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]

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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 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.

2017/2018 English Premier League Preview

The 2017/2018 English Premier League season kicks off today! From the south coast, to Wales, to Merseyside, to the Northwest, to the Northeast, to the Midlands, to the capital of England, and even to Yorkshire, 20 clubs will compete for one of football’s greatest prizes.

Who will come out on top? Here is a breakdown of all twenty clubs.

ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB

Arsenal supporters believe that their team should contend for the Premier League title every season. However, the Gunners have not won the title since 2003/2004 and finished outside of the top four last season for the first time under manager Arsene Wenger. Provided he can get a strong enough squad to work with, Wenger can definitely get Arsenal back into the title race.

The potential title hopes would all but evaporate if the transfer rumors surrounding Alexis Sánchez are true. The Chilean forward has been, by far, the club’s best player since arriving in 2014/2015. The Gunners must do everything they can to keep Sánchez and avoid taking a tremendous step in the wrong direction.

They did bring in striker Alexandre Lacazette to become the main goal scorer. Every Premier League title contender needs a player who can put up 20 or more goals in a season, and Lacazette has the potential to do that right away.

But even if Arsenal were to keep Sánchez and get 20 goals from Lacazette, it will still be tough to contend for the title considering the improvements made by both Manchester clubs and Liverpool as well. If Arsenal miss out on the top four again, Wenger will likely be shown the door.

ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB BOURNEMOUTH

After a top-half finish in just their second Premier League season, Bournemouth have proved that they truly belong in the top flight.

Instead of quantity, manager Eddie Howe opted for quality in the transfer window. The Cherries made permanent moves for Chelsea’s Nathan Ake, who enjoyed a successful loan spell with the club last season, and Asmir Begovic. Bournemouth also brought back Jermaine Defoe, who led Sunderland in scoring in the last two seasons. The 34-year-old striker also scored 10 goals in 10 games for the Cherries back in 2000/2001. One of his teammates from that team? Eddie Howe.

Bournemouth forged a successful attack last season, but struggled at times on defense. With Manchester City and Arsenal looming in their first four matches, the Cherries will find out how much help they still need at the back.

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION FOOTBALL CLUB

Brighton are back in England’s top flight for the first time in 34 years after knocking on the door of the Premier League in four of the last five seasons, and what a journey it has been for the Seagulls.

In 1996/1997, Brighton needed one point against Hereford to stay in the Football League. They did get the draw, but unfortunately, the sale of the Goldstone Ground in Hove meant that the Seagulls would be forced to play their home matches 70 miles away at the grounds of Gillingham. After two seasons, Brighton returned home to play at Withdean Stadium, an old athletic complex with a 8,850-seat capacity. In October 2005, the supporters and board of directors received planning permission to build the now-30,750 seat Falmer Stadium, a.k.a the Amex, which opened in December 2011.

As for squad, manager Chris Hughton has done a fantastic job of building a team that plays together. However, they will likely be underdogs in almost every match simply because of the talent gap and lack of Premier League experience. While avoiding relegation is the goal, both players and supporters should take everything in and just enjoy this season.

The battle has just begun, but Brighton have already won the war.

BURNLEY FOOTBALL CLUB

Burnley, led by manager Sean Dyche, defied expectations and avoided relegation for the first time in club history. They picked up 33 of their 40 points at their home venue of Turf Moor, a foundation the Clarets will need to build on to stay in the Premier League.

With defender Michael Keane sold to Everton in the summer, Burnley have brought in Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, and Jack Cork as defensive reinforcements. Striker Jonathan Walters should also offer firepower to an attack that scored just 39 goals last season. But even with those additions, Dyche’s squad is only at 25 players, so more additions are likely.

CHELSEA FOOTBALL CLUB

After their 3-0 loss at Arsenal in late September, no one expected Chelsea to then rip off 13 straight wins. After that loss, the Blues did not drop points in consecutive matches for the rest of the season and clinched the Premier League title with two matches remaining.

The squad is still loaded with talent at every position and made some great signings in summer, such as striker Alvaro Morata. In 26 league appearances for Real Madrid, the 24-year-old scored 15 goals, the second-most of any player on the club. It will be interesting to see how he copes to the Premier League. The quicker he can adapt, the better it will be for the entire team.

With that being said, losing Diego Costa, who is spending time in Brazil at the moment, will be a huge blow for Chelsea. On top of Eden Hazard’s ankle injury that will keep him out for a few weeks, Chelsea have some big holes to fill in their starting XI right away. In the meantime, players like Michy Batshuayi, Pedro and Willian will need to step up.

Chelsea are the defending champions. The pressure will be on to show that they can do it again.

CRYSTAL PALACE FOOTBALL CLUB

Crystal Palace secured Premier League safety last season thanks to Sam Allardyce, but his resignation just two days after the season threw the club into turmoil. To replace him, chairman Steve Parish opted for Frank de Boer, who won the Dutch League title four years in a row at Ajax. However, his most recent spell at Inter Milan lasted just 85 days.

