Games of the Week (Volume Five)

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.

verlander

NFL (Week Five)

Game of the Weak: Los Angeles Chargers at New York Giants, 10/8 @ 1 PM

Two miserable, underachieving, winless teams that have all but removed themselves from the playoff picture in only four games are going to face off in New York this weekend, hoping to prove they’re less disappointing than one another. Yay?

These two teams have lost games 19-3, 19-17, 24-10, 24-21, 27-24, 25-23, 24-10, and 26-24. It’s just a shame they can’t somehow both lose this one 24-21. It would be pretty fitting.

Prediction: Chargers 24, Giants 20

Player to Watch: Keenan Allen (7 catches, 110 yards, TD)

Keenan Allen has probably been the most watchable player on either of these rosters so far this season, and I have more faith in the Chargers – who have a deeper group of receivers, an actual running back, and a mildly more reliable quarterback – to get their first win this week.


Game of the Weird: Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions, 10/8 @ 1 PM ET

The Panthers are probably the most trick-or-treat team in football this season. Last week’s win over the Patriots was impressive, but this is the same team that managed only 13 points on New Orleans and 9 (in a win) against Buffalo. Greg Olsen is still hurt and the receiver duo of Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess are inconsistent, all while Cam Newton is running for his life on every play. The Lions aren’t the greatest defense out there, but they can bring pressure; which Panthers offense is going to show up?

Matt Stafford has slowed down since his first two games of the season, but the Lions hung tough against Atlanta and won ugly against Minnesota (which is the only way the Vikings can play at this point). Running back Ameer Abdullah is finally healthy and looks like the back we’ve been told he could be for a few years now, and the defense is bringing pressure and forcing turnovers. The upcoming schedule will tell us a lot about this team: New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay are next on the slate after this week. Splitting the four games would be a positive, but I want to see three wins from this stretch before I really buy into the Lions.

Prediction: Lions 20, Panthers 13

Player to Watch: Ezekiel Ansah (5 tackles, 2 sacks, forced fumble)

I haven’t spotlighted a defensive player here before, so this is a special occasion. I really like Ansah, who is now healthy and looking to return to his 14.5-sack form of 2015. The Panthers have always struggled to keep Cam Newton upright, and I think Ansah and pass-rush partner Anthony Zettel are going to wreak havoc on the Panthers’ offense.


Game of the Week: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texas, 10/8 @ 8:30 PM ET

Sunday Night Football finally garners a Game of the Week pick this week, with a Chiefs-Texans matchup that I find absolutely fascinating. Two explosive offenses, two great defenses, two of the season’s most exciting rookies, and Andy Reid’s clock management in primetime? Sign me up.

There really isn’t much to be said about the Chiefs that hasn’t been said already; they’re the NFL’s last undefeated team for a reason, as they’ve dominated in almost every phase of the game. Much as been made about Alex Smith’s improvement this year, but he’s quietly returned to his usual form since his season-opening explosion against the Patriots, with as many touchdowns in his last three games as he had against Patriots (4), and yards-per-attempt marks back down in the 7s for his last two. The Chiefs’ offense is fun and Smith is a crucial part of it, but the big plays are coming from Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce, not him. That’s how they draw it up, anyways.

On the flip side, the Texans are coming off the stunner of the year in a 57-14 dismantling of playoff-hopeful Tennessee. DeShaun Watson is letting the ball fly and making plays with his legs. The Chiefs will be the best defense Watson has come up against; if the Texans can pull through, they could be feeling pretty good about their chances to build a lead in the AFC South with Marcus Mariota banged up and games against the Browns and Colts ahead in their next three.

Prediction: Texans 27, Chiefs 24

Player to Watch: DeShaun Watson (20-33, 280 yards, 40 rushing yards, 3 total TD)

The Chiefs are certainly the better team here, but they’ve felt just a little lucky so far this season; they narrowly avoided overtime against an awkward Washington team, after all. Winning close games in the NFL is borderline complete randomness, and they haven’t faced a defense as tough as Houston’s yet this year. I’ll take the Texans to hang in through this one and steal a win at home.


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MLB (Playoff Edition)

With the limited number of games coming up, we’ll just be doing two highlighted games this week. I mean, hopefully none of them will be bad, right?

Honorable Mention: Cubs at Nationals, 10/6 @ 7:30 PM ET

Expected Starters: Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.03 ERA) vs Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 2.54 ERA)

I will remain on the Stephen Strasburg bandwagon until the day I die, as I feel injuries and the greatness of Max Scherzer have horribly overshadowed just how good of a pitcher he is. He doesn’t get mentioned in the same conversation as guys like Scherzer, Chris Sale, or Corey Kluber, but I believe his talent is undeniably on that level. One year soon, he’s going to stay healthy and contend for an NL Cy Young, I remain confident.

