TSR’s 2018 Wimbledon Preview – History Will Repeat Itself

My favorite Grand Slam tournament is finally upon us! Roger Federer and Garbiñe Muguruza will begin their defense of their Wimbledon titles at the All-England Club on Monday. As usual, there are some interesting storylines to follow.

For the gentlemen, is there a young player who will emerge and make a name for themselves? How far can two-time champion Andy Murray go after returning from a hip injury just a few weeks ago? Can reigning French Open champion Rafael Nadal finally make it past the fourth round for the first time since 2011?

For the women, will there a fourth straight first-time Grand Slam tournament champion? Most importantly, how will Serena Williams do after withdrawing from the French Open due to a pectoral injury?

Once again, I will channel my inner-psychic abilities and correctly predict who will lift the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy and Venus Rosewater Dish, respectively.

GENTLEMEN’S SINGLES DRAW

No. 1 Seed Roger Federer’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. FEDERER, BORNA CORIC, etc.

This section will pretty straightforward, with all four seeded players advancing to the third round. The fourth round matchup most will want to see is Federer vs. Ćorić, which would be a rematch of Sunday’s Halle Open final where Ćorić stunned Federer in three sets. Unfortunately, No. 22 seed Adrian Mannarino, who has defeated Ćorić on grass in the past, will spoil that matchup. The Frenchman’s run will stop in the fourth round once Federer dispatches of him in straight sets, just like their previous four matchups.

BOTTOM HALF FT. KEVIN ANDERSON, SAM QUERREY, etc.

Once again, all four seeded players should reach the third round without much trouble, but this is where things will get interesting. Despite a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon last year, Querrey will come up against an even tougher player in No. 23 seed Richard Gasquet, who is coming off a title at the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships two weeks ago. As for Anderson, the big South African has struggled to re-gain his form since returning from a thigh injury, losing in three sets to Leonardo Mayer at the Queen’s Club Championships on June 19. No. 25 seed Phillipp Kohlschreiber will bounce on Anderson’s struggles, but fall to the red-hot Gasquet in the fourth round.

No. 3 Seed Marin Čilić’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. CILIC, MILOS RAONIC, LUCAS POUILLE, etc.

If there is a place where young, rising Americans can do well, it is in this section. Pouille is coming off a disappointing straight-set loss against young upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Halle Open, while a leg injury has kept No. 28 seed Filip Krajinović has out of action since the Miami Open back in March. Pouille will fall in the first round to 25-year-old American Denis Kudla. If healthy, Krajinović should win his first round match, but could run into trouble against 23-year-old American Mackenzie McDonald in the second round. Both of these upsets will clear the way for an exciting fourth round matchup between Čilić, one of last year’s Wimbledon finalists, and Raonic, a 2016 finalist. At age 27, Raonic has yet to prove himself against the big names in men’s tennis, as shown by his relatively easy path to the Halle Open final, where he lost in straight sets to Federer. Čilić, however, recently knocked off Querrey, Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic on his way to the title at the Queen’s Club Championships. It’s hard to see Čilić‘s streak of four consecutive Wimbledon quarterfinals ending this year.

BOTTOM HALF FT. GRIGOR DIMITROV, JOHN ISNER, PABLO CARRENO BUSTA, etc.

This is the one of the more wide-open sections in the entire draw, as all three names listed above will fall within the first three rounds. Isner, who has never advanced past the third round at the All-England club, will fall to fellow American Steve Johnson in a second round battle of human trash. Carreño Busta, who has admitted that grass is his weakest surface, will make it past the first round at Wimbledon for the first time in his career, only to fall to fan favorite Cameron Norrie in the second round. These upsets will open the door for either Dimitrov or No. 31 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. Unfortunately for Dimitrov, who yours truly recently learned is dating Nicole Scherzinger, he has yet to make it past the fourth round at Wimbledon since his semifinal run back in 2014. On top of that, the 27-year-old Bulgarian has had disappointing results in both major tournaments this year, losing to an unseeded Kyle Edmund in the quarterfinals as the No. 3 seed at the Australian Open and losing to the No. 30 seed Fernando Verdasco as the No. 4 seed at the French Open. As for Tsitsipas, the 19-year-old from Greece has picked up a few decent results on grass this season, reaching the quarterfinals at the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships and the Round of 16 at the Queen’s Club Championships. Tsitsipas will upset Dimitrov in five sets and advance to his first-ever quarterfinals at a Grand Slam event.

No. 4 Seed Alexander Zverev’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. DOMINIC THIEM, NOVAK DJOKOVIC, etc.

There are a lot of dangerous, young unseeded players in this section of the draw that could shake things up right from the opening serve. One of those players is 20-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, who faces a struggling No. 30 seed Fernando Verdasco in the first round. Another young player to keep an eye on is 22-year-old Karen Khachanov, who has a great chance of a second round upset over French Open finalist Dominic Thiem, who suffered a bad straight-set loss in the quarterfinals of the Halle Open at the hands Yuichi Sugita. Speaking of which, Sugita will also capitalize in a second round upset over No. 21 seed Kyle Edmund, who has had a so-so grass court season to this point and may find the pressure of being Britain’s top-ranked player at Wimbledon a bit too overwhelming. So with Tiafoe, Khachanov and Sugita advancing to the third round, Djokovic should breeze to the quarterfinals in a three or four set match against Tiafoe in the fourth round.

BOTTOM HALF FT. ZVEREV, NICK KYRGIOS, etc.

Following his win in the Italian Open final over Zverev earlier this year, Rafael Nadal said of Zverev’s Grand Slam future, “If he’s not playing well in Grand Slams in the next two years, you can come back to me and tell me ‘You don’t know anything about tennis.'” A few weeks later, the 21-year-old German reached his first-ever major quarterfinal at the French Open, where he fell to Thiem. On the bright side, it was a step in the right direction for a player who has defeated the likes of Federer and Djokovic on the ATP Tour, but has yet to even reach the point of facing those players at Grand Slam tournaments. On top of that, Zverev is entering Wimbledon following a disappointing loss to Ćorić in his opening match at Halle. Fortunately, his draw is simple enough that he should reach the third round before falling to No. 27 seed Damir Džumhur, who is coming off a title win at the Antalya Open this past week. Not to mention, there is another young star in this section of the draw who has arguably more talent than Zverev, but has yet to put it all together, perhaps due to immaturity or lack of mental toughness. Another early exit from Zverev should open the door for Kyrgios, who John McEnroe has dubbed “the most talented tennis player of the last 10 years,” to return to the quarterfinals at the All-England Club for the first time since defeating Rafael Nadal as a 19-year-old wild card entry back in 2014.

No. 2 Seed Rafael Nadal’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO, DAVID GOFFIN, JACK SOCK, etc.

The big story in this section is whether two-time Wimbledon champion and crowd favorite Andy Murray is fully healthy to compete for Grand Slam titles. The 31-year-old has played just three competitive matches in the lead-up to Wimbledon, losing two of them to Kyrgios and Edmund, respectively. Murray should make it past the first round in straight sets, but it would be stunning to see him make it past the second or third round considering his injury and his potential opponents (UPDATE: Murray has withdrawn, as of this morning). It also does not help that there will be chaos in this section, so much so that three seeded players will fall in the first round. No. 26 seed Denis Shapovalov, who has struggled on grass this season, has little to no chance against the red-hot Jérémy Chardy, who possesses a 12-2 record on grass in 2018 across all competitions. Sock has lost in straight sets twice on grass this season and will certainly be on upset alert against 22-year-old Italian Matteo Berrettini. Last, but certainly not least, Goffin, who lost his lone match on grass this season to Feliciano López at the Queen’s Club Championships will fall victim to 30-year-old Australian Matthew Ebden, who made the semifinals at the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships and the quarterfinals at the Queen’s Club Championships. Speaking of Lopez, the 36-year-old Spaniard is capable of upsetting del Potro, who has not played a single match since the French Open. From there, it’s basically a toss-up between Chardy, López and Ebden for the quarterfinals spot. Let’s just go with Ebden.

BOTTOM HALF FT. NADAL, DIEGO SCHWARTZMAN, FABIO FOGNINI, etc.

Schwartzman is coming off a bad loss in Nottingham against Lukáš Lacko and is not a strong grass-court player, as shown by the fact that he has never made it past the first round at the All-England Club. Unseeded Bosnian Mirza Bašić should take advantage, as should the other Mischa Zverev in his second round match against No. 29 seed Marco Cecchinato. The older Zverev brother is coming off his first ATP tile win at the Eastbourne International this past week, while Cecchinato failed to make it past the first round in his lone Wimbledon appearance last year. While Zverev’s tendency to come to the net could give Nadal some problems in the third round, the Spaniard should advance and set up one of the more exciting Round of 16 matches against Fognini. Despite not advancing past the fourth round at Wimbledon since 2011, the draw should work in Nadal‘s favor. If he can get through this section of the draw, he will go all the way.

QUARTERFINALS
Roger Federer [1] DEF. Richard Gasquet [23]
Marin Čilić [3] DEF. Stefanos Tsitsipas [31]
Novak Djokovic [12] DEF. Nick Kyrgios [15]
Rafael Nadal [2] DEF. Matthew Ebden

SEMIFINALS
Roger Federer [1] DEF. Marin Čilić [3]
Rafael Nadal [2] DEF. Novak Djokovic [12]

How poetic would this be? Almost 10 years to the day of their legendary 2008 final, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face off, perhaps for the final time, at the All-England Club. It would truly be a testament to all that these two legends have accomplished in the intervening decade. This final would also guarantee seven straight Grand Slam tournaments won between these two legends, dating back to the 2016 U.S. Open. In another five-set classic that will go down in history, the defending champion will exact his revenge from that 2008 final loss and capture his ninth Wimbledon title and 21st Grand Slam title overall.

FINAL
Roger Federer [1] DEF. Rafael Nadal [2]

LADIES’ SINGLES DRAW

No. 1 Seed Simona Halep’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. HALEP, ELISE MERTENS, etc.

After finally capturing her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros last month, Halep deservedly took the next month off to recuperate for this tournament. The 26-year-old has a relatively easy draw and should breeze to the fourth round. Mertens, however, has struggled on grass this season and will be on upset alert in the first round against American Danielle Collins. That should open the door for No. 22 seed and Britain’s own Johanna Konta, who defeated Halep in the quarterfinals in one of the best matches of last year’s tournament. If Konta can string together a few wins and use the home crowd to further build her confidence, she will beat Halep again.

BOTTOM HALF FT. PETRA KVITOVA, JELENA OSTAPENKO, etc.

Beware of Kirsten Flipkens, and for a number of reasons. First off, her potential second round opponent, Ostapenko, is coming off a shocking first round loss at Roland Garros, arguably the worst Grand Slam result of any player this season. A straight set loss to Agnieszka Radwańska in the quarterfinals at the Eastbourne International certainly does not inspire much confidence in her ability to advance far in this tournament. Outside of Flipkens, expect a few more second round upsets, including American Sofia Kenin knocking off No. 24 seed and pathological liar Maria Sharapova, who has not played a match on grass since the 2015 Wimbledon championships. Although she has not done well at Wimbledon historically, three-time Grand Slam champion Samantha Stosur is more than capable of an upset over No. 26 seed Daria Gavrilova, who also lost to Radwanska at the Eastbourne International and has advanced past the first round at the All-England Club just once. This will all set up an exciting rematch of the 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinals between Flipkens and Kvitová, a match in which Flipkens won after dropping the first set. Why can’t she do it again?

No. 3 Seed Garbiñe Muguruza’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. MUGURUZA, DARIA KASATKINA, ASHLEIGH BARTY, etc.

Muguruza is the defending champion, but will the “defending champion” show up? To clarify, outside of last year’s title and a finals appearance in 2016, the 24-year-old Spaniard bowed out within the first two rounds in her other three Wimbledon appearances. Considering No. 28 seed Anett Kontaveit’s struggles on grass this season, the path is clear for Muguruza to reach the fourth round. Beyond that point, however, will be tough considering the recent grass play of Barty, who defeated the likes of Konta and Naomi Osaka on her way to the Nottingham Open title. She will advance past beyond the second round, but it will unfortunately be another disappointing Wimbledon result for Muguruza.

BOTTOM HALF FT. CAROLINA GARCIA, ANGELIQUE KERBER, NAOMI OSAKA, etc.

No. 27 seed Carla Suárez Navarro will be on upset alert against 23-year-old German Carina Witthöft in the first round. This section will blown even more wide open when Garcia falls to unseeded Alison Riske in the second round. The 27-year-old American has not only beaten Garcia at the All-England club before, but she is coming off two quarterfinal appearances on grass this season, including at the Mallorca Open, where she defeated Kerber in the first round. That leaves the aforementioned Kerber and Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, another 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinalist, as the only players left who could come out of this section. In an exciting fourth round match, Kanepi will use her earlier Wimbledon success over Kerber to get back to the quarterfinals.

