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. The “week,” for all intents and purposes, will be Thursday to Thursday, so we’re starting with NFL’s Thursday Night Football.
NFL (Week Four)
Game of the Weak: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns, 10/1 at 1:00 PM ET
Two teams, six losses, no wins, one state. If this game turns out to be interesting, it’ll be because these teams are an equal level of miserably bad.
While they might be similarly atrocious, I feel as if these are two teams trending in opposite directions. Andy Dalton has been missing in action – his two touchdowns against Green Bay last weekend were his first of the season, while he’s turned the ball over five times. The running back trio of Joe Mixon, Gio Bernard, and Jeremy Hill has been uninspired, with an anemic average of 3.5 yards per carry and no trips to the end zone. The defense has been solid, but they’ve faced trash can offenses in Baltimore and Houston along with a banged-up Green Bay. It’s hard to find anything to have faith in with this roster outside of A.J. Green.
Meanwhile, I actually sort of dig the Browns right now. DeShone Kizer has been far from perfect, but he’s certainly been fearless. He’s chucking deep balls left and right and making plays with his legs. Of course, he’s already accumulated nine turnovers and is completing only 53% of his passes, but I respect his confidence and the long leash the Browns are giving him to work it out. The Browns have had terrible luck with injuries, but they’ve hung tough against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. I don’t think it’s out of the question that they come out of this upcoming stretch (Bengals, Jets, Texans) with two or maybe even three wins.
Prediction: Browns 20, Bengals 13
Player to Watch: DeShone Kizer (18-of-32, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 7 carries, 20 yards, 1 TD)
The efficiency won’t be here just yet, but with Kenny Britt and David Njoku starting to get involved, I think Kizer leads the Browns to their first win since December. I just don’t trust anything about the Bengals right now, and I think the plucky Browns aren’t the team for them to get back on track against.
Game of the Weird: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos, 10/1 at 4:25 PM ET
Two of the most mercurial teams in the NFL through three weeks, facing off in a divisional matchup in the afternoon block? Sounds like the stuff weird is made of.
I have no idea where I stand on either Oakland or Denver at the moment. The undefeated Chiefs look like the team to beat in the AFC West, but each of these two are ostensibly playoff contenders that can’t seem to sustain momentum from week to week. Each of them had massive Week Two blowouts (the Jets and Cowboys, respectively), but found themselves unable to make anything happen the following week (Washington and Bills).
In particular, the Raiders confuse me – their offense is among the league’s very best on paper, but they’re capable of completely falling out of whack, resulting in staggering inefficiency. Derek Carr chucked 31 passes against Washington and came away with only 118 yards to show for it. It doesn’t feel like it should be possible for a team so strong at every phase of the offensive game to look this poor on the field.
Prediction: Raiders 17, Broncos 14
Player to Watch: Marshawn Lynch (25 carries, 110 yards, TD)
Denver has done an excellent job against opposing run games thus far, but their defense is foremost known for shutting down the pass. I think the Broncos will slow down Oakland for the most part, but they’re going to have their hands full with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, which will open up some lanes for Lynch. Oakland has brought Lynch around slowly, but I think this will be one of the few games this season where they really let him him off the leash.
Game of the Week: Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys, 10/1 at 1:00 PM ET
The Blatant Homerism category is in effect here, but I think this is a fascinating matchup whether you love the Cowboys or hate them. This isn’t a primetime matchup, unfortunately, but I think there’s a lot to look for here.
I don’t believe the Rams have fully arrived just yet, but it’s hard to draw up a more positive start to the season than their first three games. Jared Goff looks tremendous, Sammy Watkins is making huge plays, and Todd Gurley is regaining some of his efficiency while also developing as a pass-catcher. They don’t have much depth – and the defense was shredded by San Francisco, of all teams – but you can see the building blocks settling into place.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys are just searching for consistency. A brutal run of tough defenses has slowed the passing game down to open the year and Ezekiel Elliott’s issues have been well-documented, but Dallas now doesn’t play a particularly great defense again until Week 8 against Kansas City. Now is the time for this offense to get its playmakers involved, particularly Dez Bryant.
