Broncos offense looked tremendous (even without the suspended Wes Welker) once again in their victory over his former team, the Indianapolis Colts.  However, the Colts still looked competitive, as Andrew Luck nearly pulled off a comeback reminiscent of his heroics last season in the NFL playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs.  However, against a top-level team like the Broncos, his efforts weren’t enough.

Elsewhere, most of last season’s playoff teams won last week, including the Carolina Panthers, the Cincinnati Bengals, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Philadelphia Eagles.  A few surprises did rattle our predicting senses, like the Miami Dolphins tremendous comeback victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and the Tennessee Titans dominating the Chiefs, who’s poor form late last season seems to have continued.

Largely though, it was the same players kicking off the year in the fashion we’ve grown used to.  The Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo continued to throw the ball (and the game) away to the defense with 3 interceptions, the San Diego Chargers found a way to ruin a strong lead over the Arizona Cardinals, and the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints battled to an exciting, close game which Matt Ryan and the Falcons won.

And unfortunately, the typical lowest of the low NFL teams continued their atrocious form, reminding fans that they are still paltry teams that shouldn’t even dream of glory; see the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But what does warmly breathe new life for football fans is that the sport has officially returned.  Yes, your specific team may still be dealing with the frustrations of the past and a rather bleak outlook, but at least your Sunday afternoons have returned to normal with all the games on display!

And who knows, there are still 15 games for each team to decide their fate.  The great thing about the NFL season is that teams can easily overcome a loss by proving the doubters wrong the next week by winning and changing their fortunes.  The real drama of the season will arrive come December, when the playoff contending teams must get their acts together and earn vital wins.  But those days are still a long ways away.  For now, it’s time to simply enjoy the action because while half the teams lost their openers, the season still beckons brightly for everyone….Except the Rams…losing Sam Bradford to an ACL again is just tragic!

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What a Way to Kick Off the 2014 NFL Season: Packers vs. Seahawks

1 packers seahawksAmerican sports fans fear not!  After months of inactivity, endless baseball highlights, and pointless preseason games, football is finally set to return with the cool, fall weather that awaits us.  Up first is Thursday’s heavyweight NFC encounter between the Green Bay Packers and the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.  Filled with great players, powerful teams, and a nice bit of historical controversy this game should warm the palates of football fans everywhere and bring a delightful return to the competitive regular season.

But first to the game, and what a game it shapes up to be!  Both teams have playmakers all over the field.  For Seattle, it’s all about their hard-hitting defense led by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, both of whom pack a serious punch.  The Packers defense also features stars, but in the form of pass rushers Clay Matthews and the incoming free agent Julius Peppers.  With such impressive guys on the defensive sides of both teams, we can expect a physical fight in which moving the chains could become problematic.

However, both teams also feature great running backs.  Eddie Lacy of Green Bay played admirably last season, especially after Aaron Rodgers’ injury.  Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch is as tough as they come.  Both backs are strong and push the pile, which will exhaust the defenses and create time for both quarterbacks.

At the quarterback position both teams will feel confident.  Russell Wilson is still young but proved himself in leading his team to a Super Bowl title.  He has great poise and makes plays with his feet as well as his arm.  Rodgers is a former MVP that can torch any defense on his day.  He also has the better receiving options.

But defensively the Seahawks certainly have the edge, and that’s why they won the Super Bowl last year.  In all logic, Seattle should come out and win this home game at CenturyLink Field with its legendary 12th man (loud fans).  But after a trip down memory lane, I believe the Packers will have the edge in this game.

2 seasons ago the Packers played the Seahawks early in the season under the watchful eyes of the NFL’s replacement refs, hired after a referee lockout that dragged into the regular season.  In one of professional football’s most embarrassing moments, Seattle won the game on a ridiculous Hail Mary catch that was actually intercepted by a Packers’ player. In what is now known as the “Fail Mary” game, Green Bay was robbed of a win and the NFL’s referee dispute was ended overnight as they quickly agreed to terms with the usual (top caliber) officials.  No doubt the end of that game will still be burning for many of the players on the Packers team (and perhaps some lingering guilt still remains deep within Seahawks players).