No. 4 Seed Sloane Stephens’ Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. KAROLINA PLISKOVA, VENUS WILLIAMS, KIKI BERTENS, etc.

It’s amazing to consider that Venus Williams made the final of Wimbledon last year at age 37. Now one year older, the older Williams sister has a relatively easy draw back to the fourth round, considering Bertens’ unconvincing play on grass this season. However, the winner of this section may come down to a first round matchup between No. 29 seed Mihaela Buzărnescu and 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus. Both have been fantastic on grass this season, but the slight edge should go to Sabalenka, who won her first WTA title at the Eastbourne Invitational this past week. In her path to the title, she defeated Plíšková, her potential third round matchup, in a close three-set match in the quarterfinals at the Eastbourne International. Taking into account Venus’ two first-round exits at Grand Slam tournaments this year, the cards could fall into place for Sabalenka to go very far in this tournament, which would make it three unseeded players in the quarterfinals thus far.

BOTTOM HALF FT. STEPHENS, JULIA GOERGES, etc.

Speaking of unseeded players, don’t expect many ranked players to advance deep in this section of the draw. Goerges and No. 23 seed Barbara Strycova have both been beaten on grass by their first round opponents, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig and 2017 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Svetlana Kuznetsova. No. 31 seed Shuai Zhang, who suffered a bad first round loss at the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships last week, will not be a threat either, bowing out to Germany’s Mona Barthel in the second round. This will open the door wide open for Stephens, another 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinalist. Despite not playing on grass this season, the 25-year-old American is coming off a finals appearance at the French Open. Add in the easy draw, and it should not take Stephens long to re-gain her form and get back to the quarterfinals once again.

No. 2 Seed Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. ELINA SVITOLINA, MADISON KEYS, MAGDALENA RYBARIKOVA, etc.

Let’s not mince words… this is No. 25 seed Serena Williams’ section of the draw. All eyes will be on the 19-time Grand Slam champion and her battle back from a pectoral injury that forced her to withdraw before her surefire pummeling of Sharapova in the French Open Round of 16. Even if she is not at 100 percent, Williams should make quick work of her first two opponents. The third round is where this section can get blown wide open. While many expect her to play Svitolina, there’s a great chance that the No. 5 seed may not even make it out of the first round. Svitolina’s opponent, Tatjana Maria, is coming off her first WTA Singles title at the Mallorca Open last week. It really comes down to whether Serena is completely healthy, and at the moment, no one really knows. In the bottom half of this section, it’s a toss-up between Keys and Rybáriková for the other spot in the Round of 16. Either way, neither will be able to match up with the in-form Maria.

BOTTOM HALF FT. WOZNIACKI, COCO VANDEWEGHE, etc.

The main noisemaker in this section will be Aleksandra Krunić, the 25-year-old Serbian who is also coming off her first WTA Singles title at the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships last week. Not only will she dispatch of No. 21 seed Anastasija Sevastova, who is also playing well on grass this season, but she will also defeat Vandeweghe, who lost in straight sets to Krunić in Holland. She will meet reigning Australian Open champion Wozniacki, who is also coming off a title at the Eastbourne International this past week, in the fourth round. The 26-year-old Dane is 0-6 in fourth round matches at the All-England Club, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that she could fall to a player in good form such Krunić. However, with the pressure of not winning a major off her shoulders combined with the her recent form and possible chaos of the other sections, Wozniacki is the odds-on favorite to lift the lift the Venus Rosewater Dish.

QUARTERFINALS
Kirsten Flipkens DEF. Johanna Konta [22]
Ashleigh Barty [17] DEF. Kaia Kanepi
Aryna Sabalenka DEF. Sloane Stephens [4]
Caroline Wozniacki [2] DEF. Tatjana Maria

SEMIFINALS
Ashleigh Barty [17] DEF. Kirsten Flipkens
Caroline Wozniacki [2] DEF. Aryna Sabalenka

There has been seven different winners over the last Grand Slam Tournaments, including three consecutive first-time major champions. Since Serena’s Australian Open win 2017, no one player has grabbed the women’s game by the scruff of the neck, which has led to a lot of unpredictability, particularly at majors. This tournament will no different, but if their recent quarterfinal match at the Eastbourne International was any indication, Wozniacki will continue her dream 2018 season and pick up her second Grand Slam title.

FINAL
Caroline Wozniacki [2] DEF. Ashleigh Barty [17]

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ABC’s The Bachelorette Season 14 Cast Preview – LET’S DO THE DAMN THING!

Yes, I watch The Bachelor and its adjacent shows. Why, you ask?

Because what is funnier than a large group of contestants saying stupid things and getting on each other nerves, all for the slim chance of potentially ending up the with the Bachelor or Bachelorette? It is comedy at its most entertaining.

So before delving into the cast of the 14th season of ABC’s The Bachelorette, let’s actually introduce this season’s star:

BECCA KUFRIN, THE BACHELORETTE

No Bachelor contestant has gone through the ringer like Becca did this past season. That gray-haired slice of Wonder Bread proposed to her in the season finale, only to dump her just weeks later. He then proposed to that blonde-haired slice of Wonder Bread on After the Final Rose JUST WEEKS AFTER BREAKING UP WITH BECCA! Thank goodness both are out of our lives.

This was probably the easiest choice for The Bachelorette in the history of the show. Becca has the clear backing of “Bachelor Nation,” including yours truly, who picked her to win last season. Most importantly, it seems like Becca is a rational and sane human being when it comes to interacting with people. In other words, she is not a slice of Wonder Bread.

=======================

So now to the fun part: making jokes about the 28 eligible bachelors! This season, however, instead of a list of questions and answers, ABC only put out a short biography about each contestant. It’s a bit disappointing because, as you’ll soon see, some of the bios get repetitive, which is not as fun for people such as myself who are attempting to separate the front-runners from the complete dopes.

There are a lot of men with either a business/finance background, an athletic background, or both. Of course, they had to throw in a few models as well. As for the racial makeup of the cast, the only thing I can really complain about is that the producers refuse to cast more than one Asian man or woman on a season. I did like how they highlighted the immigration status of some contestants, something that the show has often hidden until a future one-on-one date.

Enough talk, let’s make jokes and criticize people’s lives!

*NOTE: For the sake of space, I did not post much personal information below each name. Refer to the ABC’s cast bios linked to each contestants names. FYI I reference them a lot. Chris Harrison’s info comes from this video on The Bachelorette Facebook page and contestants’ last names come from this POPSUGAR article.*

NAME: ALEX TEMPLEMAN
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “I think he has a little bit of a Tom Brady thing going on…”

Shout out to Chris Harrison for clearly trolling Atlanta with the Tom Brady reference.

Anyway, the “self-proclaimed country music lover” thing raises some questions. For instance, being that Alex lives in Georgia, is he a bro-country loving Florida Georgia Line guy, or is he more of a Johnny Cash/Hank Williams classic country type of guy? Very important difference, and who knows, it could be a deal-breaker for Becca.

Also, the “taking trips to the beach with his boat” and “hitting the ski slopes out west” definitely gives off the impression that Alex is not doing too bad financially.

NAME: BLAKE HORSTMANN
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Blake’s an interesting guy. He and Becca hit it off. They have a really good connection.”

Blake is one of the five men that Becca met on After the Final Rose. He was the guy that rode in on the horse and led with, “When you fall of the horse, you gotta get back up again.” Chris Harrison also mentioned that Blake will be riding a different animal when he meets Becca again on night one.

You can tell Blake is for equality based on the belief that “two people need to be independent in order to truly love each other,” so that’s a good start.

NAME: CHASE VERGASON
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Chase is involved in a little drama on night one. I think the facial hair may have led you to know that he was going to be a part of some on night one. He just kinda looks like that kind of a character, doesn’t he?”

Sure, Chris Harrison. Whatever you say.

Chase also met Becca on After the Final Rose show and did a lot of shaking of Becca’s arms when they were holding hands. Hopefully, he doesn’t rip her arms off when he steps out of the limo.

Unfortunately, Chase played baseball at the University of South Carolina, a.k.a., the wrong SEC school in Columbia. Not a good sign if you ask me.

NAME: CHRIS RANDONE
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Chris R. is also involved in a little drama.”

What does a “sales trainer” do? Does he train other salespeople? Also, what is the relationship between “sales trainer” and entrepreneurship?

But the standout factoid of Chris R.? “He comes from a family of successful entrepreneurs that retired in their 40s, and he’s determined to do the same!” In other words, Becca may have to commit to man who will be ready to sit on his lazy bum once the next decade passes.

NAME: CHRISTIAN [no last name b/c no social media]
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Always like those soccer players.”

LOL! Okay, Chris Harrison. Yup. We totally believe you.

But in all seriousness, as a soccer fanatic myself, Christian is on my shortlist of people I will be rooting for this season.

NAME: CHRISTON STAPLES
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Early on, you’re gonna know [Christon] as Chris S…. clearly, this man is not used to losing.”

Christon will be around for at least two or three episodes since Chris Harrison admitted production screwed up his name early on. As a Harlem Globetrotter-turned-professional dunker, I do hope there is a basketball group date for Christon to show off his talent. Here’s an insane video of “Chris” on TNT’s The Dunk King last year:

Also, take a moment to appreciate this sentence: “Now a professional dunker in LA, Christon hopes finding love with the Bachelorette will be a lay-up.” Not only is this a horrible pun, but laying the ball up literally defeats the purpose of Christon’s current occupation. Way to go, Bachelorette interns and/or producers who wrote these bios.

NAME: CLAY HARBOR
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Clay’s a stud… Clay might be the most athletic guy we’ve ever had on the show… Clay actually plays in the NFL. This guy’s legit… Is he ready to give up his career… is he still gonna try to, you know, eek out the rest of that professional playing career? So that’s an interesting thing him and Becca have to figure out.”

So, Clay was a legit NFL player. Here are some of his highlights during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles:

For those wondering, Clay has not played since 2016 with the Detroit Lions. He spent this past season with the New Orleans Saints, but ended up on injured reserve a few weeks before Week 1.

Clay does not curse, which could be a problem since Becca literally says “damn” every other word. Expressing his disapproval to her for using that word would make for some great television.

NAME: COLTON UNDERWOOD
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “He’s got a couple of issues, maybe some stuff you’ve heard about some of the tabloids about his past, but Colton has another big story that he and Becca will deal with.”

Unlike Clay, Colton never played a down of football in the NFL. Besides, the tabloid stuff that Chris Harrison is referring to is way more interesting.

You may remember Colton as “that guy who asked out Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman in 2016 Yahoo Q&A session.” Much to my surprise, they actually dated for about a year before parting on good terms this past August. Apparently, there is another “big story” about Colton, so chances are he will be around for at least the first few episodes.

The thing that scares me about Colton is that he named his dog “Sniper.” I do not think I need to explain why that could sound scary to a lot of people. But other than that, he seems like a good guy.

NAME: CONNOR OBROCHTA
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Pretty early on, gets involved in a little drama in the house… which you wouldn’t think of by looking at that smiley, sunny disposition of his.”

Again… whatever you say, Chris Harrison.

Connor has a very similar haircut to Lee from last season, and we all know what type of guy he was.

Also, having “the opportunity to play professional baseball for the Atlanta Braves” is a very kind of way of saying “not making it of the rookie-level of the minor leagues.”

NAME: DARIUS FEASTER
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Good looking guy. You met him on After the Final Rose as well… made a pretty good first impression on Becca.”

Not really much to add here, other than I am curious to know which countries he has visited.

NAME: DAVID RAVITZ
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… *brace yourselves for this one* “Ummm… wow. Okay, so David, a.k.a. the Chicken Man. David is a really interesting guy… David arrives [on night one] in a chicken suit. I would love to tell you there’s a reason for that. I’m sure he came up with some clever reason, but there’s never a reason to show up in a chicken suit. EVER. Unless you’re working on the street corner for Chic-Fil-A, you’re not showing up in a chicken costume, and I think their whole thing is cows, so really, there’s never a reason in life to show up in a chicken costume, but he does. But he’s also involved in another moment, an incident on the show, that will go down in Bachelor history, and sadly for David, I can’t wait to talk to you guys about it.”

Wow. Where to begin…

I guess I will say that Chris Harrison gave off some serious “Whaboom” vibes when talking about David. For the record, I did not enjoy Whaboom, so this will be fun.

But more importantly, how can one be 25-years-old AND a venture capitalist? First off, where in the world did said capital come from? Based on some of his hobbies and that he enjoys “spending time with his family at their beach house,” David must have grown up filthy, stinking rich.

And it just gets worse. “He loves guacamole, but hates avocado.” HOW DOES THAT MAKE ANY SENSE!?!?

Get this guy out of here. Hopefully, a night one elimination.

