2015 NFC South Projections

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X-Carolina Panthers 10-6

Generally when teams in the National Football League finish the season with a record of 7-8-1, it symbolizes that you were close to being a playoff team, but you were too inconsistent. That was the record of the Carolina Panthers last season which was actually good enough for them to win the NFC South. And as inconsistent as the Panthers were in 2014, they have the potential to be much more dynamic in 2015.

Cam Newton

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera have done a good job in building around quarterback Cam Newton as they look to win the NFC South for an unprecedented third consecutive year. Newton was only 5-8-1 as the Panthers starting quarterback last season, but he was rewarded by the Panthers as they signed him to a five-year, $103.8 million extension this off-season. Newton threw 18 interceptions last season and his completion percentage was 58.5, but the Panthers believe in him as far as being the quarterback that can get them to the Super Bowl.

Around Newton, the Panthers have big options for him in the passing game. Tight end Greg Olsen is 6’5″ and rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess is 6’4″ as people may confuse them for the Charlotte Hornets. And the size and pass catching ability of Olsen and Funchess will somehow be able to offset the loss of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin who tore his ACL in training camp.

But regardless who the coach of the Panthers is, their bread and butter has always been their rushing attack. The Panthers were seventh in rushing in the NFL last season and this year running back Jonathan Stewart is expected to get the bulk of the work after Carolina parted with longtime running back DeAngelo Williams. Stewart is entering his eighth season in the NFL, but he has only had one season where he carried the football at least 200 times. And just in case that Stewart is unable to be the feature back for the Panthers, the team did draft running back Cameron Artis-Payne who will give them an element of speed.

Under Rivera, the Panthers know how to wreak havoc on defense as they finished last season ranked tenth overall in total defense which is due to the fact that they can get after teams at every level. Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei plugs up holes on the defensive line which makes the job of inside linebacker Luke Kuechly that much easier. In just three seasons in the National Football League, Kuechly has already been named as the Defensive Rookie of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year as he tackles anything that moves. In the off-season, the Panthers did sign longtime Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman. Tillman is 34-years of age and he can be a teacher in the Panthers secondary as he has perfected the art of stripping the football from opponents.

The Panthers first four games of 2015 will not see them face a team that made that playoffs last year, but two of those games will be within the NFC South as they’ll take on the New Orleans Saints which will be followed by a road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After the Panthers bye week in Week 5, they will travel to take on the Seattle Seahawks as these two clubs have engaged in some physical battles recently and this year’s meeting could have an impact on playoff seeding in the NFC. The Panthers are built to win the NFC South, but the loss of Benjamin could prevent them from making a deep run in the postseason.

Atlanta Falcons 8-8

No head coach in the history of the Atlanta Falcons has won more games the Mike Smith, but the bottom fell out for him in 2015. Smith was 66-46 in seven seasons as the head coach of the Falcons including a trip to the NFC Championship Game in 2012. But in Smith’s last two seasons in Atlanta, the team was 10-22 which led Falcons owner Arthur Blank to fire him. Smith has been replaced by former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn who will look to inject some of that Seahawks swagger into the Falcons.

Matt Ryan

Quinn won’t be starting from scratch in Atlanta as he has a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback in Matt Ryan. Ryan has passed for more than 4,000 yards in each of the last four seasons as he is now the franchise’s all-time passing leader. The Falcons had the fifth ranked passing offense in the National Football League last season and along the way there was a changing of the guards. Injuries limited wide receiver Roddy White last season which saw Julio Jones emerge in the Falcons offense. Jones had 104 receptions and set a Falcons franchise single-season record with 1,593 receiving yards. Jones is beginning to show the talent that made the Falcons trade up twenty spots in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft to select him. White is 33-years of age and coming off of knee problems that hindered him in 2014, but he can still be effective in the Falcons offense.

Ryan was sacked 31 times in 2014 and it will be the job of the Falcons offensive line led by left tackle Jake Matthews to prevent the franchise quarterback from being on his back while looking up at the lights in the Georgia Dome as much as possible.

The Falcons have lacked a strong running game in recent years and the young legs of second-year running back Devonta Freeman and rookie running back Tevin Coleman are going to be needed in order to balance out Atlanta’s offense.

