The 2017 NCAA Tournament continued on Thursday night with Sweet 16 play, where three of the four games went right down to the wire. First it was Oregon scoring the final four points of the game to edge Michigan, 69-68. Gonzaga outlasted West Virginia 61-58 in a slugfest, scoring the final six points to eliminate the Mountaineers.
Not to be outdone for a thriller was Xavier/Arizona, appearing for a while that Sean Miller would get the best of his old school. Instead, Xavier closed the final 2:40 on a 9-0 run for a stunning 73-71 upset. There would be no ‘upset’ in the Kansas/Purdue game, although the Jayhawks erased an eight-point deficit late in the first half and steamroll the Boilermakers from there, winning 98-66.
The lineup for Friday should produce more excitement, including with a much anticipated Kentucky vs. UCLA showdown of two heavyweights in the sport…
Hat’s Friday Night Picks:
#4 Butler (25-8) vs. #1 North Carolina (29-7)… Even though North Carolina is 0-2 all-time against Butler, the Tar Heels are plenty confident. Roy Williams is 12-1 in the Sweet 16 as a #1 seed, including winning twice before in seasons where UNC won National Championships. His Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding margin with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks able to clean up misses, just as they did in their 72-65 comeback win over Arkansas in the Round of 32. This UNC team has a 38-14 advantage in offensive rebounding in the NCAA Tournament. Butler is no pushover, however, and must be taken seriously. The Bulldogs have not trailed yet in the NCAA Tournament, the only team that can say such at this juncture, and they featured an experienced group with three senior starters, none more reliable than 6′7″ junior forward Kelan Martin. George Washington transfer Kethan Savage gives them another steady vet in the backcourt. Defensively, they kept down Middle Tennessee’s top scorer in Giddy Potts – 19.7PPG over the previous six games – and held him scoreless. Containing all the weapons UNC has, including ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson, will be a different story. Keep an eye on the health and effectiveness of guard Joel Berry – who has gone from 14.4PPG to 6.5PPG and is 3-for-21 from the field in the tourney – for UNC. He’ll be needed to produce in a big way to get to the Final Four. Pick – UNC 78, Butler 70
#7 South Carolina (24-10) vs. #3 Baylor (27-7)… What a story this South Carolina team, which just barely missed the NCAA Tournament a year ago, has been. Frank Martin’s Gamecocks made their first trip to the Big Dance since 2004, notched its first victory in the tourney since 1973 and then followed up an impressive 93-73 win over Marquette with a commanding 88-81 come-from-behind win over ACC Tournament Champ Duke. In that game against Duke, they overcame a 7-for-35 shooting start to scored 65 second half points. Senior Sindarius Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year, is putting up over 26 points per game to go with 8.5RPG and 3.5APG in the NCAA Tournament. He’s a big guard at 6′6″ and is complemented b 6′6″ sophomore P.J. Dozier quite well. To beat Baylor, they’ll need 6′9″ sophomore forward Chris Silva to rebound well against a Bears team that can control the inside against most foes. In fact, in their opening round win over New Mexico State, Baylor finished with a 50-28 advantage when it came to points in the paint. But versus a South Carolina zone defense that has gotten better lately, Baylor will need the likes of Al Freeman (21Pts. 3-3 on 3’s in that first round), Miami transfer Manu Lecomte and others to knock down shots from the perimeter to take pressure off the front-court players. Pick – South Carolina 73, Baylor 69
#2 Kentucky (31-5) vs. #3 UCLA (31-4)… This is a National Championship caliber matchup in the Sweet 16. Back in December, these two teams met and it was UCLA winning 97-92, despite a bevy of turnovers, at Rupp Arena. Kentucky is playing at a different level than back then, but so too are the Bruins, who lead the country in scoring at 90.2 points per game. UCLA is also tops in the nation in field goal percentage (52%) and assists (21.6 per contest). John Calipari is 5-0 in the Sweet 16 at Kentucky, which comes in riding a 13-game winning streak that is longer than anyone else still playing. Meanwhile, Steve Alford has not advanced past this round as a Head Coach at any of his stops. Neither defense is probably going to be able to shut down the other, so it’s likely going to become a game full of dunks, lobs and 3’s where whoever outscores the other in a shoot-out is left standing. Nobody has dazzled more in College Hoops this season than 6′6″ freshman Lonzo Ball, a guy that shot 7-of-10 from the field with 18 points, nine assists, seven boards and just one turnover in a 79-67 win over Cincinnati in the previous round. Kentucky has the inside presence with 6′10″ freshman Bam Adebayo, who had four second half jams in their 65-62 white-knuckler with Wichita State. Bam, a virtual Dwight Howard clone, also blocked the game’s final shot. There are so many talented players on the floor for both teams, many of whom will go on to the NBA. The guy Kentucky is hoping can put them over the top is Malik Monk, who earlier in the season scored 47 points on UNC, yet is just 6-of-21 from the field in this NCAA Tournament. As good as 6′3″ senior guard Bryce Alford is on the offensive end of the court, UCLA may look to hide him some defensively and knows a strong performance skilled 6′10″ freshman T.J. Leaf in the post is paramount. Pick – UCLA 91, Kentucky 89
#8 Wisconsin (27-9) vs. #4 Florida (26-8)… Making their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance are the Wisconsin Badgers, led by the veteran play of senior forward Nigel Hayes, who scored the game-winner in the team’s 65-62 comeback win over defending National Champ Villanova. In that game, Nova led 57-50 with 5:16 to play, but the Badgers fought back with timely plays from tourney tested players like Hayes, senior guard Bronson Koenig, senior forward Vitto Brown and sophomore forward Ethan Happ. The Badgers won thanks to that 15-5 run and largely because they finished +10 in the paint. Will they be able to get similar results on a long and athletic Florida team coming into its own? No one is flourishing more on the Gators than 6′8″ junior Devin Robinson, fresh off a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds in a 65-39 rout of defensive-minded Virginia. Robinson had a career-high of 24 points in the game before that, an 80-65 win over East Tennessee State where the Gators shook off an 0-for-8 start from three-point distance. Given that Florida can be hold from three-point range, it’s essential that 6′1″ senior guard Kasey Hill penetrate with success and finish on the drive as well as set up others to score. While many eyes will be on the UCLA/Kentucky game in the second window, and understandably so, don’t be surprised to see this one produce a buzzer-beater or get decided on the final possession. Pick – Florida 66, Wisconsin 65
The 2017 NCAA Tournament has seen the field trim from 68 teams to the Sweet 16. There weren’t too many upsets or surprises in the first two rounds. In fact, we had no overtime games or buzzer-beaters. However, tourney favorite (per the oddsmakers in Vegas) Duke was knocked out in the Round of 32 as well as defending National Champ Villanova.
