NFL: Week 4 Picks

5 undefeated teams remain as we head into week 4 of the NFL season.  I went 9-7 a week ago, bringing my season total to 26-22.

Bye Week: Philadelphia and Green Bay

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Bengals: Miami barely squeaked by the Browns last week, while the Bengals were beat down by the defending champs at home.  The Dolphins got a big day from Jarvis Landry, but inconsistency continues to plague Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pick six in the win. Cincinnati got their running game going, but still lost to 1-2 for the first time in five years.  After two very good weeks, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much against the Broncos defense. I like the Bengals at home with another good rushing game to get their second win of the season. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday Morning Football 

  • Colts @ Jaguars: London here they come! Indianapolis got their first win of the season last week, while Jacksonville is still looking for theirs.  Andrew Luck has the uncanny ability to turn a bad day into a big day passing the ball, but the Jaguars defense isn’t the problem so far, so he’ll need help.  Blake Bortles on the other hand, has been pretty awful for Jacksonville in his third year under center. So what happens this weekend across the pond? Give me a cleaner day from Luck to lift the Colts. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: Three different quarterbacks have started for New England, but that hasn’t stopped the winning.  And as for the Bills, they got their first win over a team many think, myself included, are a playoff team destined for a deep run.  Both teams got big two-touchdown games out of their number 1 running backs, so look for another day of running the clock. The Patriots have to get through one more week without Tom Brady, and while they’ve done a great job doing so, and are very, very good at home, I’m taking the road team in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Titans @ Texans: It was a very bad week for Houston, who not only lost their Thursday game versus New England 27-0, they learned that JJ Watt re-injured his back and will be out the rest of the year.  Tennessee’s week wasn’t much better, as they scored just 10 points in their loss to Oakland. Both teams enter action having scored the same amount of points through 3 games, but of course that’s skewed with the Texans O-fer last weekend. Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have both thrown 4 interceptions so far this season, so whoever can limit mistakes has the edge. A Titans win puts them in a tie for the division early.  But I don’t think they get it, because I like the Texans skill position players better. HOUSTON WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The Lions are 1-2, but haven’t struggled in the passing game, as Matthew Stafford has found a new weapon in Marvin Jones after Calvin Johnson called it a career in the off-season.   The silver lining there for the 0-3 Bears is that their defense has actually done okay against the pass so far this season.  Chicago got a pretty good game out of Brandon Hoyer, who finished 30-49 for 317 yards, though most of that came with the game out of hand already. Both teams have the ability to get the points in the air, and with two middling defenses, that shouldn’t be a problem.  So this game will be won in the trenches, and the edge there lies with the Lions. DETROIT WINS
  • Panthers @ Falcons: Carolina is another team I thought would have a great season, but has disappointed so far.  Thanks to the struggles of the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South, Atlanta finds themself atop the division early on in the season.  This dispite allowing 31, 28 and 32 points in their first three games.  The Falcons may not be getting sustained success in their ground game early, they are getting it when it counts.  Tevin Coleman has just 110 yards on the ground, but has 4 rushing touchdowns, including 3 on Sunday in New Orleans. Carolina entered action red-hot at home dating back to 2014, but we shut down by a red-hot Vikings defense a week ago.  I still believe in the Panthers defense, and as hot as Atlanta has been, I think Carolina gets the win on the road. CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Jets: The good news for Jets fans? Ryan Fitzpatrick can only be better than he was a week ago. The bad news? He has to be a lot better against the top defense in the league. After scoring just 3 points against L.A. in week 2, the Seahawks exercised some demons putting up 37 against the Niners.  Russell Wilson was hobbled in the game, but still managed to leave with a nice lead.  Big games from Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin helped get the offense back on track.  New York can solace in the fact that they have had a pretty good run game all season, and while some of it came in garbage time, Seattle did allow the Niners to get over 130 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.  This shouldnt be as ugly for the Jets as it was last week, but it will still be a loss. SEATTLE WINS