However Quinn will have to start from scratch with the Falcons defensively as they finished last in the National Football League last season in total defense. The Falcons only totaled 22 quarterback sacks last season and that isn’t going to get it done in a division that has Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Dan Quinn

Quinn is attempting to change the culture in the Falcons locker room and it will take some time. The early part of the Falcons schedule does have an NFC East theme as they’ll begin the season against the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Dallas Cowboys. The Falcons won’t have their first divisional game until Week 6 when they travel to take on the Saints as they look to become a playoff contender in 2015.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-10

A 2-14 record in 2014 earned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the first overall pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft. The Buccaneers made no secret about the fact that they wanted Jameis Winston to be their next starting quarterback and they used the first overall pick of the draft on him this past spring.

Jameis Winston

In two years as the starting quarterback at Florida State University, Winston posted a record of 26-1 to go along with leading the school to a national championship and winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy. Winston has all of the physical tools necessary to be a good professional quarterback, but the Bucs will have to tread with him caution due to the fact that he has had several off-the-field issues while he was in college. But as long as Winston comes in prepared to play, he can have immediate success in the Bucs offense. Last year Tampa Bay had two wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans who both had over 1,000 yards receiving. Jackson and Evans are each 6’5″ and they provide match-up nightmares for opposing defensive backs; especially in the red zone.

But the Bucs must get more out of their running game that was 29th in the National Football League last season and their leading rusher was Doug Martin with just 494 yards. And if Tampa Bay is unable to run the football more efficient in 2015, it will mean that too much pressure will be placed on the right arm of Winston this year.

Surprisingly the Buccaneers were 25th in the NFL last year in total defense under head coach Lovie Smith. Smith is a defensive guru when it comes to coaching the “Cover 2″, but he needs players that are going to step up and make plays in his system.

The Bucs first test of the season will come in Week 4 when they host the Carolina Panthers who are the defending NFC South Champions and a victory there could give Tampa Bay the confidence they need to contend for a playoff berth in 2015.

New Orleans Saints 5-11

The New Orleans Saints are coming off of their second losing campaign in the past three seasons and what they are currently cooking up down on the Bayou isn’t going to get them any closer to turning things around. Ever since quarterback Drew Brees signed his $100 million contract extension with the Saints in 2012, the team around him hasn’t been that good which is evident in their record. Brees is coming off of his ninth consecutive season in which he passed for at least 4,000 yards and he also led the National Football League in pass attempts with 659. But as good as Brees is, one man cannot do it by himself in the NFL.

Brees’ security blanket with the Saints the past four years has been tight end Jimmy Graham. But like Brees, Graham wanted more money and with New Orleans unwilling to give him the long-term financial security that he was seeking, he was traded this off-season to the Seattle Seahawks which leaves a huge void in the offense for New Orleans.

Rob Ryan is set to enter his third year as Saints defensive coordinator, but he still hasn’t been able to find the impact players that are necessary for his 3-4 defensive scheme to flourish.

The magic appears to be running out for Saints head coach Sean Payton and Brees in New Orleans as this team is nowhere near ready to compete for another Super Bowl Championship.

X-Clinched Division

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2015 AFC West Projections

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X-Denver Broncos 12-4

Peyton Manning

With quarterback Peyton Manning on board, the expectation level for the Denver Broncos has increased. Manning has been the Broncos starting quarterback for the past three seasons which has led to an AFC West Title in each year. But the Broncos are more concerned with with winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the third time in franchise history. John Fox was the Broncos head coach in each of the last four seasons and each year there he took Denver to the playoffs. But Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway wants a championship and he felt like Denver was not going to win one on Fox’s watch which resulted in his departure.

Gary Kubiak

Elway fired Fox and he has replaced him with former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak who was also his former Broncos teammate. And Kubiak’s job with the Broncos is rather simple; get to the Super Bowl and win it. But Kubiak must find a way to keep Manning healthy. Manning is 39-years of age and the injuries are beginning to catch up with him and thus it is difficult for the Broncos to expect him to carry the team like he has done in the past.

