NFL: Week 3 Picks

We’ve reached week 3 of the season, and still have 8 undefeated and 8 winless teams. There have also been a lot of big injuries early that will have a big impact on week 3 and beyond.  As for my picks, I’m 18-14 through 2 weeks. Here’s what I’m thinking going into week 3.

Thursday Night Football

  • Texans @ Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo left with a shoulder injury for New England, who still managed to move to 2-0.  This was thanks in large part to Garoppolo’s 3 touchdown passes before his injury as well as a big performance from LeGarrett Blount in the run game. The Texans took down the Chiefs on the strength of their defense to move to 1-1, a stark difference from their 33-0 loss to Kansas City in the playoffs.  Without Garoppolo, I think the Texans will do enough to get another win to start off the week 3 action. HOUSTON WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Ravens @ Jaguars: Baltimore got very lucky in week 2, as they overcame a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to improve to 2-0.  Cleveland never scored again, while Joe Flacco brought his team back with a 25-45, 302 yard performance.  Their opponents have been disappointing to me so far.  While I didn’t think the Jaguars were going to make the playoffs this season, I thought they’d be better than they’ve shown, starting 0-2 again after They crossed midfield only six times and committed three turnovers. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Lions @ Packers: Both teams enter 1-1 after losing in week 2, and are looking to keep pace with the 2-0 Vikings.  The Packers lost their game in the 4th quarter, turning the ball over twice, while allowing Rodgers to be sacked 5 times. Detroit also lost their game in the 4th quarter when they were outscored 13-0 by the Titans, including a 93-yard game winning drive.  The Lions didn’t have a go to back in week 2, losing Ameer Abdullah to an injury.   So who gets back in the win column this week? I’ll take the Packers at home with a much-needed big day from Eddie Lacy. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington won the NFC East a year ago, but have opened up this season 0-2.  Struggles in the red zone and an inability to force turnovers meant a loss in a back-and-forth affair with Dallas last week. New York’s offense moved up and down the field pretty easily on Sunday, but also struggled in the redzone, and had too many turnovers in the 1st half.  But the defense and special teams stepped up and they moved to 2-0. So who takes this division matchup?  Give me the home team to get over their redzone struggles and take advantage of Eli Manning’s league leading completion percentage, which should be even better as the Giants receiving core dropped at least 5 balls in week 2. NEW YORK WINS
  • Browns @ Dolphins: For the 5th week in a row (dating back to last season), Cleveland will be starting a different QB.  Someone should tell them this isn’t baseball, there’s no starting rotation in football.  Even with the QB carousel, the Browns almost, and should have, pulled out their first win in week 2.  They were up 20-2 on the Ravens, thanks in big part to their ground attack, but fell late.  Miami isn’t in any better a position than their week 3 opponents, as they enter action at 0-2 as well.  The Dolphins were down big early to the Pats, but made a comeback after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury.  Cleveland will be in this game until the end because Miami has had issues stopping the run early.  But even of Isaiah Crowell goes big on the ground, I still think they pull out the win at home. MIAMI WINS
  • Vikings @ Panthers: Minnesota will now be without their starting QB and running back for the rest of the season after Adrian Peterson went down in their game on Sunday night. The Vikings defense looked stong against Aaron Rogers in week 2. As for Carolina, they rebounded offensively in week 2, but they still struggled a bit on defense, allowing the Niners to score 27.  They’ll be without their running back Jonathan Stewart, but were picked up by Fozzy Whittaker on the ground.  Despite the 27 points allowed, I like the Panthers chances of stopping Sam Bradford and the new Vikings weapon and league receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs. CAROLINA WINS
  • Broncos @ Bengals: Andy Dalton has gotten off to a nice start this season, leading the league with 732 passing yards, so here’s a good test for the Broncos league leading defense.  CJ Anderson is having a good start to the season, and we’ve seen the Bengals give up the most rushing yards per game to start the season, so he should be able to help eat a lot of clock for Denver. DENVER WINS
