2017 NFC East division

2017 NFC East division preview

The NFL regular season is fast approaching. In the blink of an eye, Sep. 7 will arrive and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off. In the meantime, Hagan’s Haus will be bringing you the divisional previews and predictions of how teams will finish in their respective divisions. Without further adu, here is the 2017 NFC East division preview.

4. Washington Redskins

Last season: 8-7-1

Strength of Schedule: 7

Last season was an up and down one for the Redskins. This year the schedule makers didn’t make it any easier on them. Aside from playing in the tough NFC East, Washington must also play the AFC West. The AFC West is arguably the best division in football. As if the tough schedule wasn’t enough to deal with, the Redskins have glaring weaknesses on both sides of the ball.

2017 NFC East division preview

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Offensively, their line is average but consistent. The running back situation is somewhat of a mess. None of Washington’s running backs had more than 750 yards last season.

Rob Kelley, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson all got significant carries and return this season. Washington also drafted Samaje Perine from Oklahoma. Without a clear cut go-to running back, the offense will be one dimensional.

The strength of the offense is the passing attack, but it isn’t even all that great on paper. Kirk Cousins is an average NFL quarterback who will not lead a team to a Super Bowl. In their division, he won’t even be able to get them into the playoffs this season.

He doesn’t have the best of receivers either. His number one receiver is a converted quarterback. Cousins’ other viable offensive weapon is tight end Jordan Reed who has had nagging injuries keeping him out of the lineup.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Redskins are going to struggle. The Redskins gave up 23.9 points per game last season because they couldn’t stop the run. Teams ran for an average of 119.8 yards per game. This problem wasn’t addressed in the draft or in free agency. Washington did draft Jonathan Allen, but are playing him at defensive end and his strength is against the pass.

With the lack of a running game and a defense that can’t stop the run, teams will control the flow of the game and the clock against the Redskins. Washington will be playing from behind and Kirk Cousins will have a higher interception total this season. Their seventh ranked schedule is also a major reason on why they will have a rough year.

Prediction: 5-11 (3-3), miss the playoffs

3. Philadelphia Eagles

Last season: 7-9

Strength of Schedule: (T) 10

The Eagles made a lot of moves in the offseason to help out second-year quarterback Carson Wentz. They made it a point to do so because the second season is the most important in the development of a quarterback.

2017 NFC East division preview

(Photo Credit: http://www.csnphilly.com)

Heading into the season the Eagles have the best ranked offensive line according to Pro Football Focus. That line should pave the way for a solid year by LeGarrette Blount, who led the league in rushing touchdowns last season.

Wentz was also given a new huge weapon at receiver in Alshon Jeffery. Jordan Mathews, who had 73 receptions in 2016, returns to play alongside Jeffery. Carson Wentz is also blessed with a really good tight end, Zach Ertz, who led the team in catches with 78.

The Eagles have a very talented defense that allowed 20.7 points per game last season. The defense hasn’t changed much and should play similar to the way they did last season.

Philly has road games outside the division against the Chiefs, Panthers and Seahawks. They also have home games against the Cardinals, Broncos and Raiders. A tough division and tough schedule are what may hold Philadelphia back this season.

Prediction: 7-9 (3-3), miss the playoffs

2. New York Giants

Last season: 11-5

Strength of Schedule: 8

2017 NFC East division preview

(Photo Credit: https://rukkus.com/)

New York’s season came to an abrupt end in the playoffs against the Packers after a 38-13 thrashing. It was just a bad game for the Giants and not a true indication of how good they really are. In reality, the Giants are a team capable of winning the Super Bowl and it starts with their defense.

Quietly, the Giants had one of the best defenses in the league last season. They gave up just 17.8 points per game, which was second best in the NFL. Their defensive line got lots of pressure and the amazing secondary put fear into opposing quarterbacks.

The weak spot of the defense is the linebacking corp and if they can just be average, then the Giants will have an elite defense yet again.

Offensively, the Giants can sleep easy knowing Eli Manning is still under center. He doesn’t get the shine like most Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, but he hasn’t missed a game since before Nov. 21, 2004. Manning is consistent and the team knows they will be able to get 4,000 yards and 25 or more touchdowns from him.

He has Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram as targets for 2017. This is going to make his job easy.

