Jose Ramirez MVP

Where is the love for Jose Ramirez?

The MLB’s regular season is less than a month away from coming to a close. Since it is almost over, it is becoming more clear which players are in the running for the league’s most prestigious awards.

For example, take the American League MVP race. Jose Altuve seems to be in the lead and for good reason. The Astros’ second baseman is leading the league with a .351 batting average and 7.3 WAR. He has also hit 21 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Other players in MVP talk have been Aaron Judge, Jonathan Schoop and Mike Trout. Judge sure looked like he was going to win MVP along with rookie of the year at the all-star break. The Yankees’ outfielder was hitting .329 with 30 home runs and 66 RBIs. Since the break, he has hit just .183 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs. Judge’s hot start was still enough to keep him second in home runs though.

Trout missed over a month due to an injury or else he would be a more serious candidate. In 93 games, Trout has hit .324 with 27 home runs and 61 RBIs. With all that lost time, he most likely won’t be winning his third MVP award.

Schoop is new to the scene with a breakout year in Baltimore. The Orioles’ second baseman is hitting .306 with 31 home runs and ranks second in RBIs with 102.

Judge’s cold streak and Trout’s lost time will most likely keep them from winning. So why are they still in the MVP talk? MLB.com released an article a few days ago with who they felt was in the MVP race. The article mentioned Altuve, Judge and Trout, but more surprisingly Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. Sale and Kluber have been duking it out for the Cy Young, but have not really been mentioned in MVP talk. Pitchers also rarely win the MVP.

Someone is missing

There is one guy that nobody has been talking about that should be getting some consideration. That man is Cleveland infielder Jose Ramirez.

Jose Ramirez MVP

Ramirez was just named player of the week. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Ramirez has been hot at the plate recently. He was just named American League Player of the Week ending Sept. 3 after hitting .538 (14-26) with 11 extra-base hits and a 1.308 slugging percentage. It was the second time this season Ramirez has been player of the week.

He also made history with a 5-5 performance with two homers and three doubles. It made him the first switch-hitter to hit five extra-base hits in a game and the 13th player in history to do so.

I’m not saying Ramirez should win over Altuve. Altuve’s numbers are just too good. What I’m saying is Ramirez has had too good of a season to go unnoticed.

Ramirez’s stats

Ramirez is fifth in batting average at .309 and also has 25 home runs and 69 RBIs. Those numbers may not scream out like Altuve’s batting average or Judge’s home runs, but lets dig deeper into Ramirez’s season.

Ramirez leads the American League in extra-base hits with 78, 11 ahead of second-place Justin Upton and 14 ahead of Schoop. Ramirez also leads in total bases with 296, six ahead of second-place Altuve and seven ahead of Schoop. Ramirez is also leading in doubles with 47, which is 11 ahead of sixth-place Altuve.

Let’s talk about those doubles for a little bit. Ramirez could become only the seventh player in history to hit 60 doubles in a season. That is a feat that hasn’t been done since 1936 when Joe Medwick and and Charlie Gehringer both did it in the same season.

Ramirez is also second in triples with six. He’s also not an easy out as he has the seventh-fewest strikeouts with just 64. Judge is tied for the lead at 182 and Schoop struck out 123 times. Ramirez is also has a .564 slugging percentage, which ranks second behind Judge at .570.

In total hits, Ramirez is fifth with 162 behind fourth-place Schoop (163) and first-place Altuve (183). He is also fourth in runs scored with 93 behind third-place Altuve (95) and Judge, who is the leader (102). 

All the candidates are excellent defenders too, all with fielding percentages over .970.

Where is the love?

So why hasn’t Ramirez gotten more love? That is the real question.

Judge’s cold stretch and Trout’s injury will most likely keep them out, so why are they still being talked about?

Trout has won the award before and is an established star. Judge burst on the scene at the end of last year and captured the MLB’s audience with his hot start. He’s most likely going to be the next Yankee great.

Ramirez, as well as Schoop, are new to stardom. Schoop’s career highs before this year were a .279 batting average, 25 home runs and 82 RBIs. He’s exceeded all of those numbers in this season and also made his first all-star game.

Jose Ramirez MVP

Ramirez has been a big part of the Indians’ hot streak. (Photo by John Kuntz, cleveland.com)

Ramirez also made his first all-star appearance this season, and for good reason. At the break, he was hitting .332 with 17 home runs and 48 RBIs. Ramirez has continued to step up in Cleveland and contribute while some of the team’s biggest stars like Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis have gone down with injuries.

Another reason Ramirez may not be getting the credit he deserves is because of the way he is marketed in Cleveland. Baseball fans know the Indians by guys like Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Francisco Lindor. Kluber has won a Cy Young and is always competing for one. Miller made a name for himself last year as one of the league’s best setup men and demonstrated it in the postseason. Lindor is a two-time all-star and great defensive asset to the team.

Miller has struggled with injuries lately and Lindor has had a down year by his standards. Somehow Ramirez’s production has gotten buried amongst the city’s other stars. Perhaps the Cavaliers’ stars like LeBron James and the attention of the Kyrie Irving trade have also kept Ramirez out of the headlines.

Make no mistake, Jose Ramirez is a baller. While his core numbers may not compete with Jose Altuve’s, he has still produced tremendously and should be in the MVP talk with Altuve and maybe Schoop. Judge and Trout should not be in the talk due the the circumstances previously discussed.

Start following Ramirez now, because you are going to see plenty of him in the postseason as Cleveland has been the hottest team in the American League and are well on their way to contend for another World Series appearance. 

Oh, and he is only 24 years old, so there is plenty more to come from Ramirez in the future.

 

Featured image by Jason Miller/Getty Images

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Nisqy is NV's MVP of NA LCS quarterfinals

Recognizing the MVPs of the NA LCS quarterfinals losers

The North American LCS Summer Split playoffs began last week with two quarterfinal match-ups. Cloud9 faced off against Dignitas. Counter Logic Gaming took on Envyus. Each of these teams had clear ups and downs during the split, so it was difficult to peg the favorites going in, except maybe CLG should beat NV.

However, things did not really go as planned. DIG took down C9 convincingly, finishing with a 3-1 series. Dignitas’ bottom lane, in particular, was able to shine. Although, every member of the team performed well. Cloud9 looked shaky in all but game three.

The CLG-NV match-up was even closer, with CLG barely edging out NV 3-2. Various members on both teams had highlight moments, as each adaptation came through. Rookies and veterans faced off in an exciting five game series, but CLG did close out game five, thanks mostly to Darshan’s success with Camille.

Cloud9 and NV left the arena disappointed. C9 has a long history of playoff success within the North American region, including the finals of the Spring Split this year. NV pulled themselves up from 10th place last split to a spot in playoffs. Even though they were so close to pushing through into semifinals, it fell just beyond their grasp.

There is a specific player from each team that deserves recognition for stepping up in quarterfinals. These are players who put their carry pants on, and did what was needed for their teams. Here are two players that proved to be most valuable to Cloud9 and Envy during the first round of playoffs. Each should feel proud of their contributions.

C9 Jensen

Jensen is C9's MVP of quarterfinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Jensen found himself in a central position with Cloud9 during quarterfinals. Many of C9’s compositions revolved around Jensen and Sneaky dishing damage, while Impact, Contractz and Smoothie acted as utility tanks. Jensen held up his end of the deal. The rest of the team did not.