The Cubs rebounded from a slow start to the season in commendable fashion, overcoming the Brewers to win the NL Central. Their lineup is deep and dangerous, and the roster is loaded with postseason experience from top to bottom. They’re a tough pull for a Nationals team desperate to bring some postseason success to Washington. This is only Strasburg’s second postseason start, the last being a 2014 loss where he only allowed one run. The Cubs’ lineup is a tall order for any pitcher, but I see this as a return to the spotlight of sorts for one of the most hyped prospects of this generation.

Prediction: Nationals 6, Cubs 2

Player to Watch: Stephen Strasburg (8 IP, 2 ER, 10 K)

I’m still not quite sure where I sit on who wins this series, but I think Strasburg takes command of this game and the Nationals lead from start to finish. Pitchers tend to fall apart when I predict them to play well, so… sorry in advance, Nats fans?


Game of the Week: Red Sox at Astros, 10/5 @ 4 PM ET

Expected Starters: Chris Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA) vs Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.38 ERA)

(Note: this game is already underway as of the publishing of this piece, but this blurb was written on Tuesday.)

With the Dodgers’ second-half free-fall, I think the two title favorites now both play in the American League. The Cleveland Indians were the dominant team in the American League across the second half of the season, sure, but it feels like we may have forgotten about the Astros in the shuffle. Houston finished with 101 wins this season, only one game behind Cleveland, and their offense is frankly much deeper. They’re also on fire, winning 15 of their last 19 games and at one point scoring double-digit runs in four consecutive games. Justin Verlander is pitching like an MVP again, Dallas Keuchel is healthy once more, and the offense can get to any pitcher it faces.

I don’t have quite so much optimism about the Red Sox. The offense lacks a real power threat, and the young core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. have been inconsistent at best. Chris Sale was historically dominant in the first half, but may have pitched himself out of the Cy Young award with his inability to keep the ball in the park (six starts with multiple homers allowed since July). The third starter in the rotation is either going to be Rick Porcello, functionally a batting practice machine this season, or Eduardo Rodriguez, who the Astros just got done roughing up on the 28th.

The pitching matchup is to die for here and there are plenty of stars on the field, and that’s why this is the Game of the Week. That said, I’m not sure the Red Sox can hang with the Astros as the series goes on.

Prediction: Astros 5, Red Sox 3

Player to Watch: Justin Verlander (8 IP, 2 ER, 9 K)

I’m not ready to trust the Red Sox in the playoffs, and their performance against the Astros at the end of the regular season wasn’t terribly encouraging. Verlander has won all five of his starts with the Astros thus far and given up no more than two runs in any of them. Houston is red hot, and their roster feels special to me this year. I think they take this game and, honestly, I don’t think this series will be much of a contest, either.


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NCAA Football (Week Six)

(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: Iowa State at #3 Oklahoma, 10/7 @ 12 PM ET

I may regret going back to the Sooners for this category after the Baylor fiasco, but Iowa State did just lose to Texas. So.

Prediction: Oklahoma 45, Iowa State 10

Player to Watch: Baker Mayfield (Numbers)

I mean, yeah.


Game of the Weird: #13 Miami at Florida State, 10/7 @ 3:30 PM ET

Before this game got rescheduled, it might have been my Game of the Week on its original kickoff date. Oh, how things have changed.

Florida State’s disappointing 1-2 start isn’t entirely their fault, because any team that loses a quarterback like Deondre Francois is going to have issues. Seeing the Seminoles drop a game to NC State and merely edge out Wake Forest is a surprise, though, even with freshman James Blackman struggling to fill Francois’ shoes. Even though their playoff hopes are likely dead, it feels like they should have the talent to perform better than they have.

Miami, meanwhile, has looked dominant. The Hurricanes flatted a previously undefeated Duke team last week, 30-6, and look primed to compete in an ACC that currently boasts a whole lot of one-loss teams. Quarterback Malik Rosier has been very good, but it’s the backfield averaging an absurd 7.5 yards per carry that keeps this team moving. Running back Mark Walton sounds likely to return after hurting his ankle last week, and the last full game he played, he totaled 204 yards on only 11 carries. I really like the look of Miami’s offense right now, and I’m not sure how this diminished Florida State can keep pace.

