NBA 2k League Prospect Profile

NBA 2k League Prospect Profile: ThurberSr.

One could argue that the most important position in the NBA 2k League Combine is Point Guard. The Point Guard brings the ball up the court, initiates offense and talks through offensive/defensive sets. This adds responsibility to everyone playing this position. Now, let’s evaluate the subject of my next NBA 2k League prospect profile, ThurberSr.

ThurberSr.’s Profile

As I alluded to in the introduction, ThurberSr. (TS) is playing the Point Guard position during the NBA 2k League combine. Specifically, he’s chosen to be a slashing play-maker. As far as his archetypal choice, I’m fine with it. There’s more than one way to play Point Guard successfully and from what I’ve seen, TS has the ability to that.

Defense Evaluation

As much as I enjoyed him, TS left a lot to be desired on the defensive end. In all fairness, my possession by possession analysis is just on one game. I have also made an effort to watch some of his other tape to really see how he plays defense.

From what I’ve seen, TS can, but is not always, a defensive liability. I think this is also due to his archetypal choice and not having any natural defensive abilities, but, he made the choice. For example, his opponent would routinely drive and pull up for a mid-range jump shot. Instead of playing off, and anticipating the pull up, he would play tight to the ball and get beat to the basket. He would also not adjust his position.

Instead of opening up and allowing him to drive to an area he had defensive help, TS would play him straight up and give him a two-way go. In the game I watched in detail, TS did make adjustments as the game continued, but it wasn’t enough to impact his opponent.

There are a few things that can help TS play better defense consistently. First, he can eliminate unnecessary movements like steals and blocks. This will allow him to stay in good defensive position more consistently instead of getting beat due to a poorly timed animation.

Second, he should use his opponents archetype against them. If an opponent has chosen to be a slasher, play off from the start and force him to prove he can shoot. Conversely, don’t give a sharp a lot of space to get up a shot. It seems obvious, but I continually see players not take advantage of knowing that information from the start.

Third and finally, TS needs to communicate on defense when he needs help. I totally understand that getting helped on defense is not his job. However, if he doesn’t ask for help when it’s clearly needed, that’s on him. Overall, TS has the potential to be a good defender, he just needs to do the basics more consistently.

Offense Evaluation

Offensively, ThurberSr. is tremendously gifted as a Point Guard. His understanding of timing and spacing in pick and roll is great. If it weren’t for some of the frustrating 2k animations and scenarios, TS would have had five or six more assists. His biggest asset is his patience. He won’t force a pass into the paint off a roll unless it was there. Below are some examples that demonstrate his all around offensive game.

His passing ability was complimented nicely by knowing when to attack the basket aggressively and pull up for a mid-range jump shot. If anything, he could have been even more aggressive attacking the basket. He would often beat the opponent to the basket and pass back out to the top of the key for an open three pointer. There were times when I thought that strategy became predictable, but isn’t anything he should be concerned about.

Communication and Attitude

TS had excellent communication on the offensive end. He would do most of his talking before crossing half court. It was natural for him to direct traffic and delegate which players should cut, screen, roll and wrap. Sadly, this didn’t translate on the defensive side of the ball. TS would rarely call out switches, screens, and box outs. It’s not out of the ordinary, but as the Point Guard, you have more responsibility and should be expected to communicate more and better than most players.

When it comes to attitude, TS is never too high or low. I appreciate that kind of steady, reserved mindset. He was never demeaning towards his teammates, or let his frustrations get the best of him. There was one thing I did not appreciate during the game. Instead of playing the final possession of his game, he simply dribbled out the clock. There isn’t anything wrong or malicious with his decision, but, the last impression he left for anyone watching was not positive. Always play hard, and let the other team decide if they are going to stop playing.

Overall Grade

ThurberSr. is a promising player at Point Guard. I love his offensive game. He can do almost anything with the ball in his hands. But, his defense and attitude in the game I evaluated earns him a “C+”. This is not an indication of his potential or an attack on his character. This is just an honest evaluation from the game I watched in-depth and the few others I skimmed. ThurberSr. can easily make adjustments to elevate his defense and I look forward to his progress in the combine.

 

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Prospect Profile

NBA 2k League Prospect Profile – TheWealthySon

It feels like the NBA 2k League Combine just started yesterday. Now that we’ve passed the halfway point, players have a better understanding of the combine and how to play within it. One player who understood how to play from the start, is the subject of this prospect profile, Adam Burns.

TheWealthySon’s Profile

TheWealthySon (TWS) is playing as a sharpshooting, slashing Small Forward. This is first small forward I’ve thoroughly evaluated, so I didn’t know what to expect. As always, I determine my grade on the first combine game a prospect plays in. Watching TWS’s first game, was truly eye opening. If you’re reading this evaluation, I encourage you watch his first game because it’s a great example of how to carry yourself for the rest of this combine, which you can find here.

Defense Evaluation

The small forward position is hard to play and hard to evaluate because they can choose to play more like a guard or a forward at this end of the floor. So, I had to wait for TWS to cement his choice and evaluate from there. From what I gathered, TWS wanted to primarily play help defense and initiate fast breaks.

His on ball defense is good. When his man gets the ball, TWS doesn’t panic or overreact to movement. He often forces a pass to another player and can return to playing help defense. Very rarely did TWS get beat off the dribble. On the few occasions he did, TWS managed to recover and not put his team in a bad position.

His off the ball defense was good as well. Once he got a feel for the opposition, he had no trouble sifting through the defense to stay with his man. He was also able to take calculated risks as a result of understanding how his opposition and make plays for his team. You can see two examples of his play below.

My biggest critique of TWS on defense would be aggression and indecisiveness. Too many times he would stay disengaged because his man is choosing to stay put away from the ball. I understand he doesn’t want to abandon his assignment, but his team was getting crushed in the paint early. TWS could have stopped the opposition’s success by making a conscious effort to trap. There were also instances that he would crash the boards when it wasn’t necessary, and try to run on the fast break when he should be trying to rebound. Overall, TWS is a solid defender who would benefit greatly by taking more calculated risks on defense.

Offense Evaluation

TWS struggled early, specifically, with his jump shot. This isn’t uncommon for the first game of the combine, the only problem is he failed to properly adjust quickly. For example, he had tremendous success driving to the basket and at the free throw line. Despite that fact, he took multiple baseline jump shots which did not go in. Preferably, TWS should have utilized a pump fake or some kind of move to get into the paint, as opposed to settling for jump shots.

However, he displayed great awareness as the game developed. In the second half TWS had a much better understanding of his strengths and role in the offense. He started to have great success cutting, specifically, the backdoor cut. Once he figured out his role and the proper timing on cuts, his game really flourished. This only accentuated his already good feel for spacing. Ultimately, I believe TWS passed on too many scoring opportunities. I understand he didn’t want to upset his teammates and share the ball, but there were a few instances that he really should have driven to the basket. If TWS could have made these adjustments in the second quarter, I firmly believe his team’s deficit would not have been so large.

 

Communication and Attitude Evaluation

If you watched this game on mute, you’d probably overlook TWS as just an average player. But, his communication and overall attitude are among the best I’ve seen. He would routinely call out double teams on offense, when to time box outs, and cuts to the basket. There were some cases where I think he over communicated during defensive sets, but that’s not a huge issue.

In case you couldn’t tell from the footage, TheWealthySon’s team was down by 20 points for most of the first half. In his team’s first combine game, they faced a seemingly insurmountable deficit. The whole time TWS remained upbeat, encouraged teammates, and continued to play and communicate as if it was a one possession game. This paid off huge. His attitude was clearly infectious and allowed his teammates to battle back. In the fourth quarter, his team was actually up by two points despite being so far down. It was truly incredible to see TWS and his team respond so well in their first combine experience.

Overall Grade

Deciding on a final grade was tough. Thank goodness I was able to hear the audio as well as watch the footage. If not, I probably would have given TheWealthySon a “C” or “C+” grade given his early struggles and lack of adapting quickly. But, I decided that TWS was deserving of a “B-” given his attitude and that this was his first game. Without him, this team would have absolutely lost by double digits, or quit before the game was over.

 

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Prospect Profile

NBA 2k League prospect profile: TimmiTHD

I want to start by saying thank you to the NBA 2k League community. The feedback I’m getting from you all is great and motivating me to produce better content. My second NBA 2k League prospect profile will feature TimmiTHD. He’s been a supporter of mine from the beginning, but that does not make him beyond my criticisms as a prospect.