This game is all about revenge for the Green Bay Packers, and they have the qualities to actually beat the Seattle Seahawks, even in front of their home fans and with their menacing defense.  Additionally, the new emphasis on penalizing over zealous defensive backs (like Sherman) should further aid Green Bay in their cause.  Yes, Seattle will be in a celebratory mood after a well-earned Super Bowl victory, but I think the Packers steal this game late in the 4th quarter, 27-24.

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Could the Kansas City Royals Win the World Series?

TABBKAN__42898.1392865822.1280.1280Time for a history lesson.  Back in 1985, the Kansas City Royals were one of the greatest teams in baseball.  While still a relatively young club formed in 1969, the Royals had eventually grown and developed to the point of being World Series contenders.  Behind star pitchers Bret Saberhagan and Charlie Leibrandt, and the Hall of Fame hitter George Brett, the Royals actually powered through the playoffs that season, eventually taking the 1985 World Series in a dramatic 7-game matchup against the cross-state rivals St. Louis Cardinals.  It would be the last playoff appearance for the club.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and the current team in Kansas City might just be gearing up for a similar run!  Against all odds and featuring a payroll budget far below what most American League contenders have, the Royals are winning, and they’re doing it by getting back to the basics.

While nobody on the team is hitting at All-Star levels, they put the ball in play, and this often leads to good things happen.  In avoiding strikeouts they get guys on base, and are able to move them forward to home plate.  They are second in the MLB in stolen bases, proving that speed is key to winning games.  Additionally, their defensive play has been impeccable, and they make fewer errors than just about anyone else.  Such mistakes often cost teams, and by limiting those bad errors and mental lapses, the Royals are winning games with defense.

Their starting pitching is hardly Cy Young material, but they have 5 capable starters.  Ace James Shields has been his usual impressive self while fellow veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas also have been putting up respectable numbers.  Youngsters Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy have proven their Major League capabilities this season, and with great defense supporting them, the pitchers are benefitting from the confidence instilled by their teammates.  This all adds up to wins, and that’s what the Royals have been doing recently.

After a typically average start to the year, Kansas City has gotten hot in the past month, soaring ahead of the Detroit Tigers and into first place in the AL Central.    With just over a month remaining in the season, it will be an absolute dogfight between these sides to determine who wins that playoff spot.  Winning one of the wildcard spots is an also an option, though those 1-game playoffs are hardly guaranteed.

But back to the original question of the Kansas City Royals potentially winning the 2014 World Series, we need to follow a wait-and-see approach.  The current hot level bodes well.  Since July 22nd, the Royals have gone 24-8 (even despite their 2 recent losses).  If that form remains consistent the Royals could definitely contend for the World Series, but we must take that with a grain of salt.  Lots of teams experience a hot streak over the course of a year (look at the insane 2013 run by the Los Angeles Dodgers), but keeping that momentum is tricky.  If the Royals keep winning, they could enter the MLB Playoffs as one of baseball’s hottest teams, but should they enter a new slump that dream could be crushed very quickly.

But despite all these lingering questions, we should rejoice in the fact that it’s nearly September and for once we are talking about the Kansas City Royals making the playoffs and potentially winning a World Series!  Who would have ever thought that was possible at the start of this year?

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers the Best Team in Basketball Now?

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King James Returns to Cleveland

It’s incredible how much the landscape of the NBA can change in just a couple months, but such a turnaround also speaks to the awesome talent that is LeBron James.  The Miami Heat (James’ former team) just went from potential 3-peat NBA champions to utterly decimated by his departure.  Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers went from having one of the league’s worst teams to arguably it’s best, because the arrival of “King James” has now led to a cascade of other big name arrivals and NBA Finals-winning potential.

Are the Cavs really the best NBA team now?  With a young superstar point guard in Kyrie Irving, the impending arrival of another young All-Star power forward in Kevin Love, and with the veteran presence of James, Anderson Varejao, Shawn Marion, and Mike Miller, on paper this Cavaliers team should certainly contend for the NBA crown, and could very well be far and away the best team in the league next season.