On Cassiopeia, Jensen prioritized farming over early skirmishes. In game one, C9’s top lane, jungler and bottom lane had ceded kills before 17 minutes, while only securing one in exchange. In game two, the early game was a bit less lop-sided, but still in DIG’s favor. Jensen did get caught out at Baron around 29 minutes, which swung the game heavily to C9’s disadvantage. However, he followed it up with a crucial four-man Petrifying Gaze at 34:20 to completely deflate DIG’s pressure.

In game three, Jensen completely dominated. His mid lane Lucian was 5-0-2 around 25 minutes, and never really got shut down. Contractz looked much better on Elise, bringing more early game pressure. Of course, part of their advantage came from Shrimp’s curveball Nocturne pick, which did not have a large influence on the game. The Lucian was locked in again in game four, but did not have as strong an effect, due to the low effectiveness of Impact’s Galio and the losing bottom lane. Jensen was still able to finish with a 3-2-7 scoreline.

Considering how threatening Ssumday’s Maokai was throughout this series, it is impressive how many fights Jensen came out alive in. Despite losing the series 3-1, Jensen’s statistics were still powerful. He averaged 19 CS ahead of Keane at 15 minutes. He did 33 percent of Cloud9’s damage. 81.7 percent kill participation and a 5.5 KDA are strong on a winning line-up, let alone one that lost.

NV Nisqy

Nisqy is NV's MVP of NA LCS quarterfinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

One of the more one-sided series going into the quarterfinals, Counter Logic Gaming versus Envy was much closer than expected. CLG took game one, NV responded with two wins of their own, and then CLG closed out the final two games, finishing 3-2. In all but the final game, NV actually had the lead at 20 minutes. However, CLG’s mid-late game fighting proved more effective, particularly around Baron.

Despite the series loss, NV’s mid laner, Nisqy, truly proved himself. He showed a wide range of champions and playstyles, locking in Cassiopeia, Corki, Galio and Kog’Maw throughout the match-up. Nisqy finished the best-of-five with a 5.2 overall KDA, going deathless in NV’s victories.

Nisqy came out of the gate in game one with an aggressive play in CLG’s jungle to pick up two kills, evening out an invade gone wrong. CLG responded with a mid lane gank to shut him down. After Omargod stole the Baron from NV afterwards, there was very little they could do. Every member of CLG got ahead, and the long distance engage of Zac made NV’s carries easy targets.

In games two and three, Nisqy had a huge impact. His Galio ultimates at eight minutes and 25 minutes were crucial for turning around teamfights targeting Apollo. Nisqy expertly utilized Galio’s zoning and crowd control to split up CLG’s carries and tanks. His Corki roam around 16 minutes resulted in a triple kill, and every teamfight for game three he dished out massive damage.

NV’s game four loss could be mostly attributed to their lack of reliable engage. Seraph’s Cho’Gath, LiRa’s Rek’Sai and Hakuho’s Nautilus could never pull off the necessary initial engagement to set up Nisqy’s Hero’s Entrance. Without the proper team-wide execution, the Galio fell flat.

They switched up their composition in game five by drafting Kog’Maw in the mid lane. Nisqy’s damage output came up huge, particularly in the 32:30 teamfight. Unfortunately, Seraph’s Gnar could not overcome Darshan’s Camille counterpick, and NV’s dual-marksman composition had difficulty surviving CLG’s engages long enough to compete, damage-wise. Nonetheless, Nisqy’s heavy contributions throughout this entire series were apparent, which deserves recognition.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Player Statistics: GamesofLegends.com

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Mike Trout MVP

Mike Trout could win MVP despite a DL stint

When Mike Trout slid into second base in late May and tore a ligament in his thumb, some thought that it prevented a potentially historic season from happening. However, Trout is proving that six weeks on the DL is not going to prevent him from getting the MVP.

Despite the fact that Trout has only played in 82 games, he still has 26 home runs and 60 RBIs. He also has a 5.6 WAR that ranks third in the American League behind Jose Altuve and Andrelton Simmons. Even the rookie sensation, Aaron Judge, falls behind Trout in WAR.

Quick recovery

Mike Trout MVP

Not even a torn ligament can get the best of Mike Trout. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

When it was all said and done, Trout only missed 39 games for the Angels. In that time, the Angles went a mediocre 19-20.

Since returning, the Angels are 19-15 and are second in the AL Wild Card race. All together, the Angels are 46-42 when Trout plays.

It is not a staggering difference, but it is enough to see that Trout gives the Angels the edge they need to sneak into the playoffs.

How Trout stacks up with other contenders

Mike Trout MVP

Altuve is easily having the best year of his impressive career. (Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports).

Trout is currently slugging at an all time high for his career. His .670 slugging percentage is the best in his career and is 78 points ahead of the next top percentage.

Trout just does not have enough plate appearances to actually qualify for that title at the moment though. His ability to hit for power is a good sign for the future though, because he does appear to be getting better.

There are several players that are in consideration for the MVP award this year. Aaron Judge was a name many people thought had a shot at winning the coveted award. His recent struggles may get in his way though. He has a lower WAR than Trout and over 100 more plate appearances. If Trout wasn’t hurt, he could have similar home run numbers that Judge has.

The biggest obstacle in front of Trout in the MVP race is Jose Altuve. Altuve is putting up astonishing numbers with a .358/.418/.565 slash line along with a 7.0 WAR. If I were a gambling man, I would say Altuve almost has the MVP on lock down.

However, Trout could still make a run at the Astros’ second baseman. He has the second best batting average behind Altuve, but does not qualify yet. Trout may be able to catch Altuve if he keeps playing at the rate he does and pushes his power numbers up even more. It also may help if Trout is able to help his team get into the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Is the MVP in reach?

The fact that this can be a topic of discussion is impressive in itself. However, once we bring reality into this, the answer is most likely no. If it was not for Jose Altuve’s stellar season then it would be much more plausible for Trout to snatch the MVP for the third time in his young but illustrious career.

There are some things that can still happen for the award to fall into Trout’s hands. It would be a series of events though. Altuve would have to miss time, and Trout would have to go on a tear in September. It isn’t out of the question, but Altuve has not once spent time on the DL since coming up to the big leagues.

It is important to keep in mind that his performance since coming back from his injury is something to behold. The future is very bright for this young stud and it is sad to see him slowing down.

One stat that is easy to look at and helps determine if a player has longevity is the strikeout per nine innings stat. Trout has been striking out less and has shown that he has one of the better eyes in the game.

Even though he may not get the MVP this season, he should be a favorite for the coming years.

 

Featured Image from Huffington Post

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SPY Trashy is an MVP of EU LCS quarterfinals

Recognizing the MVPs of the EU LCS quarterfinals losers

This year’s LCS playoffs have officially kicked off, with the quarterfinals in the books. This first stage of the tournament has turned out much different than anticipated in Europe. Misfits dominated Unicorns of Love Saturday morning, finishing the series 3-0. G2 closed out their series with Splyce 3-2, grinding it out every inch of the way.

Many of these games were in favor of the underdogs at some point. UOL did not take a single game off of Misfits. G2 was one bad call away from giving their semifinals spot to Splyce. Most expectations involved Unicorns of Love easily qualifying for semifinals, while G2 would put up a solid fight against Splyce.

Misfits and Splyce brought their A-games in a major way, which has made playoffs that much less predictable. Fnatic and H2K should be a bit more nervous about their semifinals opponents. Misfits and G2 have tested their mettle and made it through to the next stage. They deserve every bit of praise for their performances.

