NHL Season Predictions 2017-18

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Hockey is finally back! In 2016-17, we saw our first back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion in nearly two decades. Can the Pittsburgh Penguins make it three in a row? Will a Canadian team end the nation’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought? Which team will be this year’s version of the 2017 Nashville Predators and capture everyone’s excitement? Find out here!

 

Atlantic Division

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1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Injury problems derailed Tampa Bay’s 2016-17 season. The Lightning began the year as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and ended up missing out on the playoffs entirely.

If the Bolts stay healthy this season, they are primed for a bounce-back year. There is impact talent all around the roster, from a young and exciting forward core to a defensive group led by superstar Victor Hedman. Even goaltending is a strength as Andrei Vasilevsky looks to make the leap into one of the NHL’s elite keepers.

 

2. Montreal Canadiens

Scoring will again be an issue for Montreal, but the addition of Jonathan Drouin up front should help even though the Habs had to say goodbye to Alexander Radulov this offseason.

Carey Price is always fantastic in net and should be able to back up his team even if the forwards can’t put too many pucks in the net.

To help will be a slightly more skilled group of defensemen as Karl Alzner and David Schlemko will fill in for departed veterans Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin. Mark Streit, although on the tail end of his career, is an offensive defenseman who can generate some spark from the blue line.

 

3. Toronto Maple Leafs

We will definitely see improvement from Toronto this year, but it may be a more gradual process than some expect.

As well as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander did last season, expecting one of them (at least) to have a sophomore slump is only realistic.

At the same time, all three are still stars, the rest of the top nine may be as good as any forward group in hockey, Patrick Marleau brings in some experience and Frederik Andersen is a solid goaltender.

Behind Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly, however, Toronto’s defense certainly raises some red flags.

 

4. Boston Bruins

Sure, Boston had a ridiculously quiet offseason for a bubble team, but there is certainly reason to believe the Bruins can improve this year.

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have shown no signs of slowing down and the team came to life midway through last season when Bruce Cassidy was hired as head coach.

Also, the Bruins have decided to fill their gaps from within rather than spending on free agents. Anders Bjork, Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk and obviously David Pastrnak are all young homegrown talents with lots of potential that could make huge impacts for the Bruins this season.

 

5. Ottawa Senators

The Senators were an overtime goal away from going to the Stanley Cup Final last season, so why are they so disliked by prognosticators this season?

Well, first of all, they still barely made the playoffs last year. With Tampa Bay, Toronto, Boston and Buffalo all likely to do better this season, the Senators should regress by default.

Also, as unbelievable as Erik Karlsson is, he will sorely miss defense partner Marc Methot.

Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Bobby Ryan, Mark Stone, Derick Brassard and Kyle Turris are all respectable forwards, but the rest of the team lacks scoring depth.

On paper, the Senators overachieved last year. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues in 2017-18 or if there is a regression to the mean. The latter seems more likely.

 

6. Buffalo Sabres

We now enter the third tier of the Atlantic Division. Of the three potential bottom-feeders, Buffalo certainly has the most upside.

Jack Eichel will enter this season healthy, unlike last year, and the rest of the young forward group should help the Sabres improve on their division-worst 201 goals last season.

If Rasmus Ristolainen can take the next step up and Marco Scandella finds his niche in his new city, the Sabres could be a surprise playoff team. But they must stay extremely healthy in order to have a shot.

 

7. Detroit Red Wings

Detroit has depth at forward, but very little high-end talent. The defense has neither.

It looked like the Red Wings were primed to get some top-end scorers in Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar, but all three have plateaued (or maybe even regressed) since Jeff Blashill took over as head coach in 2015. If players like Anthony Mantha or Andreas Athanasiou (if he re-signs) start to do the same, look for Detroit to begin searching for a new bench boss.

Jimmy Howard can be a productive goaltender, but he has had issues staying healthy. If he hits IR again for a lengthy time, the Red Wings could see another season like last year, where Petr Mrazek struggled mightily in Howard’s absence.

 

8. Florida Panthers

The Panthers didn’t score a whole lot last season, but lost an absolute boatload of goal-scorers this offseason with the departures of Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen.

Even though the defensive corps is respectable when healthy, the depth on the wings may be the worst in all of hockey. Combine that with some questions in goal with Roberto Luongo’s age and you’ve got a last-place team.

 

Metropolitan Division

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1. Columbus Blue Jackets

A 16-game win streak and a 108-point season last year showed us Columbus can hang in there with the big boys.

Expect the Blue Jackets to take it a step further this season.

While a No. 1 center is yet to emerge, the entire group of forwards is deep and ridiculously skilled, especially with the addition of Artemi Panarin and the insertion of Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano and Pierre-Luc Dubois into the everyday lineup.

As good as the forwards are, Columbus’s defensemen may be even better, led by two more emerging youngsters in Zach Werenski and Seth Jones.

Still, though, the top strength for the Blue Jackets may be between the pipes. Sergei Bobrovsky is an elite NHL goaltender, and Joonas Korpisalo is a well above-average option for a backup.

 

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

A Stanley Cup hangover after two short summers and the loss of a handful of important players will cause the Penguins to sputter a bit around November and December, but this is still an elite hockey team that will come to play when it needs to.

Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup last season without Kris Letang in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter which depth forwards up front are gone, Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan will find someone to fill in, like they have without issue for two straight seasons.

 

3. New York Rangers

Losing Derek Stepan leaves a bit of a hole at center, sure. But this is an opportunity for Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller to really step it up.

Also, first-round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil have impressed in camp and both may make the team.

As tough as losing Stepan may be, however, the Rangers arguably improved this offseason because of changes made on the blue line. Out are Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein, in are Kevin Shattenkirk and high-ceiling Anthony DeAngelo. Talk about an upgrade.

 

4. Washington Capitals

Still a contender, but the Capitals are definitely a tier below the Penguins and Blue Jackets after a tumultuous offseason.

Gone are Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt, Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik. In to replace them? Question marks.

Braden Holtby is one of the top goalies in the NHL, but he will have to do much more work with a severely depleted blue line.

In the end, it’s still tough to imagine a team led by Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie and John Carlson along with Holtby missing the playoffs.

 

5. Carolina Hurricanes

Everyone is drooling over the Hurricanes this season due to their ridiculous group of defensemen.

While the excitement over Carolina’s blueliners is certainly warranted, they may need to wait one more year to end the NHL’s longest standing playoff drought. There are a lot of questions about depth at the forward position, and it remains to be seen if Scott Darling can be a reliable starting goalie.

 

6. Philadelphia Flyers

The center depth is fantastic if Nolan Patrick makes an impact anything like he is capable of and the young group of defensemen is coming along nicely, but these are the Flyers and goaltending is a question.

Brian Elliott was less-than stellar last season in Calgary behind a pretty great set of rearguards. And goaltenders seem to always struggle a bit more in Philadelphia.

Also, as good as Philadelphia’s centers are, there is a lack of experience and talent on the wing behind Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal will have to make big strides if the Flyers want to make the playoffs.

 

7. New Jersey Devils

A plethora of new additions and young talent coming up through the pipeline should create a vastly improved offensive attack this season for New Jersey.

The reason the Devils won’t be in the playoff conversation, though is their defense. When Damon Severson and Andy Greene are your top two defensemen, don’t expect to get too far.

 

8. New York Islanders

Sure, it’s a possibility that this team plays the way it did in 2016 and makes the playoffs.

But pretty much every area of the roster just seems a cut below league average, especially with Travis Hamonic leaving the defense corps.

In order for the Islanders to make a splash this season, they will need to rely heavily on new blood like Joshua Ho-Sang, Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier.

 

Central Division

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1. Minnesota Wild

The Wild had easily the best goal differential in the Western Conference last season thanks to a balanced offensive attack, good defense and a great goaltender in Devan Dubnyk.

While expecting Eric Staal to repeat his success of last season, the Wild could still repeat theirs as a team.

Minnesota was dispatched in just five games in last year’s first round against St. Louis, but those who watched the series know that the Wild dominated the Blues but ran into a hot goaltender.

That will all even out in the regular season this year and Minnesota will easily qualify for the playoffs again. Plus, regular season guru Bruce Boudreau returns behind the bench.

 

 

2. St. Louis Blues

St. Louis flourished once Mike Yeo became its head coach last season. Jake Allen took his game to an elite level and led the Blues on a warpath that could only be stopped by a Nashville club that seemed destined to win the West.

If Allen stays true to form behind a terrific group of defensemen, the Blues could be serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.

The questions come up front, especially with Robby Fabbri out for the entire season. St. Louis’s top six is solid, but players like Ivan Barbashev, Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin will need to contribute more.

