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The winds of change have reached F1 tornado speeds this NFL season. The NFC has been its usual Not For Long self, but even the AFC feels wide open this year. Tom Brady hasn’t played such mediocre football since maybe the 90s. The Steelers aren’t even in the playoffs. And Peyton Manning is still retired. 7 of 12 teams in the 2019 postseason weren’t in the 2018 playoffs. Only the top two seeds in both conferences are where anyone might have expected them to be, and not many of those who saw the Chiefs repeating as AFC West champs could have imagined this kind of season. The Eagles are the only other team to make the playoffs this year and last, and they needed a three game winnings streak inspired by Nick Foles AND then some help. Speaking of 6 seeds, the Colts also seem exceptionally dangerous for a Wild Card team. They’ve won 9 of their last 10 since starting the season 1-5. Only six Wild Cards have ever won the Super Bowl, but the Chargers are the 5 seed despite sharing the best record in the AFC. Perhaps the worst wild card team has an elite Super Bowl champion QB, one of the best coaches in the game, as good of a running game as ever, and a young version of his Super Bowl defenses. Wild Card weekend hasn’t felt this important in years. In recent memory, it’s only been a formality. In the last five seasons, the 10 1st seeds have made the Super Bowl nine times, and the teams hosting the conference championship games are a perfect 10/10. That’s not to say we haven’t seen underdogs. No one believed in the 2015 Broncos or 2017 Eagles despite being the 1st seeds until they had won it all. But this year I would be surprised if none of the teams playing this weekend make the Super Bowl. The AFC North champions have the most bizarre QB situation in the league, the Pats look mortal, Philip Rivers might never get a better chance to make it to the Big Game, Nick Foles has caught fire again; buckle up the playoffs haven’t been this fun in a while. Here are all 12 teams sorted by how great of story lines they have to offer.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The 10th winningest post-season QB in the 99-year history of the NFL is riding the bench for this team. Let me repeat that. Only 9 quarterbacks have ever won more playoff games than Joe Flacco. But he finds himself on the bench, as the 5th QB taken in this past draft has had the most team success of all of them, but the jury is still far from settled as to whether or not he can be a franchise quarterback. Despite not starting a game until Week 11, Jackson broke the record for rushing attempts by a QB. This Ravens team is probably as close as we’ll ever see to a triple-option team that we’ll ever see in the NFL. Many suspect coaches will find a solution to Lamar Jackson and this current iteration of his game will see less succes. The question is when will it happen? RGIII, who is on this team, led the most similar offense since then and everything all fell apart in the Wild Card round. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Kansas City in the AFC, and just a month ago we saw the Ravens take the Chiefs to OT, thanks to in their ability to run the football and keep the Chiefs offense off the field. The second reason they nearly pulled off the victory was their elite defense. This defense is great in a vacuum, but when combined with their offense, even Terrell Suggs manages to stay fresh with the way time melts off the clock. Can John Harbaugh become the first coach to stop Manning and Brady’s AFC dominance since John Harbaugh? Has anyone solved the Ravens’ offense yet? Will the sideline cameras collectively zoom in on the 10-time playoff game winner Joe Flacco if Jackson’s offense stalls? Will football fans get to watch four quarters of defense for the first time since 2016 this February? I’ll be glued to the edge of my seat as long as they’re playing.
2. New England Patriots
Tom Brady will almost certainly not receive an MVP vote for the first time since 2012. The Patriots’ best weapon on offense has been released just before the playoffs, and Rob Gronkowski now plays a position that more closely resembles an, “End” from the leather helmet days. They “only” won 11 games this year. Yet no one is going to rule this team out of it until they actually are done. Make of this what you will, but the Patriots only lost games to teams not in the playoffs. No other team left standing has beaten the Patriots, and they’re the only team that can say that. No QB-coach combo has ever risen to the occasion so frequently, and Belichick has this team playing defense at a passable level, which is something their much better selves couldn’t say last year. While he seems to have lost a step, Tom Brady has still been a top 10 QB. The Patriots have written the history of the NFL over the last 20 years, and no matter what they do this year it will likely be what these playoffs are remembered for.
3. Nick Foles
Nick Foles is not better than Carson Wentz. But he might be exactly what the Eagles needed. Maybe the heartbreaking loss to the Cowboys was a wakeup call, but maybe having Foles in at QB really seems to be inspiring the team. The new look Eagles already have gone in to Los Angeles and own and also beat the Texans. Nick Foles is expected to be playing hurt with some bruised ribs, so things could completely descend to pandemonium If Sudfeld enters the game. The secondary is so bad that Foles will have to call bring his A game to win games this postseason, and when he is on, it’s a delight to watch. The defense is coming off a shutout, and the defending champs are the definition of a wild card right now.
4. New England Patriots
Pop quiz: When was the last time a team whose starting QB was not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning earned the one seed in the AFC? It was the 2008 Tennessee Titans. Kerry Collins was their quarterback. They lost 13-10 to the 6th seeded Ravens in the divisional round. A Chiefs loss would in the divisional round would set the Patriots up for another AFC Championship Game in Foxborough with one more win. A lot of the fate of this season and the parity of the NFL hangs in the balance. The Chiefs are one bad Patrick Mahomes game from a total meltdown. This franchise hasn’t made the AFC Championship Game since 1993. Andy Reid hasn’t won a home playoff game since 2006. The Chiefs dropped two of their last three and didn’t look great against the hapless Raiders in Week 17. A healthy one seed hasn’t looked this vulnerable in a long time since the 2015 Broncos defied expectations and won it all. This team’s performance will reinforce or rewrite a lot of narratives.
5. Los Angeles Chargers
Teams like the Chargers are why the playoffs are so open this year. At 12-4, they have the second-best Wild Card record of all time. Rarely is there a Wild Card team this good, and it usually coincides with a huge favorite being the 1 seed. Instead, the Chargers have already won in Kansas City and are only here because of a divisional tiebreaker. Their path to the Super Bowl will be very difficult, but they have as good of a shot as any team to be the first Wild Card to make the Super Bowl since the 2010 Packers won the whole thing as a 6 seed. The other major storyline for this team is of course Philip Rivers. His legacy so far only makes him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. He has great volume and efficiency numbers, but has infamously never made it to the big one. Warren Moon is the only Super Bowl era QB to make the Hall of Fame without ever winning an MVP or making a Super Bowl. With only 4 playoff wins on his resume, Philip Rivers can alter his public perception forever with a deep playoff run.
6. Chicago Bears
Da Bears are back! This team is a pretty known commodity at this point. They have the best defense we’ve seen since the 2015 Broncos, and they could cement their case for being better with a great postseason run. This Bears team feels like what the Ravens aspire to be like next season. Trubisky has been right around average as a passer, and is 5th among QBs in rushing yards. Chicago’s three-headed rushing attack can control the pace of any game, and they could probably be marketed as the 2015 Broncos with an above average offense. This team has a better chance at winning a road playoff game than any team beside maybe Baltimore. Will the Khalil Mack trade end up changing team building philosophy around the NFL?
7. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are back?! Ultimately, this team might not be talented enough to have a real chance at winning three (potentially just two) consecutive playoff games, but they definitely can put the whole league on notice with a short playoff run. They’re not as good as the 2012 Seahawks, also a Wild Card, but feel pretty similar. The Baby Boomers are the best NFL nickname for a unit since the Legion of Boom. The offense jumped from 23rd in team rushing to 1st in just one season. They’re young and feel like a mirror image of themselves from six years ago. Pete Carroll’s reanimation of this team has been a tactical masterpiece over the last few seasons. Oh, and Russel Wilson has the second most Super Bowl experience of all QBs left standing, and has never gone one-and-done in the postseason.
8. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are the AFC version of the Seahawks. Except they are more exciting than any of their past selves from earlier in the decade. It feels like a whole career ago that Andrew Luck reached an AFC championship game, and because of that many fans may have forgotten his lackluster playoff performances. 304.8 Y/G, 9:12 TD:INT, 70.2 passer rating, 5.29 Net Yards per Attempt, and 1 4th quarter comeback. You might remember that 1 4th quarter comeback, it just so happens to be the second biggest comeback in playoff history. Take away that game and the numbers get more concerning. Of course, this Colts team may already be the best roster of his career, and Luck is unequivocally a great QB when healthy. That Jets trade has done them wonders as Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard are already top three at their positions. This team has won 9 of their last 10, and much like the Seahawks, can fire off a warning round to the rest of their conference with a win or two. If Luck catches fire, they can become the first six seed to make the Super Bowl since the 2010 Packers.
9. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are a very good team, with maybe more star power than any other team in the league. They certainly have made the biggest moves in the NFL ever since trading up for the first overall pick. My concerns about them are that they may have been built with the goal of winning over new fans and selling tickets to a new stadium, and that they lack star power at the most important position. This team is not very deep, and are very suspect to injury. They lost Cooper Kupp for the season and Todd Gurley will be playing injured. The Marcus Peters trade has not looked great in hindsight, and that leaves them thin at secondary. Goff looked like an MVP candidate to start the year, but has experienced an ugly regression over the last quarter of the season. He may be dependent on the great line and weapons around him, as well as Sean McVay’s schemes that coaches have certainly been dissecting. That is the complete list of bad things you can say about this team though. The last four games have been concerning, but they are still a top three team. If they mask these flaws for the next three games, they’ll probably win the Super Bowl.
10. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are the most predictable team in the NFL. They’re just really good, with a QB who has been elite for over a decade. Drew Brees doesn’t need another Super Bowl, but he would really like it, and it would further elevate him into the GOAT conversation. The secondary can cause problems the rest of the team doesn’t deserve, but outside of that this team is elite at nearly every position. There is a lack of great pass catchers outside of Michael Thomas. No team is more likely to make the Super Bowl, and they’re a joy to watch. There’s not a whole lot of intrigue surrounding this team beside the expectations though. What are postseasons without favorites?
11. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys may be the second hottest team entering the postseason. Having won six of their last seven, the Cowboys look revitalized since acquiring Amari Cooper, and Dak has looked like a different QB. The Cowboys have taken some risks on rookies with huge question marks the past few seasons and it’s paid off as Randy Gregory, Jaylon Smith, La’el Collins, and Jourdan Lewis have all been as productive as they were in college this season. But it does seem like this team already peaked with their 13-10 victory over the Saints at home. In 2016 they became the only 1 seed to not make the Super Bowl in the past 5 years, and that team went 13-3. They certainly can knock out a contender, but it’s hard to imagine an offense that has looked so flat at times winning two consecutive road games against better teams (presumably). This is also the Cowboys, so you probably feel strongly about them one way or another.
12. Houston Texans
The Texans are well-rounded, and a jack of all trades master of none team. The defense is very good, but won’t entirely shut down offenses. The offense has two of the most exciting players in the playoffs: Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has the opportunity to make himself seen as the best WR in the NFL for the first time in his career, and Watson can begin to define his legacy as a QB. He’s the first QB we’ve ever seen who could forge a legacy of being a clutch in both the NFL playoffs and the CFP. JJ Watt is back and has an opportunity to pickup his legacy where it left off, and Jadeveon Clowney is still a freak of nature. Ultimately this team could be the best team playing this weekend, but there are few fans expecting them to make it out of the AFC, or avoid losing in New England again next week. The stars are the most exciting part about this team.
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By Teddy Gutkin & Eric Margolin
This has been one of the strangest NFL seasons in recent memory. We saw Patrick Mahomes emerge out of nowhere to become just the third player ever to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, the Jaguars go from Super Bowl contenders to a top-10 draft pick, the Browns win 7(!) games, and the Colts rallying from a 1-5 start to make the playoffs behind a resurgent Andrew Luck. Now, after 256 games, 17 weeks, and missed field goals galore, it’s finally time for the NFL playoffs to commence. In what’s arguably the most wide-open field in years, let’s take a look at the matchups on Wild Card weekend.
AFC Wild Card Games:
(6) Indianapolis Colts (10-6) vs. (3) Houston Texans (11-5)
Teddy: Both these teams overcame dreadful starts (Texans started 0-3 while the Colts started 1-5) to qualify for the playoffs. The Texans went 11-2 after week 3 on the heels of DeShaun Watson’s stellar sophomore campaign (4,165 yards and 31 total touchdowns) and a top defensive unit led by the two-headed monster known as JJ Watt (16.5 sacks) and JaDeveon Clowney (9.0 sacks). On offense, Watson’s biggest weapon will undoubtebly be star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who hauled in 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns on a whopping 115 grabs and, perhaps even more impressively, zero dropped passes, the only receiver in the league to achieve the feat. That being said, Houston has few other playmakers to name after Will Fuller was lost for the season in week 8 with a torn ACL, and Watson will need receivers like Keke Coutee to step up on Saturday to keep their season alive. The team is also adept on the ground, ranking 8th in the NFL in rushing yards with Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue anchoring the backfield.
The Colts seemed to be destined for a top five selection early in the season when they sat at 1-5, but they have since rattled off wins in nine out of their final ten contests, with the only loss coming in a 6-0 shutout against the Jaguars. Andrew Luck was nothing short of spectacular, throwing for 4,593 yards and 39 scores after missing all of last season. While Luck was impressive and is garnering a significant amount of praise (and rightfully so), the Comeback Player of the Year favorite’s resurgent season has been spurred by his offensive line. The unit allowed just 18 sacks (best in the league), and rookie guard Quentin Nelson and rookie tackle Braden Smith helped transform one of the weakest units in the entire league into arguably one of the best. Luck’s biggest targets should be T.Y. Hilton (74 catches, 1,270 yards, 9 touchdowns) and Eric Ebron, who has finally realized his potential to explode for a season that saw him catch 13 touchdowns and haul in 750 yards on 66 catches. On the defensive side, rookie MLB Darius Leonard will be the man to watch after leading the NFL in tackles with 163 and notching 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. Cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore should have their hands full in the secondary, but have proven to hold their own with 8 and 11 passes defended and 1 and 3 interceptions apiece. Overall, this game should serve as a thrilling opener for this year’s playoffs, but ultimately I believe that the Colts’ stout offensive line and some big-time throws from Luck should help Indy continue their white-hot streak and book their tickets to Kansas City.
Prediction: Colts defeat Texans 27-23
Eric: This is by far the most intriguing matchup of wildcard weekend. These division rivals faced off twice during the regular season and each matchup was decided by a field goal. They both have explosive offenses and stout defenses. By all accounts, it seems like the Colts have the advantage. They have a more efficient offense and a statistically equivalent defense. However, I love the Texans’ big play ability on both sides of the ball. Deshaun Watson averaged 8 yards per attempt (a full yard better than Andrew Luck) and DeAndre Hopkins has 23 receptions of 20+ yards, good for 4th in the NFL. JJ Watt is 2nd in the league in sacks and forced fumbles, while the defense itself ranks 4th in points allowed, 1st in sacks, and 2nd in turnover differential. We all know the mantra “defense wins championships,” and with one of the best defense in the NFL and an offensive with explosive play capability, the Texans should beat the Colts in a closely contested battle at home.