However, there is a player from each team that deserves recognition for stepping up in quarterfinals. These are players who kept their cool, and helped their teams out the most, despite everything going south in the end. Here are two players that proved to be most valuable to Unicorns of Love and Splyce during the first round of playoffs.

UOL Samux

UOL Samux is an MVP of EU LCS quarterfinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

While none of Unicorns of Love’s players looked spectacular, Samux was the only player that performed remotely close to expectations. Despite other members of the team practically feeding kills to Misfits, Samux did his best to damage from a distance.

In game one, Samux was extremely limited from the start. UOL drafted Trundle, which ended up going to Hylissang as support. Misfits answered with a Blitzcrank for IgNar. This pickup ended up being crucial, as several picks came from IgNar’s hooks and Hylissang’s inability to affect fights. Samux was drafted Xayah, and was constantly zoned by the threat of Blitzcrank and Maxlore’s Zac. 

In game two, UOL re-drafted Xayah for Samux against Hans sama’s Tristana. He even got an early kill in the bottom lane without jungler attention. However, Exileh sacrificed four deaths to PowerOfEvil’s Lucian within the first 17 minutes, which allowed Misfits to snowball very fast. IgNar and Maxlore heavily pressured Samux again this game, with the crowd control combination of Rakan and Poppy. Hylissang and Vizicsacsi drafted Braum and Shen, picks with more utility, but it was not enough to keep Samux safe.

Finally, in game three, UOL switched Samux onto Sivir with a Tahm Kench for Hylissang. The movement speed and utility of these champions’ kits should have helped Samux stay safe. However, similar issues plagued UOL. Xerxe was unable to pull off the engages necessary for a successful Zac. Exileh tunneled in on the back line, despite IgNar, Hans sama and PowerOfEvil’s peel potential. Vizicsacsi barely influenced the game, fighting off Alphari’s split-pushing with Jarvan IV.

In almost every situation, Samux is completely dependent on the engage, peel, and reliability of his teammates. Since his teammates, particularly Xerxe, Exileh and Hylissang, were unable to fulfill their roles, it made it virtually impossible for Samux to output damage on short range AD carries. That being said, he did his best to remain safe when fights turned south. Samux only sacrificed 13.3 percent, 15 percent, and 15.8 percent of UOL’s deaths in games one, two and three, respectively.

SPY Trashy

SPY Trashy is an MVP of EU LCS quarterfinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Splyce’s jungler looked much more effective during quarterfinals against G2 than virtually all of the regular season. His pressure around the map, especially in the early game, is a primary reason that Splyce was able to take G2 all the way to the bitter end of their best-of-five series. Trashy deserves recognition for stepping up in playoffs.

For example, 12 minutes into game one, Trashy had 100 percent kill participation, including two kills each for Wunder and Sencux. He is partially to blame for Trick’s Smite-steal at Baron around 27 minutes, but his play around objectives for the rest of the game was great. Trashy excelled at teamfights, though, where he helped fully lock down Zven and Perkz with Wunder’s Camille and Sencux’s Galio. He even finished the game with 95 percent kill participation and only 17.6 percent of Splyce’s deaths.

Trashy’s early game ganks backfired twice in a row in game two. Trick was able to effectively counter-gank for Expect to secure kills. Perkz was also able to snowball on Leblanc. Mikyx and Wunder accounted for 12 of Splyce’s 18 deaths, equal to 66.7 percent, while Trashy only contributed two of 18, or 11.1 percent. Game three was not as impactful in the early game, for better or for worse. Trashy’s Elise did not contribute much until post-20 minutes, and it took a few completed items before he could really teamfight at all. And even then, Elise has a hard time if she does not get ahead from the start, especially without a high-economy tank.

Once back on Sejuani in game four and Gragas in game five, Trashy brought the heat. He finished the last two games with 18 and 8 KDAs, respectively. These champions’ combination of crowd control and tankiness were perfect for assisting Splyce’s carries to survive G2’s engagements, while enabling them to melt down G2’s tankier members. Their game five loss amounted to two lost teamfights around Baron, which is not entirely Trashy’s fault. Most of it chalked up to G2’s players outplaying Splyce as a team, rather than any individual mess-ups. Trashy only sacrificed one death in the whole fifth game, which is only 6.3 percent.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Player Statistics: GamesofLegends.com

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2017 NFC South division preview

2017 NFC South 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 the 2017-2018 NFL season. 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 ado, here is the 2017 NFC South division preview.

4: New Orleans Saints

Last season: 7-9

Strength of schedule:15

Oh when the Saints go marching in, they bring with them no defense. The Saints are hoping the additions of A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o will improve a defense that gave up 28.4 points per game last season. They also drafted defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams to improve one of the league’s worst secondaries.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo credit: Matthew Hinton)

Although New Orleans has made an effort to improve their defense, it won’t become great overnight. Despite ranking 11th in fewest plays per game, the Saints ranked 14th in rushing and 31st in passing. Until this unit shows on-field improvement, there is no way the Saints can win the division or earn a wild card berth.

Offensively, the Saints are absolutely loaded. They have future Hall of Famer Drew Brees under center. New Orleans has committed to Michael Thomas as the go-to guy on the outside in just his second season. Coby Fleener is more than a reliable tight end to compliment Thomas in the middle of the field and in the red zone.

The Saints are also blessed in the backfield with Mark Ingram, future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara. This trio of running backs will give defensive coordinators nightmares.

New Orleans has a pretty easy schedule this season and the offensive side of the ball is going to be straight fireworks. As is the story every season with Saints, can the defense be good enough to help them win games? The answer is no. Every game will be a shootout and opposing defenses are going to make more game winning plays. The Saints will be competitive because of their offense, but the defense will be their downfall yet again.

Prediction: 8-8 (3-3), miss the playoffs

3: Atlanta Falcons

2017 NFC South division preview

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

Last season: 11-5

Strength of schedule: 13

I am a firm believer in Super Bowl hangovers. Just look at how the Panthers’ season went last year after losing Super Bowl 50.

The Falcons’ players are saying all the right things about moving on and using the humiliating let down as motivation for this season but when push comes to shove that loss will be in the back of their mind. The first team to start coming back on them will bring out those painful memories.

Atlanta is also the defending NFC champions and they will get every team’s best shot. Their division is one of the toughest in the NFL and the Buccaneers and Panthers did a lot to improve.

Besides the hangover and their schedule, Atlanta has to prove they can play great defense for an entire season. The first half of last season was abysmal defensively. The Falcons finished the season ranked 27th in points, giving up 25.3 per game. Atlanta saw such a high volume of points scored in the fourth quarter. They ranked 31st in fourth quarter scoring giving up 9.9 points per fourth quarter. If that trend continues they will struggle to win games.

Offensively, the Falcons are loaded. Matt Ryan had a career year that led to him being named league MVP. It is unlikely that he has a second consecutive MVP caliber season as very few players have ever won back to back MVPs. Only four players have done so: Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

Ryan will have a slight drop off in production but not enough to warrant concern. The offense will put up plenty of points and still be electrifying but as mentioned earlier, they will be given the best shot from every team and it will cause them to come up short a few more times than most can expect.

Atlanta’s defense must improve and play to the ability they did in the second half of the season in order to get back to the postseason. Due to a massive Super Bowl hangover, an improved division all-around and a defense that will likely be mediocre, the Falcons come up short and miss the playoffs.