  • Cardinals @ Bills: Arizona rebounded from a tough week 1 loss by handily beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Cardinals led the league in total offense, while the Bills dropped to 0-2 despite putting up 31 points of their own in week 2. Buffalo has let their offensive coordinator go, so they really need this game.  Too bad I don’t think they’ll get it.  Look for a big game from running back Daniel Johnson. ARIZONA WINS
  • Raiders @ Titans: Oakland has not been able to stop anyone through two weeks, something I wasn’t expecting, allowing 70 points so far.  Tennessee has actually done a very nice job on defense.  Both teams are 1-1 heading into this game, but I still like the Raiders better.  The Titans offense hasn’t shown the big play ability the Raiders have, so Oakland should be able to hold them down better than they did with New Orleans and Atlanta. OAKLAND WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Rams @ Buccaneers: LA’s defense showed up in week 2, Tampa’s did not.  The difference between these two teams is the offense.  While the Bucs went from scoring 4 TDs to 1, I feel more confident about their offense than the Rams, who have scored just 9 points in two games.  The best chance the Rams have is if their defense can do what it did a week ago, and good game out of Todd Gurley. That being said, I’ll take the home team in this one. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: This is a big (albeit early) NFC West battle between two 1-1 teams.  San Francisco followed up a surprise week 1 win with a defensive breakdown against Carolina.  Seattle had one of their worst offensive games in this recent stretch of Superbowl quality teams, scoring just a field goal against the L.A. Rams. I can’t see the Seahawks being held down again, especially by the Niners.  Russell Wilson should be able to dominate in this one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Steelers @ Eagles:  I never thought this would be a game where both teams have a chance to move to 3-0, but here we are.  DeAngelo Williams has been huge for Pittsbrgh in the abscense of Le’Veon Bell, who is out one more week due to suspension. Philadelphia has gotten about as good as you can ever hope to from a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who hasn’t turned the ball over yet. It should be a good game, but I will go with the experience in this one. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Jets @ Chiefs: Two teams I picked to make the playoffs in the AFC face off in Kansas City this weekend.  New York picked up their first win last week, thanks to the offense.  Off-season acquisition Matt Forte finished with 100 yards rushing, and three rushing touchdowns. Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both finished with 100 receiving yards as well.  The Jets defense wasn’t as impressive as it was week 1.  The Chiefs hope that’s the case again this week, as they couldn’t get much of anything started against Houston. A lot went right for New York last week, and I can’t see them doing quite that well against Kansas City’s defense as they did against Buffalo.  If this were a home game for the Jets I might choose differently, but it’s a home game for the Chiefs, so I’ll go with them this week.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Chargers @ Colts: San Diego is 2-0, Indianapolis is 0-2.  I really thought that the Colts would be able to do better than they have on defense, but they haven’t. San Diego has looked very good on offense to start this season, Indy has been very up and down. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bears @ Cowboys: Chicago is 0-2 despite holding early leads in both week 1 and week 2.  And now they’ll be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler due to a thumb injury.   Their best hope to beat the Cowboys is to continue limiting the passing game, as the Bears rank 4th in the NFL allowing 224 yards a game.   As for Dallas, they picked up their first win thanks to another clean day from Dak Prescott and a big night on the ground. The Boys were already a better team than the Bears before the Cutler injury, so give me Dallas at home to move to 2-1. DALLAS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Saints: Atlanta picked up their first win against an impressive Raiders team in week 2, while New Orleans dropped to 0-2 after a game winning field goal by the Giants.  Atlanta hasn’t had any problems scoring this season, but their defense has struggled at times.  New Orleans’ defense was much better in week 2, forcing 3 turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.  I picked the Saints to make the playoffs, so this is a huge game for them.  If they want to get their first win, they have to figure out how to run the ball.  The Falcons tend to be very inconsistent, so give me New Orleans at home in a shootout. NEW ORLEANS WINS
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A Long Off-Season Ahead in the Bronx