As just the second foreigner ever to manage Crystal Palace, de Boer has looked to bring a more international flair to the pitch. However, attempts to play a more attractive style last season ultimately ended in a relegation battle and Alan Pardew’s sacking in December. Expect de Boer to carry out a more pragmatic approach to gradual improvement, as opposed to constantly switching the styles of football and going from zero to one hundred in a short time span.

de Boer’s early transfer activity was especially revealing. Chelsea’s 21-year-old loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek and 20-year-old star Dutch defender Jairo Riedewald are both young players that de Boer can shape to fit his style of football.

EVERTON FOOTBALL CLUB

Everton’s seventh-place finished under manager Ronald Koeman suggests that the club on the rise. There is no denying that the loss of prolific striker Romelu Lukaku was a huge blow, but that void was filled by seven new signings, headlined by the return of Wayne Rooney.

Last season’s reliance on Lukaku was obvious. Behind his 25 goals, the next-highest scorer was Ross Barkley with just five goals. Koeman’s mission will be to build a squad which provides a threat from all angles.

The Toffees spent big money on goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, Dutch attacking midfielder Davy Klaasen, and defender Michael Keane. With spending already at unprecedented levels, Everton have made it clear that they want to crack the top six this season. If they can overtake Liverpool and prove themselves as the top dog on Merseyside, then it could be a huge first step towards a very bright future.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season, Huddersfield jumped up 14 spots in the Championship table to fifth place and went on to defeat Reading in the Playoff final to seal promotion to the top flight for the first time in 45 years.

Manager David Wagner deserves a ton of credit for transforming the Terriers from top to bottom. Expect a lot of passion on the sideline, similar to fellow German manager and good friend Jurgen Klopp. As the former manager of Borussia Dortmund II, Wagner worked with Klopp for four seasons before taking over Huddersfield in 2015/2016. In those two seasons, Wagner has emphasized a high-intensity, counterattacking style of football that should transition well into the Premier League.

The signings that Huddersfield have made show that they intend to stay in the Premier League. The Terriers signed Montpellier striker Steven Mounie, who scored one less goal in Ligue 1 than Monaco superstar Kylian Mpabbe last season, as well as FC Copenhagen captain Mathias Jorgensen. Add them to Aaron Mooy and Christopher Schindler, and Huddersfield may give some top teams a scare this season.

Of course, survival is the mission for Huddersfield this season.

LEICESTER CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Now freed from the pressure of being champions and no European football to drain their resources, Leicester City enter this season with optimism. Manager Craig Shakespeare saved the club from relegation, winning seven of their last 13 matches after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri. Shakespeare will aim to make his own mark on the squad, but he will likely have to do it without star midfielder Riyad Mahrez.

Shakespeare’s first signing as permanent manager was Hull City’s promising defender Harry Maguire. The 24-year-old will offer fresh blood for an aging backline, providing competition for the likes of Robert Huth and captain Wes Morgan. Up front, the arrival of striker Kelechi Iheanacho adds firepower to the first-team squad. Deprived of first-team starts last season, the 20-year-old should relish the prospect of regular football.

LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB

Compared to where Liverpool were 18 months ago, the club is way ahead of schedule. Last season, manager Jurgen Klopp got the Reds back in the Champions League for the first time since 2009.

Now, the focus will be on maintaining their top four status and solidifying the squad, especially at the back. Expect Liverpool to only bring in players that will improve the first team, as opposed to signing players in bulk for the sake of expanding the squad. For instance, new signing Mohamad Salah should go straight into the starting XI and compete with the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane every week.

Another concern with this Liverpool squad is their lack of a twenty-goal striker similar to the likes of Aguero, Kane, Lukaku, and Sánchez. It will be interesting to see if a player like Firmino can step up and have that type of impact for Liverpool.

The Reds played well in the preseason, winning the Asia Trophy and defeating Bayern Munich, 3-0, at the Allianz Arena. With the improvements of the other top clubs combined with the grind of Champions League football this season, keeping hold of their place in the top four will be a tough task for Liverpool.

MANCHESTER CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Expectations were high among Manchester City supporters when manager Pep Guardiola arrived last summer. However, problems with the fullbacks and goalkeepers ultimately led to a disappointing third-place finish.

This summer, the club has brought in players that will not only help their defense, but also play the style of football that Guardiola wants to play. Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy will stretch the field and offer speed down the flanks. If Vincent Kompany can stay healthy, City will be better defensively in terms of organization and experience.

One of the most exciting players to watch out for this season will be forward Gabriel Jesus. The 20-year-old Brazilian hit the ground running in limited action last season, scoring seven goals in ten league matches. Now entering his first full season, Jesus has the potential to become one of the best players in the Premier League.

Based on the money Guardiola has spent since his arrival, City should win the title. Not only is the squad extremely talented, but manager is arguably the best in the world. For Guardiola to keep that reputation, he must win the Premier League within the next two seasons.

