5 Week One Fantasy Football Takeaways

  1. Dion Lewis is the RB to own in Tennessee, no matter if you’re in a PPR or standard league – This pains me to admit as a Derrick Henry owner in my 2 most competitive leagues, but Lewis is the back to own going forward. One of the reasons I was big on Derrick Henry was that I thought we’d see improvement in Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense as a whole. I know it was only one game, but this looked like the same old Titans offense. Mariota was injured and looked shaky while healthy. In the few drives they did have success, it was with Dion Lewis on the field making plays on the ground and in the passing game. Lewis is the far superior pass receiver and if the Titans fall behind in games, Derrick Henry could be rendered useless since he offers little to nothing in the passing game. Sunday was the perfect example as the Titans trailed for most of the game and Dion Lewis was in on 71% of the Titans offensive snaps, while Derrick Henry only got 29% of the backfield snaps. If the Titans offense continues to struggle, trailing in games could become a constant trend and Henry’s weekly output could be very hard to predict, while Dion Lewis will continue to hold more value.
  2. Emmanuel Sanders is a legit WR2 moving forward – Sanders was one of my favorite sleepers coming into the season. He was drafted around WR36 in many leagues, while his teammate Demaryius Thomas was drafted about 2 or 3 rounds earlier. Sanders felt like the much better value in draft season, and he delivered big time on Sunday with 10 catches for 135 yards and a TD. It was easy to forget how good Sanders was in 2014-2016, after his down 2017 season. But let’s not overlook the fact he had a pitiful combination of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch throwing to him. Case Keenum, while not an elite QB in the NFL, is a major upgrade over the previously mentioned QBs. It’s clear that Sanders is as healthy as ever and has become Keenum’s favorite target. Their schedule is very enticing the next 3 weeks with a mediocre Raiders secondary, a Ravens secondary missing their best CB Jimmy Smith, and the Chiefs who may have the worst cornerback combo in the NFL. Buy stock in Sanders now.
  3. Joe Mixon is a top 10 RB moving forward – Mixon had a very rough rookie season. He only averaged 3.5 YPC, struggled with consistency, and lacked big play explosiveness as his longest run went for only 25 yards. He came into the season at 218 lbs., down 12 lbs. from the 230 lbs. he weighed last season. It’s always good to see a RB lose weight in an effort to get faster and quicker. The results spoke for themselves on Sunday as Mixon had 149 total yards, a TD and a long run of 27 yards (the longest run in his short career). Mixon was treated as a 3 down back as he handled 22 touches to Gio Bernard’s 2 touches. He was on the field for 76% of the snaps which was the 6th most among all RBs who played this past weekend. The talent has always been there for Mixon. He would have been a 1st round pick 2 years ago had it not been for off field issues. It looks like he’s ready to cash in on his talent this season.
  4. Phillip Dorsett is a thing – Dorsett generated a lot of buzz this offseason from Patriots beat writers. It was easy to overlook if you’ve followed Dorsett over his career. Dorsett, a former first round pick has looked like a bust and a one trick pony as only a deep threat option throughout his career. We saw some glimpses of his chemistry with the GOAT Tom Brady in the 3rd preseason game, as he had 4 catches on 4 targets for 35 yards… but still it was only preseason. After Dorsett’s 7 catch (on 7 targets) 66 yard TD performance in week 1, I think it’s time to buy stock in Dorsett. Brady clearly has trust in him. He actually looked like a polished route runner as well. With Julian Edelman suspended another 3 weeks, Dorsett should have value as a WR3/flex play the next 3 weeks… and may even have value after Edelman comes back.
  5. Dalvin Cook looks healthy and ready to eat – One of the biggest questions coming into week 1 was “how healthy is Dalvin Cook?” The Vikings were very cautious with him in training camp and preseason, coming back from his torn ACL. He only had 2 carries in the preseason for 1 yard. The coaching staff was noncommittal leading up to week 1 on whether Dalvin Cook would get a full workload. All questions were put to rest this past Sunday. While Cook didn’t light the world on fire, only rushing for 40 yards on 16 carries (while adding a respectable 6 catches for 55 yards), the major takeaway was that he looked healthy and could handle a full workload. Cook had 21 touches and was on the field for 80% of the Vikings offensive snaps. Minnesota looks like they could have their best offense since the Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss days. This should lead to a lot of scoring opportunities and success for a healthy Dalvin Cook.