The only question mark on the offense is at running back. Paul Perkins is the man but can he shoulder the load for an entire season? He only carried the ball 112 times for 456 yards last season and will be taking over for Rashad Jennings. If he can be the workhorse, the Giants will have a dangerous offense that can win them a lot of games.

New York has talent on both sides of the ball. They will continue to build off of last season’s success and have another solid campaign in 2017 but it won’t be good enough to knock off the Cowboys for the division title.

Prediction: 10-6 (3-3), wildcard candidate

1. Dallas

Last season: 13-3

Strength of Schedule: (T) 10

2016 was a great year for Dallas as they ran out to a 13-3 record and a first-round bye. Unfortunately, their defense let them down against one of the game’s best quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers. Dallas fell to the Packers 34-31 in the divisional round of the playoffs and their surprising season came to end. This year there are Super Bowl expectations for America’s team.

2017 NFC East division preview

(Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

The entire team is led by their running game. It is no secret how talented the offensive line is in Dallas and the Cowboys used it to their advantage. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,631 yards last season. The success of their running game took pressure off rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

Prescott should take a leap this year as the Cowboys will attempt to open up the playbook. Dak threw for 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. The formula for success is still to run the ball, but with a better understanding of the offense and solid weapons around him, Dak could have an even better sophomore season.

The issue with the Cowboys is their defense but more specifically, their pass defense. Dallas addressed their defense by adding Taco Charlton to try and create quick pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They also drafted Jourdan Lewis out of Michigan, who was one of the best corners in the nation. To improve the secondary even further, they signed Nolan Carroll from the division rival Eagles.

All these moves should improve the defense but there is a potential superstar, who isn’t a new acquisition, waiting to be unleashed.

Jaylon Smith was a consensus top five pick last season before he blew his knee out in a bowl game. Smith sat out last season after the Cowboys drafted him in the second round. If Smith can stay healthy, he will be a Pro-Bowl caliber player. Adding him to this defense could be the difference in losing to Green Bay and heading to Minnesota for Super Bowl LII.

With all the talent the Cowboys have on offense, the defense just needs to be average. They will be better than average with the moves they made in the offseason and the Cowboys will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season.

Prediction: 12-4, division champion

 

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Wisconsin Basketball

Wisconsin Basketball is a Force to be Reckoned With

It is no question that the Wisconsin basketball program has been one of the most successful programs in college basketball over the past decade. Their upset victory over the number one overall seed Villanova on Saturday has the Badgers looking for another long run into the NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin Basketball

Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes, makes a game-winning layup against Villanova on Saturday. (Photo/ M.P King, State Journal)

Wisconsin basketball is not one of the marquee programs when you mention the top college basketball programs, but it should be. The Badgers have by no means been as historically successful as the other top tier franchises like Duke and Kansas. However, they have been at the top of college basketball along with the rest since 2000.

They had only two NCAA tournament appearances before 1994 with one of those being a national championship in 1941. Since 2000 they have made every single tournament and have appeared in eleven sweet sixteen’s, four elite eights and three final fours. They were runner-up to Duke in 2015.

They have also won three Big Ten conference tournaments since 2000 and four regular season championships.

The Badgers finished second in the regular season this year in what was a rather strange season for the Big Ten. The Badgers then lost in the Big Ten tournament championship to a surging and emotional Michigan squad, which resulted in an eight seed in the NCAA tournament.

It was a rather controversial eight seed considering Wisconsin’s Big Ten foe Minnesota drew a five seed even though Wisconsin beat Minnesota twice during the season. The Badgers didn’t let it faze them after a solid ten-point first round victory over Virginia Tech. They definitely didn’t it let them faze them after a three-point win over tournament-favorite Villanova.

All four senior starters played a part in the 2015 runner-up experience. The Badgers are riding their experience into their sweet sixteen matchup against the Florida Gators. The Gators, who are coming off of dominating 65-39 victory over Virginia, look to make their eighth elite eight since 2000.

The Gators come in as a four seed. Many think they are the favorite against the Wisconsin team, who many thought would not be here. But Wisconsin is here, and they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Wisconsin

Sophomore forward Ethan Happ looks for a shot in a game against Michigan in January. (Photo/ Amber Arnold)

Led by seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the Badgers look to compete again this year for their first NCAA championship since 1941.  With the help of key sophomore Ethan Happ, the Badgers have one of the most dangerous rosters in the NCAA.