MANCHESTER UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

Considering that he has coached Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, manager Jose Mourinho is running out of clubs to prove himself. Unlike last season, the Portuguese will have less excuses because he now has a side that better fits his style of play as opposed to the mish mash of players from last season.

Goal-scoring was a problem at times for United last season, but striker Romelu Lukaku could be the solution. Mourinho’s better teams often feature a big, powerful target man to lead the attack such as Didier Drogba. Lukaku can hold the ball up and occupy two to three opposing defenders. He’s young, hungry, and most importantly, a proven goal scorer in the Premier League.

But perhaps United’s most important signing this summer was midfielder Nemanja Matic. The 29-year-old Serbian midfielder has played under Mourinho at Chelsea and gives United strength, stature and protection in front of the backline. Over the last three to four seasons, there have been few defensive midfielders in the Premier League as good as Matic.

Mourinho will need to unleash his tactical genius this season and propel United back into the title hunt. If he does not win the Premier League or Champions League at United, his run will ultimately go down as a failure.

NEWCASTLE UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

The famous black and white of Newcastle is back in England’s top flight. The passion and pride of the club was restored last season under manager Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard brought a stringent level of professionalism into the dressing room and made sure to let the supporters know that both the manager and players care about playing for Newcastle United.

The relationship between Benitez and owner Mike Ashley seemed strong last season, but Benitez has not been shy about his frustration of not sealing players early in the transfer window. Ashley must give Benitez the control and the money he promised at the end of last season to prevent another trip back down to the Championship.

One of the main areas of concern for Newcastle is the attacking midfield. During Jonjo Shelvey’s five-game suspension last season, the Magpies struggled mightily, losing to the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers. The 25-year-old is so important to the squad that without him, the team have trouble creating scoring chances. Benitez could use another creative midfielder to create chances should Shelvey suffer an injury or suspension.

But when Newcastle did create chances, they had some trouble scoring goals. Dwight Gayle did score 23 goals in 32 appearances last season, but the Magpies struggled finishing in the box when he was out. Adding another striker, specifically a physical target man who can finish in the box, would go a long way to preventing another relegation fight this season.

Realistically, Newcastle should expect to finished around the 13-15 range for the next year or two, with an eye on the top ten. If last season was any indication, the top ten is not that difficult to break into as long as the club can be consistent. Looking at the big picture, if Benitez does stay on board and Ashley gives him the money he promised, Newcastle should return to their glory days within the next five years.

SWANSEA CITY ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB

It’s a shame that Swansea City will likely have to move on from star midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who appears likely to join Everton in the near future. While the sale could go upwards of 50 million pounds, it’s still a huge loss for the Swans.

Manager Paul Clement unloaded sixteen players over the summer, including Borja Baston and Jack Cork, possibly to keep Sigurdsson. Among the new additions are midfielder Roque Mesa and Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, who knows Clement from his time in the youth ranks at Stamford Bridge. The Swans would be wise to add some more attacking options if Sigurdsson does leave.

SOUTHAMPTON FOOTBALL CLUB

For months, the big story surrounding Southampton has been the situation surrounding Virgil Van Dijk. The defender wants out, but the club seem unwilling to sell him.

New manager Mauricio Pelligrino replaces Claude Puel, who led the Saints to an eighth-place finish and EFL Cup Final last season. The only notable signing for Southampton was Poland U-21 defender Jan Bednarek from Lech Poznan. Time will tell whether he will replace or play with Van Dijk.

The Saints scored just 41 goals in 38 league matches, so it will be nice to have Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabiaddini full healthy this season. Pelligrino has played both players together in preseason to carry out a more attack-minded style of football.

STOKE CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season was a disappointment for manager Mark Hughes and Stoke City. After three consecutive top half finishes, the Potters finished in 13th place last season, picking up just two wins in their last 11 matches.

Only the bottom five teams scored fewer goals than Stoke last season, so Hughes will need to address their goalscoring woes. In the meantime, Stoke added experience in the form of midfielder Darren Fletcher and defensive energy in Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma.

Stoke took eight games to record their first league win last season, so Stoke will look to hit the ground running this season.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FOOTBALL CLUB

Tottenham were the most exciting team to watch in the Premier League last season. After a sixteen-point improvement, which would have won them the title in 2015/2016, Spurs are more hungry than ever to achieve Premier League glory.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has done a fantastic job in his two years at the helm of bringing young players such as Harry Kane and Danny Rose through the system and turning them into valuable players. While Spurs have yet to make any signings, chairman Daniel Levy tends to wait until the last few weeks of the transfer window to conduct his business. They could certainly use a quality striker behind Harry Kane if he goes down with an injury.

Spurs also sold Kyle Walker, which is not that big of a loss compared to past Tottenham players such as Gareth Bale and Luca Modric. That’s no slight to Walker, but with Kieran Trippier ready to step in, Tottenham should not lose much at right back, if anything at all.

The biggest concern for Spurs will be adapting to playing their home matches at Wembley Stadium. Every player has dreamed about playing at Wembley, so visiting teams will definitely raise their level of play against Spurs over the next two seasons. It will be interesting to see whether Spurs can do the same.

