Games of the Week is a series intended to highlight a few games I find interesting across various professional sports. I’ll also include a game of the “weak,” showing off the worst matchups for each sport that I can find, and make some terrible predictions that will unfailingly be wrong. Stats are accurate as of 9/14.
NFL (Week Two)
Game of the Weak: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, 9/17 @ 4:25 PM ET
There were a few solid contenders for this slot this week (Arizona sans-David Johnson versus Indianapolis sans-Andrew Luck sounds depressing, and the Jets are traveling to Oakland to get browbeaten), but I’m taking the Niners and Seahawks because of what that matchup used to be. It’s honestly hard to believe these teams played each other in the NFC Championship game as recently as 2013.
The Niners are, of course, a garbage fire. Even a lethargic-looking Panthers offense was too much for this defense to handle – not that it would have even mattered, considering the Niners offense managed only three points at home. Brian Hoyer is filled with bees and Carlos Hyde and Pierre Garcon look like they desperately need a new home, while ludicrously expensive fullback (a descriptor I can’t believe I’m typing in 2017) Kyle Juszczyk had three touches for 17 total yards. There’s practically nothing to like here.
Seattle can’t ask for a better bounce-back game than this, and they will probably handle their business, but they did look awful last week against Green Bay. Eddie Lacy only needed five carries to show how little he has to offer, and I don’t understand why second-year back C.J. Prosise would receive only four carries and no targets, especially with Thomas Rawls not suiting up. Rawls is expected to return this week, but I’m still not expecting much from this running game. The Seahawks need to show some progress.
Prediction: Seahawks 20, Niners 6
The Seahawks take this one pretty handily, but not quite convincingly enough to quiet concerns about their stagnant offense. Thomas Rawls looks rusty, Eddie Lacy gets a handful of unearned carries, and Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise don’t get involved enough. The Niners, meanwhile, do nothing of note and fail to score their first touchdown of the season.
Player to Watch: Doug Baldwin (6 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD)
Somebody, somewhere has to step up for the Seahawks offense, and Baldwin is both their best skill position player and Russell Wilson’s favorite target. While the running game won’t be sorted out just yet, I think the passing game comes together this week, and Baldwin and Jimmy Graham would stand to be the biggest beneficiaries.
Honorable Mention: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons, 9/17 @ 8:30 PM ET
I went a bit unconventional with my NFL picks this week, as I’d imagine most people would probably tab this high-profile Sunday Night Football matchup as their number one choice this weekend. I don’t doubt this will be a fun game; offense is always fun, and Aaron Rodgers squaring off against Matt Ryan is a top-flight quarterbacking matchup. It’s an understandable, worthy choice as a night game.
That said, both of these teams disappointed me last week, and I don’t trust either one to provide Game of the Week material this weekend. The Falcons went wire-to-wire with a talent-starved Bears roster, and their leaky defense helped make Tarik Cohen one of the breakout stars of the season’s first week. Meanwhile, we’ll touch on the Packers a bit later, but their slop-fest against Seattle was one of the least watchable games of the weekend.
I imagine both of these offenses will improve this weekend (especially considering they’re facing these defenses), but there’s another matchup that intrigues me more this weekend.
Prediction: Packers 34, Falcons 24
I think the Packers are going to move the ball pretty easily on this Falcons defense, and while I don’t think the defense is as good as it looked against Seattle, it’ll be able to carry some of that momentum over into this one and get just enough stops.
Player to Watch: Ty Montgomery (15 carries, 85 rushing yards, 6 catches, 60 receiving yards, 2 total TDs)
Montgomery was inefficient in Week One, but a lot of that can be chalked up to Seattle’s tough defense. The Falcons are not on that same level, and Tarik Cohen just abused the Atlanta defense in a similarly multifaceted role. I’m no Mike McCarthy fan, but Aaron Rodgers should see this mismatch and exploit it.
