Archive for December, 2013

My NFL Award Predictions

Posted: 12/31/2013 by levcohen in Football

I won’t do a traditional review, because this was the last week of the season and there are obviously no more playoff scenarios to break down, so instead I’ll make my picks for each NFL award.

MVP: Peyton Manning

People are going to make legitimate cases for Tom Brady, Jamaal Charles, and maybe even Russell Wilson and LeSean McCoy. But really, there is no contest. Manning broke a billion records this year, including the big ones: Most touchdowns (54) and most passing yards (5477). Yes, he is in a good situation, unlike Brady and Charles, but that doesn’t discount anything that he has done. And it’s not like he is being Romoish in putting up big numbers and going 8-8. Peyton went 13-3 and clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC. So he’s the complete package: he puts up huge stats, he wins, and he is basically the offensive coordinator. Sure, there are doubts about Manning in cold weather and in the playoffs, but that doesn’t really change the pick. This is a regular season award.

Brady’s case: He led the Patriots to 12-4 with a terrible receiving corps mostly without their top four weapons from last season (Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and Brandon Lloyd did not play a down while Rob Gronkowski missed most of the season). The case can be made that they have lost five of their best 12 players from April for good (Gronk, Hernandez, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer), and almost everyone else has missed significant time. Really, only Brady and Rob Ninkovich have been healthy throughout the season, and even Ninkovich is banged up now. So Brady, basically on his own, as led the Patriots to 12-4.

Charles’s case: Jamaal Charles is the Chiefs’ entire offense. He leads the team in rushing yards with 1287 and rushing touchdowns with 12. Even more impressively, he leads the team in receiving yards with 693, in catches with 70, and in receiving touchdowns with seven. That’s 19 total touchdowns. He had a game with four long receiving touchdowns, which was incredible and carried the team. And that’s just it: when Charles is going, the Chiefs are hard to stop. With him even slightly below his normal, elite, level, the offense suffers. Because really they have no other offense, and even though defenses focus on Charles every week, he still finds ways to be productive, whether on the ground or in the air.

Wilson’s case: Russell Wilson is the quarterback on the best team in the NFL. And while the defense might get more credit, Wilson is still very productive. Among players who have started the entire year, only Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Drew Brees have better passer ratings. Only Cam Newton and Terrelle Pryor among QB’s have run for more yards than Wilson’s 539. But yeah, Wilson’s case is mainly predicated on his team’s success. And while that might get him some votes, it probably won’t put him in the top 3.

McCoy’s case: Enter the NFL’s leader in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage. His 1607 rushing yards blew away the field, winning the rushing title even before he stepped on the field on Sunday night and eventually winning it by nearly 300 yards. He also added an incredible 10.4 yards per catch, nearly unheard of from a running back (even Charles averaged under 10 yards a catch), and ended up with 52 catches for 539 yards. He scored 11 touchdowns. But unlike Charles, McCoy doesn’t get extra points for leading an otherwise listless offense. While Charles ended up amassing roughly a third of the Chiefs’ yards from scrimmage despite being held out the final game, the Eagles picked up 900 more yards than Kansas City, and McCoy accounted for just over 30%. It’s not a big difference, but voters might point to it.

COY: Bill Belichick.

In my opinion, this race comes down to Belichick versus Ron Rivera of the Panthers. I know that Andy Reid will probably win it, and I hate that. Reid took a talented team to 11-5. So what? We all knew this team had potential, and I think that the average coach could probably have taken this team to nine or 10 wins. So Reid is one win above replacement. Or was this year. That’s all I can give him.

What coach would you rather have than Bill Belichick? Just look above at my Tom Brady case. He has lost so many great players. Heck, he is starting players from the street. Not just rookies or undrafted free agents, but players who had been on the couch. That’s tough. It would have been understandable if Belichick and Brady got frustrated and ended up winning 8 or so games. But it didn’t happen. It’s incredible.

Then there is Ron Rivera. At 1-3 and on the hot seat after week 5, things did not look good for Rivera and the Panthers. But then they started winning. And kept winning, racking up huge wins against teams like New England, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Their only loss since week 5 was in New Orleans, and that’s understandable. It didn’t seem possible, but think about this: Had the Panthers won week 1 at home against the Seahawks as they should have, they would be the #1 seed right now. Instead, they lost a sloppy game 12-7 at home, and nobody knew how important that loss would become. But that’s beside the point. Since week 5, Rivera has changed his coaching style, dialing up more aggressive plays and going for it more on 4th down. It’s almost like he knew he was playing with house money and was trying to have fun. As a result, Rivera’s seat has never been cooler than it is right now.

OPOY: Peyton Manning

In the last 20 years, only six Offensive Player of the Year awards have been won by quarterbacks. Four of those also won the MVP. So the OPOY is traditionally given to the best non quarterback (Charles) or the runner up for MVP. Instead I’m going with the literal meaning of the award. Peyton Manning has been the best offensive player in the NFL, so he should win the award.

Jamaal Charles: I think Charles will end up winning this award as his consolation for not winning MVP. He does have a good case, which I detailed above, but I don’t agree with the argument that Charles was a better offensive player than Manning.

DPOY: Richard Sherman

This is kind of a crapshoot. Sherman, Robert Mathis, Robert Quinn, and Luke Kuechly all have pretty much equal cases, and a bunch of other guys also have cases. So I’ll go with the best player on the best defense in the NFL. Sherman is not only a shutdown corner, but also creates turnovers; his eight interceptions were two more than any other player. His 16 passes defensed were in the top 15 in the NFL. He is the total package. The only issue is this: could Earl Thomas and the other great Seattle defenders take votes away from Sherman? My bet is yes, so I don’t think Sherman will win this award, but he’s my pick.

Robert Mathis: On an otherwise mediocre defense, Mathis led the league in sacks with 19.5. That’s a good case by itself, and Mathis also led the league in forced fumbles with eight.

Robert Quinn: Quinn has shockingly similar stats to Mathis. He is second in the NFL with 19 sacks, and second in forced fumbles with seven. He did recover two fumbles including one for a touchdown, something Mathis did not do, and I think Quinn gets the edge partly because of that and partly because of the eye test. Quinn just looked more dominant than Mathis.

Luke Kuechly: Kuechly has this going for him: he is very clearly the best defender on the second best defense in the NFL. While other players on Seattle will steal votes from Sherman, that won’t happen to Kuechly. He is great against the run and in coverage, shutting down guys like Jimmy Graham. When you can shut down Jimmy Graham, you can shut down any tight end in the NFL. He was also fourth in the NFL in tackles and had four interceptions. Kuechly is a pretty complete player.

OROY: Eddie Lacy

I’m picking Lacy because, throughout the season, he has been a big weapon for Green Bay. He led all rookies in rushing yards with 1,178 (which was 8th in the NFL), and it wasn’t close. Zac Stacy was next with 973 yards. He also led rookies in rushing touchdowns with 11, which was third in the NFL, and that also wasn’t close. Le’Veon Bell was next with eight. Really, Lacy should run away with this award because he practically put the team on his back when Aaron Rodgers went down and missed half the season, but there are some other candidates.

Zac Stacy: Zac Stacy had one carry in the first two weeks, and wasn’t the full time starter until week six, when he had his coming out party against Seattle. Had he started the whole season, he probably would have won this award. Stacy was the only weapon on a Rams offense without its starting quarterback, Sam Bradford. Tavon Austin didn’t produce much throughout the season, and there were really no other weapons. So it’s amazing that, even with as many as eight or nine guys in the box, Stacy rushed for 973 yards and had eight total touchdowns.

