Games of the Week (Volume Three)

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 a game of the “weird,” which is loosely defined as a game that I think will get wacky. Stats are accurate as of 9/21.

ryan

NFL (Week Three)

Game of the Weak: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers, 9/21 @ 8:25 PM ET

I didn’t set out to put the Niners here for the second consecutive week, but I really feel the need to call attention to how thoroughly terrible Thursday Night Football is. Last week’s Texans-Bengals game was a miserable piece of work that would have deserved to be here itself, and it’s not getting any better this week.

I’ve actually liked what I’ve seen from Jared Goff so far this year; he looks like an actual quarterback, and that alone is a huge improvement from his rookie year. Plus, Todd Gurley is finally showing some signs of life again; his hurdle over Bashaud Breeland was one of the best plays off last weekend. The Rams aren’t a great team, but they are miles ahead of the 49ers, who just really want to score a touchdown at some point this season.

Brian Hoyer isn’t particularly close to an NFL-caliber quarterback at this point, and the only reason he’s still playing is because his only backup is rookie C.J. Beathard, who wasn’t even that good at Iowa. Replacing Hoyer would be a pretty low bar for the 23-year-old to clear, though, as Hoyer has managed only 292 yards on an incredible 62 passes in his first two games. It’s hard to find much downside to giving Beathard a shot; if he plays well, maybe you have a useful quarterback, and if he doesn’t… well, you’re probably going to draft Sam Darnold or sign Kirk Cousins anyways.

Prediction: Rams 31, Niners 10

The Niners score a touchdown! Carlos Hyde conquers fate and punches in the first touchdown of San Francisco’s season!

That’s about all they get, though, as they never come close to challenging Los Angeles.

Player to Watch: Jared Goff (18-of-27, 285 yards, 3 TDs)

I’m riding the Jared Goff train this year, and this is his coming-out party. The Niners are a low bar to clear, of course, but Goff looks in control and hooks up with Sammy Watkins on a long score.

Game of the Weird: Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 9/24 @ 9:30 AM ET

Ahh, London games! My favorite weird football event of the season! The NFL has gifted us a whopping four of these bad boys this year (plus another Mexico City game), and these games are kicking off with a doozy of a matchup in Ravens-Jaguars.

Wembley Stadium has been home to an ever-growing history of weird football, as one might expect from a stadium whose first touchdown came on an Eli Manning scramble. Last year, we saw the Redskins and Bengals play to a 27-27 tie on this field. Could we be blessed by the Tie Fairy for consecutive seasons?

It’s probably not out of the question for this matchup. The Ravens and Jaguars are both fielding superlative defenses complemented by punchless, run-heavy offenses. Joe Flacco will be taking on his evil twin, Blake Bortles. This game could really end up being another Panthers 9, Bills 3 kind of situation.

Anyways, how could I not pick this game when the Ravens decided to advertise it with fucking this?

Prediction: Ravens 13, Jaguars 10

In a throwback to the very first Wembley Stadium game (Giants 13, Dolphins 10), the Ravens and Jags fail to even pretend to know what an offense does. Each team relies heavily on their ground game in a desperate bid to keep Flacco and Bortles from having any influence on the outcome. The Ravens “win” on a late field goal.

Player to Watch: Leonard Fournette (23 carries, 105 yards, 1 TD)

The Ravens are running a backfield-by-committee of Javorius Allen and Terrance West, so neither will accumulate the raw numbers needed to end up here. I quite like Fournette, and I think he’ll continue to see a heavy workload in this game, scoring on the ground for the third straight week.

Game of the Week: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions, 9/24 @ 1:00 PM ET

This isn’t a great week for NFL matchups on paper, and I had to think this pick over for a while. The Falcons make the cut for the second straight week, in what promises to be another offense-first affair against the Detroit Lions. It’s maybe not the most inspired choice, but I’d imagine it’ll tickle most people’s fancies more than Seahawks-Titans, Giants-Eagles, or Chiefs-Chargers.