Let’s take a look at the Thursday night slate and offer up predictions since pretty much everyone’s brackets have been blown to smithereens. We’ll call this Take 2…
Hat’s Thursday Night Picks:
#7 Michigan (26-11) vs. #3 Oregon (31-5)… Down 11 early in the second half against Rhode Island, Oregon is fortunate in some respects to still be playing as they used a 7-0 run over the final 2:09, capped by a tie-breaking three-pointer from Tyler Dorsey, to beat the Rams 75-72 in the last round. They’re also playing without injured rim protector and 6′10″ senior Chris Boucher. Michigan also is fortunate for different reasons. The Wolverines had a plane crash prior to the Big Ten Tournament, remarkably won it as a #8 seed with four victories in four days, then rallied past the likes of Oklahoma State and Louisville to get to this point. Guard Derrick Walton has been playing at a tremendously high level with 17 assists compared to just three turnovers in the NCAA Tournament, while 6′10″ sophomore forward Moritz Wagner is coming off a career-high 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting against Louisville. Coach John Beilein of Michigan is a brilliant offensive mind and his team doesn’t turn it over, pluses uses the 3-point line better than most. With a healthy Boucher, the Dukes probably win this one rather handily, but they will need an unsung hero to emerge to contain Walton, plus help out the talented trio of Dorsey, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell to keep marching towards the Final Four. Michigan’s confidence is through the roof. Pick – Michigan 80, Oregon 78
#4 West Virginia (28-8) vs. #1 Gonzaga (34-1)… There probably hasn’t been a quieter #1 seed with as lofty a record as this Gonzaga, who entered with the best winning percentage of any participant in this year’s NCAA Tournament, yet some wanted them to be a #2 seed because of the strength of schedule not being as fierce as some of the other Top 25 ranked teams in the nation. Don’t let that or previous exits at this point of the tourney – this is their eighth Sweet 16 trip, but they’ve only appeared in the Elite eight twice (19999, 2015) – fool you. Junior 6′3″ guard Nigel Williams-Goss is a pick-and-roll maestro, 7′1″ senior center Przemek Karnowski is strong in the low block and 7′0″ freshman center Zach Collins has given them another solid big man to utilize. West Virginia, known for their outstanding pressure on defense as they lead the country in turnovers fored, had success turning over both Bucknell and Notre Dame in the last two rounds. The Mountaineers also shot it exceedingly well in beating the Irish; canning 8-of-14 3’s an 21-of-26 free-throws. Will guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles be able to duplicate that against a Gonzaga team that is pretty good defensively in its own right? While West Virginia is a physical tough bunch, they’re going to need to produce in the paint and see 6′9″ senior forward Nathan Adrian give them a big effort on the glass to knock out the top-seeded Bulldogs. Pick – Gonzaga 75, West Virginia 70
#4 Purdue (27-7) vs. #1 Kansas (30-4)… After beating a pesky Vermont team 80-70 in the opening round, Matt Painter’s Boilermakers got up as many as 19 points against Iowa State, lost the lead, but recovered to prevail 80-76 over a dangerous Cyclones team. Sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan of Purdue leads the nation in double-doubles with 28. He was the Big 10 Player of the Year and an argument could be made for him as National Player of the Year. Kansas fifth-year senior Landen Lucas, their best rebounder, will have his hands full with him on the inside as well as with 7′2″ junior center Isaac Haas. Kansas counters with a dynamic perimeter attack, headlined by Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason (20.8PPG, 48.7% 3’s) and and Big 12 Freshman of the Year Josh Jackson. That duo combines for over 37 points per game, and if anyone questioned the value of potential first round pick Jackson, just consider they went from losing to TCU in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals without him to winning these last two games by a total of 58 points. Included was a 90-70 romp of a Michigan State team known for being to score on over the years. Purdue can win this game, but playing from in front is paramount because they are 19-1 when ahead at half-time this season. Kansas seems to have more ways of scoring. Pick – Kansas 76, Purdue 73
#11 Xavier (23-14) vs. 2 Arizona (32-4)… The interesting subplot to this one is that Arizona’s Head Coach, Sean Miller, used to be at Xavier. He’s trying to break through and get Arizona to the Final Four for the first time since 2001. The Wildcats didn’t blink in the second round against St. Mary’s, who led them by 10 in the first half, as they made 13 consecutive free-throws at one point to rally for a 69-60 win. Arizona is giving up nearly six fewer points per game on the defensive side of the ball and shooting 39.6% from three-point range compared to Xavier’s 34.9% on the season. Xavier’s zone defense gave both Florida St. and Maryland issues, defeating each by double-digits. A lot of the focus for the Musketeers will be slowing down sophomore guard Allonzo Trier as well as 6′11″ senior forward Lauri Markkanen, the stretch ‘4′ who can deliver inside or out. It’s remarkable the job Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack has done to get this team to its sixth Sweet 16 since 2008 without injured sophomore guard Edmond Sumner (15PPG, 5APG), their second leading scorer. Someone will have to help out 6′6″ junior swingman Trevon Bluiett in shouldering the scoring load. Junior 5′11″ guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright could be the x-factor for Zona in this one. He’s a capable outside shooter and also can set others up to score, something they’ll need him to do whether it’s in the open floor or half-court. Pick – Arizona 69, Xavier 59
We’re back for our second blog entry of this Sweet 16 for the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament. Our picks went 3-1 on Thursday night with the lone blemish being Miami falling to Villanova, although I don’t feel too bad about it since the Hurricanes became the first team in the history of the tourney to shoot over 50% from the field and lose by more than 20. Villanova was just that good, shooting lights out the whole night.
Nova, like the other three winners – Oklahoma, Kansas and Oregon – prevailed by double-digits as the drama was pretty much kept to a minimum on Thursday compared to the action-packed Round of 32 games played on Sunday.
Let’s go through Friday night’s picks now . . .
Hat’s Friday Night Picks:
#1 Virginia (28-7) vs. #4 Iowa State (23-11) . . . The Cavaliers are looking to get to the Elite Eight for the first time in 21 years and they are well positioned to do it, though they have to hold off an Iowa State team that can score it in bunches. Against Iona in the first round, the Cyclones put up 94 points and then got held to 78 in the second round by Little Rock, though Monte Morris locked up scoring sensation Josh Hagins. UVA counters with the #2 ranked defense in the nation – behind only Wichita State – and they are led by Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 22 points against Butler and was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Tony Bennett’s Cavs must be able to contain Georges Niang, who’s coming off back-to-back 28-point efforts. Not only do the Cyclones have to worry about Brogdon, but also 6′8″ South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill in the front-court and guard London Perrantes, due for a breakout game, in the backcourt. Pick – UVA 66-63.
#6 Notre Dame (23-11) vs. #7 Wisconsin (22-12) . . . Some didn’t see either of these two teams getting to the Round of 32. Even fewer had them squaring off in the Sweet 16. But Wisconsin is here after seeing their top scorers in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker graduate from a season ago, while Notre Dame found its way to this point, despite the departures of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Grant and Connaughton combined for 29PPG a season ago. The key in this game to me will be whether or not Wisconsin’s front-line duo of senior Nigel Hayes and freshman Ethan Happ can keep Zach Auguste, who has 21 double-doubles on the year, from dominating in the paint. Notre Dame has shown a bit more explosiveness offensively, and if the Badgers don’t get another stellar outside shooting performance from guard Bronson Koenig (the guy that was 6-12 from 3 against Xavier and hit the game-winner), it’ll be a tall order for them to reach their third straight Elite eight. Pick – Notre Dame 72-65.
#10 Syracuse (21-13) vs. #11 Gonzaga (28-7) … It’s the first Sweet 16 appearance for Syracuse since 2013, whereas Gonzaga believe it or not ranks up there with the best when it comes to getting this far in the tourney as Mark Few’s bunch is making its seventh Sweet 16 since 1999. Jim Boeheim’s Orange got here by beating #7 seed Dayton and then #15 seed Middle Tennessee, the most surprising Round of 32 team after its shocker of Michigan State. So much has been made of the vaunted 2-3 Syracuse zone defense and rightfully so as they have great length and versatility to bottle up most any offense out there. However, what is being undersold a bit in my opinion is the Gonzaga defense, which held both Utah and Seton Hall – two teams with plenty of firepower – below 60 points in this NCAA Tournament. So while most will be focused on how that Syracuse defense contains Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer (an ex-Kentucky forward), Eric McClellan (an ex-Vanderbilt guard) and the rest of the Zags, to me this comes down to what Syracuse’s offense does. Michael Gibinije and 6′6″ freshman Malachi Richmond will dictate what type of success the Orange have on that end. Pick – Gonzaga 73-70 (OT)
#1 North Carolina (30-6) vs. #5 Indiana (27-7) . . . This game is fascinating on so many levels. Some feel it might even get into the high 80’s or low 90’s with the score since both are so potent offensively. UNC handled a Providence team with a potential lottery pick in Kris Dunn in the second round, whereas Indiana took down a Kentucky team that is annually chock full of pros these days under John Calipari. Brice Johnson has been a stud all year long for the Tar Heels, registering 21 double-doubles and powering a strong front-court. Indiana’s isn’t quite as formidable up front, but freshman Thomas Bryant was tremendous against Kentucky and flashed his pro potential. If he duplicates that effort, the Hoosiers have a great chance. The Heels must be able to contain Indiana’s three-point shooting game and hope that the guard match between Yogi Ferrell and Marcus Paige turns out to be a wash. The Heels aren’t as dependent on 3’s falling to win a high-scoring affair as the Hoosiers and that could be the difference. Pick – UNC 82-76
More on the UNC/Indiana game with my thoughts included on Tar Heel Illustrated here..
What a wild 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament it has been to this point, narrowing the field down from 68 to the Sweet 16. There are some compelling matchups remaining with no Cinderella story really left, but the first two first rounds more than captivated the nation to where if the remaining rounds are just as good, this will go down as a March Madness to remember.
