Archive for September, 2014

Week 4 Picks

Posted: 09/28/2014 by levcohen in Football

For the next few months, picking gets less time-consuming, if not easier. This week, six teams are on BYE. Don’t worry, viewing options won’t be this limited every week, as there are only two weeks with six teams on BYE and none with more. So this is as light as a week will be during the NFL regular season, especially considering that two of the three undefeated teams (Cincinnati and Arizona) are off, along with the consensus two best teams in football (Seattle and Denver). Not only is this week light on games, it’s light on marquee games. Sure, there are a couple of good games, from Green Bay-Chicago to Philadelphia-San Francisco to STEVE SMITH REDEMPTION GAME (aka Carolina-Baltimore), but this week has less intrigue than the one that preceded it and probably the ones that will follow it, too.
BYE teams: Denver, Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona, St. Louis, Cleveland
*= upset pick

Carolina Panthers (2-1, 2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (2-1, 1-1-1):
Spread: Ravens favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Is there any way Steve Smith doesn’t burn the Carolina Panthers in this game? If you think otherwise, read this quote: “I want to make sure that whatever team I go to, they’re going to get the best, in-shape 35-year-old guy they can get. If that happens to run through Bank of America Stadium, put your goggles on cause there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.” This was before he signed for the Ravens, and while this game is being played in Baltimore, I think Smith will still get pretty pumped up for it. After the Panthers got embarrassed by Pittsburgh last Sunday night, I wouldn’t feel too great about picking them anyway. I implore you to read other Steve Smith quotes here. They’re pretty good. Ravens win this one 23-16.
Ravens cover
Under

Detroit Lions (2-1, 2-1) at New York Jets (1-2, 0-2-1):*
Spread: Lions favored by 1
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Don’t really have a feel of this game. I feel like the team I pick to win is sure to lose, but when in doubt I like picking home underdogs. My short underdog picks last week didn’t go very well, so I hope I can start turning that around here. Jets win 26-21.
Jets cover
Over

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3, 0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1, 1-2):
Spread: Steelers favored by 7.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I don’t think the Steelers are very good, but the Buccaneers are really, really bad. That’s why I’m surprised this spread is only 7.5. If this were in double digits I’d be picking the Buccaneers, but I can’t pick them here after they got eviscerated by the Falcons. Steelers win this 27-17.
Steelers cover
Under

Miami Dolphins (1-2, 1-2) at Oakland Raiders (0-3, 2-1) in London:
Spread: Dolphins favored by 3.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Ok, the Dolphins are bad, but they are nowhere near as bad as the Raiders. Are the Dolphins really only 3.5 points better than the Raiders on a neutral field? No they aren’t. And while the Raiders played decently against the Patriots, I don’t think the Pats are a top five team right now and the Raiders did lose that game even after getting pretty lucky throughout the game. Both coaches (Miami’s Joe Philbin and Oakland’s Dennis Allen) are on the hot seat, so this is a pretty important game even if it doesn’t have playoff implications. Dolphins win 26-9 in an ugly game.
Dolphins cover
Under

Green Bay Packers (1-2, 0-2-1) at Chicago Bears (2-1, 2-1):
Spread: Packers favored by 1.5
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: I think this is the game in which the Packers’ offense starts getting going. Aaron Rodgers is playing fine, and he’s going to get more help from Eddie Lacy and Co. this week against a soft Bears defense. The Packers need to win here, while the Bears are sitting pretty at 2-1 despite not necessarily playing great football in the first three weeks. Packers win this one 31-24.
Packers cover
Over

Buffalo Bills (2-1, 2-1) at Houston Texans (2-1, 2-1):
Spread: Texans favored by 3
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: Who’s better, the Bills or the Texans? Both of these teams are surprisingly above .500, although both records are pretty hollow as neither has had a tough schedule. These teams seem even, and Vegas agrees with me, as the three points are probably all (or almost all) for homefield advantage. This feels like a 23-20 game, and I guess I’ll pick the Texans to win. I don’t really have much confidence in this pick, though, so I’ll hedge my bets. Texans win 21-20.
Bills cover
Under

