Archive for October, 2013

Thursday Night Preview

Posted: 10/31/2013 by levcohen in Football

Thursday Night Football tonight has the Bengals traveling to Miami, and I’m going to call it an upset.

Cincinnati Bengals (6-2, 5-2-1) at Miami Dolphins (3-4, 3-4):*
Line: Bengals favored by 3
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Dolphins- 21, Bengals- 20.. For some reason, I just like the Dolphins to win this game. The Bengals are riding high right now, but I don’t think this is a 12-4 team, so I think they’ll have some hiccups. This is one of them, with the Dolphins desperate for a win and playing at home.
Dolphins cover
Under

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NBA Western Conference Preview

Posted: 10/30/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

Now it’s time for the Western Conference preview. As you might have noticed, the Eastern Conference is inferior to the West, as it has been in recent years. I predicted that the East would end up with 78 more losses than wins, which means there will be a lot of good teams in the West.

1. San Antonio Spurs (60-22): Everyone always doubts the Spurs. “They’re too old,” they say. “This is the year they collapse.” Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I won’t predict it until it does happen. They still have Duncan, they still have Parker, and they still have Ginobili, although Manu looks like he is deteriorating. They might actually be better this year because of their emerging role players. At this time last year, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green were question marks, and Marco Belinelli was on the Chicago Bulls. Now Leonard is an emerging star, Splitter is a solid average starting center, Green is one of the best three point shooters in the NBA, and Belinelli is an important backup who made huge shots for the Bulls last year in the playoffs. Every contending team needs a Marco Belinelli.

2. Los Angeles Clippers (58-24): The Clippers surprisingly lost to the team that shares their arena yesterday, but I don’t think we should be worrying about them. Their assets are clearly in place. They have the best point guard in the NBA (until Derrick Rose proves otherwise) in Chris Paul, they have a skilled power forward and double-double waiting to happen in Blake Griffin, and they have successfully surrounded the two with shooting, toughness, and athleticism. They have upgraded at the starting shooting guard and small forward position, with accomplished shooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley joining the team, without downgrading their amazing bench at all. They still have explosiveness (Jamal Crawford), toughness and defense (Matt Barnes), and ball handling (Darren Collison) coming off the bench. They lack depth when it comes to the frontcourt, but that’s the only issue right now.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (56-26): The Thunder’s over/under for wins posted by Vegas is at 51.5. Which is ludicrous. Even if Russell Westbrook is not back until Christmas (which he will be), don’t you think Kevin Durant, a true superstar, is a good enough player to carry this team to 52 wins? They did win 60 games last year. I wouldn’t bet against them.

4. Golden State Warriors (54-28): The Warriors are the classic team that people call sleepers but are really quite obvious contenders. Stephen Curry is not only the most exciting player in the NBA, he is also one of the best. The Warriors are the same team as the young one that won 47 games last year, with a few exceptions. They are one year older, which should be good. On the other hand, they lost key bench pieces Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Both of those guys were huge locker room presences but also saved the Warriors multiple times in the playoffs. Back to the positive side, the Warriors signed Andre Iguodala, who is a great fit. Iggy can take pressure off of Curry by defending point guards and bringing the ball up the court. At times, he will be the de facto point guard with Curry moving off the ball, a scheme that worked in the playoffs. This is a very good team, with the only legitimate issue being Stephen Curry’s ankle.

5. Houston Rockets (53-29): The Rockets could well win more than 52 games, but I think they are going to start out slowly. If they want Dwight Howard and Omer Asik playing together, the Rockets are going to have to expect a grace period. I think the two can play together, but I think the better option would be trading Asik to a team like the Pelicans for a Ryan Anderson type player. That trade would work because Dwight Howard would be able to clog the paint while playing with another shooter (who he has already played with in Orlando). The Pelicans would do it because Anthony Davis would be able to move to his more natural power forward position with a true center playing next to him. The trade makes too much sense not to happen.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (52-30): This is where the cutoff is. There are six great teams in the West, and they won’t be separated by very many games. The Grizzlies are good, but they could be the two or three seed if they could somehow find a shot creator and shooter to play in the back court. Playing with Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince didn’t work in the playoffs last year, and I think it’s redundant and detrimental. The Grizzlies need to find some way to develop or trade for a creator, and then they can maybe, just maybe, make the finals.

7. Dallas Mavericks (46-36): I think the Mavericks are going to have a surprisingly good season, thanks to a monster season from Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk is going to score a lot of points, and they have some talented players around him, which is enough for me. Remember, this was a 41 team last year. They have a great coach, and a better team, so I think they’ll improve.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves (45-37): I really hope the T-Wolves can put it together. If they are good, and they could well be good, they will be so fun to watch, with Ricky Rubio making amazing passes and Kevin Love racking up double doubles. This is the best team Kevin Love has had around him, and I hope he will take advantage. One thing is for sure: They will be exciting offensively while flawed defensively. There will be a lot of 120-114 games. Hopefully they win them.

9. Portland Trail Blazers (42-40): I think that Portland will be in the playoff chase for a long time. Last year they were 33-36 until losing their last 13, and I think they have really improved their team by totally turning over their bench. Last year, their starters played way too many minutes, which is why they broke down at the end of the season. This year, with C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, and Mo Williams all added to the team. That’s a nice mix of veterans and players filled with potential, and all five should make huge contributions while keeping the starters more in the 35 minute range than the 40 minute range they were in last year.

