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Crossing an item off my sports bucket list: My experience at Lambeau Field

I like going to Major League Baseball stadiums that I’ve never visited before because baseball stadiums, while each adhering to the field dimensions regulated by MLB, have their own distinct features and quirks that separate them from the others, whether it’s the now-gone hill and pole in center field of Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston, or the famed ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley Field.

I don’t have the same feelings about NFL stadiums because, for the most part, there is nothing notable that distinguishes one from another.They are pretty much cookie-cutter facilities without unique features. There is one exception to that rule, in my opinion: Lambeau Field in Green Bay. That is the one NFL building that I feel is a classic that all football fans should visit in their lifetime. For me, that journey took place this past weekend.

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I am a fan of the Texans, who only played at Lambeau Field one time previously — a 24-21 Houston victory on Dec. 7, 2008. With the NFL’s scheduling formula, the Texans only play in Green Bay once every eight years because the teams play in different conferences. Knowing that, I knew if I didn’t go to the Week 13 game this year, I didn’t know if I would ever make it to Lambeau. Seeing a game at Lambeau Field has been on my sports bucket list for a while, so I made the trip from New York to experience a Packers weekend in Green Bay.

Stadium Tour

My Lambeau Field experience began on Saturday morning, with a tour of the stadium. I had never gone on a stadium tour before, but that was one of the things I wanted to do on this trip. It did not disappoint. It was informative, with tour guide Mike sharing a lot of information about the history of the team and facility, and took us to places throughout the stadium, most notably through the tunnel Packers players run through to take the field every home game and onto the outer edge of the field. It was a pretty cool experience to be standing there looking out at the nearly 80,000 empty seats — or, more accurately, bleachers — that just over 24 hours later would be filled with rowdy fans cheering on their team.

While being on the field was the highlight of the tour, there was more to the 90-minute-long experience. Other highlights of the tour included getting a panoramic view from a deck high above the south end zone, which is the highest point in Green Bay. Other stops included areas of the stadium that are accessible to people who buy suites and the Champions Club, which Mike described as similar to a country club, that has indoor seating in an area filled with Packers memorabilia, including Super Bowl rings, and access to the aforementioned viewing deck near the south scoreboard.

Packers Hall of Fame

After the tour, my next stop was to visit the Packers Hall of Fame which, as you’d expect, is filled with memorabilia and information about the history of the team and its best players. Highlights of the Hall of Fame include a room that houses the Packers’ four Lombardi trophies, of course named for the team’s famous head coach Vince Lombardi, and a replica setup of Lombardi’s office including the actual desk, chairs and telephone he used while serving as the team’s coach. There were video exhibits showcasing such events as highlights of 1967’s Ice Bowl — which was reportedly the impetus for Lambeau getting the nickname the Frozen Tundra — and the original Lambeau Leap, which was first performed by S LeRoy Butler on Dec. 26, 1993. Among the more unique memorabilia included in the Hall of Fame’s collection is pieces of goalposts from key games throughout Packers history and the trade agreement 1992 deal that sent young QB Brett Favre from the Falcons to the Packers for a first-round draft pick that would ultimately become RB Tony Smith, who totaled 329 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns in his NFL career.

The Game: Texans at Packers

Then came Sunday and the game between the Texans and the Packers. The weather provided what I was hoping for — snow, which I feel is the part of the true Green Bay football experience. There was light snow for most of the morning and throughout the game. With a noon kickoff, there were already people in the parking lot tailgating by the time I got to Lambeau shortly before 9am. The weather didn’t deter fans from getting to the stadium hours early to partake in the usual drinking, eating and game-playing that is associated with tailgating. But it’s not just in the stadium parking lot, it extends beyond the grounds of Lambeau. The owners of nearby homes surrounding the stadium allow people to park in their yards and set up mini-tailgates for a fee — generally ranging from $10-40, depending on the home’s distance from the stadium. Nearby restaurants and bars also run their own pregame tailgate parties, offering unlimited food and drinks for a fee. I opted to go with the tailgate at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, which had Super Bowl champion and Packers Hall of Fame WR Antonio Freeman in attendance signing autographs.

At noon, it was time for the main attraction of the weekend, with a kickoff temperature of 31 degrees and snow falling throughout the duration of the game. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the stadium — the original bowl plus some of the earliest additions — is made up of aluminum bleachers, which can get uncomfortable on cold days so many people either bring their own seat cushions or rent one upon entering the stadium. The newest additions in the upper levels of the stadium offer more traditional stadium seats.