Late last season running back C.J. Anderson emerged as a viable option for the Broncos coming out of the backfield and he should become the feature back in Denver this season. While Kubiak was the head coach of the Texans, his team’s were typically one of the better rushing squads in the National Football League which will benefit Manning as the Broncos need to keep his arm fresh coming down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs when the temperature drops in Denver. The Broncos won’t have the services of offensive tackle Ryan Clady for the upcoming season as he suffered a torn ACL in the off-season which will put more pressure on rookie offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo to protect the blind side of the veteran Manning.

After failing to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, the Broncos placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl wide receiver DeMaryius Thomas who has been Manning’s best option in the passing game over the last few seasons and they will need that to be the case once again in 2015. The Broncos elected to allow tight end Julius Thomas leave in free agency as he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But the Broncos didn’t waste anytime finding Thomas’ replacement as they signed veteran tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels is entering his tenth year in the National Football League and he is someone that is really familiar with Kubiak’s offensive system as they spent eight years together with the Texans.

Von Miller

Kubiak is switching the Broncos base defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Denver has the potential to have a good year defensively. The 3-4 defense is predicated by the ability of the linebackers to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the Broncos have the personnel that can rush the passer. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has been one of the best pass rushers of this era as only 13 players have more sacks than him in NFL history since the sack was made an official stat in 1982. Outside linebacker Von Miller has only played four seasons in the NFL, but already he has 49 career sacks, and his numbers should continue to rise in Phillips’ defense. The Broncos drafted outside linebacker Shane Ray in the first round of the 2015 National Football League Draft and he should be a candidate to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year this season due to the fact that he will have plenty of opportunities to sack the quarterback from the attention that Ware and Miller will receive.

The Broncos have three tough games to begin the season as they will host the Baltimore Ravens before they travel to meet the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions, but at the end of the day they should still be the team to beat in the AFC West.

Y-San Diego Chargers 10-6

The last two seasons for the San Diego Chargers have produced 9-7 records. But unlike 2013, the Chargers had to watch the playoffs from home this past January. This off-season has been a turbulent one for the Chargers as the rumors have been rampant in regards to them possibly leaving San Diego in favor of Los Angeles if they are unable to get a new stadium. And leading up the 2015 National Football League Draft, there were also rumors that the Chargers were looking to shop quarterback Philip Rivers. As of right now, the Chargers appear to be staying in San Diego while cooler heads have prevailed in regards to the front office in San Diego as far as their stance on Rivers.

Mike McCoy

In two seasons under Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, Rivers has enjoyed career-highs in his completion percentage as he has been close to completing 70 percent of his passes. But Rivers did throw 18 interceptions last season which was part of the reason why the Chargers were unable to reach the postseason. The Chargers do possess one of the best passing attacks in the NFL as they have match-up nightmares across the board for their opponents which was evident by the fact that they possessed the tenth best passing offense in the league last season. Wide receiver Keenan Allen is set to embark on his third season in the NFL and at 6’2″, he has that rare blend of size and speed. It might not seem like it, but wide receiver Malcom Floyd is entering his 12 season with the Chargers and in that time he has become one of Rivers’ most dependable targets. But tight end Antonio Gates is still the main go-to-guy for Rivers. Gates is 35-years of age, and he may not have world class speed, but he continues to be a tremendous route runner while he knows how to use his 12 years of experience in the NFL to his benefit. Gates will miss the first four games of the upcoming season as he will serve a suspension that was handed down by the National Football League for a failed drug test.

As good as the Chargers passing offense has been for them recently, the same cannot be said about their rushing attack that was 30th in the National Football League last season. Once the Chargers parted ways with running back LaDanian Tomlinson in 2009, they drafted running back Ryan Matthews who never lived up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him. And after five injury plagued seasons, the Chargers have decided to move on from Matthews who is now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chargers did use their first round pick this past spring on running back Melvin Gordon who could be the home run hitter coming out of their backfield that they’ve lacked for a few seasons. Gordon is as fast as they come and he will be tough to defend in open space; especially on screen passes.

On the Chargers offensive line, they have a pair of bookend offensive tackles in King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker who will lead a unit that should more than hold their own as far as being able to keep Rivers’ uniform clean this season.

Manti Te’o

The Chargers were ninth in the National Football League last season in total defense as they possess a very underrated core of linebackers. Outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu have an excellent presence as edge rushers while inside linebackers Manti Te’o and Donald Butler possess good instincts as far as reading plays along with being sure tacklers.