The Lions are off to an intriguing start to the year, following up a fourth-quarter comeback against the Cardinals to throttle the Giants on Monday night. Matt Stafford leads the league with six touchdown tosses, and those have come against quality defenses. Stafford obviously isn’t the kind of quarterback his recent, massive contract extension suggests he is, but he’s quietly gotten better in some small degree every year since 2012, even after losing Calvin Johnson to retirement. I don’t think he’s going to quite keep up this torrid place, but he’s durable, consistent, and won’t make many mistakes. I’d argue he’s a little underrated right now.

As for this game, there isn’t much to say that I didn’t already say about last week’s Falcons-Packers game. Both offenses are strong, both defenses not so much – although it will be interesting to see if the dominant defensive performance the Falcons put on against Green Bay will carry over into this game as well.

Prediction: Falcons 30, Lions 27

Maybe this will be the close game I thought Falcons-Packers would be? I think the Falcons defense regresses to the mean a little bit and the Lions have an easier time moving the ball on them than Green Bay did, but I like the Falcons to outlast Detroit here.

Player to Watch: Julio Jones (6 catches, 120 yards, 1 TD)

We’re due for a Julio Game™, so I’m taking him here.

thames

MLB (It’s September, I dunno)

Game of the Weak: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves, 9/23 @ 7:10 PM ET

Expected Starters: Henderson Alvarez (0-1, 7.20 ERA) vs Julio Teheran (11-12, 4.52 ERA)

God, this matchup is depressing.

Prediction: I don’t wanna.

Player to Watch: I’d rather not.

Game of the Weird: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers, 9/23 @ 9:10 PM ET

Expected Starters: Madison Bumgarner (3-9, 3.48 ERA) vs Hyun-Jin Ryu (5-7, 3.46 ERA)

The second Dodgers-Giants matchup to make this column and Hyun-Jin Ryu’s second appearance, as well. The Dodgers are perhaps showing up a little too often here, I think.

I have no idea what to expect from the Dodgers anymore. They’ve been miserable in the second half and can’t seem to string together any wins. Meanwhile, the Giants are very predictably awful. Can either team pull it together long enough to make a pretty fun Bumgarner-Ryu pitching matchup worthwhile?

Probably not.

Prediction: Dodgers 4, Giants 2

I’ve heard rumors that the Giants have a bullpen, but I’ve not seen any evidence of its existence since Hunter Strickland threw at Bryce Harper. They blow it late in this one.

Player to Watch: Cody Bellinger (2-for-5, HR, 3 RBI)

Bellinger’s been one of the few Dodgers hitters to just keep on plugging through this slump, and I think he’ll be the go-ahead run as he homers off the Giants bullpen late.

Game of the Week: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers, 9/21 @ 8:10 PM ET

Expected Starters: Zach Davies (17-9, 3.89 ERA) vs Jake Arrieta (14-9, 3.48 ERA)

The NL Central is getting really interesting as the season draws to a close, and it all centers, incredibly, around the Brewers. As of this writing, the Brewers are 3.5 games back from the Cubs for the division lead and only one game back from Colorado for the second Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are breathing down their necks, only a game and a half more behind.

The remainder of the NL playoff picture is likely going to depend on these three teams and the Rockies. This game kicks off a four-game series between the Brewers and Cubs in Milwaukee that could likely decide the division winner, and the Brewers’ final three games of the season will be against the Cardinals in St. Louis, which could spell the fate of that second Wild Card spot. Losing breakout starter Jimmy Nelson hurts, but Zach Davies has been a generally consistent presence in the Brewers’ rotation and the other expected starters in this series – Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter, and Chase Anderson – have given them some quality innings of late.

Regardless of how the season turns out, I’ve been really impressed with this year’s Brewers and I did not expect them to have such a major impact on the NL playoff race. They’ve taken promising younger players (Davies, Domingo Santana, Travis Shaw, Orlando Arcia, Corey Knebel), reclamation projects (Nelson, Eric Thames, Eric Sogard, Manny Pina), and established veterans (Ryan Braun, Neil Walker) and mashed them together into a roster that is banging on the door of the playoffs. If I’m a Brewers fan, I think I’d consider 2017 an undeniable success.

Prediction: Brewers 7, Cubs 5

The Brewers have won three straight against the Cubs and I think they’ll get another one here in an offense-first, back-and-forth affair. I did just spend a whole paragraph pumping them up, after all.

