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Stadium Series: 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.


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.


My NFL Picks Week 12: Saints-Rams leads a weak Thanksgiving weekend

With byes done for the year, there are full 16-game slates each week the rest of the year. This week features the now-traditional three games on Thanksgiving, including a battle of the top two teams in the NFC North. The game of the week, however, is looking to be Drew Brees leading the Saints to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in a game between two of the top teams in the NFC. Most of the rest of this week’s schedule features either mismatches or games involving two teams that are already out of the playoff hunt. I went 8-6 last week, giving me an overall record of 88-72 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


Vikings at Lions (+2.5) – The Vikings are coming off an impressive win against the Rams and are looking to maintain their division lead over the Lions, which currently stands at two games. They’re facing a road game on a short week, but I think QB Case Keenum and the Vikings will be able to full up the victory by at least a field goal, so I’ll give the points.

Chargers at Cowboys (-0.5) – The Chargers won’t score more than 50 points again this week because Cowboys QB Dak Prescott won’t throw five interceptions in a half like Bills QB Nathan Peterman did last week. The Cowboys offense, however, hasn’t looked good the last couple of weeks with RB Ezekiel Elliott serving his six-game suspension. Things should be better for the Cowboys on Thursday if OT Tyron Smith can play to help shore up the offensive line. Even if he misses another game, though, I think the Cowboys will have just enough offense to beat the Chargers at home.

Giants at Redskins (-7.5) – The Redskins gave up a lead last week to lose to the Saints, while the Giants secured their second win of the season by beating the Chiefs, who are on the decline, despite needing overtime to score 12 points. Despite those Week 11 results, I expect the Redskins to win this divisional game rather easily with the lowly Giants hitting the road on a short week. I’ll give the 7.5 points.

Sunday 1PM games

Buccaneers at Falcons (-8.5) – The Buccaneers will be without QB Jameis Winston for a third straight game, giving Ryan Fitzpatrick another opportunity to start — which could actually be beneficial for the Bucs. I don’t think they’ll be able to score enough points to beat the Falcons and QB Matt Ryan, but I think Fitzpatrick can keep it relatively close. l’ll take the points but expect the Falcons to win the game.

Bills at Chiefs (-9.5) – Both teams are coming off bad losses, with the Bills having lost by 30 to the Chargers, and the Chiefs losing in overtime to a Giants team that had just one win at the time. As of the time of this writing, the Bills have not yet announced if they’ll give Peterman another start or go back to QB Tyrod Taylor as the starter. They should do the latter as he is clearly the better quarterback and is more likely to keep the Bills in the game. But regardless of who gets the start for Buffalo, I find it hard to give so many points with the Chiefs against any team right now after they scored just nine points a week ago, so I’ll take the points with the Bills.

Bears at Eagles (-13.5) – The Eagles continued to roll last week, with QB Carson Wentz helping them improve to a 9-1 record on the season, and I don’t see the Bears giving them much of a challenge this week. I think 13.5 points is a little too high, though, so I’ll pick the Eagles to win the game but I expect the Bears to keep it within 13.5 points.

Browns at Bengals (-8.5) After losing their first 10 games, the Browns are still looking for their first win and this could be one of their best chances to get it as they take on a mediocre Bengals team. Even against the Browns, I find it hard to envision the Bengals winning by at least a nine-point margin so I’ll take the Browns to cover the spread but they’ll likely fall to 0-11.

Titans at Colts (+3.5) – Both teams have had an extended period of rest coming into this game, with the Titans coming off a Thursday night game last week while the Colts had their bye in Week 11. With those extended periods between games, both teams have had plenty of time to prepare for the game. I think that gives the Titans the advantage since they are the better team. Although QB Marcus Mariota hasn’t had a great season, he’s still better than Colts QB Jacoby Brissett and should be able to lead the team to a win. The spread is only 3.5 points so I think the Titans will be able to cover it.

Dolphins at Patriots (-16.5) – This is one of the biggest spreads you’ll ever see in an NFL game. There is uncertainty about who will start at quarterback for the Dolphins with Jay Cutler in the league’s concussion protocol, opening the possibility for Matt Moore to get the start against a tough Patriots team. The Patriots are certainly going to win the game behind QB Tom Brady, but I don’t like giving so many points so I’ll take the points and hope the Dolphins don’t get completely blown out.

Panthers at Jets – The Jets are just 1-4 in their last five games after starting the season 3-2 and they continue to fall out of the playoff race. i expect that decline to continue this week when they face a Panthers team that is fighting for the lead in the NFC South. QB Cam Newton should lead the road team to a win, and I think it’ll be by at least a touchdown so I’ll give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Seahawks at 49ers +6.5) – The Seahawks are coming off a tough loss to the Falcons but they should be able to rebound this week against the 49ers. The Seahawks defense is depleted due to injuries, including season-ending maladies for CB Richard Sherman and S Kam Chancellor, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue against the 49ers. I think the Seahawks cover.

Broncos at Raiders (-5.5) – The Broncos have announced that QB Paxton Lynch will get the start on Sunday against a Raiders defense that has yet to record an interception this season. Facing a subpar defense may help Lynch have a decent performance, but it probably won’t be enough to win the game. I think the Broncos will keep it relatively close, though, so I’ll take the points.

