Super Bowl 52

If not the Patriots, then who in the AFC?

To call the Patriots heavy favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LLI is a gross understatement. Additions like Brandin Cooks have made a team that already ran roughshod over the conference last year even better on paper heading into 2017. However, sports are a funny thing.

What if the Patriots are finally derailed by the injury bug or just simply pick a bad day to have a bad day in the playoffs? Here are four teams ready to pounce.

Kansas City Chiefs

Ever since Andy Reid came to town, the Chiefs run the ball, play solid defense and do not beat themselves. This is a good formula for winning. However, when that formula comes up against a buzz saw like New England, it is also easy to end up in too deep of an early hole.

Tyreek Hill

Photo: kansascity.com

The divisional playoff matchup between the two teams following the 2015 season was a perfect example of this. Despite holding New England to just 14 points in the first half, Kansas City managed just two field goals and never got caught up.

While Tyreek Hill has provided a much needed boost to KC’s ability to strike quickly, half of their scoring drives in last year’s playoff loss to Pittsburgh were over ten plays. While those are nice, striking quickly is almost a must against the Patriots.

Hope for the Chiefs in a matchup with New England lies in Hill and their pass rushers, led by Justin Houston. With three double digit sack seasons under his belt, Houston is more than capable of wrecking a game for Brady and company, similar to what Von Miller did on Denver’s Super Bowl 50 run.

Kansas City’s opening night matchup with the Super Bowl LI champs will be a nice measuring stick for them.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos have questions at quarterback. Ordinarily, that would disqualify them from an article like this, but the Broncos happen to be the only team Tom Brady has a losing record against.

Von Miller

Photo: dailysnark.com

Denver has beaten New England with Jake Plummer, Brock Osweiler and an aging Peyton Manning at quarterback over the years. Knowing that, why not Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch?

Denver invested most of its offseason resources into bolstering the backfield and offensive and defensive lines Thus, the two biggest weaknesses on this team have been addressed.

If the additions help Denver run the ball and stop the run consistently, Miller, Shane Ray and the rest of the defense will keep Denver in almost every game like they have for the better part of the last two seasons. Against New England, that is half the battle.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have not given the Patriots any trouble in recent years. If last year’s AFC title game was a boxing match, it would have been stopped early. The last Steelers’ victory against New England was in 2011.

However, any team that has Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and flirts with putting up 30-plus points every time out is always dangerous. The bad news for Steeler fans is that the Steel Curtain has been made of feathers in recent meetings with the Pats. Twenty-seven points is the fewest New England has scored during its ongoing four game winning streak against Mike Tomlin’s crew.

With the cast of characters basically the same on defense, the only way Pittsburgh beats New England this year is in a shootout. It is unlikely, but not impossible. They are one of very few teams with the firepower to beat New England in that way.

Indianapolis Colts

This inclusion to the list might surprise some, but the AFC is nowhere near as deep as the NFC. Something has been off in terms of the head coach/management dynamic in Indianapolis for the last two years. General manager Ryan Grigson is gone. With former players tweeting in response to the move, one can only assume that Grigson was a significant part of the problem.

One guy who is not part of the problem is quarterback Andrew Luck. Despite near constant drama in the front office and a flawed roster, the Colts have never posted a losing record under his on-field leadership. However, they have missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons.

Staying healthy has been a challenge for Luck, but 132 touchdowns to just 68 interceptions in almost five full years as a starter are the numbers of a quarterback who can carry a team on his back. The roster still lacks elite players outside of Luck. Also, Indianapolis has been obliterated by the Patriots in two fairly recent playoff meetings.

Even so, the Colts finally fall on the right side of one of a precious few things that is always true in the NFL. If you have a stable front office and a top-notch quarterback, you have a chance every single time you take the field.

Texans and Raiders miss the cut

Two teams that many people would have expected to see in this article are the Texans and the Raiders. They were each left out for very specific reasons. Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson battling for the starting quarterback job means that the Texans will not even be able to spell Super Bowl, much less get there.

Las Vegas Raiders

Photo: USA Today

Anyone who tries to lump Denver’s quarterback situation into the same category as Houston should watch what Trevor Siemian was able to do on the road in Cincinnati and New Orleans last year. The home game against Kansas City also speaks volumes about Siemian’s potential.