 

3. Chicago Blackhawks

After getting embarrassed in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Chicago had an offseason to forget. Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Artemi Panarin, Brian Campbell and Marcus Kruger are just a few of the many names that won’t be returning from last year’s division-winning squad.

But still, these are the Blackhawks. Bringing back Brandon Saad could help Jonathan Toews rebound after underperforming last season and Patrick Kane should still be a Hart Trophy candidate even without Panarin on his side.

Also, expect Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman to not only become household names in Chicago, but around the league. And keep an eye on Alex DeBrincat and Tanner Kero.

 

 

4. Nashville Predators

Last year’s Cinderella sweetheart won’t be able to fly under the radar this season. And with Ryan Ellis out for several months, captain Mike Fisher enjoying retirement and top-line winger James Neal playing in Las Vegas, repeating last year’s success could be a difficult task for Nashville.

Still, it was clear all season that this team had not displayed its full potential all season long. That fact was proven true in the playoffs, as the Predators soared all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

An exciting core and depth at all positions should make that level of success attainable again this season.

 

 

5. Dallas Stars

Dallas can use injuries as an excuse for the unexpected 30-point drop-off from 2016 to 2017, but there were plenty of other issues to blame as well.

Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were healthy all year, but the Stars had serious trouble preventing goals.

GM Jim Nill addressed that weakness in a big way this offseason, adding defenseman Marc Methot to play next to John Klingberg and a true No. 1 goaltender in Ben Bishop.

Dallas will be in the playoff mix this season, but it may be tough for the Stars to win the division (like many expect) with so much competition.

 

6. Winnipeg Jets

Lots to be excited about as far as Winnipeg’s skilled forwards go, but the defense is still a major question mark.

Also, there will be goalie controversy all season long in Winnipeg, which is something that rarely yields success in an organization.

As much as Winnipeg may score, the Jets will give up quite a few goals as well.

 

7. Colorado Avalanche

Probably the safest bet you can make is picking Colorado to finish last in the Central. Maybe hockey’s worst team, the Avalanche play in a division with six teams who could all potentially make deep playoff runs.

Not an ideal situation.

 

Pacific Division

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1. Edmonton Oilers

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the clear stars of this team, but the rest of the squad is overlooked.

Edmonton isn’t too weak on the back end, as Oscar Klefbom is quietly becoming one of hockey’s better defensemen. Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson are no pushovers, either. In net, Cam Talbot showed us just how good he could be after having a Vezina-caliber season in 2016-17.

Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi, the team’s two most recent first-round picks, could both see significant time with the big club this season and cause fits for opposing defenses.

 

2. Anaheim Ducks

News that Ryan Kesler and Sami Vatanen could miss huge chunks of the season is a huge blow to Anaheim, and it could cause the Ducks to relinquish the Pacific Division crown for the first time since 2012.

When this club gets healthy, though, it can be scary good. Anaheim is loaded with role-playing forwards, a solid keeper in John Gibson and a lineup of defensemen that is on par with teams like Nashville and Carolina.

 

3. Calgary Flames

Everything about this team makes it look like a dark horse Stanley Cup contender.

A great mix of youth and experience up front that should have no problems scoring goals, one of the league’s best top-four defense units…

And then Mike Smith’s name pops up as starting goalie.

The goaltending situation alone docks Calgary’s odds down quite a few ticks. If someone emerges as a reliable starter, though, look out.

 

4. San Jose Sharks

San Jose is in a tier of its own in the Pacific Division. Edmonton, Anaheim and Calgary certainly seem more skilled while the remaining teams will likely be nowhere near the playoff mix.

The Sharks are right on the bubble. They still have some solid players from their 2016 run to the Stanley Cup Final, but how much will they miss Patrick Marleau’s leadership?

Also, San Jose did not make any flashy moves whatsoever this offseason after being a bubble team last year. With an aging core, the Sharks will lean heavily on young players like Timo Meier, Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi.

 

5. Arizona Coyotes

If Carolina is such a sexy preseason pick, why isn’t Arizona getting any love from prognosticators?

The Coyotes boast a plethora of high-upside defensemen and a decent goalie in Antti Raanta who will finally get a well-deserved shot at being a starter. He should be an upgrade from Mike Smith.

Up front, the Coyotes are young but extremely skilled. Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, Max Domi, Clayton Keller and several more high recent draft picks will all get plenty of chances to show off why they were so highly regarded as amateurs. Also, adding Derek Stepan gives Arizona a veteran No. 1 center with a scoring touch.

The potential is there, but it may take some more experience before the Coyotes take the next step. Still, this is an intriguing candidate for surprise team of the year.

 

6. Los Angeles Kings

Since Alec Martinez scored the Stanley Cup-clinching overtime goal in 2014, the Kings have won just a single playoff game.

They missed in 2015, were dominated by San Jose in 2016 and missed yet again last year.

With the Pacific improving, Los Angeles has not done much to keep up. The front office has been shuffled up and head coach Darryl Sutter was canned, but that won’t be enough to put the Kings back in the playoffs.

 

7. Vancouver Canucks

The rebuild is definitely on for Vancouver, who could potentially finish even worse than an expansion team.

Bo Horvat is making a name for himself despite not having much of a cast around him, and the Canucks have begun to build what could be a formidable blue line in the future, but this club is just too weak all around to compete for a playoff spot this season.

 

8. Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights have a lot of pieces to like (James Neal, Jason Garrison, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Cody Eakin, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Marc-Andre Fleury among others), but the fact is that they’re an expansion team and will likely finish in the basement.

By putting an emphasis on youth in the expansion process and making some stellar draft choices this past spring, however, Vegas’s front office has set this team up for quite a future.

 

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

A1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. W1 Washington Capitals

Weird seeing the Capitals as a wild card, but here we are. The Capitals embrace the underdog role by splitting the first four games, but Tampa Bay proves too deep and too strong.

Lightning in 6

A2 Montreal Canadiens vs. A3 Toronto Maple Leafs

Finally, we get a Toronto-Montreal series. As raucous as the home crowds may be, the Leafs win the first two games in Montreal…and the Canadiens return the favor in Games 3 and 4. With an advantage in net, on defense and in the physicality department, Montreal seems poised to take the series. Instead, Toronto’s young guns pull through and give the Leafs their first series win since 2004 as Frederik Andersen slams the door shut on the Habs.

Maple Leafs in 6

M1 Columbus Blue Jackets vs. W2 Boston Bruins

Lots of young talent on display in this series. Boston has much better veterans up front with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand, but the Jackets have the superior keeper in Sergei Bobrovsky. In the end, Columbus just has too much firepower from all around for Boston to keep up.

Blue Jackets in 5

M2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. M3 New York Rangers

The Penguins begin their quest for a three-peat against a familiar foe. New York proves to be quite the worthy challenger, taking the champs to the brink in the very first round. As they have done so many times with their backs against the wall, however, the Penguins prevail.

Penguins in 7

 

Western Conference Quarterfinals

C1 Minnesota Wild vs. W1 Nashville Predators

Nashville once again finds itself in a wild card spot facing the winner of the Central. With playoff-challenged Bruce Boudreau coaching the Wild, this “upset” seems too good to be true for the Predators. It is. Pekka Rinne falters and Minnesota moves on.

Wild in 7

C2 St. Louis Blues vs. C3 Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago looks to redeem itself after last season’s first-round disappointment, but the Blackhawks will face a tough opponent in arch-rival St. Louis (no pun intended). The scoring woes return for the Hawks, mirroring last season’s series with Nashville.

Blues in 6

P1 Edmonton Oilers vs. W2 Dallas Stars

An old rivalry is rekindled as the Oilers and Stars meet in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Both teams are remarkably similar, each boasting a dynamic scoring duo and a solid goaltender. This series will contain many close, high-scoring games, but the Oilers take it thanks to home-ice advantage.

Oilers in 7

P2 Anaheim Ducks vs. P3 Calgary Flames

This continues to boil into a brutal rivalry as these two meet for the third time in four years. But until the Flames find an answer in net, the Ducks will continue to have the edge.

Ducks in 5

 

Eastern Conference Semifinals

A1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. A3 Toronto Maple Leafs

Mike Babcock meets Jon Cooper again after Babcock’s Red Wings dropped an emotional seven-game battle to the Lightning in 2015. This will be a high-powered round of hockey as both teams pride themselves on offense. Victor Hedman keeps Auston Matthews in check, but Toronto’s other weapons are too much for the Bolts to handle. Leafs for the upset!