Tennessee Titans (1-2, 1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2, 2-1):
Spread: Colts favored by 7.5
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Charlie Whitehurst, who hasn’t played since 2011, is starting for the Titans in the injured (shocker) Jake Locker’s stead. The Colts are coming off a blowout win over the Jaguars, but I’m not going to be surprised if the Titans keep this close somehow. I’m still not going to pick the Whitehurst-led Titans, though. Colts win 30-14.
Colts cover
Under

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3, 0-3) at San Diego Chargers (2-1, 3-0):- Lock
Spread: Chargers favored by 13
Over/under: 45
My prediction: This is the obvious lock of the week pick, and I’m going to make it. There’s no way the Chargers lose this game. They’re favored by 13, which is a lot, and I’ve already picked the Jaguars to cover while losing each of their first three games, so why not do it for the fourth time? One of these times, the Jaguars are going to cover a bloated spread, and this might be it. Chargers win 30-20.
Jaguars cover
Over

Philadelphia Eagles (3-0, 2-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-2, 1-2):
Spread: 49ers favored by 4
Over/under: 48.5
My prediction: I think this game spells trouble for the undefeated Eagles. This is must-win territory for the 49ers, especially since they still have two games against Seattle and one against Denver (among others) coming up. The Eagles are without three-fifths of their offensive line which has resulted in a worse running game and a banged-up Nick Foles, and their defense is still suspect. Think the 49ers win this in a blowout. 27-16.
49ers cover
Under

Atlanta Falcons (2-1, 2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-2, 1-2):*
Spread: Falcons favored by 4
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: I think the Falcons are getting overrated here after their incredible performance against Tampa Bay in primetime, so I was always going to pick the Vikings here. Also, Teddy Bridgewater is making his first career start, and I think he’s a pretty good quarterback already. The Vikings shouldn’t be more than a field goal underdog at home here. Vikings win 27-23.
Vikings cover
Over

New Orleans Saints (1-2, 1-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1, 2-1):
Spread: Saints favored by 3
Over/under: 54
My prediction: I still don’t think the Cowboys are a good team, and Drew Brees is normally good in primetime games while Tony Romo has had some issues. The Saints are bad on the road, but this game is in a dome, so it shouldn’t be too bad for the Brees. It should be a high-scoring game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cowboys go on a late, game-winning drive, but I’ll take the Saints 31-27.
Saints cover
Over

New England Patriots (2-1, 1-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-2, 2-1):
Spread: Patriots favored by 3
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: Still can’t bring myself to pick against the Patriots, even though they have been playing poorly this season. I’ll take them to win 24-20, but I don’t feel great about it.
Patriots cover
Under

Upset picks:
Jets over Lions
Vikings over Falcons

Lock of the week:
Chargers over Jaguars

 

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Cy Young Picks

Posted: 09/26/2014 by levcohen in Baseball

Last week, I made my picks for MVP, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout. For me, those were easy picks. The NL Cy Young, of course, is even easier: Kershaw will win it easily. The AL Cy Young, though, is the first tough choice I’ve been faced with. Up until a couple of weeks ago, it looked as if Felix Hernandez would run away with the award. He was flirting with a sub-2 ERA, and the Mariners looked set to make the playoffs. Now, the choice is tougher, as the Mariners look unlikely to win a wildcard and Hernandez got shelled in a game he absolutely had to win; he gave up eight runs in a 10-2 Wednesday loss as his ERA ballooned from 2.07 to 2.34. He’s still a viable choice, but he’s no longer the only choice. Before I start, I’ll clarify that these are my picks, and not necessarily what I think will happen. Since the AL Cy Young is such a close race, I will also include who I think will win at the end.