Prediction: Texans defeat Colts 28-21
(5) Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) vs. (4) Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Teddy: The Chargers, despite being the number five seed, are one of the conference’s biggest Super Bowl contenders, sporting a 12-4 record and narrowly missing out on the AFC’s best record due to a tiebreaker with the Chiefs. With wins on the road against the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Steelers, Anthony Lynn’s club is clearly battle tested, with Philip Rivers having an MVP-caliber season (4,308 yards, 32 touchdowns) and Melvin Gordon (885 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Austin Ekeler (554 yards, 3 touchdowns) helping to pace a strong backfield. In the passing game, Keenan Allen continued his stellar play with 97 yards for 1,196 yards and 6 touchdowns, while Mike Williams (66 catches, 664 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Tyrell Williams (65 catches, 653 yards, 4 touchdowns) remain dangerous weapons on the outside. On defense, rookie Derwin James notched 105 tackles and 3 interceptions, while Joey Bosa (5.5 sacks) and Melvin Ingram (7 sacks) help to anchor the Chargers’ dangerous front seven. To put it in more basic terms, this team is stacked on both ends of the football.
The Ravens sat at 4-5 when John Harbaugh finally inserted rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson into the starting lineup after Joe Flacco went down with an injury. After two straight wins, Jackson was permanently named the Ravens starter, and he has led them to a 6-1 record in their final seven games. Since the change, Jackson has wowed fans everywhere with his running ability as a dual threat quarterback, and the Ravens have upgraded their playcalling to integrate a college-like read option offense to suit the play style of their young star. The move was clearly the right one, as Jackson helped the team clinch their first division title since 2013. The rookie threw for just 6 scores on 1,201 yards, but dominated on the ground, rushing for a whopping 695 yards and five touchdowns. Gus Edwards should be a factor at tailback after rushing for a team-high 718 yards in the regular season, and John Brown and Michael Crabtree should be weapons to watch in the passing game along with Jackson’s security blanket, tight end Mark Andrews (34 catches, 552 yards, 4 touchdowns). On defense, CJ Mosley anchors the unit with 105 tackles, and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Marlon Humphrey (all with 2 interceptions) lock down opposing offenses to allow the fifth-fewest passing yards in the league and the fewest total yards. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce will team on the defensive line to anchor one of the league’s most fearsome interior units.
When these two teams met in December, the Ravens prevailed 22-10 in an ugly road win that turned into a defensive slugfest. While the Ravens have proven they can win ugly, I worry about how Lamar Jackson will respond if the Chargers’ offense gets going. It should also be noted that the Chargers have already seen Baltimore once with Jackson under center, and should be better prepared to stop their fairly predictable gameplan. Los Angeles has already proven they can shut down better offenses with the likes of the Chiefs and Seahawks before, and I don’t see them letting Baltimore’s run-heavy offense down them once again. The Chargers win and set up a date with Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxborough.
Prediction: Chargers defeat Ravens 23-13
Eric: The Chargers are fantastic team that got stuck in a bad situation. Most 12-4 teams don’t play on wildcard weekend. In the last 10 seasons, only 5 wildcard teams had 12 or more wins. Most of these teams made deep runs in the playoffs, but the Chargers will be the exception. In their first meeting of the season, the Ravens won 22-10 in LA. They held the Chargers to 198 yards (only 51 on the ground), and allowed rookie Lamar Jackson to account for for 243 yards and a TD. Jackson has now played an entire NFL season and has the experience to read a defense. Baltimore’s wishbone-esque offense will keep the ball out of Philip Rivers’ hands, and allow the tenacious Ravens defense to stay well rested and ready to play. Speaking of the Ravens defense, they allow the fewest yards, second fewest points, and have an all around fantastic defense. But the real kicker, will be the Ravens kicker. Justin Tucker is possibly the best place kicker of all time (fight me in the comments later). He has made the 2nd most field goals in the NFL this season, has missed a single extra point this season, and converted 5 of his 7 attempts from over 50 yards. He is as automatic as they come in the NFL. WIth the Chargers’ stout red zone defense, Tucker will be the leading scorer in a low scoring affair, helping the Ravens move on to the divisional round.
Prediction: Ravens defeat Charger 16-14
NFC Wild Card Games:
(5) Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at (4) Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Teddy: This is arguably the best matchup of the entire weekend, pitting two talented dual threat quarterbacks in Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson against each other in a matchup that should feature a plethora of offensive fireworks. After missing the postseason for the first time in his seven-year career, Wilson finds himself back in the fold after a season that saw him throw for 35 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions and lead four fourth-quarter comebacks. In the backfield, Chris Carson finally had the breakout season the Seahawks have been waiting for, rushing for 1,151 yards and 9 touchdowns. In the passing game, Tyler Lockett leads the team with 965 yards and 10 scores on 57 grabs, while Doug Baldwin scored 5 touchdowns and hauled in 618 yards on 50 catches. On defense, Frank Clark (14 sacks) and Jarran Reed (10.5 sacks) anchor a strong front seven, while Bobby Wagner led the team with 138 tackles and an interception. The Cowboys, meanwhile, salvaged what appeared to be a lost season when Jerry Jones traded a first round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Amari Cooper. Since the move, the wideout has become Dak Prescott’s favorite target, notching 753 yards and 6 scores in nine games. Prescott, meanwhile, has rediscovered his stroke after a terrible first half led many Cowboy fans to call for his starting job. The third-year passer threw for 3,885 yards and 22 touchdowns, and rushed for 282 yards and 6 scores on the ground. Rounding out Dallas’ big three on offense is Ezekiel Elliott, who led the league in rushing (1,434 yards) and scored 6 touchdowns while also racking up 567 receiving yards and 6 scores through the air. On defense, rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch has become a key piece, leading the team with 140 tackles and picking off two passes. DeMarcus Lawrence (10.5 sacks) and Tyrone Crawford (5.5 sacks) should be factors on the line, and cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones have played extremely well in the secondary during the Cowboys’ recent surge. This game should be the best of the weekend, but ultimately I feel that Wilson’s impressive postseason track record coupled with a white-hot Carson on the ground (3 100-yard games in December) will help carry Seattle to a close victory and punch their ticket to the divisional round.
Prediction: Seahawks defeat Cowboys 38-33
Eric: The Cowboys have already lost to the Seahawks once this season and I believe history will repeat itself in this wildcard game. The Cowboys have been inconsistent at best. Starting the season 7-1, they closed out 3-6, beating three rebuilding teams (the Jaguars, Lions, and Giants). Dak Prescott has been his usual mediocre self while Ezekiel Elliott and newly obtained Amari Cooper have carried the team. Dallas does have a top 10 defense led by rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (3rd in the league in tackles), fully recovered linebacker Jaylon Smith (2nd on the team in TFL), and defensive end Randy Gregory (1st on the team in failed drug tests). They have a solid secondary that will make the Seahawks compete. However, the Seahawks offense has come alive late in the season behind the arm of Russell Wilson, the legs of Chris Carson, and the hands of Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. Wilson has been one of the games most efficient QBs in the league down the stretch (5:1 TD:INT ratio), Carson has been like a bowl in a china shop (82 yards and 5 broken tackles a game), while Baldwin and Lockett have had magnet hands (a combined 75% catch rate and 15 TDs). Although the Legion of Boom has disbanded, Seattle has an above average defense, relying on a fantastic linebacking core of Bobby Wagner (4th in the league in tackles), former first round pick and freak athlete Barkevious Mingo, and up and coming rookie Austin Calitro. The Seahawks will go into Jerry’s world, soundly beat the Cowboys, and break Skip Bayless’ heart.
Prediction: Seahawks defeat Cowboys 28-17
(6) Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) vs. (3) Chicago Bears (12-4)
Teddy: It may not be 1985, but the Bears defense is arguably the best unit left in the field. Khalil Mack helped transform the Bears into one of the best defenses in all of football after coming over in a trade from the Raiders before the season started, totaling 12.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 1 interception, and a touchdown. Akiem Hicks had a huge season as well, notching 7.5 sacks and forcing 3 fumbles to team with Mack to create on the NFC’s most fearsome pass rush duos. Rookie Roquan Smith led the team with 122 tackles and notched 5 sacks, while Kyle Fuller had his best season yet with 7 interceptions. Eddie Jackson netted 6 interceptions himself, and ran two of them back for touchdowns.
On the offensive side of the ball, Mitchell Trubisky rebounded from a poor rookie campaign to throw for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns. Jordan Howard (935 yards) and Tarik Cohen (444 yards) create a formidable pairing in the backfield, and Cohen should also be a major factor in the passing game (71 catches for 725 yards and 5 touchdowns). Allen Robinson led the team in receiving with 754 yards and 4 scores, while Anthony Miller has flashed big-play potential on countless occasions en route to a team-high 7 touchdown catches. The offense has a plethora of contributors and Trubisky tends to spread the wealth fairly evenly, and the offense is a hard one to prepare for given the fact that no one receiver truly dominates the touches on the outside.
After Carson Wentz was shut down for the season in week 14, Nick Foles was called upon to lead the Eagles back to the playoffs, and he responded by leading the team to a 3-0 mark and qualifying for the postseason. Where have we seen this story before? It’s impossible to see the Eagles as anything but a team of destiny right now: their star quarterback goes down once again only for their backup to lead the squad on a magical run to the promised land. Foles was sharp in his five games of action this season, throwing for 1,413 yards and 7 scores, including a franchise-record 471 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Texans in week 16. After Jay Ajayi was lost for the season in week 4, Josh Adams has emerged as the lead back for Philly, rushing for 511 yards and 3 touchdowns. Zach Ertz led the team with 116 catches, which broke the NFL record for receptions in a season by a tight end, to go along with 1,163 yards and 8 touchdowns. Alshon Jeffrey should also be a major weapon after a season that saw him catch 65 yards for 843 yards and 6 touchdowns, and Nelson Agholar presents major big-play potential despite his wildly inconsistent play.
On defense, the Eagles are led by safety Malcolm Jenkins, who led the team with 97 tackles and notched 1 sack and 1 interception. Fletcher Cox led the team with 10.5 sacks, and Brandon Graham (4.5 sacks) and Michael bennett (9 sacks) helped hold down the front seven with routinely excellent seasons. The Eagles secondary is extremely banged up, and Rasul Douglas (3 interceptions) is currently projected to be the starting cornerback alongside Sidney Jones with Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills on IR.
While the Eagles seem like a team of destiny right now, luck isn’t going to carry them to a second consecutive Lombardi trophy. The Bears defense possesses the toughest challenge Foles has faced all season long, and their weak secondary should have Matt Nagy licking his chops as he watches film this week. The Bears are 7-1 at home this year with wins against the Rams and Seahawks, and they should pick up yet another impressive home win to send the defending champs packing.
Prediction: Bears defeat Eagles 27-14
Eric: After a miraculous super bowl run in last year’s playoffs, are the Eagles primed to win it back to back? The simple answer: no. This team is nowhere as good a last years. Due to injuries at the cornerback position, they have the worst defense of any playoff team, allowing over 350 yards and 22 points a game. Despite Nick Foles’ revival of the offense, the Eagles don’t play good enough defense to win. The Bears are the exact opposite. Led by edge rushers Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd, they have the best defense in football, forcing turnovers, scoring touchdowns, and racking up sacks at an ungodly pace. During the regular season, they were a well-oiled, quarterback-eating machine. The Bears have “10 God” Mitch Trubisky and the dual headed rushing attack of Tarik Cohen (725 yards passing) and Jordan Howard (935 yards rushing) to produce the big plays their offense is predicated on. The only knock against the Bears is a lack of playoff experience, which I don’t believe will matter that much in the wildcard round. If this game wasn’t in Chicago, the Eagles would have stood a chance. But I expect this to be a total annihilation.
Prediction: Bears defeat Eagles 35-7
This has been a crazy NFL season and the playoffs won't be any different. There will be heartbreaking defeats, improbably victories, and (thankfully) no ties. As players, teams, and the league itself continue to make amoral or awful PR decisions, use this weekend to remember why football is still America's game. Remember the emotions it brings and the beauty within the game. And remember what Jim Mora said all those years ago...
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1) New Orleans Saints
The Saints are the NFL’s best team in every way. At every level of this team there is a top 5 unit. Their QB is one of the best players this season, easily a top 3 O Line (with Andrus Peat being maybe the most underrated player in the sport), and the weapons are endless and perfect for what Sean Payton wants to do. The Defense is also finally coming into its own after struggling early. The run defense is great, and Baby Donald (as I now call him) Sheldon Rankins is a menace on the D Line. This team should be the favorite to win the Super Bowl, with the most well rounded team in the League.
2) New England Patriots
Despite the aging of Gronk and Brady, there is not a team I trust more in the AFC more than the Patriots. While a lot of the AFC seems to be enamored with scoring points, the Patriots are more than fine calling on their strong running game, and game planning you to oblivion. They may not have elite units anymore, and the Josh Gordon loss does hurt them, it seems as though every team in the AFC has a weakness, and if there is a person I trust to expose it, it is Bill Belichick.
3) LA Rams
Will the Rams get their mojo back? That’s the question. Because if they do, they are the most dangerous team in the playoffs. No team has the team the Rams theoretically had. If Todd Gurley is really healthy, he and Aaron Donald could single-handedly get them through the playoffs. It just remains to be seen if they will click come playoff time. I have the most questions about whether this team makes it through the playoffs, but of all the teams, I’m the most confident they will win the Super Bowl if they make it.
4) Chicago Bears
Every team in the NFC is thanking God that the Bears don’t have a home field advantage. If the Rams were to lose last week, the Bears would certainly have a guaranteed spot in the NFC Championship. But they don’t, and they will be relying on their 3 headed running attack and that elite defense to win games. It is a tried and tested debate: Defense or Offense. The Bears have both, wil be interesting to see if they can survive the NFC.
5) Kansas City Chiefs
Can Patrick Mahomes do it all by himself? Yes, but it is unlikely. Mahomes certainly proved against the Raiders that he is the best QB in football right now, but this team has real problems all over the place. They need Sammy Watkins to take the Cover 2 off of Tyreek Hill. They miss Kareem Hunt’s ability to keep defense honest. Most importantly, they miss having a secondary outside Fuller and Berry. This is a real problem for the Chiefs and every team facing them has been able to throw the ball. The way the Chiefs win: Mahomes outscores everyone.
6) Houston Texans
The Texans are dangerous come playoff time. They have a great Pass rush and dynamic offense. That’s about where it ends. The secondary and O Line are still major question marks with this team. However, this team could win with just Deshaun Watson, Lamar Miller and Nuk alone. They will have to protect against their weak points, but if Deshaun Watson plays to his potential, they could snatch the superbowl.
7) LA Chargers
The Chargers are just a team waiting to disappoint you. Their roster is about as perfect as any team in the league, yet I am not confident in their ability to win the Super Bowl. They continue to allow opposing running backs to run right through them, and their lack of ability to get physical on either side is concerning in the playoffs. The Chargers had a great season, but in the playoffs they may be facing an uphill climb.
8) Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens may be the hottest team entering the playoffs. They can beat anybody, and with Lamar Jackson they finally have a dual threat QB that allows them to make big plays in the run game. Baltimore can bully anyone with their size on both lines and their experience in their secondary is going to be key moving forward. I would not be surprised to see this team shock the world in the AFC.
9) Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were the real surprise of the season. Many were peggining them for a top 5 pick at the beginning of the season; now they’re a threat to go deep. This team sports the best offensive line in football (think about saying that 2 years ago) and has an underrated MVP candidate in Andrew Luck. Their defense is good with holes, but Darius Leonard plugs up a lot of them. This team will go as far as Luck takes them, and that’s a scary thought if you’re an opponent. Next year this team may be the team to beat. They have more money to spend than any other team.
10) Dallas Cowboys
I need to stop letting my biases get the best of me, but I really think the Cowboys are a pretender when it is all said and done. The health of Zach Martin is a real question mark for this team. Their defense is playing great, and Amari has been a blessing, but I am not sure that Dak Prescott will be able to take care of business without their elite offensive line.
11) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have become a team that should have gone through a difficult rebuild. They instead decided to scratch that idea and build another great defense and have Russell Wilson take yet another step in his development. The run offense on this team has been a blessing in surprise, and Russell Wilson has been playing MVP type football. If the Seahawks had a home game in the playoffs, I would put them higher, but the have to go on the road, and I cannot be confident in their ability to win consistently on the road.
12) Philadelphia Eagles
The defending champs get to last another day with classic Nick Foles magic. Let me be the one to pump the breaks. This team needs this play calling AND Carson Wentz at the same time in order to win. I understand that Foles did it last season, but Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby played last year. Can Nick Foles score enough points in order to to patch up the secondary’s mistakes? Only time will tell.
13) Pittsburgh Steelers
What is going on in this locker room?! This team had the talent to make the Super Bowl, yet they collapsed in the biggest moment. James Conner is a clear step down from Le’Veon, AB seems to hate the organization. Something has to happen and it is unclear what. I hope this team figures it out. Next year Mike Tomlin starts the season on the hot seat, and nothing would scare me more than a Mike Tomlin pushed against the wall.
14) Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns ended the season as the hottest team in football, the best coaching destination, one of the best cap situations in football, and a proven franchise QB in Baker Mayfield. This team next year could be dangerous. They have a bunch of breakout candidates next year whether it be Calloway, Njoku, Peppers as well as stars ready to become superstars in Chubb, Baker, and Myles Garrett. With a good offensive line GM John Dorsey already has an impressive team on his hands.
15) Minnesota Vikings
GIVE THIS TEAM A BREAK. They disappointed this season, but it shouldn’t be so much of surprise. They had very little depth all season with an uninterested OC and an underreported abismal offensive line. This team was an accident waiting to happen. Towards the end they picked up steam and could be very well equipped to make noise next year. This season was all about Kirk Cousins who at times looked like an elite playmaker and at other times choked. I’m interested in what this team looks like next year.
16) Tennessee Titans
Even without a playoff berth, you can count this season as a success for Mike Vrabel. The team brought toughness on both sides of the ball each week. Unfortunately they fell short when it mattered most. This team had plenty of bright spots from their rookies. Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry played exceptionally and lived up to the billing, and Derrick Henry seems to have finally broken out. The Titans are a good team with a great foundation.
17) Carolina Panthers
To me this was THE disappointment of the season. The panthers were once a 6-2 Super Bowl contender, and they just collapsed on themselves. Next year this team could be a force if they get a pass rusher, but all else, this season was a disaster for the Panthers. Moving forward this team has bright spots. They have a star RB in McCaffery, and a good WR for the first time since Steve Smith in DJ Moore. I hope this team figures it out next season, they are too talented not to.
18) Atlanta Falcons
The story of the Atlanta Falcons is one of injury and yet seeming like it was all their fault. Steve Sarkisian’s uncreative playcalling was the real fault of this team. Yes they lost Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Devonta Freeman, but the problem is that the team seemed disorganized from the beginning of the season. We know this team can be great, and as of late Matt Ryan has been playing the best football of his career. Next year they need to get together and figure out their struggles and find a way to get Vic Beasley out of the Twilight Zone.
19) Buffalo Bills
I know it's only been less than a year, but I see big things next year for the Bills. Josh Allen is legit and is here to run through and throw around the whole NFL. The Bills are set up with a great foundation for the future. With the most underrated HC in football in Sean McDermott, and potentially the best defense in football, this team became one of the best watches in football at the end of the season. Next year they will have to get Allen protection and weapons not named Zay Jones, and they could make noise. Buffalo has the makings of a rising contender.
20) Green Bay Packers
For the first time in my life there is Aaron Rodgers hate out there. For 6 years, Aaron Rodgers has been indisputably the best QB on the planet (unless you’re a Brady stan). Now that Aaron Rodger for the first time hasn’t willed his team into the playoffs by himself people out there wanna speak ill of his name. I will tell you this has been a down year for the Packers, but Aaron finally has talent on the come up. It’s no longer him and Davante Adams, they have a running game now. It took all season to get there, but it is there now. Jaire Alexander has an opportunity to be be one of the best corners in league. We all have our one opportunity now to hate on A.Aron, but I guarantee you next year, this may be a different story.
21) Washington Redskins
Jay Gruden deserves an award or something, because there is no way this team should be 7-9 with this roster and this many injuries. They brought Adrian Peterson back from the dead, and managed to win games through a good run defense and running the football. My hats off to this team and my best wishes go out to Alex Smith who may have played his last down of football ever. I don’t know if this is the year to address the QB position, but the Redskins need to figure something out.
22) Miami Dolphins
This is one of the least exciting 7-9 teams I’ve ever seen. This team had no business winning 7 games. They are the classic overachiever team. They got a lot of their wins with Matt Moore for crying out loud. Adam Gase did what he could and should be the No.1 coach on the market. I don’t know where the Dolphins go from ,but don’t be fooled by their record, this is one of the worst teams in football
23) NY Giants
This team could be sooo good. They really have a shot to be elite. They have Eli however. This team would be top 12 if they had Phillip Rivers or someone like that. Saquon and Odell are arguably (and probably) the 2 best at their position. They could single-handedly win games for you, but Eli is just holding them back. Even Evan Engram showed real growth this season and Sterling Shepard is a really good No 2. This team needs to say goodbye to the Eli Manning era, but this is not the offseason to do so.
24) Detroit Lions
The Matt Patricia Era got off to a rough start. But like any real culture change, you must be broken down to build back up again. The season was not pretty to open up, but towards the end of the season, the team began to play to their potential. Well at least the defense did. No longer can you gash the Lions run defense for 15 a play. Matt Patricia is installing his defense and the fruits may begin to bear as soon as the Lions get a pass rusher or a No. 2 CB. The Lions now just need to get over Matt Stafford’s worst season of his career.
25) Denver Broncos
In many ways the Broncos overachieved, and in many ways they underachieved. The Broncos did not have the roster and the health to compete in the AFC West, but no one outside a surprise undrafted rookie and Bradley Chubb made inroads on this team. I am perplexed about this team's future because the media wants a new QB and Elway may be looking for a QB who can save his job. But is this the year to look for one? At the end of the day, the Broncos will have hard questions to answer at the end of this season.
26) Jacksonville Jaguars
This team just saddens me. They had more talent and athleticism than any team in football. It just so happens they had the only QB in the league who could screw this whole team up. Next year may be different. With a nice veteran QB market this offseason, they can still contend next year with an easy schedule. At the end of the day this season was over the moment they started Blake Bortles. There will not be the same excuse next year.
27) San Francisco 49ers
Of all staffs and teams that will get a mulligan next year, it will be the 49ers. Their franchise QB and new RB both tore their ACLs within the first two weeks of the season. From then on they put in valiant efforts, but it just wasn’t enough. This team needs to get to the offseason and prepare to build up an unimpressive roster. I can’t accurately rate the 49ers season, but I have every faith that Kyle Shanahan will figure something out for this team.
28) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs ended the season the way it started: relying on large plays. The defense is still awful, and they are not ready to get the most out of their weapon, but there was nothing else to do with this lackluster roster than let Fitzmagic come in and faze out. Fitzmagic may be the perfect metaphor for the Bucs season: inspirational out of nowhere, only to go back into obscurity.
29) Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals finally took the first step in recovery: admitting they have a problem. After 16 seasons, Marvin Lewis was fired as HC, yet he leaves an intriguing roster in his wake. A team with hopefully a healthy Tyler Eifert, AJ Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon should be an attractive offensive destination for any coach. Not to mention Carl Lawson, William Jackson and Jessie Bates on defense. This team has pieces, just not the coach, QB, or O Line to realize this talent. The Bengals this offseason need to have a plan of attack and a plan to move on from Andy Dalton.
30) NY Jets
The Jets have a foundation for the post-Bowles era. They have the best safety in football in Jamal Adams along with pretty good linebackers and D Lineman. They need to figure out their CB situation however. On offense you are looking to build on the recent success of Sam Darnold by getting a better O Line and weapons. This team has its building blocks on a solid foundation. Could be a real sleeper next year.
31) Oakland Raiders
The beginning of the John Gruden era has not gone as planned. The team traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, not the best start. The rest of the season did not produce much results either. They were as close to a guaranteed loss all season as you can get. The Raiders now will leave Oakland with no guarantee of a home stadium. The Raiders are now a blank canvas with a big Derek Carr contract as the first brush strokes. The Raiders have 3 1st round picks this year, it will be interesting to see if they can replace the value of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper with all these picks.
32) Arizona Cardinals
It’s honestly a toss up for who gets 32 between the Raiders and Cardinals, but the Cardinals have the 1st pick and worst record so it makes sense that they are the worst in these rankings. The season was as close to a dumpster fire as you could possibly get. The players who needed to did not take the necessary steps forward (Haason Reddick), and their rookies didn’t perform to expectations. It is however, unfair to judge the rookies especially Josh Rosen because he was manhandled by opposing defenses. This offensive line may go down as one of the worst in NFL history, which really isn’t an overreaction. Josh Rosen, already with his mobility issues, had no time to throw the ball all season. I am worried about his future and it has nothing to do with him entirely. The Cardinals have the most holes on their roster, and it may be a long road to fix them. Nick Bosa should be able to fix that.
By: Alex Drain
I’m back to do my second annual movie column. With the 2018 calendar year coming to a close, I’m ranking the 13 movies released in 2018 that I saw this year. There are still others from this year on my watchlist, which I’ll mention at the end, and I am planning on doing an Oscar ballot on this website. However, this piece is simply a fun and entertaining rank of my favorite movies. These are takes that will make more sense if you’ve seen the films but there are not spoilers in terms of plot, rather it’s more a mashup of thoughts and reviews. Here we go:
13. Isle of Dogs
Let me begin this by saying that I don’t see trashy movies, so coming in at 13th out of 13 in no way means that the movie was bad. Isle of Dogs was very fine. Wes Anderson’s trademark symmetry was very much present and it was a quite picturesque. The plot is heartwarming and with a powerful message, but also balanced with a few solid jokes tossed in as well. The animation is beautiful, but the film felt like it dragged on a bit at the ending as a whole. The climax and resolution was telegraphed and rather predictable, one you could see coming a mile away, yet the time to actually reach the resolution was unreasonably long. Overall, it’s a movie that does a lot of things well, but nothing that blows you out of the park. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing I loved. Unmemorable in a lot of ways, but well done.
12. First Man
Speaking of unmemorable, First Man. This may be the most unmemorable film I’ve ever seen, so much so that when I was discussing the movies I’d seen this year with a big film guy recently, I totally forgot that I had even seen this. The readership of this article is lucky I even remember what happened in it. It’s another Damien Chazelle-Ryan Gosling partnership and it largely did everything it set out to do. It tells the story of Neil Armstrong reasonably well, humanizes him and develops his backstory. It’s shots are tremendous and everything is brilliantly set up, as you would expect from a Chazelle movie. My only real gripe is that the ending was abrupt and sudden, along with the fact that it had no staying power. It tells a nice story and then you move on and never think about it again. Is that worth two hours? Up to you to decide.
I am a Star Wars diehard, and as I always do, I entered the theater in pure terror, bracing for the many ways that they could f*** up this movie after the tumultuous lead up. In the end, it was actually pretty solid. Alden Ehrenreich was very solid as Han Solo and it was an enjoyable movie. There were parts of the plot that I felt were underdeveloped and odd, but I pick those apart more as a Star Wars fan than as a movie fan, which means I can’t give a lot of insight. Solo did lead me to yell audibly in disbelief in a movie theater for the first time ever, but that’s related to a spoiler so you can ask me personally if you want the backstory. Otherwise, I don’t have much else to say. There was absolutely no reason for this movie to be made but the acting and plot were enjoyable enough to make it worth it.
The best way to describe this movie is “angry”. In some ways, it’s more documentary than it is a biopic, though of course what is presented is not factual, but an interpretation of events. A biopic on Dick Cheney is not inherently a bad idea, in fact it’s a very good one. Cheney is a fascinating historical character whose rise to considerable power was quite unlikely. But it doesn’t tell us the story of Dick Cheney so much as it does attempt to recreate a provocative interpretation of the Bush-era that you would have found on The Daily Show from 2006. Thus, it feels almost like a missed opportunity. I understand that making a biopic is very difficult when you are attempting to reconstruct the events of someone’s life that 1.) you don’t really know and 2.) they are not consenting to. In attempting to tie lines between Cheney and the current political climate, the movie almost hackishly misses the true influence that Cheney had. Put more specifically, Vice blames Cheney for everything wrong in today’s current politics and administration, which distracts from the areas of history where Cheney was absolutely influential. Instead of humanizing Cheney and giving him a real backstory (I would’ve liked to know more about Wyoming, please), the film turns him into the evil robot caricature that was paraded around 10+ years ago. It fails to develop key relationships to the plot, such as between Cheney and George W. Bush, instead simply portraying Bush as yet another meaningless chess pawn on the board of Cheney’s path to world domination. Once again, this film was an interpretation of historical events, and it acknowledges that fact right at the beginning, but in doing so, it took the most click-baity interpretation possible, coming off as quite underwhelming. All of that said, Sam Rockwell, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, and most of all, Christian Bale were tremendous. They deserve any and all recognition they get for masterful acting performances in what was otherwise a very middling movie.
9. Boy Erased
I feel about this movie the same that I felt about The Post last year. It’s very much a picture that was created to win awards, but because it feels like it was created to win awards, it won’t win any awards. Recruiting up-and-coming actor Lucas Hedges as the lead and Nicole Kidman as supporting actress, and choosing a compelling issue like conversion therapy set it up so well, but the pieces really didn’t come together. Again, it’s not bad. It’s just nowhere near elite. There was one major plot point in particular that was egregiously underexplored and they left the ending a little short of information, but otherwise it’s very mediocre. Probably not worth your time, but also not a waste in anyway.