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

2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last season: 9-7

Strength of schedule: 14

Tampa Bay had a solid season last year but missed the playoffs. This season they should take the next step and make the playoffs behind a very solid offense that has improved. The upgrades on offense include the additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. Both of which will turn this offense from good to great.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The Buccaneers were led by their passing game, averaging 245.4 yards per game. Mike Evans is one of the top receivers in the league and the combination of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard will cause defensive coordinators to adjust their game plans leaving Mike Evans with more one on one looks.

The running game only averaged 101 yards per game but Doug Martin only played eight games last season. Martin will start out the season suspended but is eligible to play in week four.

Once Martin returns the running game will start to get rolling, making it even easier for Jameis Winston to air it out. Everything will finally come together for the Bucs offense this season. Don’t be surprised if the 2017 Buccaneers finish with a top 10 offense.

Tampa Bay must become a better defensive team to truly take the step and make the playoffs. The Bucs ranked 22nd in both rush and pass defense giving up a total of 367.9 yards per game. Gerald McCoy will have a Chris Baker next to him to improve the rush defense but it will take more than just one new defensive tackle.

The Bucs should have a better pass defense because the defensive line will get tons of pressure from the trio of Robert Ayers, William Gholston and Noah Spence. Spence had 5.5 sacks in his rookie campaign. With an entire year in the Bucs system, Spence could improve and show the ability he displayed at Ohio State.

In total, this defense gave up 25.3 points per game. If the Bucs can improve that but just four points the offense should easily score more than 21 points per game with all the talent they have.

Tampa Bay will have a balanced offense capable of big play ability. Their defense will also be improved and with an easy schedule, the Bucs should have a solid shot at a playoff berth.

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

1: Carolina Panthers

2017 NFC South division preview

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

Last season: 6-10

Strength of schedule: 16

Carolina had a Super Bowl hangover but this year they are locked and loaded. Cam Newton is determined to correct last seasons mistake and retake his MVP form. The front office also made quality moves to get this team back to the big game.

The Panthers added key playmakers in the draft to help Cam. Christian McCaffery has already put Panther defenders on skates based off of leaked practice videos. That includes Panthers defenders such as all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly. Curtis Samuel, out of Ohio State, was also a key piece the Panthers picked up in the draft but has yet to practice due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Even without Samuel, Cam has Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin back. With all these weapons and an upgraded offensive line, the Panthers can become one of the premier offenses in the NFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers are still as dangerous as ever. The front four have some studs at defensive tackle in Star Lotuelei and Kawann Short. Off the edge, the Panthers bring back Mario Addison and Charles Johnson. This front four is fierce and to beef it up, even more, Panthers legend Julius Peppers has returned to finish his career in Carolina.

The linebacking corp is arguably the best in all of football with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. This front seven is going to cause major havoc to opposing offenses.

The Panthers secondary is where their defense struggled last season. To improve this unit, the Panthers signed Mike Adams, a safety, who had 12 interceptions in his three seasons with the Colts. Carolina also brought back Captain Munnerlyn, who is one of the best nickel corners in the league. These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

Prediction: 12-4 (4-2), division champion

 

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Featured image courtesy of https://bloggingdirty.com/2015/10/18/atlanta-falcons-state-of-nfc-south-week-6/

Who should be NALCS MVP?

With the regular season over, we can begin to evaluate how teams/players lived up to expectations. Teams like Immortals shocked the NALCS by contending with the best this split. With the split concluding, we soon find out who will win the heralded NALCS MVP of summer.

An MVP, aka Most Valuable Player, is someone who has shown great importance to their team’s success in and outside of the rift. An MVP is someone that, if taken off the roster, would greatly impact their team’s performance greatly.

Looking at the split, we have a few candidates who really separated themselves from the rest. Let’s take a look:

Cloud9 Jensen (Mid laner)

Photo via Riot Esports

Cloud9’s Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen been critiqued as a “KDA player” who some believe cares more about his own stats than the good of his team. Jensen struggled with consistency during his first few splits in the NALCS but has slowly come into his own, contending with Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg for the best mid laner in North America.

He put up monstrous stats towards the end of the split. More specifically, his Orianna play was some of the best play we’ve seen out of him. He finished the season with the best KDA of any player at 8.7. Cloud9 often played through the mid lane enabling Jensen to get huge leads to snowball the game. Jensen rarely fell behind in lane, leading the league in CS diff@10 with a whopping 8.9.

Just based off regular season performance though, Jensen has put up a good argument for NALCS MVP. He has played phenomenally well individually and has the stats to back that up. One could argue how much Cloud9’s playstyle benefits his KDA. They often heavily relied on him to get ahead in lane and snowball for his team. He’s also been critiqued for not roaming as much as he could or for being selfish for resources.

One knock on Jensen has been his inability to step up in crucial moments. Last spring in a close game five against TSM, a costly mistake lead to Jensen dying with ult and Zhonya’s still up on Ekko. His death lead to TSM eventually finishing the series and taking the Spring Split championship. Could this finally be the playoffs we see Jensen step up for his team?

Immortals Xmithie (Jungler)

Jake “Xmithie” Puchero came to Immortals in a trade with CLG in exchange for star jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. Many thought Xmithie had peaked on CLG and was nearing the end of his professional career. Nobody even expected Immortals to finish this high in the standings and deserving of a Worlds spot.

It has gone to show how much team chemistry and coaching can impact a player. Xmithie has look revitalized after coming to Immortals. He’s been arguably the best jungler this split and is a huge reason why people believe Immortals can qualify for Worlds. Dardoch and Xmithie’s jungle playstyles are almost night and day, but Immortals got the right jungler they needed – someone who was going to be willing to sacrifice for the carries and mesh well with the team. Xmithie has been just that and more.

He lead all junglers in assists for the summer. While none of his stats really pop out, it’s no secret how much of an impact he’s had for the team. Since Xmithie’s arrival, Immortals went from a 7th place team to a 2nd place team. Others on the team have also been able to shine much more with Xmithie for whatever reason. Cody Sun and Pobelter look like different players from their spring split forms.

It’s a huge example of how much coach Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo has done working with the team. When a team has this big of a turnaround you can’t expect it all to be from one player.

Photo via Riot Esports

TSM Bjergsen (Mid Laner)

Ah, just about every year, TSM’s Bjergsen has to be considered to be in the MVP race. He’s undoubtedly always one of the most impactful players on TSM for many reasons. Aside from always putting up monstrous stats, he’s a main shotcaller for the team and has developed into one the main leaders. Bjergsen can add another great regular season to his legacy as he finished second in KDA among mids and damage per minute.

This split, Bjergsen showed off his ability to play different styles such as the Galio in the mid lane. It adds to the versatility we’ve come to know from the Danish mid laner. In terms of how much value Bjergsen brings to TSM, it’s without a doubt that they’d be much worse without him. He just brings so much to the table for a mid laner and plays well without needing too many resources.

Many will argue that Bjergsen plays with some very talented teammates. This may be the same thing that kept Hauntzer from winning MVP in spring. Having other talented individuals on a team can sometimes mask the impact a player actually has on a team.

These are my top three picks for MVP in no particular order. MVP will be a tight race. It will be interesting to see if Bjergsen adds another MVP trophy to his career or if someone new can take it from him.


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UOL Vizicsacsi ranks first among EU LCS top laners

Regular season EU LCS top laner rankings

The European LCS is home to many world-calibur top lane players. Often left on an “island” to themselves, top laners tend to play head-to-head for the longest time compared to other roles. Top lane is also a position whose champion pool changes heavily depending on the meta. If tanks are strong, expect to see tanks. If bruisers are strong, expect to see them instead. Split-pushing is a valid strategy for top laners, as well.