As long as the Chargers are able to maintain balance on both sides of the football along with playing with a sense of urgency, they’ll find themselves in the mix in the AFC West. Four of the Chargers last five games of the regular season will be against their rivals from the AFC West including two meetings with the Denver Broncos who have won the division in each of the last four years as San Diego looks to win their first division title since 2009.

Kansas City Chiefs 9-7

After a surprise trip to the postseason in 2013, the Kansas City Chiefs barely missed out on the playoffs last year. And Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is hopeful that this year will mark the first time since 1997 that Kansas City will have three consecutive winning seasons. But that won’t be easy.

Jamaal Charles

Last season the Chiefs were 25th in the National Football League in total offense as everything that they do relies on running back Jamaal Charles. Four of the last five seasons have seen Charles carry the football at least 200 times and at some point it will begin to take its toll on him. The Chiefs passing attack last year was putrid at best as they went the entire season without having a wide receiver record a receiving touchdown which is unfathomable in the current pass happy NFL.

This off-season Reid brought a familiar face to Kansas City in wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. When Reid was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, he used a first round pick on Maclin in 2009. In six years with the Eagles, Maclin had 36 receiving touchdowns while he was ninth in the NFL last season in receiving yards with 1,318 which is a breath of fresh air to the Chiefs as their top wide receiver in 2014 (Dwayne Bowe) had just 754 yards. And the icing on the cake for the Chiefs signing Maclin is that he is a native of Missouri. Maclin was born in Chesterfield, Missouri while he played his college football at the University of Missouri. Maclin will more than likely become the new best friend of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith who threw just 18 touchdown passes last season. And overall, Smith doesn’t have a reputation as far as being as big passer which means that you can expect short passes to Maclin and Charles as they’ll be called upon to create yards after the catch.

Defensively the Chiefs were seventh in the National Football League last season in total defense and this unit has the ability to keep this team in playoff contention this year. Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has plenty of beef on the defensive line in the form of Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard. The presence of Poe at nose tackle allows inside linebacker Derrick Johnson to roam free while the Chiefs possess a trio of quality edge rushers in outside linebackers, Tamba Hali, Dee Ford, and Justin Houston.

Eric Berry

Last year strong safety Eric Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Berry underwent cancer treatment and last month it was announced that he is cancer free which is not only an inspiration for the people around him, but for all of us. And to top it all off, Berry is one of the best safeties around as he is a three-time Pro Bowl selection since coming to the National Football League in 2010. The Chiefs have depth behind Berry as they signed former Oakland Raiders Tyvon Branch while free safety Husain Abdullah has good coverage skills. The Chiefs drafted cornerback Steven Nelson in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Nelson could have gone in the draft earlier as he possesses tremendous ball skills which will be tested in a division that has Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.

The schedule makers in the NFL didn’t do the Chiefs any favors as three of their first four games of the upcoming season are against teams that made the playoffs last year and they’ll be fighting an uphill battle all season long in the AFC.

Oakland Raiders 4-12

The once proud Oakland Raiders have now become a joke in the National Football League. At one point the Raiders lived by the moniker of “Commitment to Excellence”, but they have failed to post a winning season since 2002. And in that time the Raiders have gone through nine different head coaches with none of them lasting three seasons. The Raiders have also seen their fair share of early misses at the NFL Draft which has led to the extended period of futility. And to make matters worse for the Raiders, they are not sure where they’ll be playing football soon as Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Antonio are all vying for the the silver and black to call their city home.

Jack Del Rio

It’s the same old song for the Raiders as they will begin this season with a new head coach. Jack Del Rio spent 11 seasons in the NFL as a linebacker along with nine years as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars where he compiled a record of 68-71. Del Rio will bring accountability to the Raiders, but will he be able to do what so many head coaches before him have failed to do which is to win in Oakland?

Del Rio and the Raiders have a solid young quarterback to build around in Derek Carr. As a rookie in 2014, Carr passed for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Carr has a very solid and accurate arm, but if he played for a better team, he would have the potential to be a household name. The Raiders do view Carr as their franchise quarterback which is why they’ve put some emphasis into building a team around him.