The topical matter of the film is in fact incredibly interesting and absolutely worth making a movie about, but the execution was questionable at times. The characters were pretty well developed and the acting was fine. The score was very good and it matched the emotions of the film at various points in time, and I liked the addition of various 70s hits to fit the time period (Lucky Man, Brandy, etc). I don’t have any problems with the movie in that sense. However, I thought some of the attempts to tie it to modern politics felt a bit hackish. Obviously the main audience for this movie is going to be #Resistance types, people who already acutely aware of the ties between Trump/Unite the Right Rally and the 70s KKK. Thus, there really wasn’t a need to toss in as many jabs or direct ties to the modern political climate. I much would have preferred to simply let the audience extrapolate the implications from the topical content, not serving it to them on a silver platter. Still, it’s Spike Lee vintage: provocative and thought-provoking, and not a bad film in anyway.
7. Black Panther
I’m not a Marvel movie fan and it's important to preface my thoughts with that. I don’t dislike them, I’ve also never been a fan. I don’t see many of the movies, I don’t read the comic books, and I don’t really follow the characters. However, Black Panther was a genuinely good movie. The soundtrack was excellent and the plot was engrossing even to those who are not comic book fans like myself. There are times I find myself bored at comic book movies but there was never a single moment of boredom in Black Panther. It was visually pleasing, engaging, and entertaining. I probably won’t watch it again because again, it’s not really my thing, but it’s absolutely worth a watch and no doubt the finest Marvel film I’ve seen.
6. Bohemian Rhapsody
Here we go. I’m going to first preface all of what I’m about to say with the fact that I am a self-described Queen fan. Like most nerds, I too had a teen Queen phase and in the years leading up to the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, I was frankly dreading it. There were so many possible ways to mess up a Freddie Mercury biopic but in the end, I was incredibly satisfied. It should first be noted that the difference between the IMDb user reviews (8.3/10) and the Metacritic reviews (49/100) is the most extreme divide I’ve ever seen for any film and it underscores the divide in how to think about this movie: separating the visual and media experience from it as a raw movie. People who are paid to judge movies as movies are going to find big problems with it. But those who are there to be entertained, to be amazed, and to simply have fun are going to love it. I’m very comfortable being in the latter.
For the first angle, yes, there were deeply flawed parts to the movie. Both in terms of historical events (Queen leaving EMI, “breaking up”, the chronology of his AIDS diagnosis, etc.) but also developing characters and relationships, all of which were underwhelming. I am less harsh than others on each of those points and I think you can reasonably argue that each of those points are more symbolic than they are literal. I’m not going to get into the meat of each of those because again, I’m not here to give spoilers. But I’m sympathetic to most of the arguments. But for myself and so many others, all of that just simply isn’t important or relevant when it is consumed with the otherwise awesome experience that is the movie. Bar none, the greatest trait of the movie is the historical recreation. Malek’s transformation into Mercury is exceptional, given not just how high stakes that role is, but how well he does it. The goal of an actor is to take on the character they’re playing to become that character and Malek morphs into Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody makes you feel like you were there at the most famous moments of Queen’s career, which to so many of us who were not old enough to have experienced that, is breathtakingly awesome. The soundtrack is well, Queen, and the whole media experience created makes it so that if you are a true fan of the band, it should give you the damn chills. At the end of the day, if you want to be a critic and nitpick away, go ahead. But this film is much like Queen: a band that was imperfect, nerdy, anthemic, and too good for the critics, but just right for the masses.
(in order to resolve this split between film and content, I decide to rank this in the middle. There’s no movie I had more fun at than Bohemian Rhapsody, but it also isn’t really fair to rank it as a movie alone.)
5. A Star is Born
I have no major problems with this movie. I didn’t absolutely love it either. The top observation is that Lady Gaga has a phenomenal voice, but I knew that already. She was a very smart option to cast for that role and Bradley Cooper was fine. His voice isn’t great but he played the part of the fading and scrubby old rocker well enough. The soundtrack was good and catchy and the plot was the same canned one from the previous three versions of the movie. There are a few parts that I would have made differently but overall it was a solid film.
4. Green Book
If you want a feel-good movie for the holidays, then Green Book is for you. Chronicling the story of an Italian-American bouncer and a black pianist traveling the south, Green Book is one of the most wholesome of the year. It’s not going to wow you, but you’re not going to leave unhappy and all the plot ends are appropriately tied up. With heavy hitters like Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali playing the main two roles, it’s a film that is perfectly worth your time, while still dealing with subject matter that is deeper than the face value.
3. Eighth Grade
I’m a huge fan of Boyhood from several years back and Eighth Grade was a very similar film, except being the exact opposite in terms of setting. Rather than a boy, it deals with a girl, and rather than being of gargantuan timeline like Boyhood, this film is compressed into just a week. Yet the message is still consistent and Eighth Grade is yet another impressive encapsulation of the emotions of teenagehood and human adolescence. The performance put on by lead actress Elsie Fisher was far beyond her years and Josh Hamilton was also excellent as her father in the film. It’s also a rather short movie, yet you get all the importance that you could ask for. While set in modern times, it’s relatable for any age and definitely one of the year’s best.
2. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy is terrific in her portrayal of the author-turned-forge artist Lee Israel, but it’s not merely an instance of good acting in a bad movie. The story is effective in both humanizing Israel and turning a character who is commiting literal crimes into someone the audience cheers for and in some cases, even likes. McCarthy is great at creating that character and she’s aided by Richard Grant also putting on a good effort as the gay best friend. It’s a crime film turned into a feel good story, in some ways, funny, engaging, and likeable. At only 107 minutes, it’s a rather short movie that packs emotion and plenty of plot into a focused punch.
The best movie I saw this year is the one that’s been getting all the hype and well, that hype is right on the money. If we’re going with one word to sum up this movie, it is “majestic”. Alfonso Cuarón crafts an illustrious world through slow pans and wide shots that he illustrates with immense detail in slow moving and vividly rich scenes. It’s a story of personal relationship, adversity, and triumph in the human condition and is absolutely worth the time it takes to see. I have some nitpicks about scenes that perhaps went on too long or where the movie in particular should have ended, but it’s so darn enriching that it’s impossible to get too aggravated about one thing in particular. I recommend that everyone see this movie and do so in as dark a space as possible because the whole sensory experience is only possible in those types of surroundings. Roma is worth the time, so do it.
So that’s my list for this calendar year. Again these are just my opinions and I’m always up for discussion and debate. If you want to know the remaining films from this year I want to see before the Academy Awards, this is the essential list:
I’m also up to seeing Vox Lux and Widows, but they are not as essential. With that, I wish you a Happy New Year and we’ll talk again later.
Image Credit: https://cdn20.patchcdn.com/users/22924509/20180619/041753/styles/T800x600/public/processed_images/jag_cz_movie_theater_retro_shutterstock_594132752-1529438777-6045.jpg
By Evan Oesterle
It is finally the end of 2018. We got Cavs-Warriors pt. 4, have Alabama-Clemson pt. 4 on the clock, Tom Brady is still going strong, and this is the wild Dow Jones Industrial Average for the year:
I could do a lot of 2018 wrap up articles: Michigan football collapses again, Michigan basketball is awesome, Detroit sports are terrible, my year recap, etc. But in an era when the media has, in my opinion, become worse than ever before, I think an accountability check is most fitting. I often criticize national news outlets for being one sided, and sports media for being generally terrible and having no accountability. So here goes nothing. I’m going to recap as many of my takes I’ve made this year that I remember by sport, and classify them as hits or misses.
Hit: Tim Drevno holding Michigan’s offense back
Jim Harbaugh finally got rid of Tim Drevno, and the results were definitely positive. Michigan’s offense went from 85th to 24th (per S&P+). Now to say that the jump is all due to Drevno would be ignorant. Shea Patterson was way better than any of the three quarterbacks that Michigan had in 2017, and Ed Warinner did wonders with the offensive line. But in a vacuum, the play-calling improved (still much room for improvement), and the offense was much better without Drevno. Good riddance. Now Harbaugh needs to get rid of Pep Hamilton and find a real OC.
Miss: Michigan vs Notre Dame; Michigan vs Ohio State; Michigan vs Florida
After being extremely pessimistic about Michigan football for most of the 2017 season, I regained optimism when Shea transferred and was ruled eligible. I was sure Michigan would win in South Bend. 24-17. They lost a close game to a Notre Dame team that went 12-0 before getting demolished in the Cotton Bowl (CFP Semifinal) against Clemson. At the time, that game actually reassured me. There were some negatives, for sure, but Michigan dominated the second half. Then they won 10 games in a row. OSU was 10-1 with a blowout loss to Purdue and close, ugly wins against Nebraska, MSU, and Maryland. I was once again sure Michigan would win. 62-39. On November 24th, I didn’t think it could get any worse. And then as the bowl game started coming closer, I was once again sure Michigan would win. 4-0 all time against Florida. They were mediocre offensively all year. Their defense was solid, but our offense was better. No Bush, Gary, Higdon, and JBB hurt, but they’d be fine. 41-15. I hope my brother (who just got admitted to U of M) has a better 4 years of Michigan football as a student attending the University than I have. No more Michigan football talk (besides the next part of this article) until after the NCAA Tournament.
Sub-miss: Michigan covering crossing routes against Ohio State
Austin Falco requested this, and I owned up to it. I thought Don Brown and Co. would watch film and 1. Stop OSU’s primary source of passing offense: crossing routes and screens 2. Pressure Haskins to make him uncomfortable like Penn State did. I was incorrect. Don Brown and Co. did none of the above. I am disgusted typing this. Rant time: Michigan football has one national championship since World War 2. Ohio State has dominated the ‘rivalry’ for nearly two decades (aka my entire life). Where do our expectations as fans come from? National championships in the early 1900s against Yale and the Chicago YMCA? Bo’s legendary OSU wins (11-9-1) and Rose Bowl losses (2-8)? Seriously, where do these standards come from? Let me know.
Miss: Michigan Football recruiting class finishing strong
After the OSU blowout, I thought the recruiting class would fall apart. Jim Harbaugh, Matt Dudek, and Don Brown proved me wrong. Dax Hill temporarily flipped to Alabama, and it looked like the class was in trouble. But Hill recommitted on the early signing day (although he allegedly silent recommited a week before) and Michigan won some other small battles to finish with a top 10 class. They didn’t get Zach Harrison from Columbus, Ohio, but the fact that it was even a battle says something. I guess.
Miss: Northwestern Football
After Northwestern followed up a season opening win against Purdue with losses to Duke, Akron, and Michigan, I felt it was safe to rule them out of the Big Ten West race. Boy was I wrong. They finished conference play 8-1 (only loss was the Michigan game), challenged Notre Dame, and lost to OSU by less than Michigan. Kudos to Pat Fitzgerald. He may have earned himself an NFL job. (Or he could stay and lead Clemson transfer and former 5-star Hunter Johnson to another Big Ten West title)
Hit: Michigan State Football
This one goes back farther than just the past 365 days. I have firmly believed that MSU was a mediocre football team for the last 3 years. They went 3-9 in 2016 and were one of the unluckiest teams in the country. They went 10-3 in 2017 and won games against Michigan and Penn State teams that were definitely better than them. Now finally in 2018, they went 7-5. I feel validated. I’ll let Mike Valenti finish this point for me (I’d give you a specific part to listen to, but it is 100% pure gold so I recommend listening to all of it):
Truly epic. The Dantonio country club is in full force. Actually though, how is Dave Warner still employed. We’ll come back to Valenti for more help later.
Hit: Sam Darnold and Lamar Jackson
I said before the draft that I wouldn’t touch any quarterback besides Sam Darnold and Lamar Jackson in the first round. Darnold led the NFL in QBR over the last 6 weeks of the season and Jackson led his team to the playoffs. While I was very wrong about one other rookie quarterback (I’ll talk about him later), I was definitely right about Darnold and Jackson. Darnold has a very bright future. The Jets have a bunch of cap space, a star safety in Jamal Adams, and a high draft pick. I anticipate their head coach opening being one of the most desirable this offseason. I don’t know if Jackson is the long term answer for Baltimore, but he had a great rookie year as teams struggled to defend the Ravens dynamic rushing attack. The Ravens went 6-1 after he took over as the starter, and even though he isn’t an excellent passer yet, at the end of the day winning football games is how most quarterbacks are measured (which is incorrect, stupid, and unfair but true).
Hit: Chicago Bears
Even before they traded for Khalil Mack, I thought the Bears would win the NFC North. Part of that was a lack of faith in the rest of the division: Lions hampered by Stafford’s contract (more on that later), Vikings hampered by Kirk Cousins’ contract, Aaron Rodgers sucking. They had a promising young quarterback in Mitch Trubisky, as well as a solid line, good backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and added some good pass catchers (Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel). But I was more excited about the defense. Safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos, edge rusher Leonard Floyd, linebacker Danny Trevathan, and corners Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara were enough for me to be sold. Add Khalil Mack to the equation and what do you get? NFC North Champs who get to host a playoff game against the reigning champions this weekend. Their ceiling is probably the NFC Championship game though.
Miss: Baker Mayfield
I deserve the Colin Cowherd treatment from Baker. I thought the Browns wasted their pick on Johnny Manziel 2.0. Yikes. Mayfield is a baller and led the Browns to a 7-8-1 record. They’re gonna be a real problem next year. They’ve got good talent on defense, and Nick Chubb is a great running back, but Mayfield is the real difference maker here. The Browns went 5-3 after Hue Jackson was fired, with the losses coming against 3 playoff teams/division winners: the Chiefs, Texans, and Ravens. With a whole bunch of cap space and a finally competent coaching staff and quarterback, watch out. Believeland is back, and not for Lebron this time.
Miss: Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks
These might deserve to be separate points, but I’m at 3 pages and not close to being halfway done, so I need to start being more brief. I thought the Seahawks were toast. They haven’t had an offensive line in a couple years. The whole Legion of Boom + Michael Bennett + Jimmy Graham all said bye. Kudos to Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson for making me eat my words. I also thought Dak got exposed last year without Elliot and the Cowboys were in for a rough season. Their young defense put together an excellent season (what’s up Jourdan Lewis and Taco Charlton?) led by draft steal Jaylon Smith, and Dak and Zeke rebounded. Whether the Cowboys team is morally comfortable (Elliott and Defensive End Randy Gregory both have off the field issues) is a different conversation for a different day, but this team is fun to watch on the field. These teams will me Saturday in Dallas, and the winner will likely head to New Orleans and lose to the Saints, but it’s safe to say that both had solid seasons.
Sub-hit: Amari Cooper Trade
I received heavy criticism for liking the Cowboys trade. Weird that a 24-year old former Alabama receiver is actually a stud when put in the right situation. Who could've guessed? Oh, I did. I’m trying not to gloat to much on my hits, because some of these misses are humbling, but I got a lot of crap for this one, so it had to happen.
Hit: Patrick Mahomes
I’ve been high on Mahomes since his Texas Tech days. But this one is a special shoutout to my dad and brother. After the first game of the season, I said Mahomes was already the best QB in the league. They told me it was a ridiculous hot take and joked about it for months. Yikes. This might be my biggest hit of all of them this year because I was so sure and so right.