If Tottenham do not start winning major trophies in the near future, the supporters will begin to question the club’s direction, similar to what fans are doing now at Arsenal.

WATFORD FOOTBALL CLUB

Another season, another new manager for Watford. Marco Silva is the eighth appointed manager since the Pozzo family bought the team in 2012. The Portuguese impressed last season at Hull City, but their heroic turnaround was not enough to save them from relegation. This year, Silva will have another challenging season ahead of him.

Striker Troy Deeney will miss the first one or two games due to a groin injury. so don’t be surprised if Brazilian wonderkid Richarlison sees time during Deeney’s absence. As for other signings, Kiko Femenia, Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah are all expected to get playing time this season.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season, West Brom finished in the top half for just the second time in club history, but that highlight was matches by lowlights. The Baggies ended last season on a nine-match winless streak, and to make matters worse, the club has brought in little reinforcements to make sure that the streak will not continue into this season. Outside of forward Jay Rodriguez and Egyptian international Ahmed Hegazi, West Brom have not spent the money to further improve the squad under manager Tony Pulis.

Despite the disappointing finish to last season, the Baggies proved that they are one of the more dogged, driven teams in the Premier League. They will have to operate under that state of mind once again they hope to finish in the top half.

WEST HAM UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

In their first season at the London Stadium, the bright future of West Ham seemed to have dissipated, with the team winning just seven home matches. Manager Slaven Bilic will hope new signings such as Marko Arnautovic, Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta will help the Hammers improve not just their home form, but last season’s tenth-place finish as well.

Last season, West Ham forwards scored just 15 goals between them, which means all eyes will be on striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to rectify that problem. The “Little Pea” averaged about one goal every three matches during his time at Manchester United from 2010 to 2014. If he can buck West Ham’s trend of underperforming strikers, West Ham have the talent to return to the top seven for the second time in three seasons.

Of course, as fate has it, Chicharito’s first game back in the Premier League will be at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

2017/2018 English Premier Table

1. Chelsea
2. Tottenham Hotspur
3. Manchester City
4. Manchester United
5. Liverpool
6. Arsenal
7. Everton
8. West Ham United
9. Bournemouth
10. West Bromwich Albion
11. Leicester City
12. Southampton
13. Crystal Palace
14. Swansea City
15. Newcastle United
16. Stoke City
17. Burnley
18. Brighton and Hove Albion
19. Watford
20. Huddersfield Town

Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor Will Tear America Apart

It’s actually happening.

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Undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. (49-0) will fight UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor (21-3) in a boxing match on August 26 in Las Vegas. According to Yahoo, the fight could take place at either the MGM Grand Garden or T-Mobile Arena.

On paper, this fight seems to make sense. Both men are, in very different ways, “obnoxious” and fight in the 145 to 150 pound range. In addition, both fighters will likely get huge paydays, as McGregor pointed out a few months ago.

However, this fight between a boxer and mixed-martial artist will ultimately end in America tearing each other apart, limb from limb. All you need to do is look at the history of boxing, some of which involves Mayweather.

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America Couldn’t Handle Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries

On July 4, 1910, Jack Johnson, an African-American and then-world heavy weight champion, defeated Jim Jeffires by technical knockout. (White) People were so angry at the result that they started riots across the country. Here’s the story of just one of the riots in New York:

In the “black and tan” and “San Juan hill” negro sections mobs set fire to a negro tenement house, hurled stones at windows, and tried to keep the occupants in by blocking the exits. The fire department routed the mob.

America Couldn’t Handle Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney

On June 11, 1982, Holmes, an African-American and then-WBC heavyweight champion, took on Cooney, who promoter Don King dubbed as the “Great White Hope.” At the time, there had not been a white world heavyweight champion in 22 years, and Cooney was looking to change that.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of racial tension and animosity leading up to the fight. Both white supremacist groups and African-Americans stated that they would have armed supporters at the fight. There was even a story that police put sharpshooters on the roofs of hotels surrounding Caesars Palace for fear of violence.

Holmes picked Cooney apart and eventually knocked him out in the 13th round to keep his title. But perhaps the bigger story was that two judges had Holmes ahead by just two points when the fight ended. If Cooney did not have three points taken away from him during the fight for low blows, Cooney would have been ahead on the judges’ scorecards.

Nothing brings out the worst in people like a boxing match.

Remember When Mayweather Fought Ricky Hatton?

You don’t believe Americans will root for McGregor because he’s not from America? Guess again.

Do you remember when Las Vegas was Ricky Hatton’s backyard for one night in 2007? Listen to the crowd before Mayweather’s entrance:

If I didn’t tell you the place of the fight, you would have thought it took place in Hatton’s home country of England. Despite the “Born in the USA” entrance, Mayweather was a man without a country that night. The crowd booed him mercilessly before he easily defeated Hatton via TKO in the tenth round.

Americans will have no problem rooting for McGregor.

Remember When Mayweather Fought Oscar De La Hoya?