  • Raiders @ Ravens: Baltimore finds itself among the undefeated teams heading into week 4, in large part thanks to their defense and a good day from kicker Justin Tucker.  The Ravens are second in total defense through 3 weeks of play.  Their opponents won their 2nd game by  forcing three turnovers, with a sack after entering week 3 having allowed the Saints and Falcons to walk all over them.  So based on defenses, Baltimore should have an easy win.  But I actually like Oakland’s offense a lot more, and as someone who thinks this is a playoff team, I’ll take the Raiders in the upset. OAKLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Redskins: Cleveland should’ve gotten their first win of the season in Miami a week ago, but an inability to stop the air attack, and three missed field goals left them at 0-3. They gave themselves a shot, but couldn’t take it.  Cody Kessler’s first career start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good for Cleveland, though at this point, coming out healthy is huge for the Browns. Washington did get their first win, taking down the Giants on the road. After a couple lackluster offensive weeks, Kirk Cousins let it loose and got a number of big plays in the passing game to help get that first win and move back in the right direction to defend their NFC East title.  So can the Browns get their first win this week? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. They stayed in last week thanks to mistakes by Tannehill, but Cousins won’t make those same mistakes. WASHINGTON WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Broncos @ Buccaneers: The Superbowl Champs are showing no signs of slowing down as they look to start the season 4-0.  Denver got off to a slow start last week against the Bengals, but came on strong late thanks to a big day from rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Siemian threw four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter for the win.  Not to be outdone, the Broncos are a top flight defense that held down Andy Dalton and their rushing attack.  They’ve got another tough test when they take on Jameis Winston this weekend.  The Bucs 2nd year quarterback is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes so far with 8, though he has thrown six picks to.  It won’t be a blowout, none of Denver’s games really have been, but it will be another win for the Broncos. DENVER WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I’m shocked at the start the Cardinals are having at just 1-2. Carson Palmer has had a bad TD-turnover ratio through 3 weeks.   Arizona isn’t getting quite out of David Johnson on the ground, while their defense is allowing the 5th most rushing yards per game.  This is as good a week as any to get back to what they want to do in all phases as they take on their division rival Rams, who find themselves tied atop the division at 2-1.  Los Angeles has rebounded nicely from a shutout on opening day, winning their last two games.  The Rams tend to play up or down to their opponents, evident by a 9-3 home win over Seattle and a 37-32 shootout on the road in Tampa Bay.  Going off those results,  I’ll take the Cardinals at home in what should be a close game throughout between these two West foes. ARIZONA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Niners: Dallas couldn’t have asked for more from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot through three weeks.  The Tony Romo-less Cowboys were a game-winning field-goal away from being 3-0 right now. Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee but is still expected to play this weekend.  San Francisco was manhandled in week 3, and still isn’t making a change back to Colin Kaepernick.  The biggest thing the Niners have going for them is Carlos Hyde has looked pretty good.  I like what the Caowboys have done this season, but I have a feeling about San Fran this week. It might be a bad feeling, but I’m rolling with it. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Saints @ Chargers: It’s still early, but the Saints need to start picking up some wins quickly if they want to make the playoffs as I predicted they would as a wildcard team in the NFC.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  Drew Brees is already over a 1,000 yards passing, with an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, though that one interception last week was a fourth quarter pick six for Brees.  New Orleans defense hasn’t been been able to stop anyone, as they’ve allowed the 2nd most total yards.  Worst at stopping the run, that’s where the Chargers will need to take advantage this week.  But without Danny Woodhead, San Diego needs Melvin Gordon to get going, so this is the perfect opportunity for that.  I like Philip Rivers, but I like Drew Brees more.  Give me the road team to get win number 1 this week. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Steelers: What a defensive performance put on by the Chiefs this past week! Two defensive touchdowns and six interceptions helped Kansas City get the easy win over the Jets.  The offense wasn’t great, but they didn’t need to be with that showing on defense.  Alex Smith continued to show his game management skills, and why Travis Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league right now. They’ve got a desperate Steelers team thsi week, who didn’t score a touchdown in a week 3 beatdown by the Eagles.  After two very good weeks, DeAngelo Williams was stymied on the ground, so the rushing attack will gladly welcome back Le’Veon Bell from suspension this week. The biggest test for the Kansas City defense will be stopping Antonio Brown, but I don’t think it will matter much even if he does have a big day. KANSAS CITY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Vikings: This should be a battle of two unbeatens, but a late game collapse left the Giants at 2-1 heading into today.  Too many penalties, a couple late turnovers and allowing Washington to open up the field multiple times led to the home loss for New York.  They lost Shane Vereen to a triceps injury as well.  Eli Manning and company need to do more in the passing game, and they have the capability with three wide receivers.  The bad news for New York is that the Vikings are running on all cylinders right now.  Their defense has been relentless through three weeks, and despite losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, the offense has been very good.  Sam Bradford has come in and fit in better in two weeks then he’s done in the first few seasons of his career.  It’s going to be tough for the Giants on the road, but I like New York will figure things out and get back in the win column.  NEW YORK WINS
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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