Hit: Matthew Stafford contract and quarterback contracts in general
If I made this take this year, it would be my best. But I made it a long time ago. When Stafford was due for a contract extension, I said I wanted the Lions to let him walk. Almost everyone I know thought I was insane. Let me be clear: a team could win a Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford as its starting QB. What a team can’t do is win a Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford’s contract. Before I get into the details of this, I don’t begrudge Stafford for getting paid. But what I can say is he doesn’t care about winning and the ‘back’ and ‘lack of talent’ around him excuses are garbage. Mike Valenti and I share a very strong opinion on Stafford (more gold; if you’re a Stafford slappie, don’t listen; if you live in reality, please listen):
There will be more Valenti later, don’t worry. But I need to finish my point, because this is a take that arose this year. I’ve really gone down a rabbit hole with quarterback salaries, but I am so convinced my theory is correct that I have to share it: In 1994, Steve Young’s 49ers won the Super Bowl while paying him 13.1% of the salary cap. A quarterback can’t be paid more than that (a higher % of the salary cap) and win the Super Bowl. Proof:
As displayed, the average salary of a QB to win the Super Bowl since Young is under 7%. What’s the explanation for this? NFL teams have 53 man rosters. If you pay one player 13%, that leaves 87% for the other 52 combined. This year, that would mean paying the other 52 players an average of $2.83 million. You simply can’t build an elite roster with that little remaining money. It’s no wonder then, that the 6 highest paid QBs teams all missed the playoffs this year:
Aaron Rodgers: $33.5M
Matt Ryan: $30M
Kirk Cousins: $28M
Jimmy Garoppolo: $27.5M (Injured for most of the season)
Matthew Stafford: $27M
Derek Carr: $25M
Their teams combined for 31 total wins (an average of less than 6 for each of those teams), and only Cousins’ Vikings were still alive by week 17. Yikes.
One more point on this, there is basically no correlation between Quarterback salary and team wins over the last 5 seasons:
What does this mean? That a lot of winning in the NFL has to do with luck. Tom Brady taking a hometown discount? That’s helped the Patriots sustain their dynasty for as long as they have. Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Mitch Trubisky, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson. This group of seven quarterbacks (along with Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield, and Sam Darnold) are widely regarded as the NFL’s next group of star quarterbacks. But all 7 are in the playoffs. 6 of them won their division this season, and the one that didn’t, Carson Wentz, was injured for half the year. What do they all have in common besides being in the playoffs? Rookie contracts. Getting elite quarterback play on a rookie scale deal allows teams to construct elite rosters around them. The Rams (Aaron Donald) and Chiefs (Justin Houston) have the two highest paid defensive players in the NFL and can afford it because of those rookie contracts for Mahomes and Goff. So what’s the key to quarterbacks and winning in the NFL? Hitting on your draft picks and getting lucky.
Hit: John Beilein > Tom Izzo
This is another take that goes back farther than 2018. To be clear, Izzo’s body of work is better than Beilein’s. He won a national championship and has produced more NBA stars. But Izzo has lost more than a step. Three consecutive years of losing during the first weekend of the tournament? Yikes. Three straight losses to Beilein? Yikes. A draft bust in Deyonta Davis? Yikes. Wasting Jaren Jackson who looks like a steal for the Grizzlies after being taken 4th overall? YIKES. Mike Valenti, take it away:
The flipside of this is that John Beilein has been incredible for the Wolverines. He’s done what Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio, and Tom Izzo have failed to do: adapt. After years of his teams being known for offense efficiency and sharp-shooting, Beilein brought in Billy Donlon 2 seasons ago to be the defensive coordinator. Donlon has since left for Northwestern (who has also improved defensively since his arrival), but in 2017 under Donlon, Michigan improved from 50th overall and 92nd in adjusted defensive efficiency to 20th overall and 69th defensively. They lost a heartbreaker in the Sweet 16 and Donlon left for Northwestern. So what did Coach B do? He went and got Luke Yaklich. Home run hire. Michigan finished 2018 7th overall and 3rd(!!!) in defensive efficiency, and made it all the way to the National Championship game before falling to one of the 3 best college basketball teams of my life in Villanova. They’re currently 4th overall and 4th in defensive efficiency as well as being one of only 4 undefeated teams in Division 1. Congrats John, you figured out your weakness, and adapted. Can you please teach Harbaugh how to do the same?
Miss: Virginia NCAA Tournament Run
When the brackets came out on Selection Sunday last year, I thought Michigan had a great chance at a Final Four run. I thought MSU got screwed by having Duke and Kansas in their region, but Tom Izzo made sure they didn’t have to play any of them (see the Valenti video for more). What I was most sure of: Virginia had a cakewalk to San Antonio. I was sure that Tony Bennett would overcome his tournament struggles and make his first national semifinal appearance. I literally could not have been more wrong. Bennett’s Virginia squad wasn’t just the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed ever, they got blown out by a team that look like a 16 seed one game later against Kansas State. All credit to UMBC, but Tony Bennett, what the hell?
NBA (I’m rapid firing these since I’ve written way, way too much)
Hit: Kawhi Leonard still being a top 5 player. Sorry San Antonio. Could the Raptors actually win the East?
Miss: Russell Westbrook being a superstar. I even said he was better than Kevin Durant one time. Ouch.
Hit: Luka Doncic being the best player in the 2018 draft and having superstar potential.
Miss: Ben Simmons blossoming into a superstar and the 76ers making a deep playoff run last season.
Hit: The Blake trade ruining the Pistons organization even more than it already was. I hate Tom Gores. He’s the second worst owner in the league behind Dan Gilbert.
Hit: The Rockets seriously challenging the Warriors last season. If Chris Paul doesn’t pull his hamstring, the Rockets win the series. (Chris Paul's contract has destroyed the Rockets)
Miss: Elon Musk
Mid-summer, I staunchly defended Elon Musk in our WCBN Sports GroupMe (if you know me well, you know that I, along with many others, spend an unhealthy amount of time debating sports in that GroupMe). This one is specifically for Dalton Potocki, Morris Fabri, Jeremy Parks, and Nate Sorensen, and let me tell you, it hurts to write this. While I maintain that Musk has accomplished much in his career and is brilliant, he has acted like an absolute idiot this year. Congrats Elon, you made me look like an idiot for defending you too. I won’t get into the specifics, but yikes.
Hit: WCBN Sports
If you’ve made it this far in the article, props to you. I barely made it this far writing. But I have to call out one last ‘hit’ for the year. This is definitely the softest paragraph I’ll ever write for this website, and I know I’m going to take a lot of flak for it. When I officially took over for JP back when he graduated in the spring, I had an ambitious set of goals that I wanted to accomplish for WCBN Sports. While they haven’t all been hit through one semester of my reign as supreme leader (I am a firm believer in setting loftier goals than are capable of being met as a motivator), I do want to say I am extremely proud of what has been done. We had 4 hours of radio airtime per week on 88.3 WCBN-FM-Ann Arbor (The Daily Sports Report 6-6:30 pm M-T and a Friday night slot from 7-9 pm that was used for a variety of sports broadcasts and extended DSRs), three additional football broadcasts on-air, covered football, volleyball, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, and hockey to varying degrees, conducted player interviews with members of the volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball teams, expanded again in size, increased listenership across the board, and much more that can’t properly be put into words. This wouldn’t have been possible without former Executive Directors Jeremy Parks and David Carlson, the seniors who taught me how to fish (not in the literal sense) my freshman year including Leo Blavin and Dalton Potocki (who took me on my first road trip to Indiana), Morris Fabri, and Kevin Cline, and especially the executive board who not only tolerates me but has put in many hours of their own time to make everything possible: Alex Drain, Alex Kremer, Alex Hsi (yes we have three Alex’s), Daniel Thompson, Nick Hornburg, Nate Sorensen, Jack Molino, Max Brill, Austin Falco, and Emily Herard. If I could thank every individual member of WCBN Sports for their contributions over my first 2.5 years, I would, but I’m already running way over my page and word targets for this article. Lastly, I’d like to thank our generous donors (who I won’t name in this article for privacy and professional reasons) who make everything we do possible. Our professional grade equipment, uniforms, Soundcloud account, travel and this website would not be possible without all of them. I have 1.5 years left to accomplish a plethora of further goals, but I am so proud of what has already been done by our group to this day. So thank you, to all of you have contributed to making WCBN Sports into what it is today: definitely a hit.
All opinions are my own. Stats compiled from ESPN, Kenpom, S&P+, USA Today, and Fox Sports.
Feel free to disagree with anything I wrote in the comments or on Twitter (@E____money).
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Mock Draft 2.0
1) Arizona Cardinals- Nick Bosa EDGE, OSU
The Cardinals are in a tight spot with this pick. They have probably the worst offensive line in the recent history of the NFL and a Quarterback who’s skillset makes it imperative to have at least a competent O-line. In that case, you could make the case for the Cardinals to take Alabama Tackle Jonathan Williams. Look for the Cardinals to trade down if they have this spot because they have 2 really good pass rushers in Markus Golden and Chandler Jones. Furthermore, I would put my money on Nick Bosa being the No.1 pick no matter who holds it. He is the best EDGE prospect since Myles Garrett and is in the class of prospect that Jadeveon and Garrett are in. He’s a twitchy athlete who can overpower and run past any Tackle, with minor injury concerns that will be shutdown by any competent medical staff. If the Cardinals do trade down, best believe they will have many suitors.
2) Oakland Raiders- Ed Oliver DT, Houston
Somebody who can match Jon Gruden’s craziness is coming off the board at No.2, and while taking a DT as No.2 is not the most conventional move, the Raiders have the draft capital to take risks on elite talent. Ed Oliver is one of those elite talents. While the team could not go wrong with either Quinnen Williams or Oliver, Oliver is the clear prospect with a lot more potential. Simply put, people who are 6’3” 290 lbs should not be able to move like Ed Oliver does. If there was ever a player to compare to Aaron Donald, he is the one. Sure he didn’t put up the numbers at Houston, and had some spats with Coach Major Applewhite. That stuff doesn’t bother me because he was mostly double and triple teamed in college, and as long as he owns up to his behavior, GMs should forgive his “antics.”
3) NY Jets- Josh Allen EDGE, Kentucky
The Jets are quietly on their way to building an elite defense. They have their core with Jamaal Addams, Avery Williamson, Darron Lee, and Leonard Williams; but they need a Pass-Rusher. Josh Allen comes off the board as the perfect antidote to their pass-rushing woes. Allen is the ultimate motor guy with a chip on his shoulder. As a player who didn’t even get an offer from Rutgers, he is uber athletic and powerful who can bull rush and still comeback into coverage when asked. He is the perfect fit for any defense and could be a star EDGE rusher the moment he steps on the field.
4) San Francisco 49ers- Greedy Williams CB, LSU
Quinnen Williams is the best player available, but the 49ers can’t take 4 D-Lineman in 4 of the last 5 first rounds. Besides, Greedy Williams is as special as it gets at the CB position, of which they need a major upgrade. Watching Williams’ tape is not always fun because he lacks the INT numbers, but that is because he is so good at his man-to-man skills that opposing WRs are never open so no balls are ever thrown his way. I have not been enamored with a combination of man-to-man instincts and elite speed since Jalen Ramsey. Except in this case, there is no faux position controversy with Greedy. He is a lockdown, shutdown corner. My only question with Greedy is his ball skills, not that he doesn’t have them, he just has not had enough opportunity to show me consistency .That is honestly a nitpick, Greedy is one of the few can’t miss prospects in this entire class.
5) Jacksonville Jaguars- Justin Herbert QB, Oregon
Finally, it seems as though the Blake Bortles era in Jacksonville is over and they can finally move on to an actual Quarterback. The roster is still a good mix of veterans on their contracts and rookies still playing on the rookie wage scale. They need a QB who won’t lose games fast and if they don’t get Flacco this offseason, why not just go for the best college prospect while you have the opportunity? Herbert doesn’t have elite arm strength, but he has a more than acceptable NFL arm. What sells Herbert is his ability to move out of the pocket and throw on the run. Jacksonville lived with the worst version of this for a while and now could finally have a guy who can actually throw a football. The only question will be, will Herbert declare? Well when he sees a guaranteed 8 million dollar signing bonus in front of his face and an awareness of the QB class next year that includes Jake Fromm and Tua Tagovailoa, I think he’ll declare.
6) Atlanta Falcons- Quinnen Williams DT, Alabama
The Falcons need to do something about the run defense they have and beef up that defensive line somehow. Grady Jarrett is a big man up front but he needs help. In walks Quinnen Williams. He may be the “safe” prospect, but he is a monster up front and a monster against the run. No one is safe running up the gut if Grady Jarrett and Quinnen Williams are there to stop you. To me this is a no brainer pick for the Falcons and the pick should be in not 3 seconds into them being on the clock.
7) Detroit Lions- Devin White LB, LSU
As a Lions fan it is hard for me to be unbiased when it comes to the Lion’s draft. Ideally, I would want a pass rusher here, but as the last of the elite talents in this class, Devin White to me is a no-brainer. To me White is the best Linebacker prospect in a decade. He’s faster than most safeties, and has ridiculous coverage skills as well as an insane motor. It may not be the biggest need and Trayvon Mullen will be enticing, but you cannot pass up a talent like White at No.7. Some fans may groan because the Lions already have Jarrad Davis. Jarrad Davis is a great run stopping LB with a good nose for the ball and excellent tackling skills. What White gives you is a center fielder at middle linebacker who can cover TEs and slot Receivers, chase down a broken-away ball carrier for minimal gain (which has been a weakness for Davis), and he can even rush the passer on the edge, which is the Lions biggest need by far. To me the Lions need versaitility and elite talent for the culture change that is happening in Detroit, and Devin White is the perfect guy for that situation.
8) NY GIANTS- Trayvon Mullen CB, Clemson
I don’t understand why more scouts are not high on Trayvon Mullen in this class. He’s the ideal size, he's got good man-to-man skills, and he’s quick. After Greedy it really comes down to pick your poison with CB prospects. For me I’ll take Mullen and his high floor. This is what the Giants need from this draft: a beefed up O-Line and secondary. The Giants somehow have Eli Manning for another year, which may turn out to be a smart decision so they can punt for next year’s class of Tua and Fromm. In fact. look for the Giants to trade down from this pick to accumulate assets in case they need to trade up in the draft next year. (Don’t count on it with a 1 year older Eli Manning.)
9) Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Deionte Thompson S, Alabama
This pick is the Bucs making up for last year. They were primed to take Derwin James and passed up on him for Vita Vea. The Bucs’ secondary is horrendous. Vernon Hargreaves has not become what I thought he could be. The Bucs could improve that with the best center fielder in this draft. Deionte Thompson to me is a better prospect than Minkah Fitzpatrick, he is clearly a better safety in the box and has much better ball skills. The only place Minkah has him is straight up speed (but few can outrun Minkah in the first place). The Bucs are one of the interesting teams in the draft because they need to move on from Jameis Winston, but they cannot afford to overvalue a player in this draft.
10) Buffalo Bills- Jonah Williams OT, Alabama
The Bills are ascending under rookie QB Josh Allen. Let’s get him some protection, Jonah Williams is by far and away the best lineman in this draft. He has started at Tackle for Alabama since game 1 as a true freshman. That’s telling. Draft “experts” will tell you he is a guard because he is a little undersized at 6’5”, but I don’t care. It feels as though that the NFL won’t let you be a tackle unless you are 6’7”. Jonah Williams is DEFINITELY a tackle. He is the best pass blocker in this draft, and his run blocking technique is stellar. He may not be the most athletic guy on the field, but he should be able to handle NFL DEs with ease. This team needs a little bit of everything on offense, and since there is no receiver worth taking this early, they may as well take a talent like Williams.