Prediction: Miami 34, Florida State 17

Player to Watch: Mark Walton (17 carries, 185 yards, 2 TDs)

Miami is gonna get out to an early lead here, and their backfield will keep them ahead. The Hurricanes move the ball so well on the ground, and James Blackman doesn’t seem ready to make the plays Florida State would need to mount a comeback.


Game of the Week: #23 West Virginia at #8 TCU, 10/7 @ 3:30 PM ET

Honestly, this is probably my least favorite crop of games on a Saturday since the season began. There just aren’t a lot of games that really grabbed me this week, considering I’m not sure Texas A&M can put a scratch on Alabama and even Lamar Jackson doesn’t have me incredibly enthused for an ACC matchup of Louisville and NC State.

West Virginia-TCU it is, then, and I’m hoping to see a whole lot of points on the board before the clock hits zero. West Virginia has bounced back from a close loss to Virginia Tech to score 56, 59, and 56 points, while TCU has at least 44 points in three of their own four games. Kenny Hill and Will Grier are posting gaudy numbers through the air, and the running games, anchored by backs Darius Anderson and Justin Crawford, are nearing 1,000 yards apiece as a team. This game reminds me a bit of the old Colt McCoy/Sam Bradford/Graham Harrell days in the Big 12, where every conference matchup had the final score of a boring college basketball game.

Prediction: West Virginia 45, TCU 42

Player to Watch: Will Grier (28-36, 350 yards, 4 TD)

I could go either way on this game, but I’m going to lean towards the team with the quarterback I trust more, and Will Grier has been killing it this season. He’s yet to throw for fewer than 300 yards and his worst game of the season came with three touchdowns and only one pick. The Big 12 has a rich tradition of air raid offenses, and I enjoy watching Grier keep it alive.


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Last Week’s Predictions:

NFL (Week Four):

Bengals at Browns, 10/1:

Well this is just a solid miss. I somehow managed to overrate the Browns. I still like Kizer, though.

No points.

0 out of 1

Raiders at Broncos, 10/1:

I’m gonna give myself half a point because I was close on the score, and because the Raiders may well have won if Derek Carr didn’t get hurt. I was extremely wrong on Marshawn Lynch, though; the Denver defense has been spectacular against the run but he also might not have as much in the tank as the first two weeks of the season suggested.

0.5 out of 1

Rams at Cowboys, 10/1:

Another half-point, because the score was pretty close and it was as much of a shootout as I expected. Dez Bryant didn’t go off in a major way, but he did have his best game of the season against the Rams defense. I also specifically mentioned Todd Gurley’s improvement as a pass-catcher, and he piled up 94 yards as a receiver in this game. He’s now only about 100 yards short of his career-high in receiving yardage; it’s a real thing.

0.5 out of 1

MLB:

Padres at Giants, 10/1:

This game actually had some offense, and ended in a hilarious Pablo Sandoval walk-off homer that cost the Giants the top overall pick in the MLB Draft. Still… bleh.

No score

Blue Jays at Yankees, 9/29:

Can’t give myself any points here because my predictions were off, but it didn’t help that Gary Sanchez didn’t even play. How about Masahiro Tanaka, though? Fifteen strikeouts!

0 out of 1

Astros at Red Sox, 9/28:

Ugh. What a mess. The Red Sox messed around and let the division get way closer than it needed to, but did come away with it a few days later. No points here, though.

0 out of 1

NCAA Football (Week Five):

Ole Miss at #1 Alabama, 9/30:

I’m literally never going to stop doing this.

1 out of 1

#7 Georgia at Tennessee, 9/30:

Well, I was close on 50% of the score, I just overestimated how much Tennessee would be able to do. Half a point for me here, though, as Georgia rode their running game to the win as expected. I also said Jake Fromm wouldn’t need to throw more than 15 passes, and he threw… 15 passes. Neat.

0.5 out of 1

#2 Clemson at #12 Virginia Tech, 9/30:

Score-wise, I was actually really close, but I’m only giving myself half a point on this one because the game wasn’t exactly as competitive as I’d made it out to be. Clemson had this one well in hand for the most part, and Josh Jackson didn’t put up the counting stats I’d expected (though he did throw a lot).

0.5 out of 1


This Week’s Score: 3 points out of 9

The Overall Tally: 12.5 out of 34 (37%)

Bonus Nonsense of the Week:

The Twins lost 103 games last year, and made the Wild Card this season with a roster full of young players who weren’t around when the organization last made the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. They chased Yankees ace Luis Severino in the first inning. How do we commemorate that? With, uhh, a topical Lost reference, I guess. Weak effort, Sports Illustrated.

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