In the first round, there were 10 double-digit seeds that advanced – the most ever. It also marked the first time ever that a #13, #14 and #15 seed won on the same day. But they paled in comparison to what happened on Sunday in the Round of 32, where there were five games decided by five points or less. That included the amazing finish between Wisconsin and Xavier, where the Badgers won a buzzer-beating three-pointer and the single biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history with a minute or less remaining as Texas A&M stormed back to stun Northern Iowa in double-overtime , remarkably after trailing by 12 with just 35 seconds to go.
Let’s dive into Thursday’s Sweet 16 games, but first, let’s begin by ranking the games in the Sweet 16 from most interesting to least . . .
Hat’s Sweet 16 Barometer: Most Fascinating to Least
No. 1 – #1 UNC vs. #4 Indiana… These are two of the most storied programs in College Basketball history. They’ve met twice before in the NCAA Tournament with Indiana winning both meetings, including when Isiah Thomas led the Hoosiers to a National Championship in 1981. Two of the most prolific offenses in the entire NCAA Tournament go at it in what has the makings to be a game good enough for the Final Four or Elite Eight taking place in the regional semifinals. Hard to trump that..
No. 2 – #2 Villanova vs. #3 Miami (FL)… The backcourt matchup in this one is worth the price of admission alone. Villanova is led by Ryan Arcidiacono, who Head Coach Jay Wright basically calls a carbon copy of himself. Miami’s Angel Rodriguez was sensational in their second round victory over Wichita State, scoring a career-high 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting as the Canes went from up 21 to down a point before holding off a seasoned Shockers team by eight
No. 3 – #10 Syracuse vs. #11 Gonzaga… A double-digit seed will be playing in the Elite Eight and it’ll be the winner of this game. You have the vaunted 2-3 Syracuse zone with their great length against a Gonzaga team that is no short order either, led by 6′10″ sophomore Domantas Sabonis, son of Basketball Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis. Both were dominant in Round of 32 wins; Syracuse over upset-minded Middle Tennessee (which stunned tourney co-favorite Michigan St.) and Gonzaga throttling a quality Utah team. If each plays to their potential, this one might produce a buzzer-beating finish.
No. 4 – #2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Texas A&M… This one shouldn’t be slept on as it is two old Big 12 rivals squaring off and the favorite for National Player of the Year – Buddy Hield of Oklahoma – taking center stage. Hield was magnificent in the team’s 85-81 second round over VCU with 36 points – 29 in the second half – on 11-of-20 shooting from the field with six treys and seven boards. A&M’s comeback was one for the ages and Danuel House is out to show he’s a household name (see what I did there?) as he ignited the rally vs. Northern Iowa.
No. 5 – #1 Virginia vs. #4 Iowa State… You have a UVA team that is one of the best in the nation defensively against an Iowa State squad that has three-point shooting prowess, having made 10 or more 3’s on nine occasions over the past 13 games. Tony Bennett has the Cavs in a position to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1984, the days of Ralph Sampson. Meanwhile, Iowa St. comes in with arguably the best player on the court in Georges Niang, who scored 28 points in each of his team’s first two tourney wins.
No. 6 – #1 Oregon vs. #4 Duke… Just about any other year, it would be Duke favored to win this game. Instead, the top-seeded Ducks area a slight favorite against the reigning National Champs, who lean heavily on the 1-2 punch of projected lottery pick Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen. That duo combined for 54 points in a 71-64 win over Yale, where a 27-point lead shrunk all the way down to three late in the game. Oregon tied a school-record for wins with 30, which the 1944-45 team also accomplished, and is the least ballyhooed #1 seed in the tourney in part because they play on the West Coast if you ask me.
No. 7 – #1 Kansas vs. #5 Maryland… In terms of competitiveness, this one has the biggest potential to be a blowout in my opinion as Maryland was fortunate not to let a late lead against #12 seed South Dakota State late in the game slip away and had to rally past #13 seed Hawaii in the second round. Kansas is a co-favorite with UNC to win the tourney at this point. Bill Self’s Jayhawks have shellacked their first two foes in the tourney by a combined 38 points, and it really hasn’t even been that close.
No. 8 – #6 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wisconsin… This would be a great football game and would’ve been an even better basketball matchup in the NCAA Tournament if it happened last year when Wisconsin had the duo of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker that fell to Duke in the National Championship, while Notre Dame lost a heart-breaker in 2015 to Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Both got here on game-winners; Bronson Koenig for Wisconsin and freshman backup Rex Pflueger (not to be confused with former pro wrestler Lex Luger) for Notre Dame. Neither plays a real attractive style, and while none of the games figure to be boring, we anticipated getting #2 Xavier vs. #3 West Virginia facing each other here instead of these two.
Hat’s Thursday Night Picks:
#2 Villanova (31-5) vs. #3 Miami (27-7) – This is the hardest Sweet 16 game for me to call as I see it coming right down to the wire. Where’s the edge? Miami can control the backboards better if Tonye Jekiri, the 7-footer, stays out of foul trouble. Rodriguez also is good enough to make a play to win the game late if given the chance. It is worth noting that both teams got off to great starts in the Round of 32, but Miami has had some trouble holding onto leads and Villanova has the guards – Arcidiacono, Jalen Bruson, Josh Hart, etc. – to make a comeback. Pick – Miami 73-72.
#2 Oklahoma (27-7) vs. #3 Texas A&M (28-8) – The Aggies go through some lulls shooting the basketball, as seen to close out the first half vs. Northern Iowa where they went 1-of-15 going to intermission down 10. Oklahoma isn’t prone to as many cold spells, and their confidence probably grew from building a 21-7 lead vs. VCU with Hield in foul trouble and off to the slow start as it allowed – and forced - guys like Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and pick-and-pop forward Ryan Spangler – to have to make plays. Pick – Oklahoma 76-68.
#1 Kansas (32-4) vs. #5 Maryland (27-8) – In some publications, Maryland was rated as high as #1 in the preseason with a boatload of talent at Mark Turgeon’s disposal with playmaking guard Melo Trimble, shot-maker Jake Layman and Diamond Stone on the inside to headline the Terps. But they’ve had some maddening inconsistencies which include turnover issues, defensive rebounding lapses and most of all really struggled shooting from three-point distance in the second round vs. Hawaii as they went 1-of-18 behind the arc. Kansas held UCONN to 34% shooting and the Jayhawks know how to get it done defensively. Pick – Kansas 76-64.
#1 Oregon (30-6) vs. #4 Duke (25-10) – Shot-blocking was key for Oregon in its win over St. Joseph’s and the Ducks saw two underclassmen – freshman Tyler Dorsey and sophomore Dillon Brooks – make a couple of critical 3’s late to put them up when they were trailing. Will Duke have that third scoring option step up to help out Ingram and Allen? That’s a big question, as well as their defense that had some breakdowns against both UNCW and Yale earlier in the tourney. As long as Oregon is able to beat the Blue Devils off the dribble and not turn it over, they have the components it takes to beat Coach K’s bunch. Pick – Oregon 77-73.
The wild 2015 Major League Baseball season will come to a close with a Fall Classic that few envisioned taking place between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets.
For the Mets, their improbable run spearheaded by young, talented starting pitching, the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes via trade during the season and smokin’ hot bat of Daniel Murphy during the postseason has them playing in the World Series for the first time since 2000. That year, they were beaten by the Yankees in the Subway Series.
Kansas City is playing in the World Series for the second straight year. Last season’s team got in as a Wild Card, surprised at several turns along the way similar to these 2015 Mets, and ended up falling to San Francisco in Game 7 with the game-tying run being 90 feet away.
Here’s how I break down the series . . .
Hitting Edge – Mets (slightly with the footnote that the Royals get timely hits)
Starting Pitching – Mets
Bullpen – Royals
Fielding – Royals
Base Running – Royals
Mets: Murphy has had an outrageous postseason, batting .421 with 7 home runs and 11 RBI. Kansas City has to cool him off and also keep Cespedes in check. Those are the two most dangerous hitters in the New York lineup that can do damage. During the NLCS against the Cubs, they struck early and played from ahead, allowing them to swing the bats with confidence and not press.