11) Green Bay Packers- Jachai Polite EDGE, Florida
The Green Bay Packers are going to have to make sure that Mike Daniels’ medicals are okay if they are gonna be move on with a plan going forward. However, the Packers’ main problem in McCarthey has already been taken care of, but their second main problem needs to be addressed, and that is the pass-rush. Try as they might Clay Matthews can no longer be the featured pass-rusher anymore, and Nick Perry is good but no game changer. They need to get more athletic at the position and in comes Jachai Polite. He’s an uber-twitchy athlete who will shine the moment the combine hits. He was made to blow by defenders and that is what Green Bay lacks. They need people who can convert speed to power instead of just big bodied bruisers (which they already had). In my opinion Polite will be THE riser of the draft and Green Bay Should be happy to have him.
12) Carolina Panthers- Montez Sweat EDGE, Miss St.
Montez Sweat is big, he’s fast, he’s powerful, he converts speed to power. These are all traits that do not describe the Carolina pass-rush. This team is too talented and well coached to be picking this high, and their big problem is that they let teams back into games by not being able to rush the passer late. Montez could be a top 10 player in this class if you can overlook the off-field issues. That will be up to each NFL team, but for the purposes of this mock, he is a perfect fit in Carolina.
13) Denver Broncos- Deandre Baker CB, Georgia
The Broncos are in a predicament because they really need an upgrade at receiver, but there is no one worth taking, The Broncos need a little bit of everything outside their front 7, and it is not incredibly clear where they should start. Perhaps CB is a good place to start, especially with the injury to Chris Harris. This team needs a guy who can cover in zone because they clearly miss Aqib Talib. There could be an argument in taking a Quarterback, but I think GM John Elway does not wanna make that error again. I think he will correctly punt for next year's draft and build a team around a better QB class.
14) Cincinnati Bengals- Rashan Gary DL, Michigan
In all honesty, this is too low for Rashan Gary to go. He will not last until No.14, let me be clear. He is a physical specimen and the moment he gets to the combine he could be a top 7 player. His lack of production is not as concerning to me considering he got double and triple teamed on most plays with two other good pass rushers still on Michigan’s blitz-happy defense. The tape won’t be great either because he played out of position at Michigan. He is not an EDGE rusher, he can rush off the edge but his ideal role is interior penetrator à la Cam Jordan. Whatever team lands him will be intrigued by his upside. With the Bengals they will get Geno Atkins side-kick and replacement, as well as a gifted interior rusher who can help with the worst run defense in football.
15) Cleveland Browns- Byron Murphy CB, Washington
The Cleveland Browns have maybe the best, most exciting young roster in football. They really do have a lot of everything, but they could use another CB opposite Denzel Ward. Byron Murphy has really impressed me with his quickness and change of direction. His man-to-man skills are also very impressive. He may be moved inside to a slot role in the NFL, but there is nothing wrong with having the intermediate of the field filled. The Browns should be the most interesting team in the NFL this year and have the draft capital to plug up every hole.
16) Miami Dolphins- Brian Burns EDGE, FSU
For what feels like the 5th year in a row, it is unclear whether the Miami Dolphins should or will move on from Ryan Tannehill. For my money, one more year can’t hurt and Cam Wake can’t play forever (try as he might). Charles Harris has not really done anything so why not hedge their bets on athletic pass rushers? Not flashy but definitely well needed.
17) Washington Redskins- Dwayne Haskins QB, OSU
By all appearances, Alex Smith's NFL career may be over. It is time for a new era in Washington that has never truly moved on from the RG3 debacle. They need to build around a new quarterback. And truth be told, Haskins is not that far off from Herbert. He has an ok arm, with a good release on the ball. He is clearly mobile and can make down the field throws. I think he is a relatively safe Quarterback prospect. The question is does he have star potential, but in the right situation, anyone can be good in the NFL. He will go to Washington with a great O-Line, and solid receivers with plenty of potential along with Derrius Guice.
18) Philadelphia Eagles- Mack Wilson LB, Alabama.
A lot of the strength of this class, the former Super Bowl champs already have. They have pass-rushers and Lineman, they NEED CB help. After the top 4 there is a drop off in talent, and Mack Wilson is no consolation prize. He is an athletic game changing LB in the middle of the field. With the Eagles unsure of the future of Jordan Hicks; they could sure use a replacement in the middle of the field. Wilson is great in coverage, and recognizing and diagnosing plays. I think the Eagles can worry about their secondary later and take elite talent right away.
19) Indianapolis Colts- Jeffery Simmons DL, Miss St
Yet another top D-Lineman falls due to other needs. Yet in this case he falls to a team that really needs a space-eater up front. The Indianapolis Colts have more money than any other team to spend in free agency so we don’t know what they will look to do come draft night, but I know Chris Ballard has an eye for talent and will see Simmons much in the same vein as a player he helped draft in Kansas City, and another Miss St alum, Chris Jones. With all that draft capitall do not be surprised if the Colts are a Super Bowl favorite this time next year.
20) Tennessee Titans- Noah Fant TE, Iowa
It sucks when a career underrated player like Delanie Walker has to leave due to injury but this is where we sit. In drafting Noah Fant, they draft the best TE prospect since OJ Howard and with the production that Howard didn’t have. He is quick and maybe one of the best route runners regardless of position in this class. Plus, you know if you get an Iowa degree, that automatically makes you tough. This should be a no brainer for the Titans if he’s available.
21) Minnesota Vikings- Yodny Cajuste OT, WVU
The Minnesota O-Line has continuously been the Achilles heel of the Vikings all season. Teams know that you can just rush the edges and give Kirk Cousins no time to throw the ball. If they could find a way to move opposing lines, this offense could be special. The Vikes could go with Greg Little, but I have way more questions about whether or not he could bust, despite his potential. Yodney is just a massive mauler who is a starting Tackle the moment he hits the field. Sometimes safe isn’t sexy, but it gets the job done.
22) Seattle Seahawks- Dre’Mont Jones DL, OSU
The Seattle Seahawks have quickly turned their roster into a contender out of nowhere. However, they need to quickly fix the run defense on this team if they are going to contend with the Sean McVays and Kyle Shanahans of the world. They have no real DTs who really scare you, unless you like Malik McDowell. Dre’Mont Jones can come in and already be one of their best run-stuffers. He’s big and powerful, which is a good counterpoint to their speed based defense.
23) Baltimore Ravens- N’Keal Harry WR, ASU
It feels as though the Ravens have been looking for a WR for the last five drafts. They tried getting 2 TEs, and that hasn’t looked incredibly successful yet. They have a bunch of guys who can fill a role in an offense but they need a go-to guy. Harry is an enigma: he is a 6’4” receiver who is great after the catch, but doesn’t necessarily wow you with his ball skills. I think this is the perfect fit for a guy like Lamar. A big target where if he refines his ball skills can catch over any CB, and even more so get a lot after the catch when the play breaks down and Lamar wants to scramble. At the end of the day the first draft after the Ozzie Newsome era will give the Ravens the one thing Ozzie could never draft.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers- Clelin Ferrell EDGE, Clemson
The Steelers have found their No.1 pass-rusher in TJ Watt. They could use a No.2 guy, and that is probably what Clelin Ferrell will succeed at in the next level. Clelin Ferrell is an okay athlete, but it’s his instincts and technique that will allow him to succeed at the next level. He has the ability to play in any scheme and be successful; however due to his lack of athleticism, he is not suited to be a team's go-to pass rusher. Luckily for Ferrell ,he will be able to shine when teams are focusing in on TJ Watt and the combo of Tuitt and Heyward.
25) Oakland Raiders (via DAL)- Devin Bush LB, Michigan
The Raiders defensive woes go way beyond just the interior pass rush, it’s everywhere. Teams regularly pass up the middle and make long gains on the runs once they get through the first level of the defense. Devin Bush is a stud Linebacker whose main job will be to clean up all the messes the front seven cause. If there is someone who gets a glimmer of open space, best believe that Devin Bush will clean up the gap real fast. Devin Bush is one of my favorite players in this class, and to me he almost screams “Raiders Football”; tough and physical with deceptive speed. The Raiders will have a long ways to go, but with 3 first round picks, they have a lot of room to work with.
26) New England Patriots- Irv Smith Jr. TE, Alabama
It’s time. The Patriots have to start getting ready to replace a guy who is almost synonymous with Patriots football. Yet it is not Tom Brady. I would go Daniel Jones here, but I think the idea of selecting a player who will not be able to help win right away in the first round has to be incompatible with the cyborg known as Bill Belichick. Irv Smith is a guy who can come in, play with Gronk, and eventually take his place. With the Patriots seamless transition into a run-first football team, they could use the draft's best blocking TE in order to make it easier on Sony Michel. Not only is he a good blocker, he is a great route runner and can be lined up all around the field, if need be. Plus, it also works into Bill Belichick being unable to resist a Nick Saban coached player.
27) Oakland Raiders (Via CHI)- D.K. Metcalf WR. Ole Miss
The Raiders need to get their replacement for Amari Cooper. They may as well swing for the fences with D.K. Metcalf. Metcalf would be the No.1 receiver in this class if it weren’t for his medical issues. Of all the receivers in this draft, he may be the only one with top 10 receiver potential. However the tape of him is not very consistent in terms of his route running ability, and his medicals are a legit concern. However, on tape his athleticism popped as much as any top receiver in the past few draft classes. At the beginning of the year everyone believed that AJ Brown was the top receiver in this class and now it turns out it is his own teammate. The Jon Gruden era wanted a rebuild, well with 3 picks in the first it better have been worth Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper.
28) Kansas City Chiefs- David Montgomery RB, ISU
The Kansas City offense is really missing its running attack. Patching it up with Spencer Ware and Damien Williams has only resulted in straight losses and forcing Mahomes to win on his own (which is a task he might be up to). This team has to get a power run game back, and no one defines power run in this class like David Montgomery. There is no better in between the tackles runner in this class. He epitomizes the North to South run attitude. It remains to be seen how he will run in the 40, but on tape he is deceptively fast. It may be a reach for a running back this early in the draft, but the Chiefs can’t afford to continue relying only on the passing game if they wanna make the best of this Super Bowl window.
29) Houston Texans- Greg Little OT, Ole Miss
This pick kind of reminds me of the recently Seattle Seahawks strategy. Draft the best Tackle no matter what, even if he has bust potential. And yes, Greg Little has bust potential, but Greg Little has more potential than any tackle in this draft, even Jonah Williams. He is the most athletic of the group, yet matches up with the 6’6/7” size needed to pass the scout's questions. The only downside is that he is unrefined in his technique. The Texans desperately need to upgrade at the Tackle position. Even though the interior line has improved recently, Martinas Rankin is still a liability on the line. What is hurting Deshaun Watson this year has been the little time he has to throw until he has to scramble. Greg Little may be a risk, but it is a necessary risk.
30) LA Rams- Elgton Jenkins OC, Miss St
The Rams are an interesting team to predict. They kinda have needs everywhere, yet nowhere at the same time. They need pass-rushers, but have some developing and Aaron Donald. They could use a CB in case they need to replace Peters and Talib, but they have time to address that. With the 30th pick I suggest they take the best player at a position they are of low key need in. The Tackles and offensive scheme are great in LA. Todd Gurley can hide a lot of weak points, but it should be obvious that the interior of the Rams O-Line is a problem. They constantly have to pull guards, and it puts Goff in danger if his first target isn’t there. Most of the time in a Sean McVay offense it is, but they could use help on the interior. Easily the best center in the class, he can play guard if John Sullivan plans to keep playing or step right into center if need be. Could you imagine a world where Todd Gurley’s life is easier, and Jared Goff is given more time. I’d be even more scared for opposing defenses.
31) LA Chargers- David Edwards OT, Wisconsin
The LA Chargers have very few holes on their team except for one and that is Linebacker. Well in this instance there is no Linebacker worth taking in the first round after White, Wilson and Bush. If there is no Linebacker to take it NEVER hurts to beef up an Offensive Line. David Edwards may exclusively be a Right Tackle in the NFL, but that should not be an issue. Wisconsin Linemen always come out strong and ready to be physical. Plus, the Chargers have improved on the interior of the line, but the Tackles are a bit of a weakness. Make life easier for Melvin Gordon and Philip Rivers.
32) Green Bay Packers (via NO)- Marquise Brown WR, Oklahoma
It never hurts to help Aaron Rodgers and get him more weapons. The Packers have been looking for a No.2 opposite Davante Adams for what seems like forever. With Randall Cobb set to hit Free Agency, it seems like the perfect time to get a new slot target. Marquise Brown would thrive in an offense led by Rodgers. He is the best route runner in this class, and has great after the catch ability. With Davante running deep routes, and Equanimeous being a deep 50/50 catcher, Marquise Brown will step in as Aaron’s go to safety and yard-getter.
By: Alex Drain
We’re now 100 days from the start of the MLB season. The Detroit Tigers are likely headed for another subpar season in the midst of their rebuilding project, but there will be plenty of intrigue in 2019 at the minor league level. As a result, I am here to issue my rankings for the top 10 prospects in the farm system of the Detroit Tigers. Let’s start in at #1:
1. Casey Mize, RHP. Age in 2019: 22. Minor League Location: AA. ETA: 2020
Mize is the best prospect in the Detroit system and one of baseball’s premier prospects after being the undisputed #1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. The right-hander from Auburn had a stellar three year career in the SEC, going from an unheralded high school prospect to the ace of the staff. Defined by his pinpoint fastball command, Mize’s heater sits in the mid-90s and his strikeout pitch is a filthy splitter, alongside an improving slider. Mize only pitched a few innings in the minor league squads last year after logging a career high 114.2 innings in college, so 2019 will be the first real glimpse of Mize in the Tigers’s system. He will likely start in Double A Erie but given his status as an elite college pitcher, he should be on the fast track to the MLB. A look at past highly regarded college pitchers reveals them to generally make the MLB within a year or two of being drafted, so assuming Mize does okay in AA/AAA, it is reasonable to expect him to debut in Detroit in 2020. Mize has legitimate top of the rotation stuff and is already quite polished, he just needs to continue to improve going forward.
