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

New York Yankees: June in Review

IMG_1187June saw the New York Yankees win just two of their eight series (sweeps of the Mariners and Blue Jays), while squandering great opportunities to win more than that.  We’re exactly halfway through another season, and there are still many questions about this team, especially after a very bad month.

But the Ace of the staff isn’t one of them. Masahiro Tanaka is a winner, plain and simple.  The rest of the rotation has been pretty solid as well, though it’s starting to taper off here as we begin July.  Not to mention how good the bullpen has been. Another plus is that there haven’t really been new additions to the injury report this month.  Mark Teixeira made his return on June 3rd against the Athletics.  He drove in 2 runs, including a go-ahead solo homer batting right-handed. It looked like hitting from the left side would remain an issue, but as the month went on, the wrist became a non-issue.

With all that being said, this team is so inconsistent, particularly the offense.  Teixeira is the only power threat, Jacoby Ellsbury seems to have two hot weeks, followed by two very cold weeks and Brian McCann hasn’t really shown up yet. This team needs more from their off-season acquisitions.  Derek Jeter has been on and off, and the same can be said for Brett Gardner.  This team needs Gardner and Ellsbury on base to utilize their speed.  They can make things happen, small-ball is just as, if not more important as the ability to get that 3-run home run.

Best Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – He’s going to win this thing every month because he could be the CY Young award winner in the American League this year.  At 11-3, Tanaka continues to strike out double-digit batters with ease.  Losing streaks with this guy in the rotation won’t go past 4 very often.  Look for him to start possibly start the All-Star game.  He’d be closer to 13-14 wins right now if not for the low run-support he’s been given.

Best Reliever: Dellin Betances – May clearly wasn’t an anomaly.  Betances continues to strike out opponents in 3 or 4 pitches, which allows him to go two innings, AND still be available the next day.  He’s confident, yet humble and cool under pressure.  Like I said last month, this is Rivera in 96 type stuff.  He looked a bit shaky late in the month, but found ways to get out of jams, and that’s all you can ask of a guy.

Best Hitter: Mark Teixeira.  His batting average is hovering around .240 again, but he’s the Yankees only real power source, and almost every big hit this month came from via the switch-hitter.  If only he’d finally figure out how to hit against the shift.

Biggest Surprise: Chase Whitley.  Another month of solid performances and I probably can’t call him a surprise anymore.  He’s doing everything you’d want out of a 4th-5th starter.  He’s giving the Yankees decent length, and he’s staying away from the big innings (for the most part).

Record vs AL East: 6-7

Overall Record: 41-40

The American League East will be a fight for a while, with no one looking like they want to run away with it.  The Blue Jays came back down to earth a bit here.  But if the Yankees continue to do what they’ve done, while getting healthy and guys like McCann slowly coming around, things could be worse in the Bronx.

With that being said, as we approach the All-Star break, the question becomes what do the Yankees need and should they make a splash before the trade deadline?

New York Yankees: May in Review

IMGP3381What is this 2013?

It feels like another Yankee is placed on the disabled list every day. New additions this month included Shawn Kelley, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia. These are names this team can go very long without.  Kelley hit the shelf with a strained lumbar spine (back tightness).  Just when he was looking ready to come back, the tightness resurfaced to make it more than a 15-day loss.  Sabathia hasn’t looked good all year, and has been diagnosed with degenerative knees. He’ll be out until at least July because of it.  Beltran was given 2 weeks to work out discomfort from a bone spur on his elbow.  At the end of those 2 weeks, season ending surgery could be necessary.

After the injuries to key players, there is real concern with the lack of power in this offense.  Tex, Beltran and Alfonso Soriano are the only real power threats, but Soriano has been in a season long slump and of course Tex and Beltran have missed significant time.  And without the power, you need guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner to get on base and make things happen. When they get on, they usually steal.  But after the final week of the month, Ellsbury’s hot April had turned into a big time slump.  A nice surprise has been the hitting of Yangervis Solarte, but even he has hit a skid, something we all saw coming for the 26-year-old rookie.  Brian McCann needs to start hitting for this team.  His adjustment time is over.  Two months are enough for the all-star catcher.  Interestingly enough, Ichiro Suzuki is hitting at the clip of how his career has gone, over .300.  This is a guy that was supposed to be a 4th outfielder, pinch runner.  But injuries have created situations for the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and he’s doing his best to help in the field, at the plate and on the base paths.

It was a very up-and-down month for the bombers.  They showed something winning 2-0f-3 on the road against the great pitching staff of the St. Louis Cardinals.  But they were also held to less than 2 runs 8 times (1 win).  To be fair, they only lost 2 of the 9 series (3 splits).

Best Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – He takes the award again, and not by default.  The MLB rookie continues to dominate.  He dropped his first game (and it wasn’t a horrible start) and bounced back with two huge performances to move his record to a stellar 8-1 before June.  His ability to go deep on top of his great pitching has helped stopped long losing streaks, and solidified a less than perfect rotation.