The champion has been crowned.  The awards handed out.  Now it’s all about the off-season and making all 30 teams better.

As for the Yankees, after a season of injuries, poor pitching performances, key player retirements and a weak farm system exposed, changes need to be made in a lot of areas.

The Yankees biggest questions?

  1. Can they afford to keep Robinson Cano?  Reports have surfaced that the second baseman is looking for a record-breaking 10-year, $305 million deal.  Whether it’s true or not remains to be seen, but you have to think the Yankees, and every other team in baseball will stay away from a deal like that.  It’s not even about the money necessarily, but the length.  Cano will turn 31 next season, and long-term deals like that can turn bad quick.  Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are all prime examples of big contracts given to players already in their prime, and not really working out long-term, or at all.  So while the bombers are probably the only team that can afford Cano, will the gold-glover stay.  With no viable options in the minors to play second, fans are hoping they haven’t seen the last of number 24. [UPDATE – Reports say Cano is leaning towards re-signing with the only team he’s every known, but isn’t rushing.  He will take the money first. Seattle looks to be a major player now that New York and Cano seem to be far apart and no longer talking.]
  2. Who will be the manager come spring training?  Joe Girardi is a free-agent, and while GM Brian Cashman insists the team wants him back, there are things that could pull Girardi away from New York, and even coaching all together.  The new head coaching vacancy in Chicago might be the biggest pull.  A Chicago native, it could be a good place for the man who’s led the Yankees since 2008 to make a fresh start.  He loves working with young teams, and it would allow him to go back home.  Or Girardi could go back to working as a broadcast analyst, something he did for the YesNetwork the year between managing the Marlins and starting with New York.  [UPDATE – Girardi Signed a 4-year contract to keep him in pinstripes  until 2017.  The deal is worth $16-million plus bonuses.]
  3. Will Hiroki Kuroda retire, go back to Japan, or consider a third year in the Bronx?  Their savior the first 4 months of the season, Kuroda heads into 2014 the same way he did 2013.  With a choice to make.  After 6 years in the Majors, does he go back to Japan to finish his career, or go back home a retired player.  He’s done nothing but win and stay healthy for the bombers in his two years here, and would have many more wins if not for a lack of run support here and during his time in LA.  With only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova (and hopefully our first Michael Pineda sighting) there aren’t many guarantees in the Yankees rotation next year. [UPDATE – Didn’t accept the Yankees qualifying off worth $14.1 million for a year.  But the Yankees have reportedly offered him a new deal, and say they didn’t except a decision from Kuroda until December.]
  4. Will Derek Jeter be good to go in 2014?  That remains to be seen. I think we can all agree the captain was rushed back too often this past year.  He played in just 17 games this season.  Jeter turns 40 midway through next season, so there were already questions of how long he’ll last at short let alone in his career.  He’s the lone member of the Yankees 1996-2000 dynasty, with two of the Core Four members hanging it up this year.  [UPDATE – The Yankees have given their captain, a new one-year, $12 million contract.  It’s a deal worth $2.5 million more than the player option Jeter could have picked  up.]
  5. What to do about the catching situation?  There hasn’t been a real solution since Jorge Posada retired after the 2011 season.  For years all you heard was the name Jesus Montero as the answer behind home-plate.  But he went to Seattle in the Pineda deal, and spent a majority of the season in the minors for the Mariners.  Then Francisco Cervelli was supposed to be the answer, but he’s been very injury prone.  So that meant backup Chris Stewart was made the starter this year, with Austin Romine tabbed to be his backup.  Romine finally showed signs of coming around offensively towards the end of the year, before he suffered a concussion.  The question is do the Yankees hope Romine can develop more for them, or do they make a move for the Braves Brian McCann, or maybe wait til the Orioles Matt Weiters becomes available.  Maybe a run at the Rangers veteran AJ Pierzynski? [UPDATE – Brian McCann it is.  The 29-year-old is leaving Atlanta and after passing his physical, is ready to don the pinstripes. A 5-year, $85 million deal that could reach 6 and $100 million if he hits certain numbers in those 5 seasons.] 

These are just some of the questions/problems that can be solved in the off-season.  Others include whether to bring back Curtis Granderson, what to do about Phil Hughes (give him another shot in the pen now that David Robertson most likely moves from the set-up role to the closer role) and what happens at 3rd base with Alex Rodriguez appealing his 211 Biogensis suspension.

The biggest problem the Yankees have can’t really be solved in one off-season.  Injuries exposed their weak farm system.  Guys they’ve drafted during this 19-year run of success haven’t panned out.  Or trades gone wrong.  There needs to be a foundation for this organization to build on.  The Yankees felt too safe with lifers like Mariano Rivera, Posada and Jeter, whose longevity meant they could “wait” to build at the position.  Well, the time to have guys like Mike Trout, Weiters and Clayton Kershaw waiting in the wings is now, and the Yankees don’t have game changers like that.  It all starts this coming draft, where the Yankees have the 18th pick, their best position in a long time.