AL Cy Young: Corey Kluber
That has rapidly developed into a three-man race between Hernandez, Kluber, and Jon Lester. Of course, others have also had great years. Chris Sale has a lower ERA than all of them, but he missed a month of the season and would need Kershaw’s numbers to be in the race. He doesn’t have Kershaw’s numbers. Last year’s winner, Max Scherzer, has had another good season, but his 3.86 ERA in his last eight starts has pushed his season ERA above 3 and probably eliminated him. Same goes for David Price, who has more strikeouts than anyone but has a 5.22 ERA in the past month. That leaves us with the three candidates: Hernandez, Kluber, Lester. Lester’s a weird case, because he was traded from the Red Sox to the Athletics in the middle of the season. Rick Sutcliffe is the only player to win a Cy Young award after being traded at midseason, and that was in 1984. But should Lester be the second? Probably not. His numbers are very similar to the other two, but he hasn’t had to deal with some of the uncontrollable hindrances that the other two have. The fact is that he’s played in front of two good defenses. The Red Sox are third with 50.4 FanGraphs defensive runs saved, while the Athletics are ninth at 13.7. Meanwhile, the Mariners are 12th at 6.6 and the Indians are 29th at -63.2. That’s big for Lester, who even with the advantage hasn’t posted better numbers than the other two. On the other hand, Lester’s set to be the only one of the three who makes the playoffs (whatever that means) and has called two hitter-friendly parks home. He also has nineteen straight quality starts.

But while Lester’s a fine third choice, in the end this is probably going to come down to Hernandez and Kluber. The main Hernandez argument is the fact that he’s given up a significantly fewer number of hits and baserunners. While hitters are hitting .233 against Kluber for a .629 OPS, they are hitting just .201 with a .556 OPS against Hernandez. As a result, Kluber has a 1.10 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) while Hernandez’s is .94. Felix also has his pedigree and the fact that he made history with his 16 straight starts with at least seven innings and no more than two earned runs allowed going for him. Kluber is the analytical darling of the two. His ERA is higher (2.53 to 2.34) but his FIP is lower. Why? Because, as I mentioned before, his defense has been that much worse. Along with the Astros, the Indians have a far worse defense than the rest of baseball. Their UZR (ultimate zone rating) is worst in baseball, and they’ve made more errors than anyone else in the league. Meanwhile, the Mariners have about a league-average defense, thanks to above-average guys up the middle (Mike Zunino, Robinson Cano, Chris Taylor, and Austin Jackson are all solid) and one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball in Kyle Seager. The defensive difference can pretty much explain the difference in ERA and hits allowed. Hernandez also pitches in a very pitcher-friendly environment (Safeco has been just that for pitchers: safe. It ranks as the second most pitcher friendly atmosphere) while Kluber’s home park is about league average. Kluber also has the advantage of turning it on late in the season (1.88 post all-star break ERA), while Hernandez has struggled (2.71). It’s likely that neither team will make the playoffs, so voters are going to have a tough choice to make. I like Kluber because I think he’d be having a better season if they had the same defense behind him and because he’s been more electric (17 more strikeouts in three fewer innings). It’s fair to say, though, that each pitcher’s final start will be very important, if not for his respective team than for his respective Cy Young hopes.

Who will actually win? I think because of his lower ERA, record-breaking season and pedigree (he’s long been an ace, while this is Kluber’s first great year), voters are going to lean towards Felix Hernandez by just a hair. Including Lester, all three choices are viable, but Kluber, the analytical darling, has the best all-around case. It depends on how each fairs in their final start, but Hernandez probably has the slight public edge right now.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
Since I have him as the NL MVP, I don’t really think I have to add anything here. It’s just been an incredible year for Kershaw, who has a sub-1.80 ERA and a 21-3 record despite missing a month of the season.
Honorable mention: In a league bereft of Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright would go head-to-head for the award. I think Wainwright is slightly ahead, for the record. I’d vote 9-8 Cole Hamels fourth, if only as a reminder that his fourth-place 2.47 ERA means more than his 9-8 record.

Thursday Night Prediction

Posted: 09/25/2014 by levcohen in Football

We should see a real shootout tonight, as the New York Giants travel to Washington to face the Redskins. These NFC East showdowns are usually very high scoring, either because all four offenses in the division are prolific or because the four defenses stink (I’d tend to believe the latter). Both of these teams sit at 1-2, so this game has pretty big implications for both. We should get a sense of who is going to compete for the NFC East crown tonight.