2. Matt Manning, RHP. Age in 2019: 21. Minor League Location: AA. ETA: 2020
When Matt Manning was picked in the top ten of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tigers, it was regarded as a boom or bust selection and perhaps too risky for a top ten pick. Manning was the definition of raw at the time, having only pitched in high school for a few years prior to being selected, and he had the option of playing college basketball instead. Since being selected, Manning has begun to work his way through the Tigers’s system and he is coming off of a phenomenal 2018 season that has many beginning to regard him as the making of a potential premier MLB pitching prospect. At 6’6”, Manning has the ideal frame for a power righty in the modern MLB, with his fastball already touching high 90s and the hope would be to have it sit consistently in the 95 mph range. His other deliveries, including his power curve, are still coming along, but with time have the potential to be plus strikeout pitches. Manning started 2018 in Single A West Michigan, still struggling with command on occasion but he largely overpowered those hitters, racking up 76 K’s in 55 innings, earning him a promotion to High A Lakeland. There he posted a tremendous statline of a 2.98 ERA and 0.99 WHIP paired with 65 K’s in 51.1 innings, and most importantly had much better command. That earned him another promotion to Double A Erie, where he only made two starts before the season ended. Set to be just 21 years old in 2019, expect the Tigers to continue to be patient with Manning, wanting to delicately craft him, which likely means he will be in Erie for most or all of 2019. His peak projection is pure dominance and is probably higher than Mize’s, due to his size. He’s still got a long way to go, but his development has been a pure joy to watch for Tigers fans for someone who was regarded as such a risky pick.
3. Isaac Paredes, SS. Age in 2019: 20. Minor League Location: AA. ETA: 2020.
Once considered a throw-in as part of the Justin Wilson trade, Paredes has suddenly shot up through the Tigers’s farm system and rendered the trade he was a part of to be a gift that keeps on giving to Detroit baseball fans. Paredes is only going to be 20 years old in February, which is one of his greatest attributes as a prospect: that he’s so far ahead of his age. The young Mexican shortstop was long regarded as an under-the-radar prospect, but is finally starting to get some recognition after a standout 2018. He started the year in High A Lakeland, posting a .783 OPS while playing against players who were an average of 3.5 years older than him, earning him a Florida State League All-Star game selection and a promotion to Double AA Erie. Even more impressive is what he did in Erie, posting an .864 OPS across 40 games to close out the season, playing against players who were an average of 5.5 years older than him. Paredes’s most promising ability is that he seems to project as a plus MLB hitter. While he hasn’t always hit for average, he knows how to take a walk, posting OBP’s of about 80 points higher than his batting average across different minor league levels, and he has emerging power. In 158 games across Single A, Double AA, and the Mexican Fall League, Paredes swatted 18 homers, despite still being just 19. As he continues to get stronger and more mature, it’s not hard to see how Paredes could eclipse 20 homers in the majors, with potentially higher power possible. It remains to be seen if Paredes can stick at shortstop long-term, as his arm is pretty good but his speed and range are somewhat reminiscent of Jhonny Peralta, which lead many to think he might have to slide over to 2nd or 3rd. Regardless, his ahead-of-the-curve development means he will start 2019 in Double A Erie and has the potential to reach Triple A Toledo by the end of the year. The Tigers don’t want to rush him, but if he continues to hold his own against players much older than him, it may not be long before we see Paredes in the show.
4. Daz Cameron, OF. Age in 2019: 22. Minor League Location: AAA. ETA: 2019.
Every Tigers fan knows that Comerica Park is a remarkably expansive centerfield that requires the perfect kind of athlete to adequately play a full season out there. The good news for the Tigers is that their farm system seems to have a promising prospect tailor-made for that job: Daz Cameron. Cameron was a former first round pick of the Houston Astros and was considered a Top 100 MLB Prospect prior to a dreadful 2016 season that saw him fall off the radar. He had a solid 2017 that redeemed him as a prospect and a campaign that also saw him traded to Detroit in exchange for Justin Verlander. In 2018, Cameron had a monster season that may well land him back firmly on the Top 100 lists and has him knocking on the door of the MLB. Cameron started 2018 in High A Lakeland and was moved up to Double AA Erie after about 50 games. In Erie he posted an .837 OPS across about 50 games, which earned him a late season promotion to Toledo, where he played about 15 games before the season concluded. He played 20 games in the Arizona Fall League following the season, where he quadruple slashed .342/.435/.468/.903. Cameron is regarded as an above average fielder, with a strong arm and good speed, all of which make him a natural fit to be a Comerica Park center fielder. However, it’s the improving bat that helps his overall prospect outlook. Cameron stole 33 bases in the 146 games he played in 2018 across the four leagues and while he hit just 9 homers, he had hit 14 in 2017, so there is still the potential to be a future 20/20 guy. Regardless, his mix of defense and offense put him on the doorstep of the MLB, likely to start the season in Triple A Toledo, with the chance to earn an MLB call-up at some point this season.
5. Franklin Perez, RHP. Age in 2019: 21. Minor League Location: AA. ETA: 2020
Unlike all of those prior prospects, who had stellar 2018 campaigns, Perez had a very, very bad 2018, though most of it was not his fault. The young Venezuelan righty ran into serious injury issues in 2018, problems that essentially wiped out his entire season. He suffered a lat strain in March and then had right shoulder tightness in July, leading the Tigers to shut him down. All in all, he pitched a grand total of 19.1 innings in 2018, struggling mightily in all of them. Prior to this past season, Perez was regarded as a top 50 prospect in all of baseball, and at the time, was the prize of the Tigers’s system. He still has the chance to reach that ceiling, but 2019 will be crucial. The good news for Perez is that the lost year isn’t the worst thing ever, since he was already so far ahead of the curve, having reached AA at age 19 in 2017, when he was traded from Houston to Detroit as the centerpiece of the Verlander trade. He will only be 21 in 2019, so there is still plenty of time for Perez to improve and mature. The Tigers will likely place him in Double A Erie, assuming he shows up ready and healthy for Spring Training. At his peak, Perez could be a top of the rotation starter and his floor was pegged to be a solid MLB starter. He sports a mid-90s fastball and a curveball with the potential to be a plus-MLB pitch. He might be the top prospect to watch in the Tigers's system in 2019, as he needs a strong campaign, but given how quickly he progressed through the minors prior to his injuries, if he can be fully healthy, there’s no reason to believe he won’t get back on track.
6. Beau Burrows, RHP. Age in 2019: 22. Minor League Location: AAA. ETA: 2019.
Burrows was the Tigers’s first round selection in 2015, taken late in the first round and he’s slowly moved his way up through the farm system. In 2018, Burrows spent the entire year in Double A Erie and it was overall a pretty solid season. The final statline of a 4.10 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP weren’t terribly impressive, though it was a tale of two seasons, as Burrows had a 3.63 ERA across his first 17 starts, before tailing off considerably in his last nine. The right-handed Texan is led by his power fastball, which has the chance to be a plus-MLB pitch. His secondary stuff is not great and will need to continually be refined moving forward. The ceiling for Burrows is not as high as it is for Mize, Manning, or Perez, but he could certainly become a middle of the rotation guy if things pan out. If they don’t, he may become simply a bullpen arm, which is not a terrible scenario. I’m not sure if the Tigers will send Burrows back to Erie, though I think he’ll start in Toledo. He would ideally spend almost the whole season in Toledo, maybe getting a September call-up to Detroit, or a spot start here or there, hoping to fully break through in 2020.
7. Alex Faedo, RHP. Age in 2019: 23. Minor League Location: AA. ETA: 2019.
In the run up to the 2017 MLB Draft, Florida RHP Alex Faedo was considered a top three prospect and a potential #1 overall selection. His junior season with the Gators saw Faedo suffer injuries, though he rebounded in time to put on a dominant outing in the College World Series, helping Florida win it all. The Tigers, who had a mid-first round selection, picked Faedo despite the injury concerns, and immediately shut him down because he had already pitched 123 innings. At the time, it was seen as a steal and Faedo was in the 50-60 range on most prospect lists entering 2018. Then things went haywire. Faedo was good, but not dominant, in High A Lakeland and was moved up to Erie where he struggled big time. Across 12 starts, Faedo had a 4.95 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. Most concerningly, he gave up 15 homers in 60 innings, getting smacked around with ease. All of this dates back to a loss in fastball velocity, which dropped from the 93-96 range he had in college to just 90-92 mph this past season. No one is really sure what happened, but it’s not a good sign. Perhaps it was residual from injury or due to bad conditioning, but regardless, Faedo needs to either figure out how to pitch without an electric fastball, or show he can regain that heat. I’m not sure if he will start in AA or AAA this year, but given his college pedigree, he’s the type of guy who should be on the fast track to the MLB. The guy the Tigers thought they were getting out of college could be an above-average MLB starter. The one from last year? Probably not an MLB pitcher at all. 2019 is a huge year for Faedo.
8. Willi Castro, SS. Age in 2019: 22. Minor League Location: AAA. ETA: 2019/2020.
The Tigers acquired Willi Castro at last year’s trade deadline in a deal that sent Leonys Martin to Cleveland. All things considered, it was a tremendous trade for a largely meaningless rental in Martin. So who is Castro? He is a soon-to-be 22 year-old shortstop from Puerto Rico who was considered a legitimate prospect when the Tigers acquired him. At that time, he was struggling in Double A on the heels of a solid 2017. After the trade, he lit Eire on fire and earned a brief promotion to Toledo before the year ended. All in all between Akron and Erie, his 2018 AA stat-line was .263/.317/.397/.714, with 9 HR’s and 17 steals. He’s a rather well-rounded prospect, with that solid but not great bat, as well as being pretty fast and with a good arm, though inconsistent defense. He’s the most well-rounded SS in the Tigers’s system and has a good chance to reach the major leagues. What’s his projection when he gets there? Not sure, but he has the chance to be a starting shortstop in the show if he can continue to hit for average as he likely plays 2019 in Toledo and cleans up some of the defensive inconsistencies.
9. Parker Meadows, OF. Age in 2019: 19. Minor League Location: A-/A. ETA: 2022.
The Tigers decided to switch up their draft strategy in 2018 and go for guys with high upside and Meadows was the manifestation of that in the early second round. The outfielder from Georgia was tabbed by the Tigers because of his high potential, though he still has a very long way to go. Meadows comes from a promising bloodline, as he is the brother of Austin Meadows, a former first round pick and now the starting outfielder for the Pirates. Parker projects similar to his brother: an all-around athlete who can be a good defender, base stealing threat, and plus hitter. At 6’5”, Parker has the ability to have a bit more power than Austin, though he will need to grow into his frame considerably. At his peak he could be a starting MLB outfielder and a 20/20 threat. But once again, he’s only 19 years old, so that much is a long way away. After being drafted, he went to Rookie Ball and then to Low A Connecticut and posted solid numbers. He’ll likely start 2019 in either Low A or Single A. Don’t expect to see Meadows anytime before 2021, and that would only be if he becomes an absolute stud. More likely is that he would arrive in Detroit in 2022 or later, but he’s still a valuable name in the Tigers’s system.
10. Jake Rogers, C. Age in 2019: 24. Minor League Location: AAA. ETA: 2020.
The final piece of the Verlander trade, Rogers was the top catcher in the Houston system when he was dealt to Detroit. Rogers was a third round pick out of Tulane in the 2016 MLB Draft and quickly began to work his way up through the minor leagues. The plus side to Jake Rogers is that he is a tremendous defensive player, which is pretty darn valuable at the catcher position. Here’s a clip of him throwing out a solid minor league base stealer by a country mile. MLB Pipeline voted him the best defensive catching prospect in all of baseball before the 2018 season. The question with Rogers is whether he will be able to hit enough to be a starting major league catcher. The answer is very murky. Last year he was in Double A Erie and he had a tale of two seasons: in the first 37 games (152 PA), he hit a ghastly .157/.240/.224/.464 with 47 K and just 3 HR. In the final 62 games (256 PA), he hit .257/.344/.528/.871, with 65 K and 14 HR. Which one is the real Jake Rogers? Hard to tell. His full season statline as a result was .219/.305/.412/.717, which isn’t great, but the total 17 HR’s is a plus and the fact he can draw walks is important. Rogers, by being a catcher, doesn’t need to be a great hitter if he’s such a plus defensively and has some power, but he certainly can’t perform like he did at the start of last season. 2019 will be an important season for the soon-to-be 24 year-old catcher, as he will likely be in Triple A Toledo, on the doorstep of the major leagues. He needs to show he can be a steady offensive player to work himself prominently into Detroit’s future plans.
Just missed the cut:
The Tigers have done a solid job replenishing their farm system with overall talent. I’m not a prospect guru, so I can’t rank the MLB systems, but the early lists seem to suggest that Detroit’s system has now been elevated to the 7-13 range of good but not elite. Since the team officially entered “rebuilding mode” at the 2017 deadline, they’ve added 7 of the 10 players on this list, either through trade or high draft picks due to the disastrous 2017 season, as well as adding Jeimer Candelario, who’s now on the MLB team. That’s a pretty solid job of adding talent, but there is still a lot more work to do, given how barren the system was before 2017. As noted in this list, the team is very heavy on arms but pretty light on bats, which is something that will need to be rectified going forward. Additionally, they are really thin at first base and could use more outfield and catcher prospects in the future. However, more than anything else, the team simply needs elite prospects. They’ve got a lot of guys at a lot of different positions. Castro at SS, Clemens at 2B, Paredes at SS/3B, Cameron in CF, Rogers at C, as well as the bulk of their starting pitching prospects. Many of those names will probably see the MLB and are all good bets to get there. However, the system lacks the big time, dynamite prospect. The White Sox have Eloy Jimenez, the Blue Jays Vlad Guerrero Jr., the Padres Fernando Tatis Jr., the Braves have Ronald Alcuña. The Tigers are yet to possess that crown jewel type guy. Manning or Mize could easily become that, they just aren’t there yet, which is something to monitor going forward. 2019 should bring another infusion of talent into the system as well. The Tigers will have the #5 overall pick in the Draft, which will give them the ability to add another top tier prospect to the system, and they can trade guys in season as well, Castellanos and the newly-signed Tyson Ross come to mind, as well as the potential question over Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd. For now, things are coming along and a lot of the new blood should hit the MLB within the next two years, but there is still more progress to be made before the rebuild turns a corner
MVP Resume Breakdown as NFL Season Enters 4th Quarter
By Daniel Thompson
With the season officially 75% of the way done, the MVP race is about as hot as it gets right now. Every team has 4 games remaining, meaning there’s plenty of time for any of the front runners to improve their resume or ruin their shot at earning the MVP. This year’s race is particularly interesting to me because there has been a bit of a changing of the guard at the top of the QB position. Tom Brady has still been a top 10 quarterback this season, but is finally beginning to look like the years have caught up on him. It’s irrefutable that Brady hasn’t been less dominant since the early 2000s, and 2018 has been debatably the worst season of his career barring injury and his rookie season as a fourth-string QB. All signs are pointing to 2018 being the first year in which Brady doesn’t receive a vote for MVP since 2012. Likewise, Aaron Rodgers has been good, but has failed to live up to his lofty standards so far as well. His team’s record certainly keeps him out of the MVP conversation, and in all likelihood have to win out and get lucky to make the playoffs. While Rodgers has been out of the picture in two of the previous five seasons due to injury, this is the first season in a while where Rodgers doesn’t seem to be able to will the Packers to victory. Of course, the other QB who has been consistently been at the top of the QB hierarchy for the past half-decade is MVP contender Drew Brees -- but more on him later. Of course, the 2018 NFL season cannot be discussed without Patrick Mahomes. His performance this year has exceeded the wildest dreams of Chiefs fans and it looks like Mahomes will be in the MVP conversation for years to come. Jared Goff leads the team with the best record in the league and is fourth in yards, TDs, and passer rating. Andrew Luck has quieted the critics this season after disappearing for nearly three years, but he’s not in the MVP race this year. Five first round rookie QBs all have multiple wins under their belts now, and Mitch Trubisky and DeShaun Watson lead a pair of 8-3 teams. It does finally feel like the long anticipated transition from the old-guard of NFL QBs is underway, and with it a new batch of players to award MVPs. Every player I will consider has never won the award previously, so voter fatigue will not be an element in this conversation for the first time in years. With all the pieces set up for the most interesting MVP race in years, I’ll be breaking down the campaigns for the four QBs and two RBs who still have a chance.