TimmiTHD’s Profile

TimmiTHD (TT) has chosen to be a play-making slashing shooting guard and was matched up against a sharpshooting shot creator. Due to a technical difficulty in his stream, I wasn’t able to evaluate his first game in the combine. So, my possession-by-possession evaluation was based off of his first game of day three.

Overall, TT has incredible potential. He has some areas where he is particularly strong and has unique communication that goes beyond the norm. However, he also makes some philosophical choices on defense that frustrate me beyond belief. I don’t think any of my critiques of TT aren’t fixable, but, they will certainly hold him back from being the best player he can be.

Defense Evaluation

As I eluded in his profile, watching TT’s style of defense sends me on an emotional roller coaster where I’m applauding him one moment, and the next typing in all caps to communicate my frustration. Let’s start with the good. TT plays a style of defense that I love, aggressive hedging. He also makes flash defensive plays. In the game I watched, TT had multiple steals and even more tipped passes resulting stoppage of play, or someone else picking up the loose ball. You can see what I’m describing in the video below.

TT had several more plays just like this I did not include. As you can see, he can frustrate opposing offenses and create easy transition points and opportunities for his teammates. I am a huge fan of anyone who plays hedge defense. For those who don’t know, it means a player who’s man is not involved with the offense decides to play off with the intention of helping or making a big play. But, I have serious issues with how aggressively and frequently he plays hedge defense.

TT has to do a better job of staying out of the paint in an attempt to make plays on defense. His opponent was not confident in his jump shot, so it didn’t cost him or his team in this game. But, he repeatedly left his man open on multiple occasions and will get exposed if he faces a true sharp.

As a shooting guard, you should rarely fall below the elbows when playing hedge defense, unless executing a switch. That’s a general statement. In reference to TT, he should never fall below the elbow when hedging because he is so gifted at initiating transition offense. In order to ascend to the top of his position, he must adjust defensively.

Offense Evaluation

TT’s overall offensive approach is great. While his archetype is all about making plays, he wants to make plays for his teammates. His spacial awareness was great, with only a few instances of confusion. Overall, TT is a strong offensive player. He doesn’t take a lot of shots, but, that’s a trend I’ve seen across the combine because of the unpredictability of the shooting mechanic. What truly stands out about TT, is his gift to initiate transition offense.

As stated earlier, these are only a few clips of his incredibly strong transition game. He has a great feel for when and who to pass to on the break. But what makes him excel at this facet of the game, is his communication. “Circle gone.” I cannot tell you how impressed I was by this statement.

TT could have easily said, “I’m open” or “hit me”, but he chose to say “circle gone”. What that does is make his teammate’s job easier. By announcing the button that corresponds with his position, the outlet passer does not have to think. As the game went on, these transition passes were leaving his teammate’s hands before the camera even adjusted.

That is an elite level of communication because it doesn’t make his teammate think, just react. That is an incredible asset to have in this combine because he’s playing with teammates who are not familiar with him or his style.

Overall, his offensive game is solid. I couldn’t find any glaring holes. On several occasions, TT passed on open shots to get his teammates involved. In a game they are winning by double digits, that’s okay. In a close game where every possession is crucial, he can’t pass up on open looks.

I am attributing his, and most players’ hesitation to shoot, to the new mechanic. Players don’t want to miss a lot of shots, so they’d rather pass or drive. This is something I’d like to see improve throughout the combine, more confidence in their jump shot.

Communication and Attitude Evaluation

TimmiTHD has excellent communication on both sides of the ball. On defense he calls out screens, motions and anything else that could interrupt their defensive flow. His communication on offense is the best I’ve seen. Identifying his button for the outlet passer really puts him on another level.

TT’s personality is great as well. A shooting guard needs to know when to be aggressive and when to take a back seat. TT has demonstrated that he can do both. He also brings a fun, authentic style to the game, which his teammates feed off.

Overall Grade

It pains me to do this, but I have to give TimmiTHD a “B-” from what I’ve seen. TT can make some quick, simple adjustments to quickly catapult his stock. I also wanted to communicate that his defense, if no adjustments are made, could considerably hold him back from being the best player he can possibly be.

 

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NBA 2k League Combine

NBA 2k League prospect profile: Petty_Andretti

Before we dive in to my prospect profile on Petty_Andretti, I want to make clear my evaluation process and that these are my thoughts independent of the in-game rating system. I start by watching the first game of every prospect. I evaluate their performance on every offensive and defensive possession. Meaning I watch a possession, pause and take notes, watch a possession, pause and take notes, and repeat until the game’s completion. Then, I watch their other two games to see growth, regression and consistency. The overall grade provided is purely based on my evaluation, and how that player performed in the three games I watched.

Petty_Andretti’s Profile

Petty_Andretti (PA) has chosen to play center, with the slashing stretch five archetype. His choice is interesting. PA has chosen to naturally be an offensive player without any natural defensive abilities. Surprisingly, you’d never know by watching him play defense and rebound.

Overall, I was impressed with the group of centers I watched this weekend. It will no doubt be a highly competitive group. As a side note, I would strongly advise any fringe centers to switch to power forward given the position scarcity and archetypes available to that position.

Defense Evaluation

I was thoroughly impressed with PA’s performance. After the first few possessions, you’ll notice that the point guard PA is playing with is a huge defensive liability. Sadly, this meant that PA had to spend the majority of the game guarding two positions, given the undisciplined defense of their point guard.

PA adjusts beautifully and consistently plays an aggressive hedge defense to compensate for their Point Guard. Below I’ve included a few plays that stood out to me, and a short breakdown of each.

It might look like he’s playing lazy defense, but the high screen is meant to draw him up and out of the paint. PA doesn’t bite. He’s anticipating the point guard getting beat on the screen, which happened, and would rather force the opposing center to attempt a lower percentage shot and stop the dribble penetration.

Here’s a great example of how to play the oppositions pick and roll. PA and his teammate wait for the opponent to initiate. Instead of committing and making a mistake, they slow play, communicate, and have a great switch. While the result is not good, his verbal communication and patience creates a great example of how to play the pick and roll. He has this same patience throughout the game and as a result, forces turnovers and ill advised shots.

While PA demonstrated some great defensive qualities and awareness, it wasn’t all great. Multiple times in my evaluation, I had to give him a minus because of unnecessary block attempts. He wasn’t spamming block. But, his ill advised block attempts left him out of position for key rebounds and help defense. This continued for most of the game and into overtime.

In the first half, PA was also not fully committing to switches. He wanted to make sure he was protecting the rim and not hanging his teammate out to dry. Thankfully, he was able to verbally communicate with his teammates and establish when and how to do a fully committed switch.

Offense Evaluation

The center position has garnered a lot of conversation after the first weekend. This is an unofficial stat, but I believe just over 4,000 Centers are averaging around 30 points and 20 rebounds per game. That tells me it isn’t hard to accumulate stats at that position, so they become increasingly less valuable. It’s about the process, not the result.

PA demonstrated great spacing in his games. He wasn’t simply a static player camping out in the paint. He would set off-ball screens, run high pick and roll and know when to draw his man out to open up the lane for a teammate. His ability to set effective screens really opened up the offense in game one. Below is an example on how to truly set an effective screen instead of obviously getting set, and having the point guard react late.

This is something every player can immediately integrate into their game. Don’t be lazy and obvious about setting screens. PA makes this screen look like he’s simply getting to his spot or cutting across the court. By taking this approach, he doesn’t tip off the defense and their offense gets an easy two points. Now let’s look at how this evolved into a pick and roll/pick and pop.

While this screen wasn’t as deceptive as the previous one, it’s still effective. Once the point guard clears, he holds his ground. This was the right decision because he doesn’t need to unnecessarily clog the paint. The point guard makes a good read to get the ball back to PA, and without hesitation, he drives inside.

While the numbers aren’t as eye-popping as some of the screenshots you’ve seen on Twitter, PA’s offensive game is sound and effective. However, there are things I’d like to see him do less. He’s obviously a good screen setter. But, I don’t like how PA comes up to the three point line to initiate the play. By setting the screen so high, he takes himself out of contention to grab a rebound. He also tries to run similar offensive sets later in the game even when the defense was prepared for them. It’s minor, but it led to wasted possessions and turnovers later in the game.As a side note, I would also like to see PA be more aggressive with scoring opportunities, specifically, back-to-the-basket post moves.

communication and attitude Evaluation

PA was strong in both of these categories. His communication on offense defense was good. I’m not saying good is average, but to be great, the communication needed to be just a bit more detailed. Meaning, instead of just saying “watch it, watch it” to call out a screen, be more specific. “Hey PG on your left I got switch”, would be an excellent example of communication. PA would routinely call out screens, switches and potential offensive sets. It was great to see such leadership and initiative from the center position.