New York Giants (1-2, 1-2 against the spread) at Washington Redskins (1-2, 2-1):
Spread: Redskins favored by 3
Over/under: 44
My prediction: The home team has blown out the visiting team in each of the first three Thursday Night Football games, as the smallest margin of victory was 20. I like the home team again here, although I don’t think it’s going to be the type of game that played out last week, when the Falcons absolutely obliterated the Buccaneers. Kirk Cousins looks good so far, as Washington was able to move the ball easily against the Eagles’ “defense”. Eli Manning has also been solid and probably has taken a bit too much flak. I think both teams will pile up yards but settle for some field goals, so the Redskins will take this one 27-20.
Redskins cover
Over

Week 3 Review

Posted: 09/23/2014 by levcohen in Football

This was a really frustrating week for me, as I feel that most of my picks were pretty close to accurate but late rallies by the Ravens and Cowboys and sudden poor play from Green Bay and San Francisco put a damper on my week in terms of picking against the spread. In fact, I basically got every spread that was close to a pick em’ wrong. Enough of my struggles: what can we take from this week? Well, the Super Bowl rematch lived up to its hype. Can you imagine if the game on Sunday had been the Super Bowl? Peyton Manning’s last minute drive being trumped by Russell Wilson’s methodical trek down the field in overtime… It would have been an all-time great. It wasn’t the Super Bowl, though, and instead it just reinforces that both of these teams are among the NFL’s best again this year. But the best team? That has to be the Cincinnati Bengals, who have by far the best point differential and blew out the team with the second best point differential in Atlanta. Andy Dalton isn’t a great quarterback, so Cincinnati shouldn’t be considered a sure thing as we get closer to the playoffs, but their defense is tough and they look like a force to be reckoned with.

Washington Redskins (1-1, 1-1 ATS) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Eagles favored by 4
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: Eagles 30-20.
Result: Just the pick right, and next week I’m definitely not going under for all the games, although it did work better than whatever I had been doing. The Eagles are going to go over until people finally realize how high scoring their games are. The final score was 37-34, as Washington outplayed Philadelphia for most of the game but the Eagles came up with the key plays. They won’t be able to win like this all season, but the Eagles are the first team to win after trailing by double digits in each of their first three games.

Houston Texans (2-0, 2-0) at New York Giants (0-2, 0-2):*
Spread: Giants favored by 1
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: Texans win 23-17.
Result: 0/3 here. I really shouldn’t pick Ryan Fitzpatrick anymore, especially on the road. The Giants aren’t a good team, but the Texans might be worse. They could have the worst 9-7 team of all time when all is said and done (ok, maybe that’s an overreaction). They’d be great with a good quarterback, but Fitzpatrick looks like the worst starter in football now that Chad Henne and Matt Cassel are out.

Minnesota Vikings (1-1, 1-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-2, 0-2):- Lock of the week
Spread: Saints favored by 10
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: Saints win 31-17.
Result: Got all three right here, as the Saints won a game they really had to win. It ended 20-9, so the New Orleans offense still hasn’t really started to tick yet, but I think that will come with time. Meanwhile, the loss of Adrian Peterson really really hurt the Vikings. This was the debut of Teddy Bridgewater, who looked pretty good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bridgewater leads them to a respectable record. They aren’t close to what they were with Peterson, though, and no longer look like a threat to make the playoffs.

Tennessee Titans (1-1, 1-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Bengals favored by 6.5
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: Bengals win 24-13.
Result: Another good prediction here. I still don’t get why the Bengals were just 6.5 point favorites over a below-average Titans team, and I suspect that if they played again this week, the spread would be in double digits. The Titans look like they are on their way to a 5-11 season (Jake Locker has looked really bad the past two weeks), while the Bengals could well end up with a first round BYE.

Baltimore Ravens (1-1, 1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1, 2-0):*
Spread: Ravens favored by 1.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Browns win 20-17.
Result: With one Justin Tucker kick, I went from a 3/3 here to an 0/3, as the Ravens came back to beat Cleveland 23-21. This was a really annoying game all around, and I’m not really sure what we can take from it, besides the fact that Baltimore is pretty solid and Cleveland is a pain to play against.

Green Bay Packers (1-1, 0-1-1) at Detroit Lions (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Lions favored by 1
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: Packers win 27-24.
Result: Just the over/under correct. The Packers looked terrible in this game, and I’m getting really worried about their playoff chances. They have a big game in Chicago next week, and if they lose that it’ll be tough to bounce back. I don’t know what’s up with their offense, as with the exception of Jordy Nelson it has looked anemic, something I didn’t think I would be saying about Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, and Aaron Rodgers.