Saints at Rams (-2.5) – The Saints continued their winning ways last week, coming back to beat the Redskins and extend their winning streak to eight games. The Rams, on the other hand, only scored seven points against a Vikings defense. Rams QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley will have a better chance at success this week against an improved but still not great Saints defense. I don’t think Goff will be able to outplay Brees, however, and I expect the future Hall of Famer to lead New Orleans to a road victory. The Saints are getting points so I’ll take them.

Jaguars at Cardinals (+4.5) – The surprising Jaguars have been leaning on their defense all season to win games, and that will likely continue this week with the Cardinals expected to give QB Blaine Gabbert his second straight start. Neither offense is very good and the Jags defense is the best unit in the game, which I’m expecting to be the difference. I’m giving the points.

Sunday Night Football

Packers at Steelers (-13.5) – The Packers were shut out by the Ravens last week, and with Brett Hundley at quarterback they likely don’t have much of a chance to beat the Steelers at Heinz Field in a primetime contest. Keeping that in mind, 13.5 points is a big spread, especially with the Steelers having a tendency to play down to opponents who aren’t very good. I think the Steelers will win the game by about 10, but I think 13.5 points is a little too many so I’ll take the Packers.

Monday Night Football

Texans at Ravens (-6.5) – Texans QB Tom Savage had his first career two-touchdown game last week and, while he’s not very good, he has some offensive help, notably with WR DeAndre Hopkins, who can help him put some points on the board. The Ravens don’t have a strong offense themselves so I think this will be a pretty close game. I’ll take the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 11: Patriots play the Raiders South of the Border

Week 11 sees the Raiders play in Mexico City for the second straight season, this time taking on the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. Some other games between playoff contenders on this week’s slate include the Rams visiting the Vikings, the Saints hosting the Redskins and the Falcons battling the Seahawks in the Monday nighter. I went 7-7 last week, giving me an overall record of 80-66 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: Panthers, Colts, Jets, 49ers

Thursday Night Football

Titans at Steelers (-7.5) – Both of these teams are leading their divisions, but the Steelers seem to be a level above the Titans. Neither quarterback has had a great season thus far, with neither having thrown more than two touchdowns in a game this season. Titans QB Marcus Mariota has just seven scores in eight games. With the quarterbacks struggling, it may come down to the running game and defense to decide a winner, and I give the Steelers the advantage in both of those categories, especially with RB Le’Veon Bell. I think the Steelers win the game but I’ll take the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Lions at Bears (+3.5) – The Bears lost last week to a Packers team led by QB Brett Hundley. They face a much better passer this week in Lions QB Matthew Stafford and I don’t expect this game to be very close with Bears QB Mitch Trubisky having a subpar rookie season. The Lions have better offensive weapons in most areas of the game, as well, so I’ll give the points.

Jaguars at Browns (+7.5) – After the 49ers beat the Giants last week, the Browns are the last winless team remaining in the NFL at 0-9. I think they’ll be 0-10 after this game when they face a tough Jaguars defense that I think will help the Jags cover the 7.5-point spread.

Ravens at Packers (+2.5)With Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on IR, neither of these teams has a good offense so I’m expecting a low-scoring game at Lambeau Field. The Ravens could get RB Danny Woodhead back from IR, which would help them, but that’s still up in the air. I think this game could go either way so since I’m expecting a close game I’ll take the points.

Chiefs at Giants (+10.5)After starting the season 5-0, the Chiefs have dropped three of their last four games, but they’re coming off their bye. The 1-8 Giants, on the other hand, are coming off a loss against the previously winless 49ers. I expect the Chiefs to win this game, but I think the spread is a little too big because the Chiefs generally don’t win big. I’ll take the points.

Rams at Vikings (-2.5) – Both of these teams are 7-2 on the season, but the Rams have looked like one of the best teams in the league this season behind QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley. QB Teddy Bridgewater is expected to come off of IR this week but QB Case Keenum will get the start for the Vikings, who have won their last five games. I think that streak ends here. The Rams could be the best team in the NFC so I’m picking them to win outright. Given that, I’ll take the points.

Redskins at Saints (-7.5) – The Saints are coming off a 47-point outing at the Bills and now return home, where QB Drew Brees generally plays better than on the road, to take on the Redskins. The Saints aren’t likely to put up more than 40 points again this week, but I think they’ll win the game. The Redskins have a better offense than the Bills so they should be able to keep the game closer than last week’s blowout so I’ll take the points with the road team.

Cardinals at Texans (+1.5) – This is a battle of bad fill-in quarterbacks, with Blaine Gabbert getting the start — his first since Week 5 of 2016 — for the Cardinals and Tom Savage going for the Texans. The Cardinals are coming off their bye so they’re well-rested but I think the Texans have the better overall offensive weapons with WR DeAndre Hopkins and RB Lamar Miller so I’ll take the points at home.

Buccaneers at Dolphins (-2.5) – This game was scheduled for Week 1 but was rescheduled for the teams’ common bye week due to Hurricane Irma. The schedule change means veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center for the Buccaneers in place on injured QB Jameis Winston. With QB Jay Cutler opposing Fitzpatrick, this is another meeting of mediocre quarterbacks. I trust Fitzpatrick more than Cutler, and the Dolphins don’t have much of a running game since trading RB Jay Ajayi so I’ll take the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Bills at Chargers (-4.5)With the news that the Bills are benching QB Tyrod Taylor in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman, I think the Bills offense will take a hit as Taylor, while not great, is a serviceable quarterback. On the other side, Chargers QB Philip Rivers is in the concussion protocol and his availability for Sunday’s game is in question though team officials are indicating they are optimistic about his chances to play. If he can’t go, QB Kellen Clemens will get the start in his place. I think Rivers plays so I’ll give the points. If it’s Clemens, I think I’d take the points.