Beyond those two, David Wright gives them a veteran who can come up with a key hit in a big spot and same goes for Curtis Granderson, one of three players hitting over .300 for the Mets in the playoffs along with Murphy and Juan Lagares. It’s far from murder’s row, but much better than a year ago when they ranked 28th in the sport in batting average and 27th in slugging.
In the starting pitching, it’s an embarrassment of riches with Matt Harvey (2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in the playoffs), Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. All were born in 1988 or later and have the type of stuff to control this series if on like they’ve been throughout this postseason. That was seen in sweeping the Cubs, a team they were 0-7 against during the regular season, during the NLCS.
In the bullpen, there are some concerns potentially leading up to closer Jeruys Familia, who was lights out in both in the NLDS and NLCS, especially the Game 5 clincher in the first round against the Dodgers that was a pressurized spot on the road.
Royals: Just like Cespedes was a shot in the arm for the Mets before their run to October, Kansas City got a jolt with the additions of both Ben Zobrist and pitcher Johnny Cueto, an ace when he was in Cincinnati. The Royals are an experienced team, and while they don’t have that singular feared hitter to the quality of Cespedes or even Murphy this postseason, they have a well-rounded lineup.
KC effectively manufactures runs, gets sacrifices, lay the bunts down, do all the little things and intangibles even on the base pads in order to excel. Arguably their most dynamic player is Lorenzo Cain, who enters the World Series having reached base in 15 straight playoff games. Cain was second in the AL in stolen bases and hit a league-high .372 with two outs. Eric Hosmer has been successful in those situations with 67 two-out base knocks.
These Royals are never fazed by a deficit. They came from 7-3 down in the Wild Card game last year against Oakland, then came back to beat the A’s. This season, they were trailing 6-2 in the ALDS in Game 4 at Houston in the eighth inning before rallying. What enables them to erase a deficit and keep it from growing even larger is a steady, sturdy bullpen. Wade Davis at the back end of the pen once was a starter and is money, which he showed in getting out of a first and third jam with nobody out in Game 6 of the ALCS vs. Toronto.
Even though the KC starting pitching may not stack up with the arms at the front end of the rotation for the Mets, they just need Cueto, Yodano Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Chris Young not to get bombed. Keep them in the game and get to Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and Davis in that pen with a chance to win. That would mean advantage Royals.
Pick: Royals in 6. The Mets have been a terrific story, but I feel like the layoff, basically going an entire week since finishing the Cubs off in the NLCS, could have a bit of a negative effect. If the series started a day or two earlier, that might’ve kept with the great momentum they established in the previous series.
KC has been able to come up with late-inning magic in the postseason, both this year and in 2014. The only difference is it’s role reversal to an extent with the Royals being more like the Giants from a year ago and the Mets being the new kid on the block that KC was in that Fall Classic, on an amazing run few expected.
The Royals expected to get back to this spot and have the type of reliable bullpen to hold a lead or mount a charge in what should be a competitive, exciting series with some interesting matchups and strategies playing out.
There are a bunch of toss-up games that could go either way on the docket for Week 4. The picks went good for both my dad, Mike Hatfield, and yours truly Matthew Hatfield during Week 3. It’ll be tough to duplicate it, but we’ll give it a try.
On Thursday night, my dad had Pittsburgh over Baltimore, while I ended up calling for a 21-13 Ravens win. Baltimore won 23-20 in overtime with the point spread being the Ravens favored by 3, so it ended up being a push in that regard.
Let’s review the records and give you some quick hitters on the games for Sunday and Monday . . .
Matthew Hatfield 30-18, 28-20 ATS, 10-2 Locks, 3-3 Upsets
Week 3 – 13-3 SU, 13-3 ATS, 5-0 Locks, 1-1 Upsets
Mike Hatfield: 27-21
Week 3 – 11-5
NY Jets (2-1) vs. Miami Dolphins (1-2) in London . . . This feels like a game that the Dolphins must win in order to keep pace with the improved Jets and Bills as well as defending Super Bowl Champ New England in the AFC East. However, the Jets lead the NFL in takeaways with 11, four from CB Darrelle Revis, and have given up a league-low 41 points thus far.
Matt Says: Miami 17-14 (MIA +2.5)
Mike Says: Miami
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2) . . . Jacksonville will try to stop a five-game winning streak by the Colts in the head-to-head series and their chances are better than usual with Indy star signal caller Andrew Luck sidelined due to a shoulder injury. Chuck Pagano and company are looking to save him for their following division matchup, Thursday night against Houston. Defensively, the Jags are searching for answers as they gave up 51 points to New England the last time out. Matt Hasselbeck isn’t Tom Brady, but the Colts at home still probably have more firepower minus Luck than the Jags do.
Matt Says: Indy 24-16 (IND -4)
Mike Says: Indy
NY Giants (1-2) at Buffalo Bills (2-1) . . . Both offenses were sterling their last time out; the Giants getting seven receptions apiece from Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. in beating Washington 32-21, while Tyrod Taylor completed 72.4% of his passes for 277 yards and a 3-0TD/Int. ratio in a 41-14 romp of Miami. The Bills are likely to be without two key playmakers, RB LeSean McCoy and WR Sammy Watkins, due to injury. That may give Big Blue the upper hand.
Matt Says: NY Giants 21-16 (NYG +6)
Mike Says: NY Giants
Carolina Panthers (3-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) . . . Since Week 1, Carolina has been without stud LB Luke Kuechly, but it hasn’t mattered a ton as the Panthers continue to be tough defensively. On the back end, defensive back Josh Norman has been a force with 15 tackles, five passes defended, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to earn NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for September. Rookie Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay offense may have a hard time overcome mistakes and getting back to .500.
Matt Says: Carolina 19-10 (CAR -3)
Mike Says: Carolina
Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) at Washington Redskins (1-2) . . . As inconsistent as these two teams have been, a win here puts them right back in the NFC East race. Washington’s defense is giving up an NFC-low 277.3 total yards per game. It’ll be key that LB Ryan Kerrigan, who has made 38.5 sacks since entering the league in 2011, applies pressure on Eagles Sam Bradford. The Redskins have yet to intercept a pass on defense. Bradford will want to take shots deep with Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper and company. Controlling the clock with RB’s Alfred Morris and Matt Jones is a must for the Skins.
Matt Says: Philly 24-21 (WSH +3.5)
Mike Says: Philly
Oakland Raiders (2-1) at Chicago Bears (0-3) . . . Charles Woodson is like a fine wine; he gets better with age. To go with his six tackles in last week’s game at Cleveland, he made a game-clinching interception with 38 seconds left to play to secure a 27-20 win for a Raiders team on the road that had previously lost 19 of 20 away from home. Here’s another road game, and it’ll be a tricky one for the 38-year-old Woodson and his teammates with Jay Cutler returning at quarterback for a struggling Bears team.
Matt Says: Chicago 27-20 (CHI +3)
Mike Says: Oakland
Houston Texans (1-2) at Atlanta Falcons (3-0) . . . This year, the Falcons have been down in games, but never out. All three of their wins have seen them rally in the fourth quarter from deficits, beating the likes of the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys from the NFC East. While RB Alfred Blue and WR DeAndre Hopkins had big games in last week’s win over Tampa Bay for Houston, the Texans will have their work cut out for them slowing down the tandem of WR Julio Jones and RB Devonta Freeman, who exploded for 141 yards rushing and 3TD’s against Dallas.
Matt Says: Atlanta 34-17 (ATL -4.5)
Mike Says: Atlanta
Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) . . . Not only are the Bengals off to a 3-0 start that saw them survive a 28-24 thriller in Baltimore against their division rival last week, WR A.J. Green was simply dominant with 10 catches for 227 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Bengals are looking for their fourth win in a row over the Chiefs in the head-to-head series, but Cincy’s offensive line will have to be up to the task of blocking pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston for it to happen. RB Jammaal Charles of KC is third in the AFC in rushing yards, while Cincy’s Gio Bernard is second.
Matt Says: Kansas City 23-21 (KC +3.5)
Mike Says: Cincinnati
Cleveland Browns (1-2) at San Diego Chargers (1-2) . . . To me, this is the Lock of the Week. San Diego seldom ever loses three straight with QB Philip Rivers, and it happening at home against a Browns team coming off a 27-20 loss to Oakland would be a shock. Keep an eye on two of the league’s more underrated receivers; Kelvin Benjamin for Cleveland and Keenan Allen of the Chargers. Both can make a game-changing play in this one.