Indianapolis Colts (0-2, 1-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Colts favored by 7
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: Colts 24-20.
Result: Remind me not to pick the Jaguars again. Ok, I’ll probably pick them next week, but they look really really bad. They lost this one 44-17, and it wasn’t even that close. Also, the Blake Bortles era has officially started, even though the Jags said Bortles wouldn’t play at all this year. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

Oakland Raiders (0-2, 1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Patriots favored by 14
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Patriots win 27-16.
Result: Man, the Patriots looked bad in this game. They ended up winning, but barely, as the Raiders had a chance to tie the game on their final drive. The Pats’ offense looks stale and unoriginal, and their running game is struggling just as much as Tom Brady. When Julian Edelman is your only real offensive weapon (yes, Rob Gronkowski is one, but his snaps have been limited thus far), it’s tough to instill fear in an opposing defense. The Patriots will still be fine, but they need to get their offense going.

San Diego Chargers (1-1, 2-0) at Buffalo Bills (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Bills favored by 2.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Bills win 23-20.
Result: Just the over/under right. I knew I should have taken the Chargers, simply because they are clearly the better team and were before the game. I talked myself into picking the Bills because of their home crowd, but their home crowd can’t play quarterback even though they would probably be better than EJ Manuel. Manuel was terrible here, and the Bills’ hot start has quickly lost a sizable portion of its luster.

Dallas Cowboys (1-1, 1-1) at St. Louis Rams (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Cowboys favored by 1.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Rams win 23-14.
Result: Another 0/3. This prediction looked pretty good when the score was 21-0 St. Louis in the second quarter, but Dallas somehow piled up enough points to mount a comeback and win. I’m really shocked that they were able to score 34 points in St. Louis against the Rams’ feared defensive line, but they did it. Their offensive line was terrific and DeMarco Murray might be the best running back in football. Could Dallas be a lot better than I thought they were? It sure looks like it. I still don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but they should be competitive.

San Francisco 49ers (1-1, 1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0, 1-1):
Spread: 49ers favored by 3
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: 49ers win 20-13.
Result: I should have stuck with my original Arizona pick but instead switched to San Francisco at the last second. Could the 49ers be 6-10 this season? It certainly looks like it. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have won their first three games, although they haven’t been dominant in any of those games. They could make the playoffs, but I don’t think they are going 12-4.

Denver Broncos (2-0, 0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 4
Over/under: 48
My prediction: Seahawks win 27-17.
Result: Another 3/3 here, as the Seahawks’ clutch overtime touchdown also ensured that they would cover the spread. Covered this at the beginning, so won’t add anything else.

Kansas City Chiefs (0-2, 1-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 4
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Dolphins 21-20.
Result: Just the spread right. I’m happy I hedged my bets here, because I wasn’t going to pick the Chiefs and was leaning towards picking Miami to cover. The Chiefs blew the Dolphins out, scoring 13 consecutive points after taking a 21-15 lead into the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1, 0-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Panthers favored by 3
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Panthers win 17-9.
Result: Well, I was wrong about this one too. It might make more sense for me to pick against my initial reaction to lines I find slanted one way or the other, because every time I feel strongly about something it ends up being wrong. I guess Carolina isn’t that good after all, because a mediocre Pittsburgh team just beat them 37-19. Weird. I have no feel for this NFC South division.

Chicago Bears (1-1, 1-1) at New York Jets (1-1, 0-1-1):*
Spread: Jets favored by 3
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Bears win 24-20.
Result: Just the over/under incorrect, as I was a total of four points off (the final score was 27-19). This is more like the Chicago team I thought we’d see heading into the season, and they’ll need to play even better next week in their pivotal divisional matchup with Green Bay next week. The Jets are still the Jets of the past few years, which means they’ll have their moments but in all likelihood end up below .500.

Upset picks:
Texans over Giants
Browns over Ravens
Packers over Lions
Rams over Cowboys
Bears over Jets
1-4.. 5-6 total.

Lock of the week:
Saints over Vikings
1-0… 2-1 total.