NAME: GARRETT YRIGOYEN
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Good looking dude… great guy… sneaky good athlete… We always have some athletic dates and stuff like that, Garrett rises to the top… he just cares about Becca and he’s always that guy that walks into a situation and he’s just like, ‘What can I do to make you happy?’ So he’s always kind of disarming and puts Becca at ease.”

I mean, compared to that avocado-hating dope, Garrett seems like the perfect guy.

The Chris Farley impression seems a bit weird, but based on Chris Harrison’s comments, I think Garrett can go far.

NAME: GRANT VANDEVANTER
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “He’s got kind of a Matt Damon thing going on, do you guys see that?”

Nope. Not seeing it, Chris Harrison.

I literally have nothing to say about Grant.

NAME: JAKE [also no last name b/c no social media]
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Other than looking like former professional golfer Mike Weir, Jake and Becca have a past. Now, they have different versions of this past.”

Seriously, Chris Harrison. We get it. You know what a lot of celebrities look like.

Whatever past Jake and Becca have will surely be brought up on night one. If any of it is along the lines of, “Remember when we used to date?” and Becca says, “No, we didn’t,” that interaction could go down as the funniest moment in Bachelorette history.

Jake does not look one who races motocross or bungee jumps, and I do not think I can handle him writing poetry and reading it to Becca. So for his sake, I hope he is off the show before he embarrasses himself.

But this is The Bachelorette, so of course he is going to embarrass himself, and of course I am going to laugh at him when that happens.

NAME: JASON TARTICK
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “He’s just that blue-collar guy that’s gonna come in there, do what’s right, be a good guy and try to sweep Becca off her feet… Becca and he have a really, really good relationship.”

I enjoy that Jason likes to belt out Disney songs, but I am curious about what his go-to Disney song is and if he will sing it to Becca on night one. I am also not sure how a “Sr. Corporate Banker” is a “blue-collar” occupation.

NAME: JEAN BLANC
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “He’s a colognoisseur, which means he loves cologne. I don’t know if any woman loves to hear that… he has like 250 types of cologne… *long pause*… so that’s Jean Blanc.”

I really hope Becca smells and assesses for the audience at home when she meets Jean Blanc for the first time. Based on her reaction, we will find out if he treats cologne like fine wine or wants to give people allergy attacks. I also hope we get a “Hi, I’m Jean Blanc…” intro at the beginning of the first episode so we can just watch him pack all of his cologne into one suitcase.

On paper, Jean Blanc is a very smart guy. Attended Duke, got a master’s degree in business administration, worked as an engineer in Memphis… he has had an interesting life, on top of moving to the U.S. from Haiti when he was two-years-old.

NAME: JOE AMABILE
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Joe’s a good guy. He’s a grocery store owner. How are you not a good guy when your name is Joe, you’re from Chicago, and you’re a grocery store owner. Of course you’re a good guy.”

Well, Chris Harrison basically confirmed that Joe is going home on night one. I would also hate being described as “ripe and ready to be picked,” but I’m probably not as good of a guy as Joe, who probably gave the interns/producers a pass for that.

NAME: JOHN GRAHAM
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Arguably, the most successful guy we’ve ever had on this show… this guy is legit.”

MY ASIAN BROTHER!

But of course, Chris Harrison’s description all but confirms that John will be going home on night one. One day, an Asian guy will get past the first night. One day…

Also, I would like to know Chris Harrison’s scale of success. For instance, is professional football player and probable millionaire Clay a more successful person than John? Not to mention, I am curious about John’s start-up company and where he does his software engineering job.

NAME: JORDAN KIMBALL
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Oh Jordan… *laughs at Jordan’s picture*… He’s a pretty guy. Good-looking guy… Jordan will talk a lot about being a male model and how difficult it is to be a male model… Just think Ben Stiller, Zoolander. That’s what you’re gonna see this season. And I’ll just say this: you’re welcome, America. You are welcome.”

Okay, that is a very good sign in terms of entertainment value.

I think Jordan will end up being the guy that I laugh at the most for saying stupid things and potentially getting on people’s nerves. Any guy who talks about “how difficult it is to be a male model” is A) a douche, B) not-so-bright and C) entertaining for a show like The Bachelorette. I look forward to making fun of Jordan.

NAME: KAMIL NICALEK
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Social media guy… handsome in his own right.”

LOL! “Social Media Participant,” “Social media guy,” and “handsome in his own right” are all just different ways of saying that Kamil is an Instagram model.

Kamil also has a fitness website where he offers physical training and diet plans ranging from $100 to $250. In other words, he also wants to retire in his 40s.

Also, there a lot more activities and various things that can get your hands dirty than a spider. After all, the best way to deal with a spider is to slap it with your bare hand, right?

NAME: LEO DOTTAVIO
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “*Long pause so viewers can marvel at Leo’s hair* Leo is a renaissance man… you’re probably thinking Fabio… I’ll just say this for Leo: don’t judge a book by it’s hair… First off, he’s a stuntman. All stuntmen are just a little bit crazy… you have to have a little bit of an edge. Leo has that edge, but a very well-read guy, very articulate man… the more you get to know Leo, the more you can only love Leo.”

Well, that description looks very promising. But more importantly, there are probably thousands of members of Bachelor Nation, including myself, who will be tuning in on Monday night anticipating a man putting his long hair into a “messy bun.”

NAME: LINCOLN ADIM
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “If you describe Lincoln in three words, other than the accent, you would say drama, drama, and drama. He’s always involved in a little drama… There’s some interesting things that you’re going to learn about Lincoln that I think you’ll enjoy.”

You might remember Lincoln as the first guy who met Becca on After the Final Rose and called Arie a “wanker.” That alone made me want to root for him this season.

That is, until I came across this very disturbing exclusive story from Life & Style Weekly. Here are two direct quotes from Reddit users:

“Lincoln used to s–t on the bathroom floor in his previous position because he thought toilets were unsanitary. He was known as the floor-s–tter and would build a mound of toilet paper and take a s–t on it… I kind of double took and couldn’t really understand what I was seeing. Either the next day or the day after that I walk in and he’s doing it again, and I’m like ‘You got to be kidding me.’ When I told my buddies they were like, ‘What?’ they didn’t believe me so I snapped a picture from when you walk in… just to kind of prove it to them — not knowing that the guy is going to be on a TV show two years later.”

“Apparently it was escalated to HR and everything, he wouldn’t clean up the toilet paper after s–tting on it, so the custodian staff had to clean it up.”

Now, I think we can all admit that this is absolutely disgusting, but this is also very private information that probably doesn’t deserve the time of an exclusive news story. People in certain parts in the world do not use toilets, so it is possible that when Lincoln moved to the U.S. as a teenager, he never changed his earlier bathroom setup. Who knows? What I do know is I am very uncomfortable and cringe at the thought of Becca knowing this information.

Please do not let this be one of the “interesting things” we learn about Lincoln.

NAME: MIKE RENNER
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Not Leo hair, but good hair. Those aren’t extensions. That’s legit. That’s all Mike. *stares at Mike’s photo for an uncomfortable amount of time* If you watch any 80s surf movies, that’s Mike. Not Spicoli-esque, but pretty close… Mike shows up, night one, with a cutout, life-sized image of Arie. You’ll see what he does to it.”

So if you did not know, Mike is a football analyst over at Pro Football Focus and one can find him on Twitter @PFF_Mike tweeting out a bunch of interesting statistics on football. I should note that as a die-hard sports fan myself, I find that very interesting and enjoy people in Mike’s line of work. Most of Bachelor Nation, however, probably finds that profession and football stats useless and boring.

On a more impressive note, Mike’s participation on the show received coverage from popular sports outlets such as Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated, and he even received a few mentions on Twitter from colleagues like The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman and CBS Sports’ Will Brinson. So Mike is actually a legit sports analyst.

Anyway, back to business… when Mike says he loves “festivals, horse races and state fairs,” he is basically saying “I love places with crowds, heat and not-clean bathrooms.” Hopefully, he has not crossed paths with Lincoln at these events.

But what does it for me is not just the bulldog, but the fact that Mike named him Riggins, which considering his profession, is clearly an ode to Friday Night Lights character Tim Riggins, who was my favorite character on the NBC show. TEXAS FOREVER!

So yes, I will be rooting for Mike as well this season.

NAME: NICK SPETSAS
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Zest for life… ummm… which Becca enjoys.”

Yup. Night one elimination.

With that in mind, it helps that we do not have much information to separate Nick from the rest of the men. Unfortunately, the one factoid I will remember about him is his “signature tracksuits.” To use the words of Chris Harrison, there’s never a reason in life to show up anywhere in a signature tracksuit.

NAME: RICKEY JASPER
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Very successful, does well…”

Another night one elimination.

NAME: RYAN PETERSON
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “I think he does have a real job, but we’re going to call him a banjoist… he’s a quirky dude. He’s a fun guy.”

Ryan was the banjo guy on After the Final Rose, so he’s the most likely out of all the men to get the Kendall treatment as this season’s “quirky” contestant. Whatever that means…

NAME: TRENT JESPERSEN
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Night one, very interesting gift for Becca that kind of sets the tone of their relationship. I’ll let you decide for themselves.”

I am gonna guess that “very interesting” means weird, and when it comes to gifts on night one, it can’t much weirder than giving someone a tiny weiner. Still, Becca will probably be too weirded out to give him a rose on night one.

NAME: WILLS REID
CHRIS HARRISON SAYS… “Romantic guy. Makes a really good connection. He’s kind of that silent guy that flies under the radar this season with Becca.”

One more “I” in his first name, and Wills would commonly be mistaken as a Basketball Hall-of-Famer and New York Knicks legend.

Anyway, Wills looks great on paper, as “editorial designer” and Harry Potter fan make for a great combination.

=======================

So to recap… I will be rooting for Christian, John and Mike to start the season. With my luck, they will all get eliminated on night one, all but confirming that I would do awful on this show. As for my hometown picks and winner, I’ll probably post them on Twitter (@danny_shin131), where I will be live-tweeting each episode, but not tonight due to Warriors-Rockets Game 7.

NIGHT 1 ELIMINATION PREDICTIONS: CHASE, GRANT, JOE, JOHN, NICK, RICKEY, TRENT

2018 Australian Open: Women’s Preview + Predictions

With defending champion Serena Williams out, the field is wide open.

In other words, someone has to win this thing.

No. 1 Seed Simona Halep’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. HALEP, ELENA VESNINA, ASHLEIGH BARTY, etc.

No. 1 seed Simona Halep has what it takes to win majors, but over the past few years, the Romanian had struggled mightily at closing tight matches. Despite not winning a match at this tournament since 2015, she enters as the top seed overall and is coming off a title win in Shenzhen last week. The good form, combined with a relatively easy draw, should see Halep through to the Round of 16 and beyond. Depending on their third round matchup, either No. 16 seed Elina Vesnina or No. 18 seed Ashleigh Barty could make it tough for Halep in the Round of 16, but I don’t see it.

BOTTOM HALF FT. KAROLINA PLISKOVA, JOHANNA KONTA, BARBARA STRYCOVA, etc.

Just six months ago, No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova was the No. 1 player in the world and some experts’ favorite to win Wimbledon. But since her shocking second round exit at the hands of Magdalena Rybarikova at that tournament, the 25-year-old Czech has yet to reach a final of any tournament and fallen outside of the top three as a result. Now with new coach Tomas Krupa and a favorable draw to the Round of 16, Pliskova has a great chance of re-claiming her spot at the top of the mountain. Again, depending on a third round matchup, either No. 9 seed Johanna Konta or No. 16 seed Barbara Strycova could pose a threat to Pliskova in the Round of 16. We shall see.

No. 3 Seed Garbiñe Muguruza’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. MUGURUZA, ANASTASIJA SEVASTOVA, etc.

No. 4 seed Garbiñe Muguruza withdrew from each of her last two tournaments due to cramps and a hip injury, respectively. A lack of tennis coming into this tournament could prove costly, especially in a potential second round matchup against Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh. The 32-year-old is coming off a semifinals appearance in Auckland, where she defeated Strycova in the quarterfinals.

Ultimately, this could open the door for former World No. 1 and current No. 21 seed Angelique Kerber. After winning two majors, including the Australian Open, in 2016, the German struggled mightily in 2017, failing to get past the Round of 16 in all four majors. So she decided to part ways with former coach Torben Beltz in November and hire Wim Fissette. So far, it appears Kerber made the right move, as she went on to win her first title since the 2016 U.S. Open in Sydney this past week. If Kerber can keep this up, there’s very little chance that No. 14 seed Anastasija Sevastova will be able to stop her in a potential third round matchup.

BOTTOM HALF FT. CAROLINE GARCIA, KRISTINA MLADENOVIC, MADISON KEYS, etc.

Remember the name: Yulia Puntintseva.

