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My 2018 in Movies

Another year come, another year gone in movies. More than anything, 2018 in cinema was…weird. We started the year with MoviePass as the Wild Wild West, and we ended the year with MoviePass as the app that allows you to see the 10am showing of Instant Family and only that. It was a year where rom-coms returned and superhero movies became fun again! And by all accounts, this was a monster year for documentaries and foreign films too. (The only one I checked out in either category was Roma.) But overall this felt like a mostly down year for traditional, narrative-driven, English-language films. Your Oscars guesses are as good as mine. Still, there was a lot to really like in movies this year, and even some stuff to love. I’m headlining this blog with my obligatory, movie-critic-wannabe Top 10 of the Year. (I used to rank movies both objectively and subjectively, but that got confusing even for me, so now I’ve lumped them together.) But I’m also including the best and worst of other categories – some of the awards show variety, others made up by yours truly. I saw about fifty 2018 releases, and here’s what I thought about them.

(Haven’t-Yet-Seen Notables: Bad Times At The El Royale, Blindspotting, Burning, Halloween, If Beale Street Could Talk, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Ocean’s 8, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Support the Girls, The Rider)

 

TEN BEST MOVIES

 

10. Ready Player One

ready player one

No, I haven’t read the book. I haven’t read most books, if you’re asking. So I went into this movie completely blind, and two hours later I emerged with possibly my favorite theater experience of the year. A meditation on how CGI action can actually be awesome, Ready Player One is an absolute visual delight. Are the characters underdeveloped and is the story far too reliant on exposition? Sure. But this movie is proof that Steven Spielberg can still capture our imaginations, and that’s worth a whole lot.

 

9. BlacKkKlansman

 blackkklansman-poster

I’m not sure if Spike Lee ever lost it, but if he did, well then he’s found it. A tonal mashup like no other in 2018, BlacKkKlansman tries to be a ton of different things at once, and it succeeds on most levels. And that’s including a tie-in to reality at the credits that hits devastatingly hard. Occasionally Spike swings and misses and a few scenes bothered me, but this is an incredibly well acted movie that manages to be haunting and hilarious at the same time. (Responsible for my loudest laugh in a theater this year.)

8. Paddington 2

 paddington 2

Yup, I’m eating the marmalade too. I was late to the game, but these movies are just as wonderful as everyone says they are. I slightly prefer the original to the sequel, but Paddington 2 is still the best Wes Anderson movie that Wes Anderson movie didn’t actually make. You know in the back of your heart that nothing harmful can actually happen to Paddington, but that doesn’t stop you from worrying sick at all times about the well being of this polite bear from Darkest Peru. And DO NOT even get me going on the ending. Good lord, I still can barely handle it.

 

7. A Star Is Born

 a star is born

After an onslaught of a marketing campaign and Oscar buzz for Lady Gaga that feels like it started in 2017, A Star Is Born annoyed me before I even saw it. But then about halfway through the movie after that scene (more on it later), I thought to myself, “oh, so this might be the best movie ever.” That ended up definitely not being the case after a flawed second half, but I was still blown away by the final product. The soundtrack, the acting, the direction – I still can’t believe that Bradley Cooper actually delivered.

 

6. Avengers: Infinity War

 infinity war

For about 95% of the movie, I was properly satisfied with Infinity War. The Russo Brothers balanced all of the characters really well, there were some great fight scenes, Thor’s arrival on Wakanda was electric – it all did the job. Then that ending happened. The one that probably didn’t change the game but still feels like it changed the game. It was so bold and unexpected, and it instantly vaulted Thanos into elite villain territory. Who cares if its sequel is already being promoted? Let’s enjoy Infinity War as long as we can.

 

5. Black Panther

 black panther

For as much as I obviously liked Infinity War, sometimes the Marvel Cinematic Universe can feel too big. So for a self-contained story like this to debut right beforehand while being the most original and thought-provoking entry in the MCU yet…yeah I’m a big fan. Undoubtedly the movie event of the year, Black Panther deserves all of its hype. Cool and funny with a great cast of characters and maybe the best world building…ever? More of this, please.

 

4. First Man

first man

I’m not sure how this happened, but Damian Chazelle managed to make the most underrated movie of 2018. I think it was overlooked because it’s not an Apollo 13-style adventure or Americana propaganda, but it’s all the better for it. Instead focusing deeply on the private life of one of our lesser-known American heroes, Ryan Gosling plays a subtle yet strong Neil Armstrong with Claire Foy knocking it out of the park as his wife. The cinematography is a work of art and the score is my favorite of the year. I’m not sure that First Man reaches Chazelle’s heights of Whiplash and La La Land, but it’s definitely not far off.

 

3. First Reformed

 first reformed

Best performance of Ethan Hawke’s illustrious career? Check. A screenplay with genuinely profound themes and the best dialogue of the year? Check. Gorgeous camera work? Check. An ending that is so surreal that you’ll have no clue what the hell you just watched? Check. To some, First Reformed and its dearth of action might be too slow. But for others like me, this movie is mesmerizing and has been on the mind since the summer.

 

2. Crazy Rich Asians

 crazy rich asians

About 30 minutes into Crazy Rich Asians, I was surprised by how much fun I was having. But everything that I had come to learn about movies told me that there was no way the fun could last. But then, something happened. The movie got…even better? Seriously, in addition to simply being a blast of a movie, Crazy Rich Asians is absolutely terrific. The characters and the performances are excellent, the screenplay is sharp and hilarious, the production and costume designs are beautiful, the music is perfect…I could keep going. With multiple starmaking performances and the foundation established for sequels, Crazy Rich Asians feels like the start of something huge. And I am HERE for it.

 

1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

fallout

Despite all of my glowing words for the previous nine movies, there was only one film in 2018 that will probably go down as an all-timer for me, and that movie is Fallout. One of my personal highlights of 2018 was binging the first five Mission: Impossible movies in anticipation of Fallout, and then having it exceed all of my wildest expectations. Forget the stunts and the action scenes being the best of the franchise. They are some of the best the genre has ever seen. Even the characters are great! Henry Cavill’s August Walker was an excellent addition, and Ilsa Faust continues to be the best non-Ethan character in the franchise. I’m not sure if Fallout is perfect, but it was as close as we got to perfection in 2018.

 

Just Missed The Cut: Widows, A Quiet Place, Leave No Trace, Searching

 

FIVE MOST DISAPPOINTING MOVIES

I don’t see the appeal in going out of my way to pay for then spend two hours watching a bad movie, so these are definitely not the five absolute worst movies of the year. These are just the five worst movies that were either intriguing in some way or I thought could be good.

 

5. Borg vs McEnroe

I was really amped about this movie, being a huge tennis fan and someone who thinks Bjorn Borg’s story needs to reach a bigger audience. But Borg vs McEnroe has a ton of problems, starting with its title. Shia LaBeouf plays a good John McEnroe, but he’s in the movie for maybe 15 minutes. It’s all about Borg, which could have been a good thing but they don’t do anything interesting or provide any new information. Between that and the subpar tennis scenes, I couldn’t help but think the entire time how it would have been better as a 30 for 30. Maybe next time actually consult the subjects of the film?

 

4. Bohemian Rhapsody

I’m trying to decide on the scene that best encapsulates this movie. Is it when Freddie Mercury watches a trucker go into a rest stop bathroom, then all of a sudden he’s gay? Or when his friend sees some white dust on his living room table, then all of a sudden he has a drug problem? Or maybe when Freddie decides the band should go disco, then all of a sudden the “Another One Bites The Dust” bass riff is written? It’s an absolutely preposterous script that takes so many liberties, yet it somehow still manages to be a cookie-cutter take on one of the wildest rock bands ever. An admirable performance from Rami Malek and the impressive Live Aid recreation don’t save this from being one of the dumbest blockbusters in recent memory.

 

3. Isle of Dogs

The stop-motion animation is cool. I liked the score a lot. That’s where my compliments end. It’s the most painfully Wes Anderson movie in years. The story is quirky in the most boring way and his stupid humor falls completely flat. I honestly wanted to punch him in the face by the end of this movie.

 

2. Venom 

I can’t really remember what convinced me to see Venom, since the reviews were terrible and I thought the trailers looked like garbage. And boy, was I right! This movie did practically nothing well. Tom Hardy gives a truly bizarre performance that I’m still unsure about, and his screen chemistry with Michelle Williams is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Throw that on top of one of the least compelling villains ever, bad action, and a PG-13 screenplay that tried its hardest to be edgy, and you have this dumpster fire of a film.

 

1. Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Of all the movies that I saw in 2018, there was only one that I truly resented, and that was Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Sicario is one of my favorite movies of the last decade, and it’s quite possibly the single last movie that I desired a sequel for. All of the tension, emotion, and ambiguity of the original is essentially replaced with, “what if we made the border seem…cooler?” Characters are developed in ways that actually make them far less compelling, the stakes are almost always unclear, and the movie ends with a scene that has the subtext of “we’re going to milk every single cent out of this franchise.” When Denis Villeneuve and Emily Blunt, possibly the hottest director and actor going in Hollywood right now, both pass on your sequel…then maybe don’t make one?

 

Just Missed The Cut: Ant-Man and the Wasp, Vice

 

TWENTY BEST PERFORMANCES

 

20. Ike Barinholtz (Blockers)

Barinholtz rolling up to his daughter’s pre-prom party while standing out of a limo sunroof, holding sparklers, and yelling “Taio Cruz!” was nothing short of movie magic.

 

19. Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Great to see McCarthy finally get a lead role that doesn’t ask her to just do slapstick. (She’s still really funny in this movie.) Hoping to see her get an Oscar nomination.

 

18. Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians)

You’re lying if you say you weren’t terrified of Yeoh in this movie. Even thinking about that mahjong scene makes me nervous. Perfect casting here.

 

17. Jason Isaacs (The Death of Stalin)

Isaacs doesn’t appear in The Death of Stalin until about an hour into the movie, but he comes in like a wrecking ball. He takes over every scene that he’s a part of.

 

16. John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

I think we can stop calling him “Denzel’s kid” now.

 

15. Blake Lively (A Simple Favor)

As someone who watched all of Gossip Girl in 2018, I saw a lot of Blake Lively this year. Let’s just say her acting this time around is…much better.

 

14. Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

I wasn’t nearly as high on The Favourite as most, but the acting is great across the board. My favorite performance of the bunch was from Weisz, who nails the publicly steely, privately vulnerable act.

 

13. Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible – Fallout)

The guy is 56 years old and doing helicopter stunts and jumping out of airplanes from extremely unsafe altitudes. I don’t care that it’s not traditional acting. It’s incredible.

 

12. Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace)

No one born in the 21st century has any business being this good at acting already. She’s going to be around for a looooong time.

 

11. Elizabeth Debicki (Widows)

I didn’t even know Debicki’s name before seeing Widows, and now I want her cast in everything. Definition of a scene-stealer.

 

10. Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)

All right, let’s talk about Gaga’s performance, because she’s going to win a trillion awards. Would I give them all to her? Probably not. I think her newness to the screen is evident during some intimate, conversation-driven scenes. But that doesn’t mean that she’s not goddamn amazing in this movie. Her vocal performances are the stuff of icon status. She was already a legend, but this just added to it.

 

9. Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

We’ve reached the territory of names that I will be actively rooting for at the Oscars. Grant is so insanely good and funny in this movie, and he compliments Melissa McCarthy perfectly. My favorite chemistry of the year.

 

8. Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

God bless Elsie Fisher for taking on this role. In one of the more awkward movies in recent memory, Fisher doesn’t shy away during the tough scenes and manages to win over everyone in the process. Casting actual young teens to play young teens…actually good!

 

7. John Cho (Searching)

This movie has such a batshit premise that I don’t even think it works with an average lead performance. But Cho goes so far beyond average that the movie doesn’t only work, but it became one of the year’s best. For a longtime actor who is still perhaps most famous for a character literally named “MILF Guy #2,” I hope Cho gets the recognition he deserves here.

 

6. Toni Collette (Hereditary)

I wasn’t crazy about Hereditary as a whole, mainly because of how far it goes off the deep end with its ending. So having Colette ranked this high, and as the top lead female performance of the year, should speak to how transcendently good she is in this role. Simply put, it’s one of the best performances ever within the horror genre.

 

5. Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)

Elliott is only in a handful of scenes in A Star Is Born, but my god does he make all of them count. In what might be the best pound-for-pound performance of the year, Elliott is devastating as Bradley Cooper’s much older brother. If he wins some hardware during awards season, don’t frame it as a lifetime achievement thing. He deserves everything he gets for this performance.

 

4. Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)

What Driver does in this movie is insane. He’s basically playing two characters: one is a cop who’s trying to take down the local chapter of the KKK while understanding the hardships faced by his African-American partner, and the other is a buffoon who joins that chapter of the Klan. AKA, polar opposites. And not only does Driver make it work, but he’s hilarious in the process without the performance ever feeling insensitive. Even with a Best Supporting Actor class as loaded as this year’s is, Driver stands out.

 

3. Claire Foy (First Man)

There are a lot of things that make First Man work as well as it does, but nothing more than the dynamic between Ryan Gosling and Foy. As Gosling’s Neil Armstrong remains stoic throughout the movie to an unnerving degree, Foy’s Janet Armstrong slowly breaks down, and it is captivating to watch. From her accent to her delivery, everything about this performance works. Let’s hope the Academy agrees.

 

2. Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)

There’s commitment, and then there’s what Bradley Cooper did for A Star Is Born. He learned and mastered multiple instruments, became a legitimately good singer, nailed that deep drawl, and transformed himself to look like a member of Kings Of Leon after a weeklong bender. And I haven’t even mentioned his acting yet. We always knew he could do that, but his breakdown in rehab scene might be the pinnacle of his career so far. Rami Malek might edge Cooper for awards for a performance where he wore fake teeth and lip-synced to Queen hits. Please don’t do that.

 

1. Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Narrowing this list to twenty performances and ranking 2-20 was tough, but this part was easy. Undoubtedly the top performance of the year, Hawke is this movie. Playing a priest who is in the midst of both a physical and a mental crisis, Hawke claws you in and doesn’t let go. Even though you know that things can’t end well for his character, it never stops being hypnotizing. It’s dumb that Ethan Hawke has never won an Oscar. It will be a crime if he still doesn’t have one after this year.

 

Just Missed The Cut: Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Sunny Suljic (Mid90s), Jesse Plemons (Game Night), Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds), Lakeith Stanfield (Sorry To Bother You), Armie Hammer (Sorry To Bother You), Josh Hamilton (Eighth Grade), Michael B. Jordan (Creed 2), Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns), Tim Blake Nelson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Na-kel Smith (Mid90s), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2), Ronny Chieng (Crazy Rich Asians), Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War), Jude Law (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)

 

FIVE WORST CHARACTERS

It’s usually tough to separate a performance from a hopeless role, so these are the characters that sucked the most in 2018.

 

5. i-R0k (T.J. Miller, Ready Player One)

It’s a miracle that Ready Player One turned out as good as it did after spending so long in production hell. But they didn’t completely avoid problems during that time, because T.J. Miller fell out of favor with just about everybody by the time the movie was released. Playing a character who barely serves a purpose beyond comic relief becomes an issue when the actor just isn’t very funny.

 

4. Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron, A Star Is Born)

If you are asking yourself who this is, he is Ally’s manager. Not only is this character random and poorly acted, but it’s pretty evident that he only exists to push Jackson Maine to his inevitable conclusion.

 

3. Topsy (Meryl Streep, Mary Poppins Returns)

Man…I HATED this character. I’m not sure if Meryl inserted herself into the movie or if Disney demanded it, but I figure it has to be something like that because this character’s existence just makes no sense. It’s such an unnecessary ten-minute detour to meet Topsy, who has a stupid accent for some reason and is the center of one of the more forgettable numbers of the movie. If Topsy was in more than one scene, then she probably would have been at the top of this list.

 

2. Martin Addison (Logan Miller, Love, Simon)

I really liked Love, Simon, but I did have a few problems with the movie, and they basically all regard Martin. He’d probably be on this list just for being so unfunny and cringy, but he ranks second because he also VINDICTIVELY OUTS SIMON AND KINDA TOTALLY GETS AWAY WITH IT. Like, one of the meaner things you can possibly do to a person, and the only consequence was that he got yelled at a little bit.

 

1. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, Venom)

I’m not sure what’s the worst part about Carlton Drake: the lifeless writing of the character, the bizarre decision to cast Riz Ahmed for it, or Ahmed’s completely unconvincing performance. As uncool and unimposing as a villain can possibly be, it’s fitting that it happened in a Venom movie, because this performance joins Topher Grace’s portrayal of Venom from Spider-Man 3 as one of the worst ever.

 

Just Missed The Cut: Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, Ant-Man and the Wasp), Goh Wye Mun (Ken Jeong, Crazy Rich Asians), Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, Venom), Paul Prenter (Allen Leech, Bohemian Rhapsody), Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy, Unsane)

 

TEN BEST SCENES

(SPOILERS AHEAD, OBVIOUSLY)

 

10. X-Force Takes Flight, Deadpool 2

 

9. Charlie Leans Out The Window, Hereditary 

 

8. The Ending, Paddington 2

 

7. The Opening, A Quiet Place 

 

6. The Beach Rescue, Roma

 

5. The Drive Through The Neighborhood, Widows

 

4. Thanos Snaps His Fingers, Avengers: Infinity War

 

3. The Bathroom Fight, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

 

2. The Moon Landing, First Man 

 

1. “Shallow,” A Star Is Born

(Not the actual scene, but closest I could find.)

 

Just Missed The Cut: Cash Raps For The Room (Sorry To Bother You), The Race (Ready Player One), The Wedding (Crazy Rich Asians), “BROTHER FUCKER!” (A Simple Favor), Tom Says Goodbye (Leave No Trace), Toller Talks To Michael (First Reformed), Elastigirl Saves The Train (Incredibles 2), “Always Remember Us This Way” (A Star Is Born), Prom Party Arrival (Blockers), Killmonger Robs The Museum (Black Panther), Stevie Goes For The Jump (Mid90s), Thor Arrives On Wakanda (Avengers: Infinity War), The Screaming Bear (Annihilation), Sharing A Pizza (Set It Up), The Pool Party (Eighth Grade), Blaming Beria (The Death Of Stalin), “Can You Imagine That?” (Mary Poppins Returns)

 

 

Follow PJ on Twitter @Real_Peej

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Your Preseason Guide to The Bachelor, 2019 Edition

The Bachelor is basically a sport now. There are different seasons, you gather with friends to watch for 2-3 hours, you complain about how many commercials there are, hell – the franchise has its own Adam Schefter in Reality Steve. And while fantasy Bachelor leagues used to be something you’d have to explain to your coworkers, now your coworkers are asking you if you want to be a part of their league. (The answer is NO, Jennifer.)

Thursday marked my favorite Internet day of the year: the public release of the contestants. This year we have 30 (!!!) girls vying for Colton Underwood’s heart and flower. (The guy is a virgin, as I’m sure even your grandparents have heard by now.) ABC used to grace us with questionnaires from each contestant that 90% of the time only told us that they like avocados and Crazy, Stupid, Love, but they were still fun and led us to believe that we knew something about these women before they stepped out of the limo. Now all we get is a tweet-length summary of each contestant and a few words on them directly from the mouth of Chris Harrison. Still, as someone who has been a fan of this franchise for over a decade and a drafter of Bachelor/Bachelorette contestants for years, I’d like to think I have a good sense of who’s a TOTAL CONTENDER and who’s a TOTAL PRETENDER solely based off pictures, ages, and occupations. (Important note: comments will not reflect my personal opinions of these women/women in general. It’s The Bachelor, so it’s about to get really superficial in here.)