Bengals at Broncos (-2.5) This is a meeting of two mediocre offenses but I think the Broncos have the advantage on defense, despite the fact that it hasn’t looked as good lately. Regardless, i think Denver’s D will be able to stop the Andy Dalton-led Bengals offense.

Patriots at Raiders (+6.5) The Raiders have an advantage in this one in that they played a game at Estadio Azteca last season, but I don’t think it’ll do them much good. The Patriots offense behind QB Tom Brady and the defense has gotten significantly better over the last month or so. I don’t think this game will be that close. I’ll give the points.

Sunday Night Football

Eagles at Cowboys (+3.5) – QB Carson Wentz is having a breakout season for the Eagles, who look to win their eighth game of the season against a Cowboys team that didn’t look good without RB Ezekiel Elliott last week. Without him, QB Dak Prescott will have to outplay Wentz to give the Cowboys a chance to win. I don’t think that’ll happen so I’ll give the points as I think Philly could win by a touchdown.

Monday Night Football

Falcons at Seahawks (-3.5)The week ends with the Falcons heading across the country to take on the Seahawks, who will be without CB Richard Sherman on defense after he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in last week’s game. QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense are playing better than the Falcons behind QB Matt Ryan, and I expect that to continue this week. I’ll give the points in this one.

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My NFL Picks Week 10: The last two Super Bowl champions do battle

Week 10 features some games that looked good on paper but in reality will likely disappoint due to injuries or other factors. One such game is PackersBears; the Packers have not looked good since losing QB Aaron Rodgers to injury a few weeks ago. Two of this week’s featured games include the Vikings visiting the Redskins and the Falcons hosting the Cowboys. The Sunday night contest is between the last two Super Bowl winners as the Broncos host the Patriots. I went 7-6 last week, giving me an overall record of 73-59 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: Ravens, Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles

Thursday Night Football

Seahawks at Cardinals (+6.5) – RB Adrian Peterson seems to have regained some of his youth since being traded to the Cardinals, but there’s not much around him on the Cardinals offense with QB Drew Stanton replacing injured Carson Palmer. On the other side, QB Russell Wilson is leading a potent Seahawks offense that I think will be able to win by a touchdown to cover the spread.

Sunday 1PM games

Saints at Bills (+2.5) – The Saints have won their last six games after starting the season 0-2 as they head to Buffalo to face a Bills team that lost to the Jets last Thursday. The Saints traditionally aren’t as good on the road as they are at the Superdome, but it’s hard to pick against QB Drew Brees when he’s opposed by a team with QB Tyrod Taylor leading the way. Expect WR Kelvin Benjamin to be more involved in the offense than he was in Week 9, two days after he was acquired by the BIlls in a trade with the Panthers. The home team won’t have enough offense to keep up with the Saints, though. I’ll give the points.

Packers at Bears (-4.5) – The Packers haven’t had much success on offense since QB Brett Hundley became the team’s starter, but the Bears don’t have a very good offense behind QB Mitch Trubisky either. Based on that, this should be a fairly low-scoring game. I think the Bears will win the game at home, but I expect it to be close so I’ll take the points.

Bengals at Titans (-5.5) – The Bengals only scored seven points against a good Jaguars defense last week, and they’ll need to do significantly better than that this week to beat the Titans, who have a decent offense with QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray. I don’t think QB Andy Dalton is good enough to keep up with the Titans so I’ll give the points.

Browns at Lions (-11.5)I normally don’t like to give points when a spread is this big, but the Browns are bad. They’re one of two winless teams remaining in the NFL heading into Week 10, and they don’t seem to be getting any better as the season goes on. I think Lions QB Matthew Stafford is good enough t put enough points on the board to cover a double-digit spread so I’ll take the Lions at home.

Steelers at Colts (+9.5) – Here’s a case where I think the spread is too big for the matchup. Unlike the Browns, Colts QB Jacoby Brissett does seem to be getting better as he gets more reps the deeper he goes into the season. And the Steelers seem to play down to their opponents in games like this that appear to be mismatches. Combine that with the fact that QB Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t always do well on the road and I don’t think the Steelers win by more than about a touchdown. I expect them to win the game, but I’ll take the Colts and the points.

Vikings at Redskins (+1.5)I’m surprised the Redskins are the underdogs at home against a team led by QB Case Keenum. Keenum’s been doing all right this season, but he’s not as good as Redskins QB Kirk Cousins. I think the Redskins could win the game outright so I’ll take the points.

Jets at Buccaneers (+2.5) – The Jets have surprised many people — including me — with the way they’ve played this season, which is due in part to the way that QB Josh McCown has played in the team’s first nine games. This week he faces a Buccaneers team that will have former Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick under center as starter Jameis Winston is shut down for a couple weeks with a shoulder injury. The Bucs also look to be without WR MIke Evans who will be serving a one-game suspension this week. Given the Bucs’ missing weapons on offense this week, it shouldn’t be hard for the Jets to cover the 2.5 points so I’ll go with the road team.