I’m a huge fan of his attitude. PA is never too high, never too low. If he finds out a teammate doesn’t have a mic, he doesn’t complain and start making excuses. He simply adjusts his strategy, and plays his game. PA is encouraging to all of his teammates no matter the situation, and takes ownership of his mistakes. And the best part it, this is completely authentic. PA is not “putting on” for the scouts. He’s truly a calm, smart and passionate teammate.

Overall Grade

I want to preface this by saying I’m an extremely tough grader. So, my first grade I’m giving to Petty_Andretti is a “B”. There are a few things PA can work on to easily earn an “A” grade. Chief among them would be to eliminate unnecessary block attempts, stay away from setting so many screens at the three point line and develop a better back-to-the-basket offensive game. With all the incredible stat lines being put up by Centers, PA will have to raise his game offensively to truly be among the best. I am incredibly excited to see how Petty_Andretti develops throughout the combine.

 

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Greg Monroe Boston Celtics

What the Greg Monroe pickup means for Boston

The Boston Celtics and veteran center Greg Monroe agreed to a one-year contract on Feb. 2. This deal, while expected since the Suns waived him on Feb. 1, is potentially an Eastern Conference-shaking move.

On the surface, this trade fills a hole on the offensive end of the court and does not hamstring the Celtics whatsoever defensively. Dig a little bit deeper, however, and one has to question getting bigger is what will push Boston over the edge to win the East, or give them what they need to beat Golden State.

Here is a breakdown of how Monroe will be able to contribute to the East’s best team going forward.

Rebounds

Greg Monroe Boston Celtics

Greg Monroe attempts to swat away Wesley Johnson’s shot as a member of the Pistons. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

Monroe has been a pretty prolific rebounder since he entered the league during the 2010-11 season.

 

During his seven-year NBA career, Monroe has averaged 8.7 rebounds per game. His rebounds for the current season are down to 7.4, but considering he has only played 25 games, mostly with one of the worst teams in the league this season, that isn’t too surprising.

The Celtics are already in the top 10 in rebounds per game this season. If Monroe continues to contribute 7-8 per game, which all career consistency numbers indicate he will, it could easily propel Boston to top three in the league.

Minutes

The real question concerning Monroe’s role with the Celtics will be the number of minutes per game he ends up getting.

Boston is already a long team. With Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, playing time might be stretched a little thinner than the true center is used to.

In his career, Monroe has averaged a little less than 30 minutes per game. Considering both the young and established big-man talent on the Celtics’ roster, a bench role would make sense for him, being that the team has been successful up to this point.

During his 25 games this season, Monroe has averaged 21.8 minutes per game. That number should stay about where it is, if not dip a little, depending on his production on an already stacked team.

Offensive production

Greg Monroe Boston Celtics

Greg Monroe was waived by the Suns on Feb. 1, 2018. (Photo by Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press)

Surprisingly, Boston is 23rd in terms of points per game midway through the season. This obviously has not hurt them too much, considering they have the best record in the Eastern Conference. This has to do with the team’s commitment to defense.

 

But defense alone will not be enough to win in the playoffs. That’s where Monroe steps in.

In the 2017-18 campaign, Monroe has 10.4 points per game. Again, that is down from his 13.9 career points per game, but being on a more complete team will help that number rise quickly. His minutes and role on the Celtics are still in question, but expect that number to get better as he plays more.

His 2.2 offensive rebounds per game this season will also create more opportunities for points. If all goes according to plan, the Celtics should finish at least in the top 20 in terms of points per game after the pickup. When a team plays defense like Boston does, that will go a long way.

Defensive production

For a 6-foot-11 center, Monroe’s defense is not quite as solid as one might expect. His career 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks per game leaves a bit to be desired on that end of the court.

However, he has never played on a team like the Celtics, or under a coach as talented as Brad Stevens. If he buys into Stevens’ system and gets solid playing time, those numbers should climb.

The Celtics are fifth in defensive rebounds per game. Adding a rebounder like Monroe is only going to help rob opposing teams of possessions when he is on the court. That alone should be enough to justify the pickup, despite his defensive struggles.

Summary

Greg Monroe Boston Celtics

Greg Monroe goes up for a block during his time with the Milwaukee Bucks.
(Photo by Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)

Being that Monroe’s contract is a one-year, $5 million deal, this is very much an experiment for Boston. A low-risk, high-reward experiment, but an experiment nonetheless.

 

If Boston can figure out how to use him off of the bench, this move only puts them in a better position to further its grasp on the East. A bench role could take some getting used to for the big man, but if he buys into the system, he can be a huge piece moving forward for an already talented team.

After the Suns waived Monroe, it was really a no-brainer for the Celtics to pick him up. And being able to play for a contender should only further his motivation, provided he finds his niche in the system. If he finds his stride and accepts his role, it could also go a long way in being able to re-sign him for relatively cheap after the season ends.

With his first game in green coming Sunday, NBA fans should know pretty soon after what kind of impact he can make on the Eastern Conference.

 

Featured image by Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

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Spring Training Spotlight

Top power hitting infielders

As we begin to edge ever closer to spring training, players and fans alike await its return. But what type of return will it be? We saw a record number of home runs hit last season, and that trend seems like it will continue. Given all those homers, who are the best of the best in the infield?

1B Jose Abreu

Jose Abreu has been an absolute force for the Chicago White Sox. After signing to play the 2014 season, Abreu hit 36 home runs in his rookie season. In his four seasons with the White Sox, Abreu has slugged 124 home runs, as well as 144 doubles. That is where Abreu made the difference in these rankings.

Even though Abreu finished seventh for the most home runs among first baseman last season, he finished first in doubles hit with 43. The ability to hit for power consistently, and not be so reliant on the home run, gives Abreu the edge. He has also slugged .524 in his career, proving him to be one of the more consistent power threats in the game. Abreu possesses legitimate power, and he has shown it off time and time again while in Chicago. Don’t be surprised if you see him challenge for a home run title in the near future.

Best Power hitting infielders

Rougned Odor has immense power (Photo by MLB Trade Rumors).

2B Rougned Odor

While Rougned Odor did have a rough season last year, he is still one of the best power hitting second basemen in the game. He launched 30 homers for the Texas Rangers last year, all while his batting average hovered around the mendoza line. Even though he did post a negative WAR last season (-0.2), his power is definitely his strongest tool.

In his four seasons with the Rangers, Odor has hit 88 home runs. For a second baseman to produce that kind of power is exceptional. He has also slugged a respectable .444 for his career, difficult to do at a normally power depleted position. Odor is one of the most powerful second basemen in the game. His ability to drive the ball out of the yard is one of the best among second baseman.  If he can learn to hit consistently, his 30 homers per season could climb even higher.

3B Joey Gallo

As one of the most powerful prospects baseball has seen, Joey Gallo had high expectations. He definitely lived up to them in 2017. As the primary third baseman for the Texas Rangers, Gallo blasted 41 home runs last season. While he also hit around .200 (.209 batting average) like his Rangers teammate, Gallo was much more productive in the power department.

His immense home runs from last season would have put Gallo in the conversation for this spot. But when you consider he only had 94 hits last season and 41 of them were home runs, it easily wins him this spot. And even though he hit only .209, he slugged an amazing .537 on the season. Joey Gallo may have the most raw power in all of baseball. Granted players like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton hit more home runs than Gallo did, Gallo did it while having an extremely low batting average. If he can be more consistent with making contact, Gallo could challenge Judge and Stanton for the home run title very soon.

Best power hitting infielders

Carlos Correa has one of the most powerful swings in baseball (Courtesy of Sporting News).

SS Carlos Correa

Before bringing Houston it’s first ever World Series title, Carlos Correa put on an absolute show in the regular season. Correa finished 2017 with 24 home runs last season, tying Trevor Story for fourth most among short stops. But what makes it even more impressive is how long it took him to reach 24 home runs. He only played 109 games last season after hurting his thumb during the season. With that much production in so many fewer games, it’s easy to pick Correa for this spot.