This is the incredible attraction of teams to LeBron James.  You see, when Cleveland was able to prize their prodigal son back home, it wasn’t just him they were signing.  They were able to shine a bright beacon from an otherwise forgettable franchise to scores of NBA stars that would potentially like to come join a championship caliber team.  Take Kevin Love for example, a proven star at the Minnesota Timberwolves.  His team suffered to a sub-.500 record and has never even made the playoffs in his 6 seasons at the club.  In Cleveland with James he’ll have a chance to make a name for himself and win it all.

A similar experience had been unfolding for Cleveland’s point guard Kyrie Irving, a top draft pick who has yet to taste the NBA playoffs in his 3 years, two of which he has been named an All-Star.  Put the 3 of these guys together and you have another Big 3” similar to the guys in Miami, except they are 10 years younger and are only going to get better as they develop.

At 29, LeBron James will be the undisputed leader of the team; a position he often times gave up to Dwayne Wade in Miami.  This is now his time, when he’ll bring a title back to his home city of Cleveland.

While the team looks destined for glory, I do have reservations though.  Putting together a championship team takes time for players to click and really gel.  Even the Miami Heat was defeated in their first season with James.  Especially with Love and Irving’s youth and inexperience in the playoffs, there could be some growing pains.  Many may argue that the San Antonio Spurs remain the best franchise, or perhaps even the Oklahoma City Thunder or Houston Rockets.  But one thing remains certain: that with LeBron James back in his home uniform, the Cleveland Cavaliers will definitely be contenders once again.  The city has experienced so much sports heartache over the years that for someone of his talent to return to the team is a real blessing.  People may actually begin to stop hating LeBron and hope that he does earn Cleveland the championship that they so covet!  This fresh team will be a delight to watch in the coming seasons ahead and will probably win a title within 3 years.

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5 Pitchers who are Best Equipped to Handle the Pressures of October

Pitching is one of the toughest jobs in professional sports, especially in the MLB playoffs of October.  Intense focus is absolutely vital and a single bad fastball left hanging over the plate can easily ruin a team’s entire World Series hopes.  As pitching often decides these playoff encounters, lets take a quick look at who figures to play a prominent role in the proceedings and is most equipped to handle the pressures that will come in these cold, mentally draining late season starts.

  1. Clayton Kershaw – There’s no denying that the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kershaw is the ultimate ace pitcher this year and is a sure bet to win the NL Cy Young Award. But having won the award twice in his young career already, I think he wants to add a World Series ring to his resume!  Fortunately, his 1.78 ERA is best in the bigs and his postseason display last year eased the pain from his previous October outings of several years back, when he struggled mightily.  Surrounded by great talent, Kershaw should ride a wave of momentum into a championship.
  2. Max Scherzer – Often held back in the shadows of the Detroit Tigers’ ace pitcher Justin Verlander, Scherzer has quietly become the best #2 pitcher in baseball and currently holds a decent 3.13 ERA. In recent playoff years, he has pitched tremendously well, though he certainly will need to step up now following the injury to Verlander.  A lot of the Tigers’ hopes now rest on his arm but he definitely has the capabilities to get them far and finally take over the leadership role of this team!
  3. Jon Lester – A hero for the Boston Red Sox championship year in 2013 behind a postseason ERA of 1.56, Lester jumped ship to the Oakland Athletics several weeks ago and will have another great shot at a title once again. A heroic story following his recovery from lymphoma, Lester has battled adversity far beyond the mound, and he has the proof of a successful career that continues to improve with strong strikeouts.  He looks to be at home in Oakland and could lead a stunning playoff run at his new club.
  4. Adam Wainwright – With a strong 2.34 ERA with the St. Louis Cardinals, Wainwright is having his best year. Having been with the team for his whole career, the pitcher has found a home and has come into his own in recent years.  Numerous playoff trips have proven largely successful for Wainwright and he figures to have another strong outing in 2014.  The Cardinals have been a great team recently and could certainly claim the World Series should this pitcher dominate.
  5. David Price – A player who has certainly struggled in the postseason with the Tampa Bay Rays, Price hopes to benefit from the new surroundings in Detroit with the Tigers. His season has been quite good with a 3.21 ERA but his issue will be mental.  I’m hoping that a change of teams is exactly what his career needed.  The Rays were never going to win, but the Tigers have far more talent and opportunity.  If Price can perform to his potential this October, Detroit just might end up as World Series champions!

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