I actively avoid spoilers, but all public information is fair game by me. So all we have to work with is the official cast page on ABC’s website, Chris Harrison’s Facebook livestream, and Colton’s appearance on Ellen. That’s it. I’ll go in descending order from who has zero chance of winning the final rose to who I think will get the proposal. (So to clarify, I might think a girl that I rank in the 20’s will advance a few episodes, but she’s ranked there because she won’t win.) Here we go.

the-bachelor-abc-jpo-181206_hpMain_12x5_992

NOT IN THE AGE RANGE

This is the most crucial component of Bachelor drafting. Even more so than looks. (ABC used to tell us height too, which we desperately need back.) With The Bachelorette, anyone older than the girl in power is fair game, so it makes it harder to draft. With The Bachelor, you’re pretty much toast if you’re not between 24-28. But considering that Colton is only 26, we’re going to adjust our scale to 23-27. I’ll allow for the occasional exception to this rule (don’t make me remind you that 36 year-old Arie seriously considered 22 year-old Bekah), but this is pretty much gospel.

 

30. Elyse, 31, Alaska

elyse

Let me get this straight: Elyse has a negative percent chance of winning. Being 31 on The Bachelor is like being 93 on Hinge. Colton also has an obvious type, and “redheaded Alaskan” ain’t it. But she’s a lock to advance past Night One. Chris Harrison says that she “becomes the mom of the group.” In case I needed to remind you that 31 is ancient in this world.

 

29. Tracy, 31, Los Angeles

tracy

31 and apparently the center of drama on Night One. AKA, she’s gonna get trashed, sent home, and then bawl her eyes out because she can never find love.

 

28. Angelique, 28, New Jersey

angelique

The reveal of the contestants via Facebook Live is actually pretty fun, because it allows Chris Harrison to go off script for once. But the downside is that he inadvertently let a few minor details slip. One of them is that Angelique is 99% a goner on Night One.

 

27. Nina, 30, Raleigh

nina

Nina is 30, originally from Croatia, and “fled the conflict there amidst bullets and bombs.” Colton is 26, from Illinois, and likes puppies. This isn’t going to work out.

 

26. Heather, 22, California

heather

Heather is going to be a main character this season. Apparently she has never kissed a boy before…you think the producers are going to bludgeon that joke to death or just casually let it go? But Heather will not win. SHE IS TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD. I can already tell you that my favorite moment of the season will be when a bunch of 23 year-olds lecture Heather about immaturity.

 

25. Alex B, 29, Vancouver

alex b

In other seasons, Alex B would potentially rank fairly high. But Colton isn’t proposing to someone three years his elder regardless of how much she talks about her dogs.

 

NOT BASIC ENOUGH

The Bachelor isn’t where we turn to see progressive stuff. There is a pretty clear formula to winning this show that basically boils down to “the cuter, the blonder, the better.” I mean, two of the past three winners were 25 year-old blonde girls named Lauren B who clearly came from wealthy upbringings. Now that’s not to say that brunettes or girls with more originality don’t stand a chance. But considering that half of the contestant pool this year is 23 year-olds from either California or SEC country, let’s just say it’s definitely a benefit if she uses “like” five times per sentence.

 

24. Revian, 24, California

revian

Despite having a name that rhymes with elitist water, Revian does not meet our criteria.

 

23. Tahjzuan, 25, Colorado

tahjzuan

Last season there were FOUR contestants named Lauren. Tahjzuan is not winning this show.

 

22. Kirpa, 26, California

kirpa

Neither is Kirpa.

 

21. Onyeka, 24, Dallas

onyeka

Nor Onyeka.

 

20. Alex D, 23, Boston

alex d

This is one area where I’m pretty sure I differ from the majority of Bachelor Nation: I don’t find the fake job titles amusing whatsoever. Fortunately we don’t have as many this year as we usually do, but we still have Alex D who works as a “sloth.” And she dresses up as a sloth on Night One, because apparently the costumed contestant is something we need every season now. (Even though they never do well.) And she’s a Red Sox fan. I will be fervently rooting against Alex D this season.

 

19. Erika, 25, California

erika

Self-described as “The Nut,” I’m annoyed by Erika already. I’m going to need her sent home ASAP. Note to all blonde Californians going on The Bachelor: you can just not say anything and advance very, very far on this show. Do less, Erika.

 

18. Courtney, 23, Atlanta

courtney

Every season, we have a contestant who is way too good for this show yet doesn’t make it very far. I’m banking on that being Courtney this go-around. Courtney is an attractive, family-oriented 23 year-old originally from Germany who now runs her own catering business. Trust us, Courtney. When Colton inevitably doesn’t pick you, it will be the biggest blessing in disguise.

 

17. Laura, 26, Dallas

laura

Black hair?!?! An accountant?!?! Um, are you lost sweetheart?!?!

 

16. Nicole, 25, Miami

nicole

Chris Harrison made it seem like Nicole is a factor this season, which surprised me. But I’m going to stick to my guns here and declare that Nicole is not basic enough to win The Bachelor. Prediction though: she becomes a superstar in Bachelor in Paradise.

 

THE VILLAIN

We’ve seen villains win this show and we’ve seen villains only last two episodes. Who knows what her fate will be this time around, but you know that I will be rooting for her.

 

15. Catherine, 26, Florida

catherine

I am already captivated by Catherine. She’s magnificent. You could tell that she’s going to be the villain of the season just by her headshot, and all of the marketing has already confirmed as much. Chris Harrison said that she probably broke the record for the most “can I steal you’s?” on Night One. And then add in the fact that she’s a DJ FROM FORT LAUDERDALE. This is Jason Mendoza’s dream woman. The Joker. Cruella de Vil. Hannibal Lecter. Regina George. Catherine.

 

WILD CARDS

These women could either play themselves out of the competition on Night One or they could go on to win it all. Either I can’t get a good read on them, or they’re just plain crazy.

 

14. Sydney, 27, New York

sydney

The first of the three women who appeared on Ellen that I’ve mentioned so far, Sydney just doesn’t stand out in any way to me. She also completely butchered her pickup line to Colton, which makes it a lot less surprising that she’s never had a boyfriend before. I’d give her crap for quitting her job to finish like twelfth on this show, but she’ll 100% make more money as a Flat Tummy Tea sponsor than as a NBA dancer.

 

13. Devin, 23, Oregon

devin

Devin seems cool and is definitely hot, but I just don’t see it happening. She’ll probably be the one to bring a football to the mansion and pull the ol’ “no way, I like sports too!”

 

12. Cassie, 23, California

cassie

I am SO confident that Cassie will be the one to make it pretty far and then the audience simultaneously says to themselves, “wait, has that girl spoken a single word this entire season?”

 

11. Jane, 26, Los Angeles

jane

More than any other contestant this season, I’m having an impossible time pegging Jane. Her real name is Adrianne but she goes by Jane. That’s like me telling people to call me Daniel. Just can’t trust someone like that.

 

10. Erin, 28, Texas

erin

Erin has a trillion red flags. She’s 28. Her job title is “Cinderella.” She mentions her love of pumpkin spice lattes in her bio. The only thing is…she’s super hot. I’m not sure what will win out with Colton. (The hotness will, who am I kidding.)

 

9. Tayshia, 28, California

tayshia

Tayshia also has a lot going against her right out of the gate. She’s 28 too, and a black contestant has never won The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. But considering that she’s gorgeous and possibly the most impressive woman in the group, none of that could matter. Here’s to hoping that this is the season where things change! (It won’t be.)

 

8. Demi, 23, Texas

demi

RUN AWAY, COLTON! RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!! I get some major Isla Fisher in Wedding Crashers vibes with Demi. Chris Harrison basically confirmed that she’s totally off the wall. Is she going to be fun to watch? Definitely. Could she advance really far in this show? You bet. Might Colton be afraid of her by the end of the show? Absolutely. “Don’t ever leave me! Because I’d find you!

 

CONTENDERS

Any of these women could realistically win the show, and each of them stands a solid chance to make it to Hometown Dates and Fantasy Suites. Where I guess this season they’ll just…watch Netflix and maybe do some hand stuff? God, why couldn’t they have just picked a guy who has had sex before?

 

7. Hannah B, 23, Alabama

hannah b

Hannah’s entire bio is about Alabama. She’s Miss Alabama 2018, she went to the University of Alabama, she never misses an Alabama football game…you get the point. We’re all going to be diehard Auburn fans by the end of this season because of Hannah B. But she’s 23, hot, and blonde, so she’ll do well.

 

6. Caitlin, 25, Toronto

caitlin

Chris Harrison didn’t seem too enthused about Caitlin during the livestream, which is odd because she’s stunning, successful, Canadian (they do VERY well in this franchise), and the perfect Bachelor age of 25. I’m going to guess that Chris Harrison was just up to his sneaky old tricks and that Caitlin will make it far. If she doesn’t, well, then she should expect to hear from every male Bachelor fan on Twitter.

 

5. Katie, 26, California

katie

I promise you that Katie will be on the show for most of the season. The pretty, bubbly, California girl always does well. She came off as really basic but really fun on her Ellen appearance, and Chris Harrison said that she “changes the course of the entire season.” The first “I love you,” perhaps? I’d guess that we get to see Katie’s hometown, but I’d be surprised if she wins due to shitty reasons that I’ve already mentioned.

 

4. Caelynn, 23, Charlotte

caelynn

Caelynn has the genuinely impressive point on her resume of being the 2018 Miss America runner-up (collect $10 from Community Chest)…which I think has to mean that she beat Hannah B in that competition? Ipso facto, I neeeeeeeeeed that drama. But anyway, she’s really hot and will go really far. If she gets eliminated, then expect one of the “I need a moment, get the cameras away from me” breakups. If she wins, well, then Colton and Caelynn will probably name their kids something like Jax and Paisley.

 

3. Hannah G, 23, Birmingham

hannah g

Chris Harrison’s worst moment of the livestream happened here, so if you want to go into this season totally blind then you might want to skip to the next contestant. *Gives readers time to scroll* I’m 95% sure he revealed that Hannah G wins the first impression rose. C’mon, Chris! That’s a major prop bet that we’re talking about! Honestly, Hannah G sounds like she kinda sucks. She loves glamping and is a “Content Creator,” which just means that she’s better at picking Instagram filters than I am. But she’s beautiful, and if my first impression rose hypothesis is correct, then history tells us she will advance very far…or win the show.

 

2. Annie, 23, New York

annie

Annie is my personal favorite, and I’m scared that Colton will feel the same way. She murdered her Ellen appearance, making the best impression of the three girls by a mile. She’s 23 yet successful, and she has both a farm girl and city girl thing going on. If she doesn’t win the show, then she’s a prime Bachelorette candidate. (Yes, I am aware that I’m getting completely ahead of myself.)

 

THE FAVORITE

My prediction to win the final rose. I don’t have the best record on this subject, but I have a feeling that this is the year!!!

 

1. Bri, 24, Los Angeles

bri

I mean…scroll through these 30 women and tell me with a straight face that Bri doesn’t stand out. She looks like all of the former Bachelor winners meshed into one person for god’s sake. Models historically don’t do well on this show, but Bri’s bio and Chris Harrison both went out of their way to let us know that Bri is more than just a pretty face! She’s the only contestant who managed to screw up her short bio – she wants us all to know that her biggest dating fear is farting too loudly. That’s such a painfully Jennifer Lawrence thing to say, but at least it tells us that Bri has a personality. We’ll take it, and Colton probably will too.

 

Follow me on Twitter @Real_Peej as I live tweet all of The Bachelor drama starting Monday, January 7.

Read

A Wish List for the Yankees’ Offseason

Dear Cashman Claus,

My name is PJ, I’m 25 and one-quarter years old, and I’ve been a very good Yankee fan this year. I spend just about all of my free time watching, writing, or reading about the Yankees. Some would say I’m “obsessed.” Anyway, there’s a lot of pressure on you this offseason. The Red Sox just won the World Series, as I’m sure you heard, and we have not been since 2009, as I’m sure you know. So I’ve decided to write you with an extremely well organized wish list for the Yankees’ 2018-19 offseason. If you don’t do literally every single one of these moves, I will freak out.

(OK, I’ll stop writing from the perspective of a man/boy with clear confusion about his actual age, but hopefully you get the premise of the blog now. This is my dream offseason for the Yankees.)

THE GAME AND THE RULES

I genuinely believe that a reinforced yet similarly structured roster to last season can win it all in 2019. Given the Yankees are coming off back-to-back postseason appearances and a 100-win season, they don’t have as many holes as the average team. They already patched up some of those holes by bringing back CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner on cheap one-year deals. Yeah, both of those guys are way past their primes, but they’re the two best veteran presences on the team and both provide valuable depth. They’re gladly welcomed back. But there’s still work to be done in those two areas, especially the starting pitching. The front office isn’t being coy about their intentions to bring in multiple starters, hopefully at least one of the ace variety. (Note: I wrote this part before the James Paxton trade. I still expect the Yankees to pursue one more big-name starter.) With Didi Gregorius sidelined for most or all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, there’s a necessity for infield help too. And considering these are the modern Yankees we’re talking about, bullpen reinforcements are always on the table as well.

I’m aiming to stay grounded here. I’ll try to make every trade a win-win and as balanced as possible, and every free agent signing will be something I could actually see the Yankees doing and will fall within a reasonable dollar range. And while the Yankees achieved their goal of getting under the luxury tax threshold for the 2018 season, therefore resetting their penalty rate moving forward, I’m not going to conduct this exercise as if Hal Steinbrenner presented Brian Cashman with a blank checkbook. There’s a chance the payroll will increase by a considerable amount, but I think the luxury tax threat is still in play and I know that the Steinbrenners don’t want to return to the days of having the highest payroll just for the sake of having the highest payroll. I’m going to observe the 40-man roster too. So for every addition to the roster, I’ll remove one of the current occupants.

FREE AGENCY 

  • The Prize: Patrick Corbin for 5 years/$100 million

corbin

For casual fans, Corbin might feel underwhelming as the Yankees’ jewel from a free agent class that has been hyped up for years now. But man, I think he is a PERFECT fit. As heralded as this class has been, it was never particularly strong in the starting pitching department after Clayton Kershaw, who’s already off the market. It really comes down to Corbin and Dallas Keuchel. Figuring that the two southpaws are in line to receive similar contracts, this is an easy decision for me. Keuchel is probably the best groundball and defensive pitcher in baseball, has an amazing track record at Yankee Stadium, and offers less risk than almost any pitcher you’ll find on the free agent market. But he’s been trending in the wrong direction ever since winning the Cy Young in 2015. He doesn’t need to strike guys out to be good, but a K/9 of 6.73 is just absurdly low. He’ll likely get you 200 competitive innings, but I don’t really see him topping out his 2018 WAR of 3.6 by too much over any year on his next contract.

Corbin, on the other hand, posted a WAR of 6.3 in 2018 and couldn’t be trending in a better direction. A surprising All Star in 2013, Corbin had Tommy John surgery the following offseason and missed all of 2014 and half of 2015. He was then one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2016, a solid pitcher in 2017, and then an elite pitcher this most recent season. There’s no two ways around it: Corbin was an ace, and I’m bullish on his chances of repeating that. I absolutely love his style of pitching, and the Yankees surely do too. He throws a four-seam fastball less than 20% of the time, yet he led ALL of baseball in swing-and-miss percentage. So he throws gas, right? Nope! Corbin’s average fastball sits around 91 MPH, already proving that he doesn’t need heat to succeed. So then by getting batters to chase a lot, surely he has issues with walks? Nope, Corbin only walked slightly over 2 batters per 9 innings and finished with the fifth best K:BB% in baseball. So if he doesn’t throw hard or walk a lot of guys, he must give up a ton of homers? Negative, my man keeps the ball in the park. He had the third best HR/9 rate in baseball, and was the only starter to finish in the Top 10 in strikeout percentage and groundball percentage.

I’m framing Corbin like he’s Sandy Koufax 2.0 here. There are some red flags. As referenced, his track record isn’t nearly as stable as you’d like for a guy you’re handing nine figures to. But I’m pretty confident his 2018 wasn’t a fluke. Chase Field is no pitchers’ park, and his fielding independent numbers show that he was even better last year than his standard stats would indicate. There’s also some fear associated with investing in Tommy John recipients, but Corbin is now four years removed from his procedure and has logged nearly 400 innings over the past two years. I’m not worried there. My biggest concern with him is that while he misses more bats than anyone, he gives up a ton of hard contact when batters connect. His hard hit percentage was the second highest in baseball per FanGraphs, and keeping his groundball percentage in mind, he might need a personal third baseman if he comes to New York.

I think my contract estimate is fairly overaggressive, but that’s likely how the Yankees need to play this one. They have such a glaring need for another top-of-the-rotation arm, and in this case they wouldn’t need to move more top prospects to get one. Yu Darvish, the top arm on the market last year, got a sixth year and slightly more average annual value, but his track record was far better than Corbin’s. I’m all in on Corbin at this price.

  • The Bargain: Daniel Murphy for 2 years/$15 million

USP MLB: CINCINNATI REDS AT CHICAGO CUBS S BBN CHC CIN USA IL

I know, I know. I don’t like the guy off the field either. But before we talk about Murphy as a baseball player, let’s make an important distinction. He has some unpopular viewpoints that I’d argue are unacceptable, but at the end of the day, that’s all they are…viewpoints. The Yankees paid top dollar for a player who actually did this, and we’ve been cheering for him for three years now. Just want to get out in front of some fans inevitably jumping ship if the Yankees do in fact sign Murphy.

Anyway, you might say that contract seems low for a player who was an MVP runner-up in 2016. I’d say you are correct, but I think that’s the ballpark Murphy is looking at. The free agent market infamously “froze over” last offseason, and while I do think there were some fishy factors in play, I think the main reason behind it was a league-wide understanding that you can often get similar or better production from young, cheap players than over-the-hill players on big contracts. And guess what? The teams were largely correct. There’s a reason that Lorenzo Cain flew off the market for big money but that power-hitting corner infielders with no defensive ability signed disappointing deals. And while that second group doesn’t exactly describe Murphy, that’s likely how teams will view him too. Murphy will be 34 on Opening Day, is one year removed from major knee surgery, and struggles defensively without a true position. But this dude was born to rake. Despite coming off that surgery and effectively having his Spring Training during the actual season, Murphy still managed to bat .299 in 2018. There’s almost no scenario in the near future where Murphy doesn’t bat between .290-.310. He’s shift proof…it’s freaky how evenly he hits the ball to all fields. With a sure bat and a low strikeout percentage, I think he makes for the perfect platoon to Luke Voit. (There’s a decent chance Murphy would end up as the everyday first baseman. I think Voit’s 2018 was a bit fluky, but he was so good that he at least bought himself some playing time at the start of the season.) Add in that he can play a somewhat serviceable second base until Didi returns and Gleyber Torres moves back, and Murphy makes for an exceptional short-term play for the Yanks.

  • The Familiar Face: David Robertson for 3 years/$27 million

david robertson

I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Robertson is great and one of the most consistent relievers…ever? I’m not really kidding. Besides a 2016 season when he was merely “pretty good” rather than “really good,” his numbers during each season from 2012-2018 are virtually identical. (I’m leaving out his 2011 for the sake of this exercise, because it’s one of the best reliever seasons ever that nobody talks about.) He’ll offer some walks and give up some homers, but he’s a high strikeout guy who you can bank on getting the job done 60 times a year. It’s an expensive contract for a 7th inning pitcher, but that’s the cost of reliability.

TRADES

  • The Blockbuster: It Already Happened… Justus Sheffield/Erik Swanson/Dom Thompson-Williams to the Mariners for James Paxton

paxton

I didn’t get into the details about the Gardner and Sabathia signings because I want to focus more on prospective moves, but I’ll write about this one because Paxton is less of a known commodity for Yankee fans and he cost the organization’s top prospect in Justus Sheffield. For starters, the Yankees were going to trade for a top-of-the-rotation arm in 100% of offseason scenarios. There weren’t many options, and I don’t think most of them stood a chance. I never bought into the Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco rumors for a second. They are both in their primes and have two years left on their contracts for below-market rates. Not to mention the Indians have the best staff in baseball, arguably the sport’s two best contracts in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and play in the worst division by a mile. To get them to voluntarily close their contention window would cost an absolute fortune. I’m fairly certain Gleyber would have to be involved for Kluber, and count me the hell out on that. The same applies to Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard, but they’d probably cost even more, so scratch them off too. That leaves Paxton and Zack Greinke.