Maple Leafs in 6

M1 Columbus Blue Jackets vs. M2 Pittsburgh Penguins

Is the third time the charm for Columbus against Pittsburgh? The Jackets earn the right to home-ice advantage against their bitter rivals from the next state over, but the Penguins will be considered favorites for all intents and purposes. Columbus puts up a better fight than last year’s five-game bludgeoning, but the more experienced Penguins come away with the victory one more time.

Penguins in 6

 

Western Conference Semifinals

C1 Minnesota Wild vs. C2 St. Louis Blues

A rematch from last year’s first round, which the Blues won in five games despite Minnesota averaging 40 shots per game. Thank Jake Allen for that. This year, neither the shot differentials nor the series result will be lopsided. This is going to be a good, old-fashioned, black-and-blue Norris Division-type series. A year later, though, the Blues are still better built for playoff success.

Blues in 6

P1 Edmonton Oilers vs. P2 Anaheim Ducks

Another rematch of last year’s second round series, which Edmonton seemingly let slip away time after time. This time, as the favorite, the Oilers face some added pressure. Some of Anaheim’s core is aging, but a new crew of young forwards are on the way up to go along with great defense and goaltending. The Ducks complete the Alberta sweep again.

Ducks in 6

 

Eastern Conference Final

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M2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. A3 Toronto Maple Leafs

This is probably exactly what the NHL wants. Ratings will be through the roof, but the series won’t be as exciting as billed. Toronto is built quite a bit like the Penguins, but it’s going to take a lopsided loss to knock the Leafs back to earth before they can take a run at the Cup. While the Leafs are fun to watch, they are no match for a much more experienced Pittsburgh team.

Penguins in 5

 

Western Conference Final

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P2 Anaheim Ducks vs. C2 St. Louis Blues

These teams are built fairly similarly as well, focused on defensive hockey and wearing down the opponent physically. The Blues may have an extremely slight goaltending edge, but they are weaker than the Ducks in every other department. Anaheim returns to the Final for the first time since 2007.

Ducks in 6

 

2018 Stanley Cup Final

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Four wins separate the Pittsburgh Penguins from the NHL’s first Stanley Cup three-peat since the Islanders won four straight Cups from 1980-83. Standing in their way this time is an Anaheim Ducks team that is quite different from the Penguins’ previous two opponents.

As where San Jose in 2016 and Nashville in 2017 were Cinderella stories in one way or another, the Ducks have been an established contender for years, excelling in doing the little things right like killing penalties and winning faceoffs.

The Penguins, on the other hand, just know how to win. Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have become two more names that repeatedly come through in big situations, and by the time we get to June 2018, you better believe a few more names will emerge.

These two avian clubs will fight tooth-and-nail through the first four games, and the Penguins will pull one game away from a third-straight Cup by taking Game 5 at home.

And then…they will run out of gas.

Matt Murray won’t have the luxury of getting extra rest via a goalie platoon with Marc-Andre Fleury this year, and after three straight years of playing hockey into mid-June, it finally catches up to the Penguins.

John Gibson turns in two spectacular performances in Games 6 and 7, much like Fleury did against Detroit in 2009, while Anaheim’s offense breaks Murray.

Ducks in 7

 

Awards Nominees and Winners

Hart Trophy

Sidney Crosby
Auston Matthews
Connor McDavid

Winner: McDavid

 

Vezina Trophy

Jake Allen
Sergei Bobrovsky
Carey Price

Winner: Allen

 

Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman
Erik Karlsson
Duncan Keith

Winner: Hedman

 

Jack Adams Award

Bruce Boudreau
Joel Quenneville
John Tortorella

Winner: Quenneville

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Dave Strader’s Top Five Calls

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The hockey world was dealt quite a blow Sunday morning.

Dave Strader, one of the greatest broadcasters the game has ever seen and an even better person, passed away after a lengthy battle with a rare form of cancer known as cholangiocarcinoma.

Strader spent time as the play-by-play man for the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars as well as doing work for ESPN and NBC.

While limiting Strader’s many moments of greatness to just five specific calls is a difficult task, here are the ones that best exemplify just how fantastic he was.

 

5. Martin Gelinas OT goal, Flames-Canucks Game 7, 2004

(Call begins around 15:46 in the above video)

Strader’s call of this entire sequence in a Game 7 overtime kept us on the edge of our seats. The Flames were smelling blood looking for the upset, and Strader seemed to know it.

He brought even more excitement to this play, building up and culminating in one of the biggest goals in Calgary Flames history.

 

4. Brett Hull 3OT goal, Stars-Sabres Game 6, 1999 Stanley Cup Final

(Call begins around 1:25 in the above video)

Brett Hull’s famous goal to win the 1999 Stanley Cup Championship for the Dallas Stars is normally remembered with either Bob Cole or Gary Thorne’s call.

Strader, however, called this game for NHL International, as he did for many Stanley Cup Finals.

Cole and Thorne are regarded as two of the best at what they do, but for this moment in particular, Strader’s call was leaps and bounds above any other. Compare them for yourself in the video above.

 

3. Matt Cooke tying goal, Flames-Canucks Game 7, 2004

(Call begins around 1:30 in the video above)

One of the things Dave Strader did best was clearly explain everything that was going on while also being able to show excitement. Perhaps none of his calls exemplify this better than the one above.

 

2. Johan Franzen OT goal, Predators-Red Wings Game 5, 2008

There was almost an artistic value to this call. Strader’s words move with the play so fluidly that it all seems like it had been pre-scripted.

The climax of Johan Franzen backhanding a crucial overtime winner past Dan Ellis at Joe Louis Arena doesn’t disappoint.

 

1. Patrice Bergeron OT goal, Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 7, 2013

Not only Strader’s top call, but one of the best in the history of the game.

This clip showcases that, like us, Strader was first and foremost a fan of the game. Having witnessed the Bruins complete one of the most improbable comebacks in the history of sports, winning Game 7 after trailing 4-1 midway through the third period, he had the same reaction as the millions of us watching.

You can feel the astonishment and excitement in Strader’s voice when the puck goes in. It unintentionally cracks, but it just seems to make everything that much better.

We’ll miss you, Dave.

 

**Cholangiocarcinoma is an extremely rare, aggressive form of bile duct cancer. In Dave’s memory, please do whatever you can to spread awareness about this disease. If we work together for a cure, hopefully we will see a day where we won’t have to lose great people this way anymore. Thanks you.**

NFL Player Protests: Unity, Division and Justification

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First, let me begin with a disclaimer. Like anyone else, I am in no way, shape or form one to decisively draw the line between what is right and what is wrong.

If you are looking for a piece that supports your political affiliation’s agenda, look elsewhere. This article is meant to provide a view of the issue from both sides.

Regardless of your opinion, you will almost certainly disagree with some elements of this article and agree with others.

That’s fine.

One of the many great things about this country is that everyone has rights to be individuals. Everyone has the right to their opinion, and the right to speak out about it, regardless of who agrees or disagrees. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many areas of the world.

Anyways, on the evening of Friday, September 22nd, President Donald Trump addressed the issue of NFL players protesting during the Star Spangled Banner at a rally in Alabama.

“Wouldn’t your just love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired!’” Trump yelled over cheers from the crowd.

As a result, the NFL has responded. Commissioner Roger Goodell made a statement condeming the President’s words, and a record amount of players knelt during Sunday’s games.

In one way, Trump’s words drew the focus of the protests to, depending on one’s individual opinion, may be a more justified cause.

The protests began last season as a way to draw attention to alleged racial discrimination among minorities from American police officers.

An issue which, according to statistics, is blown a bit out of proportion. You see, the media has magnified isolated incidents of police killing unarmed black men (often before getting a large amount of the hard evidence), creating protests, some violent, and division in our communities.

That’s the goal. Divide and capitalize.

And the goal has certainly been met.

Inciting more conflict by creating a false, exaggerated sense of reality is, in the end, beneficial to nobody except the media. More conflict equal more stories, more hits, more money.

If I am losing you at this point, stay with me. The police issue is one for another discussion. Back to the NFL.

In response, some players in the NFL exercised their Constitutional right to protest against what they believe to be injustice.

Regardless of whether you like it or not, it is their right. However, the way in which some protested has seemed to create only more division.

It began with kneeling during the anthem.

Some viewed this as a sign of disrespect towards our flag and the soldiers who fought for our rights; ironically including the right to demonstrate peacefully, which, whether you believe it to be respectful or not, these players were doing.

Respectful? Doesn’t matter. Justified? Opinions may vary.

Within one’s rights? Absolutely.

But divisive? Yes.

Just over 16 years ago, around 3,000 Americans were killed via terrorist attacks orchestrated by al-Qaeda on our own soil.

In the weekends that followed, the NFL was a source of unity. For a few hours every Sunday, Americans could join together and enjoy one of our favorite pastimes.