Keenan Allen: Keenan Allen should get more credit. He was terrific this year, and had the best rookie year for a receiver in a while. He caught 71 passes (68% of his targets) for 1046 yards and scored eight touchdowns for the Chargers. He had a good year, and I think he will finish in the top three, but Lacy will top him.

DROY: Sheldon Richardson

Kiko Alonso will probably win this award because of his gaudy tackle number, but I think that Richardson has had more impact. Richardson’s 76 tackles is amazing from a defensive tackle, and has been very consistent. Richardson is a main reason that the Jets’ run defense has been by far the best in the NFL. He clogs up the middle, is athletic, and gets tackles. He is the complete package.

Kiko Alonso: Alonso has been terrific for the Bills, who are otherwise low on good linebackers. Not only is he near the top of the NFL in tackles with 145, but he is also solid in pass defense, with four interceptions and five passes defensed. He is consistent, with seven games of double-digit tackles, and he is the favorite to win this award.

CPOY: Phillip Rivers

Phillip Rivers did his best “back from the dead” comparison this year. Last season, he had his worst year since he became the starting quarterback in 2006. He had 3606 yards passing and had 15 interceptions and 13 fumbles. His QBR was 41.5 and his passer rating was 88.6. This year, he threw for 4478 yards and had 32 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions. His QBR was 71.7 and his passer rating was 105.5. Rivers was legitimately the third best quarterback in the NFL this season, behind just Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. The Chargers’ making the playoffs probably clinches this spot for him. When you go from below average to top five, you have a pretty good shot at Comeback Player of the Year.


Week 17 Predictions

Posted: 12/29/2013 by levcohen in Football

Well, this is it. Week 17. The granddaddy of them all. It’s the final week of the regular season, and all 16 games are today. No Thursday game, and no Monday Night game. 13 of the 16 games have impact on either the playoff race or seeding, with Houston-Tennessee, Detroit-Minnesota, and Washington-New York as the exceptions. Look at those names. Three of them made the playoffs last year. The three games include two of the five or six best receivers in football, three of the premier running backs, and a two-time Superbowl winning quarterback. Or they would, except that, since each and every one of these teams stink, many of those aforementioned players will sit out this week. Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson will likely be out, removing all intrigue from the Detroit-Minnesota game. Really, the only intrigue left is this: With the coaches of the six teams all on the hot seat, how many will be coaching their team next season? Jim Schwartz of Detroit, Mike Shanahan of Washington, and Leslie Frazier of Minneosta are almost certainly out. Houston coach Gary Kubiak was already fired. Tennessee’s Mike Munchack has been looking at where he could coach if he is fired. In fact, it has been rumored that he would be the favorite for the Penn State job should Bill O’Brien go to the NFL. So five of the teams will almost surely have new coaches next year. That leaves the Giants and Tom Coughlin, which is really the most interesting case. Yes, Coughlin has won two Superbowls for the Giants, but it might be time for him to retire or be fired. The Giants look like a team that needs a new coach, and maybe it’s time for Coughlin, pedigree and all, to be fired.

So even the three meaningless games have some intrigue. The other 13 include two play-in games (win and you host a playoff game, lose and you miss the playoffs), a billion of different tiebreaking scenarios, and an AFC wildcard race that is, well, jumbled. Arizona could finish 11-5 and miss the playoffs, which would lead to added pressure for the NFL to add a seventh playoff spot, which has been discussed. Seattle, the de facto “best team in the NFL”, could finish 12-4 and be a wildcard. The Patriots, missing many of their top players, could win homefield advantage throughout, while the 4th seeded Colts could still get a first round BYE. The Saints, widely considered the second best team in the NFC just a few weeks ago, could miss the playoffs altogether, or they could be the #2 seed. The Steelers could finish 8-8 and make the playoffs, or 8-8 and finish 4th in the wildcard race.

My favorite scenario for the AFC wildcard, and there are many, is this: The Ravens and Dolphins both win at 1:00, eliminating both the Steelers and Chargers. The Chargers then would have a meaningless 4:00 game against the Chiefs, who are locked into the #5 seed. But it wouldn’t be meaningless for the Ravens and Dolphins. If the Chargers lose that game, the Ravens and Dolphins would finish tied alone at 9-7, in which case the Ravens would make the playoffs. If the Chargers win, all three would finish at 9-7, which, due to different tiebreakers, would put the Dolphins in the playoffs. That’s insane.

There are a lot of huge spreads this week. 10 of the 13 meaningful games have spreads of at least a touchdown. The Dolphins, Bengals, Colts, Steelers, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks, Chargers, and Eagles, all playing meaningful games, are favored by at least a touchdown. Which means that there is nearly guaranteed to be a few upsets. It’s going to be a really fun day.

*= upset pick

Carolina Panthers (11-4, 9-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (4-11, 6-9):*
Line: Panthers favored by 6
Over/under: 46
My prediction: Falcons- 27, Panthers- 20.. This is a game that nobody is talking about. The Panthers at a 4-11 team with so much to play for? People are taking a Panthers win for granted. I’m not buying it. The Falcons were terrific last week in San Francisco, and the Panthers are probably due for a little bit of a letdown. I think the Falcons could win this game… It’s Tony Gonzalez’s last game, the fans will be hyped up, and they could try to make a statement to end the season.
Falcons cover

Baltimore Ravens (8-7, 7-8) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-5, 9-5-1):
Line: Bengals favored by 6.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Bengals- 23, Ravens- 20.. Is it possible that the Ravens just aren’t good? I really don’t know, but I don’t trust the Bengals yet, so I’ll pick the Ravens to cover the spread in a win-or-go-home game.
Ravens cover

Houston Texans (2-13, 3-12) at Tennessee Titans (6-9, 6-7-2):
Line: Titans favored by 7
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Titans- 27, Texans- 10.. I gave up on the Texans a long time ago. They lock up the #1 pick here with a  14th straight loss.
Titans cover

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11, 5-9-1) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5, 9-6):
Line: Colts favored by 11
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Colts- 24, Jaguars-20.. One of the most surprising stats I’ve seen is this one: The Jaguars have won three road games in a row. So being at home doesn’t matter much to them, and the Colts haven’t really blown out bad teams this year. So I think the Jaguars can easily cover this monster spread.
Jaguars cover

New York Jets (7-8, 8-6-1) at Miami Dolphins (8-7, 9-6):
Line: Dolphins favored by 7.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Dolphins- 26, Jets- 17.. I think the Dolphins are going to bounce back a little bit here offensively, and Geno Smith on the road should gift them at least a touchdown. The Dolphins will sneak into the playoffs.
Dolphins cover

Detroit Lions (7-8, 6-9) at Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1, 8-7):*
Line: Lions favored by 1
Over/under: 51
My prediction: Vikings- 35, Lions- 27
Vikings cover

Washington Redskins (3-12, 5-10) at New York Giants (6-9, 6-9):
Line: Giants favored by 3.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Giants- 27, Redskins- 23
Giants cover

Cleveland Browns (4-11, 6-9) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8, 8-7):
Line: Steelers favored by 7.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Steelers- 20, Browns- 14.. The Steelers will win this game and be eliminated from the playoffs, while the Browns will clinch a top-5 pick.
Browns cover