Best Reliever: Dellin BetancesSo this guy has found it big time.  All he does is come in and shut people down for 1-2 innings a la Mariano Rivera in 1996.  He’s struck out a ridiculous 56 batters to just 9 walks in nearly 33 innings of work.  And he’s also electrified the Yankee Stadium crowd much like Joba Chamberlain did when he first made it with the big club.  If the 26-year-old is on the mound, you’re not leaving your seat.

Best Hitter: Mark Teixeira – Early in the month we were all thinking that the wrist was healed and Tex was primed.   The power was back.  He was playing basically everyday. But unfortunately as the month ran down, the wrist became an issue.  Inflammation meant missing a few games at the end of the month, and a trip to the surgeon.  He was told it was okay, and returned after missing 3 straight games.  But in the 6th inning of the game, Teixeira left and is now back to “square one” with the injury. (UPDATE: Teix did make his return on June 3rd against the Athletics.  He drove in 2 runs, including a go-ahead solo homer batting right-handed.  The issue has been when batting left-handed.)

Biggest Surprise: Chase Whitley.  Who? The rookie is a huge reason why the Yankees are still hanging around the top of the American League Division.  The 25-year-old righty doesn’t have a win in 4 starts, but he should.  His last two performances were worthy of the W, but the pen and offense didn’t help him, leaving him with an 0-0 record and a 2.37 ERA. (Honorable Mention: John Ryan Murphy – the young backstop made us all expand on the J.R. and he started hitting.  He doesn’t play often backing up the All-Star McCann, but when he does, boy oh boy is he hitting!  In limited action, Murphy is hitting a scorching .348.)

Record vs AL East: 11-9

Overall Record: 29-26 (2nd in the East)

It took a big month from the Toronto Blue Jays and Edwin Encarnacion (16 homers last month), and .500 record to bump the Yankees from 1st to 2nd after May, but considering all the injuries and inconsistency, you’ve gotta be happy to be over .500 for the season.

 

A Busy Two Weeks for the Yankees Capped Off by a Cano “No”

It wasn’t $300 million, but it was the best he was going to get.  All-Star 2nd Baseman Robinson Cano, saying goodbye to the pinstripes for the dollar signs of Seattle?  It’s true.
 
After years of teams home-grown talent leaving for the Big Apple, the Yankees feel the ironic sting as Cano departs for the West Coast. Seattle was willing to not only give him the money he wanted, $240 million to be exact, but also the 10-year deal the Yankees are no longer willing to give.  The total value of the contract matches the Angels Albert Pujols for the third largest in baseball history, behind only two Alex Rodriguez 10-year contracts.  And we all know how those have worked out so far, hence the hesitation by New York to give in again.  But the Mariners are all in and so they got their guy.
 
The departure didn’t sneak up on anyone, but it still surprised many that Cano would actually leave the only team he’s ever known, after saying he wanted to go down as a Yankee legend.  It was setting up to be his team, with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retired, and Derek Jeter at the tail end of his own storied career. Instead, he goes to Seattle where he can be the number 1 from the get go.
 
The move leaves a big hole at 2nd for New York.  Not many can field the way Cano can, and not many can hit the way he can.  But if there’s one thing Yankees fans won’t miss, evidenced by reactions to his leaving, his lack of hustle to first base.  It’s something that you hear a lot, guys shouldn’t be praised for their hustle.  But for top-flight guys like Cano, it’s noticeable, especially with players like Derek Jeter on your team, that hustle even when their ankles are seemingly made of glass.  That being said, Cano was a huge presence in the lineup, and he will be missed, and very hard to replace.
 
The 9-year veteran is a .309 lifetime hitter, consistently gets around 25-35 homers, 40 doubles a year.  He was a key part of the 2009 Championship team.  Cano was always producing, playing over 1,300 regular season games, picking up 1,649 hits, 204 home runs, 5 All-Star Game selections, 5 Silver Slugger Awards, 4 straight top 6 MVP finishes and 2 Gold Gloves. 
 
That’s a lot of production to lose from the right-side of the infield, but
the Yankees have already made strives to try to replace his numbers, starting with a 3-year, $45 million deal with Carlos Beltran. The 37-year-old outfelder had a fantastic season in 2013 to help the Cardinals get to the World Series, hitting .296 with 24 homers.  Not to mention his production in the playoffs.  Beltran may up there in age, but he  The move creates more of a log game in the outfield, after the addition of ex-Red Sox Centerfield Jacoby Ellsbury on a generous 7-year, $153 million contract.  Ellsbury brings very good baserunning and the ability to use the short porch to his advantage, along with an injury bug the bombers hope is behind him. Adding to the log jam, the Yankees already have Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells and Brett Gardner in the outfield.  But the Ellsbury deal in addition to the Beltran deal turns the speedster Gardner into a valuable trade tip.  He’s the perfect National League guy, solid defender, late game speed with a good eye at the plate.  And don’t forget, Beltran is a better option at DH than the Yankees had pretty much all last season.  Soriano and Wells will both also see time as the designated hitter.
 