The 2017 Summer Split regular season is over, and the standings are set. Playoffs will be underway soon, as well as the promotion tournament. Votes will be cast for MVP, rookie, coach and all-team awards. Therefore, before any of those biases are incorporated into thinking about who is the best, it is time to rank these players while the play time is as even as possible between teams.

These types of rankings can be controversial. It is difficult to parse apart an individual player’s contribution to their team. Is this a strong player being held down by his team? Or is the team carrying him? Is he only able to play one style, and then falters on another? Does he only play well against teams below his own? Here is an attempt to answer such questions for every starting EU LCS top laner.

10. ROC Phaxi

ROC Phaxi is tenth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Roccat average the second highest deficit in the EU LCS at 15 minutes. Out of their 628 gold deficit, Phaxi contributes 237 behind. Of course, some of this comes from losing turrets or neutral objectives to enemy teams, which is not entirely his fault. However, part of it has to do with his having the second lowest CS difference at 10 minutes among top laners, -4.2. This amounts to 109 XP behind at 10 minutes, second lowest among top laners, as well.

This wouldn’t be as problematic, but Phaxi’s champion pool has been mostly carries this summer. Out of 33 total games, Phaxi only played tanks in seven (21.2 percent), Galio, Poppy and Shen. His most played champs have been Jarvan IV, Gnar and Renekton. Phaxi also has the lowest First Blood rate (six percent), KDA (1.6) and kill participation (56.6 percent). His damage numbers are lowest among top laners. Even in Riot’s new adjusted damage rating, Phaxi finishes last.

9. MM Kikis

MM Kikis ranks ninth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Kikis has fewer games than other top laners on this list, because he got picked up by Mysterious Monkeys after the first few weeks of the Summer Split. That being said, his impact on the team was not heavily felt. To be fair, he has the lowest death share of all top laners (17 percent), and he has a 40 percent First Blood rate. Kikis averages close to even in lane at 10 minutes, +73 gold, -3 XP and -3.7 CS. His damage share for the Monkeys is actually pretty good (23.4 percent).

The issue for Kikis, though, is his actual damage and presence on the map. It is hard to imagine replacing other EU top laners with Kikis and seeing improvements throughout the team. His most played champions have been Camille and Renekton, yet neither seems memorable. Kikis is an obvious upgrade from Jisu, Mysterious Monkeys’ previous top laner, but mostly in salvaging deaths, rather than securing kills or objectives. His surprise picks, such as Akali and Aatrox, were welcome from an entertainment standpoint, but they do not help his case as a quality top laner in the EU LCS this split.

8. MSF Alphari

MSF Alphari ranks eighth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The main element that separates Alphari from the bottom two top laners on this list is his split pushing. Alphari’s statistics are awful. He owns the second lowest damage per minute (375), the lowest CS and XP differences at 10 minutes (-5, -209) and the second lowest gold difference at 10 minutes (-124). However, his KDA is fourth among top laners (3.4).

Although it failed both times, Misfits drafted Kennen in the top lane twice. Alphari plays mostly Jarvan IV, Rumble and Renekton, and he tends to pressure the map away from the rest of the team for as long as possible before flanking with teleport to join fights. While Maxlore and IgNar roam in tandem to pressure mid and bottom lanes, Alphari is left alone in top. He generally sacrifices an early lane advantage for his teammates. However, it is rare to see him actually carry a game, which separates him from the top laners higher in these rankings.

7. VIT Cabochard

VIT Cabochard ranks seventh among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Cabochard contributes 24.6 percent of Team Vitality’s damage. That is the highest damage share among top laners. However, Cabochard also receives 23.1 percent of the team’s gold, which is second highest among EU LCS top laners. Vitality invests a lot into Cabochard’s success. He generally starts the game well, averaging the most gold ahead (152), second most XP ahead (180) and second most CS ahead (3.8) at 10 minutes.

This is to be expected, considering Cabochard played over a third of his games on Rumble (10 out of 29). Rumble is a champion that always gets to bully his lane with Flamespitter and easily farm. The reason Cabochard is not higher on the rankings is that his lead never seemed to propel Vitality’s games. Vitality, as a team, averaged behind in gold at 15 minutes, and their early objective rates are all low. Cabochard’s leads stay with him. They do not get spread across the map for turrets or dragons or Heralds or Barons.

6. nip profit

NIP Profit ranks fifth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Although Ninjas in Pyjamas finished this split in last place of Group A, Profit seemed to adapt well to the EU LCS. He averaged middle-of-the-pack for gold, CS and XP differences at 10 minutes as well as kill participation (63.5 percent). His damage numbers are decent, a 24.4 percent share for his team, second highest among top laners. However, he also receives a 23.2 percent share of the gold.

Profit may very well be the strongest split-pusher in the EU LCS this split. On champion picks like Rumble, Jarvan IV, Gnar and Renekton, Profit is extremely calculated in the side lane. He only sacrifices 19.9 percent of NiP’s deaths (second lowest among top laners), despite his isolation. This split-push style is Profit’s only real demonstration this split, though. NiP got worse as the games got later. The coordinated teamfighting aspects of the game were lost on the Ninjas, and Profit’s obsession with side lanes did not seem to help.

5. g2 expect

G2 Expect ranks fifth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

G2 have had lower lows this summer than in previous splits, but Expect has done well for himself. He has flown under the radar with third-fourth place laning statistics, such as +2.1 CS, +30 XP and +84 gold at 10 minutes.

Expect also has good teamfighting numbers, such as 458 damage per minute (third highest among top laners) and 69.6 percent kill participation (highest among top laners). And, somewhat surprisingly, Expect ranked second highest among top laners for adjusted damage.

Expect’s ranking on this list represents the first multi-faceted top laner in the EU LCS. Those below him had narrow windows of power in the game, which, if missed, would not result in much. However, Expect has exhibited an ability to play Gnar and Renekton, as well as Galio and Cho’Gath. His flexibility allows G2’s strategies to adapt to their opponent’s. Expect can hold his own in lane, essentially denying enemies the opportunity to get ahead on the top side. He then transitions into strong teamfighting, split-pushing and objective control. He has fulfilled G2’s needs well. But where he falls short is in acting as an individual carry for the team.

4. FNC Soaz

FNC Soaz ranks fourth among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Soaz is difficult to peg against other EU LCS top laners. Fnatic have had an incredibly successful split, and when a team is performing so well together, it can be difficult to pull them apart and compare as individuals. While Soaz looks refreshed compared to his recent history with Origen, he still is not the primary catalyst for Fnatic. Of course, he is ahead in gold and XP at 10 minutes (+117, +118), but not from CS (averages zero at 10 minutes). His teammates create plenty of pressure and take First Blood in 74 percent of games, 52 percent of the time involving him.

Soaz’s adjusted damage rates him third. He performs well 1-v-1 on picks like Gnar and Jarvan IV, but on tankier picks, such as Shen, Gragas and Galio, Soaz truly shines. Fnatic looks best when Soaz is able to enable Caps and Rekkles to dish damage. These resistant, high crowd-control champions are perfect for Soaz’s role on the team, but the players ranked above him have exhibited more diverse playstyles with less stellar teammates.

