Previewing NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Weekend

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For football fans, their favorite time of the year is here as the National Football League playoffs begin this weekend as it is Wild Card Weekend. With it only being the first round, there’s always a lot of drama and some of the best postseason games have happened in this round. Eight teams enter this weekend, four on byes, and only four will move on to the Divisional Round. This preview will take a look at the matchups for this Wild Card Weekend.

American Football Conference

Buffalo Bills vs Houston Texans

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo came out of nowhere in 2019 and looked like a legit contender to dethrone Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots of their AFC East crown, but they earned a Wild Card berth and are a dangerous team. The Bills defense has been phenomenal all season long and the emergence of their quarterback Josh Allen has helped make their offense productive, especially with his legs, that being said, the offense hasn’t been impressive as there are some huge flaws. This version of Buffalo is building something special that could make them contenders for a while. The Bills will be looking to win their first postseason game since 1995, so there’s a lot at stake here. Buffalo also went 6-2 on the road, so they are used to playing in a hostile environment.

Players to watch out for on offense: quarterback Josh Allen, running back Frank Gore

Players to watch out for on defense: linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, cornerback Tre’Davious White

Houston Texans

The Texans were the class of a weak AFC South Division, but they have the makings to be a dangerous team for a deep playoff run. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has shown to be a very good quarterback and has an offense to work with that is very potent. The one thing Houston has over Buffalo is they have more experience in the postseason, plus Watson usually comes through in the clutch. An important statistic about Watson is that he is 5-0 against teams that have a top five pass defense and the Bills are ranked fourth. The Texans, though, does not have a good defense and that might hurt them even with Buffalo’s offense.

Players to watch out for on offense: quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Players to watch out for on defense: defensive end J.J. Watt, linebacker Whitney Mercilus.

Predictions

James Rowe: Buffalo. This has the makings to be an absolutely great game, but the question here is whether which offense makes the right playcalls. I had always thought these two were dark horses to go deep in the postseason, but of course with this matchup, one of them has to go home. That being said, I personally feel like the Bills have the best opportunity here to move on they seem balanced and have such a stout defense. Oh and Josh Allen has really impressed me, though I do think Deshaun Watson is going to make a huge impact in this contest.

Tennessee Titans vs New England Patriots

Tennessee Titans

The Titans used a late season run to make it to the playoffs from a rejuvenated Ryan Tannehill as his play from quarterback was superb in leading the offense. Don’t underestimate the Tennessee offense, they are really good, plus the run game is excellent. They just have a lot of options on offense. The defense is pretty good too, but the secondary is the weakest part of the defense as they rely mostly on their defensive line in it’s pass rush, though they don’t blitz much. That being said, if you’re looking for a team to upset, the Titans are your team.

Players to watch out for on offense: running back Derrick Henry, wide receiver A.J. Brown

Players to watch out for on defense: safety Kevin Byard, linebacker Rashaan Evans

New England Patriots

How far the mighty have fallen. The Patriots just are not quite the same team as they have been in the past and it really looks like they will have a hard time winning another Super Bowl. New England’s offense has been surprisingly anemic this season. At the beginning of the season, their defense looked like it was going to be one of the best of all time, but then a simple flaw was exposed: they started playing good teams. Sure, the numbers make their defense look good, but those statistics don’t tell the whole story. They have dealt with injuries this season, but even when they were healthy, the Patriots have struggled despite a 12-4 record. Had they gotten that Bye, it would have benefitted all their players dealing with injuries. That being said, all the negativity about New England, there’s a reason why they are in the playoffs: because they know how to win. With Tom Brady under center and a genius head coach in Bill Belichick, they just know how to beat you and how to win games in the playoffs.

Players to watch out for on offense: running back James White, wide receiver N’Keal Harry

Players to watch out for on defense: cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Dont’a Hightower

Predictions

James: New England. The last two playoffs I have doubted the Patriots because of their defense, but one thing I learned was to never count them out and well they mostly proved me wrong. While I like Tennessee’s chances and they will probably make this a really close one, New England just knows how to win especially when they are doubted.