8-8 on game predictions.. 28-20 total
6-10 on spread.. 22-24-2 total
7-9 on over/under.. 15-32-1 total.. guess I should have gone with overs. No, I’m not doing that next week.

Week 3 Picks

Posted: 09/21/2014 by levcohen in Football

Week three is a quirky week in the NFL because, while we have some data on the 32 teams, we still don’t really know who’s good and who’s not for a few weeks. So this week is about going through each team’s performances in weeks one and two and deciding whether they are sustainable or just a mirage. While week three isn’t really a make-or-break week in the NFL, it is this year for two teams we thought would make the playoffs: 0-2 Indianapolis and New Orleans. Both have soft matchups and should win, but it’ll be interesting to watch. Oh, and then there’s a Super Bowl rematch (and maybe also preview). Not bad. Remember, I’m going under on every game. Didn’t work well for me on Thursday, but I can’t do worse than I did the first two weeks.

*= upset pick

Washington Redskins (1-1, 1-1 ATS) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Eagles favored by 4
Over/under: 50.5
My prediction: I like the Eagles here at home against Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins. The love Cousins has been getting is insane; he looked good against a terrible Jaguars team but has generally proved he’s an average quarterback. The Eagles don’t have a great defense either, but I think Cousins gets somewhat exposed on the road today. And this is the game LeSean McCoy breaks out. Eagles take it 30-20.
Eagles cover
Under

Houston Texans (2-0, 2-0) at New York Giants (0-2, 0-2):*
Spread: Giants favored by 1
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: I’m not picking the Giants, even at home against a mediocre Texans team. Eventually, this Texans team is going to start getting overrated because they are performing well against an awful schedule, but we haven’t reached that point yet. Texans win 23-17.
Texans cover
Under

Minnesota Vikings (1-1, 1-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-2, 0-2):- Lock of the week
Spread: Saints favored by 10
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: Yep, I’m taking an 0-2 team as my lock of the week. The Saints need to win this week, and they get an easy matchup against a Vikings team without Adrian Peterson. They also are always great at home. Saints win 31-17.
Saints cover
Under

Tennessee Titans (1-1, 1-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Bengals favored by 6.5
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: I think the Bengals are pretty good, so I’ll take them here. Also think the Titans are average-at-best, especially after they lost at home against the Cowboys. Bengals are among the three or four best teams in football right now and should be favored by more. Their defense is elite and Andy Dalton and the offense look pretty good too. Bengals win 24-13.
Bengals cover
Under

Baltimore Ravens (1-1, 1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1, 2-0):*
Spread: Ravens favored by 1.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: I don’t have a feel for this game at all. The Ravens just blew out the Steelers, but I’m not sure they’re a legit playoff contender. The offense is pretty stale and I’m shocked that Torrey Smith hasn’t made any big plays yet. He needs to get in the flow of the offense. Meanwhile, the Browns have performed admirably in their first two games, but they still have Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback. Guess I’ll go with the home team here. Browns win 20-17.
Browns cover
Under

Green Bay Packers (1-1, 0-1-1) at Detroit Lions (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Lions favored by 1
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: The Lions have looked good this season, blowing out the Giants in week one and controlling the game against Carolina (they ended up losing that game by double-digits, but Carolina is a tough team to play against). The Packers have not looked good, with a blowout loss to Seattle in week one preceding a poor showing against the Jets in which only a second half comeback stopped an upset. With all that said, I’m still more confident in Green Bay than I am in Detroit. Packers win 27-24.
Packers cover
Under

Indianapolis Colts (0-2, 1-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Colts favored by 7
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: An 0-2 team is an eight point road favorite?? That in it of itself is going to scare me off the Colts, who should win this game but always seem to keep games close. The Jaguars stink, but they get to play at home here. Colts 24-20.
Jaguars cover
Under

Oakland Raiders (0-2, 1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Patriots favored by 14
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Yeah, the Patriots are going to win this game. That’s a big spread, though. If the Patriots cover, I’m going to have a tough time picking the Raiders going forward. Patriots win 27-16.
Raiders cover
Under

San Diego Chargers (1-1, 2-0) at Buffalo Bills (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Bills favored by 2.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Riding the Bills here, as their home crowd is great and the Chargers have to travel across the country for this one. Think the Chargers are the better team, but they just came off a huge win over the Seahawks and could have a letdown here. Let’s hope the Bills can keep all season, because their fans deserve it. Bills win 23-20.
Bills cover
Under