Player to Watch: Eric Thames (2-of-4, 2 HR, 5 RBI)

Thames has shown some signs of life of late, homering in three straight games last week and dragging his batting average up nearly a full ten points. I think the lefty gets to Jake Arrieta twice tonight.

fitzgerald

NCAA Football (Week Four)

(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: #3 Oklahoma at Baylor, 9/23 @ 6:30 PM ET

Alabama is playing a 3-0 Vanderbilt team that just knocked off 18th-ranked Kansas State, so unfortunately, I can’t fall back on the same gag for the third consecutive week. Instead, we’ll go with playoff-hopeful Oklahoma, having scored over 50 points against every team they’ve faced that wasn’t Ohio State (who still ate 31), facing a winless Baylor team that gave up 48 points to an FCS team in Week One.

In other words, Baylor’s gonna get smashed.

Prediction: Oklahoma 63, Baylor 10

Yeah.

Player to Watch: Baker Mayfield (13-of-16, 230 yards, 4 TDs)

He’s obviously not playing this entire game.

Game of the Weird: Old Dominion @ #13 Virginia Tech, 9/23 @ 2:00 PM ET

This is the first time I’ve employed the “Blatant Homerism” category on this blog, a monumental occasion. I am, of course, a Virginia Tech graduate, and as such, I’m intimately familiar with the kinds of games the Hokies tend to struggle with. This game against Old Dominion feels like a hell of a trap.

The Hokies bludgeoned a miserable Eastern Carolina team last week, 64-17. Freshman quarterback Josh Jackson threw five touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception on the year. Now, they’ll host an ODU team who just got whooped by UNC, and ESPN has given the Hokies a 96.2% chance to win. All while a home matchup against Clemson looms next week.

The Hokies should handle their business in this game, and I think they’ll probably still win. This just feels like the kind of game where the Hokies come out flat, fall behind by a couple scores early, and let their opponent hang around far too long when they probably shouldn’t. I’ve seen this script before.

There’s probably nothing to actually see here, but keep an eye out. It could get weird.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Old Dominion 10

In a game that was a lot closer than the final score indicates, the Hokies need two fourth-quarter touchdowns to distance themselves from an ODU team than hangs tough for the whole game.

Player to Watch: Josh Jackson (17-of-32, 250 yards, 2 TDs, 7 carries, 55 yards, 1 TD)

Jackson has looked fantastic to start the season, and he’s improved every week. Both touchdown passes come in the fourth quarter as he drags the Hokies across the finish line.

Game of the Week: #17 Mississippi State at #11 Georgia, 9/23 @ 7:00 PM ET

We’ll touch on it more in a moment, but boy, there sure is some egg on my face when it comes to that Mississippi State-LSU prediction last week. This game edges out Oklahoma State vs TCU because I’m fascinated to see if State can keep up this momentum.

Mississippi State bottled up LSU’s offense last week, and Georgia is not altogether dissimilar on that side of the ball. Georgia is going to rely extremely heavily on the running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel here, as they’ve generally tried to keep the ball out of freshman quarterback Jake Fromm’s hands. Fromm has yet to throw for more than 165 yards in a game, and he looked pretty bad in his heaviest workload against his best competition so far (Notre Dame).

All of the sudden, with that LSU win, Mississippi State looks extremely impressive on both sides of the ball. I was skeptical about how sustainable their performance was when they hadn’t played anybody, but a 37-7 win over a team like LSU raises some eyebrows. Georgia has been steady and they came back from Notre Dame with a win, but without more reliable quarterback play, I’m not sure they’re quite up to task here.

I also hate that these teams are both the “Bulldogs,” because it made writing this blurb harder that it needed to be.

Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Georgia 17

I think Mississippi State gets off to a hot start again in this game and never looks back. Georgia puts up a better fight offensively than LSU did and Chubb makes some plays, but Jake Fromm gets the same treatment Danny Etling did last week and Georgia isn’t able to keep pace.