I mapped out this blog before I actually started writing it, and in my original plan I had Greinke as the blockbuster. There were a few reasons why I went this route. I think you know what you’re getting more with Greinke than Paxton, and I think he potentially fits better into the “beat the Red Sox and the Astros in the playoffs” formula. Still, I’m burying the lede here. The major reason I pegged Greinke was because I planned to include Jacoby Ellsbury in the package for him. I’ll write more about Ellsbury later, but almost more than anything this offseason, I dream of the Yankees getting someone to take his contract. Moving Ellsbury will require the Yankees taking on another awful contract, and Greinke’s league-leading $34 million/year contract constitutes as awful for a Diamondbacks team about to embark upon a rebuild. I thought the Yankees would have to include two top pitching prospects in that scenario, and I thought that Paxton would cost the same. Knowing beforehand that Paxton would only cost Justus Sheffield likely would have changed my entire thought process.

Let me get this out there: I’m excited that Paxton is in pinstripes. There’s so much to love here. He’s a tall lefty who throws gas and pounds the strike zone, and he’s the darling of the analytics community too. Just about every forward-thinking baseball outlet already views Paxton as an ace and Top 10 pitcher in the league. Just watch the highlights of his no-hitter and it’s not hard to see why. His K% since becoming a regular starter in 2016 is among the best of the best, his walk rate is low, and his FIP is elite and substantially better than his ERA. But that’s also the thing with Paxton. I feel like people are constantly coming up with reasons to explain why his production isn’t better than it is. Don’t get me wrong; he’s been a really good pitcher over the past three years. But he has not been an ace. He has not once qualified for the ERA title, as his 160 innings from this past season represent a career high. And while the Mariners of late have never been known for their team defense, two of his three season ERAs of 3.79 (2016) and 3.76 (2018) aren’t awe inspiring. Throw in the fact that he had a DL stint for a back problem this past season, one of the highest hard-hit percentages in the league, road stats worse than his Safeco Field stats, and a home run rate that skyrocketed in 2018…and yeah, there’s some reason for concern here. But let’s focus on the positives. Again, he misses bats like the Scherzers of the world. Everything points to him being a 5.0-7.0 WAR pitcher if he can go 200+ innings. And the home run rate from 2018 was so much higher than his 2016-2017 figures that I think it’s safe to assume it’ll regress towards the mean. It’s a misnomer to label Paxton an ace now. But there’s a good chance it won’t be 365 days from now.

In one sense, Paxton is actually extremely similar to J.A. Happ, who is heavily linked to return to the Yankees in the rumor mill. They’re both tall lefties with easy velocity who basically only throw fastballs. But in another and more important sense, Paxton is WAY better than Happ. The two arbitration years remaining on Paxton’s contract should equate nearly identically to the deal that Happ is forecasted to land in free agency, so the financials are a wash. If the cost of upgrading from Happ to Paxton for no additional charge is one top pitching prospect and two fringe major leaguers, then I think you have to take that deal every time. (And I’m saying that as someone who seemingly likes Sheffield more than most. Sure, the kid has shown some command issues and didn’t pitch well in his 2.2 MLB innings – it is BANANAS some people actually care about that. But even with those increased walk rates in the minors, Sheffield still excelled for the most part in both Double-A and Triple-A. Plus…he’s 22 for god’s sake! He’s got a ton of talent, and that wins out a lot of the time.)

  • The Ellsbury Dump: Jacoby Ellsbury/Domingo German/Greg Bird to the Marlins for Wei-Yin Chen/Adam Conley

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins

I teased it earlier, but let’s talk some Jacoby Ellsbury. Believe it or not, it’s already been five years since Ellsbury signed that ill-fated contract. In those five years, Ellsbury had one solid debut season, one bad full season, two pedestrian injury-riddled seasons, and one completely missed season. For all of Brian Cashman’s sorcery, this move was an all-time misfire. As if Ellsbury’s health and ineptitude wouldn’t make him tough enough to trade, he also has a full no-trade clause. So yeah, I don’t think he’s actually going anywhere. But still, this is a blog of hypotheticals, so you better believe I’m shipping his ass.

Like I said earlier, in order to trade Ellsbury, the Yankees would have to receive another bad contract in return AND include another piece(s) to gauge interest. Ellsbury is essentially on a 2 year/$47 million contract (there’s a third year with a $5 million buyout option that will 99.99% be exercised). Since the Yankees would aim to save some money with this trade, we’ll explore other short-term contracts in that $15-20 million/year ballpark. And while the two centerpieces of this trade will be salary dumps, we’ll still trade them to teams that theoretically could use their services. So for the Yankees…we’re eying starters.

Believe it or not, there are actually a few different starters who fit this extremely specific bill. (The 2014-2016 offseasons were the damn Wild West.) Here are the barf-inducing choices: Jeff Samardzija, Homer Bailey, Wei-Yin Chen, and Ian Kennedy. The Giants as a trade partner would actually make some sense, given their dismal outfield situation and likelihood of a total roster teardown. I just really dislike Samardzija, and I get the sense that his camp would have an expectation for Shark to be a full-time member of the rotation. Bailey is truly horrendous and one of the select few contracts in baseball that might be even worse than Ellsbury, so easy pass on him. Kennedy would actually work on the Yankees’ end, but there’s just no chance that the Royals would take on another huge contract for a bad corner outfielder.

So that only leaves Chen, which is good because this fit makes sense for both sides. Chen has never really been a good pitcher and definitely is not one now…I seriously have no idea what the Marlins were thinking with this contract. He’s owed $42 million over the next two seasons and has major injury issues too. But still, Chen is more mediocre than bad, which the Yankees would gladly take in this situation. He threw 133.1 innings last year with a 4.43 FIP. If he could duplicate that, Chen would make for a fine Opening Day #6 starter and mop-up man. Think Jaime Garcia in 2017. And for the Marlins, a healthy Ellsbury (a big if, I know) would probably crack the Opening Day lineup. Given that they are likely to trade their only great player in J.T. Realmuto this offseason and that the only other famous player on the roster is Starlin Castro, a little name recognition honestly might not be a bad thing for an organization that draws fewer fans than some minor league teams.

Now let’s talk the pot sweeteners. There’s no incentive for the Marlins to bring in Ellsbury for Chen straight up. The Yankees need to offer more, but probably not a whole lot more. I think any cheap starter with some talent and multiple years of team control would get the job done, and Domingo German has more than some talent. He has command issues and gave up a lot of runs in his 14 starts in 2018, but German’s stuff is absolutely nasty. He gets batters to swing at pitches out of the zone as well as anyone, and his curveball has the potential to be one of the majors’ best. So why the hell would the Yankees trade him and his five years of cheap team control? There are a few reasons, the first being that German is out of minor league options. While German would almost certainly crack the 2019 Yankees’ Opening Day roster, I can’t see him being anything more than a swingman for this team. So his biggest value to the Yankees might be as a trade chip. For a rebuilding team, he could crack an Opening Day rotation with the upside to be much more than that. Seems like more than a throw-in piece then, right? Correct, but the Yankees aren’t only getting Chen in this trade.

Adam Conley isn’t a big name yet even within baseball circles, but I’d bank on him being one by season’s end. A failed starter who was one of the league’s worst in 2017, Conley was converted into a reliever and became one of the more intriguing bullpen lefties in baseball. His standard stats don’t jump off the page, but his strong K:BB ratio and FIP indicate that even better things are ahead for him. With a fastball that sits around 96 MPH paired with a changeup that is already an elite pitch, I think the odds of Conley developing into 2016 Andrew Miller are higher than 2019 Andrew Miller reverting back to 2016 Andrew Miller. And with three years of cheap team control, Conley would cost WAY less. There’s a reason that the Marlins didn’t move him before the last trade deadline despite interest from around the league. It’s going to take a lot to pry him from Miami, so we’re throwing in Greg Bird too. Bird’s 2018 was such a disaster that I think it would be best for everyone involved for him to get a fresh start with a new team. He still has solid power, a good walk rate, and should be a good defender. But even if Bird never pieces it all together, he would still represent an upgrade at first base for the Marlins. They were the only team in baseball to have their first basemen combine for negative WAR in 2018. Even Bird didn’t sink that low.

  • The Three-Way:

Yankees receive: Jurickson Profar from Rangers, Chad Pinder from Athletics

Rangers receive: Jharel Cotton from Athletics, Luis Cessa from Yankees

Athletics receive: Sonny Gray from Yankees

Giants versus Athletics

(Quick note at the top here: I swear, I’m not plagiarizing from River Ave Blues. In his offseason blog, he also suggested an Ellsbury-for-Chen swap and a three-way deal that brings Profar to the Yankees. As already mentioned, my original plan for Ellsbury involved Zack Greinke, but I don’t think there’s any chance the Yankees trade for another big-name pitcher now. And as for Profar, I’ve loved him as a trade target for a while now. I’d mock a trade for him that’s solely between the Yankees and Rangers, but a goal here is to trade Sonny Gray and I don’t think his one-year deal makes any sense for Texas.)

Sonny Gray is going to get traded. Brian Cashman isn’t beating around the bush about it. He didn’t work out in the Bronx, but he’s still an interesting trade chip for the Yankees. His road numbers were significantly better than his Yankee Stadium numbers, and he has other peripherals that suggest he could return to his 2016 form. I’m not exactly sure how valuable of a trade chip Sonny is, but considering a few teams are already aggressively pursuing him, I think his value might be higher than most Yankee fans would guess. All teams with good/great offenses but no starting pitching like the Brewers and Reds would work as partners, but Oakland fits that mold too and I think a trade-back is in play here. The A’s had back luck with multiple injuries to starters last year, but this is still a team that was forced to resort to bullpenning in the Wild Card Game. I’m sure the A’s plan to stay aggressive this offseason while retooling a 97-win roster, and Sonny fills such a need for them that he would probably be the Opening Day starter.

The player coming back to the Bronx from Oakland is both the one who I am most excited to write about and the least known by the baseball community: Chad Pinder. I admittedly haven’t watched Pinder play a ton, but I’m familiar with his skillset and his stats, and he could not be a more ideal fit for the 2019 Yankees. Pinder, who is going to be 27 on Opening Day and is under team control for four years, is a good athlete who functioned as Oakland’s super utility man last season. He made starts at seven (!!!) different positions in 2018, yet most of them occurred at his best position in left field. Pinder is a capable second baseman, but he is a truly excellent left fielder. He ranked fifth among all leftfielders in Defensive Runs Saved, and he ranked first in UZR/150 among those with 400+ innings. The Yankees are obviously open to the idea of at least platooning Brett Gardner, as evidenced by last season’s trade for Andrew McCutchen. But the roadblock in replacing Gardner is that he’s a master of patrolling the tricky Yankee Stadium left field. Gardner is not a good hitter anymore, but his defense is clearly a priority for the Yankees’ brass because he continued to start in left over Giancarlo Stanton last year even as his offense dissipated. Pinder isn’t simply a right-handed left field specialist though…there is major offensive potential here too. Behind his solid walk rate and power, Pinder posted an eye-opening 113 wRC+ last year. (For reference, that’s equal to Eddie Rosario and Starling Marte.) But the real cause for excitement is that Pinder squares up the ball as well as anyone in baseball, and that’s not an exaggeration. He ranked 13th last year in both FanGraphs’ hard hit percentage and Statcast’s barrels per plate appearance. An adopter of the launch angle revolution, those stats make sense, as does his high strikeout rate unfortunately. Still, there is potential here to trade for a plus offensive and defensive player whose role would be a left field split at an absolute minimum…and he’s currently buried on the Oakland depth chart. Most of these “moves” are total hypotheticals that I could live without, but I adamantly want Cashman to trade for Pinder. Even if that entails a straight-up swap for Sonny because, again, I have zero clue what his true trade value actually is.

Jurickson Profar

The other player coming to the Yankees in this trade is far better known than Pinder, albeit not for the best reasons. Jurickson Profar debuted in the majors as a 19 year-old and spent years as the top prospect in baseball. Yet here we are years later, and Profar just logged his first season with over 100 games played in his career. Plenty of that lack of playing time can be attributed to injuries, but the full story includes Profar not playing near his lofty expectations. But just because didn’t develop into a perennial All Star doesn’t mean that Profar still doesn’t have a ton of talent. His standard stats from 2018 won’t blow anyone away, but they show that he was an above-average hitter. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that Profar might be more than that, and with a skillset that the Yankees could desperately use. On top of being a switch-hitter with dead even lefty/righty splits, Profar has an incredibly rare combination of balance at the plate and power. Just listen to this. Profar was one of only eight players in MLB last year with a walk rate higher than 9%, a strikeout rate lower than 15%, and an ISO rating north of .200. The other seven? Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Justin Turner, Jose Ramirez, Manny Machado, Anthony Rendon, and Francisco Lindor. So yeah, the guy can deliver some offense. The same cannot exactly be said about Profar’s defense. Like Pinder, Profar was utilized as a super utility man in 2018, making at least 9 starts from every position in the infield. The majority of those starts came on the left side of the infield, which is strange, because he’s bad there. I guess he could offer a slight upgrade at third over Miguel Andujar late in games, but Profar is actually solid at second base and that’s where he’d provide the most defensive value if the Yankees choose to slide Gleyber to shortstop for the season. Profar is currently slated to start at third for Texas on Opening Day now that Adrian Beltre has retired, but Joey Gallo is better than him there and the Rangers could move Gallo back to the infield to make room for Willie Calhoun. So without a firm grasp on a position and with only two years remaining on his contract for a bad team, Profar should be attainable via trade.

Like I just said…the Rangers really suck. They stand no chance of competing for the AL West in the near future, so they should be thinking 3-4 years down the line. And ALL of their attention should center on pitching. Their projected rotation for 2019 is truly nauseating, and right now they have no help on the way either. The Rangers need a couple of arms who provide some immediate upside and multiple years of team control. Luis Cessa fits that description. Yankee fans don’t hold a high opinion of Cessa after years of spot starts from him, but he would be a valuable trade chip. Somehow still just 26 years old, Cessa’s fastball sits around 95 MPH and he posted a respectable 3.74 FIP in 2018. Texas would hold four years of control over Cessa, and honestly he’d probably make 25 starts for them next season. Completing the trade is Jharel Cotton moving from Oakland to Texas. Cotton really struggled in his first full season in 2017 and missed all of 2018 following Tommy John surgery, but he’s still an asset. A former Top 100 prospect with a filthy changeup, Texas could buy low on Cotton and take advantage of Oakland’s pipeline of younger arms. Also under team control for four years, it would be a worthwhile bet by the Rangers on Cotton becoming a top-end starter for them for 2020 and beyond.

THE GOODBYES

  • Ronald Torreyes

I know, I know. We all love Toe. But the Yankees have World Series aspirations, and the fact of the matter is that Torreyes isn’t very good. He has absolutely no offensive upside and his defense isn’t as good as we like to pretend. In this scenario I’m bringing in three other guys who can play the infield, so Ronnie T wouldn’t have a role beyond clubhouse mascot. Ideally he clears waivers in this situation so we could bring him back on a minor league deal (he’s out of minor league options), but anything more than that is sentimentality winning out.

  • A.J. Cole

A.J. Cole is horrific. I still can’t get over how long he survived on the active roster last year. The Yankees could miss out on every single free agent, and I’d still want them releasing Cole.

THE “WHAT IFS?”

I’ll be brief with these, because I have some self-awareness over how long I’ve gone already. But I want to at least address the names linked to the Yankees this offseason that I don’t have them bringing in.

  • Bryce Harper

I guess I shouldn’t be referring to this exercise as my “dream offseason,” because in my dream Bryce is wearing pinstripes. I just really can’t see it happening. Immediately following the Giancarlo trade last offseason, I wrote about how it was the big move that the Yankees spent years preparing for. I still think there is some truth to that, despite the Yankees kicking the tires on Bryce and the opening for a better corner outfielder. Inking Bryce to a deal in the ballpark that he’s expecting would have the Yankees paying around $90 million annually to three slugging outfielders (Judge is going to get PAID) for at least five seasons. I’m a total believer in Bryce and think he could win multiple MVPs for whatever team lands him, but even for the Yankees I’m not sure the financials make sense here.

  • Manny Machado

I don’t view Machado in the same light as I view Harper, but he’s still another potential MVP who might just be entering his prime. But unlike Harper, Machado would provide a better immediate fit. An actual third baseman who views himself as a shortstop, Manny could fill in for Didi for 2019 then kick over to the hot corner if Andujar’s defense doesn’t improve. It’s more complicated than that though. Again, he’s going to be crazy expensive. I also think Machado’s issues with effort and dirty play are valid and totally worth consideration when handing out a lifetime contract. But most importantly, I believe in Miguel Andujar, and to a greater extent the entire young core. Voluntarily breaking that up for one star player with a bad attitude would be reminiscent of mid-2000s Yankee teams that weren’t nearly as fun as some people act like they were. (They didn’t win either.)

  • Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco

I already touched on these guys, but again, their contracts are way too team-friendly and the Indians are way too good to trade either of them to the Yankees without getting at least Gleyber or Andujar in return.

  • Dallas Keuchel

Already wrote about him too…I prefer Corbin.

  • Nathan Eovaldi

For the contract that he’s about to pull, I’m perfectly content letting someone else invest in Nasty Nate. Best of luck.

  • Andrew McCutchen

Cutch played really well in his half season for the Yankees, but Cashman knew he was trading for a rental. Don’t think this would be a good long-term fit.

  • Zach Britton

Britton was shaky but good enough for the Yankees. It would be nice to have him back, but some team is going to pay him closer money, and that’s just not an option for the Yanks.

  • Michael Brantley

I’ve seen a lot of people pencil Brantley into left field for the Yankees, and I do not want them to do this. It’s a really bad fit to me. Brantley is a good player, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and will command a contract for at least three years around $15 million a year. I’d love to have his high-contact bat in the lineup, but with his awful injury history, bad defense, and limited power, I can live without it.

  • J.A. Happ

Another commonly predicted 2019 Yankee, another free agent that I don’t want the Yankees targeting. Happ was excellent after coming over at the trade deadline, and then he was terrible in the playoffs. You shouldn’t use postseason performance as an indicator of a pitcher’s “guts” or any shit like that, but it should open your eyes to the pitcher that Happ has been for the majority of his career. I’ve already called James Paxton a better version of Happ in this blog, but in that case then Paxton is like Happ 4.0. He’s old and is going to cost a lot, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he posts ERAs in the high 4’s over each year of his contract.

  • Yusei Kikuchi

I don’t know anything about his game, but Kikuchi is a 27 year-old lefty starter and the top Japanese free agent this offseason. If the Yankees lose the bidding war for Corbin, then expect them to be active here.

  • Andrew Miller

Fading reliever who’s going to be expensive and is suddenly getting old. Let someone else take this one.

  • Adam Warren

Ugh, I’d LOVE Warren back. I just don’t think that’s on the table after the Yankees traded him for international signing bonus pool space during the heat of a playoff run.

  • Charlie Morton

This one is tough. Morton has been excellent the past two seasons and will probably only sign for a one-year deal. It would be a major high risk, high reward move. I’d be fine with it, but I could also see it playing out where Morton gets paid just short of $20 million just to throw 50 innings.

  • Jose Iglesias

I would be all about bringing in Iglesias on a one-year deal to fill in for Didi. He can’t really hit, but he is an absolute wizard at short. I would love if the Yankees could continue Gleyber’s development at second base, but Iglesias is the only affordable shortstop in free agency who could justifiably start every day. And I wouldn’t bank on a 28 year-old this good at defense taking a one-year deal.

  • Josh Harrison

I kinda expect the Yankees to sign Harrison. They’ve publicly liked him for a while now and he has that 2B/3B versatility the team is searching for this offseason. He’s been solid offensively as recently as 2017, but I’m bearish on his future with the bat. I definitely wouldn’t hate this move; I just think there are better and cheaper options out there for infield versatility.