The one and done era is evidently upon us, but Wisconsin is one of the few teams to be led with this much experience.

The bottom line is that this team knows how to win. In late game situations, they know what to do and they know how to do it without panicking. That’s a talent that you can’t teach. It’s talent that the Badgers have. It’s a talent that can win you a national championship.

Anyone who draws the Wisconsin Badgers in this upcoming tournament shouldn’t judge them by their seed, and consider themselves lucky because the Badgers are here to win.

 

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Big Ten Basketball

The Big Ten’s Unusual, Unorthodox Season

Big Ten basketball has undoubtedly been the most up and down conference this year in college basketball. With the bulk of the Big Ten tournament starting today, the potential for a March Madness like tournament is high.

The Big Ten has offered us constant entertainment. It has deceived us through the entire year and given us headline after headline.

Big Ten Basketball

Kansas guard Frank Mason III drives against Indiana Forward OG Anunoby during their game in Hawaii on November, 11. Indiana would go onto win 103-99, Image courtesy of Nick Krug.

Earlier in the year when Indiana knocked off Kansas, many picked the Hoosiers to win the Big Ten. Some even had them competing for a national championship. That obviously didn’t pan out. Unless the Hoosiers win the Big Ten tournament, it is unlikely they will make an appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The Michigan State Spartans and highly-recruited freshman Miles Bridges were also expected to compete for a Big Ten Championship. At this point in the season, the Spartan’s are now fighting for a chance to just play in the NCAA tournament. They will need to have a few good wins in the Big Ten tournament in order to make an impression on the selection committee.

Wisconsin was also a favorite to win the Big Ten regular season and tournament. They are still the favorite to win the tournament to some. After a 10-1 start in Big Ten play, the Wisconsin has fallen off the wagon a little bit, losing five out of its next six games.

All these struggles have opened up a path for the Purdue Boilermakers to take the regular season championship and grab the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.

Purdue’s success hasn’t been surprising, but it hasn’t been expected. The team is lead by dominant sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan, who is probably the best forward in college basketball. The Boilermakers have put themselves in a position to win the Big Ten tournament and compete in the NCAA tournament.

Big Ten Basketball

Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh drives against Iowa forward Nicholas Baer (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

What stands out the most when looking at the Big Ten’s season is Northwestern. Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament and is the only college in a power five conference to never do so. With a 21-10 regular season record, the Wildcats are looking like they are in no matter what happens in the Big Ten tournament. However, a few wins wouldn’t hurt in terms of seeding.
What is also intriguing about the Big Ten is that they don’t hold a number of powerhouses like they normally do. The Big Ten did finish out the year with three teams in the AP top 25. Purdue finished at No. 13, and Wisconsin and Maryland rounded out the top 25 at No. 24 and 25. For the most part, they look to play spoiler in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Along with Northwestern, the Big Ten has had other teams take advantage of the lack of dominance at the top of the conference. Minnesota finished the season with an overall record of 23-8, with an 11-7 record in conference play. That was good for fourth best in the conference. With the NCAA tournament soon approaching, the Golden Gophers have many experts picking them as a potential dark horse.

Many would say this past season was a disappointing and underwhelming season for the Big Ten. In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, he has the Big Ten’s highest ranking team, Purdue, at a four seed.

Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and almost every school down the line besides Northwestern and Minnesota didn’t have the season that they’re accustomed to having. Was it really a disappointing season for the Big Ten?

While the Big Ten doesn’t have the top 25 teams they normally have, the competition is still there. At any point in time, the team at the bottom of the conference can beat the team at the top of the conference. That is very rare, especially for a power five conference.

These are division I athletes, some of the best in the world. While the conference isn’t as strong this year as it has been in the past years, it is still one of the best basketball conferences in America. Anyone who draws a Big Ten team in the NCAA tournament should not take them lightly. Big Ten basketball teams know how to compete no matter what their record shows.

 

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NBA All-Star Weekend

The NBA All-Star Weekend won’t disappoint. Photo: youtube.com

Football doesn’t entertain us with the Pro Bowl but the NBA sure does entertain us on All Star Weekend. If you’re a little disappointed from watching the Pro Bowl, cheer up because All Star weekend is coming up. That said, it is time to preview the event that always has us talking about an amazing display of three point shooting, creative, high-flying dunks and flashy plays in the All Star game.