Correa also posted an insane .550 slugging percentage. For that much power to come from a defensive first position like short stop is truly impressive. And while Correa is a true five tool player, his power may be the best tool in his arsenal. He also hit 25 doubles in his limited at-bats last season, adding another dimension to his power. Correa has a chance to not only lead short stops in home runs year in and year out, but could challenge for the league lead as well.

Feature image by Getty Images.

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Making the case for every fringe playoff team

The NBA season is halfway over, which means it’s time to start evaluating potential playoff teams.

The top four seeds in each conference are virtual locks, due to overall talent and coaching. The fifth-seventh seeds will do some changing around as teams jockey for their playoff seeding. Although, close followers of the NBA probably wouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons or the Trailblazers fell out of the playoff picture after overachieving slightly in the first half of the season.

As with any sport’s playoff, however, the most interesting storylines are the ones involving the teams on the bubble.

With that in mind, let’s look at each conference’s eighth seed and first two teams on the outside looking in.

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers (21-19, No. 8 seed)

The Pacers have been just fine without Paul George. Victor Oladipo has been playing close to his ceiling, although they’re still overpaying for him. The other piece of the trade that sent George away, Domantas Sabonis, has also been playing nicely. He’s two rebounds shy of averaging a double-double, and will probably end up setting career-high averages in every meaningful category.

While their offense has been clicking, their defense is some of the most below average in the Association. Not awful, just very mediocre. Their offense alone can win the Pacers enough games to keep them in the 8th spot. Lack of defensive consistency will have been their downfall if they fail to make the cut.

Philadelphia 76ers (19-19, first team out)

Philadelphia is one of the most exciting stories in the NBA this season. The “process” seems to have finally come to fruition, and we are finally seeing glimpses of what this long and arduous rebuild has wrought.

Even though the 76ers are a .500 team, don’t be fooled. They’re currently first in the league in rebounds per game, second in assists resulting made field goals, and sixth in points. A rested and re-energized team could ride that kind of momentum to a playoff spot after the All Star break. Plus, their first overall draft pick hasn’t even played five games yet.

NBA Playoffs

Embiid scores on Whiteside. (Photo by: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

What will keep them out of the playoffs is their youth and inconsistency in their game to game performances. As the season drags on, the young players might start to slow down, which will only exacerbate their inconsistency issues. Those red flags usually mean a .500 team will stay a .500 team, but playing in a weak conference will definitely help.

New York Knicks (19-21, second team out)

The Knicks are a force to be reckoned with in the paint on both ends of the court. They are ninth in points in the paint and second in points allowed in the paint. Yes, we’re talking about the New York Knicks.

The team is huge, size-wise. Porzingis, O’Quinn, Kanter and Noah are all either over or close to 7-feet. That length pays dividends over a long regular season, but could actually be a problem if they sneak into the playoffs. The East is full of jump shooting teams, which will stretch New York’s strengths too thin to make them truly effective.

Western Conference

New Orleans Pelicans (20-19, No. 8 seed)

New Orleans might very well be a better team than their record indicates. They’re second in points in the paint thanks to Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins. They’re also second in the NBA in assists per game thanks to some great guard play both from starters and off the bench. Not to mention they have the second toughest schedule in the NBA (according to 2016-2017 team records).

Team defense leaves a lot to be desired for the Pelicans. Bottom five in opponents points in the paint per game doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the front court they have. They also give up the third most points in the league per game.

NBA Playoffs

Davis and Cousins during a game against the Spurs. (Photo by: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

It’s an especially strange case on New Orleans’ part. The chemistry and coaching is clearly there, as evidenced by the assist totals. But the defense is nowhere near where it should be, in spite of Cousins and Davis. Remember that Alvin Gentry was brought on to be a defensive mastermind, and the roster has only gotten better since he came to town. Maybe look for a coaching shake-up if the Pelicans miss the playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers (18-21, first team out)

Doc Rivers’ team is hurting out west. The Clippers have been a staple of the Western Conference playoffs for the past six years, but the days of Lob City have finally come to an end. Chris Paul’s departure marked a culture change for the Clips, and the team has not found its stride just yet.

Los Angeles still has a great 3-point game. Beverley, Williams, Rivers and even Griffin can all pull up from distance. They also have great personnel for man-to-man defense. Those two things are golden in NBA playoff basketball. But, yet again, team defense is going to be the main hurdle between them and their playoff streak.

Utah Jazz (16-24, second team out)

The new look Jazz are in a soft rebuild. After losing their number one scorer in Gordon Hayward, the Jazz were almost certainly take on a new identity. But picking up Ricky Rubio and finding a steal in Donovan Mitchell should have stopped the bleeding more than it has.

Their defense is some of the best in the NBA, all around. In fact, the Jazz are top 10 in almost every meaningful defensive category under Quin Snider. Against the trend, the offense is what will probably keep Utah out of the playoffs this year. Although, again, this is a new look team. And offense almost always comes together more quickly than defense. If they can keep up the defensive dominance, they won’t be out of the playoff picture for long.

 

Featured image by ANTHONY GRUPPUSO-USA TODAY

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2017 NFL power rankings week 14

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

December football is upon us, and as the weather gets colder, the NFL playoff races are heating up. Four teams have been officially eliminated from playoff contention; Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago and the New York Giants. There is also a few playoff-clinching scenarios in play during week 14. New England can clinch the AFC East with a win over Miami or a Buffalo loss. Philadelphia can clinch the NFC East title with a win over the Los Angeles Rams, or with a New York Giants win over Dallas. Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a win over Carolina or losses by both Detroit and Green Bay. With all that being said, here are the current 2017 NFL power rankings for Week 14.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-12)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

(Photo Credit: John David Mercer, USA TODAY Sports)

Last week: 32 (no change)

Next game: home vs. Green Bay

There is little to say about Cleveland that hasn’t already been said. They are four games away from an infamous 0-16 season. All Cleveland can focus on is the draft. This year they must find the quarterback that can change the franchise. They have gone too long without a true leader to play under center. In the last two seasons, they have missed out on Carson Wentz, DeShaun Watson, Dak Prescott and other. In 2018, they need to find a way to take Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield.

31. New York Giants (2-10)

Last week: 30 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Dallas

Giant fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Mustache man, Ben McAdoo is gone and can no longer hurt your team. New York is having a disastrous season but at 2-10, they have a lot of talent still. The defense is a couple of players away from being elite. The offense has Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram to build around. Their focus needs to be solidifying their offensive line and finding a workhorse running back. If they do that they can still win with Eli Manning at quarterback. He does not have to be replaced yet.

30. Denver Broncos (3-9)

Last week: 29 (-1)

Next game: home vs. New York Jets

Getting blown out by Miami has shown just how far the Broncos have fallen this season.  Nothing is going right and they need to hit the reset button. The Jets will be coming to town to put a beatdown on the Broncos. This once feared defense is now 31st in scoring defense giving up 26.2 points per game. Going forward they will need to fix this defense or find a new identity.

29. Chicago Bears (3-9)

Last week: 28 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Cincinnati

The Bears might not be a playoff contender but man does their future look exciting with players like Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky. Their defensive play has gone under the radar because they are eliminated from the playoffs. The only thing the Bears can do for the remainder of this season is build momentum for the future.

28. San Francisco 49ers (2-10)

Last week: 31 (+3)

Next game: away vs. Houston

Jimmy Garoppolo has generated a buzz in San Francisco. It appears that he will be the franchise quarterback moving forward. This is good news for the 49ers who will have another top-five pick to build their team. As they continue to build their defense Garoppolo can provide the consistency needed from a signal caller. If the defense steps up next season and the front office gets Jimmy G some weapons on the outside, then the 49ers will be one of the surprise playoff teams as early as next year.

27. Indianapolis Colts (3-9)

Last week: 27 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Buffalo

The Colts defense has kept them in most of their games but it usually breaks in the second half. One thing to keep an eye on for the remainder of the Colts’ season is Frank Gore. Gore is only 368 yards from another 1,000 yard and at age 34 which is remarkable. He is also just 404 yards away from passing Curtis Martin for fourth on the all-time rushing list. If he can reach that mark in the final four games it would be the highlight of the Colts’ season.