As for the Raiders, it is also fairly simple. Derek Carr is no doubt a special quarterback. Despite that, Oakland’s ongoing stadium and relocation drama is worthy of its own article. It is hard not to see it dragging down the on-field product.

Also, even when they were the talk of the league last year, the Raiders still led the world in penalties and got shredded by the opposing quarterback almost every week.

 

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MLB trade deadline: What AL contenders must do to stay in first

Baseball is back and the second half push to the playoffs begins. The MLB trade deadline comes in the second half as well and is Christmas in July for baseball fans. Strategy, money and moves galore (hopefully).

This period is a chance for teams to either sell off parts in order to rebuild or make the trades necessary to help their squad make it to the playoffs and an eventual push for the World Series. These are the moves the teams currently in first place for their respective divisions need to make to remain in first by July 31.

Boston Red Sox

If you follow baseball or this team at all, then you know their weakest position currently is at third base. Pablo Sandoval has been anything but useful or even available and has been designated for assignment. Also they traded away Travis Shaw who is having an excellent season for another first place team.

While everyone believes Todd Frazier is the best and only option available for trade, I would like to look at another in Nick Castellanos.

MLB trade deadline

Courtesy of: Bleacherreport.com

The Detroit Tigers are having a very disappointing season and will most likely be sellers during the trade deadline for the first time in a long time. They also have arguably one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Most of their top players are in Double-A ball and below which means they have a long time to wait to see if they develop.

To speed up the process of their inevitable rebuild, they could and should be looking to trade away as many players as possible.

Castellanos is only 25 and is under team control until 2020 which means Detroit could ask a decent return. So why would the Red Sox make this trade?

To start, they would get a solid everyday third baseman that could grow with the young players they are building around now like Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and more. Rafael Devers is still at least one or two years away and wont be able to help them win now. It is unlikely they would have to part with him to get Castellanos as well.

Castellanos has been in the league for four full years now. You know what you are going to get out of him, whereas you never truly know with a prospect. He has experience, making playoff runs with the Tigers and still has room to grow.

The Red Sox would most likely only have to give up two of their top 25 prospects, most likely ones in the teens and below. They may also throw in a PTBNL or just an extra pitcher to sweeten the deal.

Nick Castellanos would solidify the Red Sox third base problem not only for now but also for the future. Todd Frazier on the other hand may cost only one top 25 prospect but he would also be a free agent at the end of this year and has seemed to have trouble batting for average ever since he was traded to the White Sox.

Cleveland Indians

It took the Indians awhile to catch up to the Twins, but they have taken hold of first and wont let it go for the rest of the season. This team can hit and is being led by its young superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor while getting help from players like Edwin Encarnacion who struggled mightily to start the season but has figured it out.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: Sportsblog.com

Another strength of the World Series runner-ups is their bullpen. Their weakness? Outside of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and surprisingly Mike Clevinger, this team’s starters have struggled. Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and Josh Tomlin all have ERAs over 5.

There are many attractive options on the market for the Indians. The question will be how much are they willing to give up in order to get the starting pitching help they need?

Last year, they traded away Clint Frazier and a multitude of other prospects in order to get their stalwart setup man, Andrew Miller. That being said the Indians still have some pieces that they could trade. I highly doubt they will trade Bradley Zimmer as he is with the club now and making a solid contribution.

There are a multitude of options for the Indians to help make their second World Series run in as many years. I like Sonny Gray, but I think his asking price will be too high considering how he has pitched in the last two seasons. This leaves two options: Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto.

Both the Pirates and Giants respectively have been under-performing and it looks like they will have to be sellers. While Gerrit Cole is better, he and Sonny Gray have a similar problem. They are going to cost more than the Indians are willing to give.

That is why they could trade for Cueto. He has won a World Series and has been in Cy Young contention, but the Indians could get him for a bargain. He has not pitched extremely well this season and the Giants are desperate (or should be) for prospects as they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

The Indians could give up one top 25 prospect not named Zimmer or Mejia and two others right outside their top 25 for Cueto. He would be a great pickup and if he could find his form again, he could be a top of the rotation guy to help the Indians try to make it back to the World Series.