Green Bay Packers (7-7-1, 6-9) at Chicago Bears (8-7, 4-10-1):
Line: Packers favored by 3
Over/under: 52
My prediction: Packers- 38, Bears- 34.. This is going to be a really fun game. Aaron Rodgers returns after a long absence, and, while he might be a bit rusty, he’s certainly an upgrade over Matt Flynn. It’s really incredible that the Packers are still in the race, and it speaks volumes about how bad the Bears and Lions have been throughout the year. The Packers still have trouble on defense, but so do the Bears. Rodgers is the difference.
Packers cover

Denver Broncos (12-3, 10-5) at Oakland Raiders (4-11, 7-8):
Line: Broncos favored by 10.5
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Broncos- 37, Raiders- 27.. In my fantasy finals, I’m banking on Terrelle Pryor. Yep, the quarterback who was benched mid-season and hasn’t started since. But Pryor is starting this week, and my starting QB is Tony Romo. So I need a big game from Pryor. As for the game, the Broncos win. Obviously.
Broncos cover

Buffalo Bills (6-9, 8-7) at New England Patriots (11-4, 7-8):
Line: Patriots favored by 7.5
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: Patriots- 27, Bills- 17.. While I felt that most of the big spreads were a bit inflated, I don’t feel that way about this game. The Patriots are laying only 7.5 points to the Bills, and I think that number should be more like 10. The Bills are terrible on the road, and this game will still mean something to the Pats.
Patriots cover

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11, 6-9) at New Orleans Saints (10-5, 7-8):- Lock
Line: Saints favored by 11
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Saints- 31, Buccaneers- 17.. It would be great if the Bucs could, somehow, pull of this upset. But in the Superdome, where the Saints are undefeated, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Saints cover

San Francisco 49ers (11-4, 10-5) at Arizona Cardinals (10-5, 11-4):
Line: Cardinals favored by 2.5
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Cardinals- 23, 49ers- 17.. The Cardinals are super good at home, and I think they will finish at 11-5 and still somehow miss the playoffs. It’s been said enough, but I’ll reinforce it; if the Cardinals were in the AFC, I think they’d be the third best team, behind only Denver and New England. In the NFC, they are just 7th best (probably more like 5th or 6th best, but a team does need to make it from the East and North).
Cardinals cover

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4, 8-7) at San Diego Chargers (8-7, 9-5-1):*
Line: Chargers favored by 8
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Chiefs- 24, Chargers- 23.. In my current scenario, the Chargers will not have anything to play for by the time they take the field. Neither will the Chiefs, but imagine learning that you are eliminated minutes before taking the field. It definitely would be tough to bounce back from.
Chiefs cover

St. Louis Rams (7-8, 7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (12-3, 10-5):
Line: Seahawks favored by 13
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Seahawks- 24, Rams- 17.. Given that the favorite entering the playoffs rarely wins the Superbowl, the Seahawks struggling at the end of the season may be a blessing in disguise. Now, they still need to win this game, and they will, but expect the pesky Rams to keep it close.
Rams cover

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6, 8-7) at Dallas Cowboys (8-7, 8-7):
Line: Eagles favored by 6.5
Over/under: 52.5
My prediction: Eagles- 37, Cowboys- 27.. As an Eagles fan, this line makes me really nervous. The Eagles are getting too much respect, and the Cowboys are being written off. This could easily be the game that becomes the huge upset. I just can’t pick it.
Eagles cover

Upset picks:
Chiefs over Chargers
Falcons over Panthers
Lions over Vikings

Lock of the week:
Saints over Buccaneers

Athletics and Angels

Posted: 12/26/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

Now we move on to the AL West, which, in my opinion, has the makings of the strongest division in baseball, and the one with the most story lines. There are the Athletics, led by Billy Beane, who was the mastermind behind Moneyball. The A’s have less money to spend than nearly other team in the MLB, but, like the Rays, they find subtle advantages that help them stay competitive while teams like the Rangers and Angels, and now even the Mariners, are spending much more than they are. There are the Angels, so hyped up last season but such a letdown. Can they bounce back? They have talent, but they also haven’t done much in free agency to fill up their gaping holes from last season. There are the Rangers, who now have to be considered the top candidate for the AL West crown after their signing of Shin-Soo Choo. Their lineup will be dynamic, with Prince Fielder replacing Ian Kinsler and Choo replacing Nelson Cruz. They are also in the running for Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka, and could be considered the frontrunner because they have Yu Darvish, a fellow Japanese pitcher who could give Tanaka an added sense of security and comfort. Then, there is Seattle, who signed the best player on the market, Robinson Cano, to a huge deal. It looks like they are finally trying to contend now, but with the talent in their division, they could well finish 4th again. Lastly, there is Houston, who have put together one of the worst teams in MLB history. But now even the Astros are surprisingly into bidding in free agency, as they have been connected to the many free agents still available. So yeah, this division is stacked and interesting. Let’s go through team by team. Because the AL West is so interesting, I’m going to split it up into two parts. Today is Oakland and LA.

Oakland Athletics:

The Athletics won an incredible 96 games last season, despite having a terrible ballpark (the MLB isn’t letting them move to San Jose, which would be better for the players and fans), low attendance, and a miniscule payroll. They did it because they were able to spend their money wisely and played their best lineup. They hit their best hitter (Josh Donaldson) 2nd in the order, which is where the best hitter should be (the best blend of chances and RBI opportunities). They pack their lineup with power and on base percentage. They maximize the use of platoons. They pick up pitchers (e.g. Bartolo Colon) off the scrap heap and make them stars again. The Athletics just do everything right, so it’s hard to criticize any move they make.

With that being said, I found it interesting that the Athletics decided to trade for an expensive closer rental (Jim Johnson). Johnson wasn’t great last year, and he is the type of player that is overrated by most teams. Again, it’s hard to criticize the A’s, and they didn’t have to give up much (Jemile Weeks), but Johnson isn’t usually the type of pitcher they invest huge payroll chunks in.

It’s clear that the A’s have identified another competitive advantage: the bullpen. Apparently, the bullpen is more important than they are given credit (and paid) for, so the Athletics added Johnson and Luke Gregerson, who has a 2.88 career ERA. They add those two to an already above-average bullpen that features Ryan Cook (2.55), Sean Doolittle (3.09), and Danny Otero (2.45).

That stellar bullpen will really help the A’s out, partly because they don’t have any elite starting pitchers. What they do have is youth. Four of their five starters are 24 or 25, and the fifth, Scott Kazmir, looks like another good candidate to bounce back in a big way with the Athletics. In fact, Kazmir turned it around last year with Cleveland, and now moves to more of a pitchers park. He’s been around for a while, but he is still just 29 years old, so I think he could post a near 3 ERA at the top of the Athletics rotation.

Bottom Line: The A’s lineup is nearly unchanged, which is a good thing. They did add Craig Gentry, a speedy outfielder who should start in left, and they can also expect bounce-back seasons from sluggers Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. They don’t spend much, but they have back to back AL West titles and there is no reason that they can’t add another.

Los Angeles Angels:

It’s hard to discount a team with the best player this century (Albert Pujols) and the best player in the game right now (Mike Trout), but it seems like a lot of people are doing it. I get it. They didn’t add a big name to the rotation. The bullpen is filled with no-names. Their biggest free agent add was Raul Ibanez, who is a DH at best and is 41 years old. So yeah, it’s tough to get too excited about a team that went 78-84 last year and added… Raul Ibanez.