Chargers at Jaguars (-4.5) – The Jaguars defense has been impressive this season and has helped them get out to a 5-3 start to the season despite an underwhelming offense behind QB Blake Bortles. The Jags beat the Bengals last week without RB Leonard Fournette, their best offensive player, so with him expected to play this week I’m pretty certain the Jags will win the game and I will give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Texans at Rams (-11.5) – The Texans looked bad last week with QB Tom Savage taking over for injured Deshaun Watson. With Savage under center, the team won’t be able to put many points on the board, so the Texans will have to rely on their defense to limit the offensive output of QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and the rest of the Rams. I think the Rams win easily, but I’ll take the 11.5 points.

Cowboys at Falcons (-2.5) The Falcons clearly aren’t the same offense they were last season so I’m kind of surprised that they’re favored over the Cowboys, even if it is a home game for them. That said, with Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott finally beginning to serve his six-game suspension and WR Dez Bryant potentially limited, I think the Falcons will be able to do enough to win by a field goal or so.

Giants at 49ers (+0.5) These teams are a combined 1-16 so this is likely going to be an ugly game. The 49ers will give QB C.J. Beathard the start as they are likely saving recently acquired QB Jimmy Garoppolo for after their Week 11 bye. Both teams are bad so the game could go either way. I’ll go with the 49ers to pick up their first win simply because they’re the home team.

Sunday Night Football

Patriots at Broncos (+7.5) – This game is more of a mismatch than recent Patriots-Broncos games have been. QB Brock Osweiler will again get the start for the Broncos. Despite the fact that he led the Broncos to a victory over the Patriots in a Sunday nighter in 2015, I don’t think this game will have the same result. Patriots win, and I’ll give the points even though that a lot of points to give on the road.

Monday Night Football

Dolphins at Panthers (-9.5) – Neither of these teams has a great defense so I’m surprised there is such a big spread in this one. I trust Panthers QB Cam Newton more than Dolphins QB Jay Cutler so I think the Panthers win the game, but I think it’ll be much closer than the spread indicates so I’ll take the points.

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My NFL Picks Week 9: Redskins-Seahawks and Chiefs-Cowboys highlight the week

There are six teams on bye for the second straight week, but there are still some big games on the slate in Week 9. In a battle of NFC playoff contenders, the Redskins head across the country to take on the Seahawks and the Cowboys host the Chiefs in an interconference game involving teams vying for playoff berths. I went 7-6 last week, giving me an overall record of 66-53 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: Bears, Browns, Chargers, Vikings, Patriots, Steelers

Thursday Night Football

Bills at Jets (+2.5) – Both these teams have been surprisingly good this season, with the 5-2 Bills looking like they have a pretty good chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The Bills made a trade before Tuesday’s deadline, acquiring WR Kelvin Benjamin from the Panthers for a couple of draft picks. I don’t think he’ll have much of an impact on this game with a limited amount of time to learn the offense, but I don’t think the Bills need much production out of him to win this game. I’ll give the points on the road.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Panthers (-2.5) – These two disappointing teams are playing to stay alive in the NFC South race. The Panthers were on the other end of the Benjamin trade, and losing him downgrades their passing game. I think the Falcons are the better team so if they’re getting points I’ll take them.

Bengals at Jaguars (-4.5) – The Jaguars are leading the AFC South based on their defense, not their offense. QB Blake Bortles isn’t good, but RB Leonard Fournette is having a good rookie season. He missed the team’s last game before the bye, but he is practicing this week and may be able to play on Sunday. I think the Jags’ D will be able to limit Cincinnati’s offensive production so I’ll take the home team.

Broncos at Eagles (-7.5) – The Broncos offense hasn’t looked good in recent weeks and QB Trevor Siemian is being benched this week, with the team announcing that QB Brock Osweiler will make the start. They’ll have to rely on their defense if they want to beat the 7-1 Eagles, who made a trade of their own this week and acquired RB Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins. I expect the Eagles to win the game and I think they cover.

Ravens at Titans (-5.5)The Titans are saying QB Marcus Mariota is at full health, but the same may not be true about Ravens QB Joe Flacco, who left the team’s last game with a possible concussion. Head coach John Harbaugh is saying Flacco is not suffering from any symptoms, but if he can’t play — at all or for the whole game — that would leave the offense in the hands of Ryan Mallett. Either way, the offense is questionable. I’ll give the points with the Titans.

Colts at Texans (-12.5) – The Texans have had one of the best offenses in the league this season with rookie QB Deshaun Watson starting for them. He has a couple of good targets to throw to in WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V, but the team hasn’t had much of a run game this season with RB Lamar Miller. On the other side, QB Jacoby Brissett hasn’t been great for the Colts this season. I am certain the Texans will win, but I don’t like that big of a spread. The Colts were at least competitive with the Bengals last week, losing by just a point, and I think they can keep it within 10 points in Houston.

Rams at Giants (+3.5) – It’s always a challenge for a West Coast team to fly to the East Coast and play in an early game, but I don’t think that’ll hurt the Rams too much because they’re a significantly better team the Giants. QB Jared Goff should lead them to a road victory, and I think they’ll cover the 3.5 points.