And at the beginning of each game, players and fans alike, stood and saluted the flag during the National Anthem.

Some helped hold stadium-sized flags across the field. Some had tears streaming down their faces.

Some were black. Some were white. Some were Republicans, some were Democrats.

It didn’t matter.

Flash-forward to the 2016 season. The sense of unity is gone. During the anthem, teams are scattered among their respective sidelines. Some kneeling, some standing, some sitting on the bench while the anthem plays.

Also, some African-American players decide to raise their fists during the anthem, in a display of “black power”.

While being proud of one’s heritage is another value we share in this diverse country, this is obviously an act that creates more division.

Highlighting our differences through our skin color and heritage rather than celebrating unity as Americans.

But now, a new issue has arisen. And if you have reluctantly stayed with me throughout this article, here is your catharsis.

While it is an NFL player’s right to protest peacefully, it is also the President’s right to respond.

Even if it is remarkably childish.

But it is a fact that, regardless of your political beliefs, some of the President’s actions have been, for lack of a better word, unpresidential.

Bragging about groping women, taking an irrational amount of time (especially by his history when it comes to responding to conflict) to respond to actions by white supremacist groups and constantly, almost daily, displaying classic signs of bullying on Twitter are just a few examples of how Donald Trump has set a horrible example for our children and has made American politics somewhat of a laughing stock at the global level.

They tell athletes to “stick to sports”, but the President won’t stick to politics, attacking everything from random athletes to struggling TV programs.

Now, the NFL player protests are straying away from focusing on overblown police violence and instead embracing a more justified cause.

However, many of the protests are still causing a problem. A problem that can be summed up by two words.

Division and unity.

So how do we solve this problem? How do athletes exercise their Constitutional right to peacefully protest by promoting unity rather than causing more division?

Members of two NFL teams have already shown us.

Earlier this season, after a dozen Cleveland Browns players knelt during the anthem, the Cleveland Police Union along with EMS and first responders announced that they would not hold the flag during the anthem at Browns games, as they normally would.

In essence, the police and first responders would protest against the Browns in nearly the same way the Browns were protesting against them.

Then, last week, something magical happened.

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After the Browns showed a video of players talking about the need for unity amongst Americans, the players stood and linked arms with Cleveland police officers for the anthem.

Cornerback Jason McCourty said it best.

“That’s what it’s about,” McCourty told Dan Labbe of cleveland.com. “We talked about protests to do things and protests to do that and what we kind of did before the game of everybody coming together is the point we’re trying to make is equality for everyone. Everyone being it together, pointing to the issues and saying, ‘if we work together, we can fix those things.’ So I think that’s what our video was about and that’s what our message was about and the actions that we did. Hopefully good can come from it and other people can see it and see what is trying to come across.”

Then, this Sunday, unity happened again.

During their game in London, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan went down to the field and linked arms with his players, standing during the anthem.

Khan donated $1 million to Trump’s campaign in 2016.

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Still standing. Still honoring the flag and those who fought for it. But at the same time, promoting unity and togetherness while standing up peacefully for their beliefs.

In the end, the result of these two protests will hopefully set a precedent. All different types of people – blacks, whites, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, players, owners, police, etc. – taught a divided American society a lesson that has dwindled over the past 16 years.

As citizens of the United States of America, no matter what our backgrounds may be, standing united in the face of adversity is what makes our country great.

2017 NFL Preview and Predictions

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The NFL season is almost upon us again. After a season that featured a unique amount of sloppy games, playoff blowouts and off-field distractions, let’s hope football returns to the game we love in 2017 – the type of game we saw at last year’s Super Bowl, which was one of the most exciting championship bouts of all time.

This article will take a division-by-division, team-by-team look before diving into playoff picks at the end.

For reference, here are all of my preseason Super Bowl picks since I started making them in 2010.

2010-11: Green Bay Packers (10-6, won Super Bowl)
2011-12: San Diego Chargers (8-8, missed playoffs)
2012-13: Green Bay Packers (11-5, lost NFC divisional round)
2013-14: Seattle Seahawks (13-3, won Super Bowl)
2014-15: New Orleans Saints (7-9, missed playoffs)
2015-16: Green Bay Packers (10-6, lost NFC divisional round)
2016-17: Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1, missed playoffs)

So yeah, all over the place. Let’s hope I can make a return to greatness here also.

Some teams are bound to surprise and some are bound to fall flat. The next four months will tell the story, but here’s my best shot.

 

AFC East

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1. New England Patriots (15-1)

The safest bet in sports, the Patriots are basically already a lock to win the East. They are also the favorite to win the Super Bowl by quite a large margin – they did so last year without a healthy Rob Gronkowski down the stretch.

Sure, Julian Edelman is out for the year, but he’s being replaced by Brandin Cooks. And I’m sure Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won’t miss a beat.

Three key games: Week 7 vs. Atlanta, Week 11 vs. Oakland (in Mexico City), Week 15 at Pittsburgh

 

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2. Miami Dolphins (8-8)

The Ryan Tannehill injury hurts, but the Dolphins will be in the mix to make a second-consecutive postseason appearance.

Jay Cutler is brought into a system run by Adam Gase, who he had his best season under in Chicago. He’s not a great quarterback by any means, but he’s got the right coaching staff as well as some decent targets and a solid running game.

The Dolphins are pretty much a guarantee to get second in the East, as they are clearly not at the Patriots’ level but a tier or two above the Bills and Jets.

Three key games: Week 2 at LA Chargers, Week 13 vs, Broncos, Week 16 at Chiefs

 

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3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)

Tyrod Taylor may very well be the most underrated quarterback in the NFL. The problem is that the rest of the team is pretty awful.

LeSean McCoy is still an elite running back, but Taylor will have to deal with a slight downgrade in terms of targets as Sammy Watkins is out in favor of Jordan Matthews.

Also, the defense isn’t what it was a few years ago, so staying in the playoff picture is a bit of a stretch.

The positive? No more Rex Ryan.

Three key games: Week 1 vs. NY Jets, Week 12 vs. New Orleans, Week 14 vs. Indianapolis

 

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4. New York Jets (1-15)

For all of the 0-16 prognostications, the Jets actually don’t have a terrible defense. The offense, however, is so bad that the 0-16 may actually be a possibility. There’s a void at the quarterback position, there’s a void on the offensive line, and pretty much everywhere else.

Matt Forte and Bilal Powell as a running back combo isn’t awful, but they don’t have good blockers and other defenses can focus their attention more on New York’s run game since the passing game is so terrible.

Three key games: Week 4 vs. Jacksonville, Week 5 at Cleveland, Week 9 vs. Buffalo

 

AFC North

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1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

One of these years, Ben Roethlisberger is going to run out of steam. But not yet. Not with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell helping him out.

Pittsburgh’s defense still could use some work, but the Steelers boast what has to still be considered the NFL’s most dynamic and explosive offense.

Three key games: Week 4 at Baltimore, Week 12 vs. Green Bay, Week 15 at New England

 

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2. Baltimore Ravens (7-9)

The Ravens are your stereotypical middle-of-the-pack team. If all the dominoes fall in the right direction, we could see them playing postseason football, but it’s not extremely likely.

Baltimore’s linebacker corps is tough, but the rest of the defense is not what it used to be. The offense should be interesting and a bit unpredictable, however, as Joe Flacco has two veteran wideouts to throw to in Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin (if he can stay healthy), as well as two pass-catching backs in Terrance West and Danny Woodhead (if he can stay healthy)…notice a trend?

Three key games: Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh, Week 12 vs. Houston, Week 17 vs. Cincinnati

 

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3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Bengals going into this season.

A.J. Green is healthy, which helps the passing game, but the loss of star tackle Andrew Whitworth may hurt Andy Dalton’s game. Then again, John Ross creates another target for Dalton while Joe Mixon joins Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to form quite an interesting three-back system.

Also, it’s tough to complain about a defense with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap up front, but there are still some questions about the secondary.

In the end, Marvin Lewis just hasn’t been able to get over the hump in Cincinnati and it doesn’t look like there’s any reason to believe this year will be different.

Three key games: Week 8 vs. Indianapolis, Week 11 at Denver, Week 17 at Baltimore

 

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4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)

Wow, three wins!

The Browns are going in the right direction after making some solid offseason trades and smart draft picks (other than Jabrill Peppers).

DeShone Kizer has to potential to open some eyes as the new starting quarterback while Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. can make some noise on the ground.

Also, Myles Garrett is an absolute monster.

This isn’t the year, but better days are not far away on the shores of Lake Erie.