Prediction: Cowboys 31, Rams 28
Player to Watch: Dez Bryant (8 catches, 125 yards, 2 TDs)
It’s going to be a rough weekend for Dez Bryant Is Washed Twitter, I think. Bryant has suffered the most in the Cowboys’ brutal opening schedule, being matched up with Janoris Jenkins, the Broncos’ secondary, and Patrick Peterson. He and Dak Prescott desperately need to find some rhythm, and I think they’ll go out of their way to make it happen here in a shootout with the Goff and the Rams.
MLB (Final Weekend Edition)
Alas, the end of the MLB season is finally upon is. We don’t even get a full week here, as the regular season ends on Sunday. I’ll miss baseball, but I won’t necessarily miss digging through games to find what I want to highlight. I plan to figure out some sort of playoff version of this, but mostly likely, it’ll just feature one or two potentially good games, rather than the whole nine yards.
Game of the Weak: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants, 10/1 @ 3:05 PM ET
Projected Starters: Luis Perdomo (8-11, 4.65 ERA) vs Johnny Cueto (8-8, 4.43 ERA)
I just want to pick on the Giants one last time. The Padres are pretty bad too.
Prediction: Ehh, nah.
Player to Watch: Someone, probably!
Game of the Weird: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees, 9/28 @ 1:05 PM ET
Projected Starters: Joe Biagini (3-12, 5.34 ERA) vs Masahiro Tanaka (12-12, 4.94 ERA)
This was going to be the Dodgers and Rockies on the final day, but with the Rockies now a virtual lock to hold onto the second NL Wild Card, there isn’t much to see there anymore.
Instead, our last MLB Game of the Weird goes to a Toronto team that has started to heat up at the weirdest time and a Yankees team that can still technically steal the division. Masahiro Tanaka arrived in the majors with a lot of fanfare in 2014, but as the hype has worn off, he’s become perhaps a little underrated. He’s struggled in 2017 though; even though he’s striking out batter at a career-high rate and maintaining strong peripherals, he just can’t stop giving up home runs. Slowing down a homer-happy Toronto offense would end this otherwise-bad season on a nice note.
Prediction: Yankees 7, Blue Jays 6
Player to Watch: Gary Sanchez (3-for-4, 2B, HR, BB)
Obscured a bit by Aaron Judge’s massive rookie year, Gary Sanchez has had one of the all-time great seasons from a Yankees catcher. He comes a triple short of the cycle here, as both teams pile up runs.
Game of the Week: Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox, 9/28 @ 7:10 PM ET
Projected Starters: Brad Peacock (12-2, 2.98 ERA) vs Eduardo Rodriguez (6-6, 3.91 ERA)
Much like above, this pick was altered by the Rockies largely securing the second NL Wild Card spot, as I was going to take the Brewers-Cardinals game on the season’s final day. With those two teams essentially out, however, I’ll take one of the few games left with some amount of meaning.
The magic number to seal up the division for Boston is now only two, and they’ll try to make progress on that against an Astros team that still has an outside chance at finishing with the AL’s best record. Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez has given up two or fewer earned runs in each of his last four starts, and he’s starting to look like a playoff starter for this team. The Astros’ offense is a tough test, however.
Peacock, meanwhile, has gone a bit under the radar in Houston; he’s allowed more than two earned runs only twice since July. With nobody quite sure what to think of the struggling Lance McCullers Jr. right now, there’s a case to be made that Peacock is the one who should start Houston’s third playoff game.
Prediction: Red Sox 4, Astros 3
Player to Watch: Eduardo Rodriguez (7 IP, 3 ER, 9 K)
Rodriguez has been red hot and the offense has been putting runs on the board. I think this will be tight, but the Red Sox have a little more to play for and will come out of this one with a win.