Houston Astros

The Astros were my World Series pick back in January and I am glad that they have yet to let me down. Their lineup can hit from 1 to 8 and Keuchel and McCullers make up an amazing top of the rotation.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: SFgiantsrumors.co

Brad Peacock is finally living up to his potential, whether he is in the bullpen or the rotation. While most are looking at the rotation, and they could improve there, Peacock may actually be a legitimate option that will help them keep their first-place standing. Also, Colin McHugh should be coming off the DL soon and can help to solidify the rotation.

The Astros are missing another reliable bullpen arm. We saw how important they were in last year’s playoffs and right now the Astros have a pretty good bullpen. But if they are going to want to make a real run, they need a great bullpen.

They won’t give up what teams gave up to get pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last season. Instead, they will go for options that are a small step down.

In steps another Giants player and someone who has been a crucial piece in their bullpen for a long time, George Kontos.

Kontos has a career ERA under 3 and he has been in many high-pressure situations, including helping the Giants win multiple World Series. While he is not a flashy pickup, he is a reliable one, and should be relatively cheap, as he’s still under team control until 2020.

The Astros would not have to part with any of their major prospects. They could easily throw the Giants one of their lower top 25 prospects and some cash or another lower level prospect with high potential.

Kontos would solidify the bullpen as the Astros head into October. His experience would help the younger Astros team and again he would cost a lot less than someone like Sonny Gray or David Robertson.

Conclusion

The trade deadline is an unpredictable time and has a major affect on the way the rest of the season and future seasons will play out. Look out for what first place NL teams needs to do in order to stay in first place.

 

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Green Bay Packers and Pittsburg Steelers: What Went Wrong?

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

Today is Super Bowl Sunday and there has been plenty of talk about the Falcons and the Patriots. They have fought hard to get to this magnificent day. The game will be entertaining and a champion will be crowned. Since there has been so much talk about the Super Bowl, it is permitting to look at the two teams who came up just a game short and ask, what went wrong?

 

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the Packers organization. Because of that, he causes the most problems for the Packers. Rodgers is both a blessing and a curse. Before diving into the player personnel for the Packers, let’s look at the front office.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(MARK HOFFMAN)

Ted Thompson has been the general manager for the Packers since 2005 and has done an outstanding job. His philosophy of building through the draft, rather than through free agency, has created a team capable of contending every year. Thompson has provided plenty of consistency and longevity, both of which are required to be considered one of the best franchises.

Thanks to Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy has also been able to maintain longevity. Thompson hired McCarthy in 2006 and has remained comfortable in his position as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. In his 11 seasons as the Packers head coach, he has gone 114-61-1 with nine playoff appearances.

McCarthy’s career playoff record is 10-8. He has led the Packers to four NFC Championship games and won Super Bowl XLV. There are few coaches who have had the amount of success McCarthy has had with the Packers.

When one looks at the Packers’ roster, the problems can be found. Pro Football Focus ranked the Packers offensive line as the fifth best in the NFL. They have few holes along the line and don’t need to improve there.

They have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but the Packers need playmakers. In the backfield, the Packers had to settle for moving former wide receiver Ty Montgomery to running back. The Packers must find a running back in the draft or in free agency if they want to take another step.

Aside from Jordy Nelson, the Packers are inconsistent in their receiving corp. A solid and consistent number two receiver could take this offense to new heights. On offense, the answer to improving the team is to add more playmakers.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(http://deadspin.com/tag/nfl-playoffs)

Defensively is where the biggest problems lie. As a unit, the Packers ranked near the bottom of all major defensive categories. They were 21st in points allowed (24.2 ppg) and 22nd in yards given up (363.9 ypg). The Packers could use players at every level on their defense, but their secondary needs the most work. If the Packers can improve their secondary, they will become a much better defense.

To simplify, the Packers need to develop a running game to take pressure off of Aaron Rodgers. Defensively, they need to beef up every level of their defense. If the Packers can fix those issues, they could be heading to a Super Bowl berth as soon as next season.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The list of problems the Steelers face is much smaller than the Packers’. They have done a great job in the front office with the draft and head coach Mike Tomlin has also been outstanding.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(http://nesn.com/2013/11/steelers-coach-mike-tomlin-nearly-collides-with-ravens-jacoby-jones-during-73-yard-kickoff-return-gif/)

Mike Tomlin has been the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 10 seasons. In those 10 seasons, Tomlin has a 103-57 record. Tomlin has made the playoffs seven times in those 10 seasons.