Matt Says: San Diego 30-14 (SD -5)
Mike Says: San Diego
Green Bay Packers (3-0) at San Francisco (1-2) . . . Besides worrying about reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the prolific Packers offense that has seen their quarterback throw for 10 touchdowns without an interception, San Francisco has to contain LB Clay Matthews. In the past three meetings with the Niners, Matthews has 4.5 sacks. Furthermore, QB Colin Kaepernick on the other side of the ball has to take better care of the ball than he did against Arizona when he threw two pick-sixes. The positive is that he’s won all three starts against Green Run with a 101.3 QB rating, 301 yards rushing and 2TD’s.
Matt Says: Green Bay 31-12 (GB -7.5)
Mike Says: Green Bay
St. Louis Rams (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (3-0) . . . To me, this game comes down to pass rush and pass protection. Arizona will try to keep QB Carson Palmer upright so that their offense, which leads pro football in scoring with 126 points to this point, continues to hum. Larry Fitzgerald has been a major force the last two weeks, and for that to continue, the Cards’ o-line has to give Palmer time to find him. St. Louis is tied for the league lead in sacks with 13 as DT Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn have combined for 6.5.
Matt Says: Arizona 24-20 (STL +7)
Mike Says: Arizona
Minnesota Vikings (2-1) at Denver Broncos (3-0) . . . It didn’t look great for Minnesota after a Week 1 road loss in San Francisco, but Mike Zimmer’s Vikings have bounced back with consecutive wins, including a 31-14 victory over San Diego where RB Adrian Peterson ran for 126 yards and a pair of scores. Only Barry Sanders has more touchdown runs of 40 yards or longer with 20 than Peterson’s 16. Denver’s defense came up with four sacks and three takeaways in doubling up Detroit 24-12 on Sunday Night Football on NBC, providing QB Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense the necessary support it desires.
Matt Says: Denver 20-14 (MN +7)
Mike Says: Denver
Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at New Orleans (0-3) . . . For a while, it appeared that QB Drew Brees would not play for the Saints in this one, but word now is that he’ll return after missing their Week 3 loss to Carolina. With the Panthers and Falcons both off to undefeated starts, this is clearly a must-win at home in front of a prime-time, nationally-televised audience if New Orleans has any sights on going to the playoffs this year. Joseph Randle ran for 3TD’s in last week’s loss to Atlanta for the Cowboys and they’ll bank on him to deliver against a Saints defense giving up 397 total yards per game.
Matt Says: New Orleans 24-23 (DAL +3)
Mike Says: New Orleans
Detroit Lions (0-3) at Seattle Seahawks (1-2) . . . Even though the Lions are winless, QB Matthew Stafford is second in the NFC in passing yards with 814. The matchup between WR Calvin Johnson and CB Richard Sherman should be one watched all night long as two of the very best players at their respective positions square off on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. With the return of safety Kam Chancellor last week, the Seahawks showed why their star-studded secondary earned that ‘Legion of Boom,’ moniker, blanking Chicago 26-0. Look for Russell Wilson and the offense to shine this time.
Matt Says: Seattle 35-20 (SEA -9.5)
Mike Says: Seattle
Matt Hat’s Hits:
LOCKS – San Diego -5, Under 42.5 in Miami/NY Jets, Atlanta -4.5, Carolina -3 and Green Bay -7.5
UPSET SPECIALS – NY Giants SU & +6 and Kansas City SU & +3.5
Week 2 was one to forget for a lot of teams. It also was one to forget for folks like yours truly when it comes to picks.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the odds are good for 2-0 teams to make the playoffs and not so good for 0-2 squads to reach the postseason. However, an even bigger deal is 3-0 compared to 0-3. Nine teams are trying to make it to 3-0, whereas eight teams are hoping to avoid the dread 0-3 start.
On Thursday night, both my father – Mike Hatfield – and I – Matthew Hatfield – took the NY Giants to grab their first win. My call was 24-14 and Big Blue came through with a 32-21 win. Let’s now move to the rest of the Week 3 slate, starting with how records stack up . . .
Matthew Hatfield 17-15, 15-17 ATS, 5-2 Locks, 2-2 Upsets
Week 2 – 6-10 SU & ATS , 2-2 Locks, 1-1 Upsets
Mike Hatfield: 16-16
Week 2 – 5-11
Week 3 Slate:
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at St. Louis Rams (1-1) . . . Which Rams team will show up, the one that outlasted reigning two-time NFC Champion Seattle in overtime or the one that got run all over in a 24-10 loss at Washington? St. Louis has one of the fiercest defensive fronts in football, led by Aaron Donald. They’ll have to contend with Pittsburgh’s two running backs, DeAngelo Williams and Le’Veon Bell, now back from a two-game suspension. Furthermore, Pittsburgh’s passing game is deadly with QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown. What might determine the outcome is the St. Louis offense against the Pittsburgh defense.
Matt Says: St. Louis 17-16 (STL -1)
Mike Says: Pittsburgh
Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-2) . . . The big difference in both teams’ start? Cincinnati is +3 in turnover margin and Baltimore is -2. Baltimore has its backs against the wall, and without injured pass rushing stud Terrell Suggs, they may have to turn to their own offense led by QB Joe Flacco to keep up with a Cincy offense that seems to be on the rise with RB’s Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill as well as TE Tyler Eifert.
Matt Says: Cincinnati 26-21 (CIN +1.5)
Mike Says: Baltimore
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at New England Patriots (2-0) . . . There probably isn’t a bigger mismatch on the board this week, outside of maybe Seattle/Chicago, than this game. Jacksonville deserves credit for beating the Dolphins after a lackluster effort in the opener against Carolina. Blake Bortles and company can’t win a shoot-out with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, who’s playing not only like one of the best tight ends in football but like one of the best players in general. The Patriots seldom ever lose at home and it would be a total stunner if Jacksonville prevails in Foxboro.
Matt Says: New England 42-16 (NE -14)
Mike Says: New England
Indianapolis Colts (0-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-1) . . . Trouble in Indy? Andrew Luck has the most interceptions thrown in the league since last year, which is surprising given that that he’s widely considered one of the top quarterbacks in the sport. But all the problems don’t fall at Luck’s feet; their running game has been woeful, the offensive line is struggling to protect him and they’ve had occasional lapses on defense. They can’t afford to lose a division game or else they will go from being a Super Bowl pick by many (including me regrettably right about now) to a team that will have a hard time reaching the playoffs. Tennessee’s defense isn’t great and fits around the middle-of-the-pack.
Matt Says: Indy 28-14 (IND -3.5)
Mike Says: Tennessee
New Orleans Saints (0-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-0) . . . It’s looking more and more like a regime change may be coming in New Orleans. Sure, the Saints have had plenty of success under Sean Payton, winning a Super Bowl, but starting quarterback Drew Brees is out with an injury and their defense has been hit for 57 points through two games. Carolina’s defense, headed up by LB Luke Kuechly, has been much sharper in limiting its first two foes to just 26 points. Look for Kuechly, QB Cam Newton and the Panthers to stay atop the NFC South, a division they’re trying to win for a third straight year.
Matt Says: Carolina 20-13 (NO +9.5)
Mike Says: Carolina
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) at Houston Texans (0-2) . . . Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston bounced back from a sluggish debut in a loss to Tennessee at home by leading his team to a road victory over New Orleans. Can they actually win two in a row away from home and beat a J.J. Watt-led Texans team? Houston’s pass rush has the ability to get under his skin in this one and set the offense up with good field position to keep from falling to 0-3.
Matt Says: Houston 18-10 (HOU -6)
Mike Says: Houston
Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) at New York Jets (2-0) . . . If somebody said this would be a 2-0 vs. 0-2 matchup before the season, most would’ve figured the Eagles would be 2-0 and the Jets 0-2. That’s not the case as first-year Head Coach Todd Bowles, formerly the defensive coordinator in Arizona, has the Jets thinking playoffs. Their secondary, headlined by Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, is playing like one of the best around. Philly has more offensive talent than their NFC-East low 34 points would indicate, and now is the time that they must show it to keep from imploding.