NBA Playoffs: Conference Finals Recap

And then there were 2.

It’s a rematch of the 2012-13 NBA Finals, with the only difference being the team holding home-court resides in the West.

Before I breakdown what I see happening, let’s look back to what went down in the Conference Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers

  • For a team that worked very hard to get home-court advantage, the Pacers looked like they forgot the goal is to WIN in the playoffs.  After making things tough on themselves in the 1st two rounds, Indiana was out of this before it started.  Sure they forced it to 6 games, but even in wins they didn’t look impressive.  Lance Stephenson became a distraction unable to back up his words.  Roy Hibbert finished the playoffs with 4 games where he didn’t score.  The defense wasn’t up to their normal standards and turnovers continued to plague them.  Oh and the Miami Heat have LeBron James. And Dwyane Wade.  And Chris Bosh.  And they know how to win, at home AND on the road.  It’s pretty simple.

Western Conference Finals

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • This was the story of holding home-court. Blowouts for the home teams is how the first 5 games went.  You can argue Serge Ibaka going down for games 1 and 2 turned the series in San Antonio’s favor, and it sure helped, but he did return to get it back to a place where OKC had home-court again, and a chance to advance tied 2-2.  But the Thunder defense was not good, Kevin Durant was exposed and they didn’t get help off the bench.  The Spurs bench can hurt you in so many ways, and they proved it in the clincher when Tony Parker went down and a guy like Boris Diaw helped close out Oklahoma City in overtime. Oh and Tim Duncan thinks he’s 30 again.  That helps.

NBA Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • Here we are.  A rematch of last seasons NBA Finals.  The Spurs looked to have the championship in the bag late in game 6.  Then everything went right for the Heat, including a game winning Ray Allen 3.  A game 7 win sealed Miami’s 2nd straight championship.  And now it’s the question of dynasty or revenge: which will be the ultimate headline? On the one hand, with how easy it was for the Heat to get out of a very down Eastern Conference, you’d think it’s got to be then.  And on the other, you’ve got the Spurs who finished with the best record in the league, making their way out of a stacked West.  They’ve proven themselves against the top teams this year, while Miami has bested the West’s best the past two years.  So which do I think comes to pass?  Revenge is a dish best served on the games biggest stage.  Give me the Spurs.  I said all along that the Thunder would win it all, but if OKC didn’t make it to the finals, that I’d take the West representative. San Antonio has been consistently great for nearly 2 decades.  Yes, Tony Parker is questionable with an ankle injury (boy do ankles HATE point guards huh?), but knowing him and the Spurs way, if he can put any kind of pressure on it, he’s on that court.  That heart, plus the depth of San Antonio vs the Heat depth, is the advantage I give the Spurs.  I know, I know. LeBron James is the best basketball on the planet.  I’m still going with the Spurs in 7. Final answer.

Now tell me if you agree with the team I think is hanging another banner!

7 games again.  We deserve it as fans.  Stretches of this season were dull and after a great 1st round of the playoffs, the best game was Spurs/Thunder game 6.  This fairly predictable finals match-up dictates high drama every game.  We want, and I believe we will get, at least 6 hotly contested games.  No more of this home team blowout non-sense.  Big 3s, defense and two of the best to ever play the game (James and Tim Duncan), trying to add another ring to their legacies.  These are two fantastic organizations, and I cannot wait til Thursday in San Antonio, the site of game 1.

Enjoy it NBA fans. Enjoy it sports fans.  Just enjoy.