3. SPY Wunder

SPY Wunder ranks third among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Wunder plays the best Kled in the EU LCS. His other top played champions include Rumble, Camille, Gnar and Cho’Gath. Kled is suitable to Wunder’s playstyle, because he enjoys aggressive dueling in side lanes while split-pushing, but he also acts as an engage tool in most of Splyce’s games. This has been a weakness for Wunder in the past: playing overly aggressive without the support of his team and sacrificing deaths. This split has looked much more polished.

Wunder’s laning statistics are not great by any means: fourth lowest gold difference (+2), third lowest XP difference (-106) and third highest CS difference (+2.2) at 10 minutes. This paints a picture of Wunder on an island in the top lane receiving pressure from the enemy jungler, denying XP, but still managing to secure CS to go even in lane. Wunder has one of the lowest First Blood rates among top laners (15 percent). And although he has sacrificed the fourth most deaths in the league (75), he is tied for the most kills (84). Wunder is also sure to put out the second highest damage per minute (459). He has the opposite problem of Soaz. Splyce jungler is not as active, especially on the top side of the map, yet Wunder manages to make it through laning phase and contribute in engaging, damaging and split-pushing.

2. H2K Odoamne

H2K Odoamne ranks second among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

H2K’s top laner has been towards the top of top laners for several splits now. As a veteran, Odoamne has been consistently good through several different metas, including lane swaps. What makes him so good is his ability to bring pressure to the game with any champion he drafts, whether it be Shen, Gragas and Maokai, or Rumble, Gnar and Camille. Odoamne has the highest KDA among top laners (4.7) and is tied with Wunder for most kills (84) even though he has only played 26 games. He also has the fourth highest adjusted damage rating.

Many of the statistics do not do Odoamne justice. Just watching him play the game, you can tell that he is on another level compared to most top laners. When he trades in lane, when he synergizes with Jankos, when he teleports or flanks into a teamfight, he just brings a presence that is not felt with many of Europe’s top laners. The only reason he is not ranked number one is because there is one other top laner that brings the same presence described here, except his laning is even better.

1. UOL Vizicsacsi

UOL Vizicsacsi ranks first among EU LCS top laners

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Vizicsacsi has been named MVP, first team all-LCS, and many others. His role on Unicorns of Love cannot be understated.

Vizicsacsi starts the game by averaging the highest XP and CS differences at 10 minutes of any top laner (+243, +9.6). This sets him up to have the items and advantage to enter skirmishes and fights around the map, particularly bottom lane, and spread his lead into other teammates. For this reason, Vizicsacsi is the best Shen player in the EU LCS, and he looks best on tankier champions, such as Cho’Gath, Galio and Gragas.

Vizicsacsi’s split-pushing is some of the best in the league. When he plays Gnar, Fiora or Rumble, he generally draws a lot of attention. The Unicorns’ top laner is even known to turn on his opponent and secure counter-kills when he is caught out. It can be incredible. Vizicsacsi has the highest damage per minute of all top laners (472), and the highest adjusted damage rating according to Riot. His main flaw is sacrificing deaths. He has the second most deaths among top laners (110), granted he has played the most games (32). However, his 2.4 KDA is fourth lowest among top laners, which is not good for being on a top team.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

Champion Statistics: GamesofLegends.com, OraclesElixir.com

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NFL awards predictions

 

After last week’s Hall of Fame Game, between the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL is officially back. Get hype!

What a time to be alive. This week, HBO’s Hard Knocks returns. Jay Cutler finessed his way out of the first two weeks of training camp, and agreed to a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. The New York Giants put out another electric dance video.

With all that said, it is time for my 2017-18 NFL awards predictions.

AP MOST VALUABLE PLAYER+ AP OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Derek Carr, qb (oakland raiders)

I absolutely love this kid. His 81 passing TD’s in his first three seasons are good for 4th most in NFL history. Last year, Carr led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before breaking his fibula in week 16. He threw for 3,937 yards with 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

The guy doesn’t even curse. He has a mamba mentality and is the hardest worker on the field. He ranked 7th in completion percentage for quarterbacks who threw at least 560 passes. That number will only go up, with the addition of Jared Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson. Adding Marshawn Lynch to the backfield will keep this offense clicking.

Oakland is also up against a plethora of teams who do not defend the pass well. Nine of their matchups will be against teams who, last year, ranked in the bottom half for passing defense. The NFL’s highest paid player is about to have a monster year.

AP COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: ROB GRONKOWSKI, TE (NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS)

While only starting six games last year, Gronk still finished 4th in 20+ yard receptions among all TE’s. After getting his third surgery to repair a herniated disc, Gronkowski looks to be 100 percent, and quite possibly in the best shape of his life. He is now working with Alex Guerrero, the man in charge of Tom Brady’s TB12 Sports Therapy Center.

Healthy Gronk= Nightmare for all defenses (si.com)

Just how dedicated is Gronk to staying healthy? For every alcoholic beverage he consumes, Gronk has to drink three glasses of water.

The addition of Brandin Cooks makes Gronkowski even harder to defend. Cooks’s speed makes him a legit threat over the top, which defenders will have to monitor. This will lead to less double teams for Gronk, which means even more Gronk spikes. The 4x Pro Bowl TE could possibly have his best year.

 

AP DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JADEVEON CLOWNEY, DE (HOUSTON TEXANS)

Ever since that epic hit during the 2013 Outback Bowl, Clowney has been a force, when healthy. Coming off a breakout year in which he collected six sacks and 40 tackles, Clowney was selected to his first Pro Bowl. In just 14 games, Clowney earned 2nd team AP All Pro honors.

With JJ Watt healthy, the Texans defense will be up there with the best. Their early preseason depth chart has Clowney listed as an outside linebacker. A freak athlete who cannot be blocked, Clowney’s versatility will be key in order for Houston to make a deep run.

AP OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: LEONARD FOURNETTE, rb (jacksonville jaguars)

The Jaguars have been in need of a good running back since Maurice Jones-Drew. I know it sounds crazy to give an award to a Jaguars player. Not only a Jags player, but a running back who will have to go up against the Titans and Texans, both division rivals, who defend the run extremely well. But let’s be real, this kid is special.

To be honest, I’m usually not even a fan of LSU running backs in the NFL. They give us too many Joseph Addai’s and Jeremy Hill’s, but Fournette is a different breed. He is an absolute house, with great speed. Former Jaguar Fred Taylor called him, “an absolute beast” and “a man amongst boys.” Taylor knows a thing or two about running the ball so I’ll take his word for it.

The Jaguars will be relying heavily on Fournette (Saturday Down South)

Fournette will be the focal point of Jacksonville’s offense. Last year, the Jags ranked 24th in rushing attempts, 22nd in rushing yards, and 29th in rushing touchdowns. With Fournette, they will be able to rush the ball 30 times a game. More rushing attempts means less of a chance for a Bortles’ interception. Look for Fournette to be used like Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas.

AP DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: SOLOMON THOMAS, DE (SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS)

After recently signing a four-year deal worth up to $28 million, the defensive linemen from Stanford is already standing out at Niners camp, due to his size and speed. Elvis Dumervil told reporters that Thomas “will be a dominant player in this league.”

Thomas will be joining the worst defense in the NFL. Last year, the 49ers ranked dead last in rushing yards allowed, rushing touchdowns, and rushing attempts. Teams could run with ease all over them. Thomas will be an immediate factor, as someone who can attack the QB and get in the backfield. During his last year at Stanford, Thomas recorded 8.5 sacks. Over his last two years, he had 24.5 tackles for loss.

Because of Stanford’s spring schedule, Thomas was unable to participate in team activities, but this did not stop him from getting better. During this time, he worked out with Warren Sapp, Demarcus Ware and Von Miller.