Matt Says: Philly 27-14 (PHI +3)
Mike Says: Philly
San Diego Chargers (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-1) . . . The Chargers have now won at Minnesota since 1993. Meanwhile, the Vikings have won four straight at home. This figures to be a battle where the Vikes lean on their running game with Adrian Peterson and San Diego relies on the passing attack with QB Philip Rivers. On interesting sidebar is that the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, used to be the Head Coach of San Diego.
Matt Says: Minnesota 23-16 (MN -2)
Mike Says: San Diego
Oakland Raiders (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1) . . . Oakland has dropped 19 of its last 20 on the road. Even with the Raiders performing well in their home win over the Ravens, that doesn’t bode well for them facing a Cleveland team that was opportunistic in beating Tennessee and has some underrated pieces on defense. The Browns may be able to make one more play via their defense or special teams to edge out the Raiders to get to 2-1.
Matt Says: Cleveland 21-20 (OAK +3.5)
Mike Says: Cleveland
Atlanta Falcons (2-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-0) . . . Life without Tony Romo officially begins for Dallas as the quarterback is on the shelf for a while due to injury and Brandon Weeden is the starter for now. Matt Ryan is only 28-29 as a starter on the road for Atlanta and faces a Dallas defense that ranks second in the league in yards per play allowed at just 4.4. On the flip side, are the Cowboys equipped to contain WR Julio Jones, who’s playing at a different level?
Matt Says: Atlanta 31-24 (ATL PK)
Mike Says: Atlanta
Buffalo Bills (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-1) . . . It’s safe to say that the Bills were humbled by New England last week, losing 40-32. While Tyrod Taylor had three interceptions in that game, he has produced enough to maintain the starting job as he’s the first Bills signal caller to have four passing touchdowns and a rushing score through the first time two games since Joe Ferguson in 1975. Jarvis Landry is quickly becoming a big-play weapon in the passing game and on returns for Miami, but the Dolphins will have to be at the top of their game defensive to contain Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins.
Matt Says: Buffalo 20-14 (BUF +1)
Mike Says: Miami
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0) . . . Rather quietly, the Arizona Cardinals are developing into a threat in the NFC. Carson Palmer is 18-6 as the team’s starting quarterback and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had somewhat of a re-birth in Chicago last week with three touchdown receptions to show that he’s not over-the-hill or on the decline. San Francisco may be on the decline though; they went from a big Monday night win over Minnesota to get thumped in Pittsburgh.
Matt Says: Arizona 28-10 (AZ -7)
Mike Says: Arizona
Chicago Bears (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2) . . . Pretty easy to figure out why Seattle is favored by more than two touchdowns here in this spot. They have star safety Kam Chancellor back after he missed the first two weeks of the season due to a contract holdout. Chicago has struggled mightily thus far, and with Jimmy Clausen taking over for the injured Jay Cutler at quarterback, things probably won’t get much better going to noisy Seattle with their 12th man.
Matt Says: Seattle 31-7 (SEA -16.5)
Mike Says: Seattle
Denver Broncos (2-0) at Detroit Lions (0-2) . . . Even though Denver is 2-0, they could easily be 1-1 or 0-2 as they had to sweat out close wins over Kansas City and Baltimore in the previous weeks. At home in front of a big TV audience on Sunday Night Football, the Lions have the ability to strike quick with their offense featuring QB Matt Stafford and stud receiver Calvin Johnson. It might take a little of the old Peyton Manning gunslinger type, rather than the new game-manager, to win this on the road.
Matt Says: Detroit 27-21 (DET +3)
Mike Says: Denver
Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) at Green Bay Packers (2-0) . . . You know the Chiefs are still smarting from that Thursday Night Football home loss to Denver, where they led in the fourth quarter by a touchdown before two late scores did them in to drop to 1-1. Green Bay has won nine straight at home and it doesn’t look like the loss of star receiver Jordy Nelson has slowed down Aaron Rodgers and the Pack attack that much.
Matt Says: Green Bay 34-17 (GB -5.5)
Mike Says: Green Bay
Matt Hat’s Hits:
LOCKS – NY Giants -3, New England -14, Seattle -16.5, Arizona -7 and Green Bay -6.5
UPSET SPECIALS – Philly SU & +3 and Detroit SU & +3
There’s no shortage of intriguing matchups for Week 2, beginning with New England traveling to Buffalo. Two of the league’s most exciting receivers will square off when the Giants host the Falcons. Meanwhile, San Diego visits Cincinnati, where the winner will be 2-0 and start to pick up traction as a team to watch out for in the AFC.
The second Sunday of the 2015 NFL campaign will come to a close on NBC with a re-match of last January’s NFC Championship game between the Seahawks and Packers, only this time it will come in Green Bay at Lambeau Field.
Week 2 got underway on Thursday night with Denver scoring two touchdowns in the final 38 seconds to go from behind seven at Kansas City to winning in improbable fashion.
Both yours truly and my father took the Chiefs to win that one, so it’s a 0-1 start, but we’ll try to turn things around on the rest of the games . . .
Records in Week 1:
Matthew Hatfield 11-5 SU (9-7 ATS) , 3-0 Locks, 1-1 Upsets
Mike Hatfield: 11-5
Week 2 Slate:
New England Patriots (1-0) at Buffalo Bills (1-0) . . . Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick have had some fascinating battles over the years, but this will be the first at Orchard Park. Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, three to jumbo tight end Rob Gronkowski, in New England’s season-opening triumph over Pittsburgh. Brady notched his 161st victory as the starting QB of the Pats, the most ever by a player with one franchise. The Bills bottled up Indy’s high-powered offense in a 27-14 win last week, and Tyrod Taylor connected with Percy Harvin for a 51-yard bomb through the air. While the Pats try to slow down RB LeSean McCoy, the Bulls will try to get pressure with their front four and contain Gronk. At home, their defense may be up for the task better than most.
Matt Says: Buffalo 27-21 (BUF -1)
Mike Says: New England
Houston Texans (0-1) at Carolina Panthers (1-0) . . . Coach Ron Rivera has to like what his Carolina defense did on the road last week in Jacksonville in a 20-9 win. They’re getting contributions from a bunch of different players, not just LB Luke Kuechly – whose 480 tackles since 2012 are the most in the NFL. CB Josh Norman (INT TD, FF, FR in Week 1), LB Thomas Davis, DE Charles Johnson and DE Mario Addison (2 sacks vs. the Jags) all are making plays. Houston’s defense will have to show better than they did against the Chiefs. Even with a QB change from Brian Hoyer to Ryan Mallett, the Houston offense has more big-play capabilities, thanks to WR’s DeAndre Hopkins and Nate Washington, than Jacksonville did.
Matt Says: Houston 21-20 (HOU +3)
Mike Says: Houston
San Francisco 49ers (1-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) . . . It’s a homecoming of sorts for Niners Head Coach Jim Tomsula, who was born in Homestead, PA. His San Fran team surprised many in the opener with a 20-3 rout of Minnesota in the second bill of an ESPN Monday Night Football double-dip. Tailback Carlos Hyde, a standout at Ohio State, erupted for 168 yards and a couple of touchdowns on 26 attempts. Pittsburgh’s defense struggled versus the pass in their 28-21 loss to New England. Fortunately for them, they are better equipped to stop the run, got 351 yards passing from Ben Roethlisberger in that game, and DeAngelo Williams filled in for Le’Veon Bell with 127 yards rushing. The extra few days to prepare and returning home ought to serve them well.
Matt Says: Pittsburgh 24-8 (PIT -6.5)
Mike Says: Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) at New Orleans Saints (1-0) . . . Trends all point towards New Orleans winning and doing so by a wide margin. Tampa Bay has lost seven straight in the series to the Saints. While they were relatively close last season with the Saints prevailing 23-20 in Tampa and 37-31 at home in overtime, the Bucs had a hard time on defense in their 42-14 loss to Tennessee in Week 1. Rookie QB Jamies Winston threw a pick-six on his first NFL pass attempt, becoming the first QB to have that happen since Brett Favre (now if only his pro career turns out the Favre’s did, he’ll be in great shape). You know Drew Brees, who threw for 355 yards last week, is licking his chops about facing this Tampa secondary after what Marcus Mariota did to it a week ago.