10. Denver Nuggets (41-41): The Nuggets are going to be disappointing this year. What is there to like? They lost their best all around player, Andre Iguodala. Their best shooter, Danilo Gallinari, is out for months. They also lost their only competent center of last season, Kosta Koufos. A lot of people are high on JaVale McGee, but I’m not one of them. How far will a team with Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried (make no mistake, Faried is good, but he should play 25-30 minutes per game, not the 35-40 that might be expected) go? My answer: Not very far.

11. New Orleans Pelicans (40-42): The Pelicans are gunning for the playoffs, but I think they’ll be disappointing. Their team might be a good fantasy team, but do you think Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans, all players who need the ball, will work on one team? I certainly don’t. The only reason I see them nearly reaching .500 is that Anthony Davis is an absolute monster (a 20-10-3 blocks projection seems ambitious but really might not be).

12. Los Angeles Lakers (33-49): Yes, the Lakers beat the Clippers last night, but let’s not overreact. They got a lot of fluky performances out of their bench, and I think they’ll be putrid in general until Kobe comes back (it will likely be at least another month), at which point it will be too late.

13. Sacramento Kings (32-50): I think the Kings are going to make a slight improvement under new ownership, with DeMarcus Cousins breaking out and a lot of other talented players clicking (at least a little). They won’t win more than 35 games, though, in all likelihood.

14. Utah Jazz (27-55): The Jazz want to tank, but they might not be bad enough to tank. They have two talented big men in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter as well as young guards Trey Burke and Alec Burks and the reliable Gordon Hayward. This looks more like a 30 win team than a 15 win team.

15. Phoenix Suns (15-67): They are really tanking. Sort of the West version of the Sixers with a few more talented players.

MVP Candidates: Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis
ROY Candidates: Trey Burke, Ben McLemore
Comeback POY Candidates: Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Andrew Bogut, Eric Bledsoe
DPOY Candidates: Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala

Week Eight Review

Posted: 10/29/2013 by levcohen in Uncategorized

On NBA opening night, I’m going to do an.. NFL post. It’s week eight review day. I started this week well, going 5-1 in the early games, but then I wasn’t able to finish above .500, getting none of the 4:00 games and also missing out on MNF.

BYE teams: Chicago, Tennessee, Indianapolis, San Diego, Baltimore, Houston

Dallas Cowboys (4-3, 6-1 ATS) at Detroit Lions (4-3, 4-3):*
Line: Lions favored by 3
Over/under: 51
My prediction: Cowboys- 30, Lions- 27.. As a Cowboy hater, I really hope this doesn’t happen, but I think that Dallas, with DeMarco Murray back (no more boring Joseph Randle who couldn’t even run on the putrid Eagles defense), are a better team than Detroit.
Cowboys cover
Over

Results: Lions- 31, Cowboys- 30.. Wow.. It was looking good, and it was looking locked up. But then Calvin Johnson (second highest single game receiving yard total of all time at 329) and Matthew Stafford drove down the field against a terrible-looking Cowboy defense. Stafford scored on a bizarre fake spike/QB sneak with less than 20 seconds left that was a possibly costly call from Stafford. If he had been stopped, they might not have been able to get another play off, but Stafford succeeded in faking out both the Cowboys defense and his own offensive line and poked the ball into the end zone. This was a classic Cowboys loss, with the defense imploding late and bickering on the sidelines.

Cleveland Browns (3-4, 3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-0, 5-2):
Line: Chiefs favored by 7.5
Over/under: 38.5
My prediction: Chiefs- 20, Browns- 13.. We all know I hate the Chiefs, but I think they’ll win this game against Jason Campbell at home. Eventually they are going to lose, as they really aren’t a great team, and I just hope the Browns can sneak a cover here.
Browns cover
Under

Results: Chiefs- 23, Browns- 17.. Over/under wrong here.. The Chiefs keep weaseling into wins. They are traveling to Buffalo next week. Could they lose that?

Miami Dolphins (3-3, 3-3) at New England Patriots (5-2, 3-4):
Line: Patriots favored by 6
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Patriots- 24, Dolphins- 20.. I just didn’t know where to go with this game. The Dolphins have lost three in a row, but do the Patriots really deserve to be six point favorites? This is just a shot in the dark, so I’ll hedge my bets and go with a Patriots win and a Dolphins cover.
Dolphins cover
Under

Results: Patriots- 27, Dolphins- 17..  This is my non cover of the early games, but it was looking good. The score was 17-3, and it was halftime. And then Ryan Tannehill became Ryan Tannehill and the Patriots became the Patriots and won at home. Although I can’t believe that they are 6-2.

Buffalo Bills (3-4, 5-2) at New Orleans Saints (5-1, 4-2):- Lock of the Week
Line: Saints favored by 11
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Saints- 35, Bills- 20.. I really think the Bills have a chance to cover the spread here, but then I look at the QB match-up: it’s Thaddeus Lewis against Drew Brees. In New Orleans. That alone should call for a double digit spread, and then there is the matter of Jimmy Graham (although he is questionable) and Marques Colston. So yeah, I like my chances with the Saints. I’ll lock them up.
Saints cover
Cover

Results: Saints- 35, Bills- 17.. This game went just as I thought it would. The Saints started out slowly, but then they got mad and scored 28 points in the last three quarters. And Drew Brees is absolutely unreal. He was 26-34 for 332 yards and five touchdowns. And that was with Jimmy Graham on a very limited snap count.