 

5 reasons to be excited for College Football Season

College Football season kicks off next Thursday. It’s been a long awaited 7 months since Alabama’s improbable comeback against Georgia in the National Championship Game back in January. Obviously College Football isn’t as popular in the Northeast these days with the struggles of UConn and Boston College over the last several years. While UConn is projected to have another down year, BC is a dark horse in the ACC. Many preseason polls have them slated to finish as the 4th or 5th best team in the conference. If you’re not familiar with the BC Running Back A.J. Dillon (you should be if you payed any attention to the NCAA last year), make it a point to watch him this upcoming season. He’s a sneaky Heisman candidate. Whether you’re a die-hard college football fan or not, there are plenty of reasons to get pumped for the start of a new season…

It gives you an excuse to go grab a “couple casuals” with your friends every Saturday afternoon – Is there anything better on a Saturday afternoon then meeting up with your buddies to grab a few beers and watching the SEC game of the week? Every Saturday CBS has one of the best games of the week at 3:30 and can always be used as a good excuse to go hangout and drink with your friends. “It’s a nice Fall Day, (insert bar name) has their windows open. Let’s go grab a few beers and watch #20th ranked LSU try and take down #5 ranked Georgia.”

Every single game matters – One reason we all love the NFL and especially College Football is every single game matters. In the NFL you only get 16 games, but if you start out 0-1 or 0-2, by no means is your season over. The same can’t be said for College Football. If your favorite team loses a game in the early stages of the season, you better win out to have ANY chance of making the Playoff. The stakes are so high, week in and week out, during College Football season. Your favorite team’s national title chances can end with the blink of an eye, if they struggle and lose a game or two early on.

The Rivalries – As much as I love pro sports and a good rivalry like the Celtics vs. Lakers, Red Sox vs. Yankees or the Bruins vs the Canadians, there’s nothing quite like watching an Alabama vs. Auburn or Michigan vs. Ohio State game. These games deliver year in and year out. You can feel the emotion in the players, coaching staffs, and fans, when watching live on TV. With these power programs, there’s always SO much on the line as well. Conference championships, undefeated seasons, and chances to go to the National Championship game. The finishes never cease to amaze us, despite the fact some of these rivalries go back all the way to the late 1800s. Just when you think you’ve seen it all… some new crazy finish blows your mind. My favorite ending is still the end of the 2013 Iron Bowl…

It gives us something to bet on every Saturday afternoon – As great as an awesome Saturday summer day or spring day is, at some point people around the nation need their fix… and for many people that means getting in on some College Football action on Saturday. Whether you’re a die-hard or casual, everyone loves jumping in on the SEC game of the week or ESPN Primetime game to make their day a little more interesting. “Dude Bama is bound to regress soon… 17 point favorites against a ranked Texas A&M team… no way they’re covering that”… 3 hours later… “Oh wow Bama’s up 42-7. Am I ever going to learn my lesson to stop betting against them!?”

You can throw on the shirt of any team you want to support that Saturday. Show up to the bar where all of the alumni watches the games in the area and everyone in the bar will love you. – Alright, so I’m sure this wasn’t one people were expecting to see but hear me out… if you went to a good sports school in college, you know the pride and passion you have for your team. Whether it’s College Basketball or Football, if your alma matter has a big game you want to be watching it in a place with other fans who are locked in on that TV until the game is finished. I may have done this a few times last year with a certain ACC team. I mean it when I say it was 2 of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in Boston. I was pumping up the crowd in the bar on big plays. They put on the fight songs during commercials and muted the TVs to get the crowd fired up. The place goes wild anytime their team scores and you feel like you’re part of the college football atmosphere that we often miss here in the Northeast. I highly suggest it if you want to change up your Saturday once in awhile, meet some new people, and get a unique experience in whatever city you’re in.

Tiger Woods is BACK!