26. Miami Dolphins (5-7)

Last week: 26 (no change)

Next game: home vs. New England

Miami blew out the Broncos to end their five-game losing streak. Jay Cutler threw for 235 yards and Kenyan Drake ran for 120 yards on just 23 carries. Drake is proving he could be the feature back moving forward. This week the Dolphins will host the Patriots and Miami have lost three straight to New England and four of the last five.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)

Last week: 24 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Detroit

Fixing the defense should be the number one priority this offseason. Jameis Winston is a really good young quarterback but the Bucs could end up wasting his talents. The offense around Winston is very solid as well with O.J. Howard, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Doug Martin could be replaced with a more reliable back but overall the offense is solid. The defense must step it up but they can’t salvage this season.

24. New York Jets (5-7)

Last week: 25 (+1)

Next game: away vs. Denver

Somehow, someway the Jets have won five games and continue to be the most unpredictable team in the NFL. They are mathematically alive in the playoff hunt but don’t get it twisted, they are not a playoff caliber team. They should find themselves in the win column again with a road trip to Denver on the schedule. But then again, if anybody could lose to Denver at this point in the season, don’t be surprised if it is the Jets.

23. Arizona Cardinals (5-7)

Last week: 22 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Tennessee

Bruce Arians is a damn good coach who has kept the Cardinals very competitive despite losing David Johnson and Carson Palmer this season. Arizona is struggling to score points but if they had Johnson and Palmer they would be fairing much better. After dropping a game to the Rams the Cardinals get to host the playoff-bound Titans and it will be a tough test.

22. Houston Texans (4-8)

Last week: 23 (+1)

Next game: home vs. San Francisco

For some reason, the Texans threw the ball 49 times with Tom Savage. Anybody who knows anything about football knows that a team can not win with Savage throwing that ball that often. Houston needs to run the ball more and 22 attempts are not enough. It is no surprise they lost to the Titans because of this formula. If they have a similar gameplan against the 49ers they will lose to them as well.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)

Last week: 19 (-2)

Next game: home vs. Chicago

Cincinnati had a 17 point lead at home against their rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Blowing that game may have cost them a shot at the playoffs. Looking back at that game, it summarizes Marvin Lewis’ time in Cincinnati. In the beginning, it looked great and there have been multiple displays of greatness. At the end though, they always come up short. Cincinnati needs a change of culture and Marvin Lewis needs to be fired.

20. Kansas City Chiefs (6-6)

Last week: 14 (-6)

Next game: home vs. Oakland

Losing to the Jets is the last straw. This team will miss the playoffs and be a footnote in history of the teams that got off to a hot start but eventually folded. Andy Reid finally got back to airing it out and opening the offense for Alex Smith but then the defense decided to go missing. Kansas City has a virtual playoff game this week but the way their season has gone recently they will probably lose again for the seventh time in eight games.

19. Buffalo Bills (6-6)

Last week: 13 (-6)

Next game: home vs. Indianapolis Colts

Buffalo only managed to score three points against the Patriots. LeSean McCoy was held to just 93 yards and as a team, they only threw for 115 yards. The Bills are still in the hunt in the AFC wildcard picture but their schedule doesn’t look favorable. Buffalo should beat Indy this week but then they have to face Miami twice and New England one more time. The benching of Tyrod Taylor against the Chargers might end up being the difference when it is all said and done.

18. Oakland Raiders (6-6)

Last week: 18 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Kansas City

The Raiders control their own destiny in the AFC West as the Chiefs and Chargers are both 6-6 as well. If they win their next four games they will win the division title but they have Kansas City this week followed by Dallas, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Chargers. It will not be easy to accomplish but if they run the table it would be well earned.

17. Washington Redskins (5-7)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

(Photo Credit: AP Photo)

Last week: 16 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Washington got completely manhandled by the Cowboys and that is a disturbing outcome. The Redskins will not make the playoffs and still have to worry about Kirk Cousins walking away from them this offseason. If that happens Washington will no longer have an identity and will have to start yet another rebuild. They must travel to Los Angeles to face the scorching hot Chargers.

16. Green Bay Packers (6-6)

Last week: 20 (+4)

Next game: away vs. Cleveland

Green Bay got a much needed, momentum building, win against the Buccaneers. All they have to do is beat Cleveland and then they get Aaron Rodgers back for the final three games. 10 wins are typically the benchmark to make the playoffs and with Aaron Rodgers returning it is very possible they reach that benchmark. Cleveland should present an easy opportunity for a win. The rest of the NFC should be on the lookout for the Packers.

15. Detroit Lions (6-6)

Last week: 15 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Tampa Bay

The Lions have lost back to back important games and must finish the season on a four-game win streak to have a shot at making the playoffs. Detroit’s final four games include the Buccaneers, Bears, Bengals and Packers. All their remaining games are winnable. One thing the Lions must do is play better defense as they are giving up 25.7 points per game which is sixth worst in the NFL. Matthew Stafford can’t do it all himself and if the defense doesn’t lend a hand then Detroit will miss the playoffs.

14. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

Last week: 17 (+3)

Next game: away vs. New York Giants

The Cowboys season may have changed for the better after a huge win against their biggest rival, the Redskins, 38-14. Dallas got back to running the ball. Alfred Morris had 27 carries for 127 yards and one touchdown. Dallas sits at 6-6 and is on the outside looking in of the playoffs. if they can win four straight, like many other teams, they will find themselves in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they still have games against the Raiders, Seahawks and Eagles so the playoffs do not look likely.

13. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)

Last week: 21 (+8)

Next game: away vs. Pittsburgh

For a while now I have not given the Ravens the credit that they have earned. Their defense has been recognized but their inept offense gave a cause for pause. After thrashing the Lions, it is clear that the Ravens will likely be a playoff team. Now, they probably won’t go too deep into the playoffs but this a good team. If they get an upset win on the road this week, they are all but a lock for a playoff berth and could even have a shot at winning the division.

12. Tennessee Titans (8-4)

Last week: 12 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Arizona

Tennessee is an old-school football team that pounds the rock behind two really good running backs. Derek Henry is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and a total of 629 yards while DeMarco Murray has racked up 518 yards. As a team, Tennessee is averaging 122 yards per game on the ground. Marcus Mariota has the ability to get hot at any moment and if he does then the Titans become a darkhorse in the AFC.

11. Atlanta Falcons (7-5)

Last week: 8 (-3)

Next game: home vs. New Orleans

How many times have these Atlanta Falcons been held to under 10 points and no touchdowns at home? Not very often. The loss at home to the Vikings dampers their chance of returning to the playoffs. However, if they can find some of that old offensive magic this week against the Saints, then they still have a shot at winning the division.

10. Carolina Panthers (8-4)

Last week: 7 (-3)

Next game: home vs. Minnesota

Carolina does not match up well with the Saints. New Orleans swept Carolina and holds all the tiebreakers against them. The Panthers don’t get much of a chance to catch their breath either because the first seeded Vikings are coming to town to finish their road trip. The Panthers are going to have to control the clock. If they can win the time of possession they will tire out Minnesota’s stellar defense and have a shot at winning.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)

Last week: 9 (no change)

Next game: home vs. Washington

Los Angeles is one of the hottest teams in the league, winning six of their last eight. That is why they are ranked in the top ten of these rankings. The Chargers have caught up to the Chiefs. Nobody wants to play the Chargers because they can get after the quarterback and create havoc for opposing offense. On the other side of the ball, they have an experienced quarterback and a young running back to rely on. Los Angeles will continue to win games and just like the Titans, be a darkhorse to challenge in the AFC.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4)

Last week: 10 (-2)

Next game: home vs. Seattle

Jacksonville’s defense is Super Bowl caliber and can lead them deep into the playoffs as long as Blake Bortles doesn’t mess it up. The Jaguars rank first in total defense (282.5 yards allowed per game), passing defense (167.1 passing yards allowed per game), sacks (45) and second in takeaways (27). Seattle will be a difficult challenge but Jacksonville has the luxury of playing this one at home.

7. Seattle Seahawks (8-4)

2017 NFL power rankings week 14

(Photo Credit: JONATHAN FERREY/GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Last week: 11 (+4)

Next game: away vs. Jacksonville

Just how good is Russell Wilson?  He has the Seahawks winning games with a horrible offensive line and half of the Legion of Boom missing. Wilson should be the favorite to win the MVP award because without him the Seahawks would be lucky to have three wins. Wilson has thrown for 3,256, 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Beating the Eagles was a statement to the rest of the NFC that the Seahawks are not to be overlooked.

