READER NEWSLETTER NO. 1 – JANUARY 2015
1. NFL Playoff Prognosis
Divisional Playoff Matchups –
Arizona (5) at Carolina (4) –
Carolina has the extreme good fortune of hosting a playoff game after stumbling through a 7-8-1 regular season, which was a good enough mark to take the woeful NFC South Division. And now, their opponent in round 1 is a vulnerable Arizona squad, which has a third stringer, Ryan Lindley, as QB. As a result, they are a 6.5 pt favorite to advance to the next round. To look at this matchup more closely, it appears Vegas is swayed by the recently effective performance of the Carolina secondary, which as limited opposing passers to a 64.6 rating the last 4 weeks; this, combined with Lindley’s 1-5 record as a starter and his streak of 229 pass attempts without a TD (a record). This reality, combined with Carolina’s superior rushing attack, indicate there is good reason to favor Carolina. Despite Arizona’s superior overall defense and excellent coaching, look for the Panthers to move on with a victory margin that should probably be less than a touchdown; however, the Panthers should be stopped dead in their tracks in the next round.
Detroit (6) vs. Dallas (3) — Dallas is 6.5 pt favorite to prevail over the Lions in the other NFC divisional playoff game. Although run stopper extraordinaire and bad boy Ndamukong Suh will suit up, don’t count on the Lions to do the unexpected and stand up to the high octane Cowboy attack. The fact is that Dallas has the most balanced offense in the NFC and should be able to ride the home crowd and their superior talent to a 7 point plus victory. The Lions certainly have offensive firepower, but Stafford has been inconsistent in the big games/against the good teams and should not be trusted to do anything different in this contest. Unlike Carolina, Dallas does have a chance to move on … but their defense and Romo’s health are lingering uncertainties.
Ravens (6) vs. Steelers (3) —
If you go by historical trends, Pittsburgh has nothing to worry about … the three postseason matchups between these teams have all gone to the Steelers. Like those prior games, this one will be in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are 6-2 this year. But this should be another close, hard hitting game. With Le’Veon Bell out with a hyperextended knee, the Steelers are unlikely to have much in the way of rushing options against the very tough Ravens’ defense. As a consequence, Big Ben will have to focus on the passing attack, and this is indeed Baltimore’s Achilles heel. Meanwhile, Flacco has both a 1,000+ rusher in Justin Forsett, as well as the fleet footed Smiths, which should keep the Steeler defenders off balance. The Steelers should have just enough to move on, but it will probably be another classic showdown and a must-see game for sure. Catch the ChabDog blogcast of the 2nd half on Blog Talk Radio. And looking forward, the Steelers do have prospects for moving on after this (possibly to the Super Bowl).
Bengals (5) vs. Colts (4) –
The Bengals have only themselves to blame for their current predicament. If they had been able to handle the Steelers in the last game of the NFL season, they could have avoided having to play the Colts in Indy, and instead could have been hosting the Ravens (whom they beat two times this year). Now, they have to go back to Lucas Oil Stadium, where they were taken apart 27-0 earlier in the year. Cincy does have a good running game, but Indy’s run defense is relatively good, and don’t count on Andy Dalton to take full advantage of the questionable Colt secondary. A better bet is to bank on Andrew Luck having his way with a defense that’s ranked 20th in the league … and after a string of less than stellar performances, combined with a Reggie Wayne who is now 100%, the Indy QB is due for a good game. Go with Indy in a somewhat close game (within 7 points). However, don’t count on the Colts moving on after this one; they still have not solved their defensive deficiencies or established a consistent running game.
2. NBA State of the Union:
Eastern Conference –
At the start of the year, many experts and pundits were trumpeting the vast talent divide between the loaded Western Conference and the weak sister Eastern Conference. However, as things have played out, four pretty strong teams appear to be coming out of the East (Toronto, Atlanta, Washington and Chicago), and Milwaukee has been a pleasant surprise as well (despite the injury to Jabari Parker). Meanwhile, Cleveland has been a big disappointment and downside surprise … largely due to a lack of depth, a lack of team chemistry, failure to properly utilize the talents of Kevin Love, and the players’ failure to respond positively to the direction of head coach David Blatt.