So while these questions may not all be answered for months, don’t completely despair Yankees fans.  This team managed with 85 games and stay in the playoff conversation until the final week of the season despite a bevy of problems.  Mark Teixeira will be back, Eduardo Nunez finished the season hitting the way the Yankees always thought he could, and began playing 3rd base like a pro.  Ivan Nova was a revelation in the 2nd half, pitching like the guy who took the team by storm winning 16 games in 2011.  You have to think CC Sabathia will figure out what was off mechanically and fix it this off-season.

So that’s it for me for.  Now I want to hear from you.  Answer the poll question and tell me what you think the 1st thing the Yankees need to take care of is.

Long Ball Propels Yankees to Big Comeback Victory

Just when you think the playoff door is just about to shut, the 2013 Yankees push it back open.

The first half depleted Yankees usually lost games like tonight.  Leading 1-nothing early, the defense betrayed starter Ivan Nova in the 5th, allowing extra runners on, ending in a 4-run inning capped off by Chris Davis’ 49th homer of the year, 2-run shot.  It was just the 7th homer Nova allowed in nearly 120 innings this season.  But it gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead with notorius Yankee Killer Miguel Gonzalez cruising.

But this team has pop now, and that means runs come quick.  And in the very next inning, Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds both went deep to cut the lead to 4-3.

Joe Girardi decided to take Nova out after 6 innings, even though his starter had thrown just 79 pitches.  He instead called upon Adam Warren, who rewarded his managers decision with a shutdown inning.  We would hear after the game that Nova’s triceps tightened up, but Girardi didn’t seem too concerned, more of a precautionary move.

Fast-forward to the top of the 8th.  Alex Rodriguez led off with a double.  Robinson Cano then drove him in with a single, tying the score at 4.  Rodriguez just slid into home ahead of the throw, but was seen grabbing his leg, and was taken out on defense in the bottom half of the inning.   Turns out his left hamstring tightened up.  With the score tied, and Cano on, Soriano stepped to the plate.  And as he’s done time and again since returning to New York, he delivered.  Soriano smacked his second homer of the game to give the Yankees a 2-run lead.  It was the left-fielder’s 4th multi-homer game since coming back, his 7th overall.  Reynolds added an RBI single to cap off the 4-run inning.

And because injuries have been then name of the game in 2013 for New York, Austin Romine, who came in after Chris Stewart was pinch hit for, left the game after taking a foul ball off the mask.  He likely has a concussion.

After Shawn Kelley got the first two outs of the 8th, Girardi decided it was time to go to Mo.  Rivera came in for the second time in 5 days to attempt a save of more than 3 outs.  And the sandman put the O’s and the 7-5 win to bed.

It was of course a huge win in many ways for the Yankees.  It closes the gap between them and Baltimore in the Wild Card race to back to a .5 game.  But it also closed the gap between them and the Indians back to .5 and to 2 games behind the 2nd card holder in the Rays.

Now the bombers have a chance to leapfrog the O’s with a win in game 3 of the 4 game set.  Andy Pettitte looks to continue his recent stretch of great pitching (5 straight quality starts).  Baltimore hands the ball to Scott Feldman, who’s coming off a complete game shutout of Chicago.

***

Derek Jeter will be listed as day-to-day for the remainder of the season with his ever recurring ankle problem.  Eduardo Nunez hasn’t been sharp at short in his place, so late tonight a deal was finalized to bring over Mariners sure-handed shortstop Brendan Ryan.

Yanks Pour it On

A two hour plus rain delay couldn’t stop the Yankees, who picked up a 9-1 win over the Chicago White Sox.

Phil Hughes got the start, but was unable to continue after the lengthy delay. David Huff came in when play restarted, and went 5 2/3 innings to pick up his second win in relief. He’s the first Yankee to go at least 5 innings in relief and win since 1977. The lone run Huff surrendered was a solo homer to Sox first baseman Paul Konerko.