New York Giants (1-6, 2-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-4, 3-4):*
Line: Eagles favored by 5.5
Over/under: 50
My prediction: Giants- 27, Eagles- 24.. Will the Eagles home losing streak really reach 10 games? I find it hard to believe, yet I’m still predicting it. I feel pretty shaky about a lot of these games actually, but I do think that the Eagles should have more of a 1-2 point home point bump than then 3-4 they are getting. Then again, the Giants stink. I’m really over thinking this again.
Giants cover
Over

Results: Giants- 15, Eagles- 7.. This Eagles offense is just atrocious. The only touchdown scored in this game was actually an Eagles special teams touchdown (a botched snap that rolled to the three yard line where an Eagle grabbed it and fell into the end zone). “That Chip Kelly Offense” is nowhere to be seen. On the positive side, Philly has given up no more than 21 points in each of their last four games. Oh, and the Giants do have a two game winning streak, but they still aren’t very good.

San Francisco 49ers (5-2, 5-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-7, 1-6):- London game
Line: 49ers favored by 14.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: 49ers- 31, Jaguars- 7.. Last time I picked the Jaguars to cover (last week against San Diego), I regretted it. In London, this is basically just a neutral site game, and I think the 49ers are probably more than two touchdowns better than the Jaguars. The Jags are just atrocious.
49ers cover
Under

Results: 49ers- 42, Jaguars- 10.. The over/under wrong. A blowout in London. And watch out for the 49ers. They started the season 1-2, with embarrassing and very public losses against Indianapolis and division rival Seattle but are now really rounding into form and look even better than the Seahawks.

New York Jets (4-3, 5-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-2, 4-2-1):
Line: Bengals favored by 5.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Bengals- 23, Jets- 20.. The Bengals are just programmed to win games, and win them close. Three of their five wins have been four points or less, and I hope this makes it four of six. Again, another one I’m not confident in.
Jets cover
Over

Results: Bengals- 49, Jets- 9.. Wow. I was right about the winner and over/under, but it turns out that the Bengals do know how to blow a team out.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4, 2-4) at Oakland Raiders (2-4, 3-3):
Line: Steelers favored by 1
Over/under: 40
My prediction: Steelers- 20, Raiders- 16.. Are the Steelers turning this around? It seems quite possible right now, as they have won two straight games off the bye. Meanwhile, the Raiders are now coming off a bye and are home. Why do all of these games seem so hard to pick?
Steelers cover
Under

Results: Raiders- 21, Steelers- 18.. All Steelers games go just like this one, with scores in the high teens or low twenties. It feels like whether they win or not is just a coin flip. And this year, the coin might be weighted against them.

Washington Redskins (2-4, 2-4) at Denver Broncos (6-1, 4-3):
Line: Broncos favored by 11
Over/under: 59.5
My prediction: Broncos- 41, Redskins- 34.. This is going to be a shootout, and I’m actually pretty confident that Washington can cover this, as Robert Griffin III looks like he is back to his form of last season. The defense is a separate problem, which is why I think the Broncos will win, but we are getting to the point that they are a bit overrated.
Redskins cover
Over

Results: Broncos- 45, Redskins- 21.. This was not a 24 point game. In fact, the Redskins jumped out to a 21-7 lead shortly after halftime. Then they fell apart, giving up 38 points unanswered. That must be really humbling for a team that is now 2-5.

Atlanta Falcons (2-4, 2-4) at Arizona Cardinals (3-4, 4-3):*
Line: Cardinals favored by 1
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Falcons- 24, Cardinals- 14.. I have much more confidence in Matt Ryan than I do in Carson Palmer. That is truly the only reason that I’m picking the Falcons to move to 3-4.
Falcons cover
Under

Results: Cardinals- 27, Falcons- 13.. The Cardinals played very good defense in this one. I think I forgot that they actually play well at home, because I’m really regretting my decision to trust Matt Ryan with the wide receivers he has (Harry Douglass, Drew Davis, Kevin Cone, other random people…) right now.

Green Bay Packers (4-2, 4-2) at Minnesota Vikings (1-5, 2-4):
Line: Packers favored by 9.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: Packers- 31, Vikings- 14.. I understand the arguments to pick the Vikings. They are a home team playing a divisional game and they are basically double digit underdogs. Plus, the Packers are super banged up and are without three of their top four pass catchers. Still, I think they’ll blow out the dysfunctional Vikings.
Packers cover
Under

Results: Packers- 44, Vikings- 31.. The Vikings are atrocious.

Seattle Seahawks (6-1, 5-2) at St. Louis Rams (3-4, 2-5):
Line: Seahawks favored by 11.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Seahawks- 30, Rams- 14.. Very similar to the Sunday Night game. It’s a home team playing a divisional game as double digit underdogs. Historically, teams in this situation have done very well, but I just don’t see it happening with Kellen Clemens as the Rams starting quarterback with Sam Bradford out for the season.
Seahawks cover
Over

Results: Seahawks- 14, Rams- 9.. For a while, it looked like Kellen Clemens and the mighty Rams were going to knock off the Seahawks.. But the Seahawks made a late stand and they got the win. It needs to be said, though, that they didn’t really look like a great team in this Monday Night Football game.

For the record, I’m 4-1 with the near double digit or double digit underdogs covering the spread, and underdogs have done very well in this same situation. So I’m basically  set to have a terrible week. I’m not confident about most of my picks, so I really hope I can get lucky on some of these.