Going forward, the top four just mentioned will probably not change – these are all solid, deep teams with good leadership and coaching. Cleveland may limp into the playoffs, but even that is by no means certain. Look for Milwaukee and Brooklyn to continue to make progress, and other teams with possible post season futures include Boston, Indiana and yes, even Charlotte and Detroit.
Western Conference –
When you look at the West, you do see a ton of talented, competitive squads (definitely deeper than the East). Despite this depth, the top seven positions in terms of playoff positioning look relatively secure, with of course some possibility for reshuffling. Golden State, Portland, Memphis, Houston, Dallas and the Clippers are all bunched pretty close together, so by the end of the year No. 6 could realistically end up No. 1. And at No. 7, the Spurs may not have much chance of moving to the top, but they loom as a threat to move up into the top 4 and to do serious damage in the playoffs. However, they have some significant problems in terms of an aging line up, and don’t seem to have the power up front and/or the defensive prowess that they’ll need to deal with the top teams.
The 8th playoff spot is anyone’s best guess. New Orleans is clearly up and coming, with Anthony Davis emerging as a real monster star, and OKC coming on strong. It looks like that may go down to the wire, with those two teams chasing Phoenix in a tight race. If Durant can stay healthy, he should be able to impose his will and get the Thunder into the last spot (at least). And the extreme depth of the West makes picking a winner that would emerge from the West a real impossibility. At this point, Portland and Golden State look like the favorites.
3. NHL State of the Union:
Eastern Conference –
Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, the Islanders and Montreal have emerged as the cream of the crop, with Detroit close on their heels. The big surprise here seems to be the Islanders, who’ve found more offense than anyone expected. In terms of goal differential, the Penguins and the Devil Rays clearly stand out and seem to be the strongest teams going forward. A big surprise is Boston, a traditional power and recent Stanley Cup finalist and winner, which is currently just on the outside looking in if the playoffs were to start today. Look for the Bruins to get their act together in the second half; their core of talented, hard-working grinders remain in place. Toronto is also a pretty imposing squad and will likely move up in the standings.
Western Conference –
Like the NBA, the NHL’s Western Conference is deeper, more loaded than the East. The top teams appear to be Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis in terms of goal differential. Anaheim actually has the most points (54), but their goal differential is a mere +3. Vancouver, San Jose, Calgary and LA also loom as threats. However, if the playoffs were to start today, the defending champion Kings would be left out. Despite a +9 goal differential (better than top team Anaheim), the Kings have struggled through the 1st half of the season with much inconsistency … particularly in terms of offensive output (16th overall) and penalty killing (15th overall). Look for the Kings to turn things around by the end of the year. And keep an eye on Nashville, which has been surprising everyone with their toughness and ability to compete with the big boys.
4. NCAA Football – New Year’s Day saw an exciting semi-final round to the Bowl Championship Series, with Oregon destroying Florida State in a stunning display of fast-paced offense and opportunistic defense, while Ohio State wore down Alabama in a tight game that went down to the wire. Despite OSU’s looking like the team of destiny (what other team has gotten this far with their third string QB), go with the favored Ducks to win it all in the final showdown. Speed kills, and the Ducks clearly have the edge in this department … as well as having the best QB in the nation in Mariota. In addition, it is notable that Oregon has been the best team in what is undeniably the better conference (as compared with the Big 10). Just look at the following won-loss statistics for the major conferences during this year’s bowl season (as of the end of the day on 1-1-15):
SEC 5 6
PAC-12 4 1
Big-10 5 4
Big-12 1 3
ACC 5 6
Take the Ducks to win by more than 7.
5. NCAA Basketball — The top 15 or so teams look very strong, with the strongest teams being Kentucky, Duke, Virginia, Louisville and Villanova. Kentucky has a huge line up and is the clear favorite at this point to win it all (with all 65 first place votes in the AP standings). They have won each game (other than the Louisville contest) by double digits, including demolitions of KU (32 points), North Carolina (14 points) and UCLA (39 points). Judging from their shooting and assists stats, they aren’t even playing up to their potential … so at this point it is hard to imagine anyone giving them a serious challenge. The rest of the Top 25 seems pretty deserving, so it will be exciting to see which teams emerge with real possibilities for advancement in the tournament.