As for the game itself, both offenses got off to slow starts — each team lost a fumble on their first offensive drives of the game — with no points on the scoreboard until Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to WR Randall Cobb nearly halfway through the second quarter for a 7-0 lead that stood until Texans QB Brock Osweiler tied to the game with a touchdown pass to TE Ryan Griffin midway through the third quarter. The Packers then took a 14-point lead with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — a pass to a wide-open WR Jordy Nelson early in the period and a three-yard run into the endzone by RB Aaron Ripkowski with 4:18 remaining in the game, putting Green Bay up 21-7. The Texans responded around the two-minute mark with a 44-yard catch-and-run by WR DeAndre Hopkins, but a missed PAT by K Nick Novak kept the score at 21-13. After a failed onside kick, the Texans were able to keep the Packers from earning a game-clinching first down, but with only one timeout remaining on the drive, the Texans got the ball back with just four seconds remaining. With the ball at their own 12-yard line, the Texans tried a short pass followed by several laterals as a last-ditch effort to score, but that failed as the Packers handed the Texans their third straight loss in front of a crowd of 77,867.

Both teams now sit at 6-6 on the season, with the Packers in third place in the NFC North and the Texans falling into a first-place tie with the idle Titans and, following Monday Night Football, the Colts in the AFC South.

Overall, even though the team I was rooting for lost, it was a good weekend as I finally got a chance to experience Lambeau Field for the first time. It is a trip that I would recommend any NFL fan should take at some point — including the tour — because of all of the tradition and history associated with the team and the stadium.

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Why I Don’t Agree With New York Banning DraftKings and FanDuel

On Tuesday, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman ordered daily fantasy sports (DFS) operators DraftKings and FanDuel to stop accepting bets by state residents, arguing that the companies’ games are considered illegal gambling, according to state law. I disagree with the decision, which affects me as a New York resident who has been playing in NFL contests on DraftKings this season. The companies plan to appeal the decision.

For some background, DFS companies are legal under federal law; a 2006 federal law exempted fantasy sports from a prohibition that was instituted on online gaming, under the guidance that it is a game of skill as opposed to luck. Schneiderman apparently doesn’t agree that DFS is legal under that law, saying “it is clear that DraftKings and FanDuel are the leaders of a massive, multibillion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country.”

In his letter to DraftKings, Scheiderman stressed some of the differences between DFS and traditional, seasonlong fantasy sports that makes DFS illegal while the seasonlong variety is legal, including that the “instant gratification” makes it easy to play DFS, which has “no long-term strategy.” He also argues that DFS is closer to poker — in that a small number of pros profit at the expense of more-casual players — than a lottery. According to Schneiderman’s investigation of the site’s data, the top one percent of winners get the majority of the winnings.

Let me address the points made by Schneiderman. First, I think comparing DFS to poker hurts his argument because I have long argued that poker is a game of skill that, like DFS, should be exempt from that 2006 ban on online gambling. Schneiderman seems to think that because the outcome of the contests relies on outside forces that the DFS players cannot control — namely the athletes — there’s no skill involved in winning at DFS. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, DFS participants have no control over the performance of the players they select, but there is skill involved in choosing which players you want on your team. The people who do it right study stats of previous games and the players’ matchups in the coming games to determine who to select — you’re not randomly selecting players with no basis for your choices.

This also goes into my counterargument to Schneiderman’s point that the top one percent of DraftKings players win the most money. Many of them are DFS professionals who do it full-time. They spend hours, and even days, to select their lineups each week. Conversely, a casual player like me often spends some time on Sunday morning choosing players before the kickoff the 1:00 games. Naturally, you would expect the people who are able to put more time and research into it to win more often — and that would kind of indicate there’s some skill involved in DFS, not that it’s a “multibillion-dollar scheme,” which was the conclusion that Schneiderman jumped to.

Further, those DFS pros are wagering a lot of money, with the possibility of a large payout. So, of course, they’re going to get the majority of the winnings when most DFS players are probably closer to me; I play in one $3 contest a week, and sometimes add a second, similarly priced contest. I don’t expect to win thousands of dollars when I’m wagering so little. I’ve won $10 each of the past two weeks, which is a decent return on my small investment.

Going back to Schneiderman’s letter, he charges that DraftKings promotes its games as “a path to easy riches that anyone can win,” enticing player with claims of becoming a millionaire. That scenario sounds familiar. Where have I previously heard claims of easy riches and becoming a millionaire? Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m thinking of New York Lottery commercials. Of course, that’s it.

So how do DraftKings’ and FanDuel’s claims of winning big differ from the New York Lottery’s? Simple. New York runs its lottery and profits from the people who gamble on it, hoping to win millions in contests in which they have no control over the outcome. Which is pretty much the argument Schneiderman makes for banning DFS — which, I should point out, New York doesn’t make any money off of. And that, in my opinion, is why Schneiderman is going after the DFS companies — he wants his share of the pie from the more than 500,000 New Yorkers who play DFS, according to DraftKings spokeswoman Sabrina Macias.

The fact that Schneiderman only banned DraftKings and FanDuel — by far the two largest and most successful DFS operations — and not the other, smaller sites that run DFS games seems to confirm my suspicion that it’s about money. He is going after the two sites that make the most money off of DFS becasue the state stands to gain the most by going after those two sites.