NBA Playoffs: Round 2 Recap

After a fun first two rounds of the playoffs and here are, down to 4 teams.  Out West you’ve for last years runner-up San Antonio Spurs, and MVP Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.  And of course in the East you have a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.  The top-seeded Indiana Pacers, and the 2-time reigning World Champion Miami heat.  After a 5 1st round series going 7, the top 2 seeds in each conference have advanced, show just how hard it is for low seeds to make it through all 3 rounds of the playoffs leading up til the finals.

So here’s what I see happening we march one step closer to determining this years champion.

Eastern Conference Finals

(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers

  • It’s the match-up we all predicted back when they were the only two East teams over .500.  It’s the rematch the Pacers worked so hard to ensure would happen with home-court advantage after losing game 7 in Miami a year ago.  Despite a bad 2nd half to the season, and a strange post-season, Indiana is here.  Miami had a fairly easy road here in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and you know they don’t care if they have to go into Indy and win.  They did show some stretches that could be concerning in their match-up against the Brooklyn Nets, but showed they still know how to execute late game situations better than most teams. So what happens?  The Pacers biggest advantage comes in the front-court, if and only if, Roy Hibbert plays closer to his 28 point performance, and not his 0 point playoff performance. But LeBron James is the biggest advantage of them all, and to that how well Ray Allen has looked, and how healthy Dwyane Wade has looked, I’m not sure home-court comes into play here. So give me the Heat in 6.

Western Conference Finals

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs

  • In a super talented, hotly contested West, the top 2 seeds found a way to get it done and advance again.  OKC’s defense has been spotty at times this postseason, but they’ve come up big when needed.  The same can be said for San Antonio, though I think the Spurs look like the best team of the 4 left standing after shutting down the up-and-coming Portland Trailblazers squad.   I’m most looking forward to the point-guard match-up in this one.  Tony Parker has carried this team throughout the playoffs, and Russell Westbrook has been dominant offensively.  It’ll be interesting to see which bench provides the most consistent spark.  I picked the Thunder to win it all before the playoffs began, and I think OKC wins it in 7.

So that it, I think we’ve got a 2012 NBA Finals rematch on top, pitting the two best players on the planet and their deep teams against each other.

 

Hello Playoffs Part II – Preview & Predictions

Center Court - Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Center Court – Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Remember when the Brooklyn Nets were 10-21 and coming off an ugly blowout to the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of 2013? Remember when they opened up 2014 with a Joe Johnson game-winner over the Oklahoma City Thunder the next day?

Sound familiar?  It should. Except for a slightly better record to start things out last year, it’s the same thing that happened last season during the Nets inaugural season in Brooklyn.  Two years in a row this team has turned things around after a blowout loss and a big win over the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last year Brooklyn  finished the regular season at 49-33.  They were never 11 games under last season, and yet only finished with 5 more losses than this year. Two different teams in may ways? Sure.  But they do share similar regular season story-lines.
However, that is where the similarities end.  Because what we thought would be a rematch of the Bulls-Nets series of a year ago, has turned into a 3-6 match-up between division foes.  A rough end to the season for Brooklyn dropped them to the 6th seat and into a 1st round bout with the Toronto Raptors.
The two teams split the season series 2-2, and boy was their final match-up of the regular season exciting.  Yours truly was there in person, and when I say it’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating.  Runs, big shot after big shot by both clubs ending in a Nets 101-9 win at Barclays Center.
Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here.  Going into the season, thoughts were they’d tank the season and hope to get a top 3 pick in this years loaded draft, and maybe land Canadian star Andrew Wiggins.  That was made, what we thought more evident when the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay early in the season.  Yet here we are, getting ready to watch them host a first round match-up as Atlantic Division Champs.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan pu this team on their athletic backs and drove them into the postseason.
Athletic. Young. And hungry.  That’s the Toronto Raptors in a nutshell.  And the Nets should be afraid.  What couldve been a defensive battle has turned into an offensive slug-fest.  Both teams have been crazy good in 2014, but as the Nets limp into the playoffs, the Raptors have continued their hot play.  Inexperience up and down the lineup has to do battle with the veteran laden Nets squad.
For Brooklyn to have success, they have to limit turnovers.  Toronto’s speed can turn those into easy buckets in transition.  Not to mention Mason Plumlee, Kevin Garnett and (if he gets minutes), Andray Blatche have to do work down low.  Without Brook Lopez, they’ve been limited as far as having a rim defender, and though he’s not a great rebounding big man, Lopez makes you work for 2nd chance opportunities.  The Raptors front court of Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross are quick, strong and not afraid to attack the paint.
But for me, the biggest match-up comes in the back court.  Lowry and DeRozan are one of the better scoring back-courts in the league.  Deron Williams has issues defending smaller, quicker guards, though Shaun Livingston’s presence will help.
So are the Nets better off in the 6th or would they have been better suited for that rematch with the Chicago Bulls?  Only time will tell, but I think if both teams play to the high levels seen since January, you can bet it’s going to be a fun and intense series.