Player to Watch: Nick Fitzgerald (12-of-20, 210 yards, 2 TDs, 14 carries, 100 yards, 2 TDs)

I may have overlooked Fitzgerald’s productivity as a rusher when writing about this team last week, but it’s clear to me now that he is the engine of this Mississippi State offense, and he’ll do the bulk of the heavy lifting in this win.

jackson

Last Week’s Predictions:

NFL (Week Two):

Niners at Seahawks, 9/17:

This game didn’t go exactly how I thought, as I felt the Niners are bad enough that Seattle would win comfortably despite their struggles. Instead, it took a fairly miraculous Russell Wilson touchdown pass with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter for the Seahawks to put this away. Chris Carson had a nice game on the ground and Doug Baldwin was largely quiet, so the Seattle offense wasn’t exactly ineffective in the ways I anticipated.

I’m giving myself half a point, though, because I did call that the Niners would again fail to score a touchdown, and because I wasn’t wrong about the Seattle’s offensive ineptitude in general. This team is legitimately very bad at putting points on the board.

0.5 out of 1

Packers at Falcons, 9/17:

Boy, the Falcons defense sure did make me look silly this week, didn’t they? The Packers really struggled throughout this game, as Aaron Rodgers faced constant pressure in the pocket, and this game really wasn’t as close as even the two-score margin of victory would indicate. The Atlanta offense looked polished and took the leaky Green Bay defense to task.

I’m giving myself half a point here, though, because Ty Montgomery did have a nice day (10 carries, 6 catches, 110 total yards, 2 TDs) and because I got the final score almost exactly right (34-23 vs 34-24), even if it was in the wrong direction. It’s my column, sue me.

0.5 out of 1

Vikings at Steelers, 9/17:

I felt this would be a pretty close, entertaining game; however, my prediction was made under the assumption that Sam Bradford would play. Case Keenum starting in the injured Bradford’s place fundamentally changed this game, so I’m not going to leave a score for this one.

No Score

MLB:

Mets at Marlins, 9/18:

If anything, I didn’t go far enough in doubting the Mets this week, as the Marlins vastly outperformed my 6-3 prediction, hanging 13 runs on New York. Player to Watch J.T. Realmuto did not play. Matt Harvey was as bad as advertised, though, surrendering seven runs in only four innings of work, so I’ll give myself half a point. I still do not understand why Matt Harvey is still pitching in 2017.

0.5 out of 1

Dodgers at Nationals, 9/17:

Not much to say here except that I wasn’t particularly right about this one. The Dodgers didn’t win, the Nats didn’t score off Ryu, the Nats bullpen didn’t cough it up, and Corey Seager didn’t go off. No points.

0 out of 1

Cardinals at Cubs, 9/15:

It was a rough week for me when it came to baseball, wasn’t it? Carlos Martinez got blasted by the Cubs on Friday to the tune of seven earned runs, and John Lackey wasn’t nearly as effective as I’d expected. It was a bit of a close game up until Chicago’s seven-run sixth inning, but by and large, I was completely wrong here. No points.

0 out of 1

NCAA Football (Week Two):

Colorado State at #1 Alabama, 9/16:

Once again, my predictions for Alabama in my Game of the Weak were “As if,” and “Who cares?” Alabama won this game 41-23, and 13 of Colorado State’s points came in garbage time. Full points.

1 out of 1

#12 LSU at Mississippi State, 9/16:

Well I really didn’t see this coming. See what I mean about these SEC teams coming off cupcake starts to the season? You really don’t quite know what you’ll get until it happens. Mississippi State blew the doors off of LSU here on the back of 285 team rushing yards and an efficient 15-of-23, 2 TD performance from quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who I specifically called out as not being up for the task against LSU’s defense. Shows what I know. No points.

0 out of 1

#3 Clemson at #14 Louisville, 9/16:

On the surface, it looks like this game didn’t quite go how I predicted, and to some extent it didn’t. However, I felt it stayed pretty consistent with the thought process behind my predictions: Lamar Jackson was certainly up to the task here, but the rest of his team wasn’t. Jackson racked up 317 passing yards, 3 pass TDs, and 64 more yards with his legs, but Louisville couldn’t support him or slow down the Clemson offense in any way. I’m giving myself a full point for this one.

1 out of 1

This Week’s Score: 3.5 points out of 8

The Overall Tally: 7.5 out of 17

Bonus Nonsense of the Week:

I just want you to look at this thing again. I mean, really drink it in.

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