So the solution is simple. Rather than banning DFS, New York should regulate and tax it. By regulating it, the state can control how DraftKIngs and FanDuel run their games, to make sure it’s not the “scheme” that Schneiderman thinks the sites are running. By taxing it, New York gets its share of the millions of dollars that the sites take in from New York residents. New York is obviously not opposed to gambling; in addition to the lottery, the state regulates the New York Racing Association, which runs several horse racing tracks across the state, and a couple years ago legalized casino gaming other than the Indian casinos that have long operated on Indian reservations in the state.

Thoughts?

My NFL Picks Week 7: Super Bowl rematch, Packers start life without Aaron Rodgers

In Week 5, a couple NFL superstars suffered season-ending injuries, with Texans DE J.J. Watt and Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. out for the season. In Week 6, it was one of the league’s best quarterbacks that probably suffered that same fate when Packers QB Aaron Rodgers left the game against the Vikings with a collarbone injury that will likely cause him to miss the rest of the season. The Packers are at home this week for their first post-Rodgers game, taking on the Saints in what is expected to be a shootout. The game of the week is the Sunday nighter, featuring a Super Bowl LI rematch when the Falcons visit the Patriots. I went 6-8 last week, giving me an overall record of 50-41 for the season. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Lions, Texans

Thursday Night Football

Chiefs at Raiders (+2.5) – Coming off their first loss of the season, the Chiefs look to get back to their winning ways on a short week when they visit the Raiders, who are a disappointing 2-4 on the season. Raiders QB Derek Carr returned from his injury last week, but that didn’t help the offense like people thought it might. Facing the Chiefs defense won’t help the Raiders put points on the board. Give me the Chiefs.

Sunday 1PM games

Buccaneers at Bills (-2.5) – The Buccaneers may be heading to Buffalo with veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter with QB Jameis Winston day-to-day with a shoulder injury. The Bills are coming off their bye, giving them plenty of rest for this game at home. I’ll take the Bills.

Panthers at Bears (+3.5) – The Bears needed overtime to beat the Ravens on Sunday, and they now face a more potent offense in the Panthers. QB Mitch Trubisky has helped improve the Bears offense since being named the starter, but I don’t think the Bears have enough weapons to compete with QB Cam Newton and the Panthers. I’ll give the points.

Titans at Browns (+5.5) – The Browns are still winless on the season, and I think that will continue after this game. QB Marcus Mariota came back in Week 6 after missing the previous game and played well despite his hamstring injury limiting his production on the ground. I fully expect the Titans to win the game, it’s just a question of whether they cover the spread. The Browns offense is so bad I think they will. Give me the Titans.

Saints at Packers (+5.5) – This was expected to be a matchup of two of the game’s best veteran quarterbacks with Drew Brees leading the Saints and Aaron Rodgers the Packers. With Rodgers sidelined with his injured collarbone, though, it’ll be QB Brett Hundley leading the Packers against an offense that put up 52 points last week. While they probably won’t score that much again, I don’t think Hundley will be able to keep up with the Saints offensively. Saints win and cover.

Jaguars at Colts (+2.5) – The Colts don’t have many weapons on offense, and Jaguars QB Blake Bortles isn’t very good. The Jags do have the best offensive player in the game with RB Leonard Fournette and a much better defense, so I give them the edge in this one. I’ll give the points.

Cardinals at Rams (-3.5) – RB Adrian Peterson played better in his first game with the Cardinals last week than he did all season with the Saints before being traded to Arizona. It seemed to invigorate a Cardinals offense that had been struggling of late  with QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald putting up good numbers. I expect this to be a close game that I expect the Rams to win, but I think the Cardinals to keep it close enough that I’ll take the points.

Jets at Dolphins (-2.5) – The Jets only scored 17 against a bad Patriots defense last week while the Dolphins overcame a deficit to beat the defending NFC champion Falcons. Neither Jets QB Josh McCown nor Dolphins QB Jay Cutler — both former Bears — is great at this point in their careers, so I’ll go with the team with the best running back, which would be Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi, who I think will lead his team to the win. Dolphins cover.

Ravens at Vikings (-5.5) – The Ravens’ offensive struggles continued last week, losing to the Bears. The Vikings, on the other hand, has continued to perform decently with QB Case Keenum filling in for injured QB Sam Bradford. I expect the Vikings to win the game, helped in part by RB Jerick McKInnon, but I don’t think they cover so I’ll take the Ravens with the points.


Sunday 4PM games

Cowboys at 49ers (+6.5) There was some uncertainty early in the week over whether Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott would be able to play this week or if he’d begin serving his six-game suspension. He will play, which helps the Cowboys offense coming off the bye. They’ll win the game, and I think they cover the spread.

Bengals at Steelers (-5.5) The Steelers are coming off an impressive win against the Chiefs that came a week after QB Ben Roethlisberger had a five-interception game. RB Le’Veon Bell had his best game of the season for Pittsburgh last week, and I think the offensive momentum continues on Sunday at home against the division-rival Bengals. Give me the Steelers.