  • Neil Walker

What am I missing here? A lot of Yankees writers whose work I respect are hopeful that Walker will return on a one-year deal. Um, he was terrible last year? I know he had some big hits and improved in the second half, but this is still a guy who batted .219 (including .164 as a right-handed hitter) and played suspect defense. Let’s aim higher, people.

OPENING DAY ROSTER

Catchers

Gary Sanchez

Austin Romine

Infielders

Daniel Murphy

Luke Voit

Jurickson Profar

Gleyber Torres

Miguel Andujar

Outfielders

Brett Gardner

Chad Pinder

Aaron Hicks

Aaron Judge

Giancarlo Stanton

Starters

Luis Severino

Patrick Corbin

James Paxton

Masahiro Tanaka

CC Sabathia

Bullpen

Aroldis Chapman

Dellin Betances

David Robertson

Chad Green

Jonathan Holder

Tommy Kahnle

Adam Conley

Wei-Yin Chen

OPENING DAY LINEUP

  1. Gleyber Torres SS
  2. Aaron Judge RF
  3. Aaron Hicks CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton DH
  5. Miguel Andujar 3B
  6. Daniel Murphy 1B
  7. Gary Sanchez C
  8. Jurickson Profar 2B
  9. Brett Gardner LF

 

Follow me on Twitter @Real_Peej as we journey towards Ring No. 28!

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A Performance Review for the Giants’ Offseason (Dave Gettleman Might Be Bad)

The New York Giants are…bad. They’re really bad. The 1-7 record probably gives that away. As does Eli Manning ranking 28th in QBR, the team ranking 24th in DVOA, and the fact that the team is currently slated to pick first in the 2019 Draft. So yeah, the Giants STINK.

But still, I’m going to do my best to avoid getting overly negative here. You can do a simple Twitter search or turn on WFAN for that. What I’d rather do is reassess the past offseason, which was supposed to signify a new chapter for the Giants organization following the worst season in franchise history. The team went 3-13, Ben McAdoo lost the locker room and threw the best quarterback in franchise history under the bus, Jerry Reese seemingly blew another draft…I could keep going. It sucked so bad.

John Mara pegged Dave Gettleman as the man to lead the turnaround, and I was cool with the decision despite considerable blowback from the fanbase. Yeah he’s 67, but I was willing to look past his age because I was a fan of his time with the Panthers. He took them out of salary cap hell, made tough decisions, and was instrumental in building a 15-1 team that went to the Super Bowl. Turns out I, uh, might have given too much credit to his past. Gettleman’s first non-transactional moves as GM included: trashing analytics, saying Jonathan Stewart hasn’t lost a step, and repeatedly bringing up Eli Manning’s 2017 game at Philadelphia…to the point where it’s becoming increasingly transparent that that was probably the only Giants game he watched last season. He insisted and proved with some moves that he believed the team was in “win-now” mode, the same team that is now 1-7 and sold at the trade deadline. (We’ll talk more about what “win-now” actually means as we progress through this.) To put it delicately, he hasn’t inspired a ton of confidence.

Gettleman definitely had some misguided faith, but I don’t mean to insinuate that he believed too much in what was clearly the worst team in the league. A lot of people who are paid to talk about football bought the Giants as contenders this season. I did…not. When I wrote about them prior to the season, I saw them as a deeply flawed team with reasons for cautious optimism. My brain pegged the Giants as a 7-9 team, but my heart convinced me to write down 9-7 in a post that I would like to go back and edit. Still, I thought there was no chance the Giants would be a playoff team, and turns out I was way too correct on that front.

So take that as my performance review of Gettleman’s work so far, but in this article we’re going to look at the notable moves Gettleman made this offseason and during this season. We’ll ignore most of the minor moves and the moves that were fairly obvious, like cutting Brandon Marshall. I’ll include some prospective moves that didn’t happen, but I’m going to avoid writing about moves that were never close to fruition. For example, it would have been nice if the Giants had done more to address the crater at right tackle in the offseason, but with the team strapped for cash and willing to experiment with Ereck Flowers at a new position, that wasn’t discussed nearly as much as our hindsight would like us to believe. So here we go, starting with the best, because we’re trying hard to stay positive in Giants Country:

DEFINITELY GOOD

  • The Players That Gettleman Actually Drafted

If that wording seems strange and unnecessary, just keep reading. Saquon Barkley has been everything as advertised. He’s already one of the five best running backs in the NFL and is a lock to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. His highlight tape after just eight weeks is as loaded as some decent backs would put together over their careers. My fears of him having multiple duds on the ground have been justified (5 of his 8 games have been under 50 yards rushing) and he still has work to do confidently running between the tackles. But c’mon, he’s amazing. He’s breaking tackles at a mind-blowing rate and catches everything thrown his way. He’s special.

As for the rest of the draft class, Will Hernandez looks like a steal at the 34th pick. I think his performance thus far has been a bit overblown (Pro Football Focus has him as the eight best guard in football this year…I wouldn’t go nearly that far), but he still should be a building block for the offensive line. BJ Hill has arguably been the most consistent pass rusher on the team, and Lorenzo Carter has shown some explosiveness on the edge. Looking like Gettleman went 4/4 on his top picks. (We won’t talk about Kyle Lauletta.)

  • Extending Odell Beckham

I can’t believe I have to put this in writing, but paying a hefty price to keep the 25 year-old star of the franchise in town was a good decision. Amidst the offensive chaos this season, OBJ ranks third in receptions and fourth in yards across the league. I have to crunch some more numbers, but that might be good. Yeah, the ESPN interview was bad, but I’d prefer that John Mara get his own shit together instead of constantly reprimanding Odell for plenty of hypothetical shit. He’s our future and I’m 100% content with that.

  • Signing Kerry Wynn

Wynn has probably been the best defensive player (still) on the team this season, so I’d say keeping him around for $500K guaranteed was a good move. Only bummer is that he’s probably going to get paid a lot more than that by a contender this upcoming offseason.

  • Releasing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Hand up, I was dead wrong here. DRC was a Giants fan favorite and only two years removed from an All-Pro selection, so releasing him before the final year on his contract to save $6.5 million pissed a lot of people off. Especially considering DRC’s flexibility when the Giants had an obvious lack of depth in the secondary. But Gettleman was brought in to rip off some Band-Aids, and that’s precisely what he did here. DRC struggled in Oakland before abruptly retiring just a few days ago, so it’s safe to say Gettleman got out in front of this one.

  • Releasing Ereck Flowers

You might think this one qualifies as an obvious move, but taking on nearly $5 million of dead money to flat-out cut a former 9th overall pick is bold, regardless of how bad Flowers was is. But after this season, he’s off the Giants’ books forever. This was a giant middle finger to Jerry Reese’s last few years in charge.

  • Not Trading Landon Collins

I have no proof of this, but I assume a trade of Collins would have fetched a second-round pick at worst, potentially a first-round pick. And that’s hard not to salivate over for a safety on a rebuilding team without any future contract stability beyond the franchise tag. But you can’t just trade everyone. There is still a fan base. There are still games that can be won. And while Collins isn’t playing at his 2016 peak level, he’s still an excellent 24 year-old playmaker who vocally loves being a Giant. He’s the type of guy you want to build around.

LOOKING GOOD

  • Trading Jason Pierre-Paul

The only reason this trade isn’t in the above section is because JPP has been really good for the Bucs so far. His 8 sacks are tied for second in the league. Still, that figure is a bit deceptive. He’s not playing anywhere near his 2011 peak, and it’s pretty obvious that he’ll never get his explosiveness fully back. The same could have been said last year, but that didn’t stop Jerry Reese from handing him a $62 million contract that was preposterous the second it was signed. It’s a miracle the Giants got out of this albatross of a contract, and an even bigger miracle that they got a solid draft pick out of it too that became BJ Hill.

I mentioned before that I’d talk more about what a “win-now” mentality actually means. There were a few moves that absolutely fit into that category, like drafting Saquon and trading for Ogletree. But trading away JPP was as much of a rebuilding move as there is. The Giants clearly could have used JPP’s services this year, but Gettleman pounced at the opportunity to get out of a contract that made no sense for the player. But most importantly, the Giants took on FIFTEEN MIL of dead money doing so. That’s roughly 10% of the cap just gone! For reference to those who don’t closely monitor NFL salary caps (AKA normal people), most TEAMS don’t have that much dead money over a given season, let alone for one player. The front office was clearly looking towards the future with this move, with zero future commitments to JPP now. So I hesitate to say that Gettleman’s biggest issue was going “all in” on 2018. I think the more accurate problem was the lack of any clear vision. The Giants tried to have the best of both worlds, and instead got neither.

  • Trading Eli Apple

Apple actually played fairly well for the Giants this season, much to the surprise and delight of the fanbase. So I was fairly disappointed at first upon learning that the Giants only got back fourth and seventh round picks for a talented CB on his rookie deal. But as some time passed and the more I thought about it, my thoughts on the trade swung. Apple was such a nuisance last season that you could have convinced me at the time to release him for nothing. So getting back some draft currency for him is nice. It also tells me that Apple didn’t do nearly enough behind the scenes to change the brass’ opinion of him. Plus, it’s not like we’re talking about Champ Bailey here. Apple was AWFUL in his first game with the Saints.

  • Trading for Riley Dixon

This is the first of the next few moves in this category that could definitely qualify as “too minor to write about,” but I picked some worth quickly mentioning. The Giants’ special teams had been a complete disaster over the past couple of seasons, especially at the punter position. Dixon only cost a seventh round pick, and he ranks fifth in the league with a 42.0 net punt average. Definitely worth it.

  • Signing Cody Latimer

Latimer didn’t produce too much before landing on the IR, but I think in an alternate scenario this move could have played out like a bargain. Gettleman took a cheap flier on a veteran who never really got a chance to shine on his prior team, something he excelled at while running the Panthers. WR3 was (and is) a definite need for the Giants, and Latimer made some nice catches and stretched the field when he played. It’s tough to say this worked out, but I like where Gettleman’s head was.

  • Signing Michael Thomas

Another move that probably would be getting more praise had it happened for a better team. Thomas has been instrumental in stabilizing the special teams, and he’s played admirably in spot duty in the secondary. His kind of leadership and attitude is well worth it for $2 million.

TOO SOON TO TELL

  • Signing Nate Solder

Ah, the move everybody wants to talk about. And the move that almost nobody would agree belongs in this section. And take this: I’d lean closer to putting him in “looking good” than “looking bad.” But I’ll start with some concessions to the peanut gallery. Solder has been less than optimal in pass protection. It certainly didn’t help that his worst performance happened in the spotlight on a Monday night against the Falcons. It’s somewhat fair to have expected Solder to up his level after receiving the contract that he did.

But that’s the thing: this is close to the level Solder was at last year with the Patriots. He allowed 51 total pressures last season. That’s a lot. Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels just made 51 pressures look a lot better than Eli Manning and Pat Shurmur are. But you know what? Nate Solder does not suck. He has not been a disaster for the Giants. Mario Addison and Preston Smith are both good pass rushers, and Solder had his way against both of them. And he’s still shining in the running game, as evidenced by his good PFF grade of 71.3 so far. I’ll say it again: PFF isn’t gospel, but I’ll take the work of analysts paid to watch every snap over the comments from a few Twitter eggs.

What I truly can’t wrap my head around with all of the Solder criticism though is how fans apparently can’t remember the 2015-17 seasons. Nate Solder is SO much better than Ereck Flowers. And when you make as colossal of a mistake as the Flowers pick was, you’re going to have to pay the price to fix it. $62 million is a ton of money, but it’s not like Solder is a kicker. He plays the second highest in-demand position in football. Solid left tackles almost never hit free agency. Taylor Lewan is no Orlando Pace, and Tennessee made him the highest paid lineman ever just to avoid the open market. You can bitch about the Giants not signing the superior yet cheaper player in Andrew Whitworth prior to last season, but Jerry Reese chose not to invest in a 35 year-old. Turns out that was a bad call, but the logic at least makes sense. Get over it.

And one last thing: this wasn’t a “win-now” move either. You need a left tackle under all circumstances, ESPECIALLY if you’re developing a rookie quarterback. Ironically, this move actually convinced me the Giants were going QB in the first round. Whoops.

  • Trading for Alec Ogletree

Another move that most fans would slot into one of the below sections. But I’ll defend Ogletree…to a degree. Ogletree is one of the favorite targets of football analysts, as he consistently grades out terribly by the PFFs of the world. And that makes some sense. He’s not a sure tackler, and he chooses the wrong lanes against the run too often. But while “natural athleticism” and “leadership” are traits normally used to characterize players who just don’t produce, Ogletree excels in those departments, and they’re both something that Giants’ inside linebackers have been desperately missing for the last decade. Tight ends and third-down running backs had TORTURED the Giants over the past couple of seasons, but that hasn’t been the case whatsoever this year. The only tight end to catch 5+ passes with Ogletree on the field this year has been Zach Ertz, and that was only for 43 yards with most of that damage done outside against Janoris Jenkins. It’s not a coincidence.

There are some parallels between this move and the Nate Solder move. Both were clearly overpays to good-not-great players to fill positions that had been total black holes for the Giants. Do fans not remember UANI UNGA as the Giants’ 2015 Week 1 middle linebacker?! But there are some major differences too. First and foremost, the Giants traded for Ogletree’s bad contract and gave up a fourth-round pick to do so. Definitely fits the “win-now” bill, and I’m doubtful that Ogletree would have even received his contract in the open market. And that’s largely because solid inside linebackers are often available for bargains in free agency. I’m of the opinion that the inside linebacker position has actually become undervalued in recent years, but it’s still tough to justify bringing in Ogletree on a top-of-market contract when he obviously doesn’t belong in the Kuechly/Wagner tier. So while I’d say Ogletree has been a better 2018 Giant than Solder, they both land in this same category because of positional value.

  • Drafting Sam Beal

The casual Giants fan might not even recognize this name, because he was taken in the Supplemental Draft and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury before the preseason. But he’s the reason the Giants don’t have a third-round pick in this upcoming draft. They clearly believe in his talent, which is good because he’s a surefire starter next season.

  • Signing B.W. Webb

A few weeks ago, I would have punched myself in the face for putting Webb in this category. He looked like another castoff corner brought in by the Giants who had no business being on a professional football field. But Webb has actually been solid lately. And with the lack of future secondary depth that I’ve referenced numerous times, the Giants could use all of the capable bodies that they can find.

  • Not Trading Olivier Vernon

 I’m not sure whether or not this was actually on the table, so I’ll keep it brief here. Olivier Vernon is a stud. He’s only played three games this season, and in that time he’s obliterated Jason Peters and Trent Williams. I think he’s one of the ten best edge rushers in football…when he’s on the field. His health is just that big of a mystery. As great as he is, I’d have to concede that I’d understand if the Giants chose to forego nearly $20 million cap hits over the next two seasons. He’s that quality of player, but it’s a lot of money for a guy who gets injured often on what should be bad teams.

LOOKING BAD 

  • Hiring Pat Shurmur

Outside of Mike Francesa, why do I feel like I haven’t heard much noise from the New York media about Shurmur? The team is 1-7 and came into the season with plenty of premier talent on the roster (albeit a deeply flawed roster). He’s supposed to be an offensive guru, yet the offense has been stagnant all season and rarely seems to be on the same page. It’s definitely reasonable to place most of the blame for that on Eli Manning or the offensive line, but Shurmur was extremely successful last year in Minnesota with Case Keenum, Latavius Murray, and a line that might have had less talent than the 2018 Giants. We haven’t seen anything close to the creativity that that offense had, and this is a team with Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Saquon Barkley that we’re talking about. I’m pretty sure that most of the notable offensive minds around the league would be able to scheme up something better than Shurmur has. Some proven coordinators just can’t handle head coaching duties, and that’s my fear with Shurmur.

Still, I’m not completely out on Shurmur yet. Again, I was so impressed with what he did in Minnesota, and I think he could replicate that with a young quarterback to develop. I also think it’s safe to say that Mike Shula wasn’t exactly his first choice for offensive coordinator. And no, this is NOWHERE near McAdoo levels of dysfunction yet. So I think he’s earned his fair chance with better surroundings, but it’s safe to say that his ice is definitely thinner.

  • Trading Brett Jones

The Giants traded Jones for a seventh-round pick, essentially just getting rid of him, right before Week 1 of the season. Jones hasn’t been good for the Vikings so far, but he was solid at both center and guard for the 2017 Giants. We’ll never know if he would have played poorly for the Giants this season too, but basically cutting a guy with his versatility and decent track record made little sense for a team that has already rolled out three different centers and two different right guards.

  • Trading Damon Harrison

This one is tough. I’ve really tried to remove all sentimentality when evaluating this trade, because I love me some Snacks. This definitely qualifies as one of Gettleman’s trademark “tough decisions” that’s designed to set the Giants up for the future. But I still don’t like it. I know Snacks is about to turn 30. I know he’s expensive. I know he plays a position that becomes less relevant by the day. I just can’t accept that the returns are worth it for losing a player of his caliber and presence. Snacks is an elite player by every definition, and he was the single best player on the Giants in a lost 2017 season. He plays hard every down, is beloved by teammates and coaches, and has shown no signs of slowing down. I’d like to believe the Giants wouldn’t voluntarily leave a better offer on the table, but I can’t wrap my head around the best run stopper in the league netting only a fifth-round pick regardless of the current state of the NFL. The fifth round is where teams start buying lottery tickets. And about his contract. It’s not THAT bad. The Giants are still on the hook for over $8 million of it even with him in Detroit, so he’s playing on a 2 year/$16 million deal. That’s a nice chunk of change the Giants will (hopefully) save, but I don’t care if my team is 16-0 or 0-16: I want Damon Harrison on my team for that contract.

  • Not Trading Janoris Jenkins

I still think Jackrabbit is a pretty good player. He’s lost some game since his 2016 All-Pro peak and definitely struggles against speed receivers, but he’s still a guy who did this and managed to shut down Michael Thomas this year. With that being said, he’s one of the last players I’d want around on a rebuilding team. He’s expensive for the next two seasons, and his Achilles’ heel is effort when things aren’t going well. You don’t have to look too far past the Eagles game this year to prove that. And yeah…I don’t expect things to go well too often over the next two years. I have to imagine the Giants were actively shopping him before the trade deadline, so it’s a bit stunning that they couldn’t put something together considering the amount of CB-needy contenders and the front office’s clear penchant for mid-round picks.