The fight took place on May 5, 2007, also known as “Cinco de Mayo.” Keep in mind, De La Hoya is of Mexican descent, though he did represent the United States in the Olympics back in 1992. Anyway, here is how Mayweather came out to the ring:

Obviously, wearing the sombrero to the ring was very problematic. But the point is that Mayweather is not going to have many fans backing him in this fight, as shown by the chorus of boos he received on his way to the ring. Even if he were to do something offensive to insult McGregor’s Irish nationality, it really won’t make much of a difference since most of America is already rooting against him.

Remember When Adrien Broner Fought Marcos Maidana?

Broner, an African-American, fought the Argentinian Maidana in San Antonio, Texas at the Alamodome. The 5,000 mile distance between Argentina and Mexico did not seem to matter, as the fans made it clear who they were rooting for that night (from ESPN’s Dan Rafael):

He [Maidana] had Broner in serious trouble as he winged hard shots from all angles. Broner was holding on as the crowd chanted, “Chino! Chino! Chino,” Maidana’s nickname.

Not to mention, Argentina and Mexico do not have a lot in common. But on that night in 2013, they sure received Maidana as one of their own. I can’t imagine how many people will watch this fight wrapped in an Irish flag or in some type of St. Patricks Day apparel.

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Remember When Mike Tyson Fought Lennox Lewis?

Most of America will become Irish on Aug. 23. Boxing promoters are very good at getting the public to believe that the underdog can emerge victorious. People don’t even need an emotional attachment to the fighter to believe. They just need a reason.

Back in 2002, Mike Tyson fought then-WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in Memphis. This fight was at the tail-end of Tyson’s career and he was three years removed from biting Evander Holyfield’s ear off. He just wasn’t the same boxer he was in his prime.

Tyson came out in the first round and got picked apart. It was clear he was not going to win that fight. But because he was Mike Tyson, there were people who said, “He’s still got a chance.” When it comes boxing matches, people will convince themselves of something and hold on to that belief for as long as possible.

Don’t trick yourselves into thinking, “It only takes one punch.” Don’t trick yourselves into thinking that McGregor can win this fight.

Mayweather-McGregor Will Not Go Over Well in America’s Current Environment

You have all seen what has happened to America since November’s presidential election. America is more divided than ever along not just political lines, but racial lines.

Mayweather has used race baiting to promote fights in the past. More specifically, he has used those tactics against Latinos (see Oscar de la Hoya). His uncle and former trainer, Roger Mayweather, used to refer to himself as the “Mexican Assassin” due to his many wins over Mexican fighters. In five of the past ten years, Mayweather has fought on Cinco de Mayo weekend. All five of those opponents were of Latin descent.

Unfortunately, McGregor has dabbled in some race baiting as well, though not nearly to the extent of Mayweather. In a press conference last year, he called the little brother of opponent Nate Diaz “a little cholo gangster from the hood.”

From the promotion to the real fight itself, Mayweather-McGregor is nothing but a clown show. McGregor has absolutely no chance of beating Mayweather in a boxing match. Don’t buy the fight. You will not only be wasting your time, but you will be furthering the divide of the United States of America.

Colin Kaepernick *May* Be Getting Blackballed from the NFL

It’s been almost two weeks since the NFL Draft, and Colin Kaepernick still does not have a job in the National Football League.

Keeping in mind that he underwent offseason shoulder surgery before the 2016 season, Kaepernick played in twelve games. He ended the season with 2,241 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, four interceptions, 468 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. According to NFL analyst Cian Fahey, Kaepernick is one of the more accurate passers in the NFL and the wide receivers on last year’s 2-win San Francisco 49ers squad dropped a lot of catchable passes.

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So why doesn’t Kaepernick have a job in the NFL? Well, the popular theory is that he is getting “blackballed” from the NFL for not standing during the playing of the national anthem before each game. There is certainly evidence that this is the case.

Fans burned his jersey.

Former NFL quarterbacks referred to his actions as “an embarrassment.”

Anonymous NFL executives have called him “a traitor.”

He got blamed for the NFL’s drop in ratings. Guess who?

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He’s also received death threats, for what that is worth.

So Kaepernick is getting blackballed… right?

A few weeks ago, Tim Kawakami of the San José Mercury News said that his line of blackball demarcation was Kaepernick’s former teammate – quarterback Blaine Gabbert. In other words, if Gabbert got an NFL job before Kaepernick, then we need to start asking some serious questions about whether the NFL is blackballing Kaepernick.

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Well, Gabbert just got a job with the Arizona Cardinals. Keep in mind that Gabbert lost his starting quarterback job last season to Kaepernick after five games and finished the season with five touchdowns and six interceptions.

This prompted Kawakami, as well as Yahoo’s Charles Robinson, to write a column on the “disinformation” surrounding Kaepernick.

“Kaepernick is not in football shape.”

Apparently, he’s back up to “2013 playing weight” of 230 pounds. So clearly, his vegan diet is affecting his muscle mass, right?

“Kaepernick wants too much money.”