Three key games: Week 4 vs. Jets, Week 8 vs. Vikings (in London), Week 11 vs. Jacksonville

 

AFC South

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1. Tennessee Titans (10-6)

The Titans are a popular pick to win the South for the first time in years, and for good reason.

Marcus Mariota should be expected to only build on his stellar 2016 season after the front office added two pass-catchers in Eric Decker and Corey Davis.

Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry make up a good duo on the ground, the line is good and the defense is respectable. Don’t be surprised if the Titans meet their lofty expectations.

 

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2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)

Missing Andrew Luck for at least the first game of this season due to injury could come back to bite the Colts. Being in a logjam of average teams in the AFC, every game matters that much more to Indianapolis.

On the plus side, the Colts have the easiest schedule in the league. There aren’t too many tough games on the slate, and the ones that are tough will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Sure, the offensive line and defense are still pretty awful, but Indy focused on its weaknesses in this year’s draft, taking safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Quincy Wilson and defensive end Tarell Basham with its first three picks.

A 9-7 mark is asking for just a one-game improvement from last year. With the schedule in their favor and a defense that should be a little better, the Colts can do it.

Three key games: Week 12 vs. Tennessee, Week 16 at Baltimore, Week 17 vs. Houston

 

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3. Houston Texans (7-9)

Houston finished with the NFL’s best defense last year and was without J.J. Watt for a large chunk of the season. So if you want to know what to expect when the Texans don’t have the ball, there you go.

The problem comes when they do have the ball. Tom Savage is the starter at quarterback as of now, but DeShaun Watson is expected by many to take over at some point this season. But no matter which inexperienced quarterback is under center, his line won’t be that great and he won’t have much to throw to other than DeAndre Hopkins.

The Texans could certainly make it in as a wild card or even as a division winner again, but likely improvements from Tennessee and Indianapolis could leave Houston out of the playoffs.

Three key games: Week 5 vs. Kansas City, Week 12 at Baltimore, Week 17 at Indianapolis

 

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4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)

What people are saying about the Titans this year is similar to what they were saying about the Jaguars last year. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

At 3-13, the Jaguars showed us that Blake Bortles wasn’t quite who we thought he was as a quarterback, and he appears to still be the starter this year.

On the plus side, five or six wins is definitely possible this season.

While Bortles isn’t exactly a standout talent, he’s got some good receivers and an exciting rookie running back in Leonard Fournette.

Also, Jacksonville’s defense could be pretty stellar, boasting Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler Jr. up front, Paul Posluszny and Myles Jack at linebacker and star corner Jalen Ramsey in the secondary. That’s quite a group.

Three key games: Week 9 vs. Cincinnati, Week 13 vs. Indianapolis, Week 15 vs. Houston

 

AFC West

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1. Oakland Raiders (11-5)

2016 was an incredible year for the Raiders – until Derek Carr went down and, well, that was that.

With Carr healthy, the Raiders are in position to wrap up the AFC West crown. The young, explosive defense has a year of winning under its belt and Oakland’s top two competitors from last year (Kansas City and Denver) may see a decline.

Also, the Raiders have a wild card at running back in Marshawn Lynch. Can he be as explosive as he was before his one-year retirement? If so, look out.

Three key games: Week 1 at Tennessee, Week 11 vs. New England (in Mexico City), Week 14 at Chiefs

 

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2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)

The Chiefs are an interesting team. They quietly had a spectacular year in 2016, but lost their first playoff game at home to Pittsburgh after coming up flat on offense.

Not a ton has changed this year, although Kareem Hunt will replace the injured Spencer Ware at running back.

While the offense is still nothing to get too excited about, the defense – particularly the secondary – should again be terrific. Plus, the linebacker corps could get a boost if the newly-acquired Reggie Ragland can meet his potential.

Three key games: Week 5 at Houston, Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh, Week 14 vs. Oakland

 

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Atlanta Falcons

3. Los Angeles Chargers (8-8)

An underrated defense, a blooming running back, an experienced quarterback and a healthy group of receivers has the Chargers looking ready to make a big leap in their first year back in Los Angeles.

There’s still some inexperience, but if (big if) guys like Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin can stay off the IR this year, the Chargers will be able to put up some points. Playoffs certainly are not out of reach.

Three key games: Week 2 vs. Miami, Week 12 at Dallas, Week 17 vs. Oakland

 

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4. Denver Broncos (6-10)

From Super Bowl champion to division cellar in two years? Unfortunately for the Broncos, it’s about to happen.

The Orange Crush Defense won’t be exactly as dominant as it was two years ago, but it is still one of the best in the NFL.

Offensively, though, the Broncos are a step behind their competitors.

A wild card isn’t totally out of the question (Denver is one of those average AFC teams I mentioned earlier), but it could be a longshot given how competitive the West is.

Three key games: Week 7 at LA Chargers, Week 15 at Indianapolis, Week 17 vs. Kansas City

 

NFC East

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1. New York Giants (10-6)

Sure, the Giants had some ridiculously lucky wins last season. Sure, the running game is a big question mark.

But you know what isn’t a question mark? New York’s defense and it’s receiving trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard, along with rookie tight end Evan Engram.

Any of the four teams in the East can win the division this year, but the Giants have the edge thanks to their top-tier defense and a passing game that should be dynamite.

Three key games: Week 7 vs. Seattle, Week 14 vs. Dallas, Week 16 at Arizona

 

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2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

Last year’s 13-3 season was completely unexpected, especially with Dez Bryant missing a handful of games. How will the young Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott & Co. adapt now that the target is on their backs?

Also Elliott’s suspension, regardless of how long it is, will put a lot more pressure on Prescott and his receivers. The offensive line is one of football’s best but is a combination of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Ronnie Hillman good enough to shoulder the load in some tough early games?

Lastly, the defense is prone to giving up the big play, and losing Barry Church and Morris Claiborne could make what was a mediocre secondary even worse.

Still, the offensive line and explosiveness of Dallas’s offense should be good enough to keep the Cowboys in the playoff conversation, even if a repeat of last season’s 13-3 mark is a major stretch.

Three key games: Week 5 vs. Green Bay, Week 10 at Atlanta, Week 14 at NY Giants

 

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T3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)

Carson Wentz had some struggles in his rookie season, but tons of dropped passes didn’t help him out.

Management went out and grabbed two proven pass-catchers in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and now Wentz seems in position to establish himself as a decent starting QB.

The Eagles appear to be on the way up and Wentz is behind most of it, but the defense needs to hold up its end of the bargain. Exciting rookie Derek Barnett will join veteran Brandon Graham on the end while Tim Jernigan and Fletcher Cox create a fun pair at defensive tackle. Newly-added corner Ronald Darby will join Malcolm Jenkins in the backfield. While the D isn’t elite by any means, it should certainly be improved this year.

Three key games: Week 6 at Carolina, Week 7 at Washington, Week 17 vs. Dallas

 

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins

T3. Washington Redskins (8-8)

It’s a big year for Kirk Cousins, who some think is auditioning for a job in San Francisco in 2018 once his contract is up. Unfortunately for him, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon are no longer on the roster.

Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson will have to step up and play bigger roles, but the front office acquired Terrelle Pryor Sr. to provide a No. 1 target with Jackson and Garçon missing. Also, Cousins has one of the best tight ends in football in Jordan Reed.

The offense, however, may be one-dimensional as Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine make up a lackluster trio of backs.

On defense, rookie Jonathan Allen could be a standout at defensive end and the secondary could challenge New York’s for best in the division, but the Redskins fall in the middle of the pack overall.

Three key games: Week 7 vs. Philadelphia, Week 12 vs. NY Giants, Week 13 at Dallas

 

NFC North

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1. Green Bay Packers (11-5)

Always tough to go against Aaron Rodgers, especially with yet another experienced target in Martellus Bennett joining the squad.

The defense isn’t one of the league’s elite units and it remains to be seen what kind of impact Ty Montgomery will have on the running game, especially without TJ Lang on the line anymore, but as long as the league’s best quarterback is under center, the Packers are the favorite to win the North.

Three key games: Week 2 at Atlanta, Week 12 at Pittsburgh, Week 17 at Detroit

 

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2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

Things were looking great for the Vikings after last year’s 5-0 start. Then it quickly became 5-4…then finished at 8-8.

The reason for Minnesota’s start was its defense, which should again be pretty dominant.

The reason for the 3-8 finish was its offense, which should certainly be better.

Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray are an upgrade on last year’s Matt Asiata-injured Adrian Peterson duo, Pat Elflein is a strong rookie center who should make the offensive line much tougher as a whole and Sam Bradford has four legitimate targets to throw to. Expect the Vikes to be right in the wild card hunt and possibly even challenge Green Bay for the division.