So what will be some of the keys heading into this series if the Nets want to avoid being knocked out by the Bulls in two consecutive seasons?

  • Kevin Garnett must be healthy. You don’t need 30 minutes from him with Mason Plumlee playing well, but KG’s still a great defensive player, and their only real rim defender. He also has a fire that burns even brighter in the playoffs. This is why he was brought over in the off-season. Since returning from the back spasms, he’s looked very good.  Maybe the time off his legs will mean big performances coming up.
  • Deron Williams needs to be on every game.  Remember when he carried this team to the playoffs last season? He’s shown flashes of that player this season, but needs to show it more than once or twice a week. Shaun Livingston has been remarkable this season, but Brooklyn only goes as far as D-Will and his max contract can take them.
  • Mirza Teletovic and/or Marcus Thornton need to be consistent sparks off the bench. The Bulls can defend with the best of them, but when these players get hot, it doesn’t matter who is on them.  If they can come in, especially if the starters get off to a slow start, and hit a couple of 3s quickly, this team can possibly rattle a young Raptors squad.
  • Plumlee and Livingston need to limit the bad early fouls.  They’re too important to be on the bench too quickly.  The rookie is the energy of this front court, while Shaun is the same in the back.  Starting alongside Williams means you’ve got your two best ball handlers on the court for a majority of the game, and while Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson can handle the rock, that’s not what you want too often.   And as for Plumlee, this team isn’t deep at center, especially if you have to limit KG’s minutes.
  • Paul Pierce. Like KG, his postseason pedigree is a huge reason why he was traded for, and he’s shown he can still carry a team on his back.  If he gets established early, look  out.
  • And the biggest one? Rebounding. They’re a terrible rebounding team, but they still find ways to win.  Brooklyn has to try to limit Noah and Boozer from killing them too badly on the boards.  The Nets ability to force  turnovers will have to help counter act this.

There’s no reason this version of the Brooklyn Nets shouldn’t make it out of the first round.    The biggest problem last season was toughness.  Chicago manhandled every person that took the court for Brooklyn.  While this team is perceived as “old,” they’ve shown they’re not afraid of anyone.   They’ve looked better overall this season in that department, and should get past their division foes.  Falling back to 6 also means advancing on would mean a possible 2nd round date with the Miami Heat, who they were 4-0 against, as opposed to seeing Indiana, who they dropped all 4 against in the regular season.

So how far do you think the Nets go? Let your voice be heard and vote on the poll below.

With all that being said, here’s how I see the playoffs going from start to finish.

Eastern Conference Round 1                         Western Conference Round 1            

(1) Indiana  vs (8) Atlanta – Pacers in 5                      (1) San Antonio vs (8) Dallas – Spurs in 5

(2) Miami vs (7) Charlotte  – Heat in 5                           (2) Oklahoma City vs (7) Memphis – Thunder in 6

(3) Toronto vs (6) Brooklyn – Nets in 6                           (3) LA vs (6) Golden State – Clips in 6

(4) Chicago vs (5) Washington – Bulls in 6                (4) Houston vs (5) Portland – Rockets in 6

  • Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here, they were thought to be rebuilding.  Yet here they are, the 3 seed and Atlantic Division champs.  And Washington hadn’t been over .500 since 2009-2010, and started off the season just as bad as Brooklyn did. And out west, the Clippers and Warriors hate each other. Both can run, both have deadly shooters who can get hot quickly.  And don’t get me started on their point guards. But for second straight season, Golden State will be without their best post defender in Andrew Bogut, and I see the size of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Glen Perkins just being too much for the Warriors to overcome.  Memphis is hot coming in, but the Spurs aren’t going down in round one, and neither with OKC.  Houston plays little defense, and Portland isn’t any better.  Give me Dwight Howard, Chandler Parson and James Harden any day over LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews.  Indy has been struggling, but the Hawks tried with all their might not to make it to the postseason, and I think the Pacers will make it look easy.  Charlotte might give Miami issues, but I don’t see much more than 1 win and a bunch of close losses.

Eastern Conference Round 2                        Western Conference Round 2

(1) Indiana vs (3) Chicago – Chicago in 7                  (1) San Antonio vs (4) Houston – Spurs in 6

(2) Miami vs (5) Brooklyn – Heat in 6                          (2) OKC vs (4) Clippers – Thunder in 6

  • I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d closed out on a higher note, I would have. But I they get past the 1st round and no more.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t down the stretch, especially with a healthy Wade on the floor.  The Pacers can’t score, but neither can the Bulls.  But Chicago’s defense is just better, and I think they find a way.  Out west it should be a lot of fun, but the Spurs are better defensively and I just think it’s the Thunder’s time.  LA and Chris Paul need a 2nd round appearance, but I think next year is a better year for the Clips to make it any further.

Eastern Conference Finals                    Western Conference Finals

(1) Miami vs (3) Chicago – Heat in 6                 (1) San Antonio vs (2) Oklahoma City – Thunder in 6

  • Chicago’s good luck runs out.  I can’t pick against Miami at home.  OKC match-ups up better than any of the other 28 teams in the league with San Antonio, and despite not holding home court, I see a rematch of the 2012 Finals.

NBA Finals  

(1) Oklahoma City vs (2) Miami – THUNDER WIN in 7

  •  I think it’s time for my 2013-14 MVP, Kevin Durant, to win his first ring, and I think he gets it.  The Heat might make a 4th straight finals, but they’re going to be tired.  The Westbrook injury was a blessing in disguise for OKC.  It means fresh legs, the bench will be ready to pick up the slack and the sidekick Durant was missing last season.  And if it should be Spurs in the finals, I say revenge for last season.  The West has been miles ahead of the East all year, and I think it means a championship for whatever team gets out.

So that’s it. Nothing left to do but sit back and watch a whole lot of really good basketball for the next month and a half. Oh the horror!

And here’s a not so shameless plug on my personal blog – stick with Sirius XM NBA Radio Channel 217 and on the Sirius XM App before and after games for great analysis and guests throughout the postseason and beyond.

Enjoy the run towards a ring everyone. May the best team win!

 

NFL: Wild Card Round Predictions

Here we are. The Playoffs. The second season.

My preseason prediction of a Broncos/Seahawks Superbowl remains in tact.  I also had the Bengals, Colts, Pats, Saints and Seahawks making the postseason as well.

So now that we’re here, it’s time to give my predictions for the first round.

Saturday Games

  • Kansas City @ Indianapolis:  For me, this is the most interesting match-up of the 1st round.  Two 11-5 teams. Both QBs were in the playoffs last season, Alex Smith as a member of the 49ers, of course he didn’t start, and Andrew Luck as a rookie. Both teams struggled in the 2nd half of the season, but did enough to get into the playoffs.  Indy has home-field because they won the South.  Smith and Luck both threw 23 touchdowns this season.  Both have good defenses.  The advantage for me, comes in the backfield.  The Chiefs have one of the best rushers in the league in Jamaal Charles, while the Colts have struggled all season with their run game.  I love Andrew Luck over Alex Smith, but I think being able to run the ball and control the clock is huge for Kansas City, and I think that’s why the Chiefs continue to put their 2-14 2012-2013 season behind them.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • New Orleans @ Philadelphia: I had the Eagles finishing last in the East, so clearly I was wrong.  I did however see the Saints in the playoffs as a wildcard, though I thought they’d lose the division to the Falcons.  Again, Philly won the down East, so they get to host, something that’s big on its own, but huge against a team like the Saints that are not the same team on the road, as they are at home.  With that being said, Drew Brees knows how to win in the playoffs. Nick Foles is getting his first crack at it.  Foles has been a revelation, and along with LeSean McCoy, carried this team to the playoffs.  But I like New Orleans to get out of the first round, even if they have to play on the road to do so.  NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Games