DEFINITELY BAD 

  • Not Drafting A Quarterback Second Overall

I mean…I’m sorry I waited this long to mention this, because it’s what it all comes down to. It’s arguably the most win-now move…ever? Saquon is obviously a tremendous player, but this is shaping up as an all-time bad decision on so many levels. So many levels to the point where this will probably be more efficient and I’ll drive myself less insane if I just list them:

  • Eli Manning is bad. He’s REALLY bad. He’s lost a lot of arm talent, refuses to take hits, and might literally be the least mobile QB I’ve ever seen. I desperately wanted the Giants to draft a QB, but I understood the gamble to name Eli the starter again for this season with supposedly better surroundings. It was a really bad bet.
  • I think most Giants fans are underestimating the chances that Eli is the Week 1 starter next year too. It’s his last year under contract, and he hasn’t shown me anything that would indicate his ineptitude is pushing him towards retirement. You might think Kyle Lauletta is the favorite to supersede him, but he can’t even pass Alex Tanney on the depth chart. (His recent arrest definitely didn’t do him any favors either.) So just get a free agent, you say. Well, quarterbacks of Kirk Cousins’ caliber almost never hit the open market, and when they do, they are well beyond the Giants’ price range for the near future. What about Teddy Bridgewater? I’d be on board, but I think he’s going to get paid a lot more than people expect, potentially to stay in New Orleans as Drew Brees’ successor. That leaves us with the Sam Bradfords of the world, and I wouldn’t blame the Giants for just sucking it up with Eli for a year instead. Bypassing a QB in this draft was not a one-year decision.
  • The Giants should have been licking their lips that they managed to go 3-13 in the year that they did. They stumbled into a quarterback class that had been heralded for years by scouts and draft experts as one of the best in recent memory. Instead, they panicked. They searched for something wrong with every top prospect instead of falling in love with certain attributes. And no, I am absolutely not writing off Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen because they’ve experienced rookie struggles. They’ve both shown enough promise to get fans of those teams excited about the future.
  • Now, the Giants are getting ready to pick near the top of another draft, but one that almost everyone agrees only has one first-round talent at QB in Oregon’s Justin Herbert. And he might even stay in school for his senior year. Brace yourself for Gettleman trying to sell us on how Will Grier is actually Andrew Luck 2.0.
  • Say Herbert does enter the draft. Perfect, right? I still don’t think the Giants will be in the front of the line for him. For starters, I don’t think the Giants are the worst team in football. I expect them to finish better than Oakland and Buffalo, and maybe Arizona and San Francisco too. Well three of those four teams definitely don’t need a QB, right? True, but I’m not buying Jon Gruden’s faith in Derek Carr and am definitely buying that he wants his guy under center when the team moves to Vegas. But they might take Nick Bosa or another pass rusher instead, right? Definitely, but John Elway makes the football decisions for a team without many holes but with a gaping one at quarterback. He’s already scouted Herbert in person. Connect the dots.
  • Running backs just aren’t that valuable. I’m sorry, but that’s not some new-age thinking. It’s just the way it is now. That’s not to say that great backs can’t push your team over the top and that all first-round running backs are foregone conclusions as busts. Obviously the Rams would take Todd Gurley at #10 overall again. But so much of Gurley’s recent success has to do with scheme and blocking. And other running backs in Gurley and Barkley’s company, like Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt, were selected in the third round just two drafts ago. Look at what’s gone on in Pittsburgh this year. One of the best running backs in football decided pretty much on a whim to not play this season, and their back-up third-rounder has filled his shoes without missing a beat. Saquon Barkley is already a Pro Bowler. He can improve, but there’s not too much room for growth. The Giants are 1-7.
  • Saquon is already really expensive. He’s only going to get more expensive. Running backs generally don’t get paid much anymore. The Giants are 1-7.
  • Saquon is going to get hurt at some point during his rookie deal. That’s not pessimism or some sick self-fulfilling prophecy. It just happens to running backs.
  • Even great running backs can’t fully function in broken offenses, particularly behind broken offensive lines. Just think Todd Gurley in 2016 or David Johnson this year. Saquon’s done an admirable job this season, but the Giants still have three massive question marks on the offensive line moving forward.

 

  • Restructuring Contracts

The ultimate sign of a win-now team, and something that NO team that isn’t one of the best in the league should be doing. First grade explanation of restructuring is that the Giants took some of the future money owed to Alec Ogletree and Janoris Jenkins, gave it to them now, but it counts against the salary cap over the next two years instead of this year. Yup, the 2018 Giants actually did that.

  • Signing Patrick Omameh

The Giants made more significant bad decisions than this one (check the essay I just wrote about the second overall pick), but this was Gettleman’s dumbest bad decision. Just inexplicably stupid. Omameh is next-level bad. Like, he’s already been benched for a few weeks levels of bad. And he’s in the first year of a 3 year/$15 million deal. That is serious money for a right guard. And if you’re wondering how the Giants didn’t see this coming, I have no answer for you. The Jaguars spent $66.5 million to replace him for god’s sake. (That replacement – Andrew Norwell, who was linked to the Giants all offseason – has been far from great for the Jags, by the way.) To add insult to injury, DJ Fluker has been a bulldozer in the running game for Seattle after the Giants let him leave town despite his decent audition in 2017. Fluker is flawed too, but he’s on a 1 year/$1.5 million contract.

  • Signing Jonathan Stewart

The runner-up in the dumbest bad decision contest! I mean, this move was D.O.A., and it still turned out worse than we expected. The Giants paid Stewart $4 million this season to run the ball 6 times for 17 yards. Who could have seen that coming from a 31 year-old running back who hasn’t been good since 2015?

  • Signing Kareem Martin

Martin hasn’t been a total disaster overall (he was in the first few weeks of the season), but he’s a mediocre player who also signed a 3 year/$15 million deal. The Giants can’t just be handing out contracts of that magnitude to players who would be backups on better teams.

  • Signing Curtis Riley

Arguably the worst player on the team over the full course of the season, Curtis Riley looks every bit the part of an undrafted player who had never made a start prior to this season. He’s just not a very good athlete and consistently takes terrible angles. I’m not sure what convinced the Giants to pick him over Andrew Adams, who played fairly well as a rookie in 2016 and completely balled out in the preseason this year.

  • Signing Connor Barwin

He’s old. He doesn’t do anything. Next.

  • Waiving Romeo Okwara

This one is truly infuriating. Okwara entered this offseason as a third-year player who had shown glimpses of potential during his first two seasons, yet the Giants surprisingly waived him. He signed with Detroit and has already posted 5 sacks for them this season. This is emblematic of a bigger problem with Gettleman. In multiple cases, it seems like his best reason for moving on from a guy is because he wasn’t one of his guys. You can call that selfish, petty, etc. They all apply.

odell saquon

So yeah, that’s basically the State of the Meadowlands. Gettleman has clearly made more bad decisions than good ones, with most of the major decisions being of the negative variety. It’s hard to trust him heading into another offseason, but at least this go-around he shouldn’t have free reign to spend away. So while next season will almost certainly be miserable, I hope you read this and took away some hope for the Giants. They’re going to have great draft picks again, and even if the top one doesn’t end up as a QB, this front office has shown they can crush a draft. And hey, Odell is around forever!

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, I’ve been keeping track of the Five Best and Five Worst players from each Giants game this season. It’s an evaluation system that’s flawed by design, but it’s useful to keep track of who has shown up and who has bogged down the team on a weekly basis. Here are those overall standings through midseason (5 points for the best player, 4 for the second best…). Players still on the active roster are in bold. There is a disappointing lack of bold:

BEST

T1. Saquon Barkley (+15)

T1. Odell Beckham (+15)

3. Kerry Wynn (+9)

4. Olivier Vernon (+8)

T5. Alec Ogletree (+7)

T5. Sterling Shepard (+7)

T7. Damon Harrison (+6)

T7. Landon Collins (+6)

9. BJ Hill (+5)

T10. Will Hernandez (+4)

T10. Cody Latimer (+4)

T12. BJ Goodson (+3)

T12. Eli Apple (+3)

T14. Dalvin Tomlinson (+1)

T14. Janoris Jenkins (+1)

T14. Lorenzo Carter (+1)

WORST

1. Eli Manning (-16)

2. Curtis Riley (-15)

T3. Patrick Omameh (-10)

T3. Chad Wheeler (-10)

5. Kareem Martin (-9)

6. John Greco (-8)

7. Ereck Flowers (-5)

T8. Evan Engram (-4)

T8. Ray-Ray Armstrong (-4)

T8. Wayne Gallman (-4)

11. Kaelin Clay (-3)

T12. Connor Barwin (-2)

T12. Nate Solder (-2)

T12. Russell Shepard (-2)

T12. Nate Stupar (-2)

T16. Jon Halapio (-1)

T16. BW Webb (-1)

T16. Stacy Coley (-1)

Read

2018 NFL Preview: Five Things About Each Team (with Playoff and Award Predictions)

I usually write up an NFL preview on Facebook, but I pay for this domain now and I stand with Eduardo Saverin so it’s happening here. Just a few notes on each team with an over/under bet, then postseason and awards predictions at the end.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys

  • I know the Cowboys haven’t actually been “America’s Team” for years now, but it’s still pretty surreal to see them with one of the more random rosters in the league. There’s only one household name on that defense, and that’s only because Cris Collinsworth definitely has a crush on Sean Lee. (In fairness, DeMarcus Lawrence might be after this season too.)
  • I’m in the “Dak Prescott is good” camp, but my fellow members and I are undoubtedly going to catch flak for that during this season. His numbers will suffer because he is throwing to safely the worst group of targets in the league. Dez Bryant has been bad for a few years now, but he’d look like 2008 Larry Fitzgerald in this receiving corps. The top wideout is the fourth best receiver from last year’s Jaguars, and the starting tight end is some character named Geoff Swaim. Never trust a guy named Geoff.
  • Ezekiel Elliott needs to put up MVP-level numbers for this team to make the playoffs. They do have the best offensive lineman in the NFL at the moment in Zack Martin, but he’s already battling a preseason injury. Combine that with the autoimmune disease that Travis Frederick is dealing with, and I’m not exactly buying into Zeke’s MVP campaign.
  • I’ve thought the Cowboys defense would absolutely suck going into the past couple of seasons, and that was never the case more than last year. But yet again, they overperformed and turned out to be relatively average. I still think they should suck and I’m definitely not confident in a secondary that’s filled with a bunch of young, late-round picks, but who knows at this point?
  • Remind me again why they haven’t traded for Earl Thomas yet?

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New York Giants

  • The Giants are putting A LOT of faith into a 37 year-old quarterback who hasn’t been good in three years. I’m one of the biggest Eli fans in the world and have gone to great lengths to defend his legacy, but this is a huge gamble by the front office. Yes, he was excellent in the one game he played with a healthy supporting cast last season. And the front office did everything possible to surround him with more talent. And the Giants upgraded at head coach from the literal worst offensive mind in the league to one of the best. So I think he’ll be better, but if Eli doesn’t rediscover at least his 2014-15 form, then a lot of fans will be wondering after only one year why the Giants didn’t draft a top college quarterback when they had the chance.
  • Giants fans should rightfully be psyched about Saquon Barkley, but they should do so with their feet over the brake pedals. His college tape is incredible and filled with highlights, but he also had three games last season where he averaged under 3.0 yards per carry against Big 10 opponents. He doesn’t have much history of breaking tackles and is dependent on his elusiveness, and that’s tough to bank on in the NFL. Not to mention, he’s running behind a still mediocre offensive line that people think is suddenly solid because the Giants broke the bank on a good-not-great left tackle. I think his final stats on the year will be good (probably great from a PPR fantasy perspective, considering he’ll catch 70+ balls), but I think he’ll have multiple games on the ground this season that are total duds.
  • Paying Odell Beckham all of the money in the world was 100% the correct decision. He’s safely one of the three best receivers in the league, and unlike the other two (Antonio Brown and Julio Jones), he’s not on an offense that is stacked at every unit. In other words, it’s easy to argue that he’s the most valuable non-quarterback offensive player in the league. (Yes, wide receivers are generally more valuable than running backs in 2018.)
  • Olivier Vernon is one of the biggest X-factors in the NFL this season. He’s the only surefire pass rusher on the Giants, and that’s with them switching to a 3-4 base defense this year. That sounds ominous, but Vernon is actually that good where he can singlehandedly make quarterbacks uncomfortable. The only thing that can stop him is his own body, and that should make Giants fans nervous considering his missed a lot of action last season and is already dealing with a high ankle sprain. The injury doesn’t appear to be that serious, but he really needs to be at 100% for this to be a good defense.
  • The secondary is probably going to be a major issue, and it seems like no one is talking about that nearly enough. Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins are going to do their jobs, but it’s pretty tough to hide a gap in your secondary…and the Giants have a few. Free safety is just one big question mark, and Eli Apple is in line to play 90% of the snaps this season. Yikes.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Philadelphia Eagles

  • The reigning Super Bowl champs added reinforcements to what was already the best roster in the league. Sure.
  • It’s not exactly all pillows and rainbows in Philly though. Eagles fans are terrified about Carson Wentz, right? And that’s not as much a question of “if he will fully recover” as it is “when will he come back?” The Eagles have the most complete roster in the division, but that doesn’t exactly mean they can go for a few weeks without their starting quarterback and still cruise to the NFC East title. (Who am I kidding…Eagles fans think Nick Foles is the second coming of Tom Brady.)
  • The Mike Wallace signing was super underrated. Torrey Smith wasn’t able to hold defenses accountable over the top last year because he’s not good at football, but Wallace should do a better job of that.
  • It’s annoying how deep that offensive line is. And that defensive line. I’m annoyed.
  • I think this secondary will get a lot more exposed this year. The dominant pass rush and great safety duo of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod will do a lot of heavy lifting, but you can’t hide cornerbacks, and I think this is a Bottom 10 group of corners. The Eagles hugely benefited from a career year out of nowhere from Patrick Robinson last year, but now he’s in New Orleans. Ronald Darby is a fine CB2, but I don’t think Jalen Mills is any good and a lot of faith has been put in Sidney Jones for a dude who’s played one game in his career.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Washington Redskins

  • I wouldn’t necessarily say the Redskins upgraded at quarterback, but they definitely didn’t downgrade. Alex Smith is good, and Kirk Cousins has never been as good as his stats might indicate. Smith doesn’t have Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill anymore, but the ‘Skins have an underrated group of weapons, and their offensive line is better than Kansas City’s. I wouldn’t be shocked if he tears it up.
  • Not to be overdramatic about a rookie injury, but Derrius Guice’s torn ACL is so, so bad. I don’t watch too much college football or pretend to be a scout, but I thought Guice was one of the most impressive players in this draft and his north/south running style fit PERFECTLY with the Redskins. I know I just spoke glowingly of Alex Smith, but he’s not a carry-the-offense quarterback. They need a pure runner to balance the offense out. As for his replacements, the Bottom 2 running backs in the league last season in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) per Football Outsiders were…Adrian Peterson and Samaje Perine. Again, I feel crazy saying this about a running back who’s never played a regular season down, but I think Guice is the difference between this team being a playoff contender instead of just middle-of-the-road.
  • The Redskins have had Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay as their offensive coordinator within the past five years. Dan Snyder gonna Dan Snyder.
  • The front seven is…um…kinda great? They have a bona fide superstar in Ryan Kerrigan, a very good edge rusher on the other side in Preston Smith, a tackling machine in Zach Brown, and a defensive line that’s young, deep, and talented. If this group gets the positive injury regression that it’s due for, no joke this could be a Top 5 front seven in the NFL.
  • …the same cannot be said about the secondary. It’s basically all of the same shit I said about the Giants’ secondary, except Josh Norman/D.J. Swearinger is a step down from Jenkins/Collins. The Redskins are gonna be dropping at least two people into coverage on any given play that I’ve literally never heard of.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Eagles – 11-5
  2. Giants – 9-7
  3. Redskins – 8-8
  4. Cowboys – 6-10

 

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

  • I won’t run that long for the rest of the divisions. I just know most people reading this will be a fan of NFC East teams, so provided some extra depth.
  • I’m sorry to any Bills fans reading this for wasting one of the five bullets with that anecdote. And I’m sorry for doing it again here.
  • But I’m doing it for a reason: quite simply, this is the worst team in the NFL.
  • They have Bottom 5 quarterback, receiver, and offensive line situations. The one threat in this offense is a 30 year-old running back who has a domestic violence black cloud hanging over him.
  • The defense is pretty bad too. But if you’re looking for a bright spot here, the Bills have a really good secondary. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is an excellent safety combo, and Tre’Davious White was silently just as good as Marshon Lattimore last year.

OVER/UNDER 6 – UNDER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Miami Dolphins

  • Nothing says “the NFL is back” like the Dolphins having the dumbest offseason in the league. No lie, it’s happened for at least five straight years now. It’s honestly amazing. I started to think things were changing when Miami picked up two draft picks for a glorified slot receiver that they were never going to sign long-term (Jarvis Landry). But lo and behold, they followed that up by handing out TWO big contracts to slot receivers that aren’t as good as Landry (Danny Amendola and ALBERT WILSON)!
  • The Dolphins definitely signed Frank Gore so they can tweet something when he passes Curtis Martin on the all-time rushing list, right? We’re all on the same page here?
  • I will give some credit to the Dolphins front office: the Josh Sitton signing makes a ton of sense to help out Laremy Tunsil. And while I can’t endorse any team voluntarily taking on Robert Quinn’s contract, he is a really interesting buy-low candidate. He’ll get a ton of chances playing opposite Cam Wake.
  • I understand the Dolphins moving on from Ndamukong Suh’s monster contract, but I’m still not sure that was the wisest move. Suh didn’t rack up big sack totals while he was in Miami, so naturally he flew under the radar even though he’s still an incredible player. And the Dolphins run defense looks absolutely hopeless without Suh playing up the middle. Free advice: this is the team you want to start your running backs against in fantasy.
  • I hope the Dolphins plan on playing Minkah Fitzpatrick at cornerback, only because that way I can tell people I’ve heard of one of the Dolphins cornerbacks.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

New England Patriots

  • What goddamn voodoo did Bill Belichick do to get this level of incompetency out of the AFC East for almost TWO DECADES now? I tweeted about how insane this stretch of mediocrity has been.
  • Look, the Pats are going to cruise to the division title again. And they’re probably going to have it clinched before November is over.
  • Here’s the thing about the Patriots this year though that hasn’t been the case in the past: the roster isn’t all that good. They’ve drafted like total shit the past couple of years. They’re probably still going to win 11+ games because they have Tom Brady, but I’m not sure this is a .500 team with an average quarterback behind center.
  • New England has one of the worst pass rushes in the league. It’s Trey Flowers and a bunch of nobodies. That’s not optimal when teams are throwing against you for most of the game.
  • The good news is…the secondary is strong, even without Malcolm Butler. The gamble on Stephon Gilmore is paying dividends, and Devin McCourty continues to be one of the most underrated football players of my lifetime. (A 31 year-old with two rings and three All-Pro selections…we’re usually having different conversations about players like that at this point in their careers.)

OVER/UNDER 11 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New York Jets

  • I’ve been seeing a lot of the Jets as a trendy dark horse pick, and while I don’t agree with it, I kinda get the rationale. We’ve already covered how the Bills and Dolphins don’t look any good. But I’m pretty sure it’s more of a Sam Darnold thing. The kid has looked awesome in preseason, and it’s not typical for the third overall pick in the draft to be called a “steal.” For 7 of the past 8 seasons now, at least one rookie QB has succeeded right away (Watson, Prescott, Winston, Carr, Luck and Griffin and Wilson, Newton, Bradford). Makes sense that people are betting on Darnold to join that list after this season.
  • Darnold has some weapons at his disposal, but there’s not a true playmaker on this offense. Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell are fine. Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse are fine. They’re fine.
  • This offensive line is not fine though. It is bad. Expect a lot of sacks and interceptions for Darnold.
  • The secondary might be the strength of this team. Trumaine Johnson is bound to become one of the worst contracts in the league in a few years, but for now he’s still a solid player. Buster Skrine is one of the better slot corners in the league, and Jamal Adams seems on his way to superstardom. They’re all going to need to be at their best, because the Jets might not have a sack all season. (Leonard Williams is great, but he’s more of a run stuffer.)
  • Todd Bowles is a good coach, right? Because I think Todd Bowles is a good coach. I know the Jets only went 5-11 last year, but he still did an incredible job. They were universally picked to be the worst team in the league going into the season, and yet they won 5 games and lost 7 games that were within 10 points.