Three key games: Week 6 vs. Green Bay, Week 12 at Detroit, Week 14 at Carolina

 

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3. Detroit Lions (8-8)

Matthew Stafford is the highest-paid man in NFL history, but he still can’t win outside, beat contenders or win a playoff game.

Okay, a lot of that isn’t his fault. A bad offensive line, lack of a running game or an elite receiver and a secondary prone to giving up big plays has hurt the Lions in recent years – or at least forced Stafford to pull weekly rations of magic out of his sleeve in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for Stafford and the Lions this year, the schedule finishes up with a brutal stretch of outdoor road games. If you’re not the type of person who thinks what’s been proven time and time again in the past doesn’t mean anything, those problems mentioned above still exist. And the jury is still out as to whether or not Ameer Abdullah is any good if he’s healthy.

I’ve got Detroit at 8-8 – and that’s WITH home wins against Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina and Green Bay.

Three key games:  Week 4 at Minnesota, Week 12 vs. Minnesota (Thanksgiving), Week 17 vs. Green Bay

 

NFL: Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4. Chicago Bears (3-13)

The Cameron Meredith injury hurts. Bad.

Okay, even with Meredith the Bears weren’t going to come close to the playoffs, but he was a high-upside receiver that they could’ve used because, well, their quarterback position isn’t exactly ideal.

Jordan Howard will get plenty of carries as one of the league’s better running backs, but the receiving corps now stars unproven youngster Kevin White along with a depth receiver in Markus Wheaton and some washed-up names like Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz.

The defense isn’t awful, but it could’ve been much better with a guy like, oh I don’t know, Solomon Thomas or any of the other players the 49ers picked/will pick with the Bears’ selections they received in this spring’s senseless trade.

Three key games: Week 11 vs. Detroit, Week 13 vs. San Francisco, Week 16 vs. Cleveland

 

NFC South

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1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)

Did anyone expect the Cowboys and Falcons to top the standings in the NFC at this time last year? How about the Panthers at this point in 2015? That’s right, it’s Tampa’s turn to catapult to the top of the conference.

Jameis Winston will establish himself as an elite NFL quarterback this season with veteran DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard joining stud receiver Mike Evans. Jacquizz Rodgers should be able to hold down the fort until Doug Martin returns from suspension in Week 4, making the ground game a bit of a threat as well.

Defensively, the Bucs aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough. Gerald McCoy is still a force to be reckoned with while Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes are a good pair of corners.

Three key games: Week 12 at Atlanta, Week 15 vs. Atlanta, Week 16 at Carolina

 

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2. Carolina Panthers (10-6)

So after their post-Super Bowl letdown last season, the Panthers are trying to right the ship and get back to 2015 form.

Cam Newton, repaired rotator cuff and all, gets a little bit of help as rookie running back Christian McCaffrey hopes to add another dimension to the offense. The line still isn’t good, but the Panthers will have loads of options when in possession along with plenty of the same players that led them to a 15-1 record two years ago.

On defense, Carolina still misses Josh Norman but looks to be a little bit better than middle-of-the-pack in the NFL. A return to the playoffs is a definite possibility.

Three key games: Week 5 at Detroit, Week 9 vs. Atlanta, Week 14 vs. Minnesota

 

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3. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)

Atlanta’s still got all the goods on paper. An above-average quarterback, multiple deep threats, a two-back system headlined by the fantastic Devonta Freeman and a really good defense that improved greatly last year under Dan Quinn.

It seems like the Falcons have all the tools to get back to the Super Bowl this year and maybe not lose this time around.

Except that loss hurt. A lot.

Look how the Seahawks played the season after their heartbreaking Super Bowl loss in 2015. Look how the Panthers played after dropping the Big Game in 2016.

Football is an emotional game, and history has shown that losing the Super Bowl could have ramifications on the next year.

Also, take a look at Julio Jones’ final few games down the stretch last year. Is it possible that he’s starting to decline?

Expect Atlanta to lose a few surprising games this year.

Three key games: Week 7 at New England, Week 13 vs. Minnesota, Week 15 at Tampa Bay

 

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4. New Orleans Saints (6-10)

Some are high on the Saints after the addition of Adrian Peterson, but this is the year it starts to come crashing down.

New Orleans has straddled the line of mediocrity for years now, Drew Brees is another year older, Sean Payton will do pretty much anything to avoid using Mark Ingram, the defense is still one of the league’s worst and star receiver Brandin Cooks is gone.

Not to mention the fact that the Falcons are last year’s defending conference champion and Tampa Bay and Carolina should both be better. Getting out of the basement in the South will be a tough task for the Saints, but it may finally kickstart the rebuild that is about two or three years overdue.

Three key games: Week 10 at Buffalo, Week 11 vs. Washington, Week 13 vs. Carolina

 

NFC West

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1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

There are questions about the Thomas Rawls-Eddie Lacy tandem at running back and obviously the offensive line, but this is still one of the top teams in the NFC.

Let’s not forget that the Seahawks, who are practically unbeatable at home and normally mediocre on the road, went to New England last season and came out with a victory.

The line, while still below-average, should be a bit better this year with former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel coming into the fold and some of the young linemen getting more experience. If Russell Wilson has any time at all (and he will because he knows how to buy some for himself), he’ll find Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson or Tyler Lockett.

But the reason Seattle is so good, again, is the defense. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner and others still make up what may be the best group in the NFL.

Three key games: Week 1 at Green Bay, Week 7 at NY Giants, Week 10 at Arizona

 

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2. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

Bruce Arians is a great coach, David Johnson is a great running back and Arizona has a great secondary.

The rest of the team, however, is the definition of the word “mediocre”.  The Cardinals went a disappointing 7-8-1 last season after being pegged as one of the top favorites to win the Super Bowl. Johnson had an unforgettable season, but pretty much everything else went wrong for Arizona.

Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are getting up there in age, and if they become ineffective, opposing defenses can key in on Johnson even more. Also, the defense doesn’t really have a ton of room for improvement either: the Cardinals were second in the NFL in terms of yards-per-game-against (maybe it helped playing four games against the Rams and 49ers) in 2016 and still only won seven games.

Three key games: Week 10 vs. Seattle, Week 15 at Washington, Week 16 vs. NY Giants

 

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3. Los Angeles Rams (6-10)

2016 No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff, while unimpressive in his first season, now has a talented receiver in Sammy Watkins and a potential standout rookie to throw to in third-round pick Cooper Kupp.

Also, Goff’s head coach is no longer Jeff Fisher (that’s a plus), he has a ground threat to back him up in Todd Gurley and the addition of Andrew Whitworth gives the Rams the best offensive line in the NFC West (although there isn’t much competition).

All of the tools are in place for Goff to succeed, but it remains to be seen if he is the right man for the job. Still, this team is good enough to win six or seven, maybe even eight games in 2017.

Three key games: Week 5 vs. Seattle, Week 12 vs. New Orleans, Week 14 vs. Philadelphia

 

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4. San Francisco 49ers (2-14)

The aforementioned trade with the Bears puts the 49ers in a good spot for the future, but only after they draft their future QB with a top-five pick next spring.

Simply put, the Niners are rebuilding. Carlos Hyde and Pierre Garçon could have decent personal seasons since they will be relied upon so heavily, but don’t expect more than four wins at the absolute most.

Three key games: Week 3 vs. LA Rams, Week 13 at Chicago, Week 16 vs. Jacksonville

 

Playoff Standings (NOTE: I went through each team’s schedule game-by-game and picked winners for each game. The official tiebreakers were used to determine these seedings.)

AFC
1. New England Patriots (15-1)
2. Oakland Raiders (11-5)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
4. Tennessee Titans (10-6)
5. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
6. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)

NFC
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)
2. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
3. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
4. New York Giants (10-6)
5. Carolina Panthers (10-6)
6. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

 

AFC Wild Card Round

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The Chiefs get another shot at the team that knocked them out of the divisional round last year, except this time, it’s in hostile territory.

The matchup of Pittsburgh’s offense and Kansas City’s defense is what will draw eyes to the TV in this one, but again, the Steeler offense proves too good in the end.

Steelers 24, Chiefs 16

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans

In their first playoff game since 2009, the Titans will host divisional foe Indianapolis. While the Colts have the more experienced quarterback in Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota has a few more weapons at his disposal.

Also, Tennessee’s defense is more capable of stopping Luck than vice-versa.

Titans 31, Colts 21

 

NFC Wild Card Round

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Aaron Rodgers and the high-powered Packers offense will take on division rival Minnesota in the bitter cold once again.

While the Vikings have one of the NFL’s best defensive units, Rodgers has proven time and time again that he can score on anyone. Green Bay wins another January game at Lambeau.