As a die-hard PGA Tour fan I’ve reserved judgement on Tiger Woods the last 8 months. I didn’t want to come out and say he’s back after his T23 in his first official tournament on tour in January. This was just months after his latest back surgery. I didn’t want to declare him for dead when just a few weeks later in his second tournament back, he missed the cut at the Genesis Open. He looked like he would never be able hit a driver straight again after the Genesis.

Those emotions have continued to run up and down over the last several months, from a second place finish at the Valspar in March and a Sunday charge at The Open last month, to a missed cut at the U.S. Open in June.

Everyone wants Tiger to win again. It would be an amazing story. A man who was once declared as the best golfer to ever live. A man who went through marriage issues like almost 50% of the country these days. A man who’s had four back surgeries over the last 5 years. A single man who can captivate an entire golf audience by himself despite competing against 155 other golfers. The story of seeing him win another major or even golf tournament would be one of the best sports dramas of all-time.

As someone who follows the PGA Tour religiously, of course I’ve wanted to see Tiger succeed again. Golf is an amazing sport, and anyone who plays it knows how difficult it can be. To see these professionals drive the ball 300 yards or hit 60 foot bunkers shots within 5 feet of the hole is jaw dropping. But let’s be honest, unless you’re a die-hard fan of the tour, the casual golf fan couldn’t give a damn about some random tournament in March or a major if Tiger’s not competing.

Everything came full circle on Sunday afternoon at the 4th and final major of the year. Tiger gave sports fans around the world one wild ride. Woods came into the day 4 strokes behind the leader and the eventual PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepeka. The big cat (Woods) gave fans around the world many ups.. and a few downs. He launched monster drives. He showcased his world-class short game around the greens. He reminded everyone how clutch he can be with his putter, and most impressively for me he reminded everyone that when in contention to win a major nobody is more passionate and hungry to win than Tiger himself.

Woods went on to shoot a 64 and finish the tournament at -14 in 2nd place. This was his best ever score at a major in a losing effort. Think about that for a second. A man who’s won 14 majors, 79 times on the PGA tour, had 4 back surgeries over the last 5 years, hasn’t won a golf tournament for 5 years, and hasn’t won a major championship in over 10 years went out and had one of the best final rounds of his major championship career today.

Let’s be honest… as great as Koepka’s final round was, the 2018 PGA Championship will be remembered for Tiger Woods’ exhilarating run at his 15th major victory. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve wanted Tiger to “be back” as much as anybody. I was almost ready to declare him back after his run at The Open Championship a few weeks ago but couldn’t go all in yet. After today, I’m officially all in. When you watch moments like this…

and when you have an entire bar of random people in Boston clapping and going wild when Tiger hits a birdie putt, you can’t resist the urge and truth any longer. Tiger Woods the man who finished 2nd at the final major of the year today is officially back and here to stay. I’ve waited a long time to say that… but I can finally say it with certainty… and oh boy does it feel good!

It may be 238 days away, but I’m already counting down the days until Tiger gets his next chance in a major at the Masters next April. In the meantime let’s see if he can win one of his final 3 or 4 tournaments of the year coming up. Oh and let’s not forget to watch him lead the U.S. to a victory over Europe at the Ryder Cup in a month and a half!

GO TIGER!!!!!!!!!

Fantasy Football Sleepers and Busts from each AFC Division

The NFL season is a little more than a month away. Many fantasy football drafts will be taking place in the next month, which means it’s time to start thinking about what sleepers to snag in the later rounds and which busts to avoid in the earlier rounds. I’m going to give one bust and one sleeper in each AFC division to help you get thinking about your upcoming draft. Hopefully members of my own fantasy leagues don’t read this, so they’re unable to gain the competitive edge.

AFC East

Kenny Stills

Photo Credit: RotoViz

Sleeper: Kenny Stills, WR Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins traded Jarvis Laundry this past off-season. Laundry was 4th in the NFL with 160 targets. Someone will have to absorb some of those targets. While the Dolphins brought in Albert Wilson from the Chiefs to help replace Laundry, I still think Kenny Stills will be the WR to own in Miami this year. Devante Parker has proved time and time again that he can’t stay healthy. Meanwhile, Stills showed some chemistry with Ryan Tannehill a few years ago in his 2nd season with the Dolphins. Another year with Tannehill, combined with the fact that the Dolphins will need someone to step up as their number one wideout, could mean a big year is in store for Stills.