She’s beaten the No. 11 seeded Mladenovic, her potential second round opponent, before on hard court (’16 Indian Wells). In addition, Mladenovic has never advanced past the third round in Melbourne and lost in the first round last year. Putintseva also beat No. 17 seed Madison Keys, her potential third round opponent, on hard court in 2016 (Tokyo). The 22-year-old American has lost both matches she’s participated in since her impressive run to the U.S. Open final last year. But perhaps the most impressive feat of Putintseva’s draw, however, is her 3-0 record against No. 8 seed Caroline Garcia, who retired in her first match in Brisbane last week due to a back injury. With favorable records against all three ranked players, who have question marks of their own, Putintseva has a great chance of causing a major shakeup in this quarter of the draw.

No. 4 Seed Elina Sviotlina’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. VENUS WILLIAMS, JULIA GEORGES, etc.

Twenty years after making her Australian Open début, 37-year-old American Venus Williams will look to get back to the finals. However, the No. 5 seed may run into some trouble in the third round against former semifinalist and No. 31 seed Ekaterina Makarova. The experienced Russian knocked Venus out of this tournament in the first round back in 2014 and has notched some nice wins over some top players in recent months.

Look out for No. 12 seed Julia Goerges, who is playing the best tennis of her career at the moment. Dating back to last season, the 29-year-old German has won her last three tournaments she has participated in: Moscow, WTA Elite, and the first tournament of 2018 in Auckland, where she defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the final. But like Venus, Goerges’ blazing hot play could cool down in the Round of 16 against Makarova, who beat Goerges in the Round of 16 at the 2015 Australian Open.

BOTTOM HALF FT. SVITOLINA, SLOANE STEPHENS, etc.

No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina has won 10 WTA titles in her career, including the Brisbane title just last week. However, she has only reached the quarterfinals of a major twice, and has never made it past the third round in Melbourne. The 23-year-old from the Ukraine has a pretty easy path to the Round of 16, though, so we’ll see if she can finally break through.

As for reigning U.S. Open champion and No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens, the American also has a straightforward path to the Round of 16. The key for Stephens, however, will be staying healthy and getting back on track after five straight losses following her U.S. Open victory. If Stephens can get just string together a few wins, she has the potential to get back to the Australian Open semifinals for the first time since 2013, when she beat Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.

No. 2 Seed Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. JELENA OSTAPENKO, COCO VANDEWEGHE, etc.

The No. 7 seed, Jelena Ostapenko, should overcome former French Open Francesca Schiavone without much of a problem. Her biggest test could come in the third round against Romania’s Monica Niculescu. The 30-year-old veteran has beaten the defending French Open champion on hard court before (’16 Canadian Masters) and has a very favorable path to the third round. The one big concern with Niculescu, however, is whether she is fully healthy after a neck injury forced to withdraw in Hobart last week. It’s worth noting, though, that up until that point, Niculescu had not dropped a set.

As for No. 10 seed Coco Vandeweghe, she hasn’t played a tournament since losing in the final of the WTA Elite back in November. Combine that with her first Australian Open appearance with coach Pat Cash, and I’m just not sure if the American can continue her stellar play at majors. Not to mention, she may have a tough second round match against former top ten player Carla Suarez Navarro. Keep an eye on 33-year-old Australian Sam Stosur as well. If she can get by Monica Puig in the first round and receives help from her opponents below her in the draw, things could get very interesting in the top half of this quarter. Plus, Stosur will surely have the home crowd behind her, for whatever that’s worth.

BOTTOM HALF FT. WOZNIACKI, ANASTASIA PAVLYUCHENKOVA, MAGDALENA RYBARIKOVA, etc.

This half of the quarter, however, won’t be all that interesting. No. 15 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No. 19 seed Magdalena Rybarikova are solid players, but neither are a threat to win major titles. With that being said, No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki should coast all the way to the semifinals despite her tendency to turn passive in big matches. If she can continue playing the way she has over the past 18 months and keep her confidence up, Wozniacki can win the entire tournament.

QUARTERFINALS
Simona Halep [1] DEF. Karolina Pliskova [6]
Angelique Kerber [21] DEF. Yulia Puntintseva
Sloane Stephens [13] DEF. Ekaterina Makarova [31]
Caroline Wozniacki [2] DEF. Sam Stosur

SEMIFINALS
Simona Halep [1] DEF. Angelique Kerber [21]
Caroline Wozniacki [2] DEF. Sloane Stephens [13]

FINAL
Simona Halep [1] DEF. Caroline Wozniacki [2]

2018 Australian Open: Men’s Preview and Predictions

Out of the four major tournaments, the Australian Open has always been my least favorite to predict. After all, it’s the first major of the season and it’s tough to know how players are going to do with such a small sample size coming into the tournament. That particularly applies to players who are coming off various injuries.

Nonetheless, I will try my best to channel my inner-psychic abilities and predict who will win this year’s Australian Open.

No. 1 Seed Rafael Nadal’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. NADAL, JOHN ISNER, etc.

On paper, it sure looks like Nadal will coast to the Round of 16.

But not if No. 28 seed Damir Dzumhur has anything to say about it.

The 25-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina saw an increase in form during the second half of 2017, advancing to three ATP World Tour finals and winning two titles (St. Petersburg and Moscow). Along the way, Dzumhur defeated the likes of Pablo Cuevas, Fabio Fognini and Alexander Zverev. Technically, he owns a win over Nadal from back in 2016, but the Spaniard withdrew in the third set of that match.

Dzumhur is coming into Melbourne after a withdrawal of his own this past week in Sydney due to a hamstring injury. On the other hand, Nadal has yet to play a match since the ATP World Tour Finals back in November, so it could take some time to re-gain last year’s form. If healthy, I think Dzumhur has a great chance to catch Nadal, and the rest of the world, off guard in a potential third round matchup.

As for No. 16 seed John Isner, the American had a solid summer in 2017, capturing two ATP titles in Newport and Atlanta. The 32-year-old did play a lot of matches in the second half of 2017, which could be why he lost to Hyeon Chung in the Round of 16 in Auckland, his lone match of 2018. Isner could have a difficult time in a potential second round matchup with Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov, an experienced and unorthodox player who hits a lot of winners. One would think that would open the door for No. 24 seed Diego Schwartzman, but Dologopolov beat the 5’8″ Argentinian just last week in Brisbane. Add in his win over Dzumhur a few months ago in Shenzhen, and – dare I say – Dolgopolov could make the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

BOTTOM HALF FT. MARIN CILIC, PABLO CARREÑO BUSTA, etc.

Coming off a semifinal run at the U.S. Open, No. 10 seed Pablo Carreño Busta is one of the more athletic and fun players in men’s tennis. That being said, the Spaniard could run into some trouble in the third round against No. 23 seed Gilles Muller, who actually knocked him out in the first round of this tournament back in 2015.

Ryan Harrison could give either No. 31 seed Pablo Cuevas or Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny some trouble in the second round. But even if Harrison does advance to the third round, the No. 6 seed Marin Cilic will be waiting. With Carreño Busta potentially on upset alert in the third round, Cilic should easily reach the quarterfinals and redeem himself after last year’s second round loss to Dan Evans.

No. 3 Seed Grigor Dimitrov’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. DIMITROV, JO-WILFRIED TSONGA, NICK KYRGIOS, etc.

When I saw that Dimitrov and Kyrgios were in the same quarter, I immediately returned to this tweet from ESPN’s Howard Bryant:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Unfortunately, Kyrgios has yet to reach his full potential and is coming off an up-and-down 2017 season, by his standards. At one point, he was knocking off Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Nadal, all in the same tournament. Then, he was losing first round matches in major tournaments to the likes of Pierre-Hughes Herbert and John Millman. On the bright side, Kyrgios is still just 22-years-old, so there’s still plenty of time for him to reach his ceiling.

More importantly, though, this is a very favorable draw for him. Questions still remain about No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov’s performance at major tournaments after title wins. For instance, he followed up his title in Cincinnati last year with a second round loss at the U.S. Open against potential third round opponent at this tournament, Andrey Rublev. After winning the ATP World Tour Finals in November, we’ll see if Dimitrov can follow-up the biggest win of his career with a long-awaited breakthrough performance at a major. As for No. 15 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, he’s certainly capable of a big upset, but at age 32, his days as a top player are dwindling.

In short, there are certainly cracks in this draw that Kyrgios can break through. It all depends on which version of the Aussie shows up to this tournament.

BOTTOM HALF FT. JACK SOCK, KEVIN ANDERSON, LUCAS POUILLE, etc.

No. 8 seed Jack Sock has never made it past the third round at this tournament, but I’m not even sure it’s a given that the American will make it out of the first round. His opponent, Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, defeated Sock in straight sets last year in Cincinnati. In addition, Sock is not coming into Melbourne in good form after losing his first match in Auckland to Peter Gojowczyk.

With Sock potentially out of the picture, it could open the door for either No. 11 seed Kevin Anderson or No. 18 seed Lucas Pouille, both of whom could face off in the third round. Believe it or not, Pouille has never won a match at the Australian Open. Anderson, however, is coming off his first Grand Slam finals appearance at the U.S. Open and a finals appearance in Chennai last week.

No. 4 Seed Alexander Zverev’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. DOMINIC THIEM, STAN WAWRINKA, ROBERTO BAUTISTA AGUT, etc.

Sticking with the upset theme, I don’t think No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem gets out of the first round either. His opponent, Argentina’s Guido Pella, has defeated him in straight sets in both of their matchups, including last season in Chengdu. In addition, Thiem withdrew from his semifinal match in Doha last week due to illness. An early loss sure would not be a good start to his partnership with new coach Galo Blanco.

So with Thiem potentially out of the picture, 24-year-old Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic should advance to the Round of 16, which also means No. 9 seed Stan Wawrinka can once again make a deep run at this tournament. The 32-year-old has been out of action since Wimbledon due to a knee injury, but it says a lot that he’s still ranked in the top ten after six months without a win. Unfortunately, Wawrinka’s path back to the final could be spoiled in a potential third round matchup with Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco. If he can win that match, Wawrinka will assert himself as a threat to win the entire tournament.

BOTTOM HALF FT. ZVEREV, NOVAK DJOKOVIC, etc.

Don’t be so quick to write in that third round matchup between brothers Alexander and Mischa Zverev. Sure, Mischa knocked Andy Murray out of last year’s tournament and Alexander is one major victory away from solidifying himself as a tennis superstar. But South Korea’s rising superstar, Hyeon Chung, defeated both Zverev brothers last season. The 21-year-old has already beaten the likes of Isner and Muller in 2018, and is more than capable of disposing of both Alexander and Mischa once again.

With another top five seed on upset alert, it opens the door for another superstar returning from injury – No. 14 seed Novak Djokovic. His resumé at Melbourne speaks for itself. If his elbow injury doesn’t nag him, Djokovic more than capable of winning his seventh career Australian Open title and 13th career Grand Slam tournament.

No. 2 Seed Roger Federer’s Quarter of the Draw

TOP HALF FT. DAVID GOFFIN, JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO, TOMAS BERDYCH, etc.

Besides Thiem in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon, No. 19 seed Tomas Berdych simply beat inferior players last season. In other words, the 32-year-old just could get over the hump against top quality players. On top of that, Berdych started off 2018 on the wrong foot, losing his first match in Doha in three sets to Jan-Lennard Struff. Things won’t get better for Berdych when he takes on Australian teenager Alex De Minaur, who is reeling after a semi-final appearance in Brisbane and a finals appearance in Sydney.

With all that being said, No. 7 seed David Goffin and No. 12 seed Juan Martin del Potro should advance to the Round of 16 without much of a problem. Due to relatively recent wins over Federer and Nadal, I give the slight edge to Goffin, but it could go either way.

BOTTOM HALF FT. FEDERER, SAM QUERREY, etc.

The No. 13 seed, Sam Querrey, enjoyed a nice run to the Wimbledon semi-finals last year. Unfortunately, the American will be on upset alert against 36-year-old Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who is more than capable of a big upset at a major tournament. An early exit from Querrey could open the door for the No. 22 seed Milos Raonic, a former semifinalist back in 2014 but has since fallen out of the top 20 due to early exits and various injuries.

Unfortunately for the big-serving Canadian, he’s in the same quarter as Roger Federer. Need I say more?

QUARTERFINALS
Marin Cilic [6] DEF. Alexandr Dolgopolov
Kevin Anderson [11] DEF. Nick Kyrgios [17]
Novak Djokovic [14] DEF. Stan Wawrinka [9]
Roger Federer [2] DEF. David Goffin [7]

SEMIFINALS
Marin Cilic [6] DEF. Kevin Anderson [11]
Novak Djokovic [14] DEF. Roger Federer [2]

FINAL
Novak Djokovic [14] DEF. Marin Cilic [6]

The Minnesota Vikings… Powered By Stupidity

Remember when the Minnesota Vikings possessed one of the greatest home-field advantages in all of sports?