Yes, the Niners suck, but that actually helps Thomas, who will for sure slide right in as a starter. He will have more chances than anyone to be successful, as teams will most likely continue to run heavily against San Francisco.

AP COACH OF THE YEAR: BILL BELICHICK, HC, (NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS)

The GOAT. Not much has to be said in this section. His team is favored in every game. Coming off last year’s Super Bowl, they only got better on offense with the additions of Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks and Mike Gillelsie. The number one defense last year, the Patriots also beefed up that side of the ball by adding Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy and David Harris.

Will the Patriots repeat? (ESPN.com)

With a healthy and not suspended Tom Brady, who went 11-1 during last year’s regular season, don’t sleep on 19-0.

Featured image by The Fresno Bee

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“From our Haus to Yours”

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the fifth edition, Super Bowl series: NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

(Photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Falcons are going to have to bounce back from one of the worst Super Bowl collapses of all time. After finishing the season 11-5, the Falcons marched through the playoffs with ease. They beat the Seahawks by 16 and the Packers by 23 to earn the crown of NFC Champions.

Atlanta then blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. In order to win Super Bowl LII, the Falcons must avoid one of the worst hangovers ever.

The key to the Falcons’ success last season was their offense. Getting back to the Super Bowl will require their offense to repeat last year’s performance. The Falcons ranked first in all of the following categories: points per game (34.1), points per play (0.55), points per second quarter (11.1), points per third quarter (8.5) and points per first half (18.9).

The reason their offense was so great was due to balance in yardage. Atlanta ranked second in yards per game with 416.4. The Falcons were second in passing yards per game (298.9) and fifth in rushing yards per game (117.5). Atlanta only ran the ball 42 percent of the time and in order to return to the big game, the Falcons should get their play selection closer to 50-50.

Their two-headed monster in the backfield, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman, will continue to take pressure off of Matt Ryan. Julio Jones will also continue to dominate defensive backs. Offensively, the Falcons shouldn’t be too concerned and their defense is where this team will really need to pick it up to make a return to the Super Bowl.

Atlanta’s defense got off to a slow start last season and finished 27th in points allowed per game with 25.3. That improved to just 20.3 points allowed per game in their final three games which ranked 10th during that time. If the Falcons can duplicate that final stretch over the course of the entire season, then the Falcons could easily become the best team in the NFL.

Bringing down that 25.3 points per game total begins with being better in the fourth quarter. In the final period of games, the Falcons gave up an average of 9.9 points, which was 31st in the NFL.

It isn’t difficult to see why the Falcons were so bad defensively in the fourth quarter. They played an average of 66.8 snaps per game. That was fourth-most in the league. The biggest reason they were on the field for so many plays was that the Falcons struggled to get off the field on third down as they allowed teams to convert 42.2 percent of the time.

The Falcons defense must improve against the pass in order to fix all of these problems. Giving up 272.9 yards passing per game is not a formula for success.

In order to make it back to the Super Bowl, the Falcons defense must improve and become a middle of the pack defense. Signing Dontari Poe should provide some help up front. Their offense is so good that the defense doesn’t have to be anything more than average.

If the Falcons are able to duplicate last season’s offensive numbers and become an average defense, they will easily get back to the Super Bowl.

Getting back is one story, winning it is another. If the Falcons do make it back, they need better play calling. Being up 28-3 in a Super Bowl should guarantee a victory. Atlanta must learn from their previous mistakes and run the ball more. If they avoid the hangover and do this, the Falcons will redeem one of the worst choke jobs ever and win the franchise’s first-ever Lombardi Trophy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

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

Tampa Bay was very close to making the playoffs last season, finishing 9-7. The Bucs were a middle of the pack team both offensively and defensively and if they want to take the next step to make the playoffs, they must improve on both sides.

Defensively, Tampa Bay struggled in both pass and run defense. They ranked 22nd in both categories giving up 117.2 rushing yards per game and 250.8 yards per game through the air. Tampa Bay acquired defensive tackle Chris Baker to help them up front alongside Gerald McCoy. Defensive end Noah Spence tallied 5.5 sacks as a rookie and with an expanded role, should provide more pressure off the edge this season.

To help the struggling secondary, the Bucs acquired safety, J.J. Wilcox. Vernon Hargraves will need to have a big second season in order for the Buccaneers to improve defensively as well.

The defense has made changes but they won’t likely make a huge improvement. They gave up 25.3 points per game last season with 12 points per game coming in the first half. The offense is going to need to be on the field often to help this defense bring down a number of points they gave up.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bucs have lots of room for growth. Tampa Bay averaged 22.1 points per game last season.

The strength of their offense was in the passing game. Tampa averaged 245.4 yards per game and Winston improved in a lot of areas. He improved his completion percentage by 2.5 percent, had 48 more yards and six more passing touchdowns. The addition of DeSean Jackson and drafting tight end O.J. Howard could allow Winston to make a bigger leap in his third season.

The running game must also improve on its 101 yards per game. In five seasons, Doug Martin has only played a full 16 game season twice. In both years, he ran for over 1,400 yards. With the growth of Winston and Martin staying healthy, the Buccaneers could become a top 10 offense in the NFL.

In order to make the playoffs and win Super Bowl LII, the offense needs to carry this team. They also need to start defending their home field. Since 2009, the Buccaneers are 21-42 at home and went 4-4 last season. Tampa has to win at least six games at home this season. If the Bucs defense can be average and the offense moves into the top 10, then the Buccaneers can win Super Bowl LII.

New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

(Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org

The Saints went marching into free agency and got the best running back of this generation. New Orleans’ offense was one of the best in the NFL last season and they added Adrian Peterson. The Saints needed a lot of help on defense and did well to address that in free agency and the draft as well. They’ve set themselves up nicely for a run to the Super Bowl.

New Orleans has been held back by its defense over the past couple of seasons. Last year they were awful, giving up the second-most points at 28.4 per game. They struggled closing out halves giving up 11.3 points in the second quarter and 7.2 points in the fourth quarter per game.

What makes the Saints defense even worse is that despite only playing the 11th least amount of plays per game (63) they ranked 14th in rushing yards (101.6) and 31st in passing yards (273.8). New Orleans didn’t spend much time on the field defensively but got torched during that time.

Their biggest area of concern was getting off the field on third down. Opposing offenses converted 43 percent of their third downs against the Saints.

In order to get back to the Super Bowl, the Saints must improve in all areas defensively. New Orleans added linebackers A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o to provide this help. They also drafted cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams to deepen the secondary. These additions should go a long way in restoring the defense in New Orleans and get them back to the playoffs.

As mentioned earlier, the Saints had an unbelievable offense last season. They scored the second-most points in the NFL with 29.3 per game. The bulk of that scoring came in the second half. New Orleans averaged 15.2 points in the second half last season, ranking first in the NFL. The Saints were first in yards per game (426), first downs per game (24.7) and passing yards per game (317.1).

Trading Brandin Cooks was OK because of the stellar rookie season Michael Thomas had. The rookie had 92 receptions, 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns emerging as Drew Brees’ favorite weapon. The addition of Ted Ginn will help replace Cooks but Brees has made a career of turning receivers into stars. The passing game will not suffer from the loss of Cooks.

The offense just needs to continue doing what they have been doing. They already help keep the defense off the field by holding the ball for an average of 31 minutes per game. The Saints offense also averaged 108.9 yards rushing last season. They can’t do much more to help the team win.