6. New Orleans Saints (9-3)

Last week: 6 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Atlanta

There is no better running back duo in the NFL than Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. This duo is doing so well they need a nickname. Ingram likes Boom and Zoom but I am sure they can find a better one. New Orleans has swept Carolina because of these awesome backs that have led the way. If they can repeat that success against Atlanta this week they will put a nice hold on the division.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)

Last week: 2 (-3)

Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Rams

Philly had their long win streak snapped and it wasn’t a huge surprise. Winning in Seattle is tough and the Eagles had not been in many close games against good teams. The defense was a bit exposed and may struggle to shut down the Rams explosive offense. Carson Wentz will need to play great to keep the Eagles soaring.

4. Los Angeles Rams (9-3)

Last week: 5 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Philadelphia

Los Angeles has been on a scheduling gauntlet lately. The recently played the Vikings and Saints and now they have to face the Eagles. This is a big game for both teams as they are fighting for a possible first-round bye and possibly home-field advantage. Their recent win against the Cardinals was a tune-up for this showdown. There should be fireworks as the teams are tied for first in scoring offense averaging 30.1 points per game.

3. Minnesota Vikings (10-2)

Last week: 4 (+1)

Next game: away vs. Carolina

The Vikings are a win away from clinching the division title. All they have to do is win one game against the Panthers, Bengals, Packers and Bears. That should be easy enough for a team with a defense as strong as theirs. Case Keenum continues his MVP-level play completing 25 of 30 pass attempts against the Falcons. He didn’t throw a single incompletion in the second half. Minnesota has a third straight road game this week against the Panthers. It will be impressive if they can pull off another win.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2)

Last week: 3 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Baltimore

The Steelers keep catching flack for winning close games against inferior teams but wins are hard to come by in the NFL. A win is good no matter if it is by one or 100 and Pittsburgh just keeps winning. They are earning a lot of experience for close battles they will encounter in the playoffs. When the playoffs start the Steelers will find themselves prepared for anything and everything.

1. New England Patriots (10-2)

Last week: 1 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Miami

New England continues to win games and look like champions while doing it. The Patriots are the best team in the NFL because they have the greatest coach and quarterback of all-time. Their defense is coming off a great performance against the Bills allowing just three points. New England has nothing to worry about and are gearing up for their favorite time of the year.

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2017 NFL power rankings Week 13

2017 NFL power rankings: Week 13

December football is upon us, and as the weather gets colder, the NFL playoff races are heating up. Three teams have been officially eliminated from playoff contention; Cleveland, San Francisco and the New York Giants. New England, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Minnesota have comfortable leads in their division, but will be fighting for first-round byes and home-field advantage over the coming weeks. There is a lot of football left to be played, and a lot can change. Here are the current 2017 NFL power rankings for Week 13.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-11)

Last week: 32 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Chargers

There is no surprise here as the Browns are dead last in the NFL. Cleveland continues to lose games and is only five losses away from going 0-16 just one season after going 1-15. The Browns’ remaining schedule is pretty tough, and 0-16 seems like a certainty.

It is hard to find any bright spot for this franchise, but going 1-31 over the course of two seasons is likely as bad as it can get. The only way to go is up, and that is the only good thing to look forward to if you’re a Browns fan.

31. San Francisco 49ers (1-10)

Last week 31 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Chicago

The 49ers played tough against Seattle, but are still preparing for a top three pick in next year’s draft. San Francisco could mess that up this week by traveling to Chicago to take on the Bears. This is a winnable game for the 49ers, but should they try to win it?

It will be interesting to see if Jimmy Garoppolo finally starts after going two for two for 18 yards and a touchdown. Or the 49ers may just tank this year and roll with him as a backup.

30. New York Giants (2-9)

2017 NFL power rankings Week 13

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

Last week: 30 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Oakland

New York has officially been eliminated from the playoffs after many expected them to be a playoff team. It has been a lost season to say the least, and they must determine which direction they need to go for the future.

Eli Manning shouldn’t be going through a rebuild this late into his career. The defense is loaded with talent, and if they can retool the offensive line, then they may be closer to being more competitive than they have been in this season.

29. Denver Broncos (3-8)

Last week: 28 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Miami

Denver has had a surprising downfall this season, but what can you expect with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch as your quarterbacks? Yes, Peyton Manning wasn’t the same during their Super Bowl run, but was still 10 times better than what they have now and was still vital to their success. Denver needs to finish the rest of the season without earning another win so they can draft a new signal caller to lead them into the future.

28. Chicago Bears (3-8)

Last week: 25 (-3)

Next game: home vs. San Francisco

Chicago was beaten so badly they had to complain about the dancing the Eagles were doing. John Fox has done a pretty good job building this team, and more specifically the defense.

However, their lack of competitive spirit this past week is concerning. If the Bears look this bad at home against San Francisco, then it should be time to fire Fox and bring in an offensive mind that can make sure the decision to trade up for Mitch Trubisky doesn’t haunt this franchise for the next 10 years.

27. Indianapolis Colts (3-8)

Last week: 29 (+2)

Next game: away vs. Jacksonville

Indianapolis is still extremely competitive despite their treacherous record. Two weeks ago, they fought the Steelers in a 20-17 loss.

This past Sunday, they fought another playoff contender, the Tennessee Titans, to a 20-16 loss. The defense has improved as of late and is giving up just 18 points per game over the last three games.

Jacoby Brissett is playing the role of game manager well on the offensive side of the ball. If the defense can play like this when Andrew Luck returns, along with having a high draft pick, it will go a long way in helping them reach the postseason next year. For now, the Colts are going to enjoy playing spoiler for the rest of this season.

26. Miami Dolphins (4-7)

Last week: 27 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Denver

Miami got after Tom Brady and hit him numerous times, but it wasn’t enough. The Dolphins fell 35-17 as Brady threw for four touchdowns against them.

Miami is stuck in the middle with issues all over their offense. The only bright spot is Jarvis Landry, who puts up consistent numbers despite never having an elite quarterback to get him the ball. The defense is also underperforming, giving up 36.7 points per game over their last three.

They might be able to get a win this week against the Broncos, but in the end, it won’t mean anything but a lower draft pick.

25. New York Jets (4-7)

Last week: 26 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Kansas City

The Jets are still competing in games, but won’t make the playoffs and won’t get a chance to have a top three pick either. They are stuck in the middle and in mediocrity.

New York fell to the Panthers and now they get to face the free-falling Kansas City Chiefs. A win is possible for the Jets this week, but winning this game won’t accomplish much.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)

Last week: 19 (-5)

Next game: away vs. Green Bay

Tampa Bay was undefeated with Ryan Fitzpatrick until this past week when they lost to the Falcons. Jameis Winston is close to being healthy, but should the Bucs put him back in the lineup? The Buccaneers are a long shot to make the playoffs, which is why they should protect their franchise quarterback for the long term. They should ride with Fitzpatrick the rest of the season because it is over.

23. Houston Texans (4-7)

Last week: 20 (-3)

Next game: away vs. Tennessee

Tom Savage should not be in the NFL. When I think of Tom Savage and the comparison to other professional athletes that looked completely lost in the pros, I think of Smush Parker of the Los Angeles Lakers back in the mid-2000s. Savage can’t get the job done, and the fact that he has a job and Colin Kaepernick doesn’t is just blasphemous.

Either way, the Texans travel to Tennessee this week with a chance to play spoiler to a divisional foe.

22. Arizona Cardinals (5-6)

Last week: 24 (+2)

Next game: home vs. Los Angeles Rams

Who is this Blaine Gabbert that the Cardinals have found? Gabbert has thrown for 498 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions in limited action this season, but head coach Bruce Arians thinks he is the future at the quarterback position after Carson Palmer retires.

That is pretty bold after all the issues he had in Jacksonville. Let’s see how he does against the Rams this week now that he has the support behind him.

21. Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

Last week: 22 (+1)

Next game: home vs. Detroit

One of the most unexplainable things of the NFL season is how the Ravens sit at 6-5. This team has no offense whatsoever, but have still won six games.They are 18th in scoring, 11th in rushing and 32nd in passing. Baltimore’s defense has done the majority of the work, holding teams to just 17 points per game, which is the second best mark in the NFL.

Baltimore does not look like a playoff team and will more than likely miss the playoffs. If they do find a way to hold Detroit under 20 points and pull out a win, then maybe I’ll begin to change my mind and hop on the Ravens’ playoff bandwagon.