It turned out that Denver, Green Bay, New Orleans, and San Francisco all covered their hefty spread, while Seattle was the only one not to. So the trend of big underdogs covering the spread was sort of reversed here.

Upset picks:
Falcons over Cardinals- INCORRECT
Cowboys over Lions- INCORRECT
Giants over Eagles- CORRECT
1-2.. 14-18 total

Lock of the week:
Saints over Bills- CORRECT
7-1 total

Straight up picks: 9-3-1 (Thursday Night game).. 75-44-1
Against the spread: 6-6-1.. 49-68-3
Over/under: 7-5-1.. 60-59-2

NBA Preview- Eastern Conference

Posted: 10/28/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

The NBA season has come so fast! It seems like the Miami Heat were hoisting the trophy and breaking San Antonio Spurs’ fans hearts just days ago (in fact, it was in June), but the season starts tomorrow. I always thought that baseball had the shortest off-season, but in fact basketball’s is even shorter, with just four months between meaningful games (that is more like five months in baseball). I think this has a lot to do with the fact that basketball’s playoffs are so much longer, so half the teams in the NBA have seasons that end months earlier, while in the MLB the majority of teams have their seasons end less than a month before the World Series. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at each team in the Eastern Conference.

1. Miami Heat (60-22): The Heat won’t win the 66 games they won last year, but that’s because they’ll need to rest more and more often. LeBron, DWade and Bosh are all a year older and have played in a huge number of games over the past three years (about a whole extra year including the playoffs, but it’s more like two or three extra years given the added stress and importance of playoff games). The Heat won’t have another long winning streak, mainly because they won’t let themselves. They know they need to save themselves for the playoffs, so they’ll win the #1 seed and then relax.

Best case scenario: Lock up the #1 seed early and then get some rest
Worst case scenario: They don’t get the #1 seed and can’t rest their players

2. Indiana Pacers (57-25): After proving that they could hang with the Heat last year, the Pacers are truly one trade away from being on equal footing to Miami. Although with Danny Granger injured for three weeks, that trade becomes harder. The Pacers have one of the best small forwards in the league in Paul George, and this isn’t Granger’s team like it was before last season. They have a great defensive team, but they do need one more guard who can create his shot on the perimeter. Maybe they can trade Granger and add a first round pick to get that piece, but they need it to put them over the top, because Danny Granger is not a good fit for this team right now.

Best case scenario: Granger gets traded for a shot creator, the Pacers role into the playoffs with a top-2 seed
Worst case scenario: David West gets hurt and the Pacers lose their main leader. Roy Hibbert regresses from his playoff performance last year, and the Pacers finish with a 5-6 seed.

3. Chicago Bulls (56-26): D-Rose is back, and he might well be better than ever. Rose says he added five inches to his vertical, which is amazing giving how high he already jumped beforehand. Which is a really scary thought for the rest of the league. Now, with Rose and the supporting cast back and fully healthy, this Bulls team is a legitimate counterpart for the Heat.

Best case scenario: Derrick Rose proves he is as good as he was during his MVP season and the Bulls enter the playoffs at full strength.
Worst case scenario: Rose is a step slow, the Bulls end up trading Luol Deng for future draft picks, and the Bulls are eliminated in the first round in the playoffs

4. Brooklyn Nets (53-29): The Nets are a good team, but they are going to be taking it easy throughout the whole regular season. Kevin Garnett is going to play very limited minutes, as is Paul Pierce. I think the Nets will get to 53 wins for two main reasons: They have pretty impressive depth and the Eastern Conference stinks. They’ll lose a lot of games to playoff teams, but I think they’ll be able to handle all of the tanking teams near the bottom of the standings.

Best case scenario: Everyone is healthy and happy going into the playoffs, and the Nets are still able to secure a top 3 seed where they can avoid Miami until the Eastern Conference Finals.
Worst case scenario: Deron Williams feuds with Jason Kidd, KG and Pierce check out, Joe Johnson’s game deteriorates, and the Nets have to play the Bulls or Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.

5. Atlanta Hawks (44-38): I’m not going to lie, this is a four team conference, and I can’t make a great case for any team at #5. The Hawks have a very good front court, as they have Al Horford, one of the best centers in the NBA, and Paul Millsap, who isn’t quite as good as Josh Smith but who they got a great deal on (Millsap averaged 15-7-3-1-1 last year in just 33 minutes per game). Lou Williams is back, Kyle Korver is one of the best shooters in the NBA, and Jeff Teague is quickly developing into a solid average PG. The Hawks also have the “German Rondo” Dennis Schroder as their backup point guard, so this is a team full of sneaky upside.

Best case scenario: They get the five seed or tank the season and get a top 5 pick
Worst case scenario: They are stuck with the 7-8 seed

6. New York Knicks (41-41): I just get the feeling that the Knicks are going to self destruct. Carmelo is going to put up his 30 a game, but does he have enough support? J.R. Smith got his money, and I have a feeling that he will take a big step back this year. Tyson Chandler is getting older. Amare Stoudemire is, well, Amare. And he isn’t ever healthy. Raymond Felton is a fine point guard, but not a particularly good one. All in all, I couldn’t put the Knicks under .500 because of Carmelo, but they will fall from the #2 seed they got last year.

Best case scenario: I’m wrong and the Knicks get the #2 seed again
Worst case scenario: I’m right and Carmelo starts packing his bags before signing with the Lakers in free agency.