All of New Orleans’ hopes and dreams rest on the defense. Drew Brees and the rest of this offense have carried the team on their shoulders for far too long. If the defense can improve just a little bit, then the Saints can become Super Bowl contenders.

Carolina Panthers

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC South

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

Cam Newton and the Panthers had a major Super Bowl hangover last season. They went from 15-1 to 6-10 and looked like a completely different team. With Cam Newton on your team, you always have a shot to make it to the Super Bowl again. It won’t take much for the Panthers to capture the magic they had in 2015.

The Panthers averaged 343.7 yards per game which were a 24-yard dropoff from 2015. They also went from rushing for 141.9 yards per game to 113.4 yards per game. In order for the Panthers to get to the Super Bowl, they must get back to the numbers they put up in 2015.

Carolina averaged 23.1 points per game and they were pretty consistent putting up points throughout the course of the game. The Panthers scored an average of 12 points in the first half and 11.1 points in the second half. They could improve on their scoring if they improve their third down conversion rate of 37 percent.

The Panthers must begin to run more like they did in 2015 in order to get back to the big game. They called a running play only 43 percent of the time. Along with this, the Panthers must cash out in the red zone. Carolina only scored on 59 percent of their red zone trips. Improving in these areas can turn the Panthers back into an elite team.

On the defensive side of the ball, it starts with the secondary. The Panthers ranked 28th in passing, giving up 268.2 yards per game. The defense also went from giving up 19.5 points per game in 2015 to 25.1 points per game last season. Part of the problem was the amount of time the Panthers spent of the field. Carolina ranked 22nd in plays with 64.7 per game. This caused them to give up the most fourth quarter points in the NFL last season at 10.7.

Stopping the pass and giving up fewer points will go a long way in making the Panthers Super Bowl contenders again. Offensively, the addition of Matt Kalil, Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel will help Cam Newton become an MVP candidate once again. If the Panthers mirror the team they were in 2015, then not only will they get back to the Super Bowl, but this time they will win it.

 

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl Series: NFC South. Stay tuned the remaining editions of Super Bowl series and check out the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.

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Sink and swim for the LCK: Rift Rivals recap

With Rift Rivals completed, it may be time to examine the League Championship Korea’s surprising second place as each team continues their swim back to Korea.

Most already know that kt Rolster coach Lee ji-hoon had jokingly said that if “the LCK comes in second or third place, we’ll have to swim our way back to Korea, but that’ll never come to pass, so I hope the fans continue to watch comfortably,” tragically creating a bitterly ironic disposition as the LCK squad came in second place. Losing to none other than the LPL, jokes arose around LCK veterans who had spent time in China’s LPL giving birth to a new era of memes around players like Heo “Pawn” Won-seok, Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong and Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu.

As someone who mostly watches the LCK with some scattered NALCS throughout, watching the LCK lose at Rift Rivals was shocking. While kt Rolster proved that their team fighting was still on an LCK caliber of play, the other Korean squads are going to have to clean up their play on the swim home. This is all rather convenient as they will have to wash up on shore anyways after that 739-mile swim. Memes aside, the unexpected defeat suffered at the hands of LPL teams came in a best of five Relay match resulting in a 3-1.  

 

Game One: Samsung Galaxy v EDward Gaming

(LPL) EDG Victory 45:44

Here it is, a combo that is potentially stronger than the Galio and Jarvan IV ultimate synergy: Kalista and Rakan. Courtesy of Lolesports

Game one between SG and EDG started with a poor draft phase by SG and an even worse early defend of an invade, giving EDG a lead that they would not let go of. Draft phase left EDG with an incredibly strong engage composition with Kalista and Rakan, a combination that offsets Rakan’s lack of tankiness with the safety of Kalista’s ultimate. This combination is devastating, but even more so when the Kalista and Rakan combo is on a team leading in tempo. A tempo lead is exactly what EDG gathered in game one.

Brutalizing their opponents, the LPL’s EDG did not give up a kill until past the thirty-minute mark. This is especially impressive given the nature of their diving hard engage team composition. The double hard engage Kalista/Rakan combination allows for such a long duration of virtually unavoidable crowd control, that EDG was able to take each team fight without suffering casualties. This changed during a team fight at the forty minute mark, where a huge Orianna ultimate coming out of SG’s Crown was able to change the tides. However, this team fight proved to be a fluke as the power of the Kalista and Rakan engage was too much for SG to handle.

 

Game Two: SK Telecom T1 v Team WE

(LPL) Team WE Victory 31:55

WE miss the Galio and Jarvan IV ultimate combination, but they’ll have plenty more shots at it. Courtesy of Lolesports

Game two between SKT1 and WE once again began with the surrender of a crucial team fight combination by the LCK. This time around, SKT1 gave both Galio and Jarvan IV, giving up most team fights in the process. With play at this level revolving heavily around engage, SKT1, like their Korean counterparts SG, prioritized Ashe over all other engage tools. While Ashe is a strong pick, she performs much better when her AOE damage and slows can be combined with other AOE based champions. Champions that, with the exception of Cassiopeia, SKT1 failed to draft. In addition to not drafting for AOE damage, SKT1 picked carries whose only mobility comes from their summoner spells in the face of a Jarvan IV and Galio combination.

Regardless of the players behind the champions, SKT1 drafted a composition that required them to use their Achilles Heel as a battering ram. It would have been an amazing feat for the Korean squad to overtake the wombo combo styled composition that WE had drafted for. Even with improper execution of their team fights, WE was able to secure an early lead from the camp-the-Faker strategy that so many teams utilize against SKT1.

 

Game Three: kt Rolster v OMG

(LCK) kt Rolster victory 34:37

Kt shows that the LCK can draft a team comp and then put that comp to use. Courtesy of lolesports

With kt Rolster’s bottom lane giving up first blood to a gank so early on, you would have expected this game to go in much the same way as the games prior. But this time was different because kt Rolster drafted a team with enough AOE to capitalize on their engage. Ashe and Zyra already have devastating AOE CC and damage to pour into their opponents, but kt took this draft a step further by grabbing Jarvan IV and Zac to further disrupt their opponents alongside the high damage of the skillshot based Corki mid.

The frontline and CC of this composition gives Ashe, Corki and Zyra the time to drop their damage loads onto enemies who are not able to dodge out of the way, while the long range initiation of Ashe allows for easy follow up CC for Jarvan IV and Zac. Despite early laning hiccups, kt Rolster was able to finally prove that with a well-drafted composition, the LCK could stand toe to toe with the LPL.

 

Game Four: MVP v RNG

(LPL) RNG victory 55:14

MVP pulls off an amazing wombo combo using Rakan. Unfortunately for them, they lose this fight too. Courtesy of lolesports

The closest and longest of the entire finals had the LCK showing promising early game play-making that fell short despite some well-executed initiations by the likes of MVP Max. While draft phase looked good for MVP, as they drafted a hard engage composition into the poke composition of RNG, some crucial misplays by MVP or just genuinely good plays by RNG ultimately led to an LPL victory.

Every time these teams fought, there were heavy casualties resulting in a long drawn out game that was as close as it was tense. When MVP would secure Baron, RNG would take it off at least three members immediately, while the same would occur on the opposite side when RNG secured Elder Dragon. The game finally fell into RNG’s favor when they secured an uncontested Baron thanks to a Gragas ultimate that left MVP out of smite range. This baron buff then led to an open base that RNG would ultimately destroy through a TP back door. Unlucky.

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