OVER/UNDER 6 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Patriots – 12-4
  2. Jets – 7-9
  3. Dolphins – 5-11
  4. Bills – 2-14

 

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

  • I really loved the Bears’ offseason. They hired a head coach who will actually spend a minute developing Mitchell Trubisky. They bought low on Allen Robinson and took a chance on Trey Burton. I loved the picks of Roquan Smith and Anthony Miller. And now they just got Khalil fucking Mack. Good things going on in Chicago.
  • Kinda just hinted at it, but I’d be excited about Trubisky this season as a Bears fan. He was far from special last year, but he had some of the worst coaching in the league and absolutely nobody to throw to. Now he has weapons everywhere and a reinforced offensive line that should be solid if healthy. I wouldn’t expect a Carson Wentz sophomore jump, but I could definitely see him turning into an above-average QB this year.
  • I love fantasy football, but I also hate fantasy football. I say this because it convinced the public that Jordan Howard had a disappointing sophomore season. But this was a 22 year-old who rushed for over 1,100 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry on a bad offense. Yet people think he stunk because he didn’t have much PPR value.
  • Did you miss the Bears having one of the better defenses in the league last year? Because I bet you did. Granted, they got breakout years from Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos, but this defense still has good players in every unit with a good combination of youth and experience. You could have called the pass rush a weakness, but now the Bears have addressed that by trading for one of the 15 best players in the NFL. Sure. Throw in Roquan Smith and the potential for fellow Top 10 pick Leonard Floyd to finally record double-digit sacks playing opposite Mack, and this is probably one of the five best defenses in the league.
  • I’m sure you’re guessing that I like the Bears a lot this season. Well, I do. I’d pegged them as one of my sleeper playoff teams BEFORE the Khalil Mack trade, but now you can remove sleeper. I’m not worried about them playing in the best division in football. This team is too talented.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Detroit Lions

  • This is the most “meh” team in the league this year. It’s such a boring roster. I can’t think of one good reason to tune into Lions games this year as a neutral fan, unless you’re one of those weirdos who’s obsessed with Matt Stafford. Speaking of which…
  • I’ve been seeing a lot of “Stafford is a top tier QB” takes. Well, he isn’t. Zero career playoff wins in nine seasons, and that’s with a Top 10 receiver of all time for seven of them and an excellent duo of receivers for the past two. Yes, I’m comfortable calling the duo of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones excellent. They both catch anything thrown within their vicinity.
  • The Lions have four running backs on the roster with fantasy football relevancy. I don’t have much insight about that. It’s just weird.
  • I enjoy watching Darius Slay play football. That’s literally all I have to say about this defense.
  • I couldn’t be more out on Matt Patricia. There’s something to be said about the previous two defensive coordinators under Belichick to get hired as head coaches (Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini) quickly flaming out. And I was never impressed with Patricia’s in-game abilities. You’re telling me he couldn’t figure out a single adjustment to slow down NICK FOLES in the Super Bowl?

OVER/UNDER 7.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Green Bay Packers

  • The NFL QB landscape is in somewhat of a strange place right now. There are more good quarterbacks than usual, but there are only two “if he’s playing, they’re in the playoffs” quarterbacks. Tom Brady is one. Aaron Rodgers is the other.
  • I don’t think Davante Adams is one of the Top 10 receivers in the league, but he’s going to have Top 5 production. I’d be stunned if he doesn’t score at least 12 touchdowns.
  • I wouldn’t have advised the Jimmy Graham signing, but I get it. He’ll score at least 10 touchdowns too, but that might be on 50 catches for 500 yards. He’s essentially filling the Jordy Nelson red zone role. (You might think that’s harsh towards Jordy, but he has not been good since tearing his ACL three years ago. No, I haven’t forgotten about his 2016 season with 97 catches and 1257 yards. Playing with Aaron Rodgers is just that chill.)
  • Hey Green Bay, turns out good things can happen when you don’t voluntarily sit out of free agency! The Mo Wilkerson signing was just silly. He fits like a glove into a front seven that is going to be impossible to run on. Jake Ryan missing the entire season sucks, but Clay Matthews is versatile enough so they should be fine.
  • I’m not ready to call the Packers secondary good yet, but I think it could be? I was praying the Giants would somehow end up with Jaire Alexander or Josh Jackson in the draft. Welp, the Packers got both of them.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Minnesota Vikings

  • I know I’ve already thrown some backhanded shade at Kirk Cousins in the Redskins section. I’m not a fan of his, but it’s not like I think he’s bad by any means. He’s solid, but the Vikings basically gave him all of that guaranteed money to consistently play as well as Case Keenum did last year during his miracle season. If you’re expecting Kirk to take things to a much higher level, I’m not sure you’ve watched him play before. (His stats are probably gonna be awesome, and I’ll undoubtedly get chirped about them. But c’mon, the Vikings might have the best group of weapons in the league.)
  • I do think there’s a chance the Vikings offense is even better this season, which seems crazy to say considering they finished 2017 ranked fifth in DVOA per Football Outsiders. But that has less to do with Cousins than it does with Dalvin Cook. I think he could explode in this offense if he stays on the field for 16 games.
  • More so than the Bears or Packers, two other teams in this division with great rosters, I think the Vikings might have a fatal flaw. That offensive line really sketches me out. They were actually solid last year, but they stayed relatively healthy and wildly overperformed as a unit. But I think there’s a good chance they crash down to earth hard this year, especially with Nick Easton already done for the season and Pat Elflein doubtful for the start of the season as well.
  • I don’t feel the need to write too much about the Vikings defense. It’s great at every level. I mean, they added Sheldon Richardson to an already loaded defensive line. There’s almost no scenario where this isn’t a Top 10 D.
  • They are choosing to roll with a rookie kicker. Good things the Vikings have never had kicking issues before.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Packers – 13-3
  2. Bears – 12-4
  3. Vikings – 11-5
  4. Lions – 6-10

 

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens

  • I don’t have a damn clue about this team. Will Joe Flacco play better with better surroundings? I don’t know. Will Lamar Jackson take over the starting job? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure they won’t be awful, but I’m also pretty sure they won’t be great. I just don’t know.
  • Wild move by the Ravens to sign like 17 receivers this offseason. “Bold strategy, Ron Burgundy. Let’s see how this escalates quickly.” – Trey Wingo.
  • Just as a fan of football, I hope Marshal Yanda gets back to dominating again. He’s probably already a Hall of Famer, but a few more Pro Bowl seasons would seal that.
  • I’m pretty sure Terrell Suggs is made out of vibranium, but if this is the season that he finally slows down, then I have no idea who’s gonna rush the quarterback on this team.
  • ^That might not matter though, because this secondary is GOOD. Jimmy Smith’s four-game suspension isn’t ideal, but they have crazy depth at cornerback so they’ll be fine.

OVER/UNDER 8 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence) ((I’d go 0/3 Confidence if I could.))

 

Cincinnati Bengals

  • This is the most overlooked team in the NFL. Look, I don’t think the Bengals are going to light the league on fire. But they have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. If Andy Dalton plays ok, then I see no reason for them not to be a .500 team. If he plays anything like he did in 2015, then I think this is a playoff team.
  • I’m not on the Joe Mixon train like a ton of other people seemingly are, but I’ll concede there’s a chance I’m wrong there. Either way, the Bengals running game will be fine. Gio Bernard continues to be one of the most underappreciated players in the league. He does everything he’s asked to do well year after year, and he’s somehow still only 26.
  • AJ Green is still the fourth or fifth best receiver in football. He’s coming off his worst 16 game season, but I’m betting on the big rebound. Like All-Pro rebound.
  • I thought the Bengals had the worst offensive line in football going into last season, and they definitely were in that conversation. It’s still not a good unit, but they made a serious effort towards improvement by drafting Billy Price in the first round and trading for Cordy Glenn.
  • This team is going to be freakin’ tough to throw against. Geno Atkins/Carlos Dunlap/Carl Lawson is a terrifying pass rush, and I expect William Jackson to make the All-Pro jump this season. Jackson was one of my favorite college prospects in recent memory coming out of Houston, and the Bengals “stole” him with the 24th overall pick. People forgot about him because he tore his ACL and missed his rookie year, but he returned last year and immediately dominated. He was the fifth highest graded cornerback in the entire league by Pro Football Focus. If you’re not a believer in PFF, then here’s a simpler Jackson metric. The number of catches Antonio Brown had while covered by Jackson: zero.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Cleveland Browns

  • Ah, our beloved Browns. Look guys, the roster doesn’t totally suck anymore. But this team still isn’t good. Six-win improvements from one season to the next are incredible. So 6-10 should be the dream, not the expectation.
  • I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about it, and I can’t come up with any worse leadership going into a season in recent memory than Hue Jackson/Todd Haley/Gregg Williams. Even before the Hard Knocks exposure, this had disaster written all over it. Pretty sure Hue needs to go like 15-1 to keep his job next season. And seriously, HOW is Gregg Williams still getting a Defensive Coordinator opportunity in 2018? He’s basically the answer to the question of, “what if Urban Meyer didn’t know shit about football?”
  • I don’t really have any strong opinions about Baker Mayfield. He wasn’t my favorite QB in this class, but I get the logic behind picking him first and think he can be really good. That all being said, I just haven’t liked what I’ve seen from him leading into this season. He really seems to already think he’s hot shit for someone who’s never played a professional down. Maybe it’s just insane confidence, but I don’t really want my rookie QB doing underwear ads. And yeah, I know I sound like an old fart radio host right now, but I just don’t like it. I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets all pissy sitting behind Tyrod Taylor, who’s likely better than him right now. (No, Baker does not remind me of Manziel at all.)
  • There are few players across the league that I’m more intrigued by this season than Jarvis Landry. I think Landry should be a great player. He’s got amazing hands and physicality. I just don’t think he is one. Last season, he caught 112 balls for 987 yards. Maybe that was just a product of Miami’s play-calling, but 8.8 yards/catch is so shitty. That’s like a baseball player getting 200 hits with 180 of them being bunt singles.
  • Myles Garrett needs at least 15 sacks for this even to be decent defense.

OVER/UNDER 5.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • I couldn’t have possibly been less impressed with a 13-3 team than I was with the 2017 Steelers. They won an improbable amount of close games, including three-point wins over the Colts, Browns, and Rodgers-less Packers.
  • I’m so sick of hearing people fawn over Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, he can still play. But he’s totally immobile, an injury risk on any given down, and has lost more than a few ticks off his fastball. And if he was still (or ever) an elite quarterback like people insinuate, don’t you think he would have otherworldly numbers playing in an offense with a great line AND the best running back AND the best receiver in the league? Because he doesn’t.
  • Speaking of the best running back in the league…we’re days away from their season opener and Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t reported. And now his offensive linemen are openly talking shit about him. I’m not sure if you’ve watched a Steelers game before, but he usually gets the ball about 40 times a game. Totally nothing to worry about here!
  • And speaking of the best receiver in the league…Antonio Brown has been putting on a Jerry Rice clinic for the past five seasons and some of you morons have the audacity to debate between who’s tops in the game. 116/1570/10. That’s AB’s AVERAGE stat line over the past half decade. Case closed.
  • Uhhh I think the Steelers D is super average. I’m not going to blame them for a second for falling apart after the Ryan Shazier injury, but the truth is this group was overperforming even with him in the lineup. They gave up 45 points to Blake Bortles in their playoff game. Forty. Five.

OVER/UNDER 10.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Bengals – 10-6
  2. Steelers – 8-8
  3. Ravens – 7-9
  4. Browns – 5-11

 

NFC SOUTH

 Atlanta Falcons

  • Yeahhh…this roster is amazing. I know it’s really similar to the one they had last season that lost in the Divisional Round. But they were coming off the biggest Super Bowl heartbreak of all time and had a brand new playbook to learn. Not to mention, they still managed to go 10-6 in a season that everyone labeled a disappointment. That’s usually a good sign to me that big things are in store.
  • I’m a functioning human being with a heartbeat and two eyeballs, so naturally I’m concerned about Steve Sarkisian calling the plays. There’s some concern about Matt Ryan too, to a lesser extent. But if this offense clicks, they should average 30 points per game.
  • If you’re like me and think the first 2000-yard receiver is going to happen within the next few years, then Julio Jones this season wouldn’t be a bad bet.
  • I know this wasn’t a great draft for tight ends, but not one stood out for the Falcons? A first or second round talent at tight end would be lethal in this offense.
  • Cue the “the NFL is a copycat league” cliché, but it’s true that when a team develops an innovation that works in a big way, the other 31 teams will install it ASAP. And sacrificing size for speed on defense, like the Falcons have done, feels right up that alley.

OVER/UNDER 9 – OVER (3/3 Confidence)

 

Carolina Panthers

  • I feel really bad for Cam Newton. I’m a huge fan of his, as in I think he’s one of the five best quarterbacks in the league. I just do not think this season is going to go well for him whatsoever. The Panthers finally fired Mike Shula, and who do they bring in to call plays for one of the most gifted quarterbacks to ever play the position? You called it…Norv Turner!
  • Have I mentioned how much fantasy football sways our perception of players? Because Christian McCaffrey was total dogshit running the ball last season. He’s essentially Wes Welker with running back eligibility. (He got 113 targets!) That’s sweet if you’re trying to win your PPR league. It’s not if you’re trying to establish a balanced offense in the NFL.
  • This offensive line is going to be SUCH a problem. First, they lost All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell in free agency. Then All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams mangled his knee in training camp. Then the Kalil brothers…oh who cares they both suck anyway. Basically, what I’m saying is…good luck Cam!
  • Good news for Panthers fans is this team will still cover tight ends and shut down the run as well as anyone. God bless Luke Kuechly.
  • Bad news for Panthers fans is that might not matter, because teams should learn to throw deep against this defense every single play. The pass rush is deep but without a difference maker on the edge, and that secondary is rough. And it was rough before Ross Cockrell, one of my favorite offseason signings, broke his leg in training camp.

OVER/UNDER 9 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

New Orleans Saints

  • The Saints might be the most hyped team going into this season, and as much as I like to play contrarian…this roster is nice.
  • I’m not sure what else there is to be said about Drew Brees. He’s a consensus Hall of Famer and still feels like the most underrated player in NFL history. The wheels are going to fall off eventually, but it won’t be this year.
  • Alvin Kamara could experience some significant statistical regression and still be one of the five most productive running backs in the league. That’s how incredible he was last season.
  • You might not know much about Cameron Jordan if you casually play fantasy and watch RedZone, but he’s one of the 25 best players in the league. He had 13 sacks last year, and honestly that feels low for how often he was in the backfield. Jordan led the league in batted passes too. That’s some JJ Watt in-his-prime shit.
  • Man, that linebacker corps is baaaaad. Like, “set back a defense that had its first good year in almost a decade last season” baaaaad.

OVER/UNDER 9.5 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Please don’t make me write about this team. You just know this is going to be a miserable season for everyone involved.
  • I think we’ve gone a little far with the Jameis Winston hate. If you wanna write him off for his off-the-field behavior, that’s fine. Hell, I’ve done it. But he doesn’t completely suck as a football player. I’ve given up hope that he’ll ever be great, but can still make things happen.
  • Mike Evans might be better with Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center than Jameis. I have nothing concrete to back up this claim. Just feels right.
  • You know what, serious props to the Bucs front office for the goddamn Queer Eye-level makeover they did to the front seven. JPP is past his prime and Vinny Curry has something to prove outside of Philly, but pairing them with Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy and first-rounder Vita Vea is some nice work.
  • ^Who cares though, because this secondary could absolutely be the worst in the NFL this season. HOW is Chris Conte still a starter?

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Falcons – 12-4
  2. Saints – 11-5
  3. Panthers – 7-9
  4. Buccaneers – 4-12

 

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans

  • The Texans are where I differ the most from my fellow NFL prognosticators heading into this season. I’ve seen a good amount of people penciling them into the AFC Championship Game. I think they’re going to stink.
  • I love Deshaun Watson. I think he’s special and already one of the three most fun players to watch in the league. I still can’t believe 11 people were drafted in front of him. (If you think this is some revisionist history, peep my tweets on the matter.) But even with all of that, I’m not high on him this year. For starters, as electrifying as he was last year, he did not take care of the football whatsoever. In just seven games, he threw eight picks and put the ball of the turf three times. And that doesn’t even include the high number of risky passes that either fell to the ground or were miraculously caught by DeAndre Hopkins. The sophomore slump can be very real for quarterbacks, and I just see it happening to Deshaun. I really hope I’m wrong, but there’s a ton of red flags.
  • One of those red flags being the offensive line. It’s so bad. Like worst in the league bad. Like “holy shit on who’s watch did this happen?” bad.
  • This isn’t providing any incredible insight, but it’s true that the hopes and dreams of this defense all rely on the health of JJ Watt. If he gets back on the fast track to becoming one of the greatest players of all time, then yeah this is suddenly a Top 10 defense. But this is two years and two major injuries later. I’m not sure we’ll ever see that level of game wrecking from Watt again.
  • Watt aside, there are a ton of wild cards in this Texans defense. Jadaveon Clowney has gone from “overrated in his first few seasons” to “wait I actually think he’s underrated now.” Whitney Mercilus is back after missing most of 2017. Jonathan Joseph is ancient but still somehow the top cornerback on the team. And I have no idea what to expect from Tyrann Mathieu, but I know teams don’t just cut 25 year-old superstars. Considering he wasn’t great in either of the past two seasons, maybe we should all lower our expectations here?

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Indianapolis Colts

  • The catastrophic damage that Ryan Grigson did to this roster as the GM is truly unbelievable. The new regime has started to turn things in the right direction over the past two years, but there is still such a lack of talent and experience on this team.
  • I’m really rooting for Andrew Luck. He’s so easy to make fun of that I think a lot of people conveniently forget how great he was. Good thing is there’s actually some reason for optimism on the offensive line this time around. Just keeping him in one piece would be an upgrade.
  • What in the name of Edgerrin James does Luck need to do to get a quality running back???
  • Maybe the most anonymous defense I have ever seen heading into a NFL season. I’m familiar with three players.
  • I’m excited to see what Malik Hooker can do in a full season. He was such a baller at Ohio State and had a three-game interception streak last year before tearing his ACL in Week 7. Could be a Pro Bowler if he stays healthy.

OVER/UNDER 6.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • The Jags are one of the toughest teams to peg going into 2018. On one hand, they led the Patriots late in the AFC Championship Game before they went conservative and had calls go against them. On the other hand, last year was kinda a perfect storm with everything going right for the defense. They should be good, but how good is the question.
  • Blake Bortles’ ceiling is about as low as it gets for a NFL starting quarterback. But I liked the way he played in the playoffs. This offense can at least be effective if he just takes care of the football and scrambles a few times a game. The less he puts the ball in the air, the better. (Let’s be real…even if he had any accuracy, these receivers wouldn’t do shit to help out.)
  • ^Going off that point, Leonard Fournette might carry the ball 350 times this season if he plays 16 games. I think that’s a good strategy? As in, I think that Fournette is good? No doubt he’s a freak of nature, but he only averaged 3.9 yards/carry last year and didn’t contribute much in the passing game. His impact definitely goes beyond the stats, but it would be comforting for Jags fans to see them improve a bit.
  • I mentioned it earlier, but last year was a too-good-to-be-true season for the Jags D. They stayed healthy for 16 games across the board, which is practically unheard of. They also had over half of the starters have career years. That’s not exactly a coincidence, since this defense is a mix of huge contracts and high draft picks. But you can probably bank on slight regression from some of the stars, and there’s just no way they’re going to avoid injuries at the same rate.
  • That’s not to say this defense won’t be elite again. Oh, it will be. Is having the best pass rush AND the best cornerback duo good?

OVER/UNDER 9 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Tennessee Titans

  • There are very few others rosters in the league that look better than this one on paper. There is talent in every single unit on both sides of the ball. If there’s a real weakness here, not sure what it is. I wrote this earlier about the Falcons, but I love teams that are coming off “disappointing seasons” that were actually successful, all things considered. The Titans fit that bill too.
  • I’m not entirely sure what Mike Vrabel did to earn a head-coaching gig, but he gets points just for not being Mike Mularkey.
  • I’m excited to put this in writing this year, because now I’ll have something to look back on when I inevitably think about making this prediction again next season: THIS is going to be the year for Marcus Mariota. I just can’t quit him, and I genuinely don’t think I should yet. High hopes for what he can do with a playbook that doesn’t resemble the 1950s Packers.
  • I couldn’t have loved Dion Lewis the signing more for the Titans. One of my favorites of the offseason. A four-year deal to a 27 year-old running back goes against just about everything I believe in, but I just think Lewis is that good and has that much left to give. He was one of the ten best running backs in the league last season, albeit in limited action. I think he’s better than Derrick Henry, and I think he’ll see a lot more than just third-down work.
  • The Titans D was incredibly average last year, and they didn’t do a complete overhaul of it this offseason, but I still think it might be awesome this year? Jurrell Casey is one of the ten best defensive linemen in football. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo is a great edge-rushing duo, and in relief they have rookie Harold Landry, who somehow fell to the second round. They have a thumping pair of inside linebackers. And then Malcom Butler was added to an already solid secondary. There’s a ton of injury history among this group, but that’s really all I can see derailing them.