Broncos at Chargers (-1.5) – The Chargers are looking to rebound from a surprising loss to the Giants on Sunday night in which they only scored 10 points. I expect the offense to play better this week, but the Broncos will still rely on the defense to keep them in the game this week. I think the defense will be able to do that against the Chargers, I’ll give the minimum points.

Seahawks at Giants (-5.5) – The Giants are looking to start a winning streak after picking up their first win of the season on Sunday night. It’ll be tough to do against a strong Seahawks defense and with the Giants offense still not at full strength. WR Sterling Shepard may be back this week, but QB Eli Manning still doesn’t have many other weapons in the passing game to throw to. The Seahawks should win the game, and I think it’ll be close as to whether they cover. I think they’ll barely cover, so I’ll take Seattle.

Sunday Night Football

Falcons at Patriots (-3.5) – The Falcons seek revenge against the Patriots, who overcame a 25-point deficit to beat them in Super Bowl LI in February. This year’s Falcons team isn’t the same team that came within minutes of winning the Super Bowl, as the offense has struggled this season. The good news for them is the Patriots defense isn’t as good as what last season. That’ll give QB Matt Ryan a chance to shine, but I don’t think he’ll be able to outplay Patriots QB Tom Brady, which he’ll likely have to do if he wants to lead his team to victory. I’ll give the points.

Monday Night Football

Redskins at Eagles (-4.5) – The Eagles may be the best team in the NFC with Rodgers likely out for the year in Green Bay. QB Carson Wentz has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league this season. It’s never easy to beat a division rival, but it’s a home game for the Eagles, and I think they’ll be able to continue the success they’ve had this season. I think they’ll win to improve to 6-1 on the year, and I’ll give the points again.

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LCS Predictions: Yankees-Astros and Cubs-Dodgers

With the division series in the books, we’re down to the final four teams in Major League Baseball’s postseason, with the Astros and Yankees battling for the American League crown and the Dodgers and Cubs in the National League as the Cubs look to continue their quest to repeat as World Series champs.

American League Championship Series

The Astros didn’t have much trouble taking care of the Red Sox in the ALDS and the Yankees went the distance, upsetting the Indians in five games. I think the Astros will take a 2-0 lead at home coming off what I expect to be strong starts from SPs Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 2, respectively, of the ALCS. The Astros offense, which led the majors in most offensive categories, should be able to score against the Yankees rotation. The Yankees’ biggest advantage is the bullpen, but the Yankees may be playing from behind in most games, which would negate that advantage. OF Aaron Judge — who struck out more times in the five games of the ALDS than Tony Gwynn did in the entire 1995 season, 16 to 15 — should be able to do better against the Astros because, aside of Verlander, they don’t have the same type of strikeout pitchers that the Indians do. That said, I think the Astros win the series behind their top two starting pitchers with potential AL MVP 2B Jose Altuve, SS Carlos Correa and OF George Springer leading the way offensively.

Astros win in six games.

National League Championship Series

Like the Yankees, the Cubs needed to play all five games to beat the Nationals in the NLDS, and they needed some bad baseball by Washington to help them. The Dodgers, on the other hand, dispatched of the Diamondbacks in a three-game sweep. The Dodgers went on a lengthy losing streak in September but they seem to be back on track after that. Despite getting the win, Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw’s postseason struggles continued in Game 1 of the NLDS, giving up four earned runs. But he’ll be on seven days rest when he takes the mound against the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLCS. Neither the Cubs offense — 3B Kris Bryant and 1B Anthony Rizzo each hit .200 in the series — nor the bullpen did well against the Nationals, and they won’t have much of a chance against the Dodgers if those struggles continue. The Dodgers are the better team right now, and I think that will lead them to their first World Series appearance since winning it in 1988.

Dodgers win in six games.

If the Astros-Dodgers World Series comes to pass, that means one team will win the championship for the first time in a long time; the Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Astros have never won a World Series title.

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My NFL Picks Week 6: Chiefs look to remain undefeated, Giants seek first win

The Chiefs are the lone remaining undefeated team in the NFL this season, and they put their perfect 5-0 record on the line this week against a perennial playoff contender in the Steelers. On the other end of the spectrum, the Giants, Browns and 49ers are still searching for their first wins. With the AFC East-leading Bills on their bye this week, the game between the Patriots and Jets is for the division lead. I went 7-7 last week, giving me an overall record of 44-33 for the season. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Seahawks

Thursday Night Football

Eagles at Panthers (-2.5) – The Panthers and QB Cam Newton seem to have gotten things together in the last couple of weeks, but the Eagles have been playing well all season, with QB Carson Wentz in the top 10 of many of the statistical categories at the position. The Eagles are struggling in the running game due to injuries, but I think they could win the game so I’ll take the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Dolphins at Falcons (-11.5) – It is obvious that QB Jay Cutler isn’t the answer for the Dolphins and, even though the Falcons offense behind QB Matt Ryan has taken a step back this season, they’re still significantly better than the Dolphins. The Falcons will win the game, it’s just a question of the point differential. I think 11.5 is too much — especially with WRs Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu possibly missing the game because of injuries suffered in Week 5 — so I’ll take the points.