The Angels have, if nothing else, reworked the back of their rotation. They traded for Hector Santiago from the White Sox and Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks (Mark Trumbo was the cost for those two), and they should really improve the rotation. Now they really need Jered Weaver to turn it around.

This team was really unlucky last season, with Pujols and Weaver banged up, among others. And Ibanez and David Freese (the new third baseman) should at least add some stability to the middle third of the lineup. But what the Angels really need is for their huge contract guys, Pujols and Josh Hamilton, who was terrible last season, so get back to their pre-Angels selves. Trout can take a team to 78 wins on his own (nearly.. His WAR was about 11, marking the second consecutive year at over 10), but not much more.

Mike Trout is making the MLB minimum for a player of his experience. Around half a million dollars. He is making pennies compared to Pujols and Hamilton. And, as he edges closer to free agency (he is still a while away, as he enters arbitration next season), the focus has to be turned to this question: if the Angels don’t extend Trout, how much could he get in free agency? He will enter free agency after 2017 at the age of 26. Assuming he continues to improve or even stays at a 10 WAR level, he will have amassed 60 WAR. He has a spotless history when it comes to injuries. His swing is smooth and fast. His defense is impeccable. The hitters he is most similar to through 21 years old are Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Orlando Cepeda, Al Kaline, Jimmie Foxx, and Ted Williams. He compares favorably to all of those hall-of-famers, and it isn’t even close (his 20.8 baseball reference WAR through two years was highest of that group by more than 5 wins). He will, and I don’t think is a jump, be the best free agent in the history of baseball. So the 275 million dollar contract signed by Alex Rodriguez has to be the floor. I think he could, and should, get a 10 year deal that would take him through his age 36 season (the 10-year deals that have gone wrong have mostly been signed by guys already at 30 or older. Trout will be four years younger). As for the value of his contract, consider that 1 WAR is worth about $5 million on the market. So if Trout were a one-year rental, he could plausibly get $50 million. But he isn’t going to get 50 million a year for 10 years. Give him 45 million for the first five years (through his age 31 season) and then 35 million for the next five (through age 36). That assumes a WAR of around 9 through age 31 (probably conservative) and a WAR of 7 for the five years after (reasonable). That would lead to a contract of.. 10 years and $400 million. It’s unheard of, and would be the biggest contract in the history of the game by more than a hundred million dollars. But Trout it worth it.

Bottom Line: Anyway, the Trout tangent was pretty much meaningless, but fun nonetheless. The Angels need a lot more from their pitchers, and more from Pujols and Hamilton.

Projected standings:
1. Athletics
2. Rangers
3. Angels
4. Mariners
5. Astros

Week 16 Review

Posted: 12/24/2013 by levcohen in Football

Week 16 was a week of blowouts. Only six of the sixteen games ended in single digits, and the average margin of victory was nearly 15 points. Interestingly, two of the single digit games were actually games with double digit spreads. So yeah, it was a weird week in what has been a weird season.

In week 16, the Bengals, 49ers, and Panthers all clinched playoff spots, and now eight of the twelve playoff spots are locked up. Two of the remaining spots will be won in head-to-head matchups (NFC East: Eagles at Cowboys, NFC North: Packers at Bears), which leaves just two spots: A wildcard in the NFC and a wildcard in the AFC. As I’ll detail later, it’s not even that hard to dissect the scenarios that would see, say, the Cardinals or the Chargers in the playoffs. So all in all, the race for the playoffs has been simplified. All four AFC divisions have been clinched, and two NFC divisions will be clinched head-to-head, with the loser missing the playoffs altogether.

With that in mind, the playoff seeding is still almost totally up for grabs. In fact, only one playoff seed has been determined: the Kansas City Chiefs will be the #5 seed in the AFC. So the Chiefs have an opportunity to sit many of their key players (Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith, Dwayne Bowe come to mind), something some fantasy owners will have to overcome. But every other team in the playoff race, and even the ones that have clinched, still have something to play for. Let’s go through each seed and see what the scenarios are:

AFC- #1 seed:
This one is straightforward. The Broncos clinch the #1 seed with a win or a Patriots loss, and the Patriots need everything to go right: they need to beat the Bills and need the Raiders to upset Denver.

AFC- #2 seed:
If the Broncos lose and New England wins, Denver will be the #2 seed and get a first round BYE. If both the Broncos and Patriots win, the Patriots will be the #2 seed. However, if the Patriots lose, Cincinnati and Indianapolis have a chance at a BYE. Cincinnati needs just a win over Baltimore and a New England loss, while the Colts need to win and have both the Patriots and Bengals lose given that Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over Indianapolis.

AFC- #3 seed:
The Bengals clinch AT LEAST a #3 seed with a win, while the Colts need a win and a Cincinnati loss to move up. The Broncos will not fall past #2, while the Patriots will be #3 with a loss and a Cincinnati win or with a loss, an Indianapolis win, and a Cincinnati loss.

AFC- #4 seed: The Bengals, Colts, and Patriots can also all still be the #4. If each win, the Colts will stay at #4, so the Colts need some help if they want to climb out of the #4.

AFC- #5 seed: Kansas City Chiefs are locked into this spot.

AFC- #6 seed: Four teams (Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego) still have a shot here. The Steelers stand a game behind, so their path is simple: they need to win and have all of their counterparts to lose. Both Miami and Baltimore have tiebreaker advantages over San Diego, so the Chargers need to beat the Chiefs and have both Miami and Baltimore lose. Here’s where it gets tricky. The Ravens have a tiebreak over the Dolphins, so if they finish tied alone at 9-7, the Ravens will make the playoffs. However, if 3 teams (Ravens, Dolphins, and Chargers) all tie, the Dolphins will make the playoffs. So actually, interestingly enough, nobody holds their own destiny. A tie between just the Ravens and Dolphins would put the Ravens through, while a three-way tie would put the Dolphins through. A four-way tie (very unlikely) would put Pittsburgh through, while San Diego would have to win outright (with no ties).

Let’s try and handicap that jumble a little. Given that the Broncos and Patriots play terrible teams, it looks like the #1 and #2 seeds are locked up. The Bengals and Colts could swap, but it seems more likely that the top 5 will remain as they are now (although the Bengals play the toughest team of the bunch in Baltimore). As for the #6 seed, it looks like the Dolphins have the upper hand, because they play an easier team than the Ravens play and because if a three way tie were to occur they would go through. I think the odds look something like this:
Dolphins- 50%
Ravens- 25%
Chargers- 20%
Steelers- 5%

NFC- #1 seed:
If the Seahawks win, they will be the #1 seed. However, if they lose and San Francisco wins, SF will win the NFC West while the Seahawks will be a 12-4 wildcard. However, if this were to happen and the Panthers were also to win, Carolina, and not San Francisco, would win the #1 seed by virtue of a three way tiebreak.

NFC- #2 seed:
This is also very simple. Unless the Seahawks lose, the Panthers can clinch the #2 with a win or a Saints loss. The Saints need a win and a Panthers loss to win the division and #2. The 49ers would be the #2 seed if the scenario above happens.

NFC- #3 seed:
If the Eagles win against the Cowboys, they will be the #3 seed, no matter what happens in the NFC North. If the Cowboys beat the Eagles, they will be the #3 seed only if the Packers beat the Bears. If the Bears and Cowboys win, the Bears will be the #3 seed.