Buccaneers at Saints (-7) – The Saints look to stay atop the NFC South against the last-place team in the division. The Buccaneers didn’t look good at all last week as QB Jameis Winston had a bad game. For the Saints, their defense has been better this season than it has been in recent years and with QB Drew Brees leading the offense, I don’t think this game will be that close. I’ll give the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Cardinals at 49ers (+2.5) – This may be the best chance yet this season for the 0-8 49ers to pick up their first win. With Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, backup Drew Stanton will make his first start in more than a year. The opposing quarterback will likely be C.J. Beathard. The 49ers traded for QB Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots this week, but he probably will not be ready to go under center on Sunday. It’s a battle of bad quarterbacks so I’ll go with the team with the better offensive weapons around the pass-thrower, and that is the Cardinals with WR Larry Fitzgerald and RB Adrian Peterson.

Redskins at Seahawks (-7.5) The Redskins are coming off a loss to the Cowboys while the Seahawks scored 41 in winning a shootout against the Texans. After that game, they made a trade with the Texans to acquire OT Duane Brown, who should help the offensive line and, in turn, provide a boost for the running game. The Seahawks are the better team, and although I’m not confident in it, I’ll give the points.

Chiefs at Cowboys (-0.5)- Once again, the Cowboys don’t know the status of star RB Ezekiel Elliott for this week’s game. Earlier in the week, a federal judge reinstated his six-game suspension, but he is seeking an emergency stay while he appeals. As of now, he is suspended and won’t be able to play Sunday. If that holds, RBs Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden will get the bulk of the work on the ground, which would be a significant downgrade. Whether Elliott plays or not I think the Chiefs are the better team, especially on the defensive side, so in what is essentially a pick ’em, I’ll take the Chiefs but I’ll feel better about that pick if Elliott doesn’t play.

Sunday Night Football

Raiders at Dolphins (+3.5) – This looked like a good Sunday nighter coming into the season, but it doesn’t look as good now that both teams have struggled to live up to expectations in 2017. Dolphins QB Jay Cutler missed last week’s game while recuperating from a rib injury but he is expected to play this week as he has been fully practicing. That said, he’s not good anymore and even though Raiders QB Derek Carr has regressed from last year, he’s still the better quarterback in this game. And with the Dolphins having traded Ajayi this week, it’ll be up to unproven RBs Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake to carry the run game. That probably won’t go well. I’ll take the Raiders on the road.

Monday Night Football

Lions at Packers (+2.5) – Another game that doesn’t look as promising now as it did at the beginning of the season, but that’s mainly because of QB Brett Hundley filling in for injured Aaron Rodgers for the home team. The Packers are getting points at home, which is tempting even without Rodgers under center. But it’s essentially a field goal and the Lions have a pretty good offense behind QB Matthew Stafford so I’ll take the visitors and give the points.

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Astros beat the Dodgers in Game 7, win first World Series title in franchise history

The matchup of the Astros and Dodgers in this year’s World Series guaranteed, for the second straight year, a team with a long championship drought would win the title — the Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Astros have yet to win a Fall Classic since entering Major League Baseball in 1962. With both teams winning more than 100 games this season — the first such World Series matchup since 1970 — it was set up to be a competitive series, and that proved to be the case. Ultimately, the ‘Astros won their first title in a series that went the full seven games.


Photo credit: @JuliaMorales

The Dodgers struck first, winning the battle of the aces at Dodger Stadium in Game 1 as SP Clayton Kershaw outdueled Astros SP Dallas Keuchel, helping the home team win the game 3-1, as he and RPs Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen held the Astros to three hits. Kershaw struck out 11 batters in his winning effort. OF Chris Taylor and 3B Justin Turner provided the offense for the Dodgers, hitting a solo home run and two-run homer, respectively. A solo shot from 3B Alex Bregman accounted for the Astros’ run.

Game 2 looked like it was going to go the Dodgers’ way as well when they held a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, getting the best of Astros trade-deadline acquisition Justin Verlander, who allowed three runs in six innings. When Morrow gave up a lead-off double to Bregman to start the inning, manager Dave Roberts brought in Jansen for what he hoped would be a six-out save. Jansen struggled, however, allowing the inherited runner to score, which made it a 3-2 game. The Dodgers went down quietly in the bottom of the inning, giving Jansen just the one-run lead to protect in the ninth. That lead didn’t last long as OF Marwin Gonzalez hit a game-tying solo home run to begin the inning.

That was the only run the Astros scored in the inning, and closer Ken Giles held the Dodgers hitless in the bottom of the ninth, so the game went to extra innings. The Astros got the scoring started in the 10th with back-to-back solo home runs by 2B Jose Altuve and SS Carlos Correa off of RP Josh Fields. After a double by 1B Yuli Gurriel, Roberts brought in RP Tony Cingrani, who got C Brian McCann to fly out and ended the inning when OF Josh Reddick grounded into a double play following an intentional walk to Gonzalez. Giles stayed in the game to pitch the 10th, but he immediately allowed the lead to be cut in half when OF Yasiel Puig hit a lead-off home run. After back-to-back strikeouts, Giles walked 2B Logan Forsythe, who made it to second base on a wild pitch and scored the tying run on a single by OF Kike Hernandez. RP Chris Devenski relieved Giles and got Taylor to fly out to bring the game to the 11th inning.

RP Brandon McCarthy came into the game for the Dodgers and after a single by OF Cameron Maybin gave up a two-run homer to OF George Springer that gave the Astros another two-run lead, 7-5.