20. Green Bay Packers (5-6)

Last week: 23 (+3)

Next game: home vs. Tampa Bay

It has to be disheartening for the Packers to get a career game from Brett Hundley and still lose. After the performance he put on against the Steelers, it is clear to see that no matter how well Hundley plays, the Packers are doomed. At 5-6 they aren’t completely out of the playoff race, but climbing back into it will take a miracle considering the level of competition they have remaining.

In their final five games, Green Bay must face the Panthers, Vikings and Lions. The chances of them winning all these games are very low, and the Packers will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

19. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

Last week: 21 (+2)

Next game: home vs. Pittsburgh

The Bengals looked dead in the water at 0-3, but have managed to go 5-3 since then. Their defense is still playing at a high level, ranking 10th in scoring defense. Cincinnati gives up a lot of yards, but keeping people off the scoreboard is what really matters. The offense finally got some help in the ground game last week as Joe Mixon ran for a career-high 114 yards.

If they can keep this up against the Steelers, it will keep the Killer B’s off the field and possibly lead to an upset. This upset would put the Bengals back in the thick of the Wild Card hunt.

18. Oakland Raiders (5-6)

2017 NFL power rankings Week 13

(Photo from http://www.businessinsider.com)

Last week: 17 (-1)

Next game: home vs. New York Giants

The Raiders were able to get a win, but barely won against a bad Denver team. On a somewhat positive note, the Raiders seem to have the fighting spirit a team needs to beat adversity.

How do I know that they have this fighting spirit? Well, they are literally getting into fights. Michael Crabtree will be suspended one game for his role in the fight, and that really hurts Oakland as Amari Cooper went down with a concussion.

Oakland has an easy opponent this week, but will really need to pick it up to save their season.

17. Dallas Cowboys (5-6)

Last week: 12 (-5)

Next game: home vs. Washington

There was nothing to be thankful for in Dallas as the Cowboys got completely railed by Philip Rivers and the Chargers on Thanksgiving. Dak Prescott and the rest of the Cowboys offense is struggling without Ezekiel Elliott.

If the Cowboys don’t right the ship this week, their season is likely over. To turn their season around, they need Dak to channel some of the greatness he displayed last season. But that may be asking too much.

16. Washington Redskins (5-6)

Last week: 15 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Dallas

Washington’s season has been an up and down roller coaster. One week they look like a legitimate contender and the next they are blowing double-digit fourth-quarter leads.

Washington is not out of the Wild Card race as their final five games are against the Cowboys, Chargers, Cardinals, Broncos and Giants. If the Redskins get hot at the right time, they could make a run in the playoffs. It all starts this week with their biggest rival.

15. Detroit Lions (6-5)

Last week: 14 (-1)

Next game: away vs. Baltimore

Detroit fought valiantly against the Vikings, but they were outmatched by a better team. In a recent press conference, head coach Jim Caldwell said to not count them out, and he was spot on. This team is sitting on the outside looking in, but at 6-5, they are all but out of it.

Their schedule is extremely favorable too. Their remaining opponents have a combined record of 23-32. All five of their games are winnable, and they can even lose one and finish 10-6. 10-6 should get them into the playoffs.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (6-5)

Last week: 9 (-5)

Next game: away vs. New York Jets

Two years ago, it was the Falcons that started out 5-0 but finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Last year, it was the Vikings who started out 5-0 but finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

It seems like the team to continue this trend will be the Chiefs. They started this season out 5-0 and looked completely unstoppable. They even beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

Since then, they have gone 1-5, and the wheels have fallen off. Andy Reid can’t avoid the constant barrage of questions involving Patrick Mahomes, but he has shot down any idea of the rookie replacing Alex Smith.

Kansas City needs to find their explosiveness to turn the ship around before it is too late. The Jets are the perfect opponent for that.

13. Buffalo Bills (6-5)

Last week: 18 (+5)

Next game: home vs. New England

After a failed experiment to bring in rookie Nathan Peterman, the Bills wised up and started Tyrod Taylor again, and it resulted in a win over the Chiefs. The win put Buffalo right back into the thick of the Wild Card race in the AFC.

Buffalo should have never benched Taylor because the loss to the Chargers could hurt in the long run. Now the Bills must face the hated Patriots this week, and it will likely result in a loss and further make the playoff race even more jam-packed.

12. Tennessee Titans (7-4)

Last week: 11 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Houston

Tennessee won this week, but didn’t look great against the Colts. It was their first ever win in Lucas Oil Stadium, but nevertheless, it should have come much easier.

The Titans sit comfortably in a playoff spot, but if they can’t get Marcus Mariota playing at the level he was at last year, then they will have a short stint in the playoffs. Tennessee also needs to make sure they stay committed to the run in order to succeed. The Titans will be facing a banged up Texans team, but all divisional games are difficult.

11. Seattle Seahawks (7-4)

Last week: 13 (+2)

Next game: home vs. Philadelphia

Seattle found a way to beat the 49ers, which wasn’t hard for them to do. For the first time in his career, Russell Wilson has to carry the team on his back. The offensive line is weak and the defense had been decimated with injuries.

Wilson has been up to the task thus far, throwing for 3,029 yards, 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He has also added three rushing touchdowns.

The Eagles will be their toughest test this season, and winning it will vault them right in the conversation of teams to beat in the NFC.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4)

Last week: 7 (-3)

Next game: home vs. Indianapolis

This week was a perfect example of why some are so skeptical of the Jaguars. They lost a game in which they should have won because Blake Bortles threw a late interception. The only way this team can succeed is if they run the ball over 30 times a game and play legendary defense. They are capable of this and should pick up another win against the Colts thanks to that amazing defense.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (5-6)

Last week: 16 (+7)

Next game: home vs. Cleveland

At 5-6, some may see the Chargers at nine and lose their mind, but they are one of the top 10 teams in the NFL regardless of what their record says.

In Week 1, the Chargers had a potential game-tying field goal blocked. In Week 2, Younghoe Koo missed a field goal that would have won them a game against the Dolphins. Their other close losses include a two-point loss to Philadelphia, an eight-point loss to the Patriots and a three-point overtime loss to the Jaguars.

Thanks to the decline of the Chiefs, the Chargers can still win the division. At 5-6, they can also earn a Wild Card berth. The Chargers could very well end up in the playoffs because they have won five of their last seven.

This week they get the winless Browns for a shot to get to .500. Do not sleep on the Chargers as their defense has them streaking.

8. Atlanta Falcons (7-4)

Last week: 10 (+2)

Next game: home vs. Minnesota

Atlanta can thank Julio Jones for their win against the Buccaneers. Jones had his third career game of 250 or more receiving yards. This week, getting 100 yards will be tough as he will see Xavier Rhodes. If the Falcons win this game, it will prove to the rest of the league that they are back in the thick of this NFC race. If they lose, then they will fall closer to missing the playoffs.

7. Carolina Panthers (8-3)

2017 NFL power rankings Week 13

(Photo Credit by Getty Images/Abbie Parr)

Last week: 8 (+1)

Next game: away vs. New Orleans

Carolina just keeps racking up wins, and nobody is talking about them. Their most impressive accomplishment of the season nobody seems to talk about either. They beat New England in Foxborough back in Week 4. People would rather remember their loss to the Bears though it seems.

Cam Newton seems to get trashed more than he gets praised, but at the end of the day, he wins games. Newton has led the Panthers to a 29-14 record in his last three seasons.

Carolina has a chance to beat New Orleans and take over first place in the NFC South this week. It is going to be tough to do on the road. The Panthers just keep on pounding, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.

6. New Orleans Saints (8-3)

Last week: 5 (-1)

Next game: home vs. Carolina

New Orleans is not helping their case for any tiebreakers when it comes to first-round byes. They have lost to the Vikings and Rams within the conference. Their win earlier in the season against the Panthers has them in first in the division, but a loss to the Panthers this upcoming week will change that.

The Saints can’t allow the injuries to derail them. New Orleans does have the pleasure of playing at home this week, and it could be the difference maker.

5. Los Angeles Rams (8-3)

Last week: 6 (+1)

Next game: away vs. Arizona

Los Angeles responded nicely after a loss in Minnesota. The Rams bounced back to beat a popular and streaking Saints team. Los Angeles did it with defense by holding the Saints to just 20 points, which is nine points less than their season average. They were able to do so well because they kept the ball away from the Saints by holding the ball for over 35 minutes.

Going forward, the Rams will be looking to lock up the division, but need to hold off the Seahawks who are right on their tail.