NFC- #4 seed: If the Packers beat the Bears, they will be the #4 seed. If the Bears and Eagles win, the Bears will be the #4, but if the Bears and Cowboys win, the Cowboys will be the #4.

NFC- #5 seed: In all likelihood, this will be San Francisco’s spot. If Seattle wins, San Fran will be locked into the #5 or #6, regardless of what happens in their game, and a win against the Cardinals will clinch them the #5. However, if they lose to Arizona and the Saints beat the Buccaneers, the Saints will be the #5 while San Fran in the #6. So the 49ers are still in a must-win situation if they want to avoid the Eagles or Bears.

NFC- #6 seed: It’s a pity but it looks like the Cardinals, 10-5 right now, will miss the playoffs. Even if they beat San Francisco, they need a New Orleans loss at home against the Buccaneers to make the playoffs. A Saints win will eliminate the Cardinals.

The Seahawks are not going to lose at home to the Rams. So they will be the #1 seed. I don’t think the Panthers will lose, so I believe they will win the NFC South and lock up the #2 seed. The 3 and 4 seeds are straightforward, and it looks like the Saints and 49ers will be 5 and 6 in some order. Yes, a lot of weird things could happen, but it looks pretty easy to guess what the final seeding will be (all of this, of course, will be torn to shreds on Sunday).

Review of my Week:

It might be too little too late, but I went 12-4 straight up, going to 143-95-2
I went 9-7 against the spread, going to 104-128-8
I went 8-8 over/under, going to 120-117-3

Week 16 NFL Predictions

Posted: 12/22/2013 by levcohen in Football

It’s week 16, and you know it’s crunch time when the Thursday Night games are done. So yeah, this is the first time that I’ll predict all 16 games on one post.
Let’s just look at the teams that are in “must win” situations, and examine how much of a chance they have:

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins, at 8-6, are tied with the Ravens for the wild-card lead, although the Ravens hold the tiebreaker. The Dolphins’ schedule to close out the season looks markedly easier than the Ravens’, as they close out with Buffalo and the Jets, both well below .500. Still, with the way the Ravens are playing, any loss for the Dolphins would pretty much knock them out. They need to take care of business in Buffalo, and they should have a good chance to do so.

Baltimore Ravens: Believe it or not, if the Ravens win their final two games, they will not only make the playoffs but they’ll also be AFC North Champions and host a playoff game. The last two games will be tough (against the Patriots and at the Bengals), but after Justin Tucker’s 61 yard winner against the Lions on MNF, they’ll feel that they can do anything. Given the state of their offense, is it possible that Tucker is their greatest weapon? As he displayed, he can hit from anywhere (he’s hit 6 from at least 50 yards this year) and is also incredibly accurate (35/37 total). So if the Ravens get anywhere inside the 45, they’ll be expecting at least 3 points, something most teams can’t say. Anyway, the Ravens are in a good spot, but they need to win this home game against the 10-4 Patriots, who are coming off a loss. It’ll be tough, but it’s definitely must-win. And if they can move the ball offensively on anyone, it has to be the Patriots. Maybe the Pats’ porous run defense will help kick-start the lagging run game.

Dallas Cowboys: Everyone is pointing to their week 17 game against the Eagles, but that game might be worth nothing if the Cowboys lose to the Redskins in Washington. Dallas is a game back on the Eagles but do hold the tiebreaker. So they need to stay a game back or tie it to lead to that win-or-take-all game next weekend.

San Diego Chargers-Pittsburgh Steelers: Neither team is mathematically eliminated (neither are the Jets), but they definitely need to win out among other things. Both have winnable games, with the Steelers facing off against a Rodgers-less Packers team and the Chargers home against Oakland.

NFC North Trio: The Packers, Lions, and Bears are all separated by a game. If either the Packers or the Bears win out (they play each other in week 17), they automatically win the division. So if both the Packers and the Bears win this Sunday, then the Lions will be mathematically eliminated. Quite a fall from where they were a few weeks ago, when they looked like locks to take advantage of injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler and win the division. It hasn’t happened, and now the Lions will need to win their final two games and hope for a loss by both the Packers and the Bears. That’s not far-fetched, though. The Bears are in Philadelphia while the Packers are again without Aaron Rodgers. If both lose, the Lions will make the playoffs if they take care of business. Which doesn’t usually happen. This is how I see the NFC North at the end of the season:

1. Chicago Bears (10-6)
2. Detroit Lions (9-7)
3. Green Bay Packers (7-8-1)* assuming Rodgers doesn’t return in week 17, which would be a pretty safe bet if the Packers lose this week and both the Lions and Bears win.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals have a tough task ahead of them, with must-win games against the Seahawks and 49ers coming up. Right now, it looks like Arizona will win the award for “Best team to miss the playoffs”.

On to the picks:

Miami Dolphins (8-6, 9-5) at Buffalo Bills (5-9, 7-7):*
Line: Dolphins favored by 2
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Bills- 23, Dolphins- 17.. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but the Bills have a sneaky-good home field advantage. They have covered five of their seven home games, and five of their six games as home underdogs. And it seems just like the Dolphins to get everyone’s hopes up and then let them down at the end. I just have a feeling about this game that says upset.
Bills cover

Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1, 8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-5, 8-5-1):
Line: Bengals favored by 8.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: Bengals- 27, Vikings- 23.. The Bengals have actually covered every single home game this year, so they have a good homefield advantage. But the Vikings have been playing really well recently, and this spread seems a little bit too high given what they just did to the Eagles last Sunday. I don’t think there is any quit in this team.
Vikings cover

Indianapolis Colts (9-5, 8-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-3, 8-6):*
Line: Chiefs favored by 7
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Colts- 30, Chiefs- 17.. Both of these teams were overrated, and now both seem a bit underrated. I dislike the Chiefs, but I believe that they are the second best team in the AFC, if only by default. But they just came off of two wins by a combined 60 points. And they are pretty much locked into the #5 seed, because the Broncos won’t likely lose again in their piece-of-cake final two games. This could well be the 4 vs 5 game in two weeks, so watch the match-ups here. I like the Colts here, but the Chiefs in the rematch.
Colts cover

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10, 6-8) at St. Louis Rams (6-8, 6-8):
Line: Rams favored by 3.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Rams- 16, Buccaneers- 10.. Bleh.
Rams cover

Cleveland Browns (4-10, 6-8) at New York Jets (6-8, 7-6-1):
Line: Jets favored by 1
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Jets- 26, Browns- 20.. Another “Bleh” game. The Browns are tanking more than the Jets are.
Jets cover

Dallas Cowboys (7-7, 8-6) at Washington Redskins (3-11, 4-10):
Line: Cowboys favored by 3
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Cowboys- 31, Redskins- 24.. The Cowboys are going to win this game. It seems almost inevitable, and follows the storyline. As an Eagles fan, I’m hoping for a new storyline to emerge from this game, and hopefully it’s a QB controversy in Washington. If Kurt Cousins wins this game, who knows what will happen in these two disjointed front offices.
Cowboys cover

New Orleans Saints (10-4, 7-7) at Carolina Panthers (10-4, 8-5-1):
Line: Panthers favored by 3
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Panthers- 24, Saints- 17.. This pick is simple for me: The Saints just haven’t proven anything at home this season. And until they really prove themselves at home, I’m siding with the home team. And I’m happy to take the Panthers as short favorites.
Panthers cover