Game of the Week: Minnesota Vikings at Pittsburgh Steelers, 9/17 @ 1:00 PM ET
Most people might not even blink an eye at a 1 PM Minnesota-Pittsburgh matchup, but I really think this might be the most interesting game of the Week Two slate. The Vikings impressed in nearly every phase of the game on Monday night – Sam Bradford threw only five incompletions on his way to 346 yards and three touchdowns, rookie Dalvin Cook shrugged off a slow start to pile up 127 yards on the ground, and the defense bottled up Drew Brees and the Saints offense, who couldn’t find the end zone until late in the fourth quarter with the game already out of reach.
Obviously, the Vikings aren’t this dominant of a football team, but I do think they’re more legitimate than people want to give them credit for. Sam Bradford was really, really good last year, and his supporting cast is only improving. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, and Dalvin Cook look like dangerous offensive weapons, and players like Latavius Murray, Jerrick McKinnon, and Laquon Treadwell provide valuable depth. The defense, which garnered some headlines last year, is similarly deep. I believe there’s a legitimate playoff team here – perhaps even a division champion – if the retooled offensive line can continue to keep Bradford on his feet as it did Monday.
The Steelers are who we know they are; the core pieces of this offense haven’t changed, and the defense is young and athletic. Outside of Antonio Brown and T.J. Watt, though, Pittsburgh underwhelmed in their three-point win over Cleveland, with Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant notable no-shows. If the Steelers are as uneven this week, I think they could be ripe for an upset, although they do perform markedly better at home.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Vikings 24
I see this as a legitimate wire-to-wire game, with the Steelers pulling out a win on a last-second field goal from Chris Boswell. Sam Bradford isn’t going to be nearly perfect this time around, as the Steelers successfully bring more pressure on him than New Orleans did, and Dalvin Cook won’t have quite as much success on the ground, but the Vikings will hang tough into the fourth quarter.
Player to Watch: Antonio Brown (8 catches, 120 yards, 2 TDs)
The Steelers leaned heavily on Brown in Week One, and they’ll do so again here as Martavis Bryant continues to get back into a rhythm. I think Le’Veon Bell improves this week also, but Minnesota’s run defense is still very tough, so it’s not enough to take this spot this time around.
MLB (It’s September, I dunno)
Game of the Weak: New York Mets at Miami Marlins, 9/18 @ 7:10 PM ET
Matt Harvey (5-4, 5.82 ERA) vs Dan Straily (9-8, 3.95 ERA)
If it weren’t for Giancarlo Stanton, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of watchable baseball here. The Marlins had a fun little rally early in the second half, peaking as high as a 66-63 record, but have been in freefall ever since, losing 13 of their last 15 games and sitting 11.5 games out of the second wild-card spot. The Mets, meanwhile, sit five games even further down, and the days of going toe-to-toe with the Nationals in the NL East seem like an eternity ago.
It’s unclear exactly why Matt Harvey is even pitching in games at this point. He’s been among the worst pitchers in Major League Baseball in the 80.2 innings he’s pitched, walking close to four and a half batters per nine innings and allowing home runs like a batting practice machine. His season ERA rose to 6.14 with yet another turd yesterday against the Cubs. Not only is he pitching, but they’ve used him on short rest this month, as well.
At least last season, there were some glimpses of a competent pitcher in Harvey’s performance – a 3.47 FIP and fairly acceptable strikeout and walk rates. This season, he looks like a corpse. There might not be a player in the league who could benefit more from being shut down for the season at this point.
Prediction: Marlins 6, Mets 3
The Marlins chase Harvey early, getting to him for five runs, and largely coast to the finish line behind an acceptable six inning, three run performance from Dan Straily.
Player to Watch: J.T. Realmuto (3-for-5, 1 HR, 1 2B, 3 RBI)
It’s difficult to pick these players for MLB games half a week away. Giancarlo Stanton would be the cop-out choice, but he’s slumped hard in September, batting only .155. Realmuto, however, has multiple hits in three straight games as of this writing (and four of his last six), exploding out of a slump of his own, so I’ll take him to exploit the ineffective Harvey.
Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals, 9/17 @ 8:00 PM ET
Hyun-Jin Ryu (5-7, 3.59 ERA) vs Gio Gonzalez (14-7, 2.68 ERA)
Much has been written about the Dodgers’ miserable second-half slump, but they now find themselves winners of two whole games in a row! Those wins came over the bottom-feeding San Francisco Giants, of course, but I’d imagine the Dodgers will take any kind of momentum they can get.
Both the Dodgers and the Nationals have locked up playoff berths – and the Nationals clinched their miserable division – but the top seed in the National League looks far more ripe for the taking than it did a month ago. The Nationals sit only 5.5 games back heading into this three-game series in their home park. Both teams also face fairly easy schedules the rest of the way, although the Dodgers will close their season in Colorado against a Rockies team trying to secure its own playoff position.
We won’t see Kershaw or Scherzer this series, but Ryu vs Gonzalez is a nice matchup of tough lefties that should make for a quality Sunday Night Baseball game.
Prediction: Dodgers 5, Nationals 3
I think this is a back-and-forth affair for much of the game, with both starters putting in good-but-not-great work. The Nationals take an early lead off Ryu, but the bullpens ultimately make the difference, as the Dodgers ‘pen locks it down while the Nationals’ coughs it up.
Player to Watch: Corey Seager (3-of-4, 2 2B, BB, 3 RBI)
Seager has been fairly quiet since his return to the starting lineup after elbow inflammation, with hits in five of six outings, but no multi-hit games and only two extra-base hits. I think this game will be his return to form, providing the bulk of the Dodgers’ offense on national TV.
Game of the Week: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs, 9/15 @ 2:20 PM ET
Carlos Martinez (11-10, 3.33 ERA) vs John Lackey (11-11, 4.65 ERA)
Perhaps the two most underwhelming teams of 2017 thus far, the defending champion Cubs and seemingly always-contending Cardinals have quietly picked up the pace somewhat in the second half. They currently sit three games apart in the NL Central – sandwiching the plucky Brewers – and may likely need to win the division to make the playoffs with the Diamondbacks and Rockies starting to look pretty secure in the Wild Card race.
The Cubs have been drubbing the Mets at home this week, while the Cardinals are working on a series win over the Reds as I write this (they lead 4-1 in the sixth), so both will carry some momentum into this fairly crucial series (though the two will meet again at the end of the month for a four-game series that be the final word). Any of the three games would work here – Sunday’s Lynn-Quintana matchup will be on TBS – but Carlos Martinez is the guy I most want to see.
Prediction: Cubs 2, Cardinals 1
John Lackey has been largely terrible this year, but his last two starts have been excellent and I think he’s a decent bet to show up for the Cubs’ stretch run. I think Martinez is the star here, but the Cardinals offense isn’t able to get to Lackey enough to capitalize.
Player to Watch: Carlos Martinez (8 IP, 2 ER, 12 K)
Martinez is a stud, and he’s on a roll. He had a complete game shutout just two starts ago. I think he comes up big here but the questionable offense of the Cardinals isn’t able to give him enough support.
NCAA Football (Week Three)
(Some special rules for college football here – I’m only using games featuring at least one team in the AP Top-25 for the current week. Also, I don’t know jack about college football.)
Game of the Weak: Colorado State at #1 Alabama, 9/16 @ 7:00 PM ET
I can keep this joke going forever.
Prediction: As if.
Player to Watch: Who cares?
Honorable Mention: #12 LSU at Mississippi State, 9/16 @ 7:00 PM ET
Florida State’s showdown with Miami was understandably postponed due to Hurricane Irma, which (unfortunately) forced me to actually think about what to put here. Doing actual work is hard, it turns out.