McCarthy didn’t allow any further runs to score, leaving his team down two heading into the bottom of the inning. Devenski got SS Corey Seager and Turner to line out, then OF Charlie Culberson hit a solo shot that made it a 7-6 game. Devenski struck out Puig to end the inning, and 4 hours, 19 minutes after first pitch the Astros finally won the game, picking up the first World Series victory in franchise history.

The series shifted to Houston’s Minute Maid Park for Game 3, which was filled with significantly less drama than the previous game. The Dodgers started a trade acquisition of their own with SP Yu Darvish, and the Astros jumped on him early. He lasted just 1.2 innings — the shortest outing of his MLB career — and allowed four runs on six hits.

The four-run second inning was enough offensive support for Astros SP Lance McCullers Jr., who gave up three runs in 5.1 innings of work, but they tacked on a fifth run in the fifth inning. After McCullers departed, RP Brad Peacock pitched the remaining 3.2 innings, striking out four and not allowing a hit, to finish out the game and earn the save. That was the Astros’ first-ever home World Series win, and the 2-1 series lead was also the first time the team held a series lead in the World Series.

Game 4 featured a pitchers duel between SPs Alex Wood and Charlie Morton, who each gave up just one run in 5.2 and 6.1 innings, respectively. That 1-1 score held until the ninth inning, when the Dodgers put up a five-spot — three runs charged to RP Ken Giles, who didn’t record an out,  and the other to tagged to RP Joe Musgrove — highlighted by an RBI double by likely NL Rookie of the Year OF Cody Bellinger that broke the tie and a three-run home run off the bat of OF Joc Pederson that made it 6-1, which was more than enough of a cushion for Jansen, who gave up a solo home run to Bregman to make it a 6-2 final.

And then there was Game 5, which many called one of the best World Series games they’ve ever seen. Featuring the same pitching matchup as Game 1, the final game of 2017 in Houston turned into an offensive explosion. The Dodgers scored three runs in the first inning and another in the fourth, staking Kershaw to a 4-0 lead that he promptly gave up in the bottom of the fourth, with Gurriel doing the bulk of the damage, tying the game at 4 with a three-run home run, the first of what would be a World Series single-game record eight home runs in what ended up being a 10-inning game that ended up in a 13-12 victory for the Astros, who came back from two separate three-run deficits and lost a three-run lead of their own, with Devenski giving up three runs in the ninth inning to force extra innings. Musgrove held the Dodgers scoreless in the top of the 10th. After recording the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, Jansen hit McCann on the arm, then walked Springer to put the winning run in scoring position. Derek Fisher was brought into the game to pinch-run for McCann and ended up scoring on a line drive to left field by Bregman to give the Astros the victory in what ended up being the second-longest World Series game in history at 5 hours, 17 minutes.

There was way too much offense to try to summarize it so here’s a summary of it, followed by the box score

Winning that marathon gave the Astros a 3-2 lead, leaving them one win shy of their first championship in franchise history. But they would have to win another game in Los Angeles to get it.

In a fairly non-descript Game 6 in which Verlander gave up two runs and struck out nine batters in six innings but got the loss as the Astros only managed to score one run in a 3-1 loss that tied the series at 3-3 and forced a deciding Game 7 in Los Angeles.

The final game of the series featured the same pitching matchup as Game 3 with McCullers going for the Astros and Darvish for the Dodgers, and the result was even worse for Darvish this time. He lasted just 1.2 innings for the second time in the series and gave up two runs in the first inning, followed by a McCullers RBI groundout and a two-run home run off the bat of Springer in the second inning, putting the Dodgers in a 5-0 hole early.

After Morrow got the final out of the second, Kershaw came in and threw four scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out four with two intentional walks. On the other side of the docket, McCullers was also wild, lasting just 2.1 innings. He allowed three hits and didn’t walk anyone but did hit four batters, including Turner twice. Peacock relieved him, going two scoreless innings with one hit allowed, one walk and two strikeouts.

After Peacock, Francisco LIriano and Devenski each recorded one out before getting the ball to Morton, who pitched the final four innings, allowing one run — a pinch-hit RBI single by Andre Ethier — on two hits with four strikeouts and a walk, earning the win in the Astros’ 5-1 victory, giving them their first championship in franchise history, and the first World Series for a Texas team.

Unsurprisingly, Springer earned World Series MVP honors. He had 5 home runs — tying Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley for the most in a single Fall Classic —  and 29 total bases, a new World Series record. He also became the first player to homer in four straight games in a single World Series. And he did all of that in the last six games of the series because he was 0-4 with four strikeouts in Game 1. Fitting that he was named the MVP because he was on the cover of the now-famous 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated that declared the Astros the 2017 World Series champs.

So a year after the Cubs won their first title in 108 years, the Astros win the first in their 50-plus-year history as a franchise.

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My NFL Picks Week 8: NFC East battle between the Cowboys and Redskins

With six teams on bye in Week 8, there aren’t many must-see games on the schedule. Notable contests include a classic NFC East rivalry reignited when the Cowboys visit the Redskins and the Monday nighter, which features the top two teams in the AFC West as the Broncos visit the Chiefs, who have lost two straight after beginning the season 5-0. I went 9-6 last week, giving me an overall record of 59-47 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: Cardinals, Packers, Jaguars, Rams, Giants, Titans

Thursday Night Football

Dolphins at Ravens (-3.5) – With QB Jay Cutler expected to miss this week’s game with fractured ribs, QB Matt Moore gets the start for the Dolphins on the road. Even with Cutler not playing great this season, the Dolphins offense has been decent. The Ravens, on the other hand, haven’t been good behind QB Joe Flacco. I’ll take the points with the Dolphins, who I think could win the game outright.