Tennessee Titans (5-9, 6-7-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10, 5-9):
Line: Titans favored by 5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Titans- 27, Jaguars- 20.. I picked wrong on the Jaguars last week, and I think that they are just a really poor home team. The Titans have proved to be decent on the road, so I’ll pick them here to win (and cover) in Jacksonville.
Titans cover

Denver Broncos (11-3, 9-5) at Houston Texans (2-12, 3-11):- Lock of the Week
Line: Broncos favored by 10
Over/under: 53
My prediction: Broncos- 30, Texans- 14.. This has to be the lock, even with the Texans at home. They have clearly given up, and although they kept the Patriots close a few weeks ago, I don’t think they have much hope in a game that suddenly means something (home field advantage) to the Broncos.
Broncos cover

New York Giants (5-9, 5-9) at Detroit Lions (7-7, 6-8):
Line: Lions favored by 10
Over/under: 49
My prediction: Lions- 31, Giants- 23.. Could this be a game the Lions lose? Sure, but I have no idea. They also could blow out an outmatched Giants team.
Giants cover

Arizona Cardinals (9-5, 10-4) at Seattle Seahawks (12-2, 10-4):
Line: Seahawks favored by 10
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Seahawks- 24, Cardinals- 17.. I think the Cardinals will keep it close here, but the Seahawks will clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
Cardinals cover

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8, 7-7) at Green Bay Packers (7-6-1, 6-8):*
Line: Packers favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Steelers- 24, Packers- 20.. Matt Flynn had another moment on Sunday, but I think they are flashes in the pan.
Steelers cover

Oakland Raiders (4-10, 7-7) at San Diego Chargers (7-7, 8-5-1):
Line: Chargers favored by 10
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: Chargers- 30, Raiders- 24.. The Chargers never really blow teams out.
Raiders cover

New England Patriots (10-4, 6-8) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6, 7-7):
Line: Ravens favored by 1
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Ravens- 27, Patriots- 23.. Ravens win against the depleted Patriots, but it will definitely go down to the wire. All of the Patriots games seem to end that way, and I think this one will end in the Ravens favor with home field advantage making the difference.
Ravens cover

Chicago Bears (8-6, 4-9-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6, 7-7):*
Line: Eagles favored by 3
Over/under: 55
My prediction: Bears- 35, Eagles- 30.. This one is simple to me; the Bears need to win this game, and the Eagles don’t. Chip Kelly has told the press that his starters will be in the game in what would be a meaningless game should the Cowboys win earlier in the day, but I think he could still yank them early. Or I would hope so.
Bears cover

Atlanta Falcons (4-10, 5-9) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4, 10-4):
Line: 49ers favored by 14
Over/under: 45
My prediction: 49ers- 30, Falcons- 10.. Should be a walk in the park for the 49ers at home in their last game at Candlestick. I think they could run up the score in their last home game (as a wild card, they likely won’t play a home playoff game), so I’ll pick them to cover.
49ers cover

Upset picks:
Bills over Dolphins
Colts over Chiefs
Bears over Eagles
Steelers over Packers

Lock of the Week:
Broncos over Texans

Baseball! AL Central

Posted: 12/19/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

Time for a check-up on the AL Central. It feels as if the Royals have taken a step up this offseason while the Tigers have made a lot of interesting moves.

Detroit Tigers:

The first move the Tigers made was the mega trade of Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. On the surface, it looks like a big win for the Texas Rangers. Fielder is not yet 30, plays a position that is not demanding, and if he has a hot April he could reach 300 home runs by 30. Yes, he had a bad season (for him) last year that was compounded by a terrible playoffs, but there are good signs: he has missed 13 games total in the last eight years and just one in the past five years. So it’s safe to say that Fielder is the most durable player in baseball. And the Tigers traded Fielder for Kinsler, a second baseman on the wrong side of 30. Kinsler, unlike Fielder, has had an extensive injury history and is quite clearly on the downside of his career. But in making that trade, the Tigers were able to free up a lot of money. And they used it to, among other things, sign a new closer, Joe Nathan. Nathan is a risk, but he was one of the best closers in the game last year and could continue to thrive.

The Tigers also made a curious trade, dealing Doug Fister, who has been an above average starting pitcher over the last few years, for a few unproven parts headlined by the fantastic Steve Lombardozzi. In all seriousness, Lombardozzi has not shown much in his short MLB career. The Tigers should be fine at starting pitcher, as they are still headlined by their fantastic Verlander-Scherzer-Sanchez trio and backed up by a slowly developing Rick Porcello (4.32 ERA last year.. Tigers 1st rounder in 2007). Drew Smyly, who was terrific in relief last season, should join the rotation.

The Tigers aren’t necessarily done, and they shouldn’t be. Right now, the Royals have really improved and the Indians should also be a threat in the Central. And the Tigers could probably use a corner outfielder. The LF-RF combo of Andy Dirks and Torii Hunter will almost certainly not worked, even though it worked decently last season. Dirks is a platoon left fielder at best, and Hunter is really aging and could be an injury issue. I would lobby for the Tigers to make a splash by signing the best remaining free agent, Shin Soo-Choo. Choo would help a lot. He plays great defense at either corner outfield position (and serviceable in center field) and had one of the best on-base percentages in the MLB last season. Choo could play left field and hit leadoff, and the Tigers could presumably play a lineup that looks like this:

LF Choo
RF Hunter
1B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
2B Kinsler
CF Austin Jackson
3B Nick Castellanos
C Alex Avila
SS Jose Iglesias

By the way, while the trade of Fielder doesn’t look perfect on paper, I think it will make the team better. Particularly the defense. Miguel Cabrera was terrible at third base, and now he moves back to his more natural and less strenuous first base. Meanwhile, Jhonny Peralta departs for the much better fielding Jose Iglesias. Nick Castellanos, the Tigers top prospect, is a good hitter and a solid fielder. He moves into the starting lineup at third base and if anything should help defensively.

Bottom Line: The Tigers made some head-scratching moves, but I still think that they are the odds-on favorite to win the AL Central. Their defense will improve, their pitching is good, and they have the best hitter in the planet in Miguel Cabrera. The Fielder loss will hurt, but they still have the pieces.

Kansas City Royals:

The trade for Norichika Aoki. The signing of Omar Infante. The signing of Jason Vargas. Individually, none of these additions stand out, but together they mean that the Royals could well be on the cusp of the playoffs this season. I think that Aoki is one of the most underrated players in baseball. He made his debut in 2012 at age 30, and in the two years since has hit a total of 18 homers with 87 RBI. It’s easy to see while people overlook him. Aoki, though, is a perfect two-hole hitter. His OBP was .355 in his first year. It was .356 last season. That’s a really good number in today’s MLB, and he should fit in well behind Alex Gordon (average OBP of .357 in the last three seasons) and in front of Eric Hosmer (.353 last season) and Billy Butler (five straight seasons with at least a .360).

As you can see, this isn’t going to be a very powerful lineup, but it will be one that gets on base. And the signing of Infante, a slightly above average second baseman (about 3 wins above replacement consistently), fits right in. Infante’s on-base percentage was .345 last season and had a very good .795 OPS. Slightly above average players like this are valuable commodities, and players that every good team needs.

Another player who fits the “slightly above average” label is Jason Vargas. Vargas is an innings eater, another thing that everyone needs. He will put up an ERA around 4 and will be a fine #3 or #4 starter for the Royals.