He also has a playoff record of 8-6, made it to the AFC Conference Championship three times, and won Super Bowl XLIII. Just as McCarthy has been one of the best coaches in the NFL, so has Tomlin. Coaching is not an issue that needs to be addressed.

Offensively the Steelers are absolutely loaded. Their offensive line was ranked third by pro football focus. There were no weaknesses on the line. With guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, the Steelers will continue to have one of the best offensive lines in the game.

Continuing on offense, Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the NFL. He is not just a great runner, he is a great receiver as well. In the past, the league has seen similar running backs like Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson. That is the path Bell is on and will be an all-time great barring injury.

The Steelers receiving corp is extremely versatile and full of playmakers. Antonio Brown is virtually unguardable and has put up gaudy numbers throughout his career. There is no indication that will stop anytime soon.

Along with Antonio Brown, Sammie Coats, and Eli Rogers provide big play ability. Rogers showed flashes of greatness this season and if he develops further he could become a dangerous weapon. Don’t forget that Martavis Bryant, who is one of the best number two options in the NFL, should be coming back. If he can stay out of trouble off the field, the Steelers will have one of the best sets of receivers in the NFL.

That leaves one position to talk about on offense: the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is contemplating retirement. Few believe he will actually retire and why would he? Big Ben threw for 3,819 yards while completing 64.4 percent of his passes. He added 29 touchdowns and threw just 13 interceptions. He is still playing at a high level and the Steelers shouldn’t be majorly concerned at the quarterback position.

One thing the Steelers must do this offseason, and moving forward into next season, is find the replacement for Big Ben. If he is thinking about retirement now, he will be thinking about it next season as well and the franchise must be prepared for that.

Big Ben also has had plenty of injuries in his career. If he goes down, Landry Jones is not the answer. Age is also an issue for Big Ben and his play may start to diminish. For all these reasons, the Steelers need to use a third or fourth-round pick on a future franchise quarterback.

Defensively is where the Steelers could use the most help. In the game against the Patriots, the Steelers weakness showed upfront. They did a good job in the regular season getting sacks, but in the postseason they didn’t have that guy who could get a sack. Tom Brady sat in the pocket and picked apart the young secondary. If the Steelers want to take that next step, they need a dominant pass rusher.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Pittsburgh’s linebacking corp is extremely solid. Ryan Shazier can flat out fly all across the field. Bud Dupree is also a stud. He has a lot of speed to make plays all over the field, similar to Shazier.

The secondary is probably Pittsburgh’s weakest area on the entire team. The secondary had a total of six interceptions. Part of the problem is they are young and inexperienced. Signing a free agent corner or drafting one is the biggest priority for the Steelers’ offseason. If they get a pass rusher and beef up the secondary, the Steelers will make the Super Bowl next season.

 

 

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NFL Conference Championship Picks Against the Spread

The NFL’s version of the Final Four is here. We have two solid matchups featuring incredibly hot and gifted quarterbacks. This will be my last week of picks against the spread. Expect something different for the Super Bowl. I was 2-2 straight up last week and just 1-3 against the spread. Given the year I have had, fans should be begging me not to pick their team, but here it goes anyway.

Atlanta (-5) at Green Bay- Aaron Rodgers is incredible. Up until his current hot streak, I always thought he was a lot closer to Joe Flacco than Joe Montana. Him carrying a below average defense and an offense with injuries everywhere except for the offensive line to this point is the football equivalent of what LeBron did with some of his Cavs teams.

Photo Courtesy of bloggingdirty.com

Regardless of what wide receivers Rodgers ends up having to throw to, he will keep his team in the game. The dilemma for Rodgers is a familiar one. Matt Ryan and the opposing offense will have no problem scoring on the Packers defense. At the end of the day, Atlanta is just a more complete football team. Their late-season defensive emergence is what made them a legitimate Super Bowl contender. NFL sack leader Vic Beasley has slowly developed into a monster and even seldom used elder statesman Dwight Freeney was making plays last week. As good as Rodgers and his offensive line are, I trust Atlanta’s defense to get a late stop more than Green Bay’s.