For nearly all the 1960s and 1970s, the Vikings played their home games at the frozen tundra known as Metropolitan Stadium, or “the Met.” From 1969 to 1976, head coach Bud Grant led Minnesota to a 7-3 home playoff record and four Super Bowls appearances. To this day, it is the most dominant stretch of football in the franchise’s history.

The average wind chill of those ten playoff games at the Met? 8.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grant banned heaters from the sideline and even prohibited his players from wearing gloves. He thought that not only would his team acclimate to the cold weather, but that they would sit down on the heated benches, making them less engaged in the game.

As a result, the Vikings thrived in the freezing conditions, especially in the trenches on defense. Carl Eller and Alan Page were Hall-of-Famers, Jim Marshall held the NFL record for consecutive starts until future Vikings quarterback Brett Favre broke it in 2009, and Gary Larsen was the best run stopper of the entire group. These four men were commonly called the “Purple People Eaters.”

Again, limiting this to the Vikings’ glory years (1969-1976), here are some of their basic defensive statistics:

*NOTES: The regular season consisted of 14 games and the NFL consisted of 16 teams in 1969, 26 teams from ’70 to ’75, and 28 teams in ’76 (NFL rank listed in parentheses).*

While the “Purple People Eaters” were the focal point of those great Vikings teams, the offense also flourished in the cold conditions. From quarterbacks Joe Kapp and Hall-of-Famer Fran Tarkenton, to running backs Chuck Foreman and Dave Osborn, the Vikings were consistently a threat to win the Super Bowl for the better part of a decade.

However, when the Vikings moved into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome at the beginning of the 1982 season, they started to emphasize flashy, speedy skill players to take advantage of the artificial turf. First round draft picks like Robert Smith, Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin thrived on the indoor playing surface, but there were others that flamed out such as Mardye McDole, David Palmer, Michael Bennett, and Troy Williamson.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to point out the flaws of playing in an indoor stadium in Minneapolis without pointing out its benefits. Thanks to an extensive speaker system, crowd noise can make it tough for opponents to communicate on the field. In 32 years at the Metrodome, Minnesota’s .644 home winning percentage ranked sixth in the NFL during that span.

But it’s also fair to point out that the Vikings have never been able to rekindle the success of the “Purple People Eater”-led teams of the ’60s and ’70s. They have not reached a Super Bowl since 1976 and have lost all four conference championship games they have participated in since 1987.

This Sunday, the Vikings will host their first-ever playoff game at the new U.S. Bank Stadium against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, a high-powered offensive team that also plays their home games in an indoor stadium. In the regular season, the Saints’ offense ranked fourth in points scored per game and second in total yards per game.

This game is also a rematch from Week 1 of this season, when the Vikings came out on top thanks to the now-injured Sam Bradford going 27-for-32 for 346 yards and three touchdowns, one of the best performances of his career. Unfortunately, that Vikings’ win means little to nothing now that Case Keenum is under center for the Vikings. Not to mention, the game did take place in Week 1, almost four months ago.

Now, consider this – in those ten playoff games at the Met from 1969 to 1976, opposing teams averaged 15.8 points and 299 total yards against the Vikings defense. In Minnesota’s next ten home playoff games, spanning from 1982 to 2009, opposing teams averaged almost five more points (20.6) points and 35 more total yards (332.8) in the Metrodome. What’s even more interesting, however, is when one compares the rushing and passing numbers of opponents who played outdoors to those who played indoors:

Indoor opponents average about five more pass attempts per game, which should come as no surprise. What’s interesting, though, is that despite about eight less rushing attempts per game, the indoor opponents actually gain more yards per rushing attempt than the outdoor opponents.

A more recent example that backs up this data is the Vikings’ 2015 Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks, which took place outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium. At a warm and toasty -6 degrees and the wind chill at -25 degrees, it was the third-coldest game in NFL history.

Not only were the Seahawks held to 10 points, but they were held to 3.46 yards per rushing attempt and 5.46 yards per passing attempt, all of which sides with the previous outdoor data. The only touchdown of the game came a few plays after a bad snap by the Seahawks, which Russell Wilson turned into the largest play of the game. Despite the touchdown, Minnesota still had a great chance to win the game with a field goal in the last seconds.

But Blair Walsh happened, and it was 1998 all over again.

But would the Vikings have even been competitive if they faced the Seahawks in a dome? Seattle was clearly the better and more experienced team, as shown by their Super Bowl victory in the previous season. It took a bad snap and a miraculous throw by Wilson for the Seahawks to even get into scoring range. Up until that point, not only were the Vikings in control of the game, but the weather was taking its toll on the visitors.

This Sunday’s forecast in Minneapolis? A high of 15 degrees, a low of -6 degrees, and an 80 percent chance of snow showers.

Had the Vikings played their regular season home games outdoors this season, they would have a huge advantage against the Saints, who have played over half of their games in a dome. Based on the data and recent history, it’s safe to assume that the weather would have had a debilitating effect on Brees, rookie running back Alvin Kamara, and the rest of the Saints offense.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know if that assumption is fact. Perhaps the Vikings already have the clear advantage due to crowd noise at U.S. Bank Stadium, but Brees has overcome crowd noise in a playoff game on multiple occasions. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, however, has never started a playoff game in his career.

What makes this all the more frustrating is that the Vikings defense has been arguably the best in the NFL this season. They gave up the least amount of points, total yards and passing touchdowns, in addition to the second-least passing yards and rushing yards. Combine that with three current All-Pros, and one can only wonder what damage this Vikings defense would do if they played the Saints outdoors in Minneapolis.

Perhaps it’s the allure of hosting major concerts and sporting events such as this season’s Super Bowl and future NCAA basketball Final Fours. If that’s the case, it’s just more evidence that, despite the 13-3 regular season record, winning is not the Minnesota Vikings’ top priority. Instead, the team and their fans would rather laugh at their legendary coach and turn him into an internet meme.

It would truly be poetic if the Saints defeat the Vikings inside of a comfortable indoor stadium on a freezing cold, snowy afternoon in Minneapolis this Sunday. It would confirm the Vikings’ stupidity over the past 36 years.

TSR’s Top 20 Albums of 2017

When compiling a year-end albums list, it’s always interesting to see which albums I returned to the most, which albums from earlier in the year held up with repeated listens, and which albums fell off of my radar.

A couple of notes, though:

– I waited until now to post this after Run the Jewels dropped arguable best rap album of the year during the last days of 2016. I just wanted to play it safe.

– Narrowing down a list like this really is like pulling teeth. Albums will need to get left off. That’s why you won’t find any Calvin Harris, Migos or Vince Staples on my list.

– However, there’s also a good chance that I just simply did not listen to certain albums this year. Either I did not have the time to listen to an album (Kehlani’s SweetSexySavage, Paramore’s After Laughter, The National’s Sleep Well Beast, St. Vincent’s Masseducation, Brockhampton’s Saturation trilogy, etc.)…

– …or just didn’t find the album worth my time… (most country albums, Joey Bada$$’s All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, etc.)

– …or thought they were really, really bad. Where do I even begin on that one?

– It’s MY list. After all, you shouldn’t need validation, especially from me, if you think an album was great.

– I listen to mostly hip-hop/rap, so that’s why most of this list features those albums. However, as you will soon find out, I’m open to almost all genres and I definitely enjoyed my fair share of non-rap albums this year.

Speaking of which… let’s start the list with one of those albums, shall we?

20. Flicker – Niall Horan

The former One Direction member took about 18 months to craft his debut album, which has influences from soft rock bands like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. The most fascinating thing about this album, however, is how different it is from anything Niall Horan has ever done with One Direction. Flicker isn’t an album one can picture being played in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, as shown by Horan playing at smaller venues in his Flicker Sessions tour a couple of months ago. The latter setting fits the sound of the album, which reveals a more personal and vulnerable side of Horan.

Favorite Tracks: “Slow Hands” + “Too Much To Ask” + “You And Me”

19. Acoustic Levitation – Devin the Dude

After more than three years, Houston rapper Devin the Dude elevated his listeners with his ninth studio album. Compared to many younger hip-hop contemporaries on this list, Devin the Dude is very different sonically, incorporating aspects of Bootsy Collins and James Taylor into some of his songs. This is an album where one can separate themselves from all responsibilities and feel uplifted for close to an hour. Whether one does that smoking weed in the Southeast Side of Houston, though, is entirely up to them.

Favorite Tracks: “Are You Goin My Way” + “Acoustic Levitation” + “Do You Love Gettin’ High”

18. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

This is, by far, the best project that Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz has released to date. Sure, it may not contain the comedic value of his breakout album, Based On A T.R.U. Story, but it makes sense that he would dial that persona down. His laid-back delivery and on-point lyrics mesh well with some of the moody trap melodies. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music has depth, as opposed to all three of 2 Chainz’s past projects, and if anything, shows his growth as an artist even at age 40. For all of this success, I hope he does get that song with JAY-Z.

Favorite Tracks: “It’s A Vibe” + “OG Kush Diet” + “Burglar Bars”

17. Boomiverse – Big Boi

One-half of the greatest hip-hop duo of all-time, Atlanta rapper Big Boi is partly responsible for hip-hop’s overall direction over the past two decades. Boomiverse not only took it back to the OutKast days of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, but also sprinkled in elements of electronic and indie music. Like all of his past records, Big Boi touches on a number of subjects, ranging from police brutality to relationships and even women’s rights. But of course, what’s a Big Boi project without Organized Noize as executive producers? Speaking of which, they came out with an excellent EP earlier in the year that I highly recommend checking out.

Favorite Tracks: “Kill Jill” + “All Night” + “Freakanomics”

16. No Dope on Sundays – CyHi the Prynce

Finally! After years of label confusion and industry politics, Georgia rapper CyHi the Prynce dropped his long-awaited debut album under G.O.O.D. Music and Sony Music. No Dope on Sundays is about encouraging men to stay true to themselves, speak for themselves, and live life with more integrity. Raised by strict Baptist parents in Stone Mountain, CyHi the Prynce sheds light on that experience with a lot of biblical references and gospel elements in his songs. He also touches on today’s current climate and offers some advice to those determined to overcome personal demons to become the greatest version of themselves. In short, No Dope on Sundays was well worth the wait.

Favorite Tracks: “No Dope on Sundays” + “Get Yo Money” + “Nu Africa”

15. More Life – Drake

I lied. I actually have one “playlist” on this list.

Canadian rapper and singer Drake created this project to fit the concept of OVO Sound Radio, his record label’s Saturday night Beats 1 radio program that mostly airs newer material. In other words, More Life is basically new songs put together in the format of a radio show. Drake may see it as “the evolution of the mixtape,” but it’s really just new music to keep the ball rolling after Views and keep listeners excited. Mission accomplished.

Favorite Tracks: “Passionfruit” + “Sacrifices” + “Glow”

14. Divide – Ed Sheeran

Unlike Flicker, Divide is an album made for a “Wembley Stadium crowd, 240 thou.” Perhaps English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, the first solo music act to ever headline at Wembley, kept this in mind when crafting this album. This album has beat-driven pop hits, perfect for his signature loop pedal, as well as acoustic stadium anthems that fans will be eager belt out along with him. There’s a strong case for Divide as the most impactful album of 2017. Literally days into the new year, Sheeran released two hit singles that flew to the top of the charts. Since then, he has sold over one million copies in the U.S. alone and even turned one song on the album into a chart-topping duet with Beyoncé. Even as we turn the page to 2018, one can still feel Divide‘s impact on mainstream music today.

Favorite Tracks: “Eraser” + “Shape of You” + “Supermarket Flowers”

13. Fin – Syd

California singer Syd has come a long way from her days in the Los Angeles-based rap crew Odd Future, headlined by artists such Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean. Today, Syd is most known for her work as the lead singer of neo-soul side project The Internet. Since the band’s last album in 2015, Syd has ventured out into a solo career and released arguably the lushest and sexiest album of this year. After a few listens, I honestly had to lay down because I felt like I was floating in clouds. In addition, for a gay woman to sing a love song to another woman goes to show how far the music industry, let alone the genre of R&B, has come over the years.

Favorite Tracks: “Got Her Own” + “Dollar Bills” + “Over”

12. Rosecrans – DJ Quik and Problem

It does not get more West Coast then a Compton producer collaborating with a Compton rapper on a project featuring West Coast artists and named after a long California avenue that runs through Compton. DJ Quik honestly has nothing else to prove at this point, and if you don’t believe me, google his production credits. Initially, Rosecrans was an EP that DJ Quik and Problem released back in 2016, but the Compton duo decided to give listeners 58 minutes of West Coast hip-hop at its finest.

Favorite Tracks: “Rosecrans” + “This Is Your Moment” + “Straight to the City”

11. Science Fiction – Brand New

After nearly eight years, Long Island rock band Brand New finally dropped their fifth, and likely last, studio album that expunged all traces of their earlier pop punk and emo persona. The band opted for a more classic rock vibe on Science Fiction that features more apocalyptic string sections. Perhaps the best thing about this album is that it’s not just for Brand New fans – it’s for everyone. The moody guitar tones and convincing lead vocals on the choruses from frontman Jesse Lacey make Science Fiction the best rock album of 2017. Like No Dope on Sundays, this album was well worth the wait.