 

National Football Conference

Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are back in the playoffs and they have a lot to prove as despite a promising start, a Wild Card berth feels like an underachievement. Minnesota’s offense will be dictated by how quarterback Kirk Cousins does as has not been successful in prime games. Whether that’s an anomaly or not, it’s certainly an ongoing narrative. However, Cousins has a lot to work with as the Vikings offense is very potent. The big question is their defense as it’s not quite the same as it once was as their secondary is dealing with some injuries, though their defensive line will give New Orleans’ offensive line a lot of fits.

Players to watch out for on offense: running back Dalvin Cook, quarterback Kirk Cousins

Players to watch out for on defense: cornerback Xavier Rhodes, safety Andrew Sendejo

New Orleans Saints

The Saints have a huge advantage over Minnesota this time around, they have a great defense especially in their pass rush, something the Vikings have struggled with all year. Expect the Saints to pressure Cousins a lot in this game. Another part of New Orleans game is it’s offense as they can absolutely put a ton of points on the board. They are led by Drew Brees who has still been effective even at the age he is at. You can expect Brees to attack Minnesota’s secondary a lot, but the run game is pretty good for the Saints as well.

Players to watch for on offense: running back Alvin Kamara, wide receiver Michael Thomas

Players to for on defense: defensive end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

Predictions

James: New Orleans. I really want to see the Vikings advance, but the Saints just look too good right now and don’t have nearly as many injury concerns either. I have a feeling this one won’t be close.

Seattle Seahawks vs Philadelphia Eagles

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks were so close to earning a Bye and the NFC West title in the last week of the regular season, but here they are on the road against a woeful Philadelphia team. Seattle has an elite quarterback in Russell Wilson and has some great weapons, but some of his best options are injured. That being said, with what Wilson has worked with has been great to watch. Problem with their offense is the offensive line as they have not been all that good in protecting Wilson. What hurts Seattle is their defense as they are just not as good as they were once heralded for, something the Eagles will try to exploit.

Players to watch out for on offense: wide receiver DK Metcalf, running back Marshawn Lynch

Players to watch out for on defense: linebacker Bobby Wagner, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles won the NFC East by default seemingly and they were one of the most injured teams in the league. That being said, their offense has still been able to produce with their quarterback Carson Wentz red hot of late. Wentz has a lot of weapons at his dispense, so look for him to share the wealth. That being said, while the defense has been good this season, the secondary has taken quite a toll due to injures, something the Seahawks are likely to take advantage over.

Players to watch out for on offense: running back Miles Sanders, tight end Dallas Goedert

Players to watch out for on defense: defensive end Brandon Graham, linebacker Nigel Bradham

Predictions

James: Seattle. Some say this will be a close one, I don’t believe it. The Eagles are so banged up and limped so much into the playoffs, they won’t be able to catch their breath as the Seahawks are a much better team. If this is going to be a good game, Philadelphia’s run game will have to be great and Seattle’s defense will need to force some turnovers. That’s a lot to ask for from both teams.

Shamrock Thoughts: James’ Top 10 Sports Moments Of The Decade

The 2010s was an interesting decade for me as I watched many highs and lows. Many of my teams had their success, while some had their failures. But with that being said, this will focus on the top sporting moments of the decade that I enjoyed.

10. Philip Humber’s Perfect Game

The decade for the White Sox wasn’t too kind to them, but the best moment for the club came in Seattle during the 2012 season. In that game, Philip Humber, a journeyman pitcher, had the best performance of his life as he threw a perfect game. Any time to see a perfect game is great, but when it’s your favorite team involved, it’s even better.

9. USA Women win 2015 World Cup

Look, winning a World Cup is great, but this one meant a whole lot more. The United States is slowly becoming a soccer nation, but this most certainly helped increase the interest and exuberated some national pride and showing national pride for any country is great especially when it’s sports related. These ladies showed how good the United States could be at the sport if the resources were properly used and the interest is there. Also, overcoming a devastating loss in the World Cup final four years earlier, it made it even sweeter.

8. Auburn Defeats Alabama in 2013 Iron Bowl

The best college football game ever. No other game will ever come close to topping that honor. What made it even more special is that it was the Iron Bowl, a rivalry between hated rivals in Auburn and Alabama. Drama unfolded on that field as it came down to a final field goal attempt that was too short and was miraculously caught for a touchdown to send Auburn to the SEC Championship. If you ever want to see what I mean, checkout the highlights. And if there was a “most exciting sports games of the 2010s” from my standpoint, it might top very high on the list.

7. Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup Run

2010 and 2015 were fun to watch, but 2013 was simply incredible. After breaking so many records in the strike shortened regular season, they came into the playoffs looking to win their second Stanley Cup in four years. However, the Blackhawks’ season nearly ended quickly as they fell into a 3-1 series deficit to their arch rival Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semi-finals. The Blackhawks rallied to win three straight including a dramatic series clinching overtime goal from Brent Seabrook in Game Seven to send them to the Western Conference Final where they easily handled the defending champions Los Angeles Kings in five games. Then, in a grueling six games against the Boston Bruins, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup including stealing Game Six from the Bruins as they scored two goals in 17 seconds to take the lead and ultimately the Cup.

6. UNC Wins 2017 National Championship

The year before, the Tar Heels lost to Villanova in the National Championship game on a last second shot and having their hearts broken. 2017 was a different story as the team managed to come all the way back to the National Championship game, not to be denied, and won. It wasn’t an easy road as they faced some pretty good teams along the way, but the most memorable game was the Elite Eight match against University of Kentucky where a basket in the waning seconds from Luke Maye earned them a spot in the Final Four.

5. Landon Donovan’s Goal Heard Around The World

The moment that not only got me back into the game, but also turned the tide of Americans’ feelings towards soccer. The rise of the sport in this country is because of one unbelievable moment during the 2010 World Cup. USA and Landon Donovan were struggling against Algeria in their final match of their group and despite all the positivity of the play from USA during the World Cup to that, it looked like they would not advance to the knockout stage. Then, with added time, Landon Donovan scored a dramatic goal that essentially sealed the deal and sent the United States to the knockout stage as well as winning their first group in World Cup history. Oh, and of course making Americans fans of the sport.

4. Ireland wins 2018 Six Nations and Grand Slam

This was a really great achievement for Irish rugby, but it also showed how great of a rugby nation they are and how the Irish could become a World Cup champion very soon with a slew of talented players. As an Irish-American, these lads made me proud in 2018 as they played some clinical rugby by dominating the competition earning the Grand Slam. While the win over New Zealand during the Fall tests was great, this was better.

3. Redskins clinch 2012 NFC East Crown

It’s not easy being a Redskins fan, but this was a very special season. The Redskins had not won a division title since 1999 and started 3-6 in 2012, but they rattled off seven straight wins including a season finale for the NFC East title against their arch rival Dallas Cowboys. How can that not be any better? Sure, Robert Griffin III turned out to be a bust and 2015 was an awesome year, but all those factors mentioned plus all the memorable moments that season, yeah, it deserves to be in this list.

2. Capitals win 2018 Stanley Cup

This came at number two and would have came at number one for a huge reason, but another one came at number one for me for better reasons. For the first time in the 28 years of my life up to that point (I’m now 29) I finally saw a team from my hometown win a major championship. That season, the Capitals overcame their arch rivals and postseason demons in the Pittsburgh Penguins and defeated the cinderella story of the Vegas Golden Knights in the Final to win their first ever Stanley Cup championship, the city’s first major championship since 1991, and all those postseason failures the team, as well as the other franchise’s from the Nation’s Capital, endured now seemed like a distant memory. It was a moment I would never forget.

1. Nationals win 2019 World Series

While the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup was amazing and has a special place in my heart, the Nationals winning the 2019 World Series was my top moment of the decade. Maybe it’s more because I am more of a baseball fan than of hockey, but this was incredible for me. While the Chicago White Sox are my favorite team, the Nationals are my National League side and I had become a pretty big fan of them after they had came to D.C. back in 2005. What makes this moment even more special was that the Nationals started 19-31 to start the season, making their chances at the playoffs very slim and then the team went on a tear to not only earn a Wild Card spot, but also going all the way en route to winning the franchise’s first championship. All of their postseason failures this decade were put to rest. Oh, and they won D.C.’s first World Series since 1924! Yeah, that’s a pretty good reason for why it’s my number one moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previewing 2019 College Football Playoffs: Semifinals

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With the regular season at its end and many bowl games happening, the mecca of college football is the playoffs as four teams will have a chance for the right for the national championship. This might be one of the most evenly matched playoffs as each of the four schools could realistically win the whole thing. Let’s take a look at the matchups for the semifinals.

LSU vs Oklahoma

LSU

LSU has been absolute class all year long and it’s evidenced by how their Heisman winning quarterback Joe Burrows has played all year long. It helps that Burrows has a great receiving corp, but the running game for the Tigers has been great too. The defense has been exceptional as they will try to limit the damage of an opposing offense’s strongest aspect of their game and try to make you beat them at your weakest aspect. There’s a reason why they are ranked number one in the nation.

Oklahoma

While Jalen Hurts isn’t quite Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray, he’s been a lethal weapon for the Oklahoma offense. Overall, their offense is pretty balanced, but their running game is the best part of their team, which in part helps open up the passing game. The defense on the other hand is much better than it was the last two seasons, especially in the secondary. Oklahoma looks like a more legit threat this year than in 2017 or 18.

Predictions

James Rowe: LSU. I actually think this will be a tight one, which favors Oklahoma, but LSU plays in a much more competitive conference and having lethal offensive weapons like they do is going to be the difference. The Tigers are going to have to put a stranglehold on the Sooners’ running game if they want to win.

Ohio State vs Clemson

Ohio State

Ohio State had an awesome year after coming in with some question marks. Quarterback Justin Fields has filled in greatly after replacing Dwayne Haskins, but their offense is legit with the likes of Chris Olave and JK Dobbins being playmakers. The defense is a different story, their defense is incredible as they are lock down solid with such great players like Chase Young and Jeffrey Okudah there. The Buckeyes have a serious shot at winning the National Title.

Clemson

It wasn’t a shock to see the Tigers in the playoffs, but there’s a reason why they are here once again. The offense is just simply awesome being led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence as he has stud weapons like Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins. If fans think Ohio State’s defense is great, then Clemson’s is being overlooked as that has been their strength the last few seasons. The defense is anchored by Isaiah Simmons and Tanner Muse as they dominated this season.

Predictions

James: Ohio State. This has the makings of being one of the best college football games of not only the decade, but in history. The two are evenly matched and it could go either way. That being said, Clemson’s defense hasn’t had to face an offense of the caliber of Ohio State’s yet and the Buckeyes have played in a more competitive conference this season.

Previewing 2019 Rugby World Cup Final: South Africa Vs England

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South Africa vs England

Here we are, the biggest rugby match for the next four years and this should be a great one. South Africa and England meet up in what is expected to be a dramatic game as these two heavy weights clash. England put up a great match against New Zealand as Eddie Jones put together a great game plan. South Africa defeated a very good Wales side as their punishing attack proved to be too much and helped them win by a small margin. England has a very good defense, but South Africa has a punishing attack as they use their physicality to win matches.

Predictions

James Rowe: South Africa. Sure, some are saying that England is the favorite, but this game probably will come down to the scrummaging, which South Africa has the edge on. It should be a fun one to watch.

Previewing 2019 Rugby World Cup Semi-Finals

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New Zealand vs England

This is expected to be a fantastic match as England has a strong side and with New Zealand who always is favored to win. New Zealand is coming into this match riding high after dismantling Ireland, but England made Australia look silly in their quarterfinals matchup. England is trying to make the case that the Northern Hemisphere has caught up with the Southern Hemisphere. This will be fun to watch.

Predictions

James Rowe: England. New Zealand is always favored, but the last couple of years they haven’t looked like the dominant team that they should be and with England looking really strong, I can see the All Blacks floundering here.

 

South Africa vs Wales

This will be an interesting matchup as South Africa is looking strong and Wales is getting back into their dominant form from earlier in the year. Wales has a strong defense and South Africa has been scoring lots of points this World Cup. Wales did manage to come back and beat France in the quarterfinals while South Africa made it look easy against Japan. Wales will be without Josh Navidi, which could be a huge blow to them.

Predictions

James: South Africa. The Springboks are on fire of late and Wales lost a key player for the match. Also, I’m not convinced that the Welsh are playing any great rugby form.

Previewing 2019 World Series: Washington Nationals Vs Houston Astros

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Finally, the mecca for all baseball fans is here: the World Series. The Fall Classic has provided some of the most memorable baseball moments and this edition looks to be gearing up for a dramatic one. The Washington Nationals will represent the National League while the Houston Astros will represent the American League. Let’s take a look at each team.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals were left for dead back in May when they were 19-31 and most people wrote them off. From that point on they kept winning games and were one of the hottest teams in baseball as Washington went 74-38 to make the postseason. In the National League Wild Card game, the Nationals took on the Milwaukee Brewers, but were floundering as they could only muster one run through seven innings. Then in the eighth, against a stud pitcher in Josh Hader, Washington rallied and took a one run lead they would not relinquish and advanced to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers had been the best team in the National League all season and many expected them to go to their third straight World Series, but the Nationals had other plans as they battled Los Angeles to five games and won on a game winning extra inning grand slam from Howie Kendrick to advance to the National League Championship Series to face the St. Louis Cardinals. In the NLCS, Washington absolutely dominated the Cardinals as they swept them in four games advancing to their first World Series berth in franchise history dating back to when the team was in Montreal and the first time the Fall Classic has been in Washington, D.C. since 1933. They have now exorcised all those postseason demons as all those painful collapses in the playoffs seem like distant memories.

Houston Astros

The Astros looked to be the best team in the league coming into the season especially picking up a great bat in Michael Brantley during the offseason and they lived up to their billing as Houston was dominant all season long. However, the Astros were not satisfied with the roster they had as they wanted to put themselves over the top as the team acquired starting pitcher Zack Greinke to boost their rotation. Houston won it’s division pretty handedly despite a good Oakland side right behind them in the standings. In the Division Series, the Astros took on the Tampa Bay Rays and took a 2-0 lead in the series before being pushed to brink as Tampa Bay tied it at 2-2, but Houston rallied and won the fifth game to advance to the American League Championship Series to take on the New York Yankees. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the series, but the Astros rallied to win games one, two, and three to make things difficult for New York to come back, and despite the Yankees winning game five and tying Houston in the ninth of game six, the Astros won on a walk off home run from Jose Altuve to send his team to their second World Series berth in three years. Now they hope to win their second world championship in franchise history.

How They Matchup

Starting Rotation

This is the most exciting part of this matchup as these two teams have three starting pitchers who could easily be aces on other squads, but here they are vying for a World Series victory for their respective squads. The Nationals have three awesome starting pitchers in Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg, but they also have a pretty good one in Anibal Sanchez who has reinvented himself to be a reliable and masterful pitcher from the fourth spot. The Astros also have some stud pitchers as Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke are lights out, however, when it comes to the fourth spot, there are some questions as they would have to trot out someone like Wade Miley, Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock, or Collin McHugh or would have to go to a bullpen game. If the two teams have to depend on their rotations then Washington has the advantage here, but expect there to be a lot of pitcher’s duels in this series.

The Bullpen

Now this is where things get tricky. While the Nationals had a bad bullpen this season, it really hasn’t hurt them in the postseason thus far, however, outside of Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson, their bullpen hasn’t pitched all that much as manager Davey Martinez has figured out a way to mask that problem by letting some of his guys from the rotation come out of the bullpen. Of their bullpen usage this postseason, 90 percent of when  Martinez called to his bullpen it was either calling on Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Doolittle, Sanchez, or Hudson. Rookie Tanner Rainey, the grizzled 42-year old veteran Fernando Rodney, or someone like Austin Voth, Javy Guerra, or Roenis Elias will need to have to step up if they want to help their team win. Maybe even Jeremy Hellickson, Joe Ross, Hunter Strickland, or Wander Suero will have to come out of the bullpen to help out. The Astros have a very reliable one with arms like Ryan Pressley, Hector Rondon, Joe Smith, and Will Harris have all done a great job and their closer Roberto Osuna is pretty dang good too. It will be interesting to see what Washington does with their bullpen, but Houston’s is not a question mark as they have the advantage here.

Lineup

Both of these teams can slug, but the Nationals rely on both their veterans and young talent to win games. The veterans on this team like Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton, and Kurt Suzuki help lead the team by example, but the young talent is really fun to watch like Juan Soto, a superstar in the making, Victor Robles, and Trea Turner. The Astros are definitely a lot younger, but they are super talented and have a lot of thump. With the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, George Springer, Josh Reddick, and Yordan Alvarez, that is a lineup that is super scary to face no matter who’s rotation is out there. Houston holds an edge here, but Washington is pretty good too.

Bench

Just like their lineup, the Nationals have a lot of veterans there that could be the difference as Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Adams, Gerardo Parra, Brian Dozier, and Yan Gomes all have a lot of mileage on them and Michael A. Taylor is a nice depth player. The Astros will have a platoon at catcher, but having either Martin Maldonado and Robinson Chirinos on the bench for whoever starts is a good thing, and they also have Kyle Tucker, Jake Marisnick and Aledmys Diaz who provide speed, power, and defense. The Nationals might have the edge here.

Rest Or Grind, Will That Matter In The Series?

The problem with the Nationals sweeping the Cardinals is that they have had a long rest and when you are that hot the last thing you want is a day off. That being said, it will be interesting to see whether the Nationals will be rusty or be back on their game in this series. Houston played to a sixth game in their series with the Yankees and in a game where players virtually play every day, the Astros still have their timing and rhythm that they desire. However, will that mean they are tired or they will be at their best? It will be interesting to see who has the advantage there.

Predictions

James Rowe: Astros. As a D.C. native, my heart wants to say the Nationals as it really is awesome to see the hometown team in the biggest stage in baseball, but the head is pressuring me to say Houston as they have been one of the best teams in the sport that I’ve ever seen. That being said, I do think this will be a close one and a lot of fun to watch. Sure, Houston might be heavily favored, but the odds don’t mean anything until the series is over. Also, since at that same point of the season where Washington was 19-31, both teams have been the best teams in baseball with the Nationals at 74-38 and the Astros at 73-37. So, with the two hottest teams in baseball going up against one another, it’s going to be a good one to watch.

Previewing 2019 Rugby World Cup Quarterfinals

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England vs Australia

This is an old time Rugby World Cup rivalry, but lots of history. Australia won it’s first title against England in 1991 as did England in 2003. There’s also some political ramifications behind it, but nonetheless, it’s still a big matchup. The talk about whether the Southern Hemisphere nations and Northern are that much different in competition. England is a very strong side and Australia has been struggling. This could be an interesting matchup.

Predictions

James Rowe: England. Honestly, the English are really freaking strong and are a strong candidate to win the whole tournament. Australia knows how to play in big tournaments, but it won’t help them here.

New Zealand vs Ireland

Here we are, the expected Finals matchup happening in the Quarterfinals. Ireland has had experience beating New Zealand, especially the last time in a thrilling match in Dublin. People have hyped up Ireland as they had a strong 2018 and were ranked number one coming into this competition. The All Blacks are the favorites to win this one, but this could be an epic clash. Ireland was shocked by Japan and didn’t impress against Russia which should have been a much bigger victory. New Zealand looked great, but will the layoff from having not played their last match hurt?

Predictions

James: Ireland. The Irish seem to know how to beat the all mighty All Blacks lately and New Zealand hasn’t been all that much convincing in their play the last few years. This should be a fun one.

Wales vs France

The battle of two Northern Hemisphere teams. This really shouldn’t be a match to talk about too much as France was in a surprisingly easier group than expected and Wales exceeded expectations. The Welsh have had a lot of success in 2019 and a lot of failures, but France is so unpredictable.

Predictions

James: Wales. This shouldn’t be close

Japan vs South Africa

Well this makes for an interesting matchup. Japan has shocked everyone in not only beating Ireland, but also for making it into the quarterfinals. This is a cinderella story for them, but it also reunites South Africa with Japan in a rematch of sorts as Japan upset South Africa in the 2015 World Cup. It will be interesting as to what happens here between the two sides.

Predictions

James: South Africa. The Springboks are a really strong side, I think Japan hit a really lucky stride in their competition. But it’s exciting to see them become as good as they are now.

Previewing 2019 American League Championship Series

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The two teams in this series are the two best in the American League as the Houston Astros and New York Yankees will square off in this American League Championship Series. These two are heavyweights and arguably the favorites to win the World Series. This is the second time the two teams have battled in the ALCS as Houston won in 2017. This is expected to go seven games. But let’s take a look at the matchup.

The starting pitching

The Yankees have a very good pitching staff with the likes of Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka leading the way. That being said, the Astros have an outstanding one as they have three legitimate aces leading the way with Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke. New York will have to match zeroes with Houston if they want to stay in this series. Expect a lot of pitcher’s duels in this clash.

The bullpens

The Astros have a pretty good bullpen with Will Harris, Roberto Osuna, and Joe Smith in there, but the Yankees have an outstanding one with Adam Ottavino, Aroldis Chapman, and Chad Green in there. If these become a battle of bullpens then New York has the advantage here and this might be a key area for the series.

The offense

These two teams can absolutely slug the ball, but the Yankees hold the advantage in the home run category because as a team they slugged 306 during the season. However, with having to play two less games than the Astros, will the New York offense keep up? Houston’s offense has been awesome as well, but will they struggle against a stout Yankees pitching staff? This will be an interesting part of the matchup that will be interesting to watch.

Who’s hotter?

This one is a hard question to ask as both teams have been playing great all year long. However, the question is who is more in baseball shape as the Yankees have had a bit of a layoff and Houston has played more games this postseason. It may or may not factor into the outcome of this series, but it may play a role.

Predictions

James Rowe: Astros. I just think the Astros have the best team in baseball and it will be hard for any team to beat them. The Yankees are a worthy challenge, but Houston has more horses to take pennant.

Previewing 2019 National League Championship Series

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This will be an interesting National League Championship Series as these two teams were not supposed to be here, but yet, they defied the odds and advanced in this postseason. The Washington Nationals finally was able to shed their “choker” label as they upset the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals stunned the Atlanta Braves by coming back from the brink of elimination in Game Four and then put up 10 runs in the first inning of Game Five. The two sides in this series will meet for the second time in the postseason and fans on both sides remember the roller coaster end of that one in 2012. Let’s take a look at some things to pay attention to in this series.

The bullpen

The Nationals used a brilliant strategy in their series with the Dodgers to use starting pitchers Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg to come in from the bullpen to hold the Los Angeles offense at bay, but the problem was that it was the only way Washington’s Davey Martinez didn’t have to use his awful bullpen arms only masking the problem. It’s a strategy that won’t be able to last in a seven game series unless it’s a clean sweep. St. Louis, though, has a very good bullpen and that could be the key in this series if they want to continue on. The question becomes if it’s a bullpen game, how will the Nationals keep up?

The starting pitching

The Cardinals have a lot of questions about their rotation as outside of Jack Flaherty, the starters were not very good in 2019. Adam Wainwright looked good in the the Division Series, but can he keep it up? The Nationals on the other hand have arguably one of the best rotations in the league as three of their best starters are essentially aces. If most teams have a hard time matching Washington’s rotation, how will a struggling one in the Cardinals match up?

Offense

These two teams can slug, but the Nationals’ offense was held somewhat at bay against a very good Dodgers pitching staff and with a struggling rotation in the Cardinals, they could explode. St. Louis pitching also struggled against left handed batters this season, something the Nationals have a lot of, so that might be key for Washington. The Cardinals on the other hand put up a lot runs against a very good Atlanta Braves pitching staff, but they face a better one in the Nationals and the question becomes, will they be able to hit well against them?

Who’s hotter?

Both teams are hot, but the question will be who’s hotter. They also both played into a fifth game in their respective series, so they have been playing consistent baseball. However, the Nationals played a more grueling fifth game, while the bats for St. Louis gave them an easy victory. It might suggest that Washington has the advantage here.

Predictions

James Rowe: Nationals. I feel like the Nationals have a much better team here and they have grinded it out so much. What will be intriguing is how they use the rotation. This has the makings of a seven game series, so we will see.

Previewing 2019 American League Division Series

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The American League truly brings the bats as they have two teams who hit over 300 home runs going against one another and two pitching rich sides clashing as well as the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees will face off against each other while the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays square off. This has the makings of a great first round and all these teams can absolutely win the pennant. Let’s take a look at each matchup.

Tampa Bay Rays vs Houston Astros

This will be the first time the Rays and the Astros meet in the playoffs, but despite the Astros being a dominant side, the Rays should be a worthy opponent. The pitching matchup well for both teams and while the Astros have a very good offense, the Rays can also put up some runs when least expected. On paper, this shouldn’t be close, but this could be one of the better series in playoff history.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays absolutely dominated the Athletics on Wednesday in the AL Wild Card Game to advance to the Division Series. Their opponent is a tough one, but the Rays have surprised everyone this year and could possibly pull off an upset. Their pitching staff should match up very well and while their offense isn’t as fierce as Houston’s, it’s still pretty consistent. Watch out for what they might do.

Houston Astros

The Astros are the favorites to win the pennant this year and for good reasons as they have essentially what is the perfect team. They have a very strong offense, excellent defense, a shut down bullpen, and a very stout starting rotation. The rotation has such great pitchers as Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke, but their offense packs quite a punch especially with such bats as Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Alex Bregman are on the team. These guys are scary good.

Notes: Tampa Bay won the season series 4-3.

Predictions

James Rowe: Astros. They are too good to write off as their pitching is so good and their hitting is incredible. Sure, the Rays are a worthy challenger, but they aren’t going to be able to hold up against a very good Houston team.

Minnesota Twins vs New York Yankees

The Twins and Yankees meet up once again in the playoffs as New York has won every single time they’ve met up and Minnesota will try to change that narrative. Both teams can slug it as they each hit well over 300 home runs and there is going to be lots of offense in this series. It will all come down to which pitching staff will limit each other’s damage.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins can absolutely crush the ball as they hit 307 home runs as a collective group. They are going to hit a lot of home runs in this postseason too, so the Yankees are going to want to limit the damage as much as possible. The Twins offense has such great power hitters in Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Mitch Garver. Their bullpen is very good, but the question will be their rotation. Despite having a very good Jose Berrios and solid Jake Odorizzi, the rotation is shaky at best. They will look to exorcise their playoff demons against the Yankees as every time they have faced off against New York in the postseason, the Bronx Bombers have won.

New York Yankees

The Yankees on paper going into the season looked like the favorites to win the World Series, but then injuries amounted so much that there was even a full 25-man roster on their injured list. While that seemed like it should have hurt them, the Yankees continued to win and showed how deep they were as they won over 100 games. New York also hit over 300 home runs as they can slug the ball. What their most underrated parts of their team is the pitching as the bullpen is stout and the rotation is solid. The offense has such sluggers as Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez as well as the great hitter of DJ LeMahieu. The pitching is so great as James Paxton and Luis Severino lead their rotation and Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman lead a shutdown bullpen. The Yankees could go deep and even win the World Series.

Notes: Yankees won the season series 4-2

Predictions

James: Yankees. Sure, so much offense will happen in this series, but I’m not convinced that the Twins are a playoff caliber side as they played in a very weak division and the pitching is suspect. Oh, and the Yankees have so much freaking talent.