I like matchups like this one – especially in the SEC – because neither team has actually played notable competition, so we really don’t have that much more knowledge about either team than we did in the preseason. LSU has outscored its opponents 72-10 in the first two weeks, while Mississippi State has done so 110-21, and the toughest opponent either has faced has been an unimpressive BYU squad that just lost to unranked Utah.
Mississippi State is the top team in the SEC by the numbers, technically, but LSU’s defense is a much different beast than Charleston Southern or Louisiana Tech. LSU’s offense, meanwhile, is more or less what we’ve come to expect: mediocre quarterback play with a stud running back (Derrius Guice this time) keeping the whole thing afloat. It’s a wonder the Tigers don’t just go full Georgia Tech and lose the facade of a passing offense entirely.
Prediction: LSU 21, Mississippi State 17
While Mississippi State looked impressive in its two filler games, I’m not sure the offense (namely, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald) is quite good enough to really do some damage to LSU’s defense. These two teams have played each other pretty close in recent years, but I think LSU controls the pace and their running game grinds Mississippi State down for the win.
Player to Watch: Derrius Guice (28 carries, 155 yards, 2 TDs)
Who else is gonna move the ball?
Game of the Week: #3 Clemson at #14 Louisville, 9/16 @ 8:00 PM ET
This pick is pretty much a slam dunk, as all eyes are going to be on this showdown between the defending champion Clemson Tigers and defending Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Jackson was the most exciting player in college football last year, and he seems to have elevated his game even further, as he’s now an efficient passer in addition to a productive one. Louisville’s offense still relies on him for basically everything; if he could run out and catch his own passes, he’d probably be doing that too.
Clemson, meanwhile, is still adjusting to life after Deshaun Watson. Kelly Bryant isn’t the passer Watson was – he’s only thrown one touchdown so far this season – but he’s been productive as a rusher. It’s a good thing, too, because Clemson’s ability to move the football seems entirely dependent on Bryant’s ability to do it for them. He has 15 more carries than any of Clemson’s running backs, and his two scores against Auburn were the only ones the Tigers managed for the game. Fourteen points was plenty for the dominant Clemson defense, though, as they never relinquished their stranglehold on Auburn’s offense.
The question for Louisville here is: can Lamar Jackson make enough happen against the Tigers’ defense for Clemson’s offensive struggles to matter?
Prediction: Clemson 34, Louisville 21
The answer, I think, is probably not. Louisville has gritted out wins against Purdue and UNC admirably, but this game is a different matter. They simply can’t afford the same miscues that have plagued them across their first two games, and if they couldn’t consistently stop those offenses, I’m not sure how they’ll do it here. They’ll trade punches early, but fall behind late.
Player to Watch: Lamar Jackson (25-of-40, 385 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 25 carries, 130 yards, 2 TDs)
It’s a familiar refrain: Lamar Jackson will put on a show, but just doesn’t have enough help.
Last Week’s Predictions:
NFL (Week One):
Jets at Bills, 9/10:
Last week, I had the Bills topping the Jets 10-3 with LeSean McCoy picking up 150 yards on the ground and the game’s only touchdown. In actuality, we got at least a little bit more offense, as the Bills prevailed 21-12 in a game that featured four whole touchdowns. I did correctly pick the Bills to win, and McCoy racked up 159 total yards (110 rushing, 49 receiving), so I’m gonna give myself half a point for this one.
0.5 out of 1
Giants at Cowboys, 9/10:
The cynical Cowboys fan in me had the Giants winning this one 35-28. I didn’t believe the Cowboys’ defense had it in them, and the Giants had their number last year. This one was spectacularly wrong, as the Cowboys’ defense held the Giants to only 3 points in a 19-3 win. My “Player to Watch,” Evan Engram, had four catches for 44 yards, but obviously didn’t grab the two touchdowns I ticketed him for. No points for this one, but I’m quite okay with that.
0 out of 1
Seahawks at Packers, 9/10:
The NFL was clearly not my sport last week. I thought the Seahawks would top the Packers in a well-played game, 24-17, with a healthy Russell Wilson racking up 320 yards and two scores. Instead, we got a fairly ugly 17-9 win for Green Bay, with Wilson racking up less than half that predicted yardage total (158 yards) and no scores. At least the Packers scored 17 like I said? No points here.