7. Detroit Pistons (41-41): The Pistons have a ton of upside on their roster. Just look at it. Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond.. They are the fifth most talented team in the Eastern Conference, but it seems like they (mainly Jennings, Smith, Drummond) could just as easily self destruct. By the way, how about Monroe for Rajon Rondo as a trade idea? Then Smith can move to his more natural position (power forward), Jennings can play shooting guard, and Stuckey can be the sixth man. I don’t think a team with Brandon Jennings as the starting point guard can win a round in the playoffs, but with Jennings at SG? I can warm to that. Maybe he would too.

Best case scenario: Jennings is happy and facilitates the Pistons talented bigs, Josh Smith stops shooting jumpers and attacks the basket, Andre Drummond becomes Dwight Howard circa 2008, and the Pistons win home field advantage in the first round.
Worst case scenario: Jennings gets unhappy and starts chucking up shots and the Pistons narrowly miss the playoffs

8. Washington Wizards (38-44): The Wizards are alright, and they just made a trade to upgrade their starting center position. However, people forget that they went below .500 even when John Wall was in the lineup, and the backcourt of Wall and Bradley Beal can only carry them so far. They signed Martell Webster to a way-too-pricey deal, and I only see them making the playoffs because the rest of the East is so bad.

Best case scenario: The Wizards avoid the 6-8 seed range and finish top 5. Wall is an all-star and Beal scores 20 points per game
Worst case scenario: The Wizards miss the playoffs completely.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers (36-46): The Cavs are supposed to put it all together this year. It’s easy to tell why. They have Kyrie Irving, an amazing young point guard. They have #1 pick Anthony Bennett, who should immediately be explosive. They have Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, and Andrew Bynum. That looks all well and good, but the problem is: What happens when Varejao and Bynum are injured? Big men don’t get better over time in terms of injuries, so I don’t think it’s fair to expect either of those (they played 25 games combined last year, all from Varejao) to play even half of a season. Kyrie has also had some injury issues, so I see this season getting derailed.

Best case scenario: The big men stay healthy and carry the Cavs
Worst case scenario: Bynum’s season goes as it did last year. The Cavs season also goes as it did last year, and they’re stuck hoping for LeBron to come back.

10. Toronto Raptors (33-49): I really don’t know what to make of the Raptors. I love Jonas Valanciunas, but I don’t really like the rest of their team. It doesn’t seem like they have much upside.

Best case scenario: They unload Rudy Gay for the SF of the future (either a draft pick or someone like Luol Deng) and make the playoffs. Valanciunas becomes a star.
Worst case scenario: They remain stuck in limbo

11. Milwaukee Bucks (30-52): Most people think that the Bucks are going to be terrible this year. I obviously don’t think they’ll be great, but due to the trade for Brandon Knight and the signing of OJ Mayo I think they have a chance to sneak into the playoffs as an eight seed, much like they did last year. That’s what their owner wants, but it’s not what they should be doing, which is tanking for a high draft pick. If they really want to contend, they can ship Caron Butler’s expiring contract off for a good piece.

Best case scenario: The Bucks lose 70 games and get the #1 pick
Worst case scenario: They are again on the playoff fringes

12. Charlotte Bobcats (28-54): At least MJ and the Bobcats are trying. They signed Al Jefferson to a big contract, and Al Jefferson is truly a really good player, one that can attract double teams and give the Bobcats shooters more room to work with. Kemba Walker is a burgeoning superstar, and #4 pick Cody Zeller should contribute immediately. That’s all I’ve got.

Best case scenario: The Bobcats young players (for example: Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make huge strides) and the Bobcats need only one more top draft pick before vaulting themselves up the standings
Worst case scenario: The young talent stalls and the Bobcats are back where they started.

13. Boston Celtics (24-58): The Celtics clearly want to tank. They shipped off two all stars and all time greats, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, for some draft picks, Kris Humphries, and Gerald Wallace. That is clearly the definition of tanking. And by the time Rajon Rondo gets back, the Celtics will surely want to trade him, too. Full on tank mode.

Best case scenario: #1 pick
Worst case scenario: Their young players stall but Humphries and Wallace chip in. Rondo gets back early and then re-injures himself before the Celtics can trade him. The C’s are stuck with a pick in the 7-12 range.

14. Orlando Magic (21-61): The Magic have a lot of solid young pieces, led by Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, and number two overall pick Victor Oladipo (who everyone loves). Those four guys in a lineup together will be pretty exciting to watch, if not effective. If Orlando can get their point guard (maybe Marcus Smart) in next year’s draft, they’ll be pretty much set for the future.

Best case scenario: The Magic get a top pick, but their youth continues to progress
Worst case scenario: The Magic play themselves out of a top 5 picks while at least one of their young studs development stalls and they need to address another hole.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (14-68): They are pretty bad.

Best case: #1 pick
Worst case: Not #1 pick

MVP Candidates: LeBron James, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams
ROY Candidates: Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Anthony Bennett
Comeback POY Candidates: Dion Waiters, Evan Turner, Jameer Nelson, Lou Williams
DPOY Candidates: Roy Hibbert, LeBron James, Paul George

Quick Week 7 Review, Week 8 Preview

Posted: 10/27/2013 by levcohen in Football

Since I never got a chance to review week 7, I’ll just go over my best and worst result and total record..
Three best results:
Bengals vs. Lions: I nearly got this one spot on. I predicted a 26-24 Bengals upset, and the final score was 27-24. These were two pretty even teams with the more seasoned and well rounded team winning a close one.