Favorite Tracks: “Could Never Be Heaven” + “Desert” + “451”

10. HNDRXX – Future

Atlanta rapper Future once said he had six albums and three mixtapes ready to drop at any moment. Even with that in mind, it was still a surprise to see him drop two No. 1 albums in the span of a week. I was not a huge fan of the first project, FUTURE, so I came into HNDRXX with much lower expectations. Not only was I blown away by this project, but at times, I had to ask myself, “Is this really Future?” The Future of the past few years was never this open and personal, and that includes his second studio album titled Honest. There’s a lot of references to his past relationships and children, particularly with R&B singer Ciara and their son. HNDRXX is about Future moving forward and recognizing that he hasn’t been as good of a father as he could have been. It may have taken him a while to come to this realization, but HNDRXX reveals that he’s just not perfect, something that everyone can relate to.

Favorite Tracks: “Lookin Exotic” + “Fresh Air” + “I Thank U”

9. 4:44 – JAY-Z

Like DJ Quik, Brooklyn rapper JAY-Z has nothing else to prove. At this point in his career, if he’s going keep releasing projects, he should make them for him and do it on his terms. That’s exactly what he did on 4:44, the most raw and vulnerable album of his career. Based on some of the lyrics, many believe 4:44 is a direct response to his wife, Beyoncé, and her album, Lemonade, which claimed that he was unfaithful. Though executive producer No I.D. confirmed this wasn’t JAY-Z’s intention, one could tell just by listening to this album that this was about a variety of topics beyond JAY-Z’s family life and relationship with Beyoncé. JAY-Z also touches on ongoing hip-hop culture, stereotypes and racism. These are subjects that JAY-Z has rarely ever talked about in his music, and considering the content on this album, 10 tracks is the perfect length.

Favorite Tracks: “The Story of O.J.” + “4:44” + “Marcy Me”

8. Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator

Usually known for his witty rhymes, California rapper and Odd Future founder Tyler, the Creator not only abandoned his past humor, but he largely abandoned rapping. Flower Boy features a lot of singing from not just up-and-coming R&B singers, but from Tyler, the Creator himself. Like JAY-Z on 4:44, this is the most vulnerable we’ve ever heard Tyler, the Creator and I think the honesty, combined with the lack of humor, is what made the project such a great listen.

Favorite Tracks: “Who Dat Boy” + “Boredom” + “Glitter”

7. Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

After signing with JAY-Z’s Roc Nation last year, North Carolina rapper Rapsody wasted little time in making a name for herself on her second studio album, named after grandmother who would often use the phrase, “Give me my flowers while I can still smell them.” Laila’s Wisdom explores themes such as preserving knowledge, love, confidence and self-doubt. Of course, the greatest thing about Rapsody is that she can hold her own on the mic against anyone, male or female. In a genre dominated by male trap rappers and auto-tune, Laila’s Wisdom was so refreshing to hear.

Favorite Tracks: “Power” + “Black & Ugly” + “You Should Know”

6. 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time – Big K.R.I.T.

After being on the outskirts of Def Jam for the better part of six years, Big K.R.I.T. opted to leave the label in search of success equal to that of his former counterparts. After a two-year hiatus, the Mississippi rapper dropped a double album that far surpasses anything Def Jam has released this year. The two sides of the album represent his duality, with one side being “Big K.R.I.T.” and the other “Justin Scott,” his birth name. Instead of opting for the clichéd inner tug-of-war between the two sides, Big K.R.I.T. outlines the good, bad and ugly of both characters. He addresses issues about his past depression as well as faith, love, and the value of self-worth. It really is a masterfully crafted southern hip-hop album.

Favorite Tracks: “Big K.R.I.T.” + “Get Up 2 Come Down” + “Keep The devil Off”

5. Rather You Than Me – Rick Ross

I think I speak for everyone when I say that everyone would like obtain riches and/or do big things in life. After all, what’s the point of even looking at yourself in the mirror every morning? I say that to explain why I’ve always been a huge fan and admirer of Florida rapper Rick Ross since he dropped Teflon Don in 2010. Sure, he’s dropped albums, mixtapes, created catchphrases and still possesses an impeccable ear for beats. But the admirable thing about Rozay, a former correctional officer, is that he even reached “Boss” status in the first place. In the context of Rather You Than Me, however, this “Ross the Boss” persona is largely swapped out for a more introspective and thoughtful Rick Ross. Most notably, Rozay pens an open letter to Cash Money founder Birdman, who’s since had falling-outs with close Rozay counterparts Lil Wayne and DJ Khaled. “Ross the Boss” shows up sporadically on this album, but make no mistake – this is truly a Rick Ross album.

Favorite Tracks: “Idols Become Rivals” + “I Think She Like Me” + “Maybach Music V”

4. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Coming into this album, I kept thinking to myself, “There’s no way Kendrick can follow-up To Pimp A Butterfly, the greatest rap album of this decade.” In other words, I was expecting a slight step back on this next project, and I think was correct for the most part. I don’t think DAMN. is on par with To Pimp A Butterfly, but it was still the best hip-hop album of 2017, which speaks volumes about the Compton rapper. While his last album focused on the idea of changing the world, DAMN. makes it clear that to change the world, one must change who they are as a person. That’s clear by the number of tracks on this album named after human emotions. It’s almost like Kendrick Lamar is looking at himself in the mirror and coming to grips with the good and evil of these emotions. DAMN. is another brilliant addition to the already renowned discography of Kendrick Lamar.

Favorite Tracks: “DNA.” + “LOVE.” + “FEAR.”

3. Melodrama – Lorde

It’s easy to forget that New Zeland singer-songwriter Lorde was just 16-years-old when she dropped her debut single and smash hit “Royals.” Since then, she’s performed concerts all around the world, she’s befriended Taylor Swift, helped inducted Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and paid tribute to David Bowie, who proclaimed her as “the future of music.” Melodrama all but confirmed Bowie’s sentiment and saw Lorde transform from teenage songwriter into millennial icon. She recounts her relatively recent experiences with fame, particularly through her friends and their interactions. Much like a house party, Melodrama goes through intoxicating highs and sinking lows, perfectly encapsulating the intense and wild energy of her generation. What’s even more impressive, however, is a 20-year-old implementing songwriting elements of 70’s and 80’s singers such as Paul Simon, Phil Collins and Don Henley. In other words, Lorde didn’t entirely concede to that mainstream dance pop or rock sound, especially on some of the slower tracks. If Lorde can continue to write like this and mature as an artist, the sky is the limit.

Favorite Tracks: “Green Light” + “Liability” + “Supercut”

2. Ctrl – SZA

New Jersey singer SZA was stealing beats off the internet and recording music in her friend’s closet before signing with Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment label in 2013. After an EP in 2014 and many delays for the release of her debut album, she dropped one of the best albums of 2017, something that seemed impossible just a few years earlier. SZA had to watch three of her boyfriends die and also overcame suicidal depression, all of which led her to re-gain and build a form of self-acceptance that led to Ctrl. The chill and moody production is a stark contrast to its edgy lyrics and SZA’s charismatic, fierce tone. Even in songs about vaginas and being a side chick, SZA exemplifies swagger and finally finds a sense of “ctrl,” a concept that she has craved, yet lacked her entire life.

Favorite Tracks: “Love Galore” + “Doves in the Wind” + “20 Something”

1. Tuxedo II – Tuxedo

I mentioned in my last post about my love for this album, so allow me to now explain why this album is so brilliant. First off, funk and R&B are my favorite genres, despite the heavy hip-hop slant of this entire list. Unfortunately, the number of funk/R&B acts has dwindled tremendously over the years. As a result, I’ve often found myself returning to 70’s and 80’s funk acts like the Gap Band and Zapp, in addition to g-funk legends like Dr. Dre, the previously aforementioned DJ Quik, and Nate Dogg. Tuxedo, composed of soul singer Mayer Hawthorne and hip-hop producer Jake One, do a tremendous job of melding these two eras of funk together on Tuxedo II. Not only did they get former Zapp drummer Lester Troutman to help produce the album, but they also got g-funk legend Snoop Dogg to appear on the album’s opener. It’s almost like Tuxedo were sent to the future to remind everyone about the importance of getting down and the impact of funk music. Tuxedo II is just brilliant.

Favorite Tracks: “Rotational” + “Shine” + “July”

TSR’s Analysis of the 60th Annual Grammy Award Nominations

I don’t care who or what wins a Grammy Award. You should not either, at least in my opinion.

Since its start in 1957, the Grammy Awards have ignored countless artists and records. Not to mention, there’s also a bunch of industry politics that go into why the Academy votes the way they do.

Personally, I don’t understand why people get so angry when their favorite artist or record does not win an award. The Academy has made ridiculous decisions year after year. Why should we expect anything different from them in 2018?

Of course, the most recent example of pointless Grammy outrage came last year when Beyoncé’s Lemonade lost to Adele’s 25 in the Album of the Year category. Everyone should have seen that coming, but really… who cares?

Tuxedo’s Tuxedo II, released back in April, is one of my favorite albums of all-time. It did not come anywhere close to getting nominated for a Grammy Award. Will that ruin my love for the album? HELL NO!

And I would imagine last year’s “snub” has not sullied anyone’s admiration or love for Lemonade. If you think it’s a “classic” album and you know the Academy has a history of ridiculous decisions, then what’s the point of getting worked up?

Regardless, I still find it interesting what the Academy thinks of the music that has come out over the course of a year. Remember, this year’s Grammy calendar runs from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017, so that’s why you’ll see some albums and songs from 2016 in the field of nominees.

So I will go through the categories that interest me and offer some random thoughts on the records or tracks nominated. Again, I really don’t care who wins, but it’s still interesting to see what the Academy thinks is some of the best music of the past year. So let’s get started, shall we?

GENERAL FIELD

RECORD OF THE YEAR

Redbone – Childish Gambino
Despacito – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
The Story of O.J. – JAY-Z
HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar
24K Magic – Bruno Mars

The only track I was not a huge fan of was “Redbone,” and I’ll explain why in the next category. “Despacito” and “24K Magic” are the mainstream choices, so I would think those two are the front-runners. That being said, “HUMBLE.” and “The Story of O.J.” are fantastic songs as well.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino
4:44 – JAY–Z
DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Melodrama – Lorde
24K Magic – Bruno Mars

Again, the only album I was not a fan of was Awaken, My Love!, but some proper context to explain why this album has received so much acclaim:

Awaken, My Love! is straight mimicry of Parliament-Funkadelic (specifically Funkadelic), a funk/soul/rock collective from the 70s. As a fan of their music, I can’t help but think of them every time I hear “Redbone” or any other song off the album. Now, of course it’s unfair to compare Childish Gambino to Funkadelic, but that just goes to show how similar in sound Awaken, My Love! is to any one of Funkadelic’s records. On top of that, how many people under the age of 30 have even listened to a Funkadelic record? My guess is very few, which is why you’ll likely find so many people enamored with this album, even though it’s nothing really creative or original.

As for the other four albums, I thought 24K Magic was decent, though it lacks substance. 4:44 and DAMN. are great, but neither album is JAY-Z nor Kendrick’s best work. So that leaves Melodrama, which is… wait for it… my favorite album of the nominees.

I think Melodrama is dynamic and brilliantly written, especially considering that Lorde began writing this when she was 17-years-old! Having just turned 21 last month, the sky is the limit for the young New Zealand singer. And again… I don’t care who wins, but I also love pointless anger, and there will be lots of it if Lorde wins Album of the Year. Book it.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Despacito – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
4:44 – JAY–Z
Issues – Julia Michaels
1-800-273-8255 – Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid
That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Unlike Record of the Year, which recognizes performers and producers, Song of the Year only recognizes the composer(s) of a song. That same criteria applies for all the “Best (blank) Song” categories below.

I’ve never heard of “Issues” or Julia Michaels, so I’ll pass…

I was not a huge fan of “1-800-273-8255,” but I see the appeal of the song. Like Record of the Year, “Despacito” and Bruno Mars are the mainstream choices. “4:44” is a solid song as well.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Alessia Cara
Khalid
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels
SZA

Again, never heard of Julia Michaels…

The Alessia Cara nomination confused me for two reasons: 1) her biggest song, “Here,” and debut album, Know-It-All, were both released in 2015, so she’s not exactly “new” to the “public consciousness”; and 2) she was not active over the past year.

The only three songs she has done over the past year are “How Far I’ll Go” on the Moana Soundtrack, a feature on Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” and a collaboration on Zedd’s “Stay.” According to the criteria for this award, I guess these three songs “notably impacted the musical landscape.” Whatever that means..