0 out of 1
Dodgers at Giants, 9/12:
[Note: Last week’s piece was written with Ty Blach as the expected starter. However, Johnny Cueto’s start was subsequently moved up a day, so he started this game instead. Not that it made much difference.]
My prediction was largely off here, but I don’t think the struggling Dodgers will mind, as they did come away with the win. I thought this would be a 7-0 Dodgers shutout behind 8 dominant innings from Kershaw, but the Giants brought a little more fight than I expected. Instead, the Dodgers won 5-3 behind a merely solid start from Kershaw (6 innings, 6 strikeouts, 1 run), and a lot of Giants missed opportunities, as those three runs came on a whopping 14 hits. I’m not giving myself any points here, even though correctly picking the free-falling Dodgers to win a game feels like it’s worth half a point by itself.
0 out of 1
Yankees at Rangers, 9/9:
Listen: I nailed this one. I’m so good at this. I picked the Yankees to win 3-2, noting that it would be a well-pitched game despite Andrew Cashner’s strikeout allergy, and picking Luis Severino to go seven innings, striking out nine and allowing two runs. In reality, the Yankees won 3-1 in a well-pitched game (despite Andrew Cashner’s strikeout allergy – he went seven, striking out four, allowing only one run), and Severino struck out 10 across seven innings with one run allowed. This is about as close of a prediction as humanly possible. One full point, hard-earned.
1 out of 1
Twins at Royals, 9/10:
I was really excited for this game because of its inane pitching matchup, pitting Bartolo Colon against the struggling Jason Vargas. I figured this would be an offense-heavy game, picking the Twins 10-7, and I thought Byron Buxton would hit a home run and rob another from the Royals. Apparently only the Royals got the memo about all that offense, though, as they piled up 11 runs on 17 hits, beating the Twins 11-3. Bartolo lasted only 1.2 innings, allowing six runs, but Jason Vargas threw five innings of solid one-run ball. Buxton didn’t homer or have that centerfield robbery, but he did triple, which is neat. No points.
0 out of 1
NCAA Football (Week Two):
Fresno State at Alabama, 9/9:
My prediction for this game was “As if,” and my Player to Watch was “Who cares?” Alabama won 41-10. I’m giving myself a point.
1 out of 1
Stanford at USC, 9/9:
Largely missed the boat on this one. I thought Stanford’s recent string of success against USC combined with USC’s lackluster Week One performance would make the Cardinal a safe bet to win a close one here. My 38-35 Stanford prediction turned into 42-24 USC, though, as the Trojans bounced back in a big way and largely handled their business, racking up 623 total yards. I’m giving myself half a point, though, because I said Bryce Love would rush for 160 yards and he eerily rushed for exactly 160 yards. Hey, this is my column, I make the rules.
0.5 out of 1
Oklahoma at Ohio State, 9/9:
I had two predictions this week that really felt right on the money, Yankees-Rangers and this one. I took the Sooners here, predicting that a big game from Baker Mayfield (350 yards and 3 total TDs) would propel them to a 28-24 win over the Buckeyes. Mayfield actually had 386 yards and three scores, leading Oklahoma to a 31-16 revenge win over Ohio State. Three points off on Oklahoma and eight on Ohio State is not bad at all. I also said Mayfield would complete 125% of his passes as a joke, but 27-of-35 (77%) is pretty ridiculous by itself. One glorious point.
1 out of 1
This Week’s Score: 4 points out of a possible 9
The Overall Tally: 4 out of 9
Bonus Nonsense of the Week:
Former Colts punter Pat McAfee highlighted a small bit of badassery from Rams punter Johnny Hekker that you almost certainly missed. Between Hekker and boisterous Raiders punter Marquette King, I’m 100% here for the NFL’s punter renaissance.