Packers vs. Browns: This game also went just how I thought it would. Brandon Weeden was terrible, Aaron Rodgers was efficient, and Eddie Lacy found running room. I predicted a 28-14 Packers win, and the final score was 31-13.

Redskins vs. Bears: The trendy pick here was the Bears on the road, but I had the Redskins winning 30-27 in an upset. It was even more high scoring than I thought (45-41), but I was still able to nab a 3/3 here.

Three worst results:
Eagles vs. Cowboys: I think everyone got this wrong. I had way over, and it went way under, and the Cowboys ended up winning pretty handily, while I had the Eagles winning by three.

Jets vs. Patriots: It turns out that the Patriots aren’t as good as I thought. I think. Although maybe they will be this week. You just never know, and I guessed wrong, as the Jets upset New England at home.

Colts vs. Broncos: Peyton Manning was out of sorts, and the Colts won at home. I had the Broncos on the road.

Overall results:
2-2 on upset picks (although my two losses, Texans vs. Chiefs and Ravens vs. Steelers, were by a combined 4 (4!) points… 13-16 total

Correct lock of the week (Packers over Browns), moving my total to 6-1

On straight up picks, I went 9-6, running my total to 66-41
Against the spread, I went 8-7, running my total to 43-62-2
Picking over/under, I went 8-7 (I got worried, as I started 2-7, but then got the last six right), running my total to 53-54

Now for week eight predictions:

Note: There are six (6!) teams on BYE this week, and after the Thursday game there are just 12 games. Chicago, Tennessee, Indianapolis, San Diego, Baltimore, and Houston are all off. All six are competitive and interesting if not dominant teams, so this week’s schedule is a little watered down.

Dallas Cowboys (4-3, 6-1 ATS) at Detroit Lions (4-3, 4-3):*
Line: Lions favored by 3
Over/under: 51
My prediction: Cowboys- 30, Lions- 27.. As a Cowboy hater, I really hope this doesn’t happen, but I think that Dallas, with DeMarco Murray back (no more boring Joseph Randle who couldn’t even run on the putrid Eagles defense), are a better team than Detroit.
Cowboys cover
Over

Cleveland Browns (3-4, 3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-0, 5-2):
Line: Chiefs favored by 7.5
Over/under: 38.5
My prediction: Chiefs- 20, Browns- 13.. We all know I hate the Chiefs, but I think they’ll win this game against Jason Campbell at home. Eventually they are going to lose, as they really aren’t a great team, and I just hope the Browns can sneak a cover here.
Browns cover
Under

Miami Dolphins (3-3, 3-3) at New England Patriots (5-2, 3-4):
Line: Patriots favored by 6
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Patriots- 24, Dolphins- 20.. I just didn’t know where to go with this game. The Dolphins have lost three in a row, but do the Patriots really deserve to be six point favorites? This is just a shot in the dark, so I’ll hedge my bets and go with a Patriots win and a Dolphins cover.
Dolphins cover
Under

Buffalo Bills (3-4, 5-2) at New Orleans Saints (5-1, 4-2):- Lock of the Week
Line: Saints favored by 11
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Saints- 35, Bills- 20.. I really think the Bills have a chance to cover the spread here, but then I look at the QB match-up: it’s Thaddeus Lewis against Drew Brees. In New Orleans. That alone should call for a double digit spread, and then there is the matter of Jimmy Graham (although he is questionable) and Marques Colston. So yeah, I like my chances with the Saints. I’ll lock them up.
Saints cover
Cover

New York Giants (1-6, 2-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-4, 3-4):*
Line: Eagles favored by 5.5
Over/under: 50
My prediction: Giants- 27, Eagles- 24.. Will the Eagles home losing streak really reach 10 games? I find it hard to believe, yet I’m still predicting it. I feel pretty shaky about a lot of these games actually, but I do think that the Eagles should have more of a 1-2 point home point bump than then 3-4 they are getting. Then again, the Giants stink. I’m really over thinking this again.
Giants cover
Over

San Francisco 49ers (5-2, 5-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-7, 1-6):- London game
Line: 49ers favored by 14.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: 49ers- 31, Jaguars- 7.. Last time I picked the Jaguars to cover (last week against San Diego), I regretted it. In London, this is basically just a neutral site game, and I think the 49ers are probably more than two touchdowns better than the Jaguars. The Jags are just atrocious.
49ers cover
Under

New York Jets (4-3, 5-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-2, 4-2-1):
Line: Bengals favored by 5.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Bengals- 23, Jets- 20.. The Bengals are just programmed to win games, and win them close. Three of their five wins have been four points or less, and I hope this makes it four of six. Again, another one I’m not confident in.
Jets cover
Over

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4, 2-4) at Oakland Raiders (2-4, 3-3):
Line: Steelers favored by 1
Over/under: 40
My prediction: Steelers- 20, Raiders- 16.. Are the Steelers turning this around? It seems quite possible right now, as they have won two straight games off the bye. Meanwhile, the Raiders are now coming off a bye and are home. Why do all of these games seem so hard to pick?
Steelers cover
Under

Washington Redskins (2-4, 2-4) at Denver Broncos (6-1, 4-3):
Line: Broncos favored by 11
Over/under: 59.5
My prediction: Broncos- 41, Redskins- 34.. This is going to be a shootout, and I’m actually pretty confident that Washington can cover this, as Robert Griffin III looks like he is back to his form of last season. The defense is a separate problem, which is why I think the Broncos will win, but we are getting to the point that they are a bit overrated.
Redskins cover
Over