Bust: Julian Edelman, WR New England Patriots

This one hurts to write as a Patriots fans, but I’m not one to be biased. Edelman is a 32 year old WR headed into his 10th NFL season (kind of crazy to think he’s played for that long), coming off a torn ACL, and will be serving a 4 game suspension to start the season for using PEDs. Not only do you have to worry about a drop-off with his age, but you also have to worry about his PED bust impacting his play on the field. I’d much rather take Chris Hogan who is going at the beginning of the 6th round in many drafts compared to Julian who’s going in the mid-to late 7th round.

AFC North

Sleeper: James Washington, WR Pittsburgh Steelers

James Washington will be going into his rookie year for the Steelers. Washington won the award for the best WR in College Football last year… the man can play. His combine left a little to be desired but if the Steelers have proved anything over the last several years, they know how to draft wideouts. How about the list of the guys they’ve taken… Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Martavis Bryant, and Ju-Ju Smith Schuster. None of these aforementioned players were 1st round picks… and the same is true of Washington. If there’s a significant injury to Antonio Brown, Ju-Ju… or even Lev Bell, be ready to pounce on Washington on waivers…and I don’t mind taking a stab on him late in drafts as well.

Alex Collins.jpg

Photo Credit: USA Today

Bust: Alex Collins, RB Baltimore Ravens

There’s no denying that Alex Collins had a very strong 2nd half of the season last year. The Ravens didn’t bring in any major backfield free agents or draft picks to compete with him for snaps this upcoming season. He’s backed up by Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon. The red flags for me with Collins are his fumbling issues, shortcomings as a pass catcher, and the fact he’s always been replacement level talent until this past season. Collins had 4 fumbles in 16 games last year. That won’t fly again in 2018. He’s also not a strong pass catcher. In the end Collins stats are a little inflated by his first 3 games last year when he averaged 6 YPC, 9 YPC, and 9 YPC, as a rotational RB. Take those 3 games out and he only averaged over 4 YPC in 5 of his last 13 games. He’s never been the most explosive guy, going back to his days at Arkansas and I expect someone else (whether on the team or via FA/Trade) to be the most valuable Ravens RB by season end.

AFC West

Sleeper: Patrick Mahomes, QB Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes is without question my favorite sleeper at QB. Alex Smith had led the Chiefs to the playoffs in 4 of his 5 seasons with the franchise… yet the team couldn’t had been more ready to move on from him. It’s all because of the potential greatness they see out of Mahomes. When I hear Louis Riddick (a man I consider to be the best NFL Analyst at ESPN) say of Mahomes, “I think he’s going to absolutely set the league on fire next year. I think Andy Reid is on to something down there in Kansas City”, I put a lot of stock into it. Mahomes has the arm, the swagger, the confidence of his franchise and weapons in Tyreek Hill, Sammi Watkins, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt, to have a big year in KC and be a top 5 Fantasy QB. Mahomes is currently going around the 10th round.

Royce Freeman

Photo Credit: ProFootballTalk

Bust: Denver Broncos backfield

Every year in fantasy, there are a few backfields that are an absolute mess for fantasy owners. The Denver Broncos are headed in that direction. Right now Devontae Booker, Royce Freeman, De’Angelo Henderson, and Phillip Lindsay have all received first-team reps. Of course there’s glowing reports about each guy from beat writers around Denver. While 2 or 3 of them will probably pull away from the pack as the backs to draft/own, I have a feeling it will be tough to gauge which guy to start on a week-to-week basis. On top of that Denver had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL least year. While they did add veteran LT Jared Veldheer to help stabilize their issues, how the unit will mesh is still a major question mark heading into the season. 3rd round rookie RB Royce Freeman is currently going around the mid 5th round in many drafts. I would definitely let someone else grab him and take a stab on Booker in the 11th or Henderson who goes undrafted, if drafting any of them.