Dallas Cowboys (1-1, 1-1) at St. Louis Rams (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Cowboys favored by 1.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Picking against the Cowboys as a road favorite every. single. time. People are overrating the Cowboys after their win over Tennessee, and I think St. Louis should peg them back here, no matter who starts at quarterback. Rams win 23-14.
Rams cover
Under

San Francisco 49ers (1-1, 1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0, 1-1):
Spread: 49ers favored by 3
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: I’m picking the Cardinals.. Wait, does that mean I have to take Drew Stanton against San Francisco? Switching my pick here as I think the 49ers need to win here and should against Arizona’s backup. 49ers win 20-13.
49ers cover
Under

Denver Broncos (2-0, 0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 4
Over/under: 48
My prediction: I’m taking the Seahawks at home from now on when they are favored by less than a touchdown. The Broncos are good, but I think the Seahawks are better and are coming off a loss. They also absolutely destroyed Denver in the Super Bowl, and I’m not sure what has changed since. Seahawks win 27-17.
Seahawks cover
Under

Kansas City Chiefs (0-2, 1-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 4
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Have no idea what’s going to happen here, as the Dolphins were great in week one against the Patriots before getting blown out by the Bills while the Chiefs got crushed by the Titans before keeping it close against Denver. I’ll pick the Dolphins to win just 21-20.
Chiefs cover
Under

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1, 0-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Panthers favored by 3
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Carolina is good! Pittsburgh just got blown out by Baltimore! How is this only a three point spread? I think the Panthers’ defense suffocates Pittsburgh at home here as they improve to 3-0. Panthers win 17-9.
Panthers cover
Under

Chicago Bears (1-1, 1-1) at New York Jets (1-1, 0-1-1):*
Spread: Jets favored by 3
Over/under: 45
My prediction: The Bears are coming off a huge win over San Francisco and have the Packers in week four, so this could basically be a trap game for them even though they are road underdogs. Meanwhile, the Jets played the Packers close last week after a win in week one, so they might not be as bad as I thought they would be. In the end, though, I just trust the Bears more than I trust the Jets. Bears win 24-20.
Bears cover
Under

Upset picks:
Texans over Giants
Browns over Ravens
Packers over Lions
Rams over Cowboys
Bears over Jets
(lot of upsets, which is kind of misleading because all of these spreads are close to pick em’.)

Lock of the week:
Saints over Vikings

MVP Predictions

Posted: 09/20/2014 by levcohen in Baseball

With the baseball regular season drawing to a close, over the next few weeks I’m going to sprinkle in some MLB award predictions along with the normal football stuff, the revamping of basketball, and maybe even a hockey post or two (shocker, right?). Up today are the MVP races. Unfortunately, I probably won’t surprise anyone with these predictions, because it seems like both races are pretty close to over. Let’s start with the AL.

AL MVP: Mike Trout
It’s ironic that the year Mike Trout is finally going to win an MVP is the year he’s played the worst. Trout has not been the player this year that he was in each of the last two seasons, especially last year. His on base percentage is 55 points lower than it was last year (.432 to .377) thanks to a walk rate down from 15.4% to 11.7% and an average of .288, which is more in line with Trout’s scouting report and less in line with the .326 and .323 averages he put up in his first two seasons. He’s also struck out a lot more than he did last year, up from 19% to 25.8%. Trout also isn’t causing close to as much havoc on the base paths as he did in his first two years, as he’s dropped from 49 steals in his rookie year to 33 in his second year to just 14 this season. That drop off is amazing, especially since we’re talking about a player who just turned 23. I obviously can’t explain it, but one explanation could be that the back injury that kept him out of a few games in June might still be slowing him down. Trout still looks just as fast, though, so it might just be that he’s not running as much now that the rest of the offense is hitting so well. So Trout isn’t getting on base much and is adding less value when he does get on base. How, then, is he the AL MVP? First of all, there’s no triple crown winner in the AL this year. Miguel Cabrera, the winner of the last two MVP’s, has had an off (ish) year, as the slugger won’t come close to matching the back-to-back 44 homer seasons that led to his two MVP awards. In fact, Cabrera has 12 fewer homers than Trout, so the old-time voters who voted for Miggy will likely end up casting their votes for Trout this year, especially since Trout seems set to lead the AL in RBI this year. There’s also the fact that Trout was so good in 2012 and 2013 that even a lesser version is good enough to win the MVP. Trout’s still slashing .288/.377/.559 for a .936 OPS and a 166 wRC+ that’s second best in baseball to Jose Abreu, who might have a good MVP case if not for the fact that a DL stint means he has almost 100 fewer plate appearances than Trout. There’s no doubt that pitchers have found a weakness in Trout’s game (up in the zone) but he’s still the best player in the game. For people who value how an MVP candidate’s team plays? Yeah, Trout has that box checked too. The Angels are an MLB best 95-59 and are AL West champions for the first time in Trout’s short career. Unless Abreu or Michael Brantley somehow hit 10 homers in the last week or Felix Hernandez throws a perfect game to send the Mariners into the playoffs, Trout is your AL MVP.