Sunday 9:30AM game (London)

Vikings at Browns (+9.5) – The Browns are clearly the worst team in the league and still in search of their first win of the season, which I don’t think they’ll get this week in London. So it comes down to how much they lose by. I think 9.5 points is kind of high because the Vikings aren’t among the best offenses in the league, so I’ll take the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Falcons at Jets (+4.5) – The Falcons offense has underperformed all season after QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and the rest of the squad put up monster numbers in 2016, but the Jets are led by QB Josh McCown, who is worse than Ryan no matter how much he’s underperforming. Given that, I expect the Falcons to win and cover.

Raiders at Bills (-2.5) – The Raiders are traveling across the country and playing in an early game, which is probably why the Bills are favored. After struggling in recent weeks, the Raiders offense looked better in Week 7 as QB Derek Carr continues to heal from his back injury. The Bills will still likely be without TE Charles Clay. I think the Raiders win the game so I’ll take the points on the road.

Bears at Saints (-8.5) – The Bears won last week’s game thanks to a strong defensive performance as QB Mitch Trubisky had just seven pass attempts. They do have a good running back in Jordan Howard, who I think will be able to keep them in the game against a Saints offense that includes QB Drew Brees and RBs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Saints win, but I’ll take the points.

Colts at Bengals (-10.5) – Here’s another game in which I think the line is too high. The Bengals are a better team than the Colts without QB Andrew Luck, but they don’t have a great offense themselves and I don’t see them winning by double-digits. Give me the Colts.

Chargers at Patriots (-7.5) – The Patriots defense has gotten better after a poor start to the season, and the offense is firing on all cylinders behind QB Tom Brady. The Chargers have the advantage in the ground game with RB Melvin Gordon, but I don’t think this game will be that close. I’ll give the points.

49ers at Eagles (-12.5)The 49ers got blown out last week by the Cowboys, but most of there games prior to that — all losses — were close and I think they can keep this one close against an Eagles team that has the best record in the league. The Eagles win the game, but I don’t think they’ll cover.

Panthers at Buccaneers (-2.5) – The Buccaneers are hoping to win this game to avoid falling further behind in the NFC South. There was uncertainty about whether QB Jameis Winston would play last week — he did, and he played well so he seems to be over the shoulder injury he suffered a few weeks ago. The Panthers didn’t look good against the Bears last week, and I think Winston is playing better than Panthers QB Cam Newton right now, so I’ll take the Bucs to win at home.

Sunday 4PM games

Texans at Seahawks (-5.5) – Texans QB Deshaun Watson has played well in the first few games of his career, but not he faces perhaps the best defense he has gone against to date in his professional career. The Texans defense, meanwhile, is missing two key pieces in J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. That combination leads to an advantage for the Seahawks, who I think will win the game. I will take the points, though.

Cowboys at Redskins (+2.5) – This is a key NFC East battle between two teams looking to remain in second place behind the Eagles. The Cowboys didn’t have any trouble beating the 49ers on the road last week, but the Redskins will be a tougher challenge as they come off a Monday night loss to the Eagles. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott had his best game of the season last week, and I think that momentum will continue for the visitors. Cowboys win and cover.

Sunday Night Football

Steelers at Lions (+3.5) – The Steelers are better than the Lions on both sides of the ball, despite QB Ben Roethlisberger not having a great season. He still has WR Antonio Brown to throw the ball to with RB Le’Veon carrying it on the ground. Steelers win, and I think they cover the 3.5 points.

Monday Night Football

Broncos at Chiefs (-7.5)The Broncos got shut out by the Chargers last week and now face the leaders of their division on the road. It would seem like the Chiefs can cover the spread, but the Broncos have a pretty good defense and I think they’ll be able to limit the points the Chiefs will be able to put on the board so I’ll take the points.

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World Series preview: Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers — Another title drought ends

For the second straight season, we have a World Series consisting of two teams who have not won a championship in decades, with one team that has never won the Fall Classic. The Houston Astros, who are representing the American League after shutting out the New York Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 of the ALCS, have never won the World Series since entering the league in 1962 (as the Colts .45’s). This is just their second World Series appearance, having been swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005. On the National League side the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing in their 20th World Series, but it’s their first since 1988 when they won their sixth title. They advanced to the World Series with a 11-1 win over the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS.

Both teams finished the regular season with two of the three best records in MLB during the regular season. The Astros won 101 games, which was the third-highest total in the league, three behind the Dodgers’ MLB-best 104 wins. This is the first time since 1970 (and eighth time overall) that two teams that won more than 100 games during the season are meeting in the World Series. For the first time, the team with the better record has home-field advantage, giving the Dodgers Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home. If the old rule — the winning league in the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage — was still in effect, the Astros would have home-field thanks to the AL’s win in July.