The events start at 8:30 est. Saturday, February 13th on TNT.

Taco Bell Skills Competition: This is the first major event of the night and typically this event is for guards and a few small forwards, but for the first time ever the skills competition will include front court players. There will be eight participants: Jordan Clarkson (Los Angeles Lakers), Isaiah Thomas (Boston), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota), C.J. McCollum (Portland), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Draymond Green (Golden State), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento) and defending champion Patrick Beverly (Houston). The finals will come down to Draymond Green and Isaiah Thomas in my opinion and will be much more entertaining by including front court players.

Prediction: Draymond Green. Draymond is very talented and versatile and he will show case his versatility by winning this competition.

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest: This is the second event and there are eight participants: Devin Booker (Phoenix), Chris Bosh (Miami), J.J. Redick (Los Angeles Clippers), Kyle Lowry (Toronto), Kris Middleton( Milwaukee) , Klay Thompson (Golden State), James Harden (Houston) and defending champion Steph Curry (Golden State). I believe the finals will be between J.J. Redick and defending champion Steph Curry. Steph Curry is on top of the world and currently the best player in the NBA. I believe he will defend his title.

Prediction: Steph Curry. He is the best shooter in the league and he will prove it again in this competition.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest: The main event on Saturday night has shown us that humans can fly over the years. There have been so many players who have shown amazing talent and dunking over the years, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Nate Robinson, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and maybe the best of all time, Vince Carter. Most of these players participated in this before becoming superstars. It is a stepping stone to stardom. This year the four participants are: Andre Drummond (Detroit), Will Barton (Denver), Aaron Gordon (Orlando) and defending champion Zach LaVine (Minnesota). I think a lot of people will learn about Will Barton and he will make it to the finals and go up against Zach LaVine.
Prediction: Zach Lavine: This man can defy gravity. His is super athletic and is going to be a star in this league one day.  I believe he will defend his title and go back to back in Toronto.

NFL Round One Playoff Predictions ATS


Houston Texans (+3.5) over Kansas City Chiefs – First playoff game of the year and it’s a matchup between Alex Smith and Brian Hoyer. Who’s excited? The Chiefs finished the year on a 10 game win streak and are the hottest team in football. Unfortunately, they’ve lost six straight games in the postseason. Sounds like a low scoring game that will come down to a late field goal. Also, Andy Reid is due for a time management blunder to blow the game. Texans 22-20.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5) over Cincinnati Bengals – The Steelers might be one of the best six seeds in recent memory. I honestly think the Bengals are better off with A.J. McCarron instead of Andy Dalton. Dalton hasn’t been ruled out yet, but I’d be surprised if he played. The Steelers defense is a little shaky and will let up points, but when your offense scores 28+ points a game then there’s no need to worry. Ben Roethlisberger is 10-2 in Cincinnati for his career.  Steelers 31-25.

 

Green Bay Packers (-1) over Washington Redskins – It’s hard to believe that Kirk Cousins is playing better than Aaron Rodgers right now. I’m convinced that the Packers tanked against the Vikings because they’d rather play Washington than Minnesota. As bad as the Packers have played, I can’t see them losing against a Redskin team that really hasn’t played anyone. A stat that sticks out: Washington hasn’t won against a team over .500 ALL YEAR. Aaron Rodgers likes that. Packers 27-23.

 

Minnesota Vikings (+6) over Seattle Seahawks – If the current weather forecasts hold true, the Seahawks’ wild-card playoff game Sunday at Minnesota is almost certain to set a record as the coldest in team history, and rank among the coldest in NFL history. The Seahawks dominated the Vikings in the regular season matchup, and I think the Vikes have a good chance to make this a close game. I just don’t believe in Teddy Bridgewater and the Seahawks are going to stack the box to stop Peterson. Seahawks 24-20.

 

SIDE NOTE:

Since 1980, home underdogs are 21-14 straight up and 21-12-2 against the spread in the playoffs. All home teams are underdogs this week.

 

 

Last week: 7-9

Regular Season ATS: 132-120-4

Playoffs ATS: 0-0

Teaser Pick of the Week Overall: 8-9

Teaser Pick of the Week (6 Points): Seattle Seahawks PK

Pittsburgh Steelers +3.5