Atlanta Falcons (2-4, 2-4) at Arizona Cardinals (3-4, 4-3):*
Line: Cardinals favored by 1
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Falcons- 24, Cardinals- 14.. I have much more confidence in Matt Ryan than I do in Carson Palmer. That is truly the only reason that I’m picking the Falcons to move to 3-4.
Falcons cover
Under

Green Bay Packers (4-2, 4-2) at Minnesota Vikings (1-5, 2-4):
Line: Packers favored by 9.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: Packers- 31, Vikings- 14.. I understand the arguments to pick the Vikings. They are a home team playing a divisional game and they are basically double digit underdogs. Plus, the Packers are super banged up and are without three of their top four pass catchers. Still, I think they’ll blow out the dysfunctional Vikings.
Packers cover
Under

Seattle Seahawks (6-1, 5-2) at St. Louis Rams (3-4, 2-5):
Line: Seahawks favored by 11.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Seahawks- 30, Rams- 14.. Very similar to the Sunday Night game. It’s a home team playing a divisional game as double digit underdogs. Historically, teams in this situation have done very well, but I just don’t see it happening with Kellen Clemens as the Rams starting quarterback with Sam Bradford out for the season.
Seahawks cover
Over

For the record, I’m 4-1 with the near double digit or double digit underdogs covering the spread, and underdogs have done very well in this same situation. So I’m basically  set to have a terrible week. I’m not confident about most of my picks, so I really hope I can get lucky on some of these.

Upset picks:
Falcons over Cardinals
Cowboys over Lions
Giants over Eagles

Lock of the week:
Saints over Bills

Missed Thurs. Night Game

Posted: 10/26/2013 by levcohen in Football

For the first time in the last two years, I forgot to make a game prediction in the NFL. Luckily, this was a Thursday night game, and not a whole slate of Sunday games, so it’s not too bad, but it still is bad. I was away in a place with no internet and simply forgot to make the pick in advance. I’ll take a tie under all three categories for simplicity reasons.

As for the game itself, it was a blowout, with the Panthers simply the better team, although the Bucs did look competent. We know that the 0-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are bad, so the question from this game is: Can the 4-3 Carolina Panthers, with all kinds of talent, finally be taken seriously? Now, the last few times we have asked this question, the Panthers have rapidly deteriorated in subsequent games, which makes this question harder to answer. But, just based on talent and recent results, this Carolina team could well make a playoff run, especially given the lack of other enticing options for the NFC’s #2 wildcard (Bears? Lions?).

In baseball, the World Series is tied 1-1, and it’s been very pitching heavy, if not as much as in the LCS’s. Jon Lester was dominant in game one for Boston, and Michael Wacha pitched well in game two for St. Louis. Much of what we thought coming into the series has proved true, at least through two games. The Red Sox hitters have tired out the St. Louis aces, holding Adam Wainwright and Wacha to 11 innings. They’ve also done pretty well against them, with nine hits, five walks, and five earned runs. Unfortunately for Boston, the St. Louis bullpen has been very good, especially in game two, when rookies Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal subdued the vaunted Red Sox offense, with three one hit innings and six strikeouts. Oh, and they also only expended 35 pitches, which could prove important later in the WS. Also, David Ortiz is good. Really good. He is 4 for 6 with a homer in each game of the series and has proved vital to the Red Sox offense. He is so good that he will start at first base tonight in St. Louis, and giving his fielding that could really hurt the Sox. Then again, he is such a good hitter that this is clearly the right choice. This series looks like it is going 7.

In basketball, the season starts in just a few days (my predictions will come soon), and there was a semi-major trade made over the past few days, with Marcin Gortat being traded to Washington along with Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, and Kendall Marshall for Emeka Okafor and a top-12 2014 protected first round pick. This was a pretty obvious trade to make, and a smart one for Phoenix. The Suns are clearly tanking, and adding a first round pick (I find it hard to believe that Washington will be in the bottom 12) is beneficial. They now potentially have four first round picks in 2014 (they will surely get Indiana’s lottery protected first rounder, and likely acquire Minnesota’s top-13 protected pick), including a Washington pick that will likely be just outside of the lottery. A pick in the 15-18 range is very valuable, probably more so than one year of Gortat.

Suns grade: A

The Wizards are going to get a lower grade here, but I don’t blame them for going playoffs or bust in a really weak Eastern Conference. Gortat is an upgrade over Okafor, although that is more in terms of health than production, and they also get Shannon Brown, who is a solid shooter and could make a good 8th or 9th man on a playoff team. And remember, Kendall Marshall was a mid first round pick just last year, and I guess the Wizards still believe in him.

Wizards grade: B

In hockey, the season is chugging along, although I am having a hard time getting into it, given that the Flyers are absolutely terrible.

 

World Series Preview

Posted: 10/22/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

The World Series starts tomorrow night, with the Red Sox with home field advantage even though the teams had an equal regular season record. They are home because of nothing either team did; the AL won the all-star game, so they get home field advantage, which probably swings their odds to win by a good 5%. It’s a stupid rule, but it is what it is.

First of all, the LCS’s were terrific, exciting, and mystifying all at the same time. Six of the twelve LCS games were decided by exactly one run, and only one of them was decided by more than one run. The better team probably won both series, but that is probably the only normal thing that happened (and it really isn’t normal, as in the playoffs the best teams rarely do get to the World Series). Another oddity: The Dodgers and Tigers lost every game presumptive Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer started in this series. That’s four losses, and both lost in game six, eliminating their team.