OVER/UNDER 8 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Titans – 11-5
  2. Jaguars – 10-6
  3. Texans – 6-10
  4. Colts – 5-11

 

NFC WEST 

Arizona Cardinals

  • I don’t like the looks of the team, but man, I don’t think they’re going to be picking Top 3 in the 2019 Draft like a lot of other people apparently do.
  • Do you think a bridge quarterback with 8-8 upside who’s going to be done for the season by Week 4 is worth $20 million? Because I don’t!
  • David Johnson’s 2016 was one of the best running back seasons of the past decade, but I’d be surprised to see him regain that level of production. Nothing to do with his health…that season just happened in Bruce Arians’ high-octane offense with a lot more talent around him. This Cardinals offense will be night-and-day from that one.
  • The funny thing about this offensive line is it might be Top 5 in the NFL in terms of name recognition, but it also might be considered a Bottom 5 unit by season’s end. Most of the linemen are either overrated or past their primes, and each one of them carries major injury risk. Starting center AQ Shipley is already out for the reason. Please don’t put Josh Rosen out there to die.
  • This defense is fine! They lost their coordinator and some marginal talent, but this group finished fourth in DVOA last season. Chandler Jones is still there. Patrick Peterson is still there. The Cardinals’ main problems won’t be on this side of the ball.

OVER/UNDER 5.5 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Los Angeles Rams

  • Part me of thinks it’s an oversimplification to call this the “Dream Team 2.0,” but it really does remind me a lot of that 2011 Eagles team. I just think acquiring as much talent as possible without regard for culture and scheme is bound to backfire. I’d love to fade this team altogether, but I’m really not a fan of this NFC West, so I’ll begrudgingly pencil them in to win the division.
  • I wasn’t that impressed by Jared Goff last year. His numbers were good, but he didn’t take control of that offense or every really “wow” me. And that’s with an offensive genius calling the plays and the Offensive Player of the Year in the backfield. He really sucked in that playoff game too. I just don’t see him becoming an elite QB any time soon.
  • This was one of the best offensive lines in football last year, but I think they might collapse this season. I’m not adding up the ages of all 32 lines, but I gotta imagine this one is the oldest. They all stayed healthy last year too, and that shit just doesn’t happen twice in a row.
  • I’d say I’m nervous about the Rams pass rush because they have absolutely no edge presence…but Aaron Donald. So yeah, the pass rush will be great. Just because of Donald.
  • This secondary has stupid depth, but I’m not exactly wild about it. The Marcus Peters/Aqib Talib starting duo is beyond worrisome. You just never know with Peters, and Talib is already 32. Plus they’re both shitheads. The Rams will probably be among the league leaders in interceptions, but I don’t think this is going to be the shutdown unit that a lot of people are expecting.

OVER/UNDER 10 – OVER (1/3 Confidence)

 

San Francisco 49ers

  • I’m in on Jimmy G. I think the 49ers have something. I’d just exercise a little bit of patience here. I feel pressure to either be all-in or all-out on him this season, and I just think he’ll be pretty good? I will say…I’d be really surprised if he sucks. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets MVP votes.
  • This feels mean, but I think the 49ers are better off with the Alfred Morris/Matt Breida backfield combo than Jerick McKinnon as the prominent three-down back. I didn’t understand the McKinnon love this offseason whatsoever. He’s been in the league four years now…and he’s been pretty bad the entire time. He averaged 3.4 and 3.8 yards per carry in the past two seasons with 150+ carries in both of them. Like, what was I missing here?
  • Whatever the Marquise Goodwin yardage over/under is, give me the over.
  • For a defensive line that has three guys drafted within the first 17 picks over the past four years, this unit should be way better. DeForest Buckner is a beast by all accounts (I admittedly haven’t watched him much), but that’s about it. Solomon Thomas had about as silent of a rookie year as a third overall pick can possibly have.
  • I’d be psyched if Kyle Shanahan was a coach on my team, but for god’s sake let’s hesitate on declaring him the next Bill Walsh.

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Seattle Seahawks

  • I know everyone outside of Seattle is excited for the Seahawks’ downfall. But I just can’t see it drastically happening this year, barring a Russell Wilson injury. I have basically the same exact outlook for this team as I do for the Panthers, but no one seems to be talking about how Carolina is doomed like they are with Seattle. Teams with Top 5 quarterbacks will always stay at least mildly competitive. Wilson is a Top 5 quarterback.
  • That said…this roster is terrible. By my count, the Seahawks have EIGHT good players, and that’s including no-show Earl Thomas and the rookie punter who was the preseason MVP.
  • Even ignoring the reports that Rashaad Penny is a fatso now, the Seahawks could be tried in court for drafting a running back in the first round with the amount of holes they have all over the depth chart.
  • The game-changing middle linebacker is an endangered species, but the Seahawks have one of the few in Bobby Wagner. Everything I said about the team not falling apart because of Wilson can also be applied to the defense and Wagner.
  • I’m not gonna throw the t-word around, but Russell Wilson missing the season and the Seahawks subsequently going 2-14 might be the best way to make this team really good again in the near future. (OK, they should tank.)

OVER/UNDER 8 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

  1. Rams – 10-6
  2. 49ers – 8-8
  3. Seahawks – 8-8
  4. Cardinals – 6-10

 

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

  • No team made me more money against the spread last season than the Broncos. I thought they were transparently terrible from the get-go but it took the betting public until about Week 13 to catch on. I do not expect that to be the case again this season. This could be a sleeper playoff team if a few things break right.
  • I laughed out loud when the news broke that Case Keenum got a 2 year/$36 million contract. But the more I think about it, the more I get it. Would I be psyched if my team planned to start a 30 year-old journeyman QB with only one season in his career that didn’t completely suck? No. But there’s no getting around how awesome Keenum was last year, fluky as it seemed and probably was. You could justify the contract on the gamble alone that he’ll play that well again. But when you consider that the gap between an average QB and the Broncos QB situation last year is about the same as the gap between an average QB and Tom Brady, it makes even more sense to pay him.
  • Wanna bet that Demaryius Thomas puts up a line of at least 80/1000/8 again?
  • 20 sacks seems in play for Von Miller this season, especially with Bradley Chubb on the other edge.
  • Vance Joseph has to be the least inspiring head coach in the league, obviously excluding Hue Jackson. You can tell Elway is already pretty out on him. If this team doesn’t have a winning record by Week 8, I could definitely see him getting canned.

OVER/UNDER 7 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Just about every season in the modern NFL, there’s an offensive phenomenon that no one sees coming. Last year it was the Rams. Before them it was the Falcons. And before them it was the Panthers. This year, I’m all in on it being the Chiefs.
  • There’s nothing in particular that Pat Mahomes has even done to get me on the bandwagon. I just think Andy Reid will be the premier offensive mind in the NFL until the day he retires, and if he’s willing to trade away Alex Smith after the best season of his career for this kid, then yeah I’m gonna guess that they know they have something. I think the Chiefs coaches have spent all offseason giggling behind closed doors.
  • Some other teams have amazing groups of weapons, but no one’s sniffs the Chiefs. They’re elite at running back, receiver, AND tight end. Throw in an offensive line that isn’t spectacular but has a high floor, and I seriously think this is going to be the highest scoring team in the league.
  • The defense has sooooo many question marks. It was one of the worst in the league last year, and the best player from that group is now in LA (Marcus Peters). They were the literal worst team against the run by DVOA, and all they did to address that was sign a career-average linebacker in Anthony Hitchens. So yeah, expect some shootouts.
  • I think there’s more reason for optimism on D than people are giving them though. Eric Berry and Justin Houston are both back, and I’m not ever going to count out either of them. And I think the gamble on trading for Kendall Fuller, a slot corner coming off the first full season of his career, to play outside will pay off.

OVER/UNDER 8.5 – OVER (2/3 Confidence)

 

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Can someone tell me when and why Philip Rivers became the muse of NFL writers? I get that he’s still crazy efficient for his age, but seriously people like Philip Rivers now?!?! IT’S PHILIP RIVERS!!!
  • ^That was all about Rivers as a person, but let’s talk about him as a QB too. He hasn’t been to the playoffs in five years. He hasn’t helmed a 10-win team since 2009. As much yardage as he’s put up lately, this is the same guy who has led the league in INTs twice within the past four years. And he almost always has weapons at his disposal. I cannot get over the Rivers fascination. It’s truly confounding to me. (And do NOT even get me started on Philip Rivers, the Hall of Fame candidate.)
  • Hunter Henry’s ACL injury really blows. He was going to catch 80+ balls in this offense, and now his replacement is the ghost of Antonio Gates. But hey, that just means more targets for Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
  • As you can tell…I’m pretty out on Rivers, the person and quarterback. But I’m not out on this Chargers team. I am super in on this defense. They are going to be fairly easy to run against, but DAMN they are going to tough to throw against. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are going to hit opposing quarterbacks on every single dropback. And Casey Heyward is the best cornerback in football – stop writing him off.
  • No joke, I feel like I have to dock this team at least one projected win for playing in a soccer stadium that’s regularly filled with 90% visiting fans. People talk about a Chargers curse as if this all isn’t total karma for quitting on San Diego.

OVER/UNDER 9.5 – UNDER (1/3 Confidence)

 

Oakland Raiders

  • I know I wrote earlier that the Dolphins had the dumbest offseason. They were neck-and-neck with the Raiders for most of the offseason, but then Gruden and Co. dramatically swooped in at the final hour with the Khalil Mack trade to take home the title!
  • It’s never a good sign when my first reaction to a team’s offseason is a gut feeling that foul play is involved. That’s how much I hate what the Raiders did to a roster that I already didn’t really like. It’s old and lacking talent. Winning combo!
  • I seriously think this team is going to be so, so bad. I know that isn’t bold. But however bad other people are guessing, I’ll go 2-3 wins lower.
  • I don’t think Derek Carr is good. Honestly, I’m not even sure he’s average. That magical 2016 season he had, where his numbers weren’t as great as I remember them being, is just starting to feel more and more like a flash in the pan.
  • This is the worst defense is the NFL. The secondary doesn’t suck, but there was one great (let alone good) player on the entire defense and now he plays in Chicago.

OVER/UNDER 7.5 – UNDER (3/3 Confidence) ((Sorry for making you wait until the end for the easiest bet of the season.))

 

  1. Chiefs – 12-4
  2. Chargers – 9-7
  3. Broncos – 9-7
  4. Raiders – 3-13

 

NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

  1. Packers
  2. Falcons
  3. Eagles
  4. Rams
  5. Bears
  6. Saints

NFC Championship Game – Falcons over Packers

 

AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

  1. Chiefs
  2. Patriots
  3. Titans
  4. Bengals
  5. Jaguars
  6. Chargers

AFC Championship Game – Chiefs over Jaguars

 

SUPER BOWL

Falcons over Chiefs

matt-ryan-julio-jones

MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Offensive Player of the Year: Pat Mahomes

Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Jackson

Coach of the Year: Matt Nagy

Walter Payton Man of the Year: Benjamin Watson

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The Washington Capitals Are In The Stanley Cup Finals. I Have Some Thoughts About It.

If you like sports, like me, then you probably know that the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 4-0 on Wednesday night to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1998. If you are a Caps fan, like me, then it was one of the highlights of your sports-watching life. And if you know how to read, like me, then you should check out my thoughts on this team, the series, and the upcoming battle against Vegas:

caps trophy

  • I would kick this off with something to the tune of, “I can’t believe it,” but I actually can. Everything we’ve come to expect about Capitals playoff hockey went out the window with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s series-winning goal against the Penguins. Now THAT was something I couldn’t believe. But I genuinely didn’t even consider the idea that this team would choke on Wednesday night, especially after Game 6 when the Caps stuffed every Lightning player in their lockers, pulled them out just to steal their lunch money, then threw them each in the dumpster. I was telling everyone willing to listen that for the first time seemingly ever since my Capitals fandom launched years ago, I was more excited than nervous for a crucial playoff game. I felt good about pulling out a win. Now, did I expect the Caps to win 4-0? No…but I wasn’t surprised by it.
  • After the Caps collapsed yet again in the second round as the top seed last year, everyone suggested that maybe they would be better off entering the playoffs as a lower seed. Not only would it lower the pressure, but in all likelihood it would also help them avoid Pittsburgh. Well, the Caps still had to face the Penguins in the second round (albeit a Penguins team with much less depth and motivation), but turns out there is actually something real to the pressure aspect. In years past the Caps would skate tentatively and deliver hits with no regard for defensive assignments or penalties, just because their nervous brains told them that’s how to “set the tone.” But this year the Caps are FLYING and laying the wood in key moments. And just look at the differences in the crowds in the biggest games. Last year’s Game 7 against Pittsburgh notoriously had a funeral vibe, and I didn’t and still don’t blame those fans in attendance for a second. We all knew the team would come out flat, and they somehow managed to not even meet our lowly expectations. They didn’t come remotely close to scoring at any point in the game. But this year the shutout went the other way around in Game 6, in arguably the best postseason performance I’ve ever seen from the Caps. And by all accounts, it was the loudest the arena has ever been. The players and the fans are all feeling the same energy.
  • With all of that being said, this team doesn’t deserve the underdog label for a second. Just because the Caps didn’t win the Presidents Cup for the third straight year doesn’t mean this team isn’t REALLY good. I mean, they finished with 105 points, won the Metropolitan Division, and landed in a close second in scoring across the league. Yes, a good chunk of the roster throughout the season consisted of rookies, castoffs, and AHL’ers. But this team has essentially the same exact core as the teams who put up two of the best regular seasons in NHL history.
  • There are a few reasons that the Caps were slept on coming into these playoffs, but none bigger than the rough regular season of Braden Holtby. A two-time All Star and just two years removed from winning the Vezina Trophy, Holtby is safely still one of the best goalies in the league, but he was so bad down the stretch that he temporarily lost the main job to Philipp Grubauer. Now, Grubauer is good and was insanely hot in the final weeks of the season, but that decision in hindsight was truly laughable (even if it fired up Holtby, which was absolutely not the logic behind it regardless of what people say). Holtby didn’t have to do much in Game 6, but pretty much the entire first period of Game 7 took place inside the Caps’ zone, and Holtby turned the Lightning away with relative ease. After posting back-to-back shutouts in the two biggest games of the season, it’s safe to say The Beast is back.
  • Still, let’s not pretend that Holtby has been the igniter behind this Capitals run. It’s been Alexander Mikhailovich Ovechkin. Ovi has always been a good-to-great postseason player despite the adverse reputation that’s recycled by Twitter Eggs every year, but this year he’s taken it to a level that I didn’t even know existed. He’s second in both goals and points this postseason (and he’s creating more dangerous scoring chances than anyone else…by a mile.) But it’s his intensity and sheer will to win that I’m talking about. You want to talk about setting a tone? He’s either scored or had the primary assist on THREE goals within the first 90 seconds of games in these playoffs. And I can feel the hits he’s been laying from my couch. Allow us to flip the calendar back a year. Ovi had his worst postseason and was noticeably gassed during the Pittsburgh series. Barry Trotz couldn’t even put him on the ice towards the end of third periods, and there was REAL talk on whether the Caps should consider moving on from him. Now? It looks like he’s pulling a Federer with a second prime that no one anticipated. (Yes, he’s buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin. Why do you ask?) Nobody in that hideous Golden Knights jersey is going to be safe when #8 is on the ice.
  • A lot of people who are way smarter about hockey than me have already written pieces on how incredible Ovechkin has been, so let’s show a little love here to some other members of the squad. First up…Barry Trotz! Ted Leonsis will never admit it, but I think it’s safe to assume Trotz’s future was toast once the Caps fell behind 2-0 to Columbus. The Grubauer decision immediately backfired, the power play went stagnant, and he was getting toyed with on the lines by John freaking Tortorella. Fast-forward one month and he’s four wins away from becoming the greatest coach in franchise history. In addition to effectively firing up the team for the biggest moments, some specifics that I’ve loved: unleashing Jakub Vrana, moving Chandler Stephenson around in the lineup, and benching Andre Burakovksy for a game.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the league in postseason points and scored the biggest goal of the playoffs, yet I find myself yelling “SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK KUZY” at the TV at least five times a game. It is unbelievable how many good looks he creates for himself.
  • It’s pretty much a lock that the last few years on TJ Oshie’s eight-year deal are gonna be rough on the Caps. But if they actually win it all this year, then the deal is already worth it. Some people might not agree with that assessment, but a deal like that was probably what it took to bring Oshie back. And there is no shot this team makes it this far without him. He’s crushing it on both ends. I think I speak on behalf of all Caps fans when I say we’re comfortable with sucking in 5ish years if we get a ring out of it.
  • Does anyone’s bookie take in-game bets on faceoffs in the defensive zone? If so, please let me know because I have some money to place on Jay Beagle. He is such money. That dude should never pay for a drink in the District in his life.
  • Don’t ever leave us, John Carlson. I know some other team is going to offer you a shit ton more money than the Caps can, but you can’t beat that DC traffic and summer humidity right?!?! (He’s a goner, so let’s just hope we can send him off with a Cup. And throw in that Norris Trophy too.)
  • Two guys who actually played really well in Games 6 and 7…Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen! Contracts considered, Orpik is probably the worst player in the league, and Niskanen has regressed badly this season. It’s a dangerous game to expect those two to keep up that level of play, but honestly it’s just a relief to know that they’re both capable of turning back the clock when they need to most.
  • Some quick thoughts on the Lightning. They could not have reminded me more of the 2015-16 Caps. AKA, it must royally suck being a fan of that team. A laughable amount of talent throughout the roster, an incredible young goalie, household names on the fourth line…and they were still completely overmatched. This series only went seven games because of Tampa’s complete dominance on the power play over the middle games, but on even strength they had the look of a team who all hooked up with each other’s sisters. Just no visible chemistry whatsoever. I know that they’re a veteran team who took hit after hit throughout the series, but I can’t get over how bad their body language was. OH, and all the shit that Ovi took for his “struggles” in the postseason? Steven Stamkos deserves that tenfold. That dude was a total ghost during 5v5 play from Game 1 to 7.
  • I made the impromptu decision to go into Capital One Arena for Periods 2 and 3 for the viewing party with the game on the Jumbotron, and BOY am I happy that I did. Was it weird that I went alone? No way! Did I high-five and hug strangers? Yes way! (Seriously, I could not recommend this experience highly enough for Caps fans for the away games.)
  • I love that Ovechkin touched the Prince of Wales Trophy. LOVE IT. I think it’s beyond lame when fans give athletes crap for celebrating before championships. It’s exactly how I feel about baseball teams champagne showering after each round. You survived past a great team! You did something awesome! Fucking celebrate it!
  • More than half of my brain thought Ovechkin and Backstrom were going to kiss in this moment. Nothing crazy…just a little peck of respect.
  • As a sports town for the last decade, DC has pretty much been the kid who decides to go on a break with his longtime high school girlfriend (Redskins) once he gets to college just to give it a shot with the hot chick who lives down the hall in the dorm (Caps). But after a few weeks, you realize that you like this new girl more. She allows you to be yourself. You have fun without even trying with her. It makes you realize how unhealthy things were with your ex. She wanted you to go to college with her in Ohio. And now that you think about it, she would yell at waiters and say some pretty racist shit in the backseat of Ubers. So yeah, DC is becoming a primarily hockey town.
  • I don’t identify as a DC sports fan (especially since I absolutely despise the football team), so I can’t fully bask in this run like faithful Washingtonians can. Still, as a dedicated Caps fan, I expect personalized congratulations messages from each reader. Thank you.
  • I admittedly don’t watch too much of the NHL regular season outside of the Caps and the Sunday games on NBC, so my knowledge of the Golden Knights doesn’t extend too far past these playoffs and a few articles I’ve read on them. So, I won’t try to provide any sort of breakdown here because it would suck. But what I will say is that I am happy as shit that we drew them. Yes, obviously they are legit considering they made it to the Finals. I know Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best hockey of his career. But this is still an expansion team. I know the draft rules benefitted them. I know they found diamonds in the rough in William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. I know their home ice might be the best in the league. I know destiny is on their side. Vegas is still an expansion team.
  • Not much Conn Smythe drama here. It’s Ovechkin vs. Fleury. Let’s hope it goes better for Ovi than this showdown did.
  • PREDICTION: CAPS IN 5. #ALLCAPS
Read

THE OFFICE Episodes Bracket

bracket last time

The Office is my favorite show of all time. And I know that a ton of other people feel the same way, especially since the show’s popularity has grown proportionally with Netflix over the past few years. While some diehards go back and forth over the best character (Michael is the only real answer) or the best season (2 or 3 are both acceptable), the debate that’s probably most up for interpretation is best episode.