However, I can perfectly understand the other three nominations. Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert and SZA all not only had high-profile features and singles, but debut albums to go with their mainstream success. I did not listen to Khalid’s American Teen and did not enjoy Lil Uzi Vert’s Luv is Rage 2, but I really enjoyed SZA’s Ctrl. NJ represent!

POP

BEST POP SOLO PERFORMANCE

Love So Soft – Kelly Clarkson
Praying – Kesha
Million Reasons – Lady Gaga
What About Us – P!nk
Shape of You – Ed Sheeran

The only song that has had any replay value for me is “Shape of You.”

BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE

Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
Despacito – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
Thunder – Imagine Dragons
Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man
Stay – Zedd & Alessia Cara

I do enjoy “Stay” as well as “Feel It Still,” though I’m still shocked that the song has done has well as it has.

I yawn at the thought of “The Chainsmokers & Coldplay” and Imagine Dragons…

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM

Kaleidoscope EP – Coldplay
Lust For Life – Lana Del Rey
Evolve – Imagine Dragons
Rainbow – Kesha
Joanne – Lady Gaga
Divide – Ed Sheeran

Yes, that’s right. One of the nominees here is a five-song EP. Great job, Recording Academy!

I did not listen to Evolve, so withdrawing from that conversation…

I never really got on board with Lust for Life, Rainbow or Joanne, though there were a few good tracks among the three records. Again, the only album I found myself re-visiting was Divide, which I believe is Ed Sheeran’s best album to date.

ALTERNATIVE

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM

Everything Now – Arcade Fire
Humanz – Gorillaz
American Dream – LCD Soundsystem
Pure Comedy – Father John Misty
Sleep Well Beast – The National

I was only able to listen to three of the five records nominated here – Everything Now, Humanz and American Dream. Much to my disappointment, all three albums were underwhelming. However, I have heard great reviews about Pure Comedy and Sleep Well Beast, so I will be adding those records to my list.

R&B

BEST R&B SONG

First Began – PJ Morton
Location – Khalid
Redbone – Childish Gambino
Supermodel – SZA
That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Your fun fact for the day? PJ Morton is a keyboardist for Maroon 5. The more you know…

“That’s What I Like” was one of my favorite songs off 24K Magic and, much to my surprise, became a bigger song than “24K Magic.” As for the other two tracks, “Supermodel” was not one of my favorites off Ctrl, but I really enjoyed “Location,” the lead single off American Teen.

BEST URBAN CONTEMPORARY ALBUM

Free 6LACK – 6LACK
Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino
American Teen – Khalid
Ctrl – SZA
Starboy – The Weeknd

Did not listen to Free 6LACK

The only album here I haven’t discussed yet is Starboy. Outside of the main singles and the one song featuring Kendrick Lamar, I was very underwhelmed by this project, as I often find myself feeling when I listen to an album by The Weeknd.

RAP

BEST RAP PERFORMANCE

Bounce Back – Big Sean
Bodak Yellow – Cardi B
4:44 – JAY-Z
HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar
Bad and Boujee – Migos Featuring Lil Uzi Vert

This is a loaded field, featuring three huge No. 1 singles (“Bodak Yellow”, “HUMBLE.”, “Bad and Boujee”). It did take me a while to come around on “Bad and Boujee,” mostly because I saw it as a “meme” song thanks to the “rain drop, drop top” intro. But honestly, I enjoy all five of these songs. How awesome would it be to see artists like Cardi B or Migos walk away with a Grammy Award?

BEST RAP/SUNG PERFORMANCE

PRBLMS – 6LACK
Crew – Goldlink Featuring Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy
Family Feud – JAY-Z Featuring Beyoncé
LOYALTY. – Kendrick Lamar Featuring Rihanna
Love Galore – SZA Featuring Travis Scott

*skips 6LACK*

Interestingly enough, I did not enjoy the JAY-Z or Kendrick Lamar tracks as much as I did the Goldlink and SZA songs. I think “Crew” is the best radio-friendly rap song of 2017, and “Love Galore” is not only one of my favorite songs off Ctrl, but it’s one of Travis Scott’s best features.

BEST RAP SONG

Bodak Yellow – Cardi B
Chase Me – Danger Mouse Featuring Run the Jewels & Big Boi
HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar
Sassy – Rapsody
The Story of O.J. – JAY-Z

I was very happy that Run the Jewels, the best rap duo in the world at the moment, and Big Boi, one-half of the greatest rap duo of all-time, received Grammy nominations. Though I wasn’t a fan of “Sassy,” I’m also very happy that Rapsody received a nomination. Speaking of which…

BEST RAP ALBUM

4:44 – JAY-Z
DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Culture – Migos
Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody
Flower Boy – Tyler, the Creator

…I think Rapsody has the second-best album of the five nominated. Seriously, I cannot recommend Laila’s Wisdom enough.

Like “Bad and Boujee,” it did take me a while to come around to Culture, but in no way does it measure up to its counterparts. As for the Tyler, the Creator, I’m happy to see him get some recognition, though it’s worth noting that Flower Boy is probably his most relatable and listener-friendly record.

THAT’S IT!

Again, even if you disagree with my opinions on some of these records and songs, it’s pointless to get worked up. After all, it is just my opinion.

Anyway, the 60th Annual Grammy Awards will be held on January 28 and broadcasted by CBS live from Madison Square Garden in New York City from 7:30 to 11:30 PM ET. So make sure to mark you calendars for the big event!

The PERFECT Holiday Music Playlist

Creating the perfect holiday music playlist sounds a lot harder than you think.

One must find a way to entertain everyone at their family’s holiday gathering, from adults to children. In 2017, it isn’t as simple as dusting off an old holiday CD or turning on your local radio station or even making a mix CD of your favorite holiday classics.

Thank goodness for platforms for Spotify, which offers an enormous catalog of songs to choose from, but in a way, it kind of puts more pressure on one to create the “perfect holiday music playlist.”

Sure, Spotify and other platforms attempt to help us out by creating their own playlists based on different generations and genres. But relying solely on one of those playlists would be very tacky, and being that family knows you better than anyone, they’ll be able to tell that the playlist is pre-packaged.

So make your own playlist, and more importantly, make it from the heart.

But thankfully, I already did it for you! Think of it as my Christmas gift to all of you.

Using the magical platform of Spotify, I created “the prefect holiday playlist,” containing 126 DIFFERENT holiday tunes from wide range of artists, generations and genres. Below are some of the songs featured on the playlist, with YouTube links to go with them. Think of it as a little preview of what to expect on this playlist.

All I Want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey

Of course, what’s a holiday playlist without the biggest holiday song?

Last Christmas – Wham!

I miss George Michael.

Hallelujah – Pentatonix

The best rendition of “Hallelujah” in the history of music. Then again, that’s probably the “millennial” in me talking. Plenty more Pentatonix to come…

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo – Trans-Siberian Orchestra

The little girl in the video is me every time I listen to this song.

Mary, Did You Know? – Pentatonix

But DID YOU KNOW beatboxers can sing?

Christmas Canon – Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This is beautiful in every single way imaginable.

Underneath the Tree – Kelly Clarkson

Just to make you feel old… it’s been 15 years since Kelly Clarkson won American Idol.

Mistletoe – Justin Bieber

For the kiddies… and because we definitely say “shawty” before kissing someone under the mistletoe, right?

Baby It’s Cold Outside – Idina Menzel, Michael Bublé

Gods, I love this music video.

Santa’s Coming For Us – Sia

Whatever that means..

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays – *NSYNC

Yes, that’s Gary Coleman.

Step Into Christmas – Elton John

Young Elton John!

That’s Christmas to Me – Pentatonix

Superstars.

Amazing Grace – Peter Hollens, Home Free

A capella territory…

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer – Home Free

Gods, I love this music video too.

Angels We Have Heard On High – Home Free

7.7 million views, if you were curious…

Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday – William Bell

One of many R&B/soul holiday songs on the playlist

Player’s Ball – OutKast

[WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS] Depending on your family gathering, you may want to skip over this song. Then again… why would you skip over OutKast?

A Saints Christmas – Kermit Ruffins

I’m sure the Superdome will be blasting this song on Christmas Eve when the Saints play the Falcons.

What Christmas Means To Me – Stevie Wonder

God bless Stevie Wonder.

Little Drummer Boy – Pentatonix

They’re back… and get used to them.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – Pentatonix

Reminder: no musical instruments.

The First Noel – Pentatonix

Starting to run out of words…

O Come, All Ye Faithful – Pentatonix

… really, I am.

Coldest Winter – Kanye West

Whether intentional or not, Kanye West made a song for the holidays… I think?

How Great Thou Art – Pentatonix, Jennifer Hudson

Even Jennifer Hudson is on board…

Away In A Manger – Pentatonix

Once again… superstars.

Cold December Night – Michael Bublé

Our modern-day Frank Sinatra.

Below is the link to the full six-hour, fifty-six-minute playlist. If you’d like, you can find me on Spotify (dshin131) and check out my other playlists as well. Let me know if I left out/missed any songs or accidentally repeated any songs.

Oh, and most importantly: HIT SHUFFLE!

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

TSR’s 2017-2018 NHL Predictions

I never really followed hockey that closely until last season.

That being said, my “team” since 2007 has been the Chicago Blackhawks because of Patrick Kane. I cheered during those Stanley Cup victories in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but I never really had a close connection with the team for the simple reason that I never really connected with the sport of hockey.

Well, after spending a year on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia, I soon realized that in a town riddled with St. Louis Blues and fellow Blackhawks fans (Columbia, MO is about a six-hour drive to CHI), it would be wise to have some knowledge of my team as well as the rest of the league. So I started tracking the NHL last season, and through daily highlights, Twitter, and a bunch of written pieces, I can now say that I can talk about hockey with a lot more confidence.

So with that being said, I thought it would be a good idea to have a crack at predicting the upcoming 2017-2018 NHL season. I mean, why not? I’d like to think as a relatively new NHL “fan,” I offer a fresh perspective on some of these teams. Either that, or I’m just way off and should probably just stick to sports that are not hockey.

Anyway, let’s do it!

The Buffalo Sabres will be better than you think.

The Sabres intrigued me right away, though I’m willing to admit it was mostly because of the greatness of Rick Jeanneret.

It’s not like the Sabres lacked quality talent last season. In just 61 games, Jack Eichel led the team in points (57), Evander Kane upped his point total for a third straight season, Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo remained reliable, Rasmus Ristolainen took another step forward and was arguably the Sabres’ best player over the course of the entire season, and Robin Lehner was a top-five goaltender.

There were rumors and whispers that Eichel and former head Dan Bylsma did not see eye-to-eye on things. Eichel clarified the comments, but the Sabres still fired Bylsma and general manger Tim Murray. With former Nashville Predators assistant Phil Housley now behind the bench, I expect both Eichel and Ristolainen to take another step forward and possibly enter the upper level of players within their respective positions. Combine that with the addition of Nathan Beaulieu and the return of former captain Jason Pominville, and the Sabres should make a run at a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

If Steven Stamkos stays healthy, the Tampa Bay Lightning will make the playoffs.

The last time Stamkos played 82 games in a season was the 2014-2015 season. The Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Finals. He played 77 games the following season. The Lightning returned to the Eastern Conference Finals.

So one can probably guess what happened when Stamkos played in just 17 games last season due to a torn meniscus in his right knee. The Lightning missed the playoffs.

By just one point, though.

The injury history of Stamkos is well-documented, so of course there’s cause for concern going forward. But it’s worth noting that in the 17 games he did play in last season, he put up 20 points. If Stamkos continued that pace for the rest of the season, he would have put up 96 points, which would have been one point off his career-high.

Stamkos still possesses the talent. It’s all a matter of whether he can stay healthy over the course of an entire season. If so, the Lightning are a lock for the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will miss the playoffs…

If you haven’t done so already, now you’re certainly questioning my hockey knowledge, or lack thereof. As outrageous as that statement is to you, I ask you to please hear me out.

The Penguins are have won the Stanley Cup title the past two seasons. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz were fantastic last season. Ian Cole, Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel are great role players.

But beyond those six players, who else provides any sort of confidence? Jake Guentzel, Carl Hagelin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Greg McKegg, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary all missed time last season due to injury. Not to mention, goaltender Matt Murray is still young and has never been a clear-cut number one goaltender in his career.

Combine that with the losses of Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Ron Hainsey, Matt Cullen and Mark Streit, and the Penguins lack quality depth should some of those injured players from last season go down again. The pickups of Matt Hunwick and Ryan Reaves were decent, but I don’t think it was enough.

I am willing to admit that if everyone stay healthy, the Penguins are probably the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. However, I cannot place any sort of confidence in a team that not only has injury history, but a lack of proven depth and goaltending. Even if that team does have Crosby and Malkin.

…and so will the Ottawa Senators.

Hopefully, this one isn’t too outrageous.