AFC South

Dont'a foreman

Photo Credit: ESPN

Sleeper: D’Onta Foreman, RB Houston Texans

This is a risky prediction because there’s still an outside chance he could start the year on PUP due to his torn Achilles back in Week 11 of last year. If Foreman comes back healthy, I think he will take over the starting RB position from a mediocre Lamar Miller. Foreman was pushing Miller for touches before his season-ending injury last year. Miller is coming off a down season in which he averaged only 3.6 YPC. Anyone who watched the Texans last year saw that Foreman looked like the much more explosive player. Let’s not forget the Texans drafted Foreman in the 3rd round just 2 years ago as well. They clearly believe in his talent… as do I. I expect his average draft position which is around the 10th round to drop a little since he hasn’t taken the practice field yet. I for one will be targeting him in drafts.

Bust: Dion Lewis, RB Tennessee Titans

Let me preface this by saying Dion Lewis was one of my favorite Patriots over the last few seasons. I think he can still be a very valuable member of the Titans offense, but he has never been the most durable RB. He’s currently going around the 6th round in drafts, which is far too early in my eyes. Lewis was used as a bellcow by the Pats towards the end of last season. While he did a phenomenal job, I’m worried that it may catch up to him this season and injuries may occur again. I am also a huge believer in Derrick Henry and I think it’ll be difficult for the Titans to keep him off the field.

 

Be on the lookout for my NFC sleepers and busts preview in the next few weeks!

LeBron James to the Celtics? Could it happen? Do Celtics fans want The King?

I’ve said it before in past blogs and I constantly talk about it among my peers, LeBron James is the most tantalizing athlete of my generation. People either love him or hate him. People criticize him for how he wins, how he loses, biting his finger nails, and at every available opportunity.

As we closed the books on the NBA Season last Friday, with the Warriors sweep of the LeBron Cav… I mean Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA/Sports world immediately began to speculate where LeBron will land this coming off-season.  He will most likely head into free agency pending a $35 million player-opt out. Players on Twitter like Dejounte Murray of the Spurs and Enes Kanter of the New York Knicks have already began to make their push for LeBron to sign with their teams…

LeBron Spurs

LeBron Knicks

After all, who can blame these guys, who wouldn’t want LBJ? He’s still the best player in the world, best player of our generation, and better than Michael Jordan in some people’s opinions.

Boston sports media began buzzing last Wednesday when Stephen A. Smith of ESPN and a highly plugged in NBA personality, went on air and said LeBron will talk with the Boston Celtics this off-season regarding his free agency.

Now let’s set the record straight, the odds of LeBron coming to Boston right now are not very likely. Most sports books have the Celtics anywhere from 10-1 to 20-1. The Lakers are the favorite at this point to sign The King. The Celtics would have to jump through many hoops (no pun intended) to be able to sign him. First and most importantly is the relationship Bron’ and Kyrie Irving have.

Many people think Kyrie requested a trade out of Cleveland to get out of LeBron’s shadow. People believed that their marriage had taken a toll on each other. Other people, close to the situation, have said their relationship was not as bad as people think, and that Kyrie instead was sick of the Cavs organization.

For arguments sake, lets assume that Kyrie wanted out of Cleveland because he was sick of playing with LBJ. You’d have to believe that if LeBron came to Boston, that Kyrie would have to go… and at the very least Gordon Hayward and others, like Marcus Morris, would have to go in order to make the salary cap work.

Would sacrificing the 25 year old Kyrie Irving via trade for a 33 year old LeBron James be worth it? For me, it comes down to what a Kyrie trade could net you. If Kyrie could land you a guy like a Karl-Anthony Towns (22 years old), Damian Lillard (27 years old) or Kawhi Leonard (26 years old) then as much as it pains me to say it, I would give up Kyrie and bring LeBron on board. But if you have to give up Hayward to the Cavs in a sign and trade for LeBron (to make the salaries work for the Celtics), and then trade Kyrie because he doesn’t want to play with LeBron again and only get a kings ransom of draft picks, then as much as I love LeBron, I would have to be out on trying to sign him.