Honorable Mention: Hernandez (2.07 ERA, record-breaking stretch of 7+ inning, 2 or fewer runs allowed outings), Brantley (.322/.380/.502 with 20 homers and 22 steals and 7.2 baserunning runs added per Fangraphs, third in the AL). If Brantley were a terrific defender, he’d have a real shot at MVP (playing the well-rounded Mike Trout 2012-13 role, if you will).

NL MVP: Clayton Kershaw
A little more than a week ago, this looked like it was going to be a close race all the way to the end. In one corner was Clayton Kershaw, who was having one of the best seasons a pitcher has ever had. In the other corner was Giancarlo Stanton, who was having a career year, with a .950 OPS, 37 homers, and 13 steals. Stanton was even powering the Marlins to a wild card run, as they were just a handful of games out. Then Stanton had a horrifying injury, and Kershaw kept pitching like, well, Kershaw. This is no longer a race. Even after a start yesterday in which he gave up three runs in just five innings, Kershaw has a 1.80 ERA, a 20-3 record, 31 walks, 228 strikeouts, and just nine homers allowed. The incredible thing is he missed the first month of the season with an injury, so he’s done all of that in just 26 starts. He is striking a third of hitters he faces out, and more than half the time it does get hit it’s a groundball. He’s incredible, and he pitches for a team that is close to sewing up the NL West. But there are some voters who refuse to vote for pitchers when it comes to the MVP award. Who, then, will those people vote for? Stanton is still an option, as he racked up huge counting stats while healthy. There are a few other semi-options (none of them are real options because Kershaw is so dominant). One is Jonathan Lucroy, a well known pitch-framer who has also hit very well this season en route to a 6.3 WAR that leads NL hitters (Kershaw’s is 6.8). Another is Andrew McCutchen, who won the award last year and has been nearly as good this season. One of those guys could still win, given that Kershaw is a pitcher, but the rightful winner of the NL MVP award is obviously Clayton Kershaw.

Honorable Mention: Stanton (his 37 homers are six more than second place Anthony Rizzo and nine more than third place Lucas Duda in the NL), Lucroy (basically this year’s version of Yadier Molina: good hitter and tremendous defender behind the plate. These guys never get their due), McCutchen (Pirates are likely going to end up making the playoffs again, and McCutchen is the clear leader of Pittsburgh).

Thursday Night Football Prediction

Posted: 09/18/2014 by levcohen in Football

This week’s Thursday Night Football game looks like it could be a blowout, just like last week’s (Pittsburgh-Baltimore). The 0-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons. Now, I thought the Buccaneers would be a possible playoff team heading into the season, but that’s not going to happen now that the Buccaneers have lost two winnable home games. Meanwhile, the Falcons were getting a lot of buzz after their week one win over New Orleans, but I’ve been consistent in saying I think they’ll be average at best. That’s why I’m not going to pick this game to end in a blowout like others are predicting.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2, 0-2 ATS) at Atlanta Falcons (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Falcons favored by 6.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Think the Falcons take this one 24-20, as Matt Ryan plays well but the Buccaneers hang around.
Buccaneers cover
Under (as promised)