Or how about answering maybe their biggest question: who’s catching?  That was answered by signing the Braves free-agent Brian McCann for five years to the tune of $85 million.  The Yankees saw 4 different people catch last year, and none of them were very good.  Chris Stewart was shipped to Pittsburgh to join former Yankee backstop Russell Martin following this deal. Stewart is nothing more than a backup, but started most of the year following Francisco Cervelli going down early in the year.  And known for his defense, Stewart wasn’t even that good at that in 2013, with 12 passed balls.  Austin Romine showed something late with the bat, and JR Murphy was brought up late out of necessity, but neither were ready to start.  So the 29-year-old looks continue his above average output behind the plate and give the Yankees stability there. 
 
Capping off the busy week in Yankee land was the re-signing of starting Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a 1-year $16 million contract. Kuroda took his time in deciding to come back for a 3rd year in pinstripes, as he weighed retirement and returning to Japan seriously.  But the innings eater is back, keeping the three-headed monster of the rotation in tact (CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova).
 
So many of the Yankees biggest off-season questions have been answered, while the Cano departure leaves one in its stead.  Who plays 2nd? Kelly Johnson was brought in, and he had a pretty good offensive year last season, though he’s more known for his glove.  But all the bats added, with the return of Mark Teixeira coming, you can get away with a light hitting second baseman if the glove is there, and with Johnson it is. 
 
So overall, I like what New York has done so far.  After saying they wouldn’t open the wallet, they have big time. McCann was my favorite move, becaues after they let Russell Martin go, they didn’t have a real answer at catcher, as seen by what happened last season.  I’d like to see an arm added to the pen, preferably a lefty, and another solid arm added to the starting rotation.  You can’t rely on Michael Pineda finally being healthy, but if he is, that’s going to be huge for New York.  Kuroda staying put was big to help stabilize the rotation in case they make no other moves and fill in with Adam Warren or David Phelps. I don’t like the length or amount of money in the Ellsbury deal, but if he can find away to play 100-13o games and run the bases like he can, I’ll live with it.  Cano leaving hurts, but I agree with the Yankees for saying no deal on 10-years. Those deals don’t end well, especially when given to guys over 30, even to guys as durable as Cano has been in his career. 
And don’t think the Yankees are done. Like I said, Gardner might be up for grabs, and he can bring the Bombers a pretty solid pitcher or infielder in return.  So time will tell.  I think we can expect a few new Yankees under the tree this Christmas season.

Make or Break Homestand Awaits the Yankees

A 2-4 road-trip was the last thing the Yankees needed as they make a late season playoff push.  But that’s exactly what they got this past week from stops in Tampa Bay and Toronto.  New York entered the series 12-1 on the year against the Blue Jays, but floundered as teams ahead of them continued to win.

The series loss to Toronto was particularly hard, as the bombers saw a 3rd straight rough outing from Hiroki Kuroda.  Kuroda, who has been the Yankees most consistent starter all year, is now just 1-4, with an 8.10 ERA in the month of August.   This after a dominant July (3-0, 0.55 ERA).

After being as close as 3.5 games in the Wildcard, the 2-4 trip put them 5.5 back heading into a crucial 10-game homestand against the Orioles, White Sox and 4 against the Red Sox.  The O’s and Boston are teams they’re chasing in the division and Wildcard, while the White Sox swept the Yanks last month in Chicago.

New York got some help on their off-day, with losses by Boston, Oakland and Cleveland.  Baltimore is the closest foe in the standings that they play (none left with the Indians, though the Yankees hold the tiebreaker should it come to that), so a big series for the bombers would leapfrog them past the birds.  And by big series, I mean sweep.   2 out of 3 obviously helps but as the calendar flips to September, games are at a premium.  If you’re the Yankees, a 9-1, 8-2 record would go a long way to keeping them in the hunt.  Going anything less than 7-3 might just put a nail in the injury plagued, inconsistent 2013 season.

So the Yankees turn to CC Sabathia in the first game of the series.  The lefty has been anything but ace-like this season (11-11, 4.81 ERA), and the bombers desperately need him to get back to his former self this weekend against the Orioles.  Especially with Yankee killer Miguel Gonzalez on the hill for game one.  Gonzalez is 0-1 against New York this season but he has posted a 2.25 ERA in two starts at Yankee Stadium.

Probables for Saturday: BAL Scott Feldman (4-3, 4.56 ERA) vs NYY Ivan Nova (7-4, 3.14 ERA)

Probables for Sunday: BAL TBA vs NYY Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.05 ERA)

Baltimore is of course fighting for a place in October, and hold a 7-5 edge in the season series.

*** Injury Notes:

Eduardo Nunez, who suffered a knee sprain in Tuesdays win, had an MRI, and they came back negative.

Robinson Cano, who also suffered a left hand contusion Tuesday is expected to play Friday night after missing Wednesdays finale in Toronto.