Now, putting all the salary cap and player relationships aside, the other simple question is, do Celtics fans even want LeBron to come play in Boston? Numerous shirts have been made in Boston over the years like … “LeBron’s a douche,” and “LeBron’s a bitch.”

I have plenty of friends who dislike LeBron and are always eager to chirp me when he has a bad game or loses in the NBA Finals. I love when they come at me saying “Michael Jordan would never get swept in the NBA Finals!” Some of them are already on record saying they wouldn’t want the Celtics to sign him because they don’t want to root for him.  I even put a poll up on Instagram today asking if Celtics fans would want him. Out of 70 votes, 69% of voters said they wouldn’t want him, while 31% said they would be in favor of LeBron coming to the Celts.

For me if all things were equal… of course I would want the privilege of being able to consistently watch one of the best NBA Players we’ve ever seen night in and night out. The idea of being able to go watch him play in person at the TD Garden, a handful of times throughout the year, is very exciting.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I consider myself very fortunate to have witnessed the achievements and greatness LeBron has provided over the last 15 years. I always tell my friends and the haters, “respect the greatness… because you may never get to see something like it again in our lifetime.”

As much as I want him to sign with the Celtics because of how great I think he is and how amazing I think the buzz around Boston would be with him coming here, I also just want him here to laugh in my friends and Celtics fans faces come next spring, when he would lead us to a guaranteed NBA Finals appearance and possible championship over the Warriors. I am sure that at that point all the “haters” would be bowing down to LeBron talking about how great he is and pulling a 180 saying how smart Danny Ainge was to get him here.

The last point I want to touch on is why it makes sense for LeBron to want to play for Boston. If he’s still concerned with winning championships, improving his legacy, and taking down the Warriors, who have beat him in 3 of the last 4 NBA Finals, then for pure basketball reasons Boston makes the most sense for him to win.

Jalen Rose of ESPN and former NBA Player went on record Monday morning saying “LeBron can only win a title with the Celtics or Warriors next year.” I’m not going to even consider the second half of his statement in regards to the Warriors… but coming to the Celtics makes all the sense in the world. He gets to play with 2 young guns that took the NBA by storm in the postseason, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Both have young fresh legs and can help take the burden off him defensively and offensively during the regular season. He also gets to play with some kind of mix of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, or Kawhi Leonard/Karl-Anthony Towns. All of the aforementioned guys have proven their worth in the league as a mix of All-Stars, All NBA Players, and All NBA Defensive players.

If LeBron is more concerned with starting to settle down in his career and play in nice weather while continuing to grow his brand, then somewhere like LA or Miami may make more sense, but he won’t be winning any rings there compared to the chances he would have with Boston over the next few seasons.

Buckle up Celtics fans and NBA fans because the next month or so in the NBA is going to be wild as the draft and #WhereWillLeBronGo story-lines begin to unfold.

The key to the Celtics advancing past the Cavs is none other than Average Al

What a Celtics season it’s been. Everyone left them for dead after Gordon Hayward went down in the first few minutes of their season opener. Pessimism set in again after Kyrie went down with his season ending knee injury back in April.

Here’s Stephen A. Smith dismissing the Celtics and Al Horford succeeding in the playoffs after the Kyrie news came out in April…

 

Now here we are in Mid-May and the Celts are getting ready to host the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals.

A year after getting waxed by the Cavs in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics feel better equipped to try and dethrone LeBron. Cleveland has since lost Kyrie (boy do I wish he was playing in this series) and the Celtics are more athletic such that from a defensive perspective, they can throw multiple different players at LeBron. They are also a better defensive unit as a team.

Like any 7 game series in the NBA, there are a number of factors that will decide this one….

– Do you sell-out to stop (or try and contain) LeBron and make his secondary options beat you… or do you let LeBron get his points and make sure the secondary guys (e.g. Love, JR, Korver) don’t get hot?

– Can Brad Stevens dominate the coaching matchup as the best coach in the NBA and expose Ty Lue as the mediocre coach a lot of people think he is? We watched Brad thoroughly out-coach Brett Brown last series. One would have to think his leadership and basketball intelligence could be a major reason the Celtics may win this series.