As opposed to their opponents in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals (the Penguins), the Senators do not lack depth up front. However, they do lack a Crosby/Malkin-like player in addition to a consistent goaltender. To make matters worse, the Senators could start the season without star defenseman Erik Karlsson after the captain underwent foot surgery in the offseason.

First off, should the Senators even miss Karlsson for an extended amount of time during the season, they can kiss their playoff chances goodbye. But even assuming he does stay healthy, it’s worth asking if they have another player, particularly on offense, who can step up to Karlsson’s level and put up 70-80 points. In other words, can Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris take another step forward, or have they peaked? Also, if Karlsson does miss time, can a defenseman such as Dion Phaneuf step up and replace Karlsson’s production?

Despite those question marks, the biggest question mark for the Senators is in net, specifically with 36-year-old goaltender Craig Anderson. Does he have another quality season left in the tank? Remember, he got yanked from net multiple times last season before big performances in Games 6 and 7 of the Conference Finals. If those struggles with “Father Time” carry over into this season, the Senators can (again) kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

Overall, there’s just too many question marks in Ottawa and, as opposed to the Penguins, not enough top-of-the-line talent to shrug off those concerns. In other words, the Senators can’t say, “Despite our weaknesses in some areas, at least we have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin!”

The New York Islanders will make the playoffs…

Like the Lightning, the Islanders also missed the playoffs by just one point. What hampered this team last season was its slow start to the season, and in the Metropolitan division, that can prove very costly. They did go on a run in January and went undefeated in the month of April under interim head coach Doug Weight, but it was not enough.

The Islanders certainly have the offensive talent to compete for a playoff spot. Josh Bailey, new addition Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and star captain John Tavares all eclipsed the 50-point mark last season.

Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Tavares, as he enters the last year of his contract. One would think a team would have signed a player like Tavares to a long-term extension at this point, but to no avail. Again, we’ll see what happens.

Anyway, as for the defense, the Islanders will be fine with players like Johnny Boychuk, Calvin De Haan, Nick Leddy and Dennis Seidenberg manning the backline. As for the net, goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak struggled at times last season, so that could be the one big weakness of this team.

But I just think this team is too good offensively to miss out for a second straight season. I think Tavares will get his contract extension done early in the season, and the Islanders will grab one of the two Wild Card Spots in the East.

…and so will the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes now own the longest playoff drought in the NHL at eight seasons. However, they did finish with 87 points last season, which was within eight points of the last Wild Card spot. Watching this team last season, one could sense that they are close to ending that drought, so what they do in the offseason? Bring in a bunch of former champions.

I think the signing of three-time champion Justin Williams (Happy 36th Birthday TODAY!), a member of the 2006 Hurricanes team that won the Stanley Cup, was absolutely brilliant. He showed that he can still produce last season, putting up 48 points with the Washington Capitals. Williams will offer leadership for an attack that features young rising stars such as Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Jeff Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen.

Like the Islanders, Carolina’s biggest question mark will be in net, specifically with new goaltender Scott Darling. For the past three seasons, he was Corey Crawford’s backup with the Chicago Blackhawks, but after the Hurricanes traded for him in the offseason, they clearly think he has what it takes to become a starting goaltender. He certainly showed flashes of potential in Chicago, but we’ll see if he can become a consistent starter. If not, the Hurricanes have a more-than-serviceable backup in Cam Ward, who was the Hurricanes No. 1 netminder last season.

The Hurricanes will be fine on defense with Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin leading the way. With former champions and rising stars, the Hurricanes have everything in place to end their dreaded playoff drought.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Eastern Conference.

The Maple Leafs are so stacked that Nazem Kadri, who put up 61 points last season, may start on the third line. Not only that, but he will likely be playing with new signing Patrick Marleau, a veteran who tallied 46 points at age 37 for the San Jose Sharks last season. That speaks volumes to the talent and youth on the first two lines. I mean, where do I even begin?

Tyler Bozak, Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk set career-highs in points last season, but the heart of the Maple Leafs is the trio of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander. All three surpassed the 60-point mark last season and will only get better with time. If “MNM” stick together, the Maple Leafs will have multiple Stanley Cups within the next five years. Book it.

Now, the one weakness of this team is on defense, specifically in front of Frederik Anderson, who was one of the best goaltenders in the league last season. Except for Jake Gardiner and new signing Ron Hainsey, a member of last season’s Pittsburgh Penguins championship squad, the defensemen do not inspire much confidence. Young players such as Connor Barrick, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev will need to step up for the Maple Leafs to fulfill their sky-high expectations this season.

Those sky-high expectations are well-earned. That’s why Marleau’s presence will be so important to “MNM’s” development this season, especially come the playoffs. The Maple Leafs have what it takes to go all the way, and I believe they will.

The Colorado Avalanche are (still) the worst team in the NHL.

Gods, this team is awful.

On top of their lack of talent, there are still trade rumors surrounding Matt Duchene. A bunch of contending teams would love to add another player of that caliber, so we’ll see what happens.

Nathan MacKinnon may very well be a star in the making, but I don’t know if he can be the best player on an aspiring playoff team, let alone the Colorado Avalanche. Speaking of which…

The St. Louis Blues will throw away this season.

Being in Missouri for two years, I certainly have learned a lot about Blues hockey.

At full strength, the Blues are a Stanley Cup contender. The problem? They’re not at full strength.

Patrik Berglund is out until December after offseason shoulder surgery, Jay Bouwmeester is out for the first few weeks with a fractured ankle and Alexander Steen is out for the month of October due to a broken hand. Those three players are not just instrumental to the Blues’ success going forward, but they played huge roles in the Blues’ past playoff success. With those health questions up in the air combined with a lack of quality depth, #itsawrap for the Blues.

The Dallas Stars will rebound and make the playoffs.

The Stars had the best record in the Western Conference in 2015-2016, and were some experts’ pick to win the Stanley Cup before last season. Fast forward six months, and the Stars were sixth in the Central Division with just 79 points, a 30-point decrease from the previous season.

Sure, a lot of the players from that successful season took a step back, but I think most of the blame fell on the defense, specifically the disastrous goalie tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. The Stars let in the second-most goals in the NHL last season, so what they do to fix the defense?

Well, first they hired an experienced, defensive-minded head coach in Ken Hitchcock. Next, they went out and acquired a true No. 1 goaltender with Stanley Cup Finals experience in the 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop, as well as veteran defenseman Marc Methot from the Montreal Canadiens. Those three moves, along with John Klingberg, should improve a Stars backline that honestly can’t get any worse after last season.

Combine that with the front line of captain Jamie Benn, new addition Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin, and the Stars should return to their winning ways this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks could run into some trouble.

It pains me to say this as a fellow Blackhawks fan.

Chicago’s top line of Richard Panik, Brandon Saad, a former Stanley Cup champion who returns to Chicago after two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and captain Jonathan Toews will be as good as ever.

The questions come with Patrick Kane’s second line, specifically someone who can fill the shoes left by Artemi Panarin, who was part of the deal that sent Saad back to Chicago. Patrick Sharp, another former champion who returns after two seasons in Dallas, is 36-years-old and coming off a hip injury that cut his season short. In addition, Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat are still young and relatively unproven as second-line players. I think the Blackhawks will have trouble replacing Panarin’s 74 points last season.

As for the defense, Duncan Keith is still an elite defenseman and Brent Seabrook is still capable of a key role. Once again, it’s the second-line that raises some concerns. The newly acquired Connor Murphy showed some flashes during his time with the Arizona Coyotes, but is still just 24-years-old and lacks big-game experience. Outside of those three players, it’s up in the air as to who will step up into the top four.

The Blackhawks will still make the playoffs. I mean, come on now… let’s not get too crazy. That being said, I would not be surprised if it comes in the form of a wild card spot.

The Pacific Division will not change much.

I won’t spend much time on this one.

The top four teams in the Pacific last season, in order, were the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames. I still believe those are the four teams that will make the playoffs from this division. The order will differ, however. I think it will go Edmonton, Calgary, Anaheim and then San Jose.

In other words, don’t expect those Vegas Golden Knights to pull off the miracle and make the playoffs in their first NHL season.

So now that I’ve gone through the entire league, what team have I yet to touch on that could hoist the Stanley Cup?

Washington? Columbus? Nashville?

Nope.

The Minnesota Wild will win the Stanley Cup!

I actually feel pretty confident about this pick because I truly believe the Wild have the best roster, top to bottom, in the NHL. Let’s break it down:

OFFENSE

Charlie Coyle is 25 and coming off a 50-point season.
24-year-old Mikael Granlund emerged as a rising star last season, tallying 69 points.
Captain Mikko Koivu is also coming off a 50-point season.
Nino Niederreiter, another 24-year-old, is coming of his most productive season (57 points).
Eric Stall put up the second-most points (65) on the team in his first season in Minnesota.
25-year-old Jason Zucker took a huge step forward and is entering his prime.

DEFENSE

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was arguably the best goaltender in hockey last season.
23-year-old Mathew Dumba took another step forward last season.
Jared Spurgeon is coming off the best season of his career and looking to enter the upper level of NHL defenseman.
Ryan Suter, the best player on the Wild last season, is already an elite defenseman.
Jonas Brodin and Kyle Quincey are more-than-serviceable defenseman and had decent seasons last year.

Not including Zach Parise, who will miss the start of the season due to a back injury, right there are 12 players who figure to play a key role for the Wild this season. I think the Wild’s Stanley Cup chances will ultimately come down to whether Dubnyk can repeat his elite season last year. If so, #itsawrap in the Western Conference.

Obviously, there are others that will have key roles, but the point is that barring multiple injuries to key players, this team has the depth and talent to win the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup.

2017-2018 STANLEY CUP FINALS PREDICTION: Wild over Maple Leafs in seven games

The World Needs a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl

January 26, 1997. Superdome. New Orleans. Super Bowl XXXI.

Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21.

Most people remember Super Bowl XXXI as Brett Favre’s only Super Bowl win of his Hall-of-Fame career, but this was also the closest Drew Bledsoe would come to leading his team to a Super Bowl win.

Over the next twenty years, events occurred that led to the downfall of both quarterbacks. Bledsoe went down with a life-threatning injury in the second game of the 2001 season, and never started another game for the Patriots. As for Favre, he led the Packers to another Super Bowl appearance in 1998, but fell to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. He never made it back to the big stage over his last eight seasons as a member of the Packers.

But the downfall of two great quarterbacks led to the rise of two legendary quarterbacks.

Tom Brady, a 23-year-old sixth-round pick out of the University of Michigan, took over for the injured Bledsoe and just a few months later, led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Over the next fifteen years, Brady would go on to win four more Super Bowls, as well as three more Super Bowl MVPs and two League MVPs. Some have already dubbed him as the “greatest of all-time.”

Aaron Rodgers, a 21-year-old first-round pick out of the University of California-Berkley, had to wait three seasons before becoming the starting quarterback of the Packers. But like Brady, once Rodgers took over, he never looked back. In his third season as the starter, Rodgers led the Packers to their first Super Bowl title since Super Bowl XXXI. Like his predecessor, Rodgers was also named Super Bowl MVP. Since then Rodgers has won two League MVPs and a number of NFL records, including the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history. Today, at age 33, he is the best quarterback in the NFL.

Many forget that a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl could have happened in two of the last three seasons. Had it not been for the Seahawks in 2015 or Atlanta Falcons last season, we would have already seen this matchup on the biggest stage. So to teams like the Seahawks, the Falcons, the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and many other contending teams… please do not get in the way of football poetry.

The world needs a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl, and they need it now.

Brady is 40-years-old, and while he has said that he wants to play another three to five more seasons, father time ultimately catches up to everyone. Who knows, it may catch up to him this season. Not to mention, Rodgers will be 34 in December. The point is that the clock is ticking.

Rodgers is 1-1 against the Patriots in his career, but it’s worth noting that the one loss came in 2006, when he stepped in for an injured Favre. He went 4-of-12 passing for just 33 yards, and the Patriots won the game 35-0.

The first “real” matchup between Brady and Rodgers took place in 2014. Both quarterbacks had similar stats: Brady went 22-of-35 passing for 245 yards and two touchdowns, while Rodgers went 24-of-38 passing for 368 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers won the game, 26-21. So one can look at a potential Packers-Patriots Super Bowl matchup as a rubber match or “Brady’s revenge game.”

Either way, everybody wins.

The NFL wins. They get to market this Super Bowl around two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Not to mention, viewership records will surely shatter once again.

The media wins. Can you imagine the field day they will have with this matchup?

The players win, for obvious reasons.

But most important, the fans win. Any fan who would not want to see Brady vs. Rodgers in the Super Bowl is not a true football fan.

Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Two No. 12s. Two historic, successful franchises. Two deep-rooted, passionate fan bases.

So go ahead, and cheer on your respective teams this season. Just be aware that they will likely be interfering with poetry in the making.