There were 201 episodes of The Office filmed over the show’s nine-season run, and in the spirit of March Madness, I trimmed that number down to 64. No rules or guidelines were followed in the seeding – if the episode was one of the Top 64 in the catalog, then it made the cut. So that explains why “The Incentive” or “Trivia,” two of the better episodes from Season 8, didn’t make the cut, but “Ben Franklin,” one of the lesser episodes from Season 3, did make it. I considered Michael’s highlights and lowlights, impact on the greater story arc, and GIF-ability when putting the list together, but when voting feel free to follow your heart…or Michael’s personal philosophy of “don’t ever, for any reason, do anything, to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going, or where you’ve been, ever, for any reason whatsoever.”

WINNER

michael and oscar

2. GAY WITCH HUNT

Thanks to everyone who voted! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to rewatch the series for the 497th time.


 

CHAMPIONSHIP

office finals

1. DIVERSITY DAY vs. 2. GAY WITCH HUNT

A fun piece of trivia about DIVERSITY DAY is that…the episode was webcast on Myspace two weeks prior to airing on NBC as a promotion for the then-upcoming premiere.

A fun piece of trivia about GAY WITCH HUNT is that…the kiss between Michael and Oscar was completely improvised by Steve Carell.

 

VOTE HERE VOTE HERE VOTE HERE


 

FINAL 4

office final 4

1. CASINO NIGHT vs. 1. DIVERSITY DAY

Best random Michael quote of CASINO NIGHT is…“Dinkin Flicka” – Michael to Darryl.

Best random Michael quote of DIVERSITY DAY is..“This is an environment of welcoming, and you should just get the hell out of here.” – Michael to Toby.

2. STRESS RELIEF vs. 2. GAY WITCH HUNT

Best random Michael quote of STRESS RELIEF is…“Five thousand three hundred dollars for a dummy?” – Michael to David Wallace, after David told him that the dummy cost thirty-five hundred dollars.

Best random Michael quote of GAY WITCH HUNT is…”Oh, there’s Gil, Oscar’s roommate. I wonder if he knows.” – Michael to camera, right after Oscar came out of the closet.

 

VOTE HERE VOTE HERE VOTE HERE


 

SCRANTON REGION – ELITE 8

scranton 8

1. CASINO NIGHT vs. 3. THE INJURY

Worst part of CASINO NIGHT is…Jim’s “I’m sorry I misinterpreted our friendship” line. This isn’t an actual criticism. Honestly it’s really good writing. It’s just fucking brutal to watch.

Worst part of THE INJURY is…that some people apparently didn’t know the rules of Shotgun in 2006? (1:10). I know that’s a lame pick again, but these two episodes don’t really have flaws.

 

STAMFORD REGION – ELITE 8

stamford 8

9. BASKETBALL vs. 2. STRESS RELIEF

Worst part of BASKETBALL is…Michael. He’s essentially an unrecognizable character when you go back and watch this episode. The show was still attempting to emulate the British version at this point, so Michael’s character exists under the similar concept of “what if your boss was the biggest asshole in the world?” Don’t get me wrong…the aggressively non-PC version of Michael Scott is still funny. But I significantly prefer the version we grew to know and love, where Michael exists more as an idiot who will go to literally any lengths for approval.

Worst part of STRESS RELIEF is…Jim and Pam watching the bootleg DVD with Andy. This hour-long episode aired directly after the Super Bowl, so they had more time and money to work with. Those extra resources turned into this subplot featuring Jack Black and Jessica Alba, which ended up being way more weird than funny.

 

NASHUA REGION – ELITE 8

nashua 8

4. THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT vs. 2. GAY WITCH HUNT

Worst part of THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT is…the callback to Jan (0:43). There are some amazing ones to old characters in this episode (shoutout Karen), but Jan’s was underwhelming.

Worst part of GAY WITCH HUNT is…how poorly some of the dialogue has aged. Even though this episode is a classic specifically because of how far it crosses the line, some of Michael’s homophobic slurs to Oscar catch you so off guard nowadays that you can’t believe this episode aired on NBC in 2006.

 

UTICA REGION – ELITE 8

utica 8

1. DIVERSITY DAY vs. 2. THE DUNDIES

Worst part of DIVERSITY DAY is…Jim. This is a bit of a stretch, especially considering “not a bad day” is probably Jim’s best line of the entire series. But his character was not nearly developed yet. It’s strange to rewatch this episode and see Jim care a lot about work and call a girl “hot” (1:03).

Worst part of THE DUNDIES is…Ping. He ranks near the bottom of my list of Michael’s go-to characters. I feel like this might be a reference to something that’s going completely over my head though? If not, then yeah it’s just a lazy and mildly funny Asian impression.

 

VOTE HERE VOTE HERE VOTE HERE


 

SCRANTON REGION – SWEET 16

scranton sweet 16

1. CASINO NIGHT vs. 13. A BENIHANA CHRISTMAS

Episode MVP of CASINO NIGHT is…Jim…for finally professing his love to Pam, obviously. But less obviously, for co-discovering Kevin’s band, Scrantonicity.

Episode MVPs of A BENIHANA CHRISTMAS are…Pam and Karen…for having more people show up to their Christmas party.

3. THE INJURY vs. 2. BEACH GAMES

Episode MVP of THE INJURY is…Dwight…for being nice to Pam and for dropping an A+ “that’s what she said” in front of Michael (3:28).

Episode MVP of BEACH GAMES is…Pam…for doing the coal walk, calling out the office for treating her like shit, and telling the truth to Jim. Huge episode for Pam.

 

STAMFORD REGION – SWEET 16

stamford sweet 16

9. BASKETBALL vs. 5. FINALE

Episode MVP of BASKETBALL is…Jim…for actually being really good at basketball.

Episode MVP of FINALE is…Dwight…for burying the hatchet with Kevin, reuniting with Michael, and marrying Angela.

6. THE FIRE vs. 2. STRESS RELIEF

Episode MVP of THE FIRE is…Michael…for being the first one out of the building.

Episode MVP of STRESS RELIEF is…Dwight…for somehow not getting fired.

 

NASHUA REGION – SWEET 16

nashua sweet 16

1. DINNER PARTY vs. 4. THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT

Episode MVP of DINNER PARTY is…Jan’s assistant, Hunter…for gracing us with “That One Night.”

Episode MVP of THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT is…Michael…for finally finishing his passion project, even if he realizes that it actually sucks.

3. GOODBYE, MICHAEL vs. 2. GAY WITCH HUNT

Episode MVP of GOODBYE, MICHAEL is…Michael…for giving meaningful goodbye gifts to everyone, besides Oscar.

Episode MVP of GAY WITCH HUNT is…Oscar…for getting three months paid vacation and use of a company car to not sue Dunder Mifflin for Michael outing him.

 

UTICA REGION – SWEET 16

utica sweet 16

1. DIVERSITY DAY vs. 13. GOODBYE, TOBY

Episode MVP of DIVERSITY DAY is…Kelly…for slapping Michael for his terrible Indian accent.

Episode MVP of GOODBYE, TOBY is…Phyllis…for gaining the upper hand on Angela after she catches her hooking up with Dwight.

14. DRUG TESTING vs. 2. THE DUNDIES

Episode MVP of DRUG TESTING is…Creed…for acing Dwight’s drug test.

Episode MVP of THE DUNDIES is…Ryan…for winning the “Hottest in the Office” Dundie.

 

VOTE HERE VOTE HERE VOTE HERE


 

SCRANTON REGION – ROUND OF 32

scranton 2

1. CASINO NIGHT vs. 8. THE NEGOTIATION

CASINO NIGHT…also known for: “Why are you the way that you are?”

THE NEGOTIATION…also known for: Roy attacking Jim.

5. OFFICE OLYMPICS vs. 13. A BENIHANA CHRISTMAS

OFFICE OLYMPICS…also known for: Michael asking Ryan to come into work early just to bring him breakfast.

A BENIHANA CHRISTMAS…also known for: Dwight’s Christmas miracle.

11. PHYLLIS’ WEDDING vs. 3. THE INJURY

PHYLLIS’ WEDDING…also known for: Jim conditioning Dwight with Altoids.

THE INJURY…also known for: Dwight’s concussion.

10. GOSSIP vs. 2. BEACH GAMES

GOSSIP…also known for: Michael telling everyone about Stanley’s affair.

BEACH GAMES…also known for: Team Voldemort.

 

STAMFORD REGION – ROUND OF 32

stamford 2

1. BOOZE CRUISE vs. 9. BASKETBALL

BOOZE CRUISE…also known for: Michael’s motivational dancing.

BASKETBALL…also known for: Phyllis requesting to cheerlead.

5. FINALE vs. 4. SCOTT’S TOTS

FINALE…also known for: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

SCOTT’S TOTS…also known for: “Andy sowwy.”

6. THE FIRE vs. 3. SAFETY TRAINING

THE FIRE…also known for: Who would you do?

SAFETY TRAINING…also known for: “Hey Darryl, how’s it hanging?”

7. NIAGARA vs. 2. STRESS RELIEF

NIAGARA…also known for: Andy tearing his scrotum.

STRESS RELIEF…also known for: The Roast of Michael Scott.

 

NASHUA REGION – ROUND OF 32

nashua 2

1. DINNER PARTY vs. 8. THE JOB

DINNER PARTY…also known for: “SNIP SNAP, SNIP SNAP, SNIP SNAP!”

THE JOB…also known for: Jan’s boob job.

12. THE MERGER vs. 4. THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT

THE MERGER…also known for: Michael trying to push Tony Gardner onto the table.

THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT…also known for: Goldenface.

6. THE CONVICT vs. 3. GOODBYE, MICHAEL

THE CONVICT…also known for: Andy hitting on Pam.

GOODBYE, MICHAEL…also known for: Michael and Jim’s goodbye.

10. TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK DAY vs. 2. GAY WITCH HUNT

TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK DAY…also known for: Little Kid Lover.

GAY WITCH HUNT…also known for: Gaydar.

 

UTICA REGION – ROUND OF 32

utica 2

1. DIVERSITY DAY vs. 9. FUN RUN

DIVERSITY DAY…also known for: Pam falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder.

FUN RUN…also known for: Michael’s carbo-loading.

5. THE CONVENTION vs. 13. GOODBYE, TOBY

THE CONVENTION…also known for: Michael’s hotel room party.

GOODBYE, TOBY…also known for: Michael giving Toby a rock as his going-away present.

6. COCKTAILS vs. 14. DRUG TESTING

COCKTAILS…also known for: Pam and Roy breaking up for good.

DRUG TESTING…also known for: “You look like you want to tell me something.”

7. INITIATION vs. 2. THE DUNDIES

INITIATION…also known for: Dwight ditching Ryan.

THE DUNDIES…also known for: “BEST. DUNDIES. EVER.”

 

VOTE HERE VOTE HERE VOTE HERE


 

SCRANTON REGION – ROUND OF 64

Scranton Region

  1. CASINO NIGHT (S2/E22) vs. 16. HAPPY HOUR (S6/E21)

 CASINO NIGHT…best known for: Jim finally making his move.

HAPPY HOUR…best known for: Date Mike.

  1. THE NEGOTIATION (S3/E19) vs. 9. THE CLIENT (S2/E7)

 THE NEGOTIATION…best known for: Michael accidentally cross-dressing.

THE CLIENT…best known for: Michael holding the business meeting at Chili’s.

  1. OFFICE OLYMPICS (S2/E3) vs. 12. THE RETURN (S3/E14)

OFFICE OLYMPICS…best known for: Phyllis beating Kevin by a nose in Flonkerton.

THE RETURN…best known for: Andy punching a hole through the wall.

  1. CHRISTMAS PARTY (S2/E10) vs. 13. A BENIHANA CHRISTMAS (S3/E10-11)

CHRISTMAS PARTY…best known for: Yankee Swap.

A BENIHANA CHRISTMAS…best known for: Michael’s “Bros Before Hoes” speech.

  1. MURDER (S6/E10) vs. 11. PHYLLIS’ WEDDING (S3/E16)

 MURDER…best known for: The standoff at the end of the episode. (Also Tube City.)

PHYLLIS’ WEDDING…best known for: “This is bullshit.” (Also Kelly’s emergency.)

  1. THE INJURY (S2/E12) vs. 14. LOCAL AD (S4/E9)

THE INJURY…best known for: “I burned my foot.”

LOCAL AD…best known for: Andy forgetting the Kit Kat slogan.

  1. VALENTINE’S DAY (S2/E16) vs. 10. GOSSIP (S6/E1)

 VALENTINE’S DAY…best known for: “The Faces of Scranton.”

GOSSIP…best known for: Parkour PARKOUR!

  1. BEACH GAMES (S3/E23) vs. 15. MICHAEL SCOTT PAPER COMPANY (S5/E23)

 BEACH GAMES…best known for: Pam’s confession to Jim.

MICHAEL SCOTT PAPER COMPANY…best known for: Pam making her first sale.

 

STAMFORD REGION – ROUND OF 64

stamford region

  1. BOOZE CRUISE (S2/E11) vs. MICHAEL’S LAST DUNDIES (S7/E21)

 BOOZE CRUISE…best known for: Michael’s advice to Jim.

MICHAEL’S LAST DUNDIES…best known for: “9,986,000 Minutes.”

  1. WEIGHT LOSS (S5/E1-2) vs. 9. BASKETBALL (S1/E5)

WEIGHT LOSS…best known for: Jim’s proposal to Pam.

BASKETBALL…best known for: “Secret Weapon” Stanley.

  1. FINALE (S9/E24-25) vs. 12. BRANCH WARS (S4/E10)

FINALE…best known for: Michael’s return.

BRANCH WARS…best known for: This incredibly awkward conversation between Jim and Karen.

  1. SCOTT’S TOTS (S6/E12) vs. 13. BEN FRANKLIN (S3/E15)

SCOTT’S TOTS…best known for: Being the most polarizing episode of the show.

BEN FRANKLIN…best known for: Dwight’s interrogation of the Ben Franklin impersonator.

  1. THE FIRE (S2/E4) vs. 11. SEXUAL HARRASSMENT (S2/E2)

 THE FIRE…best known for: “RYAN STARTED THE FIRE!”

SEXUAL HARASSMENT…best known for: The debut of Todd Packer.

  1. SAFETY TRAINING (S3/E20) vs. 14. THE DUEL (S5/E12)

SAFETY TRAINING…best known for: The stress of Michael’s modern office causing him to go into depression.

THE DUEL…best known for: Andy using his Prius as a weapon.

  1. NIAGARA (S6/E4-5) vs. 10. DIWALI (S3/E6)

NIAGARA…best known for: Jim and Pam’s wedding.

DIWALI…best known for: Michael proposing to Carol.

  1. STRESS RELIEF (S5/E14-15) vs. 15. PDA (S7/E16)

 STRESS RELIEF…best known for: The fire drill gone wrong. And the CPR demonstration gone wrong.

PDA…best known for: Kevin enjoying Michael and Holly’s PDA.

 

NASHUA REGION – ROUND OF 64

Nashua Region

  1. DINNER PARTY (S4/E13) vs. 16. CASUAL FRIDAY (S5/E26)

DINNER PARTY…best known for: Jan breaking Michael’s flat screen TV.

CASUAL FRIDAY…best known for: Kevin’s Famous Chili.

  1. THE JOB (S3/E24-25) vs. 9. MICHAEL’S BIRTHDAY (S3/E19)

THE JOB…best known for: Jim asking Pam out.

MICHAEL’S BIRTHDAY…best known for: Michael’s birthday call to Jan.

  1. CAFÉ DISCO (S5/E27) vs. 12. THE MERGER (S3/E8)

CAFÉ DISCO…best known for: Michael’s dancing.

THE MERGER…best known for: “Lazy Scranton.”

  1. THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT (S7/E17) vs. 13. CHAIR MODEL (S4/E14)

THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT…best known for: “The Scarn.”

CHAIR MODEL…best known for: Phyllis trying to set up Michael with her friend.

  1. THE CONVICT (S3/E9) vs. 11. FRAME TOBY (S5/E9)

 THE CONVICT…best known for: Prison Mike.

FRAME TOBY…best known for: Michael’s reaction to Toby’s return.

  1. GOODBYE, MICHAEL (S7/E22) vs. 14. MONEY (S4/E7-8)

GOODBYE, MICHAEL…best known for: Being the episode that should have been the series finale.

MONEY…best known for: “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!!!”

  1. PRODUCT RECALL (S3/E21) vs. 10. TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK DAY (S2/E18)

PRODUCT RECALL…best known for: Jim impersonating Dwight.

TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK DAY…best known for: Stanley yelling at Ryan.

  1. GAY WITCH HUNT (S3/E1) vs. 15. HEALTH CARE (S1/E3)

GAY WITCH HUNT…best known for: Michael kissing Oscar.

HEALTH CARE…best known for: Dwight’s health care investigation.

 

UTICA REGION – ROUND OF 64

utica region

  1. DIVERSITY DAY (S1/E2) vs. 16. DID I STUTTER? (S4/E16)

 DIVERSITY DAY…best known for: The index card game.

DID I STUTTER?…best known for: Stanley erupting at Michael.

  1. BACK FROM VACATION (S3/E12) vs. 9. FUN RUN (S4/E1-2)

BACK FROM VACATION…best known for: The topless photo of Jan.

FUN RUN…best known for: Michael hitting Meredith with his car.

  1. THE CONVENTION (S3/E2) vs. 12. GARAGE SALE (S7/E19)

THE CONVENTION…best known for: “I hope it’s urine.”

GARAGE SALE…best known for: Michael proposing to Holly.

  1. BUSINESS SCHOOL (S3/E17) vs. 13. GOODBYE, TOBY (S4/E18-19)

BUSINESS SCHOOL…best known for: Michael showing up to Pam’s art show.

GOODBYE, TOBY…best known for: Holly thinking Kevin is mentally challenged.

  1. COCKTAILS (S3/E18) vs. 11. TRAVELING SALESMEN (S3/E13)

COCKTAILS…best known for: Dwight inspecting David Wallace’s house.

TRAVELING SALESMEN…best known for: Ryan taking the lead on the sales pitch.

  1. THE DEPOSITION (S4/E12) vs. 14. DRUG TESTING (S2/E20)

THE DEPOSITION…best known for: Michael pushing Toby’s tray.

DRUG TESTING…best known for: Jim convincing Dwight that he smoked the joint.

  1. INITATION (S3/E5) vs. 10. BROKE (S5/E25)

INITIATION…best known for: Pretzel Day.

BROKE…best known for: “Well, well, well…how the turntables…”

  1. THE DUNDIES (S2/E1) vs. 15. COMPANY PICNIC (S5/E28)

THE DUNDIES…best known for: Pam’s acceptance speech.

COMPANY PICNIC…best known for: Jim and Pam realizing she’s pregnant.

 

VOTE HERE VOTE HERE VOTE HERE