Bottom Line: Signings like these are what helps put teams over the top. If the Royals get some production out of their younger players (Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy come to mind), they should be good. And they also will probably have one of the best bullpens in baseball. Greg Holland quietly put up one of the best seasons by a reliever ever last season while pitching for most of it at age 23. He had a rocky start to the season (4 runs allowed in the first 2 innings, at which point he was rumored to have lost his closing job), but after that threw 65 more innings and gave up just 5 earned runs. That’s incredible. In that span, he allowed 36 hits, 14 walks, and had 100 strikeouts. Almost Koji Uehara-esque. So yeah, with Holland and co. in the pen and three valuable new signings, the Royals will make a run for at least a wild card. But they do need to replace Ervin Santana in the rotation.

Cleveland Indians:

I’ve been kind of disappointed in the Indians’ offseason. Instead of upgrading their starting rotation, which was the achilles heel in an otherwise amazing season in which the Indians surprisingly made a run at the playoffs, they left it be. They lost one of their best starters, Ubaldo Jimenez, and their rotation will now be Justin Masterson (4.03 career ERA), Corey Kluber (214 career innings), Zach McAllister (277), Danny Salazar (52), and Carlos Carrasco (238). Only Salazar has a career ERA under 4; Carrasco’s is 5.29 and he is coming off a season with an unflattering 6.75 ERA. So yeah, they could really use an ace. Or something. Well they signed John Axford to be closer. That can only end poorly, right?

With that being said, the Indians should still have a potent offense. They have Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana in the middle of the lineup, and they are surrounded by good players.

Bottom Line: I like the Indians. I just worry that they are going to regress if they don’t address their starting pitching issue. They could still do it (Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and possibly Masahiro Tanaka are still on the market), but I’m skeptical.

Chicago White Sox:

The White Sox are really doing well. They are rebuilding, and they are doing it well. This winter, they’ve added three players who should become part of their long term starting lineup. They signed Jose Abreu from Cuba to an intriguing 68 million dollar deal. Abreu is high-risk, high-reward, but it looks like he has a lot of talent and hitting ability (he could immediately be inserted into the 3-hole). Then, they dealt pitcher Hector Santiago for outfielder Adam Eaton. This is a perfect buy-low. Eaton was a popular pick to win rookie of the year last season before his injury, because in his short audition in 2011 he had a .382 OBP. He could end up as a terrific leadoff hitter, and he just turned 25. Last, the White Sox traded closer Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks (they are really building a great rapport with Arizona, it seems) for third baseman Matt Davidson. This was probably my favorite move for Chicago. If Davidson is even an average third baseman (and I think he should be above average), he will be worth more than even an above average closer. Reed was solid last year, but by the time the White Sox are ready to contend, he might be on the downhill slope, so it was a great trade for Chicago.

Bottom Line: The White Sox managed to add three young bats to their starting lineup while holding on to their only “untouchable”, Chris Sale, who could have a Cy Young in his future. Things are looking bright, and there could be more moves in the future.

Minnesota Twins:

The Twins are in an interesting situation. Their rotation has been so bad recently that they had to sign both Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. I liked the Nolasco signing, while I didn’t like the Hughes signing. Those moves make it seem like the Twins are trying to contend this year. That seems pretty far-fetched, as they still just don’t have enough talent to succeed. I see a few above average players (led by Joe Mauer), but not many. The team looks different, foreign somehow, without Justin Morneau, who was shipped to the Pirates last season. With Morneau gone, it looks like Mauer will make the full time move to first base, which is great for his career. The catcher will be Josmil Pinto, one of the Twins’ top prospects. In limited time last season, Pinto was fantastic, with a .342/.398/.566 triple slash in 83 at bats. Those stats prorated over a full season would be great, but that’s not what the Twins or anyone else expect. Pinto becoming even an average catcher would be great for the franchise because it would close another hole. And the Twins have a lot of those holes.

The Twins will have the best chance to contend when their young superstars, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, reach the majors, which could be around 2o15. Buxton and Sano are ranked as the top 2 prospects in baseball, not just in the Twins, by most scouting websites, and they could be two of the best hitters in the league in the future. Buxton, believe it or not, has been compared favorably to Mike Trout. Sano had a 1.079 OPS last year in AA as one of the youngest players in the FSL. Both players are 20 years old.

Bottom Line: With Buxton, Sano, and other young talent developing in the wings, Twins fans have a lot to look forward to. But for now, they might just have to wait. Look out for Minnesota in 2015.

Projected standings:
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox

NBA Week 7 Power Rankings

Posted: 12/16/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

And the Power Rankings are back! There were no rankings last week, frankly because I decided that it made no sense to post a power rankings every week if the rankings were going to be nearly identical each week. Hopefully this extra week will lead to some added shifts in the rankings, because teams staying in the same spot, is, frankly, boring.

1. Indiana Pacers, 20-3 (2): Since my last post, the Pacers have won four of their last five, including a huge win over the Miami Heat at home. The Eastern Conference is so bad that any game for the Pacers or Heat against each other has to be way more important to them than most games, so I’ll give Indy props for defending their own court. Their one loss was a rare blowout at the hands of the Thunder. Losing to the Thunder in Oklahoma City (12-0 at home) should cause no shame, and the Pacers have now opened up a comfortable three game lead in first place in the East, and are an incredible 8 and a half games better than the #3 seed (the difference between the first place Blazers and 11th place Pelicans in the West is 8 and a half games). The recipe for success is clear: A heavy dose of Paul George, defense, and rebounding. It’s effective.

2. Portland Trailblazers, 21-4 (5): In a lot of ways, the Blazers are just a faster-developing version of the Pacers of last season. Last year, the Pacers were very much an unknown. They had a lot of bright young players, but people didn’t know what to expect and the Pacers were pegged to finish in the middle of the East for the most part. They finished 3rd and almost made the NBA Finals. Right now, the Trailblazers are the best team in the West. And it seems sustainable. It’s not like anyone is doing anything we wouldn’t have thought likely. Guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum, the core of the team, have all been better than they were last year, but not by much. It’s more about a team chemistry thing, and Robin Lopez isn’t getting enough credit. Last year, Aldridge had to play center and guard guys like Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, and Roy Hibbert. This year, Lopez does the hard stuff on defense, and he is doing it well, with 9 rebounds and a block and a half per game. In turn, Aldridge has seen a spike in scoring and defensive rebounding, as he gets to face a shorter player and can grab rebounds and focus on offense. The Blazers are good, and that’s a given now.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 19-4 (3): The Thunder are dominant at home. They beat the best team in basketball there, and have won half of their home games by double digits. The Thunder have been up here for three years now, but is it possible that this is a better team than last season’s? I’d say yes, although I’d still rate the 2011-12 team higher because of James Harden. But this group looks like they could make a run at a title, mostly because of the development of three bench players: Reggie Jackson (12 ppg), Jeremy Lamb (10 ppg), and Steven Adams (4 ppg, 5 rpg). Russell Westbrook’s minutes are down not insignificantly (by two minutes), which over a full season he will play the equivalent of three games fewer. The Thunder could be unstoppable with the #1 seed because of their home dominance.

4. San Antonio Spurs, 19-4 (1): The top 5 are bunched so close together that the Spurs move down three spots after doing nothing wrong. Things are going fine, and Tim Duncan is looking better by the game. Nobody is even playing that well on San Antonio, and yet Greg Popovic has the team at 19-4. Unbelievable.