4. Minnesota Vikings (9-2)

Last week: 4 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Atlanta

The Minnesota Vikings ate the Lions up on the Thanksgiving to get to 9-2. Their defense is one of, if not the best in the NFL. Their defensive front is stout and talented. Defensive end Danielle Hunter has six sacks and a forced fumble while his counterpart Everson Griffen leads the NFL with 12 sacks.

The Vikings also rank second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed at just 75.5 yards per game. Their linebackers are fast and athletic enough to play both the run and the pass. The secondary is led by Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, who are both Pro Bowlers. There is no weakness on this defense, which makes them hard to beat.

With all that said, it is the offense that helps this team really win games. They run the ball well, and it opens up everything for Case Keenum, who is slinging the ball to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The true success comes from the offensive line, which has paved the way for the sixth-ranked rushing attack and only given up 12 sacks in 11 games. Minnesota is a team nobody wants to play come January.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2)

Last week: 3 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Cincinnati

The Steelers got the job done, but it wasn’t pretty against the Packers. A defense that had been great all season let Brett Hundley have a career game. Hundley threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns. Pittsburgh had to edge it out with a 53-yard game-winning field goal by Chris Boswell. Pittsburgh will need to iron out the kinks before the playoffs start to avoid an early exit.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)

Last week: 2 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Seattle

Philly continues to roll, but won’t be No. 1 in these rankings until they get some quality wins. Beating Chicago isn’t a quality win. Nine of their 10 wins have come against teams below .500. Their only impressive win has come against the Carolina Panthers.

This week, they have a chance to build their resume by traveling to Seattle. A win on the road in Seattle would show that the Eagles are truly the team to beat in the NFC.

1. New England Patriots (9-2)

Last week: 1 (no change)

Next game: away vs. Buffalo

It may sound boring, or like a broken record, but the Patriots are the best team in the NFL. That shouldn’t even be a debate.

Eagles fans won’t like this, but the truth is the Patriots are experienced and have the greatest coach and quarterback of all time. Oh, and by the way, they have a defense that is playing at a very high level, allowing just 20 points per game this season.

At the end of the year, the Patriots will be in the AFC Championship game at the very least and most likely the Super Bowl.

 

Featured image from nj.com 

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NFL Week 12 picks

Hagan’s Haus 2017 NFL picks Week 12

Welcome to Hagan’s Haus, where football is the only thing that matters. You won’t find me in a church on Sunday because football is my religion and the No. 1 priority in my life. I am so excited that the NFL season is finally back in action! I pride myself on studying the game of football. We can’t get all our picks or predictions right, but I am going to leave it here in the open every week for everyone to see. In Hagan’s Haus, it’s all about bragging rights. 

Who is the best? Because winning is the only thing that matters. We don’t get points for second place. I challenge you to post comments on your weekly picks and compare them to mine. This isn’t about point spreads. I will give a score prediction, but winning is winning. Doesn’t matter if it is by an inch or a mile. So try and beat me in picking NFL games. I promise you it won’t be easy, but it will be fun. Here are Hagan’s Haus 2017 Week 12 NFL picks.

Last week: 9-5

Overall: 95-64

Thanksgiving games

 

Sunday Morning

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) 20 @ Atlanta Falcons (6-4) 24: This is a big game for both teams. A win by the Buccaneers can put them back in the Wild Card race while a win for the Falcons could give them more control of the Wild Card spot they currently hold.

Tampa Bay is 2-0 since Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped in for Jameis Winston, but those wins came against the Jets and Dolphins. The Falcons present a much more difficult task. At this point, the Falcons are the better team and should win this game at home.

NFL Week 12 picks

(Photo from Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Cleveland Browns (0-10) 13 @ Cincinnati Bengals (4-6) 26: Cincinnati gets to play the Browns at an opportunistic time. The Bengals are just one game back of the Ravens, who are 5-5 and the sixth seed in the AFC.

Cincinnati needs to go on a pretty epic run to make the playoffs, but it is possible. They should have no trouble shutting down the Browns offense. Keep your heads up Bengal fans, the season is not lost yet.

Tennessee Titans (6-4) 37 @ Indianapolis Colts (3-7) 24: Tennessee needs to bounce back after getting embarrassed on Thursday Night Football last week. The Titans are going to run the ball early and often down the throats of the Colts. Indy will have trouble trying to stop DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. If they find a way to stop them, then Marcus Mariota will get loose. The Colts have a shot to win because it is a divisional game, but the Titans are the better team.

Buffalo Bills (5-5) 23 @ Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) 34: Both Buffalo and Kansas City are in a downward spiral. The Bills have lost three straight games, and the Chiefs have lost four of their last five.

Both teams still can make the playoffs, but the Chiefs’ chances are better than the Bills’. This game has the feeling of a must-win for Buffalo, but their quarterback situation has become a mess. The Chiefs will finally get their offense clicking again to get back to their winning ways.

Miami Dolphins (4-6) 3 @ New England Patriots (8-2) 31: This game is a complete mismatch. Miami has little to no chance of beating the Patriots in New England. The Dolphins have been shut out already this season, and it could happen again this week. New England has only given up 12.5 points per game during their six-game win streak. Oh, and the great Tom Brady has thrown for 3,147 yards, 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The G.O.A.T is going to pick apart the Dolphins, and it could get ugly.

Carolina Panthers (7-3) 22 @ New York Jets (4-6) 10: Carolina has had two weeks to prepare for the Jets thanks to their bye last week. The Panthers defense is the best defense that nobody seems to be talking about. Carolina ranks fifth in scoring defense (18 points per game), third in rushing defense (80.6 rush yards per game), fourth in passing defense (197.4 pass yards per game) and second in total defense (278 yards per game). They will cause major problems for the Jets offense.

Chicago Bears (3-7) 17 @ Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) 31: Eight of the Eagles’ nine wins have come against teams with a .500 win percentage or lower. Philly feasts on the bottom feeders of the NFL, and they will do so again this week with the Bears coming into town. The Eagles offense will fly high, and the defense will cause a ton of problems for rookie Mitch Trubisky.

Sunday Afternoon

NFL Week 12 picks

(Photo from http://www.seahawks.com)

Seattle Seahawks (6-4) 20 @ San Francisco 49ers (1-9) 17: Seattle almost pulled off a win against the Falcons despite there numerous injuries. Russell Wilson worked magic to keep them in that game, and he will be too much for the 49ers defense. San Francisco will lose no matter who they start at quarterback, but Jimmy Garoppolo gives them the best shot at pulling off the upset.

Denver Broncos (3-7) 17 @ Oakland Raiders (4-6) 27: Oakland is struggling this season, but they just fired their defensive coordinator. The Raiders have yet to force an interception this year. Oakland’s defense has let them down, and the offense isn’t picking up the slack.

Denver has completely fallen off, losing six straight games, and have named Paxton Lynch the starting quarterback. They will be looking to see what he has to see if he can be the next franchise quarterback. He won’t win this game, but he will play better than Trevor Siemian.

New Orleans Saints (8-2) 30 @ Los Angeles Rams (7-3) 31: This is the best matchup of the week. New Orleans is coming off a 15-point fourth-quarter comeback while the Rams are coming off a loss to Minnesota in which they didn’t score over the final 55 minutes of the game. These are two high-powered offenses with very talented defenses. The Rams need to bounce back, and since they are at home, they will find a way to edge out a win.

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3) 28 @ Arizona Cardinals (4-6) 14: Jacksonville is in control of the AFC South. They control their own destiny. The Jaguars have made excellent strides this season thanks to their spectacular defense. If they want to become serious contenders, they can’t lose games to inferior teams like the Cardinals.

The other big storyline in this one is that Blaine Gabbert has a chance to beat the team that drafted him. Jacksonville will force Gabbert to turn the ball over three times to get another win.

Sunday Night

Green Bay Packers (5-5) 23 @ Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2) 33: The Packers are a mess without Aaron Rodgers and will not be able to win this game if the Steelers take them seriously. Pittsburgh has a tendency to play down to the level of their competition. Just take a look at their game two weeks ago against the Colts. They may keep it close for a while, but the Steelers will pull away in the end.

Monday Night

Houston Texans (4-6) 19 @ Baltimore Ravens (5-5) 21: This is a tough game to pick. The Ravens aren’t a great team, but the Texans have lost a ton of their star players to injury. Last week they pulled off an unexpected win against the Cardinals because they put up a ton of points. They won’t have an easy time scoring against the Ravens. Baltimore will win because of their defense.

 

Featured image by AP Photo/G. Newman Lowrance

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