  • San Diego @ Cincinnati: This is the only game I see the home team winning.  I know the Chargers are on a high from forcing their way into the playoffs.   But they have been so inconsistent this season, and I can’t see them getting past a stout Bengals defense on the road.  It’s time for Cincinnati to take that next step in the playoffs, and I think they do so and get out the first round. Neither team has had consistency from their run game, but Andy Dalton has many more weapons in the passing game than Philip Rivers does.  And I like the Giovani Bernard/ BenJarvius Green-Ellis backfield better than Ryan Matthews trying to carry the load for San Diego.  I do see it being a one score game however.  CINCINNATI WINS
  • San Francisco @ Green Bay: First of all, deja-vu anyone? I feel like I watch this match-up, at some point, every year. Not that that’s a bad thing. Second, it’s so wrong that a 12-win team has to play on the road, but that’s what we have here.  The 49ers play in a tougher division, while the Pack won a weaker North division, so they get to host in their home-field known as the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.  The Niners have the defense, the run game and a very good quarterback.  The Packers backed their way into the playoffs, getting Aaron Rodgers back in week 17.  I think this will be a hard fought game, but I think the more consistent Niners get the road win, and make it 3 of 4 for road teams in the Wild Card Round. SAN FRANCISCO WINS

That’s it from me. Enjoy the first round everyone.

NFL: Week 16 Predictions

15 down. 2 to go. I can’t believe we’re down to just two weeks of the regular season already, and so much is yet to be decided. It’s a football fan’s dream finish.

No more Thursday night games, so you have to wait til Sunday, but that just means more fun jam-packed into the weekend.

1PM Sunday Games

  • Miami @ Buffalo: Don’t look now but the Dolphins have come back to life, and are currently a spot out of an AFC Wildcard.  The Bills are just playing out the season, and I think Miami keep things interesting, and force other teams to eliminate them from playoff contention. MIAMI WINS
  • New Orleans @ Carolina: It’s the game that could ultimately decided the NFC South.  A Saints win wraps it up by virtue of winning the season series.  A Panthers win would give them their first lead in the division of the season, and would ensure at least a tie.  The Saints had a very bad game against the Rams on the road a week ago, as they continue to play poorly away from home.  The Panthers defense can beat anyone.  I know this might not be fair, but this will be Carolina’s 1st playoff game of the season.  They played poorly in New Orleans, and while they’re at home, Drew Brees knows how to turn it up and win the big game. Cam Newton has played well all season, but I want to see him do it this weekend. They make the playoffs, but I’m not sure they do it as division champs. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Minnesota @ Cincinnati: Just when the Bengals looked like they were going to cruise to an AFC North title, the Ravens are now a game back.  They take on a Vikings squad that has looked much better in the 2nd half of the season under Matt Cassel at quarterback.  But I think Cincy will find a way to right the ship at home and keep their lead in the division, and lock up a playoff spot.  CINCY WINS
  • Denver @ Houston: The Broncos have a playoff spot locked up, but still have a lot to play for after a loss to San Diego last week.  The division and the number 1 seed are still there for the taking, so Denver can’t look past a Houston team on a 12-game losing streak.  Matt Schaub will start under center for the Texans who look to at least find a way to get to 3 wins before the season ends.  But I don’t think the change back to their Opening Day starter changes things for a hungry Broncos team. DENVER WINS
  • Tennessee @ Jacksonville: The Titans had a shot at a playoff spit, but that’s gone now.  As for the Jags, they’ve shown great fight the second half of the season, giving fans in Florida some hope for the future.  And I think those good feelings continue at home for the jags. JACKSONVILLE WINS
  • Indianapolis @ Kansas City: The Colts need this one badly.  The Chiefs still have a great shot at the division, but are ensured a playoff spot no matter what.  I know it’s a road game for the Colts, but I think they find away to get back on track and secure their spot in the postseason.  Andrew Luck has shown he can come up big in big situations. INDY WINS
  • Dallas @ Washington: This is a case of a really bad team in Washington, versus a really bad December team in Dallas. The Redskins have been stuck on 3 wins for what feels like forever, and have benched RGIII.  The cowboys continue to waste a talents roster and golden opportunities.  But I think the boys, even if it’s against a bad team, get a December win and force week 17 against Philly to mean playoff or bust. DALLAS WINS
  • Cleveland @ New York Jets: A week after coming back to life, the Jets were shutdown by Carolina, while the Browns lost a win in the final seconds to New England.  I think the browns defense can handle the inconsistent New York offense, so that’s why I have them picking up the road win. CLEVELAND WINS
  • Tampa Bay @ St. Louis: Much like the jags, the Buccaneers have put together a nice 2nd half, in relation to their awful start.  As for the Rams, they’ve been up and down all year, but have a defense to build around,  giving them much hope for success in the not-so distant future.  Give me St Louis in a close one at home.  ST LOUIS WINS