Bears at Ravens (-7.5) – Last week was one of the few times this season the Ravens defense played well. In his first game on Monday night, Bears QB Mitch Trubisky looked serviceable. Since neither team has a great offense, I expect this to be a close game, so I’ll take the points again, though I think the Ravens will win the game.

Browns at Texans (-9.5) – Just as the Texans appear to finally have a real quarterback in rookie Deshaun  Watson, they lost two key pieces of their defense on Sunday night, with DE J.J. Watt and LB Whitney Mercilus both likely out for the season. Their loss probably won’t be felt too much against a bad Browns team that has announced QB Kevin Hogan will make his first start of the season, with Deshone Kizer hitting the bench. Texans win, but I think it’ll be closer than 9.5 points so I’ll take the points here as well.

Lions at Saints (-4.5) – I’m kind of surprised the Saints are giving points. While they do well at the Superdome, I think the Lions are the better team and could win the game outright. I’ll take the points with them.

Packers at Vikings (+3.5) – The Packers are coming off a last-second victory against the Cowboys, in which QB Aaron Rodgers led the game-winning drive in under 90 seconds, and visiting a Vikings team that could be without QB Sam Bradford, who left in the middle of Monday’s game against the Bears. Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon looked good filling in for rookie RB Dalvin Cook, who suffered a season-ending injury in the previous game. In Bradford plays, the Vikings have a chance to win but if it’s QB Case Keenum is under center, I don’t think it’ll be that close. I think the latter scenario is more likely so I’ll give the points with the Packers on the road.

Patriots at Jets (+9.5) – Surprisingly, both teams have identical 3-2 records, but the Jets’ wins haven’t come against teams the caliber of the Patriots. QB Tom Brady missed practice on Tuesday but returned on Wednesday, so there isn’t much concern about him playing Sunday, and if he’s on the field I don’t think this will be a close game. I’ll give the points.

49ers at Redskins (-9.5) – These teams are both in the bottom 10 of the league in points scored so you would expect this one to be pretty close, which is why I’m surprised the Redskins are such big favorites. They definitely have the advantage at quarterback, with Kirk Cousins against the 49ers’ Brian Hoyer, but I think the 49ers stay within a double-digit deficit. Redskins win the game, but I’ll take the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Rams at Jaguars (-2.5) – The Jaguars are in the top five of the league in both scoring offense and defense, going against a Rams offense that I feel has overperformed so far this season. Jags win by more than a field goal so I’ll give the points.

Buccaneers at Cardinals (+2.5) – The Cardinals offense is not good, and I don’t trading for RB Adrian Peterson this week will help it because he didn’t do much in the games he played with the Saints. I expect the Buccaneers to easily win and cover the spread.

Steelers at Chiefs (-3.5)Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is coming off the worst game of his career in which he threw five interceptions. Going against a good Chiefs defense won’t go well for him if he doesn’t improve over his performance last season. I think QB Alex Smith leads the Chiefs to another win to remain undefeated, and I’ll give the points.

Chargers at Raiders (-6.5) – The Raiders offense didn’t look good last week when QB Matt McGloin filled in for the injured Derek Carr, but it seems like Carr will be able to go this week at home against a 1-4 Chargers team. While their record isn’t great, the Chargers have lost a couple tight games late and I think they can take advantage of a bad Raiders defense to keep it close. I think the Raiders win the game, but I’ll take the points.

Sunday Night Football

Giants at Broncos (-12.5) – The 0-5 Giants are still looking for their first win of the season, which will be a tough task against a Broncos defense that has allowed the third-fewest points in the NFL this season.And Giants QB Eli Manning will be without WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall — as well as potentially Sterling Shepard — but having said that the Broncos don’t exactly have a prolific offense either. I think nearly two touchdowns is too high of a spread so even though I expect the Broncos to win I’ll take the visitors with the points.