This is false because he has not even had one meeting with an NFL team. He’s not demanding $9 to $10 million per season, which is popular theory among NFL circles. Yesterday on ESPN’s The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, The Nation‘s Dave Zirin said this about Kaepernick’s “demands”:

None of that is true. I spoke to Kaepernick and what he said was that he was training every day. He’s in the best shape of his life, he loves football, he wants to play, and then I spoke to people around Kaepernick… and they said to me that they have gotten no calls… You’re talking about a total ghosting of Colin Kaepernick… He’s asking for an invite to [training] camp and he’s asking for a sit-down and a meeting. We’re talking the most barebones level. He’s asking for some kind of engagement with the National Football League and the chance to play quarterback in the National Football League and that is not being offered to him.

So NFL executives are willing to call and see what Gabbert wants as opposed to Kaepernick? Interesting.

So… blackballed?

Well, let’s pump the brakes for a second.

Based on the evidence above, it is certainly fair to question whether Kaepernick is being blackballed. However, it’s hard to say that in a definitive statement because the concept of “blackball” is very difficult to prove.

Here is the more important question:

Why are people so confident that Kaepernick is not getting blackballed?

It’s important to point out that “quarterback” is the scarcest position in all of sports. It’s very difficult to find a decent quarterback, let alone a good to great quarterback. It’s crazy to think that an NFL team won’t even have a meeting with a quarterback who has played in the Super Bowl and has won multiple playoff games.

“Kaepernick is not good anymore. He doesn’t fit in many NFL offenses.”

How many systems does Gabbert fit?

More importantly, how many systems did Michael Vick fit? From 2009 to 2015, three different NFL teams signed Vick to back up their current starting quarterback. So a team wouldn’t have to change their system to accommodate Vick, a mobile quarterback who was on the verge of getting run out of the NFL before getting sent to prison?

Even if there is no concerted effort by the NFL to keep Kaepernick out of the league, how can anyone say that the issue is not related to the national anthem or the work he does to advance the cause of marginalized people in the United States?

“Signing Kaepernick would be bad public relations.”

So is this bad PR?

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Community first !! 100suits & Colin Kaepernick @ Queens parole

A post shared by Kevin Element Livingston (@100suits) on Apr 30, 2017 at 5:28am PDT

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Wouldn’t our country be a lot better if people who got out jail could find jobs? If those people do not have jobs, what do you think is most likely to happen?

The work that Kaepernick is doing is worthy of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Is this the bad public relations?

Or what about this:

There was zero distraction. He met with the team immediately after [his first protest]. He met with the other team leaders. He explained his position and where he was coming from. And literally, that was it. Colin was focused on football. He was all about the team and trying to help us win.

This is a direct quote from then-49ers head coach Chip Kelly, who was once questioned for his ability to get along with independently minded black players.

It seems like there were not any problems with Kaepernick.

So what is the “bad PR?”

Here’s another important question – do you think Kaepernick provides bad PR for black people?

The point being, this bad PR is another way of saying that, “We are scared that white people will not tolerate Kapernick’s presence.”

White fans in Philadelphia sure got over Vick and his dogfighting scandal. The Cincinnati Bengals sure got over Joe Mixon punching a woman back in the 2014.

It seemed like fans in San Francisco were tolerant of Kaepernick. Granted, the Bay Area is a bit more liberal than other places, but it’s not like the population isn’t majority-white.

This “intolerance” of Kapernick is not bad PR. It is fear that people are too racist to deal with Kaepernick and his views, which is likely not true. There is no way that all the charity work he has done is bad PR.

BOTTOM LINE

Again, it is difficult to definitely say that the NFL is blackballing Colin Kaepernick. On the other hand, no one can definitively say that he is not getting blackballed either.

Whether You Like It Or Not, Joe Mixon Will Be A Star in the NFL

Since declaring for the NFL Draft back in January, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon has been the topic of a lot of conversation in NFL circles. Back in 2014, he punched a female student during an argument, which has raised questions about his character and whether he deserves to play in the NFL.

For what it’s worth, OU suspended Mixon for the entire 2014 season, but it wasn’t until 2016 – after the release of the video of the incident – that he issued a public apology. He was also suspended one game this past season for arguing with an OU parking attendant after he received a ticket.

Despite Mixon’s off-the-field incidents, he has been one of the best running backs in the country over the past two seasons. In terms of talent, Mixon can play in any NFL offense. Gap-blocking, I-formation, shotgun, spread – he can do it all. It’s also worth keeping in mind that he shared the load with another quality running back in Samaje Perine.

But again, it all comes back to his off-field troubles.

The 2017 NFL Draft Class is Full of Talented Running Backs

It will be interesting to see which team ultimately takes a chance on Mixon.

Most mock drafts across the internet predict that LSU’s Leonard Fournette will be the first running back taken in tonight’s draft. However, everything I have seen him do in college has involved running over players or running past players. I’m not sure if being bigger and stronger than everyone else will be as big of a factor in the NFL. For those reasons, I believe that Dalvin Cook AND Mixon are better NFL prospects than Fournette.