 

The Packers cover, but the Falcons send the Georgia Dome out in style with a trip to the Super Bowl. Atl 34 GB 31

Pittsburgh at New England (-6) – Let’s review a few of the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not give Bill Belichick and the Patriots bulletin-board material the week before a big game. No matter his intentions, that is exactly what Antonio Brown did. Anyone who thinks New England is not using Brown’s Facebook live gaffe as a little extra motivational fuel is kidding themselves.

Photo Courtesy of pittsburghpostgazette.com

As talented as the Steelers are on offense, Belichick and his staff will make Pittsburgh beat them without Le’Veon Bell running wild. Also, do not be fooled by the Steelers success. Mike Tomlin is a few steps behind coaches like Belichick when it comes to X’s and O’s. He is mostly successful because he handles the emotional and motivational aspects of the game so well. Never forget that Tim Tebow lit up a Tomlin coached team in the playoffs. Even at 39 and coming off a clunker, I will take my chances with Tom Brady.

The Steelers were probably going to lose this game no matter what, but the Brown situation ensures a bloodbath. NE 34 Pit 20.

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s Next For LSU?

Stacy Revere/ Getty Images

Stacy Revere/ Getty Images

Les Miles has been on the hot seat since the end of last year, and after the heartbreaking loss against Auburn, the seat got too hot.

On Sunday, Les Miles was fired and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was also relieved of his job. Ed Orgeron will be the interim coach of the LSU Tigers the rest of the season.

So what is next for the LSU football program?

In the short term, interim head coach Orgeron needs to get his football team focused on winning the SEC West. Year in and year out, the SEC West is one of the hardest divisions in college football and the LSU Tigers are always in the hunt. That needs to be the prime objective for Orgeron and his football team. The first step to doing that is to rebound against the Missouri Tigers this Saturday.

The Missouri offense has been putting up a lot of points and also features the second-leading passer in college football. Drew Lock, through four games, has already thrown for over 1500 yards and has 14 passing touchdown. The Missouri offensive line has kept Lock pretty clean in the first four games, as opposing defenses only have one sack on Lock.

Courtesy of LSU Sports.net

Courtesy of LSU Sports.net

That number might be a little bit higher after Lock leaves Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. The LSU Tiger defense features the nation leader in sacks. sophomore Arden Key, who has 6.5 sacks. It will be near impossible to beat LSU at home, at night and after a heartbreaking loss. The LSU Tigers should win these game rather easily.

Winning the SEC West will be a whole lot harder. As of Week 5, LSU is fourth behind Alabama (A team they have not beaten since November 5, 2011), Texas A&M and Auburn. So, the Tigers of LSU have some work to do if they hope to get Atlanta and play in the SEC Championship game.

In the longer term, LSU needs to find a new head coach and to find a good one fast. Nick Saban and Les Miles were the last two hires for this job. LSU has to get a coach with a big name and a coach that will win early and often. Les Miles leaves LSU as the winningest head coach in school history. He finished with a record of 141-55.

So who do I think LSU could get?

Courtesy of CBS Sports

Courtesy of CBS Sports

I think the first candidates would be the Stanford head coach David Shaw and the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. LSU has enough money to pay both of those candidates. Shaw has done a great job with Stanford and would only make sense for a SEC school to try and bring him to the southeast.

And Mike Tomlin is probably one of the only NFL coaches now that I could see making the move to the college level. He will definitely connect with the players and could definitely keep recruits at LSU and take some from other schools. He can also make a new recruiting pipeline in the state of Pennsylvania for the LSU Tigers.

Courtesy of AP

Courtesy of AP

They could also give one of the great college football coordinators a promotion. If they are looking for a more offensive-minded coach, look no further than Lane Kiffin. Kiffin has been waiting for the perfect head coach spot since September 28, 2013, and LSU is that perfect head coach spot. He would already be in a state to recruit in and he has his two pipelines to California and Alabama. Those three states continually pump out great high school talent.

Another option is Clemson’s defensive coordinator Brent Venables. He is one of the great defensive minds in college football. And has produced many top college defenses. He is also a great recruiter. His high-energy attitude helped him to become the National Recruiter of the Year by Rivals.com.

Whoever they pick to become the next LSU head football coach will have huge shoes to fill.