Packers 27, Vikings 20

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In what should be the most unpredictable game of the first round, Cam Newton and the Panthers make their triumphant return to the postseason by taking a trip to a chilly MetLife Stadium.

The weather makes this a game that will be decided mainly on the ground – a turn that heavily favors Carolina. The Panther ground game is much better than New York’s, whose dominant secondary will not come into play as much as it would like to.

Panthers 23, Giants 14

 

AFC Divisional Round

Tom Brady, Karl Klug, Mike Martin

Sure, the Titans are trending up and may someday be the cream of the crop in the AFC, but they’re going to take one on the chin here at Gilette. Chalk it up as a learning experience.

Patriots 35, Titans 14

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Raiders and Steelers are about as evenly-matched as two teams can get in the AFC. When the talent level is about even, experience takes precedent. Pittsburgh’s defense comes up with a dominant performance while Big Ben & Co. scrape out another big road playoff win.

Steelers 20, Raiders 10

 

NFC Divisional Round

USP NFL: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS S FBN USA NC

Warmer weather in Tampa means that the Panthers will have to be ready for one of the league’s top aerial attacks. Both teams should have each other figured out a bit by this point as it will be their third meeting of the year, making for an exciting cat-and-mouse game.

The Buccaneers don’t disappoint in their first playoff game since 2008, taking down their division rivals and moving one win away from the Super Bowl.

Buccaneers 28, Panthers 17

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The captivating Seattle-Green Bay rivalry will add another chapter in January 2018 with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line.

On a neutral field, Green Bay may have the upper hand. However, winning on the road at CenturyLink Field at any time of the year, especially the playoffs, is one of the toughest tasks in sports.

Seahawks 31, Packers 28

 

AFC Championship

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship goes the same way. While the Steelers are talented, the Patriots are just too good to drop this game, especially at home.

Patriots 31, Steelers 23

 

NFC Championship

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A raucous crowd shows up to hopefully watch their Buccaneers punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Standing in the way are the Legion of Boom and Russell Wilson’s offense.

The LOB delivers, smothering Winston and his receivers, allowing Wilson to put up just enough points to send Seattle to a Super Bowl 49 rematch.

Seahawks 23, Buccaneers 15

 

Super Bowl LII

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Determined to shake off the bad taste left in their mouths after choking away the Super Bowl three years ago, the Seahawks come out of the gates and nab an early 10-0 lead.

However, the lead quickly evaporates and the Patriots find their niche again. Brady and Gronk hook up for a pair of touchdowns while the defense is able to stop Wilson in his tracks. New England wins its sixth Super Bowl since the 2001-02 season.

Patriots 28, Seahawks 16

Top Ten Linkin Park Songs

The music community was dealt another devastating blow this week, as Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington was found dead of an apparent suicide Thursday morning in his home. He was 41.

In honor of Bennington’s impact on a countless amount of people, one-of-a-kind talent and the mark he left on my childhood in particular, here are the 10 greatest songs from Linkin Park’s nearly two decades of music.

 

10. New Divide (2009)

Linkin Park wrote “New Divide” specifically to serve as the theme for the 2009 film Transformers 2: Revenge of The Fallen.

It did its job, mixing in some elements of sci-fi and action along with a hint of pop, and fusing them with the signature alternative rock/metal sound that led to Linkin Park’s popularity.

“New Divide” also enjoyed quite a bit of success outside of just being part of a movie soundtrack. It received plenty of air time in the summer of 2009 around the globe, and for good reason.

 

9. Papercut (2000)

One of Bennington’s favorite songs, “Papercut” is the opening track on Linkin Park’s breakthrough album Hybrid Theory.

“Papercut” is an intense 3:05 of Mike Shinoda rapping verses with Bennington belting out the chorus, par for the course for much of the band’s earliest work, along with a glorious bridge that shifts a bit from the rest of the song’s style before mixing everything together at the end.

 

8. Somewhere I Belong (2003)

Like Hybrid Theory, 2003’s Meteora featured lots of the rap-rock style that Linkin Park fans fell in love with.

“Somewhere I Belong”, however, shows a bit of evolution in the band’s sound. Shinoda’s verses are a bit deeper and more relaxed while Bennington’s vocals take on more of a grunge-type sound.

 

7. Bleed It Out (2007)

Even critics of Linkin Park’s 2007 album Minutes to Midnight were happy with “Bleed It Out”, which was a perfect throwback to the band’s earlier, harder work.

While it is less than three minutes long, “Bleed It Out” combines intense rapping from Shinoda and a hard chorus from Bennington with an overarching theme of frustration, quenching the thirst of fans who were waiting for something reminiscent of Hybrid Theory or Meteora.

 

6. One Step Closer (2000)

The song that put Linkin Park on the map. The band introduced its unique style by taking a typical early-2000’s alternative feel and turning it up a few notches by adding both heavy metal and hip-hop elements.

Each verse begins quiet and simple before growing in intensity and exploding into a classic Bennington chorus.

 

5. Crawling (2000)

Another song that truly showcases Bennington’s ridiculous vocal ability, “Crawling” has withstood the test of time and remains a fan favorite to this day.

Bennington often had trouble performing the song live because of its emotional background, as it was written to illustrate his earlier struggles with substance abuse.

 

4. Heavy (2016)

Speaking of emotional songs, there may not be a tougher one to listen to given Bennington’s death than “Heavy”.

Unpopular among many fans because of its departure from Linkin Park’s earlier, harder work, “Heavy” featured Bennington and pop artist Kiiara singing about depression and personal struggles.

Already a moving song with a deep backstory, the lyrics from “Heavy” take on a whole new significance given the tragic end to Bennington’s life.

 

3. What I’ve Done (2007)

It may have been the theme song to 2007’s Transformers, but “What I’ve Done” became much more than just that.

A hit about Linkin Park’s maturation and openness to newer and more meaningful material, “What I’ve Done” showcases Bennington’s vocals with powerful lyrics about making a significant change.

 

2. Numb (2003)

A song that still received plenty of air time 14 years after its release, it’s not hard to see what makes “Numb” such a great tune.

Like many of Linkin Park’s other hits, “Numb” features excellent vocals from Bennington and contains lyrics about some sort of struggle. It resonated with all types of music fans – ones who were looking for a hard, somewhat angry track to rock out to as well as fans who enjoy songs with deeper meanings.

“Numb” was remixed with Jay-Z’s “Encore” in 2004 – an excellent collaboration that was well-received by many in the music community.

 

1. In The End (2000)

Still the most recognizable Linkin Park song to this day, and it doesn’t take much to see why.

“In The End” combines one of Shinoda’s best rapping performances along with more terrific vocals by Bennington as they overlay a dramatic, haunting piano riff that brings in the tune and closes it out.

The song states that “in the end, it doesn’t even matter”, but in reality, it did. Bennington made a positive impact on so many people in the music community and beyond, and will be remembered as not only an extremely talented musician, but one of the most likable human beings in rock history.

Thriving, Endangered, Extinct: Diagnosing what killed the Detroit Tigers

The goal was simple: win at all costs.

But they didn’t.

After years of division titles, MVP awards, Cy Youngs, and countless All Star Game selections, the Detroit Tigers are, right on cue, feeling the repercussions of going all-in to win a title for aging owner Mike Ilitch.

Now that the core of the team that won four straight division titles from 2011 through 2014 has been broken up, the Tigers are on the inevitable downslide that was expected to happen after years of winning.

Except they didn’t win.

Well, they won, but never achieved the ultimate goal. Ilitch’s death in January punctuated an era that, in the long run, will be considered a failure.

Now, we are left with a carcass of a baseball team, wondering what could have been.

The four division titles, five playoff appearances and two American League pennants since 2006 look nice, and provided some fun memories for Tigers fans along the way, but there will always be an empty feeling for Detroiters looking back at these years.

When did the downfall begin? Tough to say.

It’s easy to look back on an October night in Boston, where one Joaquin Benoit changeup to David Ortiz reversed Detroit’s path from likely World Series winner to dead meat in 2013.

From there, the Tigers went on to win just one more playoff game, losing to the Red Sox in six and getting swept by the Orioles the following year before tumbling all the way to the division’s cellar in 2015.

It was a quick death, but it was far from painless.

Heading into the 2013 offseason, Detroit still had assembled a team that looked capable of winning a ring the following year. But after veteran manager Jim Leyland hung up his cleats, the Tigers went in a completely new direction.

They hired a manager with zero coaching experience in professional baseball. Not just in the Major Leagues. Not just zero managerial experience.

Zero. Coaching. Experience.

Unless you want to count managing Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Sure, Brad Ausmus was a successful big league catcher like most managers, but right off the bat, his hiring raised plenty of question marks.