4:05PM Sunday Games

  • Arizona @ Seattle:  A win ensures the road to the Superbowl in the NFC  lies in Seattle. And for that to happen would at home would be huge for arguably the best hoe field advantage league wide.  The argument can be made for the Superdome, who’s inhabitants, like the Seahawks, are light years better at home, that’s huge.  The Cardinals have something to say here, looking to clinch their own postseason berth.  It’s going to be a good game, but the 12th man comes into play, as it will throughout Seattle’s postseason run. SEATTLE WINS
  • New York Giants @ Detroit: It’s just the 2nd losing season under head coach Tom Coughlin, and it’s been a rough one.  On the other side, you’ve got a Lions squad that doesn’t do well with prosperity.  They held the division in their hands, and have let it slip.  I think with this game benign at home, and the state of the Giants, a Detroit goes off for a big win. And if they don’t, look for head coach Jim Schwartz to possibly be on the hot seat. DETROIT WINS

4:25PM Sunday Games 

  • New England @ Baltimore: The AFC Championship game rematch pits two teams that haven’t locked up a playoff spot yet, but that both currently sit in position to do so.  The Pats can wrap up the AFC East with a win, while the defending Champs can help out their cause as well.  I know it’s a home game for Baltimore, but their offense just hasn’t been up to snuff of late. They only won last week because Justin Tucker is automatic on field-goal attempts.  The Pats have been inconsistent this year, but I think they find a way this week. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Oakland @ San Diego: The Chargers inconsistent season has them at 7-7, and they remain the hunt for a playoff spot.  While I don’t see them getting in, I also don’t see them knocking themselves out.  Oakland has fallen off from a pretty solid start, but I just don’t see them getting the win this week. SAN DIEGO WINS
  • Pittsburgh @ Green Bay: Matt Flynn continued to show a lot of good things last week in their big come-fro-behind win over Dallas.  The Steelers were shut down by the Ravens, and were beaten by a kicker in week 15.  Aaron Rodgers could be back under center this week, and at home, that would give this team a huge lift, but even without A-Rod, I see the Packers keeping the pressure on Chicago in the North.  GREEN BAY WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chicago @ Philadelphia: Both teams have a spot in the playoffs in their sights, as division leaders heading into action.  It all depends on what happens earlier in the day, but a win by either team ensures at least a tie heading into the final week of the season.  Nick Foles has had a fantastic year to get the Eagles to this point, but I think the return of Jay Cutler revitalized the Bears and they make things easier on themselves playoff wise.  CHICAGO WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Atlanta @ San Francisco: Depending on what happens on Sunday, the Niners could still have a shot the division.  But even if the Hawks do wrap it up, they still hold the edge for a wildcard spot, and we all know that San Francisco knows what it takes to go on a playoff run.  The Falcons are a team many, myself included, would have a shot at a Superbowl run, but instead they are just a game ahead of the Skins for the worst record in the NFC.  Atlanta will attempt to play spoiler, but at home, I don’t see the 49ers falling prey. SAN FRAN WINS

That’s it. Enjoy all the playoff clinching, playoff heartbreak fun that will ensue in week 16.