Games 1 and 2 are at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday with first pitch scheduled for 8:09pm. After a travel day Thursday, the series moves to Minute Maid Park in Houston for Games 3-5 set for Friday through Sunday. First pitch for Games 3 and 4 is at 8:09pm, with Game 5 (if necessary) set to begin at 8:16pm. If the series goes beyond five games, Games 6 and 7 are back in Los Angeles on October 31 and November 1, respectively. First pitch of Game 6 would be 8:09pm with Game 7 getting underway at 8:10pm, if it’s played. All games are on Fox in the U.S., and all times are Eastern.

How did they get here?

After winning the AL West by 21 games, the Astros began their postseason run by beating the AL East champion Boston Red Sox, 3-1, in an ALDS before beating the East’s second-best team, the Yankees, in an ALCS that went the distance, with the home team winning all seven games. The Dodgers ended the regular season as NL West champions, winning the division by 11 games, then swept the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-game NLDS. They then beat the defending World Series champion Cubs, 4-1, in a NLCS that was a rematch of last year’s series. Through their first two series of the postseason, the Dodgers have played just one game over the minimum.


Some of the game’s best pitchers are in this series, with two of them scheduled to kick off the series on Tuesday. The Astros send 14-game winner Dallas Keuchel to the mound in Game 1 to face potential NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who went 18-4 during the season. Game 2’s pitching matchup has Justin Verlander — who has been stellar since the Astros acquired him from the Detroit Tigers on August 31 — going up against Rich Hill for the Dodgers. The teams haven’t announced their starters yet beyond that, but the Astros are expected to go with Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. for their other two starters, with the Dodgers expected to use Yu Darvish, who they acquired at the July 31 trade deadline, and Alex Wood.

I give the Astros a slight advantage in starting pitching. Kershaw may be the best pitcher of the bunch — though Verlander’s 9-0 record and 1.23 ERA (including the postseason) since joining the Astros may have something to say about that — but I think the Astros have the better rottion overall. Verlander and Keuchel are a strong 1-2 at the top and the way McCullers pitched in the ALCS makes it seem like he’s healthy and has his stuff back, making him a better No. 3 in my mind than what the Dodgers have. Morton could be an X-factor. If he can have another start like he had in Game 7 against the Yankees, he would be a solid No. 4 for the Astros.

There’s no question the Dodgers have the advantage in the bullpen. During the season, they had the fourth-best ERA in the majors at 3.38, while the Astros ranked 17th with a 4.27 ERA. The difference is even more distinct in the postseason, with the Dodgers bullpen leading the pack with a 0.94 ERA. The Astros’ 5.03 ERA out of the bullpen ranks seventh out of the 10 postseason teams. Having RP Kenley Jansen in the closer role at the end of the game should give the Dodgers more confidence he’ll be able to close out games than the Astros have in their closer, RP Ken Giles.


The Astros had the best offense in the majors during the regular season. Among the offensive categories in which they led MLB were hits (1,581), doubles (346), RBI (854), average (.282), OBP (.346), slugging percentage (.478), OPS (.823), OPS+ (127) and strikeouts (1,087). They were also second to the Yankees in home runs. 2B Jose Altuve, who I think should win the AL MVP award, led the majors in hits for the fourth straight year and batting average for the third straight season. He also had 24 home runs, which tied his career high. Overall, the Astros had 11 players with double-digit home runs. OF George Springer led the team with 34, and SS Carlos Correa and utilityman Marwin Gonzalez — who led the team with 90 RBI — also had more than 20 home runs. The offense did go through a bit of a slump in the ALCS, including OF Josh Reddick going hitless until Game 7, but they scored 11 runs in the final two games of the season and it appears as though they are back to how they were during the regular season. In 11 games this postseason, the Astros are hitting .247 with 12 home runs.

The Dodgers didn’t have nearly as potent of an offense during the regular season, finishing outside of the top 10 in home runs and in the bottom third of the majors with a .249 average. Rookie 1B Cody Bellinger led them with 39 home runs, with OF Yasiel Puig behind him at 28. Their power was more top-heavy, with eight guys hitting at least 10 home runs and six of them at 21 or more. 3B Justin Turner led the team with a .322 average and 1B Chris Taylor was at .288 during the season; Turner and Taylor each hit 21 regular-season home runs. In the postseason, the Dodgers are hitting .273 with 13 home runs in eight games.

Now that it appears the Astros are out of their slump they were in at the start of the ALCS, I think they have the offensive advantage.


Although the Astros made some nice plays in the ALCS, the Dodgers are a better defensive team statistically. During the regular season, the Dodgers made 88 errors compared to 99 for the Astros. In the postseason, the Dodgers’ two errors are half of the four committed by the Astros.


A.J. Hinch, the 2015 AL Manager of the Year, is in his third season managing the Astros and fifth season overall as a manager. The 2016 NL Manager of the Year Dave Roberts is in his third season as a major-league manager, second with the Dodgers. Both are managing in their first World Series.


I expect this to be a close series. One concern for the Dodgers is SS Corey Seager, who was left off of the NLCS roster as he dealt with a back injury. He is expected to be on the World Series roster and ready to play in Game 1 on Tuesday, but you have to wonder if he is at full health. I think the Astros have the advantage in starting pitching — assuming McCullers can pitch as well as he did in the ALCS — and on offense, where there’s no easy spot in the lineup for opposing pitchers to face. I’m going against the “pitching beats offense in the postseason” adage and the Dodgers having home-field advantage, but I think the Astros offense will be able to put runs on the board against Dodger pitching and will fulfill the prophecy predicted by Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter in 2014.

Astros in seven.

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