Already up 1-0, the bombers put up a crooked number in the 4th. A-rod, Vernon Wells and Curtis Granderson would all get on to load the bases with no outs. Then consecutive by Mark Reynolds, Austin Romine, Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano would drive in 6. Two more were tacked on to give the Yanks 8 runs, and seal the fate of the game

The Yankees needed a laugher like this because with the 9-0 lead, New York was able to give Jeter, ARod, and Soriano a few innings off. It also gave two of their September call-ups a shot at their Major League debuts. Reliever Cesar Cabral struck out his first batter faced, and 22-year-old catcher JR Murphy picked up his first career hit.

It was a good bounce back from a bad loss to Baltimore on Sunday. The win also assured the Yanks of leapfrogging the loser of Cleveland/Baltimore.

Hiroki Kuroda goes in game two of the series, looking to get past his recent struggles.

Unlikely Heroes Help Yanks Take Two, Gain Ground

Doubleheaders are never easy to sweep.  But heading into the Yankees double dip with the Blue Jays, New York needed to do just that.  If they want to make a late season run, losing to a last place team isn’t an option.

Game 1 starter Ivan Nova has been nothing short of spectacular since his return to the majors.  One big inning could have sunk the righty, but Nova rebounded from a 4-run second to give the Yankees length, and time to chip away.

Down 4-3 in the, catcher Chris Stewart came to the plate with two on, and two out.  Hitting in the low .200’s, and lacking power, Stewart came through in a big way.  A three run shot to left, just his 4th of the year, and first since May, lifted the bombers to an 8-4 win.

Robinson Cano had a big game as well, going 4-4 and smacking his 200th career homer in the win.  Ichiro Suzuki also picked up 3 hits, moving him to 3,999 in his career combined between his time in Japan and in Major League Baseball.

Game 2 featured Phil Hughes who was coming off one of his better performances of the year, a 3-run, 6 inning performance against the Angels.  But Hughes has struggled not only this season, but his entire career at Yankee Stadium.

But after a first inning run, Hughes was impressive.  Finally mixing in his secondary pitches, the big righty gave the Yankees 6 innings of 2 run ball.  Unfortunately for Hughes, his lack of run support continued, and he left down 2-1.

In the 7th, Jayson Nix would tie the score with his 3rd homer of the year, saving Hughes from his 9th straight loss at the stadium.  The bullpen shut the Jays down in the 8th and 9th, giving the bombers a chance for their sixth walk-off of the season.

The newly acquired Mark Reynolds would be walked to lead off the inning, and then pinch ran for by Suzuki.  Eduardo Nunez than laid down a beautifully executed sacrifice bunt to move Ichiro to second, with one out.  Nix, fresh off his game tying shot, was up next.  Though already in scoring position, Ichiro attempted to steal 3rd, and if not for a better throw from Jays catcher Josh Thole, would’ve been easily out.  But he was safe.  Nix would then play the hero and give the Yankees the 3-2 walk-off win with a solid single to left.

Two wins, one day.  The Yankees needed every bit of it, and they also got some much-needed help from the teams they’re chasing.

A day after passing Kansas City in the Wildcard standings, the Royals were shut out by the White Sox, putting some distance between them and the Yanks.  And of the 5 teams ahead of them, 3 lost (Boston, Oakland and Baltimore).

The bombers are now 5 games out of a Wildcard spot, and if they can leap-frog the Indians (who they own the season series against), they have games left with all four teams ahead of them.

If Hughes can continue giving the Yankees quality outings, and if role guys like Nix and Stewart can help lengthen the lineup even more, you can’t count the 2013 Yankees out just yet.

And don’t overlook the contributions of catcher Austin Romine, who is finally starting to show some offensive punch.  3 hits last night, along with a great throw to nip a runner at second.  Romine is a better option to start over game 1 hero Stewart, and has been highly thought of by the Yankees organization.  If Romine can continue to provide some pop and grow with the staff, the future behind the plate for the Yankees may not be so scary, especially with prospect Gary Sanchez who was recently promoted to Double-A.  In 12 games, he’s hitting .290 with Trenton.

***Game 3 of the 4 game set with Toronto continues tonight with long reliever Adam Warren making a spot start for the Yankees against last year’s NL Cy Young winner R.A Dickey.