For an organization apparently set on winning now at all costs, hiring an inexperienced manager made little sense. But did this hiring signal a change in direction? Were the Tigers finally going to give a little thought to the future instead of throwing all of their eggs into the basket of the present?

Well, not exactly. They made a highly-criticized trade soon after, sending starting pitcher Doug Fister to Washington for Steve Lombardozzi, Robbie Ray and Ian Krol.

Sending away Fister left a void that is, in a sense, still waiting to be filled. Detroit got some good young talent in return, but any thoughts of prepping for the future were wiped away when Lombardozzi was flipped for ancient shortstop Alex Gonzalez…who was released almost immediately after.

Also before the 2014 season, the Tigers locked up slugger Miguel Cabrera for 10 more years – a contract which will pay Cabrera $32 million in his age 40 season.

Not exactly setting up a great future.

The Tigers needed some bullpen help (surprise!), so they traded highly-regarded prospects Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel for Joakim Soria – a steady closer whose best days were clearly behind him.

Knebel is now an All Star closer himself, for what it’s worth.

Soon after, at the 2014 trade deadline in the heat of a pennant race, the Tigers went for it again.

Detroit dished out two everyday players in center fielder Austin Jackson and young starter Drew Smyly, along with top prospect Willy Adames, for 2012 Cy Young winner David Price.

Price was, and is to this day, a guy who puts up impressive numbers but disappoints when it matters. He has never won a postseason start and holds a 5.54 ERA in October.

Well, it didn’t work out in Detroit and he was dealt away for a modest prospect package a year later.

But let’s back it up a bit.

After the 2014 season, the Tigers elected to let ace pitcher Max Scherzer pack his bags.

Unlike Price, Scherzer had experienced postseason success in his career and showed no signs of slowing down any time soon. He’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball today, in the midst of his third Cy Young-caliber season with the Washington Nationals.

But the “win-at-all costs” Tigers couldn’t afford him. Not after inking Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez and others to absolutely ludicrous deals.

Then again, they didn’t have an issue signing Jordan Zimmermann, who is clearly a tier or two lower than Scherzer as far as starting pitchers go, to a contract worth about $22 million per year just one offseason later.

Oh, and then $13.5 million more to Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe.

Basically, it comes down to inconsistency. Not the inconsistency that the offense or back end of the pitching rotation has experienced in recent years, but inconsistency in the front office to pick a direction and stick with it.

Inconsistency and, to quote the charming but historically inaccurate baseball flick Moneyball, “an imperfect understanding of where wins come from”.

Take a look at the past five World Series champs: 2012 Giants, 2013 Red Sox, 2014 Giants, 2015 Royals, 2016 Cubs.

A few things they all had in common: role players, unsung heroes, ridiculously strong bullpens and, perhaps most importantly, ridiculously strong bonds in the clubhouse.

Everyone in the big leagues can play baseball. Not everyone can play together. Watch some of this year’s contenders like Houston, Cleveland or Los Angeles. Hell, try to remember what it was like in the Tigers’ clubhouse five years ago.

High fives, special handshakes, pranks, jokes, smiles, dancing. Everywhere you look.

It doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see that the atmosphere in the Detroit dugout has taken a complete 180.

Jose Iglesias is there thinking to himself about what flashy play he’s going to make next inning.

Miguel Cabrera has a dejected look on his face as he hobbles back after a disappointing at-bat.

Victor Martinez is angry about Comerica Park “robbing” him of what he thought should have been a home run.

The front office has neglected to acknowledge the importance of two of these essential elements of winning teams in recent years: clubhouse chemistry and clutch performers.

Here are a couple of examples.

 

Cameron Maybin

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Maybin was brought back last season to fill a hole in center field. He missed the first month and a half of the season due to injury while Detroit hovered around the .500 mark.

However, his return provided a fresh breath of life into a team desperately in need of a spark. He was the perfect medicine to Detroit’s ailment, getting timely hits while also lightening up the clubhouse atmosphere.

Maybin’s bright smile was visible from all around the ballpark and his antics during exciting moments amped his teammates up.

Thanks in major part to Maybin’s contributions, the Tigers remained in the playoff race up until the season’s final week.

He was dealt to the Angels in the offseason because the Tigers were not willing to pay him $9 million. He currently leads the American League in stolen bases and the Angels are surprisingly hanging around in the playoff picture, even without slugger Mike Trout in the lineup.

 

Torii Hunter

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Everyone in baseball knows how great of a guy Torii Hunter is, and Tigers fans got a brief taste in 2013 and 2014.

Hunter led some of the team’s victory dances and champagne celebrations and also chipped in on the field, racking up a numerous amount of late-inning hits in close games despite being near the end of his career.

Detroit did not re-sign Hunter for the 2015, as he finished up his career where it began in Minnesota. The Tigers dropped from first to last in the division while the Twins enjoyed a 13-game improvement (and then dropped off the face of the earth the following year after Hunter’s retirement).

The Tigers instead opted to replace Hunter in the outfield with Anthony Gose, who was acquired in exchange for current Blue Jays starting second baseman Devon Travis.

Gose did not exactly have the positive impact Hunter did, eventually getting sent to Double-A due to his poor performance, alienating reporters due to his negativity, and converting to a pitcher in a last-ditch attempt to salvage his career.

 

Delmon Young

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Maybe Delmon Young isn’t as likable of a human being as Maybin and Hunter, but he was unfairly tossed to the curb after providing two years of October magic in the Motor City.

Young mashed five home runs for the Tigers in the 2011 postseason, including three in a five-game series win over the Yankees in the ALDS.

He followed up by winning the ALCS MVP award in 2012, batting .353 and driving in six runs during Detroit’s four-game sweep of the Yankees en route to another World Series appearance. Despite muteness from pretty much the rest of the lineup in the fall classic, Young made up for his below-average defense by hitting a .357 clip against the Giants.

With no room left on the roster the following year as Young’s glove would likely relegate him to a DH spot already occupied by Victor Martinez, he was let go.

Young suited up for Tampa Bay in the 2013 playoffs, unsurprisingly lifting a solo homer in the Rays’ Wild Card Game win over the Indians.

In 2014, the Tigers looked primed to tie their ALDS series against the Baltimore Orioles, taking a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth.

The Orioles made it 6-4 and then took the lead for good on a three-run double later in the inning. The batter? Delmon Young.

 

An imperfect understanding of where wins come from.

 

Overspending on players who fill up the stats sheet has been proven time and time again to fail. Building through the system, trusting the process, and bringing in core pieces who gel together neatly and contribute when called upon is the way to create champions.

If the Tigers were so focused on winning at all costs, why did they hire Brad Ausmus and say goodbye to Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Cameron Maybin, Torii Hunter and Delmon Young, among others?

If they made those moves with the future in mind, why did they make the David Price trade? Why did they make the overreaches of the century in the Alfredo Simon and Joakim Soria trades, among others?

Now all that’s left is a carcass. And what do you do with a carcass on your lawn? Let it rot? Nope.

Move it.

The trade deadline is July 31.

My 2017 MLB All Star Rosters

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With voting ending last night, let’s take a look at what Sunday night’s roster reveal SHOULD (but probably won’t) look like.

Each team will consist of 13 pitchers and 21 position players, giving each team 34 players.

Remember, some players still may be snubbed because of the league’s rule that requires at least one player from each club to make the team.

Also, injured players who will still be on the disabled list, like Mike Trout and Trea Turner, will not be included.

 

American League

Starters

C Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
1B Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays
2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
OF Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
OF George Springer, Houston Astros
OF Avisail Garcia, Chicago White Sox
DH Corey Dickerson, Tampa Bay Rays

Reserves

C Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
C Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
1B Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2B Starlin Castro, New York Yankees
2B Robinson Canó, Seattle Mariners
2B Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
3B Miguel Sanó, Minnesota Twins
3B Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
SS Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
OF Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics
OF Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees

Pitchers

SP Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
SP Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
SP Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros
SP Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins
SP Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
SP Luis Severino, New York Yankees
SP Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
SP Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
SP Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
RP Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
RP Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
RP Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
RP Chris Devenski, Houston Astros

 

National League

Starters

C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
2B Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
3B Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
OF Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
OF Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins
OF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
DH Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Reserves

C Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves
C J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
1B Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
1B Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
2B Yangervis Solarte, San Diego Padres
3B Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
3B Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers
SS Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
OF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
OF Jay Bruce, New York Mets
OF Aaron Altherr, Philadelphia Phillies

Pitchers

SP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
SP Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
SP Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
SP Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh Pirates
SP Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
SP Alex Wood, Los Angeles Dodgers
RP Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs
RP Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
RP Cory Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
RP Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates
RP Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies
RP Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks