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2022 MLB Preview & Predictions

By MLB Correspondent D. Higgins

Previewing MLB in 2022

It’s that time again: Baseball season is back. “Let’s go, batter up, we’re taking the afternoon off… It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame!”

Let’s see how my 2022 predictions shake out. Last year, my predictions were a mixed bag, but this time I’m sure to be 100% correct, right? (Probably not…)

Is it a World Championship or bust for the Dodgers? Are the Angels going to finally get Mike Trout back to the postseason? Are the Giants going to surprise everybody again with another 107-win season? Are the Rays going to keep coming out on top in a very competitive AL East? Are the poor Orioles capable of winning more than 60 games? Come back in October to check and see how I did!

Los Angeles Dodgers

Before I get to my overall MLB predictions, let’s take a long look at our home team.

The 2021 Dodgers ran off a historic 106-win season, finishing a game behind the surprising Giants in the division before walking off against the Cardinals in a do-or-die Wild Card game and then beating San Francisco in a thrilling 5-game NLDS. Ultimately, however, the Dodgers were beaten up by injuries and fell short against the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.

Re-tooling for 2022, the Dodgers made several key roster changes, but are still the consensus pick to win the World Series this year. Let’s check in on the offseason moves:

•Sticking around:

•Future-hall-of-famer Clayton Kershaw re-signed with the Dodgers the day after the lockout ended for 1 year and $17M. If healthy, Kershaw can still be a top 3 starter. He had a great spring training and appears ready to continue his winning path.

•Outfielder Cody Bellinger agreed to a one-year, $17 million deal. He is in his walk-year, looking to return to his MVP form after an injury-plagued 2021 (although he had some big moments in the postseason).

•Super utility man Chris Taylor signed a four-year, $60 million deal to stay with the Dodgers. He will continue to fill his role all over the field, most likely in LF, as well as taking some at-bats at DH.

New Additions:

Freddie Freeman (1B): It took $162M and a 6-year deal to get Freeman out of Atlanta, the place where he spent the first 15 years of career. He comes back to his SoCal roots to add his All-Star, Gold-Glove, and MVP skills to first base for the Dodgers through the year 2027. Indisputably one of the best hitters in baseball, Freeman also has an excellent track record of being healthy and consistent.

Craig Kimbrel (RHP): Speaking of former Braves… The Dodgers pulled off another surprising trade, acquiring eight-time all-star closer Craig Kimbrel for AJ Pollock on April 1. The trade filled a need for both teams, with the Sox adding a much-needed OF bat and the Dodgers adding to their strong bullpen with a proven veteran closer. He has one year and $16M remaining on a deal he signed with the Cubs 3 years ago.

Daniel Hudson (RHP): The Dodgers added the experienced Hudson to fill valuable bullpen innings. He returns to the Dodgers on a 1-year deal for $7M (he pitched in 40 effective games for the Dodgers in 2018)

Andrew Heaney (LHP): The starter signed a 1-year deal for $8.5M, looking to revive his stuff in the back-end of the rotation after an up-and-down 2021.

Tyler Anderson (LHP): Signing a 1-year, $8M contract, the 32-year-old lefty starter will be expected to eat some innings in the rotation until reinforcements arrive mid-season in the form of Dustin May and/or pitchers acquired via trade.

Hanser Alberto (IF): The Dodgers gave the versatile defender a 1-year, $1.6M deal (with an option for the 2023 season). Alberto can fill in all over the infield and is one of the toughest players to strike out in baseball.

•Who’s Out?

Corey Seager: signed a mega-deal with the Texas Rangers ($324M/10 years)

Kenley Jansen: signed a 1-year, $16M deal with the Atlanta Braves

Max Scherzer: signed for 3 years and $134M with the New York Mets

AJ Pollock: traded to the White Sox for Craig Kimbrel on April 1

Joe Kelly signed a 2-year deal with the White Sox for $17M.

Albert Pujols signed one final contract, reuniting with the Cardinals for one last season on a $2.5M deal.

•Reliever Corey Knebel signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Phillies

•Bench players Matt Beaty, Billy McKinney, Zach Reks, Luke Raley, and Sheldon Neuse were traded away or DFA.

You would think that a team that lost Seager, Jansen, Scherzer, Pujols, Pollock, and Kelly were having a fire sale, but the Dodgers are so loaded that they will pick right up where they left off thanks to major additions like Freeman and Kimbrel. With this mixture of new and old faces, the Dodgers are very determined and talented. The sky is the limit for this team, and they have the depth to withstand any prolonged slumps or injuries.

With MLB getting a late start due to the offseason’s labor issues, the league is allowing 28-man rosters through May 1 (after that, rosters go back down to 26 players, including a 13-pitcher limit). Many pitchers are simply not built up or on track to begin the season, so the Dodgers will go with an enormous 16-man pitching staff and a 12-man position player roster (opening the season against the Rockies with a 3-game series in offense-heavy Coors Field helped with that decision, too).

Keep in mind that this is just the Dodgers’ roster to start the season; they will send many players up & down from the minors to build a championship roster as the year goes on.

*Projected Lineup:

1) Mookie Betts – RF

2) Freddie Freeman -1B

3) Trea Turner – SS

4) Justin Turner – 3B/DH

5) Max Muncy – 2B/DH

6) Will Smith – C

7) Chris Taylor – LF/Util

8) Cody Bellinger – CF

9) Gavin Lux – 2B/Util

*Bench:

Austin Barnes (C), Edwin Rios (IF), Hanser Alberto (IF)

*Minor League Depth:

Jake Lamb (OF), Kevin Pillar (OF), Zach McKinstry (IF/OF), Andy Burns (IF), Eddy Alvarez (IF)

*Position Player Prospects to Watch:

Jacob Amaya (IF), Eddys Leonard (IF), Andy Pages (OF), Miguel Vargas (IF)

*Starting Rotation:

1) Walker Buehler

2) Julio Urias

3) Clayton Kershaw

4) Andrew Heaney

5) Tony Gonsolin

*Bullpen:

RHP: Craig Kimbrel, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Daniel Hudson, Mitch White, Evan Phillips

LHP: Alex Vesia, David Price, Tyler Anderson, Garrett Cleavinger, Justin Bruhil

*On the injured list, but ready soon:

Victor Gonzalez, Caleb Ferguson, Tommy Kahnle, Danny Duffy, Jimmy Nelson, Dustin May

*Pitching Prospects to Watch:

Michael Grove, Andre Jackson, Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot

•2022 Predictions:

*Now it’s time for my predictions for the 2022 MLB season. Last year, I predicted a Dodgers vs Yankees World Series (which was wrong on both ends), and my division winners included the Astros, White Sox, and Yankees in the AL, and the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Braves in the NL (not too shabby). My wildcard teams were the Padres and Mets (I was dead wrong); and my AL wildcard teams were the Twins and Blue Jays (even deader wrong).

Here are my predictions for the 2022 standings:

NL WESTNL CENTRALNL EAST
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Diego Padres*
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Colorado Rockies
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
1. Atlanta Braves
2. New York Mets*
3. Philadelphia Phillies*
4. Miami Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
* = Wild Card Team
AL WESTAL CENTRALAL EAST
1. Houston Astros
2. Los Angeles Angels*
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Texas Rangers
5. Oakland A’s
1. Chicago White Sox
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Cleveland Guardians
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Kansas City Royals
1. Toronto Blue Jays
2. Tampa Bay Rays*
3. Boston Red Sox*
4. New York Yankees
5. Baltimore Orioles
* = Wild Card Team

(Note: Starting this season, the MLB postseason will feature 12 teams–the three division winners and three wild card teams. The teams will be seeded, with the top two division winners receiving a first-round bye, and the remaining four teams locked into a best-of-three Wild Card Playoff round. After that, the Division Series and Championship Series will commence as they have been for years.)

In the American League, the Blue Jays are a hot pick this year thanks to a young and powerful lineup. The Astros keep plugging along and filling holes after several key departures like Carlos Correa (MIN) and George Springer (TOR) last season, and you can never count them out. Still, I think the White Sox will win the American League pennant due to a balanced veteran lineup, solid rotation, and a shutdown bullpen.

Ultimately however, this is the Dodgers’ year. Anything short of a championship would be a disappointment. As a lifelong fan, I am, of course, rooting for the Dodgers, too. But it’s not just a homer pick–the players, fans, and experts all around MLB feel the same way. Barring a disastrous injury to a key player like Trea Turner, or Betts, Freeman, or Buehler, everything is lining up for a fun & memorable season. They are the class of the National League and should win their fourth pennant in the last six seasons, as well as a championship.

So… no jinxes, no fooling around, I’ll call it out loud — the Los Angeles Dodgers will be the 2022 World Champions, defeating the Chicago White Sox in a rematch of the 1959 World Series.

Super Bowl LVI Prediction

By NFL Correspondent D.Higgins

We have come to my final NFL predictions article — it’s Super Bowl time!

Two weeks ago, I shared my predictions for the NFC and AFC championship games. Let’s see how I did:

Prediction: Chiefs 35 – Bengals 24

Actual Score: Bengals 27 – Chiefs 24 (OT)

Comments: The Chiefs took their foot off the gas and blew a 21-3 lead, shockingly dropping a home playoff game against the underdog Bengals. Cincinnati, who won just 6 games combined from 2019-2020, now has a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1988, when they lost to the Montana & Rice 49ers.

* * * *

Prediction: Rams 31 – Niners 24

Actual Score: Rams 20 – Niners 17

Comments: In a great defensive battle, the Rams prevailed, coming from behind to win the NFC and host Super Bowl LVI thanks to a 13-point comeback after falling behind 17-7 as the fourth quarter began. QB Matthew Stafford threw for 337 yards on 31-for-45 passing. In a 17-17 tie with about 6:30 to go, the Rams marched down field for Matt Gay to kick the eventual game-winning 30-yard field goal.

In the Championship Round, I went 1-1, and overall, my playoff predictions sit at an even 6-and-6. I guess Super Bowl LVI is the tiebreaker! Let’s get to my pick.

Super Bowl LVI

Prediction: Rams 27 – Bengals 24

The Super Bowl returns to Los Angeles where it all began, and for the first time since 1993’s game at The Rose Bowl.

I think this one is going to be a tight game and a classic. The Rams have the Los Angeles home crowd on their side and the better postseason experience. Joe Burrow and the Bengals had a great season and should be proud of how quickly they turned into an AFC powerhouse, but it is the Rams’ time. I think head coach Sean McVay makes all the right calls, and Von Miller, Aaron Donald, and the Rams defense makes the perfect stops at the perfect times.

Of course, in all honesty, I wouldn’t be sad one bit if the Bengals pull through and win this game. It’s hard to root against either team. I’m a Dodgers fan first and foremost, so I always love to root for the Los Angeles teams. But with a young and exciting Joe Burrow at quarterback, a wide receiver named Tee Higgins (my distant cousin, perhaps?), and memories of the Ickey Shuffle, one can’t help but load up on some Skyline Chili and holler “Who dey?” every time the Bengals score.

Still, it feels like the Rams’ time, who have never won a Super Bowl in Los Angeles (the St. Louis Rams beat the Titans in 1999 in Super Bowl XXXIV, and L.A. won a pre-Super Bowl Championship in 1951 over the Browns).

Crank up the Randy Newman, fire up some street dogs, and get ready to party, L.A., because the Rams will be the Super Bowl Champions. 

NFL Conference Championship Predictions

By NFL Correspondent D.Higgins

Divisional Round Recap

Last week, I made my Divisional Round predictions. Let’s see how (terribly) I did:


Prediction: Bengals 24 – Titans 21

Actual Score: Bengals 19 – Titans 16

Comment: This is the only game I got correct! Even though quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked nine times and threw one interception, he still threw for 348 yards on 28 of 37 passing and led the Cincinnati offense. Their defense did the rest, holding Tennessee to just 16 points, and forcing them to go just 1 for 8 on third down conversions.

* * * *

Prediction: Bills 38 – Chiefs 28

Actual Score: Chiefs 42 – Bills 36 (OT)

Comment: It was a high-scoring game, as I predicted, but the Chiefs simply out-dueled the Bills in one of the greatest NFL Playoff games of all time. This game was 26-21 in favor of the Chiefs with less than 2 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. In a final, insane flurry, both teams traded punches and spectacular plays (or was it defensive breakdowns?) until the score was tied 36-36 at the end of regulation. The Bills (whose 422 yards of total offense was still not enough) lost the coin toss to begin overtime, and QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs did their thing, taking just 8 plays in 4 minutes to march downfield and score the game-winning touchdown.

* * * *

Prediction: Packers 31 – Niners 24

Actual Score: Niners 13 – Packers 10

Comment: In a surprisingly low-scoring game, the San Francisco defense held the powerful Green Bay offense to just 263 total yards. The 49ers were even worse at just 212 yards on offense, but they ended up with the ball on the final possession, which ended on a Robbie Gould 45-yard field goal to win it after a 9 play, 44-yard drive. Quarterback Aaron Rogers and the Packers just never got going, leaving Rogers’ future as a Packer in doubt.

* * * *

Prediction: Buccaneers 27 – Rams 17

Actual Score: Rams 30 – Buccaneers 27

Comment: This was the third game that ended in a game-winning, walk-off field goal, as the Rams recovered to beat Tampa Bay after nearly blowing a 27-3 lead in the 3rd quarter. Teams know that they can’t give Tom Brady a second chance, because he will always take advantage of it. Brady threw the ball a startling 54 times, completing 30 of them for 329 yards. But Matthew Stafford outdid the GOAT, going 28 for 38 and 366 yards, throwing 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. His biggest pass was to Cooper Kupp with just enough time left to spike the ball and get a Matt Gay 30-yard field goal to secure a championship game for the Rams.

Overall, I went a lousy 1-3, but I am happy to have been wrong on the Rams, as we have an L.A. vs San Francisco match-up in the NFC to look forward to now. 

*AFC and NFC Championship Games*

AFC: Bengals @ Chiefs

Sunday, Jan. 30, 12pm on CBS

Why does this feel like the Chiefs will beat the pants off the Bengals? Cincinnati has a similarly good defense (allowing 350.8 yds/game and 22.1 points/game vs the Chiefs 368.9 yds/game and 21.4 points/game); and their powerful offensive attack featuring QB Joe Burrow are not too far off either (Cincy averaged 361.5 yds/game and 27.1 points/game against 396.8 yds/game and 28.2 points/game for the Chiefs).

Still, as much as I like the Bengals’ underdog story and rooting for a player named Higgins, I think the experience of Kansas City wins out, especially combined with the versatility of their offense, led by QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Tyreek Hill, and TE Travis Kelce. Look for the Chiefs to win the AFC and play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

Prediction: Chiefs 35 – Bengals 24


NFC: 49ers @ Rams

Sunday, Jan. 30, 3:30pm on FOX

It’s time for L.A. vs San Francisco, again. Last time, the Dodgers beat the Giants in MLB’s 2021 NLDS. This time it’s the Rams’ turn to advance, but it won’t be easy. The Rams have not beaten the 49ers since 2018.

These teams are very familiar with each other, playing twice a year in the NFC West, yet they’ve only faced each other in the postseason once, in the 1990 NFC Championship Game that saw Joe Montana’s 49ers pound the Rams 30-3 (and then go on to whoop my Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV).

But that was decades ago. To show you how evenly matched they are today, San Francisco’s defense allowed 21.5 points/game during the regular season, while the Rams allowed 21.9. The Rams averaged 27.1 points/game on offense and SF averaged 25.1. It’s going to be a tough one. 

Simply because I’m rooting for a) A Super Bowl home game for the Rams; and, b) The Los Angeles team to beat the SF team, I’m going with the Rams to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl LVI on February 13.

Prediction: Rams 31 – Niners 24


There you have it, more fearless predictions for this penultimate round of the NFL Playoffs. There’s no way these conference championship games will be as crazy as last weekend, right? We’ll see. I am predicting a Chiefs vs Rams Super Bowl on Feb. 13, so don’t be surprised when it’s the Bengals vs the 49ers. Until next time…

NFL Divisional Round Predictions

By NFL Correspondent D.Higgins

Last week, I gave my Wild-Card Predictions, going 4-2 in my picks. Read my recap of Wild-Card Weekend here. But for now, let’s get to the Divisional Round!

*AFC*

#4 Bengals @ #1 Titans

Saturday, 1:30pm on CBS

After winning a good fight against the Raiders, Cincinnati is looking to play the upset card in round two. Tennessee is well-rested, but the Bengals are pumped up after their first playoff win in decades. The teams have different attacks on offense–the Bengals are pass-heavy, thanks to QB Joe Burrow; the Titans run the ball very well, fifth best in the NFL at 141.4 rushing yards per game.

On defense, however, Cincinnati is built to defend the run, holding opponents to just 102.5 rushing yards per game, which is the fifth best in the NFL. That, I believe, will be the difference. The Bengals will keep Derrick Henry in check, and force the Titans to continue their sloppy play, as Tennessee committed 103 penalties for 973 yards during the regular season. 

Prediction: Bengals 24 – Titans 21


#3 Bills @ #2 Chiefs

Sunday, 3:30pm on CBS

If these teams play the way they did last weekend, this game is going to be high-scoring and high-octane. I think that the winner of this game goes on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

I underestimated the Bills’ offense in the Wild Card Round, so I’m not going to be fooled again. I think Buffalo gets their revenge over the Chiefs this year and wins this game because they have a superior defense and because QB Josh Allen will continue to limit his mistakes.

Prediction: Bills 38 – Chiefs 28

*NFC*

#6 Niners @ #1 Packers

Saturday, 5:15pm on FOX

The Packers are a strong team with a great offense, but many don’t realize that the 49ers actually averaged more yards per game than Green Bay during the regular season (375.7 to the Packers’ 365.6). The San Francisco defense was also better at preventing yards on defense, allowing just 310 yards/game (third-best in the NFL) while the Green Bay defense allowed 328.2 yards per game, good for 9th in the league. 

To no surprise, both teams are in the top 10 in the NFL in nearly every meaningful category. But there is one category that stands out and pushes the Packers over the edge–turnovers. The disciplined Green Bay squad had a plus-13 turnover differential, while San Francisco struggled to a minus-4 turnover differential. I believe that will be the difference in this one.

Prediction: Packers 31 – Niners 24


#4 Rams @ #2 Buccaneers

Sunday, 12pm on NBC

The Rams looked really good in the Wild-Card Round, dismantling the Cardinals and putting their stamp on the playoffs. Their hopes to do exactly what Tampa Bay did last season – play the Super Bowl in their home stadium – comes down to this tough game against QB Tom Brady and the Bucs. Even though the Rams were well-tested with a tough NFC West schedule, I think that Brady will find a way to win, as he seemingly always does. 

Yes, the Rams beat the Bucs 34-24 this season, but that was way back in Week Three. Since then, we saw Matthew Stafford struggle with picks, as the Rams’ 18 interceptions was fifth-worst in the NFL. They are going to have to play mistake-free football to win this one in Tampa Bay, but I think the Bucs’ offense is just too much for the Rams.

Prediction: Buccaneers 27 – Rams 17

NFL Wild-Card Recap

How did I do?

By NFL Correspondent D. Higgins

I will give my Divisional Round predictions in another column; but first, let’s recap how my Wild-Card predictions went.

*AFC*

My Prediction: Bengals 32 – Raiders 23

Actual Score: Bengals 26 – Raiders 19

Comments: This was lower scoring than I thought, but the game had the same outcome. The Raiders put up a good fight, but Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase–who had nine receptions for 116 yards–were too much for Las Vegas, errant whistle blows or not.

* * * *

My Prediction: Patriots 24 – Bills 20

Actual Score: Bills 47 – Patriots 17

Comments: I could not have been more wrong on this one! QB Josh Allen and the Bills absolutely destroyed NE in every facet of the game, with Buffalo playing the NFL’s first ever “perfect game.” It was over by halftime. Good for the Bills–who knocked out Bill Belichick in the Wild Card Round for only the 3rd time in his head coaching career.

* * * *

My Prediction: Chiefs 35 – Steelers 17

Actual Score: Chiefs 42 – Steelers 21

Comments: As expected, Patrick Mahomes had a dominating game, throwing for 404 yards and 5 touchdowns on 30 of 39 passes. After a scoreless first quarter, it was all Chiefs who suddenly led 21-7 at halftime and then just exploded for two more quick TDs to start the second half. In what will likely be his final game, 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger was 29 of 44 for 215 yards, including two meaningless TD passes after the game was already out of hand.

*NFC*

My Prediction: Bucs 41 – Eagles 21

Actual Score: Bucs 31 – Eagles 15

Comments: As I predicted, this was a blowout win for Tampa Bay. Philly struggled with 3 turnovers and were outmatched by a typically efficient Tom Brady performance (29-37, 271 yards, 2 TD). Even after a couple of Philly TDs in garbage time, this game wasn’t even as close as the final score indicates. Even scarier for the rest of the league? Tampa Bay feels they could have played even better.

* * * *

My Prediction: Cowboys 27 – Niners 25

Actual Score: Niners 23 – Cowboys 17

Comments: It was a nail biter in the end, with some bizarre decisions all around. The Cowboys’ decision to have QB Dak Prescott run the ball on 1st down with 14 seconds left, and then him trying to spike the ball as time expired, was chaotic and perplexing. But overall, the 49ers simply outplayed Dallas, who let penalties kill them. The Cowboys committed 14 penalties for 89 yards, tying a franchise playoff record. San Francisco also out-rushed Dallas 169 yards to 77. Although a bit sloppy, it was an exciting game, as the Cowboys just fell short after trailing 23-7 in the 4th quarter.

* * * *

My Prediction: Rams 30 – Cardinals 23

Actual Score: Rams 34 – Cardinals 11

Comments: The Rams offense, led by Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and a balanced rushing attack, dominated Arizona as expected. More importantly for L.A., the defense stepped up, too, forcing 2 interceptions and holding the Cardinals to just 183 total yards (AZ also went 0-9 on 3rd downs). Stafford was sharp in his first-ever playoff win, throwing for 2 TDs and no interceptions on 13 of 17 for 202 yards. 

So that wraps up the Wild Card Round, with my guesses going a respectable 4-2. But now, let’s get to my fearless predictions for round two

Fearless NFL Playoff Predictions

By NFL Correspondent D.Higgins

It’s NFL playoff time, which means it’s also prediction time. In predictions that are sure to be pathetically wrong by the time Super Bowl LVI kicks off in Los Angeles on February 13, 2022, let’s give it a whirl.

AFC WILD-CARD WEEKEND

#5 Raiders @ #4 Bengals
Saturday 1:30pm on NBC

Even though the Raiders pulled out a huge win in the game of the year last Sunday to knock out the Chargers (sorry, Isaiah), I think that QB Joe Burrow, receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins (great name!), and the rest of the Cincinnati offense is too overwhelming for Las Vegas. It was a good run, Raider Nation, but the Cinderella story is over.

Bengals 32 – Raiders 23


#6 Patriots @ #3 Bills
Saturday, 5:15 on CBS

This will be a tough battle between division rivals and two great defensive football teams. Buffalo led the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game at 272.8 while giving up just 17 points per game; but New England was right behind them, allowing just 310.8 yds and 17.8 pts/g. The teams split their season series, each winning on the road. They finished just a game apart in the AFC East as Buffalo won their final 4 games in a row, while the Pats lost 3 of their last 4.

Even though the Bills have the hot streak and the home field advantage, I think Bill Belichick outsmarts Buffalo and the Pats take this one.

Patriots 24 – Bills 20


#7 Steelers @ #2 Chiefs
Sunday, 5:15 on NBC

In the easiest AFC game to predict, QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will put on a clinic against the Steelers. Big Ben Roethlisberger can end his career with pride, but KC will just be way too much for Pittsburgh.

Chiefs 35 – Steelers 17

(Bye Week: #1 Tennessee Titans)


NFC WILD-CARD WEEKEND

#7 Eagles @ #2 Buccaneers
Sunday, 10am on FOX

I guess they still have to play the game, but this one is a no-brainer: Tom Brady and the rest of Tampa Bay will make easy work of Philadelphia. The Bucs finished 13-4 and cruised into the playoffs with impressive wins all season. Even though Philly (9-8) won 4 of their last 5 games, they played the Jets, Washington twice, and a terrible Giants team before getting blown out by the Cowboys last week. Look for more of the same on Sunday morning.

Bucs 41 – Eagles 21


#6 49ers @ #3 Cowboys
Sunday, 1:30pm on CBS

To me, this is the most exciting match-up of the weekend, bringing back memories of the legendary games between these teams in the ’90s, when stars like Steve Young & Jerry Rice battled it out against Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, & Michael Irvin.

This time it’s Dak Prescott vs Jimmy Garoppolo, and Ezekiel Elliott vs Deebo Samuel. The teams are very even, as San Francisco finished at 10-7 in a very tough NFC West, while Dallas finished 12-5 in an easy NFC East. Both teams won 4 of their last 5 games. The Cowboys averaged 31.2 points per game (allowing 21.1 pts/g) while the Niners scored an average of 25.1 pts/g (allowing 21.5).

This game is a tough call… but for full disclosure: as a massive Dodgers fan, I simply cannot root for any team from San Francisco, so I gotta pull for the ‘Boys here in a close one.

Cowboys 27 – Niners 25


#5 Cardinals @ #4 Rams
Monday, 5:15 on ESPN/ABC

In the first ever Monday Night Football playoff game, the Rams will host their division rivals from Arizona. L.A. spent most of the season trying to catch up to Arizona, who got off to a hot 7-0 start. But catch up they did — the Rams went 5-2 after their bye week to finish with a 12-5 record, while the Cardinals dropped 4 of their last 6 to finish one game behind L.A. at 11-6 in the tough NFC West.

In this match-up, I think the momentum continues and the Rams ride Matthew Stafford’s arm to victory at SoFi Stadium.

Rams 30 – Cardinals 23

(Bye Week: #1 Green Bay Packers)


Next week, I’ll recap these Wild-Card Round predictions and move on to the Divisional Round games Feel free to drop your predictions in the comments section below.

Until then, go Broncos! (Oh, wait…)

MLB Offseason in Review: Catching Up with the Dodgers and Angels for 2021

By D.Higgins, MLB Correspondent

It’s that time of year again, baseball fans, where we hear those four beautiful words that officially signal the arrival of spring: “Pitchers and catchers report.” Yes, spring training camps in Arizona and Florida are open, and Major League Baseball is set to return for the 2021 season.

Let’s check in on the offseason moves for our local teams, and preview the 2021 season.

The 2020 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers (did I ever mention they are the World Champions?!) spent much of the offseason quietly celebrating and saying goodbye to several free agents. But just before spring training camp opened, they made a February splash by signing ace Trevor Bauer and bringing back third baseman and clubhouse leader Justin Turner.

All winter long, Turner and the Dodgers were at a stalemate, with Turner reportedly seeking a 4-year deal and the Dodgers not willing to go that long for the 36-year-old. Teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays were rumored to have shown interest, but Turner finally signed a two-year, $34 million contract to stay in L.A. (with a $16M club option for 2023).

With just days left in the offseason, Turner decided to stay home, where he has steadily played the hot corner and provided a clutch veteran bat since 2014. At a press conference on February 19 Turner shared his relief, saying, “At the end of the day it all worked out like it was supposed to, and I’m back in Dodger blue like I was supposed to be.” He figures to continue to slot into the #3 spot in the lineup and play steady defense.

The lack of clarity on the universal DH throughout MLB was casting doubts on Turner staying with the Dodgers in the National League, but in the end, they decided his veteran leadership was too valuable. His .886 OPS as a Dodger puts him in the franchise’s all-time top 10, next to Hall of Famers like Mike Piazza and Duke Snider. Turner is also a clutch postseason player–he ranks first in Dodgers postseason history in hits (79), home runs (12), runs (40), and RBI (41).

via MLB Network

Before bringing back Turner, the Dodgers said goodbye to several key pieces. Most notably, utility man Kiké Hernandez signed with the Red Sox, and outfielder Joc Pederson moved on to Chicago to play for the Cubs. Relievers Pedro Baez (Astros), Alex Wood and Jake McGee (both now on the Giants) also departed.

Speaking of “goodbye,” the Dodgers also mourned the loss of two Hall of Famers — manager Tommy Lasorda and pitcher Don Sutton. The team will wear #2 and #20 patches to honor both legends throughout the 2021 season.

Despite those notable losses, the Dodgers are still one of the best teams in baseball and didn’t need to re-tool the roster too much. While the San Diego Padres vastly improved by adding starting pitching galore (trading for two aces in Yu Darvish and Blake Snell), the Dodgers locked up reigning Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to a unique short-term deal that makes him the highest paid player in baseball. Despite several often-controversial tweets and social media blunders, the polarizing Bauer remained the top pitcher on the market. The Dodgers came out ahead, beating out the New York Mets at the last minute by giving the L.A. native a deal for three years and $102 million, which includes opt-outs after each of the first two seasons.

Starting Rotation

By adding Bauer, along with the return of veteran David Price (acquired in last year’s trade with Boston that brought in Mookie Betts), the Dodgers have a rotation that is at least seven-deep in quality arms, probably lining up in this way in 2021:

  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Walker Buehler
  • Trevor Bauer
  • David Price
  • Julio Urias/Dustin May/Tony Gonsolin

Bullpen

Because of their depth, at least two of Urias, May, and Gonsolin will move to the bullpen, which allowed the Dodgers to trade two veteran relievers in Adam Kolarek and Dylan Floro for minor league depth on February 12.

In addition to the excess starters, the bullpen should line up with mostly familiar faces:

  • Kenley Jansen
  • Joe Kelly
  • Blake Treinen
  • Brusdar Graterol
  • Corey Knebel*
  • Scott Alexander (LHP)
  • Victor Gonzalez (LHP)

*Acquired via trade from MIL on 12/2/20

Position Players

On the position player side, the Dodgers return a strong core led by Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger (who is coming off winter shoulder surgery). While their depth took a hit by losing Pederson and Hernandez, the starting lineup remains about the same as their Championship team from 2020:

  • Mookie Betts – RF
  • Corey Seager – SS
  • Justin Turner – 3B
  • Max Muncy – 1B
  • Cody Bellinger – CF
  • Will Smith – C
  • AJ Pollock – LF
  • Gavin Lux – 2B

Bench pieces and platoon players include Edwin Rios, Chris Taylor, Austin Barnes, Matt Beaty, and Zach McKinstry (who hopes to take the role as the new super-utility player following the departure of Hernandez).

The future looks bright for the Dodgers, too, as top prospects like Keibert Ruiz (C), Josiah Gray (RHP), and Mitch White (RHP), join DJ Peters (OF), and the recently acquired Sheldon Neuse (IF) waiting in the wings.

It’s a two-team race in the division as the Giants and Diamondbacks are still rebuilding and the Rockies are basically tanking after trading star 3B Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals. Despite a strong offseason from the Padres, manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers should find themselves winning the NL West for the 9th consecutive season in 2021 and competing for back-to-back championships.


After another disappointing season, the Angels had an opportunity to take advantage of a weakened AL West, where the trashcan-banging Houston Astros are lessened by the departures of George Springer and Josh Reddick, as well as several key bullpen arms. Furthermore, ace Justin Verlander will be out the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. The Oakland A’s lost both Marcus Semien and former Angel Tommy LaStella to free agency, as well as star closer Liam Hendricks. The Rangers and Mariners did not make any notable moves to improve and will likely struggle to be .500 ball clubs.

So how did the Angels and new general manager Perry Minasian respond? Well, by mostly standing still.

They never appeared to really be in the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes, and they also do not have the prospect depth to make a trade for the starting pitching they still desperately need (if you’ve heard this before, it’s because this has been the problem for the Angels for several years, now).

Starting Rotation

The Angels added veteran starters Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb to join Andrew Heaney and last year’s standout Dylan Bundy. Still, the Angels lack a front-line starter, and they may have to constantly try and out-slug their opponents in order to help the pitching staff. Angels starting pitchers combined to post the second-worst ERA in the Majors in 2020.

The 2021 rotation will likely line up this way:

  • Andrew Heaney
  • Dylan Bundy
  • Jose Quintana
  • Griffin Canning
  • Alex Cobb
  • Shohei Ohtani

Ohtani, the sensational two-way player from Japan, may be limited on the mound, again, as injuries caused him to throw just 1.2 innings in 2020. The Angels may not be expecting much from Ohtani, but they could go to a 6-man rotation if he is healthy.

Bullpen

The Angels strengthened their bullpen by trading with Cincinnati for closer Raisel Iglesias, as well as picking up Junior Guerra and Alex Claudio in free agency.

via Angels

They are hoping that these key additions will help stabilize a bullpen that blew an MLB-worst 14 saves in the shortened 2020 season. 

The 2021 Angels bullpen looks to feature:

  • Raisel Iglesias
  • Felix Peña
  • Jaime Barria
  • Mike Mayers
  • Ty Buttrey
  • Junior Guerra
  • Alex Claudio (LHP)

Position Players

On the other side, the Angels return a very powerful lineup, led by two of the top players in baseball: Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.

Albert Pujols will likely play the final season of his Hall-of-Fame career, and the last season of his massive 10-year/$240 million deal with the Angels. However, they have lost Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Minnesota Twins in free agency and their depth and farm system remains thin.

Replacing Simmons is veteran SS Jose Iglesias, acquired in a trade with Baltimore in December. The 31-year-old hit an eye-popping .373/.400/.556 in 2020, albeit in limited action at just 39 games. The Angels also added to their bench with veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki and outfielders John Jay and Juan Legares, while trading for Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler. The 2021 lineup is expected to look like this from manager Joe Maddon:

  • David Fletcher – 2B
  • Jared Walsh – 1B
  • Mike Trout – CF
  • Anthony Rendon – 3B
  • Justin Upton – LF
  • Shohei Ohtani – DH
  • Dexter Fowler – RF
  • Jose Iglesias – SS
  • Max Stassi – C

Bench players and depth pieces include Jo Adell, Taylor Ward, Franklin Barreto, & Luis Rengifo, along with Pujols, Suzuki, Legares, and Jay.

Overall, the Angels may not have made any big splashes over the winter, but in a weakened AL West and a top tandem of Trout and Rendon, who knows? They could stay in contention and become a fringe playoff team, hoping to play meaningful October games for the first time since 2014.


That wraps up our local MLB offseason review, as we look forward to a full 162-game season in 2021. With spring training opening and allowing a limited number of fans in Arizona’s Cactus League stadiums during exhibition season, here’s hoping baseball fans can also sit in Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium for regular season games very soon.