NCAA Football (Week Five)
(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: Ole Miss at #1 Alabama, 9/30 at 8:00 PM ET
I’m getting back to my roots with the NCAA Football Game of the Weak this week. Unless you’re a really big fan of UT Martin, the closest Ole Miss has been to a notable matchup was their loss to undefeated California last week, so I don’t see much to suggest they can really threaten Alabama right now. They’re still an SEC team, at least, so I’ll give them a prediction this time around. They’re just not gonna win.
Prediction: Alabama 38. Ole Miss 10
Player to Watch: Jalen Hurts (Impressive numbers)
I don’t have a lot to say here, except that Jalen Hurts and the deep Alabama backfield will control this game from start to finish. Hurts isn’t the most sophisticated passer, but he and this offense are punking teams right now.
Game of the Weird: #7 Georgia at Tennessee, 9/30 @ 3:30 PM ET
I honestly just mentally associate Tennessee with weird football. It’s who they are to me, and they’ve certainly stayed true to it so far this season. They began the year with a ridiculous 42-41 shootout win over Georgia Tech and blew away Indiana State, before falling victim to a miraculous Florida hail mary and narrowly escaping winless UMass. It’s still hard to tell exactly what this team is, but this matchup could provide some answers.
Georgia ended my Mississippi State fixation last week with a dominant performance, but I’m still not quite ready to buy in with them just yet. The run game has been dominant and the defense has done its job, but they’re still very much keeping the ball out of the hands of quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm has been effective when they’ve limited him, but when turned loose against Notre Dame, he struggled. If this team falls behind early (or, god forbid, something happens to Nick Chubb again), can Fromm lead them back through the air? It’s a lot to ask of a freshman quarterback who was not expected to be starting, but this is the #7 team in the country, with presumptive playoff hopes.
Prediction: Georgia 37, Tennessee 27
Player to Watch: Nick Chubb (22 carries, 160 yards, 3 TDs)
Tennessee is allowing close to 250 yards per game on the ground and has really struggled to contain opposing backs at times, especially against the Georgia Tech triple-option that piled up 535 yards of rushing offense against them. This plays into Georgia’s hands extremely well; their backfield is deep and versatile, especially with Sony Michel healthy once more. Chubb puts up his best performance of the year thus far, Fromm doesn’t need to throw more than 15 times, and Georgia rolls again.
Game of the Week: #2 Clemson at #12 Virginia Tech, 9/30 at 8:00 PM ET
Doubling down on the homerism this week, but this ACC matchup is the most compelling game of the weekend for me. I keep waiting for Virginia Tech to stumble, but they have been indomitable through the warming-up phase of their schedule. Old Dominion had the makings of a trap game with this matchup looming, but the Hokies took care of business exactly how they should have.
The Hokies have boasted a surprisingly potent offense this season, led by freshman Josh Jackson, who tops the ACC in quarterback rating and passing touchdowns while tacking on 4.5 yards per carry on the ground as well. Receiver Cam Philips leads all of college football in receiving yardage, and three running backs (Travon McMillian, Deshawn McClease, and Coleman Fox) boast 4.8 yards per carry or better. Can the Hokies pick up yardage against a stacked Clemson defense that has held everyone it’s played except Lamar Jackson to a single score each?
On the other side, Clemson’s offense leans very heavily on its run game. Five players have carried the ball 20 or more times for the Tigers so far this year, led by quarterback Kelly Bryant, who has a whopping 66 rushes. Bryant is a so-so passer; decently efficient and not hugely turnover prone, but lacking the huge production of his predecessor, DeShaun Watson. The Hokies best chance may be to try and build a lead early and force Bryant to throw from behind.
Prediction: Clemson 30, Virginia Tech 21
Player to Watch: Josh Jackson (25-of-40, 350 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INT)
Similar to Lamar Jackson a few weeks ago, I think Josh Jackson is going to impress in a losing effort. This would be by far the most passes Jackson has thrown in a game this season, and I think it’ll be necessary, as the Tigers put the clamps on the Hokies’ run game. Jackson will get some traction here and keep it competitive, but this Clemson defense is no joke, and makes him look like a freshman just enough to keep them ahead.
Last Week’s Predictions:
NFL (Week Three):
Rams at 49ers, 9/21:
Okay, honestly, raise your hands if you thought a Thursday night Rams-Niners game would be the most exciting football game of the weekend. Put your hands down, you filthy liars.
I’m giving myself half a point here because Jared Goff did go nuts and nearly match my predicted statline (18-27, 285 yards, 3 TDs vs 20-28, 292 yards, 3 TDs), and he also connected with Sammy Watkins on a tremendous deep pass. Carlos Hyde found the endzone for 49ers too, although he wasn’t the first of their season after all.
This was a really rough week, as far as predictions go. Give me this half-point, please.
0.5 out of 1
Ravens vs Jaguars, 9/24:
I mean… it was weird, right? Blake Bortles connecting on four scores against the Ravens defense is pretty weird, isn’t it?
0 out of 1
Falcons at Lions, 9/24:
In a week where my predictions were miserably bad, I’m going to latch onto this weirdly prescient score prediction (30-27 vs 30-26) as tightly as I can. The Lions offense didn’t necessarily burn the Falcons defense to the ground, but it took a controversial late call and maybe a few inches to keep Golden Tate out of the end zone and the Lions from stealing this game. Julio Jones didn’t go off as dramatically as I expected, but he was still very good. I’m awarding myself a full point.
1 out of 1
Phillies at Braves, 9/23:
This game had some late-inning excitement, I guess, but otherwise, there was nothing interesting to watch here except a solid start from Julio Teheran. Freddie Freeman didn’t even play due to illness. I made no predictions for this one and I feel justified in that decision.
Giants at Dodgers, 9/23:
I picked the wrong winner, but I was right about neither of these teams offering their pitchers any degree of help. The Dodgers managed to hang a loss on Hyun-Jin Ryu despite Ryu leaving after 2.1 innings of one-run ball with an injury. I’d say that’s worth half a point.
0.5 out of 1
Cubs at Brewers, 9/21:
I’m sorry, Brewers. I was really pulling for you this week. Though they did pull out the scrappy win I was expecting eventually, they didn’t do it in this game, and they ultimately dropped three of four from the Cubs and effectively eliminated themselves from the NL Central race. Now, sitting 1.5 games behind Colorado for the second Wild Card spot, Milwaukee has little room for error.
As for this specific game, though, I’ve obviously earned no points.
0 out of 1
NCAA Football (Week Four):
#3 Oklahoma at Baylor, 9/23:
I can’t blame myself for being so wrong with this one, and I wouldn’t blame anyone else, either. Baylor had looked as incompetent as Oklahoma looked dominant this season, so an Oklahoma rout looked likely. Sometimes, randomness just kills you. No points.
Ironically, I joked about not being able to put Alabama here again, and the Alabama-Vanderbilt game turned out to be the exact kind of game Game of the Weak is meant for.
0 out of 1
Well, as a Virginia Tech alumnus, this was certainly a surprise. I thought this was a trap game for the Hokies, but they continued to roll, shutting out ODU and carrying a ton of momentum into their upcoming faceoff with Clemson. No points, but I’m not too sad about it.
0 out of 1
Mississippi State made me look foolish two weeks ago, so I resolved not to make that mistake again. Naturally, they made me look foolish in the opposite kind of way. I thought their momentum would carry them past a Georgia team that hadn’t necessarily looked too convincing, but a 203 yards on the ground and an efficient 12 passes from Jake Fromm proved me wrong. No points, again.
0 out of 1
This Week’s Score: 2 points out of 8
The Overall Tally: 9.5 out of 25
Bonus Nonsense of the Week:
Twitter is making a very silly decision in expanding the character count on tweets to 280, but at least it gave us this very good tweet from the Seattle Mariners.