But let’s get back to the real issue at hand.

“No NFL Team Should Draft Joe Mixon Because of His Past”

Ummm… is he suddenly not allowed to earn a living anymore because he committed a crime?

“No, It’s Just That He Can’t Do a Job That Others Want To Do”

Yeah, sorry. Life just isn’t fair.

Mixon’s situation ultimately comes down to one question… will he commit another act of domestic violence?

Whether it’s right or wrong, most teams have probably answered “no” to that question. If they have already taken him off their draft boards, however, it is completely understandable why they would make that assumption. Mixon’s actions towards the female OU student were largely preventable. He should have just walked away.

Today, I believe he would walk away because… a) a year-long suspension from football is a pretty big deal and b) he’s carried this with him for almost three years and will carry it with him for the rest of his life. If NFL teams believe that he will not fall victim to recidivism when it comes to domestic violence, than a team will draft him.

“Like Ray Rice, Mixon Will Suffer Because of the Video”

For those who may have forgotten… back in 2014, then Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his then fiancée at an Atlantic City casino. Just over a month later, TMZ released a video of Rice dragging her out of an elevator after apparently knocking her out. Rice was ultimately released by the Ravens in Sept. 2014 and has not played in the NFL since the incident.

Of course, people will make the lazy argument and say that the video is why Rice is not signed to an NFL team. However, it’s worth noting that Rice struggled mightily to start the 2013 season due to injuries and after four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, he was held to just 660 rushing yards. For the past three years, there have been legitimate questions as to whether Rice can still be a serviceable running back in the NFL.

If teams thought he could still be a serviceable player, Rice would be on an NFL roster because he has handled the incident as well as anyone could have asked him to handle it. Rice has put in the time and effort to make himself a better person. Last year, he vowed to give all of his potential salary to various domestic violence charities. Unfortunately, Rice has never made it back to the NFL because teams don’t think he can play anymore. It has nothing to do with the video.

In other words, the video will not affect Mixon’s draft status at all… because he could become a star NFL running back for many years to come.

How Long Will People Continue to Adjudicate Mixon’s Incident?

Again, it’s worth noting that this incident happened three years ago.

When Mixon gets to the NFL, there will be backlash once again among fans and the media because they’re new to him. There will be the CBS/ESPN/FOX/NBC broadcasts that start with, “Here is Joe Mixon, a young man who did [explain story]…” and we will hear the same thing for at least his first season in the NFL.

But Remember Tyreek Hill and Randy Moss?

Back in 2015, Hill pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation in a 2014 incident involving his then-pregnant girlfriend. In November, NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said this of Hill during the broadcast of the Chiefs-Broncos game:

As an organization, they obviously put him through every program you can imagine, and it’s still ongoing… but it obviously gets into those fine lines of second chances versus maybe you don’t deserve a second chance sometimes. But they took a chance.

To me, what Hill did was FAR WORSE then what Mixon did.

The reason I bring up Hill is because he was not taken until the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. This past season, he was only one of two rookies named first team All-Pro (as a punt returner) and was one of three rookies named to the Pro Bowl.

How many teams do you think are mad at themselves because they passed on Hill?

The same thing happened to Randy Moss during the buildup to the 1998 NFL Draft. The past issues were laid out for everyone to see:

– 30-day jail sentence for misdemeanor charge in high school
– expelled from said high school
– violated probation after testing positive for marijuana and served another 60 days in jail
– dismissed from FSU football team

After two All-American-type seasons at Marshall University, Moss projected as a high first-round pick. However, he fell to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 21 overall after a number of teams in need of a wide receiver, most notably the Dallas Cowboys, passed on him due to his documented legal problems.

How mad do you think Jerry Jones and those 19 other teams are for passing on Moss?

So When Will Mixon Get Drafted?

NFL Draft analysts and scouts believe Mixon possesses first-round talent. There will be multiple general managers that want to take him later in the draft, but don’t be surprised if a team sneaks up to take him in the second or third round.

So Yeah… Mixon Will Be A Star NFL Running Back

It is perfectly understandable why people will never root for Mixon again, especially after watching that video. We all have things that we decide that we just cannot forgive.

But in this case, life just isn’t fair. It’s not worth getting worked up over something that is bound to happen. Joe Mixon will become an NFL running back, and chances are, he will be a star.

All you can do is hope that Mixon becomes a different person than he was that night in 2014.

Let me know what you think in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131

There Will Never Be Another Tim Duncan

On July 11, 2016, Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the NBA after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.

In other words, Duncan saw that Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors and said, “What more do I have to prove? Thanks, but no thanks.”

Behind Duncan, the Spurs have “basically” won 50 games in all 19 of his seasons, depending on whether you count their 37-13 regular season record in the lockout-shortened 1999 season. The math adds out, so I am counting it.

In 1,392 career games, Duncan and the Spurs accumulated a .710 win percentage (1,001-391), which is the best win percentage of any NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB player over that 19-year span. On top of that, he won five championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, and three NBA Finals MVP awards.