Monday Night Football

Colts at Titans (-3.5) – The Week 6 finale could be a battle of backup AFC South quarterbacks. We already know Jacoby Brissett will get the start for the Colts but Titans QB Marcus Mariota is a question mark. If Matt Cassel gets the start again, I could lean toward the Colts because the Titans offense wasn’t good last week under Cassel. It looks like Mariota could be ready for the game — and it helps that he has an extra day with the Monday nighter — so I’ll assume he’s playing and take the Titans to win, giving the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 5: Patriots-Bucs, Packers-Cowboys among the games of the week

The surprising results in the first quarter of the NFL season continued in Week 4, with the Patriots, Jaguars and Falcons losing in upsets. The Patriots get a chance to bounce back from their loss on Thursday night when they visit the Buccaneers. Other notable games in Week 5 include two of the NFC’s most popular teams meeting when the Cowboys host the Packers and the Texans, coming off a 57-point game against the Titans, look to knock off the Chiefs, the last remaining undefeated team in the league, on Sunday night. This is the first week of (scheduled) byes, with four teams idle. I went 10-6 last week, giving me an overall record of 37-26 for the season. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Falcons, Broncos, Saints, Redskins

Thursday Night Football

Patriots at Buccaneers (+5.5) – The offense hasn’t been the problem for the 2-2 Patriots as QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski and performing like they usually do, and WR Chris Hogan has stepped up his game in the absence of WR Julian Edelman, but the defense has been among the worst in the league. That means Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston and WR Mike Evans should be able to score points. The Bucs also get back starting RB Doug Martin for the first time this season as he has served his three-game suspension to begin the season. While I think the Patriots probably win the game, I think the Bucs will cover the spread.

Sunday 1PM games

Bills at Bengals (-2.5) – This is a surprising line as the 3-1 Bills are coming off an upset of the defending NFC champion Falcons and are getting points against a Bengals team whose line win came against the winless Browns on Sunday. QB Andy Dalton looked better for the Bengals last week, but you can’t judge him fairly based on an outing against the Browns defense. I think Bills QB Tyrod Taylor will outplay him and expect the visitors to win outright. So if the Bills are getting points, I’m taking them.

Jets at Browns (-1.5) – Another game in which a bad Ohio team is surprisingly favored. Despite their 2-2 record, I’m still not convinced the Jets are a good team but they’re better than the Browns. I think the Jets have a good chance to win the points so I’ll take the points on the road again.

Panthers at Lions (-2.5) – Panthers QB Cam Newton finally looked like his old self last week in the team’s victory against the Patriots. They’ll look to carry that momentum into Detroit against the Lions. Both teams are 3-1 entering the game and I think the Lions will be the team that improves upon that record. I think Matthew Stafford has more weapons on the offense than Newton does, which I think will be enough for the home team to win and cover.

Titans at Dolphins (+2.5) – The Titans got blown out by the Texans last week, 57-14, but they shouldn’t worry about giving up that many points this week because the Dolphins have scored a total of six points in their last two games. The Titans are the better team, but the concern is the health of QB Marcus Mariota, who is day-to-day and could miss the game. If he does, QB Matt Cassel will get the start, which doesn’t instill much confidence in me that the Titans will win the game. But the Dolphins offense has looked so bad in the last couple weeks that I’ll go with the Titans even if Cassel plays.

49ers at Colts (-1.5) – The 49ers are still looking for their first win of the season behind QB Brian Hoyer while the Colts offense has been respectable in the last couple of weeks with QB Jacoby Brissett filling in for injured QB Andrew Luck. With the 49ers having to travel east to play an early game, I give the advantage to the Colts. I’ll go with the home team and give the 1.5.

Chargers at Giants (-3.5) – Both teams are 0-4 and hoping to get their first win of the season this week. The Giants have lost their last two games on last-second field goals and I think they have a better offense than the Chargers, who are taking a cross-country flight for the game. I’ll pick the Giants to get their first win and barely cover the 3.5 points.

Cardinals at Eagles (-6.5) – The Cardinals offense hasn’t looked great since losing RB David Johnson to injury in the season opener. QB Carson Palmer isn’t having a great season with WR Larry Fitzgerald his only reliable receiver. The Eagles are the better team and I expect them to win the game, but I think it’ll be closer than a touchdown difference so I’ll take the points.

Jaguars at Steelers (-8.5) – After losing big to the Jets last week, the Jaguars now have to deal with QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Antonio Brown and the rest of the Steelers. They’re 3-1 but Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t been as potent this season as we’ve come to expect from the team in recent years so I think 8.5 points is too big of a spread. Steelers win the game but don’t cover. I’ll take the points with the Jags, who have rookie RB Leonard Fournette leading their offense.

Sunday 4PM games

Ravens at Raiders (-3.5) – This would have been an easy pick to make if QB Derek Carr was starting for the injuries, but with him out with an injury and QB EJ Manuel set to make his first start since Week 17 of last season, it’s a tougher call. The Ravens offense hasn’t been good this season but I have a hard time taking trusting Manuel to cover. I’ll say Raiders win the game but I’ll take the Ravens and the points.

Seahawks at Rams (-2.5) – The Rams have had one of the league’s best offenses through Week 4 but they now face a tough task in going against a good Seahawks defense. This could be the week that Rams QB Jared Goff comes back down to Earth a bit so I think the team will have to rely on RB Todd Gurley to score enough points for the win. I think the Seahawks could win outright so I’ll take he points.