5. Miami Heat, 17-6 (4): You better believe that the Heat are going to come out strong against Indiana this week on their home court. They lost in Indy, and, although I think that when it’s playoff time the Heat will be able to beat anyone on the road, I think the Heat will want to avenge that loss. This team is nearly identical to last season’s, but their record is going to end up worse because Dwyane Wade is missing a lot of games and because they are content with limiting LeBron’s minutes as well as Chris Bosh’s. But yeah, it’s these five and then everyone else.

6. Houston Rockets, 16-9 (6)
7. Los Angeles Clippers, 16-9 (8):
I have these two teams placed together, and not just because of their identical records. Both are massively talented teams with probably three of the top 10 players in the league (Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, James Harden), both have some problems on defense, and, most of all, both will be judged not by their regular season success but by their playoff success. The reason I have the Rockets slightly ahead is because they still have an obvious move to make: the imminent trade of Omer Asik. If they get someone like Thaddeus Young or Paul Millsap, both of whom have been rumored to be in an Asik trade, they will be vastly improved and maybe even sneak into the Big 5 Pantheon. The Clippers’ roster is pretty set, and come playoff time we will see how much having a good coach really matters.

8. Phoenix Suns, 14-9 (15): The last time I did these rankings, the Suns were 9-9, and I wasn’t the only one questioning whether this was the beginning of the end for them. But since then, they’ve quickly won five in a row and are back in the middle of the Western Conference playoff hunt. Eric Bledsoe has clearly been the catalyst. I think we underrated how much he means to this team. The team went 4-5 when he was injured or not full strength (3-3 when he played no minutes), but in the five games since he has been back at full strength, he has averaged 21 and 8 with more than 2 steals and 5 rebounds per game. They have won all five games. Could the Suns be legit?

9. Dallas Mavericks, 14-10 (10): The Mavs have established themselves as a good team, but not one that should feel all that safe about their playoff spot. They will be fighting with as many as six other teams for three playoff spots (I’d say that the first five in the West look pretty much set). It should be fun, and as long as Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki stay healthy, the Mavs have the offense to stay in it.

10. Denver Nuggets, 14-9 (7): The Nuggets have plateaued a little big, and the 10-15 is probably where they belong talent-wise rather than the 5-10 range I had them in before.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves, 12-12 (11): The Timberwolves +/- tells one thing (6th in the West), but their record says something else (out of the playoffs). I would tend to side with the former, because I really like the pieces that they have. One thing to keep in mind: The Timberwolves don’t have anyone who has really underachieved, and yet are still just 12-12. With that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was traded to try and change things up a little bit. Kevin Love is averaging 25 and 14 and is one of the best passing big men in the NBA. Kevin Martin has cooled off but is still averaging 20 a game. Ricky Rubio has finally heated it up a little offensively, averaging 16 a game over the last four games (granted, he is still shooting 37% on the year and 9.6 points per game).

12. Golden State Warriors, 13-12 (9): I have to admit that I have been a little worried by the play of the Warriors. I expected them to finish in the middle of the Western Conference (maybe a 4 or 5 seed) but they are currently out of the playoffs. I don’t think that David Lee fits on this team. A lineup with Harrison Barnes as the small-ball four worked when Lee was hurt in the playoffs last year, and now the Warriors have a true small forward in Andre Iguodala. Lee certainly has some trade value, so maybe GS could trade him for someone decent and go with a lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes, and Andrew Bogut. I still like this team, but they don’t look right.

13. New Orleans Pelicans, 11-11 (13): The Pelicans are treading water without their best player, and in a stacked West, that’s a good and impressive thing. They are 0-8 against teams with better records and 11-3 against teams who have been worse than they have.

14. Los Angeles Lakers, 11-12 (14): I’m going to give the Lakers one more week with Kobe playing to get themselves together and playing well, because it makes sense that they aren’t playing well in their first week with Bryant in the lineup. Kobe and coach Mike D’Antoni look like they are feuding… I wonder who will win that fight? (Hint, it isn’t D’Antoni).

15. Atlanta Hawks, 12-12 (19): The East has broken through! After weeks of having 13 of the top 15 be from the West, the #15 team this week is from the East, although that is an indictment of the Grizzlies more than it is a compliment of Atlanta. I think it’s clear that, while they might not be the third most talented team in the East, they are the third most consistent one.

16. Detroit Pistons, 11-14 (18): I don’t know why the Pistons are this high. I really don’t. They haven’t been playing well at all. But I think that, like the Rockets and Hawks and Thunder and Timberwolves, they have a trade coming. Greg Monroe has regressed this year, and it’s obvious why. The three big lineup isn’t working to perfection. Josh Smith is playing out of position at SF, and Monroe is slumping. The only one who has truly thrived has been Andre Drummond, who might well be one of the three best centers in the NBA. Drummond is third among all centers in PER (behind Brook Lopez and DaMarcus Cousins), fourth in the NBA in rebounds, and 13th total and first among bigs in steals. His only problem is free throw shooting, as he is probably the worst free throw shooter in the NBA. Anyway, the Pistons need to trade Monroe. Then I could see them staying at #16.

17. Boston Celtics, 11-14 (21): Congratulations, Celtics. You probably replaced the best coach in the NBA with the new best coach in the NBA. And that’s Brad Stevens, former coach of Butler. The Celtics’ floating near sea level given their current talent level is a huge attribute to Stevens.

18. Memphis Grizzlies, 10-13 (15): The Grizzlies stayed healthy last year, which is a major reason that they had the best season in franchise history. This season has been different. Guys like Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley, arguably the three best players on the team, have been in and out of the lineup. At this point, I would be surprised if the Grizzlies make the playoffs.

19. Brooklyn Nets, 8-15 (24): Are the Nets becoming competent? They have won three of their last four games, and are generally starting to show signs of life. Maybe it’s just Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. I think we needed a reminder that those guys are good, and we’ve gotten it. They are 4-6 with Deron Williams in the lineup (excluding games that he left after playing 5 and 13 minutes) and 7-8 with Lopez in the lineup (so they are 4-9 without Williams and 1-7 without Lopez). I dare you to tell me that those two guys don’t make a difference.

20. Toronto Raptors, 9-13 (20): The Raptors traded Rudy Gay, signifying their intent to tank (maybe for Canadian Andrew Wiggins?) But they have actually been better since Toronto traded Gay, which probably says all you need to know about Rudy Gay.

21. Chicago Bulls, 9-13 (16): Last week I had the Bulls as the third best Eastern Conference team. This week I have reassessed and placed them at #8. But I put them inside the top eight for a reason. I still see them making the playoffs, because they have the pieces to do it. I know how bad losing Derrick Rose was for them. At least last year they could prepare for the season knowing that Rose would be gone. This year he was healthy coming into the season, which makes his season-ending injury all the more depressing. But I still think the Bulls have the pieces (Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, etc.) to make the playoffs.

22. Sacramento Kings, 7-15 (22): I told you the Kings would start winning! They have won three of their last five, and have now brought in Rudy Gay, which may or may not help them win. I see it as a win/win; if he does well, the Kings can finally start willing. If he doesn’t, he can help them tank. Perfect.

The rest (too depressing to talk about):
23. Washington Wizards, 9-13 (17)
24. Cleveland Cavaliers, 9-14 (28)
25. Charlotte Bobcats, 10-14 (23)
26. New York Knicks, 7-16 (29)
27. Orlando Magic, 7-17 (26)
28. Utah Jazz, 6-20 (27)
29. Philadelphia 76ers, 7-18 (25)
30. Milwaukee Bucks, 5-19 (30)