Matt Says: New Orleans 35-14 (NO -9.5)
Mike Says: New Orleans
Detroit Lions (0-1) at Minnesota Vikings (0-1) . . . Three of the last four meetings have gone to the Lions and both games last year were relatively low-scoring. Detroit won at home 16-14 behind 103 yards from scrimmage from Joique Bell and 11 tackles by LB DeAndre Levy. In Minnesota, it was the Lions winning 17-3 with Tahir Whitehead intercepting a pass of passes. The Vikings also scored three points in last week’s road loss to San Francisco. Returning home, they should fare better, particularly RB Adrian Peterson, who’s probably looking to take out his frustration on the Detroit defense after being held to 31 yards on the ground on just 10 carries. The Lions led early against San Diego before fizzling down the stretch, surrendering 483 yards in the 33-28 loss.
Matt Says: Minnesota 21-16 (MN -2.5)
Mike Says: Detroit
Arizona Cardinals (1-0) at Chicago Bears (0-1) . . . Coming off a 31-19 win at home over the Saints, this is a grand opportunity for Arizona to get two games up on Seattle in the division potentially since the Seahawks have to visit Green Bay and the Cards are favored here on the road against a Bears team banged up at wide receiver. Chicago has won four of the past five meetings, though Arizona signal caller Carson Palmer is 3-0 in his career vs. the Bears with an 8-1TD/Int. ratio. Led by Patrick Peterson (15 INT’s and 5 for TD’s since 2011), Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson, the Cards have more playmakers on the back end of their defense than the Bears, which could decide things if RB Matt Forte and TE Martellus Bennett don’t have stellar days for the home squad.
Matt Says: Arizona 23-16 (AZ -2.5)
Mike Says: Arizona
San Diego Chargers (1-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-0) . . . Rather quietly last week, Chargers QB Philip Rivers threw for 404 yards and two touchdowns in their 33-28 comeback win over the Lions. I say quietly because you heard more about the play of other QB’s around the league like Tom Brady of New England, Tony Romo from Dallas and Tennessee rookie Marcus Mariota. Rivers needs one touchdown pass in this one to pass Dan Fouts (254 career TD’s) for most in Chargers franchise history. Although the Cincy defense held Oakland to just 246 total yards last week, they face a more dangerous offense with Rivers, rookie RB Melvin Gordon, WR Keenan Allen and company. It might be up to the Bengals offense, which got a career day from TE Tyler Eifert last week, in order to get to 2-0.
Matt Says: San Diego 20-17 (SD +3)
Mike Says: Cincinnati
Tennessee Titans (1-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-1) . . . Titans rookie Marcus Mariota out of Oregon was sensational in his debut, completing 13 of 16 passes for 209 yards and four touchdowns in a road rout of Tampa Bay as he had a perfect quarterback rating. There weren’t many positives to take out for the Browns in their 31-10 loss to the Jets in New York. They finished -4 in the takeaway department and both QB’s, Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, had passer ratings under 80. Conventional wisdom says go with Tennessee, even on the road, but Mariota missing injured TE Delanie Walker is going to force the Titans offense to adjust. Cleveland usually is better at home. They started 4-1 at the Dawg Pound last year, including beating the likes of recent Super Bowl winners Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
Matt Says: Cleveland 31-26 (CLE +2)
Mike Says: Tennessee
Atlanta Falcons (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1) . . . Are there two more exciting wide receivers in the game of pro football than the Falcons’ Julio Jones and second-year phenom Odell Beckham from the Giants? Jones simply dazzled in Monday’s victory over the Eagles, hauling in seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Simply put, there’s not a defender with an answer for him one-on-one an entire game. That being said, the Giants did rank #7 in the league against the pass last year and won’t want to let him and Matt Ryan play pitch-and-catch. Beckham was quieter in his team’s loss to the Cowboys, though Atlanta knows he has a knack for amazing grabs and should be a focal point in this one. The more desperate team is New York. Being at home with an extra day to prepare will likely help, too.
Matt Says: NY Giants 27-24 (NYG -2.5)
Mike Says: NY Giants
St. Louis Rams (1-0) at Washington Redskins (0-1) . . . When these two squared off last December, it was all St. Louis as the Rams dominated to the tune of pitching a 24-0 shutout. They recorded seven sacks as a defense, forced four turnovers – two on fumbles and two on interceptions – and Tavon Austin returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown. St. Louis got 122 yards from scrimmage from third-string running back Benny Cunningham in their 34-31 overtime thriller with Seattle in Week 1. The Redskins blew a double-digit lead at home in a 17-10 loss to the Dolphins. For Washington to spring the upset, it’s going to come down to their defense creating takeaways and establishing the running game with Alfred Morris against a tough St. Louis front. With the way their schedule is set up, if Washington doesn’t win this game it could linger into a 0-5 or 0-6 type start. They badly need a win at home.
Matt Says: Washington 17-14 (WSH +3)
Mike Says: St. Louis
Miami Dolphins (1-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1) . . . At home against Carolina last week, Gus Bradley’s Jaguars had very little offense to speak of with 265 total yards in the 20-9 loss to a pretty good defense. Miami’s defense is nothing to sneeze at either with a formidable d-line that features Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and rookie Jordan Phillips. That probably doesn’t bode well for their young offensive backfield tandem of QB Blake Bortles and T.J. Yeldon. Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill is 2-0 in his career against the Jags with a 98.3 passer rating and just one interception. As long as Miami takes care of the football and doesn’t depend on Tannehill’s arm exclusively to win, they figure to be in good shape to move to 2-0, which is important in an AFC East that appears to be much stronger than in years past.
Matt Says: Miami 28-17 (MIA -6)
Mike Says: Miami
Baltimore Ravens (0-1) at Oakland Raiders (0-1) . . . Losing stud pass rusher Terrell Suggs for the season as the Ravens did in their narrow loss at Denver last week is a huge blow to that Baltimore defense. That being said, they are still a solid favorite on the road to a Raiders team that went to its second quarterback, Matt McGloin, for an injured Derek Carr a week ago. Carr is expected to go in this one, but the Oakland defense gave up 33 points last week to Cincinnati and Baltimore QB Joe Flacco could be poised for a huge day, even on the road. For Oakland to drop the Ravens to 0-2, rookie receiver Amari Cooper will have to build on a 5-catch, 47-yard effort in his pro debut.
Matt Says: Baltimore 24-14 (BLT -6)
Mike Says: Baltimore
Dallas Cowboys (1-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-1) . . . Tony Romo engineered a tremendous comeback for Dallas on Sunday Night Football against the New York Giants, finishing 36 of 45 for 356 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll now be without his most explosive weapon, Dez Bryant, for at least the next seven weeks as the wide receiver sustained an injury in that win. Philly came out of the blocks too cold against Atlanta before seeing their rally fall short. Look for Sam Bradford and that passing attack to hum in that one and for Jordan Matthews (10Rec. 102Yds.) to have a big day. Tailback DeMarco Murray, who ran for only nine yards on eight carries against the Falcons, should fare better against his former team also.
Matt Says: Philly 31-24 (PHI -5.5)
Mike Says: Philly
Seattle Seahawks (0-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-0) . . . These two were the NFC favorites a year ago and might be once again this season. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home since 2012. Though the Seattle secondary is equipped to make life harder on Rodgers and pick him off, they still miss safety Kam Chancellor, holding out due to contractual issues, and that showed in the 34-31 overtime loss at St. Louis. Even though the Seahawks made a comeback in that game, one of their scores came on a 57-yard punt return by rookie Tyler Lockett, and the offense isn’t quite at a dominating form just yet. The Seahawks will need a strong game from RB Marshawn Lynch to win on the road.
Matt Says: Green Bay 28-20 (GB -3.5)
Mike Says: Green Bay
New York Jets (1-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1) . . . It was not an opener that Chuck Pagano and his Indianapolis team would like to remember, losing 27-14 in Buffalo to the Bills in a game that really wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. Meanwhile, New York is coming off a 31-point win and benefitted from being +4 in the turnover department. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets offense will hope to take advantage of Indy’s secondary missing two key defensive backs, Greg Toler (neck injury) and Darius Butler (hip injury). Quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts rebounded from a 0-2 start last year by winning five straight. That second loss came at home against the Eagles in a game that they led most of the way. This is a similar spot, at home on a Monday night, and I’d expect them to play with a sense of urgency.