Packers at Cowboys (-1.5) – This is a rematch from one of last year’s divisional round games in the NFC playoffs. The Packers won that game by a field goal. This time, though, there is some uncertainty about who may be able to play. Specifically, RB Ty Montgomery and WR Davante Adams are questionable to take the field on Sunday. On the other sideline, the Cowboys offense isn’t as potent as it was last season. With an unexpected shootout in this game, QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott have to step up their game to keep up with the combination of QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Jordy Nelson on the Packers. Even with the potential injuries, I think the Packers are the better points so I’ll take the points again.

Sunday Night Football

Chiefs at Texans (+1.5)The Chiefs are the lone undefeated team remaining in the league, but this week they’re facing a Texans team that just scored a franchise-record 57 points in Week 4. Texans QB Deshaun Watson looks like he could be legit with the way he’s been playing in the 3.5 games that he’s been under center this season. The Texans will be riding high coming off of that blowout against the Jets and they have a good defense with DE J.J. Watt and LB Jadeveon Clowney. I think the Texans can pull off the upset in front of their home fans. I’ll take the points.

Monday Night Football

Vikings at Bears (+3.5) – The quarterbacks are question marks in the final game of Week 5. The Vikings are still calling QB Sam Bradford day-to-day so we don’t know if it’ll be him or QB Case Keenum getting the start for the visitors. The Bears do know who will be starting for them, but it’ll be QB Mitch Trubisky getting the first game action of his professional career as the Bears have decided to bench QB Mike Glennon after their 1-3 start. Making his first start in primetime against a good Vikings defense probably isn’t a formula for success for the rookie, but the Vikings will be without a rookie of their own, RB Dalvin Cook, who suffered a season-ending injury in last week’s game. I still think the Vikings win the game. I’ll give the points.

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MLB Postseason Preview: 2017 Predictions

Now that the Wild Card games are over and the division series are set, time to predict what’s going to happen in the rest of the postseason.

American League
Division Series
Astros beat Red Sox in 4 games
Indians beat Yankees in 4 games

Championship Series
Indians beat Astros in 7 games

National League
Division Series
Nationals beat Cubs in 4 games
Diamondbacks beat Dodgers in 5 games

Championship Series
Nationals beat Diamondbacks in 6 games

World Series

nationals

beat

indians

in 6 games.

I’m 2-0 after the Wild Card games, let’s see how I do with the rest of my picks.

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MLB Postseason Preview: National League Wild Card game — Rockies at Diamondbacks

This year’s Wild Card game in the National League pits two teams from the NL West who are familiar with each other as the Diamondbacks, who finished the regular season 93-69, host the 87-75 Rockies, who are making their first postseason appearance since 2009. The Rockies are giving SP Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67 ERA) the start and SP Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20 ERA) gets the start for the home team in the winner-takes-all game.

The Rockies went 41-40 on the road this season, and the Diamondbacks were 52-29 at Chase Field.

Greinke has the distinct experience advantage over Gray, including in the playoffs; this is his 10th career start in the postseason so he knows what it’s like to pitch on a big stage like this. Greinke is 3-3 with a 3.55 ERA in the playoffs. Gray, on the other hand, is getting his first taste of postseason action. In his 20 starts this season, Gray recorded 112 strikeouts in 110.1 innings to go along with his 3.67 ERA. He has gone 13 straight starts without allowing more than three earned runs and only exceeded that number three times in 2017. Greinke struck out 215 batters in 202.1 innings over 32 starts in his second season with the Diamondbacks. Other than allowing eight earned runs in his penultimate start of the regular season, Greinke has also put up good numbers over the last several weeks. Both pitchers have put up good numbers this season, but I like Greinke in this game more because of his extended history of success in the majors, including in his nine previous postseason starts.
Advantage: Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks have a better bullpen, with their 3.78 ERA ranking as the fifth best in the majors this season with the Rockies’ relievers posting a 4.40 ERA that was 20th in MLB. Rockies RP Greg Holland recorded 41 saves this season, but put up a subpar 3.61 ERA in the process, which tied him with RP Jake McGee for the best ERA among the team’s main relievers. Holland recorded 70 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. Serving as closer for the Diamondbacks is veteran RP Fernando Rodney, who posted a pedestrian 4.23 ERA while saving 39 games.  He did strike out 65 batters over 55.1 innings. The star of Arizona’s bullpen is RP Archie Bradley, who had 1.73 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 73 innings over the course of 63 appearances. Relying on Rodney to save the game is worrisome, but I think Bradley is the best reliever on either team and could be called upon to pitch more than an inning if needed. He could be an X-factor in the game.
Advantage: Diamondbacks