– Will the Celtics ability to throw different bodies consistently at LeBron cause him some issues? I think we could see up to 6 different guys cover LeBron this series. I bet that Jaylen, Tatum, Horford, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, and Semi Ojeleye all try and guard LeBron at certain points in this series. The Pacers and Raptors did not have the defensive flexibility to throw multiple different looks at LeBron and handle him in the pick & roll like the Celtics can.

The list could go on and on, but in order for the Celtics to have a real shot to take this series, I believe the key factor is Al Horford.  I said that the Al Horford vs. Joel Embiid matchup would be the key to the last series. I think Horford’s all around game on both ends of the court was the key factor in why the Celts defeated Philly.  Horford was tremendous in the series, averaging 15 PPG, 8.6 RPG, shooting 58% from the field, stuffing the stat sheet with steals and blocks, and even hitting a clutch game winner in game 3 at Philly.

The issue now is that Average Al hasn’t exactly had a lot of success against LeBron James and the Cavs in their past playoff matchups. Horford’s all-time record against LeBron and the Cavs in the playoffs is 1-14 over 4 series. A frightening stat – I know.  Now I will say that his only win against LeBron and crew came with the Celtics last year. The rest of his putrid history came with the Atlanta Hawks… not exactly a historic franchise.

But for those who didn’t pay attention last year, Al was horrible against Cleveland. He averaged 12 PPG, shot 45% from the field, 66% from the line, and averaged a measly 4 rebounds. Meanwhile his counterpart on the Cavs, Kevin Love, ate Horford alive averaging over 20 PPG, 10 RPG… and making 23 three pointers in the 5 game series. If Love dominates the Celtics/Horford again, this series will be over in a hurry.  For the Celtics to have a chance to win, they’ll need Al to win his head to head matchup with Love.  He may need to have the best defensive playoff series of his career, for the Celtics to advance to the Finals. Defending Love in the post and more importantly at the 3 point line will be his main task as a defender, but he will also be trying to slow down LeBron at times.

The Cavaliers have been relentless at using Love to set picks for sniper Kyle Korver. Their goal is to try and get a switch for Love to post-up whatever guard is covering Korver or to get Korver a good look from 3 point range.  This will mean that Horford will either need to quickly switch onto Korver  (to make sure he isn’t killing the Celtics with 3s), or give a quick hedge to Korver (so he doesn’t have a wide open 3 look) and then get back to guard Love so he doesn’t ge to post up a Celtics guard.

On the offensive end, Horford will have to continue to be the post presence he was against the Bucks and 76ers. I honestly think this is the most we’ve ever seen him post up, as a Celtic, during this playoff run. It’s been extremely successful to this point. Kevin Love can struggle defensively at times. Horford needs to take advantage of his strength against Love whenever he gets the opportunity.

If Al Horford can win his match-up against Love on both ends of the floor, then the Celtics have a real chance to take this series. As I’ve pointed out before though, he’s clearly had his struggles against LeBron, Love, and Cleveland. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his teams have struggled as a whole as well.

With all this being said, I think Al is going to step up big time. He’s been a man on a mission during these playoffs. He intends to prove he’s worth the max contract he received 2 summers ago. His stellar play will continue and turn this into a 7 game series that could go either way.

Buckle up Celtics fans. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride against LeBron!

The top 5 storylines I’m most looking forward to at the NFL Draft

The first round of the NFL Draft takes place Thursday night, beginning at 8 P.M. Rounds 2 and 3 are on Friday night, followed by rounds 4-7 on Saturday. ESPN, Fox, and NFL Network will all carry coverage.

I can’t remember an NFL Draft with so much uncertainty. We still don’t know who the Browns are taking at #1. There are potentially 4 QBs who could go in the top 5. The amount of buzz among teams trying to trade up or down feels like it’s at an all-time high… in large part due to the fact there could be up to SIX quarterbacks taken in the first round. There’s a lot of anticipation among NFL fans. Everyone is waiting to see what will unfold over these 3 days.

With storylines all over the place, here are the top 5 developments I’m looking forward to:

1.What will the Patriots do with their picks?