Matt Says: Indy 30-13 (IND -7.5)
Mike Says: Indy
Matt Hat’s Hits:
LOCKS –Indy -7.5, Pittsburgh -6.5, New Orleans -9.5, Arizona -2.5
UPSET SPECIALS – Houston SU & +3 and Washington SU +3
Each August for about the past 10-12 years, my father and me head to Shula’s 347 Grill in Norfolk (shameless plug… hopefully they see this and we get some kind of discount, right?) for an enjoyable meal to celebrate my birthday, but also make our NFL Predictions for the upcoming season.
Check out our division winners, who will be in the playoffs and Super Bowl picks. Last year, I had Indy over Seattle – far better than my selection of Houston over Atlanta the year before – but just missed with the Colts falling the AFC Championship and Seahawks throwing an interception at the one-yard line against New England as the Patriots kept them from winning a second straight Lombardi Trophy.
So without further ado, here you go…
It’s time for the first NFL Sunday of the 2015 season. On Thursday night, things kicked off with the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots holding off the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 behind four Tom Brady touchdown passes, three to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Technically, the ‘line’ in Vegas ended up being 7 points in most places, making it a ‘push.’
Yours truly Matthew Hatfield and my pops, Mike Hatfield, will do our picks. So far, I hold the 1-game lead by virtue of New England’s win over my dad.
Matthew Hatfield 1-0 (0-0-1 ATS)
Mike Hatfield 0-1 (0-0-1 ATS)
Week 1 Slate:
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears . . . How much will the loss of wide receiver Jordy Nelson sting the Packers? He was the go-to guy for QB and NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, who will now look to Davante Adams and rookie Ty Montgomery to step forward in his absence and complement Randall Cobb. Chicago ranked #30 against the pass a season ago, making that the main area new Bears Head Coach John Fox must improve for his team to be a playoff contender.
Matt Says: Green Bay 28-17 (GB -6)
Mike Says: Green Bay
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans . . . Led by the NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, the Texans have hopes of getting back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. To start off 1-0, containing the Kansas City running game that features Jamaal Charles, who has rushed for 14 touchdowns in his past 13 games, will be imperative.
Matt Says: Houston 17-14 (Hou +1)
Mike Says: Kansas City
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets . . . This will be the coaching debut of Todd Bowles, former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator, as the New York Jets Head Coach. It’s two unlikely starters at quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Jets and Josh McCown for the Browns, but look for the defense that steps up and creates the most turnovers and makes more big plays to prevail.
Matt Says: NY Jets 20-13 (NYJ -3.5)
Mike Says: Cleveland
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills . . . Former Baltimore Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor gets his first start at quarterback in Buffalo as he edged out Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel in the preseason for the job. A lot of people like Rex Ryan’s Bills as a darkhorse team for the playoffs with a defense that figures to be among the league’s stingiest, plus dynamic playmakers on offense in RB LeSean McCoy and WR Sammy Watkins. Indy QB Andrew Luck is looking to make a run at MVP this season and get the Colts to the Super Bowl after losing to New England in the AFC Championship last season.
Matt Says: Indianapolis 28-21 (IND -1)
Mike Says: Indianapolis
Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins . . . Are the Redskins totally sure who they want to play quarterback for them this year, whether it’s Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III or Colt McCoy? Cousins is slated to get the nod here, but will face a Dolphins defense that has two premier pass rushing threats in Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, who is second in team history with 63 sacks behind Jason Taylor’s 131. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill also is the only player in club history to pass for over 3000 yards in each of his first three seasons as remarkably Dan Marino did not accomplish that feat.
Matt Says: Miami 23-13 (MIA -4)
Mike Says: Miami
Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars . . . These two teams that were expansion squads about 20 years ago haven’t faced off since September 25, 2011 when the Panthers edged Jacksonville 16-10. Another low –scoring defensive battle wouldn’t surprise us. Remember, Carolina got off to a slow start last year and is going to try to avoid repeating that this year in their quest of a third straight NFC South division crown.
Matt Says: Jacksonville 20-17 (Jag +3)
Mike Says: Carolina
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams . . . To me, this is an upset alert game for the two-time defending NFC Champion Seahawks. Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor has decided to hold out due to contract issues with management, and going on the road to take on a St. Louis team with one of the toughest defensive lines in football could make it difficult for Marshawn Lynch to run the ball.
Matt Says: St. Louis 21-14 (STL +3.5)
Mike Says: Seattle
New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals . . . In two seasons, Bruce Arians has done a very good job in the desert, leading the Cardinals to a Wild Card berth last year before losing to NFC South division winner Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs. Keeping QB Carson Palmer is a must, and despite the defense having to replace some key components, there are a lot of good pieces still in Arizona. New Orleans has one of the most prolific passing games engineered by Drew Brees, but the Saints have traditionally been much better at home than on the road.
Matt Says: Arizona 31-28 (AZ -2.5)
Mike Says: Arizona
Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers . . . There were trade talks and rumors during the off-season regarding Chargers signal caller Philip Rivers, who has won four division titles and ranks second among active NFL QB’s with 36,507 passing yards. Rookie tailback Melvin Gordon will try to bring some balance to a running game that ranked near the bottom of the league. As for Detroit, the Lions boast one of the most feared passing combos with QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson, but lost a significant player up front on defense in Ndamukong Suh to Miami.
Matt Says: San Diego 27-16 (SD -3.5)
Mike Says: San Diego
Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers . . . It’s the debut of the top two quarterback draft selections from this year, Marcus Mariota from Oregon for the Titans and Florida State product Jamies Winston with Tampa Bay. Tennessee has won six of the past seven meetings in the series.
Matt Says: Tampa Bay 19-16 OT (TB -3)
Mike Says: Tennessee
Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders . . . Jack Del Rio takes over as the Head Coach in Oakland, a team many think will be improved this year after a 3-13 finish last season. Two second-year players to watch in this one are Cincy RB Jeremy Hill, who led NFL rookies in rushing yards last season with 1124, and Raiders QB Derek Carr, the league’s top rookie passer with 3270 yards.
Matt Says: Cincinnati 26-18 (Cin -3)
Mike Says: Cincinnati
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos . . . The last time the Broncs played host to the Ravens, QB Peyton Manning threw for 462 yards and seven touchdowns in the opener in 2013, avenging the playoff loss to Baltimore from the prior season. Manning and the Broncos weren’t happy with their postseason loss at home to Indianapolis from this past January, so don’t be surprised to see them have a strong start, even if the Ravens end up having a better year in the long run.
Matt Says: Denver 35-17 (Den -4.5)
Mike Says: Denver
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys . . . Believe it or not, the Cowboys have won four straight in the series. That’s hard to believe given the Giants’ success under Head Coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning, winning a pair of Super Bowls. But Big Blue has missed the playoffs three straight seasons after winning their last Lombardi Trophy, something Dallas has its sights set on this year with one of the best offensive lines in football as well as the plenty of offensive talent in QB Tony Romo, WR Dez Bryant and veteran TE Jason Witten.
Matt Says: Dallas 31-21 (DAL -6)
Mike Says: Dallas
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons . . . Ex-Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn takes over in Atlanta, a team with plenty of offensive firepower in the form of QB Matt Ryan and WR’s Julio Jones and Roddy White. For some reason though, the Falcons have had some underachieving seasons, and they must work on a pass defense that ranked #32 – dead last – in the league last year. Philly has a new QB in Sam Bradford, formerly of the Rams, as well as a new RB in DeMarco Murray, once of the Cowboys. Getting a road win against a team with the passing game the Falcons have would be a major plus.
Matt Says: Atlanta 30-17 (ATL +3)
Mike Says: Philly
Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers . . . It’s rare that a team like the Vikings, which has finished below .500 in four of the last five seasons, is favored on the road against a Niners squad not long removed from three consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship game. But San Francisco saw some key players leave, multiple staples on the defense retire, and have a new Head Coach in Jim Tomsula replacing Jim Harbaugh (now at Michigan). Meanwhile, Minnesota is a trendy Wild Card pick with RB Adrian Peterson back to support developing QB Teddy Bridgewater.
Matt Says: Minnesota 14-9 (MN -2.5)
Mike Says: San Francisco
Matt Hat’s Hits:
LOCKS – Green Bay -6, Denver -4.5 and San Diego -3.5
UPSET SPECIALS – St. Louis and Jacksonville