There is no debate. Duncan is the most accomplished basketball player of the last 20 years.

Duncan Always Had a Level Head

While he was not one for showing much emotion, Duncan had that “dog” mentality and played very furiously on the court. Sure, he didn’t scream and yell like Kevin Garnett or pound his chest after a foul like LeBron James, but Duncan sure got in the face of the referees. I bet he believes that he never committed a single foul in his entire career.

Duncan was also thrown out of an NBA game for laughing on the bench, something that no NBA player has ever done.

Bless your heart, Joey Crawford.

Duncan Did Not Always Carry the Spurs

Duncan was fortunate to play with David Robinson, the most underrated big man of all-time, for the first six years of his career. When Robinson came to San Antonio in 1989-1990, the Spurs made the playoffs in seven of their next eight seasons. However, “The Admiral” could never get San Antonio over the hump.

That is, until a back injury and broken foot limited Robinson to just six games in 1996-1997. As a result, the Spurs landed the No. 1 overall pick in 1997 NBA Draft.

The pick? Tim Duncan.

Duncan was the player who turned the Spurs into legitimate championship contenders. Sure, it took about two or three years for him to become a better player than Robinson, similar to Magic Johnson playing with Kareem Abdul-Jabaar early in his career. It’s also worth noting that NBA writers and broadcasters named Duncan to the All-NBA First team in his rookie season, something only eight other players have done. That’s also a testament to Robinson’s greatness, since he was the best player on the Spurs in 1997-1998.

Duncan Went Head-to-Head Karl Malone… As a Rookie!

April 8, 1998.

Within the first three minutes of the game, Karl Malone caught Robinson with an elbow to the head and knocked him out for the rest of the game. It also looked like he knocked him out cold as well. Classic Karl Malone…

The Spurs did lose the game, but that did not stop rookie Tim Duncan from putting up 34 points and seven rebounds.

This was the game when most people realized that Tim Duncan was an emerging NBA superstar.

Duncan’s Consistency Was Off the Charts

Just look at his “per 36 minutes” stats.

As he got older and the minutes decreased, Duncan’s productivity and impact never wavered. He led the league in defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) four times, including in 2013 when he was 36-years-old!

Duncan Has the Jaw-Dropping NBA Finals Performance

2003 NBA Finals. New Jersey Nets. Game 6.

Tim Duncan put up 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks in San Antonio’s 88-77 win.

You read that correctly.

Not to mention, outside of Duncan, the 2003 San Antonio Spurs were not that good. Tony Parker, a 20-year-old point guard who the Spurs were willing to trade for Jason Kidd, was the second-best player for the Spurs that season. Duncan put that team on his back.

Duncan Could Very Easily Have SEVEN Championship Rings

2004 Western Conference Semifinals. Los Angeles Lakers. Game 5.

With 5.4 seconds left, down one point, Tim Duncan hit one of the most incredible buzzer-beaters in NBA history.

Then Derek Fisher made an even more incredible buzzer beater.

If Derek Fisher did not make that shot with 0.4 seconds left, I believe that the Spurs would have won the championship. They would have beat Kevin Garnett’s Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals and beat the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

So many things had to right for that buzzer-beater as well. Fisher had to shoot with his left hand, considering the sideline where the ball was being inbounded. In addition, the inbound pass was in a direction where only a left-handed shooter could fade to the baseline and make the basket. In other words, there is no way Kobe Bryant makes that shot.

2013 NBA Finals. Miami Heat. Game 6. Spurs Lead Series 3-2.

Up three points with 19.4 seconds remaining, Ray Allen hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

2013 NBA Finals. Miami Heat. Game 7.

Being guarded by the 6-foot-8 Shane Battier, the 6-foot-11 Duncan missed a wide-open layup to tie the game with less than a minute remaining.

Duncan was 19.8 seconds away from having more championships than Michael Jordan.

Is Duncan a Power Forward or Center?

This is a very important question, considering Duncan regularly moved back and forth between both positions.

When talking about great NBA big men, one must separate the “centers” from the “non-centers.” Before the NBA changed the illegal defense rules, there was a premium placed on centers who could get shots close to the basket. Prior to the 2001-2002 season, it took forever to double-team big men close to the basket due to the ban on zone defenses.

However, if you consider Duncan a “center,” he is one of the greatest centers of all-time. If you consider him a power forward, he is unquestionably the greatest power forward of all-time.

Duncan Probably Doesn’t Want Me Writing This Post

Answer this question… do you know what Tim Duncan’s voice sounds like?

Before writing this post, I didn’t either.

Duncan would probably prefer that no one ever speak of him or his career ever again. When the Spurs sent out his retirement statement, it didn’t even have a quote from him!

It would not shock me at all if he just called the Spurs that day and told them, “Hey guys, just wanted to let you know that I’m not coming to work anymore.”

Nineteen seasons. Five championships. One team.

There will never be another Tim Duncan.

Let me know what you think in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131