That’s not to say that either ace was bad. Scherzer allowed three earned runs in game six, the first time he had done that in the playoffs. His total playoff numbers were still very good, if not Justin Verlander: 22.1 innings, 2.82 ERA, 34 strikeouts. You can blame him for losing his control (a BB/9 of about 4.5 after walking just 56 in 214.1 regular season innings), but not for losing the ALCS for his team.

You can blame Kershaw for getting shelled in game six. It was shocking, and a true testament to St. Louis’ offense. After posting a 1.83 ERA in the regular season, Kershaw was humming along to the tune of 19 postseason innings, one run allowed, seven hits, and 23 strikeouts. And then he gave up seven runs and 10 hits in four innings. You might ask when the last time Kershaw gave up seven earned runs was. Well he gave up just 48 earned runs this year, and the most he allowed in a game was five at Coors field. The last time he gave up seven earned runs in a game was July 24th, 2012 against, you guessed it, St. Louis. This was also just the second time since the beginning of the 2009 season that Kershaw gave up 10 hits in a game.

So we learned some things in the LCS:

  • The Tigers offense is overrated
  • The Tigers defense stinks
  • The Tigers pitching is other-worldly
  • Michael Wacha is an ace
  • The Cardinals bullpen is nearly unbeatable
  • The Red Sox offense is not impossible to tame, but they do still wear out pitchers
  • The Red Sox bullpen is the reason that they are in the World Series. It is vastly underrated
  • Injuries finally caught up to the Dodgers, who have some work to do but should be a WS favorite next season.

Now it’s on to the World Series, which, in my opinion, is between the two very best teams in baseball: St. Louis and Boston. They had the best records in the regular season, and now both will be playing late into October. Who has the edge?

The Optimal Lineups:
Boston:
1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury– Ellsbury is the quintessential leadoff hitter, with an OBP above .350 and 52 regular season steals.
2. 2B Dustin Pedroia- Pedroia is going to work the count and get on base, and he also has power.
3. 1B Mike Napoli- Napoli had a huge ALCS, and is basically the reason that Boston is in the World Series. He basically won the Red Sox games two and four.
4. DH David Ortiz- Big Papi is the best hitter on the team.
5. LF Jonny Gomes
6. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
7. RF Shane Victorino- Victorino won game six with his grand slam as the Red Sox ended up winning 5-3. I’m dropping him from second to seventh because he has lots of trouble against righty pitchers and the Cardinals have an abundance of really tough right handers.
8. 3B Xander Bogaerts- Let’s see how the rookie does now that he will be given a chance to start over Will Middlebrooks.
9. SS Stephen Drew

St. Louis:
1. 2B Matt Carpenter- Most underrated player in the MLB? Great OBP, good defender, has some power.
2. RF Carlos Beltran- Slowed down noticeably, but still the best playoff hitter of all time
3. DH Allen Craig- Back from injury, can start at DH in Boston. Can he start at first base in St. Louis?
4. LF Matt Holliday- Had a couple of big hits, but underwhelmed in general.
5. C Yadier Molina- Has had a tough postseason hitting-wise, but is too talented not to turn it around.
6. 3B David Freese- Playoff hero from two years ago
7. 1B Matt Adams- Young hitter who struggled in the NLCS.
8. CF Shane Robinson- Better than Jon Jay
9. SS Pete Kozma

Edge: Slight edge to the Red Sox

Rotations:
Boston:
1. Jon Lester- He’s pitching really well, with a 2.33 playoff ERA.
2. John Lackey- He’s started just two playoff games, and has a 3.00 ERA in those games, with one good start and one bad start.
3. Clay Buccholtz- He hasn’t been the pitcher he was in the regular season.
4. Jake Peavy- Got blown up in Detroit. Has always been worse in the playoffs than he is throughout the regular season.

St. Louis:
1. Adam Wainwright- It’s always a shock when he loses, which he did against Los Angeles. The Cardinals have a better than even shot of winning whenever Waino is on the mound.
2. Michael Wacha- Best pitcher in baseball right now, with one run allowed in 21 playoff innings.
3. Joe Kelly- He will give the Cardinals quality if not dominant innings
4. Lance Lynn- Very inconsistent.

Edge: Cardinals

Bullpens:
Boston:
Closer- Koji Uehara. He is the best closer in baseball right now, if not the best reliever in general.
Setup- Junichi Tazawa. Tazawa was dominant in the ALCS against the Tigers best hitters, and he’ll have to be as good against the middle of the Cardinals lineup.
Setup- Craig Breslow. He is a lefty, but it’s not fair to call him a lefty specialist. He can get anyone out.

St. Louis:
Closer- Trevor Rosenthal. Consistently throws in the high 90s. He is nearly unhittable.
Setup- Carlos Martinez. Throws just as hard as Rosenthal, with really nasty stuff.
Setup- Seth Maness. Back-to back-to back rookies. Maness has a great sinker and is good at getting double plays.

Edge: Cardinals, because they have more depth.

Bottom Line: The Red Sox, with all of their unbelievable 1-0 wins against the Tigers, have a “team of destiny” look and feel about them. They also have home field advantage. With that said, it’s hard to argue against the far superior pitching of the Cardinals, and with Wacha and Wainwright starting four or five games, I feel confident enough to pick the Cardinals in seven.