Patrick Mahomes, QB Kansas City Chiefs
Of course, this race has two heavy favorites: Mahomes and Brees. QBs have won 5 consecutive MVPs, and these two QBs have been the two best all season, and in almost every way have put together near carbon copy resumes this season. Statistically, these have definitely been the two best QBs with both QBs leading in several categories. Winningly, both command 10-2 teams, with the slight advantage going to Mahomes, whose Chiefs are currently in first place of the AFC and control their seeding destiny. Mahomes’ real advantage comes in how much he has transformed this offense from last year. Brees has been the starter for nearly every game in New Orleans since 2006, so no one really has any clue what this offense would look like without him. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have undergone a nearly unprecedented offensive explosion from 2017 to 2018. This metamorphosis is especially impressive when you consider that Mahomes took over for a respectable starter in Alex Smith, who clearly had been keeping the Redskins afloat prior to his injury. Of course, both the Saints’ and Chiefs’ offenses are loaded with talent outside of QB, but the Chiefs have gone from an elite offense in 2017 to being an all-time great offense in 2018 thanks to Patrick Mahomes. Using Football Outsiders’ DVOA offensive efficiency metric, the Chiefs had the 4th best offense in the NFL in 2017 with a 15.7% offensive efficiency. In 2018 their offensive DVOA has soared up to 39.0% (+23.3%), good enough for 4th highest of all time. I tried to find a similar positive jump in recent years, and there just isn't one. The best comparison I could find is Peyton Manning falling from elite in 2014 to a bad back-up QB in 2015. In 2014 the Broncos came in at an even 20.0% DVOA and then fell off a cliff along with Peyton Manning in 2014, with a -8.7% (-28.7%) DVOA. Of course, neither of these changes were entirely in the QB, but Mahomes has made Alex Smith look like a back-up quarterback, which speaks volumes to how good he’s been this season, and would suggest Mahomes’ play style has spread the field and allowed everyone in offense to shine. In more traditional stats, Mahomes leads the league with 41 TDs (9 ahead of second) and is only 22 yards behind Ben Roethlisberger in passing yards with 3923. The only real blemish on his resume is his 10 INTs, five of which came in the Patriots and Rams games.
Drew Brees, QB New Orleans Saints
Brees, has just about every reason to vote Mahomes going for himself as well. His impact on his offense might be easier to overlook due to his consistency for over a decade, but that also plays out in his favor in the sense that votres may be compelled to vote for the best QB to never win MVP while they still can. Make no mistake, if Brees wins this year, the MVP will not be a lifetime achievement award. He has been debatably the best QB in the league and plays for debatably the best team. His lack of bad plays and bag games probably would have made him the favorite. Until he had a bad game filled with ugly plays. This award was Brees’ to lose until his no-good very bad Thursday against the Cowboys. He still has debatably the best statistics in the league, but Mahomes has not been contained like that once this season. Brees was limited to 39 first half passing yards, and 127 passing yards total, including an interception that may have been the worst of his career. Brees still has plenty of time to recover, but he may need some help. Ultimately, I think MVP voters think more about season storylines than stats, but Brees has certainly avoided the negative plays that may have cost an already talented team. While Brees has thrown for 11 less touchdowns and over 600 less yards, he has thrown three interceptions to Mahomes’ 1o and taken 12 sacks to Mahomes’ 20. A criticism of Brees could be that he throws more screens in the backfield to great athletes, making his job easier than Mahomes’. However, Brees ranks 11th in air yards per completion while Mahomes ranks 6th, per NFL Next Gen Stats. So neither QB has been remarkable in that department, but both are good. Eclipsing Peyton Manning in all-time passing yardage will certainly only do Brees favors come voting time. Statistically, these two QBs are close enough that I think most voters will come down to picking whichever narrative they like best: the sophomore QB who has transformed his team, or the reliable legend who is flourishing while he has a competitive team again.
Jared Goff, QB Saint Louis Rams
The argument for Goff comes down to him being one of the best QBs and playing for the team with the best record in the NFL. There is no doubt that the Rams are a great team, if not the best in the league and Goff has had a fantastic season. I don’t believe that many voters out there think Goff is the best QB in the NFL, but he is 4th in passing yards, 6th in TDs, 4th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, and probably most importantly, tied for first in 4th quarter comebacks and game winning drives. Only DeShaun Watson also has four of each. I definitely anticipate Goff to receive a few votes for making a ton of crucial plays for the team that will probably be the Super Bowl favorites by the time the ballots are cast. Maybe any other QB wouldn’t have gotten the Rams to this record, nor made them the favorites to win to win the Super Bowl. More certainly, Goff will need to either have an out of this world final quarter to the season, or the other top QBs will have to fall apart.
Philip Rivers, QB Los Angeles Chargers
The last QB in this race is a long-shot for now, but has an outside chance of wiping out a front-runner and boasts an incredibly similar profile to Drew Brees. The Chargers are a very good and complete team this season, as everyone knows but no one seems to care about. The national indifference to the Chargers is reasonable as they are stuck in the fast lane to a wild card bid thanks to a Week 1 loss at home to the Chiefs, but they’ve remained within striking distance. At one game behind, their biggest blunder was picking the Broncos to end a six-game winning streak against. Even if the Chargers got a potential record-tying win in Kansas City Week 15, they’ll still be in second in the West because of division winning percentage, barring a KC loss to Oakland. After beating the Steelers on Sunday night, if the Chargers can beat the Chiefs they will have a legitimate argument for being the best team in the AFC, and a real shot at earning that all-important first seed. Should the Chargers win the AFC West, it would become a lot more difficult for voters to pick Mahomes over Rivers. In fact, the last time a QB won MVP without winning his division was Peyton Manning in 2008. The, “if not now, then win?” effect would neutralize one of Brees’ biggest advantages. Should the Chargers win the AFC West, Rivers would not have to up his game much at all to post near-identical stats on the season as Brees and ride a recency bias to a blindside MVP win.
Todd Gurley, RB Saint Louis Rams
Todd Gurley suffers from the same burden that most of these candidates. His offense is so good, that it would still be great with an average player at his position, which is why I see his campaign is doomed. Although nearly everyone would agree that Gurley is a better RB than Goff is a QB, I just can’t see a running back winning MVP in today’s NFL while a part of such a good team. Gurley's numbers He’s first in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards from scrimmage this season. However, his numbers aren’t really any better from last season and he still lost to the best QB in the league in 2017. Gurley’s numbers are still about on par for the best RB in the league any given season, meanwhile the bar has been raised for QBs by this year’s performances. There is a running back, however; that I think really has posted numbers that could earn him the MVP should the quarterbacks fall apart.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB Dallas Cowboys
At a quick glance, Elliott has been nearly as good as Gurley. He’s rushed for 26 less yards and produced 77 less yards from scrimmage as Gurley. It’s quite astonishing to me that he hasn’t received more nominations from the media, especially since he wears a star on his helmet. Elliott's yards per touch numbers are worse, but that’s where I believe his value lies. The one thing Elliott has that Gurley doesn’t, is that his team needs him, and needs him badly. The Rams are a playoff team without Gurley, no doubt about it. The Cowboys were a laughing stock for half the season, and it’s widely believed that Dak needs Zeke to keep defenses honest if he is to have any success throwing the ball. Before the trade for Amari Cooper, he was the only threat on Dallas’ offense beside linemen. Accordingly, Zeke has been trusted with seven more carries and receptions than Gurley this season. The Cowboys are 7-5 and will probably make the playoffs, with the biggest offensive contribution coming from their RB. The last RB to win the MVP was of course Adrian Peterson who accounted for 41.6% of the Vikings’ yards from scrimmage that season. Elliott hasn’t been nearly that good, but he has produced 37.0% of the Cowboys’ total offense. Compare that to Gurley, who has only accounted for 30.3% of the Rams’ total yardage. Zeke is just objectively more important to his team, and if the quarterbacks this year were to collectively blow it down the stretch, Elliot deserves serious MVP consideration. This Cowboys team is red-hot and needs Zeke like Jerry Jones needs media attention. I’m not sure how his season isn’t more publicized. He ticks all of the boxes.
The stats used in this article all come from the following sources
By: Alex Drain
At the outset of this season, I set my personal expectation for Michigan Basketball to be pretty modest. I expected roughly a top four NCAA Tournament seed and a sweet 16 appearance. I did not, however, seriously expect the Wolverines to be a national title contender. And if I had, I would not have expected it to be revealed in early December. After all, at this time last season, the eventual national runner-up Wolverines were languishing in uncertainty after losing to a not-very-good LSU team in Maui and choking a game away against Ohio State.
Yet defying expectations, Michigan basketball is currently 9-0 and #5 in the country and playing about as good as any team out there. They’ve already blown out blueblood programs like North Carolina and Villanova and dispatched conference foes Purdue and Northwestern. Their red hot success has already acquired recognition from national outlets, such as The Ringer, SB Nation, CBS Sports, and ESPN. It seems like everyone is noticing how good this team currently is, which brings us to the central question: just how good can this team be and are they a national title… favorite?
How good the team is currently
Pretty darn good.
Oh you want details?
They are currently the KenPom #4 team, but since we’re still just over a month into the season, some of those numbers are accounting for preseason, when Michigan was expected to be a fringe top 25 team and many of the other elite teams were not. Removing those preseason factors on BartTorvik.com’s T-Rank (a very similar metric) reveals Michigan to be the best team in the country, just narrowly ahead of Duke. Most notably, Michigan’s defense is suffocating, ranking #1 in KenPom for the whole season, as well as #1 in the T-Rank minus preseason expectations. Not just that, but Michigan’s defense is so much better than its peers: in both of those two metrics, the nation’s #2 defense is closer to #7 than to #1 Michigan. In the first nine games played, Michigan has gone up against two of the nation’s top ten offenses, Purdue and North Carolina, and held both to under a point per possession, as well as under 70 points total.
The defining characteristics of Michigan’s defense are not allowing many three point attempts, not fouling, and sporting the nation’s top 2 point field goal defense. It starts with point guard Zavier Simpson, who is unquestionably the nation’s best defensive point guard. He is the type of player who can just wipe whoever he’s guarding right off the map. He did it to Jalen Brunson in the national title game and Cassius Winston last year, and to Carsen Edwards and Coby White this year. There’s also Charles Matthews, an elite perimeter defender, and Jon Teske, a game-altering rim protector. Even Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis, who were not supposed to be good defensively, have been above-average on that end. Add it up and you have a defense that is currently the best, but has the chance to be one of the best in modern college history.
But outside the defense, the offense isn’t anything to complain about. While it’s not the break-neck unit of Michigan teams past, it is still either top 20 (KP) or top 30 (T-R), depending on which metric you use. Additionally, there’s decent evidence that two grizzly offensive games to start the season against cupcake opponents (Norfolk St. and Holy Cross) are weighing the numbers down, as since that point, Michigan’s adjusted offense has been top 10, to go with the still impenetrable defense. The team has good three point shooters (Poole, Brazdeikis, Brooks, and Livers), a deadly pick-and-roll combo (Simpson and Teske), and overall, just guys who know how to get buckets in big moments, whether it’s Charles Matthews’s silky turn-around jumpers, Jordan Poole’s tenacious drives, or Brazdeikis’s fearless playing style. The ability to get big shots helped stem the tide even as Tuesday’s game against Northwestern seemed to be slipping away.
Finally, there’s just the general impressiveness factor. Michigan isn’t just beating teams: by and large, they’re annihilating them. Despite playing a schedule that includes four “Quadrant 1” games, Michigan has won all nine games but one by at least 17 points, with an average margin of victory for the season of 19.2 points. They’ve led by at least 15 points at one juncture in every single game they’ve played so far.
Can they get better?
Sure. The voice of one of your elementary school teachers rattles in your head as you hear me say “there’s always room for improvement”. When I say that I mostly mean offensively, because the way the defense is right now is more than enough to win a national championship and it feels unrealistic to expect much improvement. Offensively there is room for growth. The game with Northwestern showcased potential issues that arise if teams stop guarding the offensively limited Zavier Simpson altogether. The Wolverines will have to find a solution to that and integrating Isaiah Livers into the offense more actively is something to look into.
The other area is depth. Last year’s Michigan team was pretty deep, often playing 9 guys in the rotation in a given game. This year’s team plays a tight seven. That’s been okay because the starting lineup gels so well together and is playing at such a high level that Michigan has been able to obliterate opponents with just that group alone. Furthermore because Michigan doesn’t foul, it allows them to avoid situations where they need to use more guys. But it won’t be enough as the season goes on, since the occasional foul-happy game will happen (like say the Northwestern affair) and because injuries are natural. Michigan’s bench currently consists of Brooks and Livers, as well as backup C Austin Davis and a whole bunch of freshmen. Livers and Brooks are fine but Davis’s appearances have been ghastly and have increased the load on Teske’s shoulders. At the bare minimum, the Wolverines need another big man to develop unless Davis magically turns it around, and another guard wouldn’t be bad. The most obvious options for those roles are freshmen Brandon Johns (PF) and David DeJulius (PG). Both of whom were pretty sought after recruits and haven’t looked bad in the little time we’ve seen of them. It is imperative for Michigan to use this next month of easier games (more on that in a minute) to bring those guys up to speed.
What the future holds and the national picture
Amazingly, the Wolverines are nearly certain to make it to January undefeated and have a very good chance to get to Martin Luther King weekend still unscathed. That’s because Michigan closes out December with four games against teams they have >96% win probabilities against, followed by an early January Big Ten slate that gives Michigan >80% win probability against every team they see until they head to Wisconsin on Jan. 19. If they made it to Wisconsin undefeated, they would be 17-0 and undoubtedly top three in the nation. The Big Ten is a much stronger conference in 2018-19 than it was the last few years and winning it is going to require beating some solid teams on the road in hostile environments. Torvik currently projects Michigan to finish 16-4 in the Big Ten (winning it by a solid three games) and thus 27-4 overall. Right now that feels like a pretty reasonable projection for how the regular season will play out. If that’s the case, then the Maize and Blue would have a very good chance of securing the program’s first #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 1993 and would instantly become a favorite to reach the Final Four.
But in terms of a national picture, where does this team stack up alongside some of the other national names? Right now with the way Michigan is playing, they have as good of a case for national #1 as anybody. Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Virginia seem to be the big four teams alongside Michigan making up the nation’s top tier, but no one is demolishing teams like the Wolverines are. This Michigan team is already special, but they have a very real chance to end March Madness as the last team standing.