On the offensive side of things, the Rockies’ .273 batting average was the second best in the majors while the Diamondbacks were just below league average at .253. The Diamondbacks have more power, though, racking up 218 home runs compared to the Rockies’ 192. A big factor in Arizona’s home run total was the July trade for OF J.D. Martinez, who knocked 29 balls out of the park after joining the team on July 19. He also hit .302 in the 62 games he played with the Diamondbacks. Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt added 36 home runs and a .297 average for the team. The Rockies had three players who reached or surpassed 30 home runs — 3B Nolan Arenado and OF Charlie Blackmon each hit 37 and 1B Mark Reynolds got 30, with another 24 from SS Trevor Story, who had a disappointing season after a monster rookie year in 2016. I think the Rockies offense is more evenly spread out and less top-heavy than the Diamondbacks so I’ll give Colorado the advantage here, with the caveat that Martinez and Goldschmidt are each capable of hitting multiple home runs in the game.
Advantage: Rockies (barely)

The Rockies have the advantage on defense, with their 77 errors ranking as the third fewest in the majors. The Diamondbacks were in the bottom 10 with 105 errors.
Advantage: Rockies

I think Greinke will be able to outduel Gray and give the Diamondbacks the victory at home, earning them their first NLDS appearance since 2011. My biggest concern is having Rodney come in late in the game if it’s a close score, but he’s a veteran and I think he’ll be able to get the job done if called upon.

Whoever wins advances to the National League Division Series to play the NL West champion Dodgers. The other NLDS is already known and will pit the NL East champion Nationals holding home-field advantage in the series with the Cubs, who are looking to defend their World Series championship after winning the NL Central this season. Both National League series begin on Friday.

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MLB Postseason Preview: American League Wild Card game — Twins at Yankees

It’s October, and that means the Major League Baseball postseason is here. This is the third year of the expanded playoffs with Wild Card games in the American League and National League. For the second time in those three years, the AL Wild Card game is being played at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees lost the game to the Astros in 2015, but they seem to have an easier matchup this time, hosting the Twins. The Yankees are coming off a 91-71 season while the Twins finished the regular season 85-77, making the playoffs just a season after losing a MLB-worst 103 games in 2016.

The visitors are putting veteran SP Ervin Santana (16-8, 3.28 ERA) on the mound to oppose Yankees SP Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA).

The Yankees having home-field advantage in the game could come into play because even though the Twins finished the 2017 season a respectable 44-37 on the road, the Yankees were an impressive 51-29 in the Bronx during the regular season.

Santana has the clear experience advantage over Severino, as he is making his third career postseason start and ninth appearance overall, while Severino is playing in his first career postseason game, at any level of professional baseball. They both pitched well during the season, with Santana winning two more games and Severino recording a slightly lower ERA. Santana had a rough couple of starts in early September, giving up four earned runs in back-to-back outings, but he hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in four starts since then, and he went all of August without allowing more than three earned runs. Severino only had two games since the beginning of July in which he gave up more than three earned runs — a six-run outing on July 2 and an eight-run game on August 12. Severino has also been racking up the strikeouts in the second half of the season, totaling 123 since July 1, just 44 fewer than Santana’s total for the season. Advantage: Yankees

The Yankees have one of the best bullpens in the majors, and it only got better at the non-waiver trade deadline, with the additions of RPs David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to a bullpen that already had RPs Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. Overall, the Yankees had the third-best bullpen ERA in the majors at 3.35 but the Twins were down at 23rd in the rankings, with a 4.42 ERA from their relievers.The Twins had more saves than the Yankees — 41 to 36 — but that could be a result of how the games went. If given a choice, I’d still rather have the Yankees’ bullpen.
Advantage: Yankees

Looking at the offense, both teams were in the top 10 in batting average, with the Yankees having a slight advantage, but the Yankees have a clear advantage in the power department, having led the majors with 240 home runs — thanks in large part to 52 off the bat of OF Aaron Judge — which was 36 more than the Twins hit, with their team high being 34 from 2B Brian Dozier. Yankees C Gary Sanchez was second on the team with 33 home runs, just one fewer than the Twins’ home-run leader. With so many more home runs for the Yankees, it’s not surprising that they also had a higher OPS than the Twins, with the Yankees ranking third in the majors in that category and the Twins being ninth. The biggest hole in the Yankees’ lineup is DH Matt Holliday, who hit just .230 in 104 games this season, with 18 home runs. The biggest offensive liability for the Twins is C Jason Castro, but that’s the position where most teams have their worst offensive production.
Advantage: Yankees

The Twins are one of the best defensive teams in the league, with their 78 errors being tied for the fourth fewest in the majors. The Yankees, on the other hand, made 95 errors, which was two more than the league average.
Advantage: Twins

The Yankees have the advantage in all major aspects of the game other than defense. As long as Severino can give the Yankees six innings and get a lead to the bullpen, I think the Yankees will win the game. If the Twins are going to have a chance to win, they’ll need big production out of the likes of Dozier, 3B Miguel Sano and OF Byron Buxton.

Whoever wins advances to the American League Division Series to play the AL Central champion Indians. The other ALDS is already set, with the AL West champion Astros holding home-field advantage in the series with the Red Sox, who won the AL East for the second year in a row. Both American League series begin on Thursday.

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