The Patriots hold 2 first round picks and 2 second round picks. This is arguably their most important draft in the last 20 years and could determine the direction of the franchise after the Tom Brady era. There are 2 sides to look at from a Patriots’ perspective. On one side Tom Brady’s window is closing, no one will deny that anymore. There are numerous holes that need to be filled to put him in the best position to win over the next couple of years. They need a left tackle to replace Nate Solder, a pass rusher, help at linebacker, a tight end, wide receiver, running back, and yes a QB which leads me to my next point.

While they have to worry about maximizing Tom Brady’s window to try and win another Super Bowl or two, the flip side is that they need to start preparing for a future without TB12. If there’s a QB they really like, do they try and trade up for him in the first round or take one with one of their first round picks? If they do that, then they’re sacrificing the opportunity to quickly build a better team around Tom for the upcoming year.

2. What will the Browns do with their 1st and 4th overall picks?

The Browns are 1-31 over the last 2 years. They last made the playoffs back in 2002. In other words, they’ve pretty much been the laughing stock of the NFL for the last 10 years or so.

I have a great aunt who’s 90 years old and has had Browns season tickets for years. Every time we get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I hear her displeasure with the Browns ownership, Johnny Manziel, and the franchise as a whole (for all their mistakes). Iris if you’re reading this, I hope this is the year. You’re draft rich with the 1st and 4th picks. You finally have the chance to evaluate and take the true QB of your future. You can also take a generational RB in Saquon Barkley, or an athletic freak like Bradley Chubb to create a dynamic pass rushing force comprised of him and last year’s first round pick, Myles Garrett. Another possibility is to trade one of their picks to a hungry team willing to give Cleveland a promising QB.

The options are endless for the Browns and this is their biggest draft in a long time. Finally, led by a new GM who seems to know what he’s doing (John Dorsey), this COULD just finally be the year the Browns start to turn a corner.

3. Where will all the QBs go?

Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Mason Rudolph. All 6 could potentially go in the first round. Darnold, Rosen, Mayfield, and Allen could all be picked in the top 5.

The top 4 QB’s have a number of strengths, but on and off the field questions as well – hence we don’t know who’s going to be drafted where. Lamar Jackson is arguably the most explosive player in the draft. There are questions about whether or not he can succeed as an NFL QB but if he ends up in the right place, with a coach and organization that really believes in him, the sky could be the limit. He’s already being compared to Deshaun Watson, who took the NFL by storm last year.

4. Seeing a parrot announce the Buccaneers 4th round pick

Zsa Zsa, an 8-year-old Catalina Macaw, poses with Stephanie

Photo credit: USA Today

Alright so this one is a bit of a joke, but I think it’s funny. For those who haven’t heard, Zsa Zsa the parrot (pictured above) will be announcing the 4th round pick of the Bucs from the pirate ship in Raymond James Stadium (where the Buccaneers play). Zsa Zsa is only 8 years old and has a life span of 70 to 90 years.

I think this is an interesting out-of-the-box PR move, to reveal a team’s NFL draft selection. The NFL Draft is easily the best and most watched of the major sports. Why not put a little spin on it here and there and make it fun?

 

5. Seeing Shaquem Griffin get drafted 

For those of you who don’t know Shaquem Griffin, he was a linebacker at the University of Central Florida. He had his left hand amputated when he was 4 years old due to an amniotic membrane that was wrapped around his hand when he was born.

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 27: Linebacker Shaquem Griffin #18 from Central Florida on the South Team during the 2018 Resse's Senior Bowl game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on January 27, 2018 in Mobile, Alabama. The South defeated the North 45 to 16. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Photo credit: Bleacher Report

He blew people away at the NFL combine by running a 4.38 40 yard dash and bench pressing 20 Reps of 225 lbs with a prosthetic hand. He’s now projected to be drafted somewhere around the 3rd or 4th round. The NFL has invited him to the draft and to walk the stage to shake Rodger Goodell’s hand when his name gets called. I can’t imagine the emotion that will run through his mind and the extreme pride his family will feel when his name is called. This is truly an incredible story and if you don’t root to see him succeed in the NFL, then why do you even watch sports?