Amari Cooper

The Raiders used their first-round pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft on wide receiver Amari Cooper and it will be imperative for he and Carr to develop some chemistry. The Raiders must also find a way to develop some production out of their running game. The Raiders were last in the NFL last season in rushing and they have not had a running back gain 1,000 yards or more in a season since Darren McFadden in 2010. McFadden left the Raiders this off-season to join the Dallas Cowboys and it could a running-back-by-committee this season for Oakland that will feature George Atkinson III, Michael Dyer, and Latavius Murray.

The glory days of the Raiders organization saw them have a ton of continuity on their offensive line which is no longer the case as it has been a revolving at each position on the line. In time, Del Rio will build up the offensive line, but this year’s unit lacks talent.

In 2014, the Raiders were 21st in the National Football League in total defense as they allowed eight opponents to score at least 30 points against them. The Raiders do have a building block in outside linebacker Khalil Mack, but one man cannot do it all by himself.

The Raiders might not win that many games in 2015, but under Del Rio, they won’t be an easy out, and they should improve as the season goes along as he must change the losing culture in the locker room.

X-Clinched Division

Y-Clinched Wild Card

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A Fallen Star

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There was a time when shortstop Jose Reyes was one of the brightest stars that Major League Baseball had to offer. Reyes made his MLB debut with the New York Mets in 2004 and his speed made him an enigmatic player at the top of their lineup for several years. Reyes helped the Mets win the National League East in 2006 and he also became a regular at the MLB All-Star Game. As Reyes was set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2011 MLB season, he became the first Mets player that year to lead the NL in batting as he hit .337. And at the time that Reyes hit free agency, the Mets were a cash strapped organization and it only took $100 million from the Miami Marlins for six years to see him leave New York.

As Reyes was set to join the Marlins in 2012, he was a key piece of what the team in Miami was hoping would be a quick turnaround. But that wasn’t the case for the Marlins who finished in last place in the National League East that year as they only won 69 games. After the season, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria decided to have one of his infamous “fire sales” which saw Reyes traded to the Toronto Blue Jays after just one year in Miami. Reyes continued to put up solid numbers for the Blue Jays, but injuries have always hampered his career. And when the Jays saw an opening to improve their team this year, they jumped on it.

On July 27, Reyes was traded to the Colorado Rockies in a deal that saw the Blue Jays acquire shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. While Reyes was with the Mets, Tulowitzki was the youngster who appeared ready to overtake the flashy Reyes as one of the best shortstops in the NL, and now he lost his job to him in Toronto.

Since the trade, the Blue Jays are 24-6 as they now have a deep lineup that is full of power hitters while with the Rockies, Reyes finds himself in an all too familiar spot.

Reyes has only been a part of one playoff team and he’ll once again be watching the playoffs from home this October as the Rockies are well on their way to their fifth consecutive losing season. Reyes has already expressed his frustration in Denver as he wants to play for a winner, but barring a miracle, he might as well get accustomed to life in the Rocky Mountains.

When Reyes signed his deal with the Marlins, it was back loaded. After this year, Reyes is still owed $44 million over the next two years with a $22 million team option for 2018. And whereas Reyes appears to be a player with diminishing overall skills, it will be very tough for a contending team to take a chance on him and his contract.

When Reyes left the Mets, the team was a franchise that appeared to be stuck in the Bermuda Triangle, but in 2015 they are now the team to beat in the National League East. And Reyes has also made it known that he would not mind a return to New York, but that is easier said than done due to his contract. Reyes didn’t want to leave the Mets as he loved the Big Apple which is evident by the fact that he still owns a home in Long Island, but baseball is a business and he had to do what was best for him and his family; especially since the Mets did not offer him a contract in 2011. But there aren’t that many teams that Reyes can help as a 32-year old shortstop that is no longer a solid stolen base threat, while also being a struggling hitter, and a defensive liability. And with that it is hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago that Reyes was one of baseball’s brightest stars and he was considered as one the players that could have been mentioned as the best in Mets franchise history. But that is the way that the cookie crumbles for some folks around Major League Baseball.

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2015 NFC West Projections

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X-Seattle Seahawks 11-5

So close, yet so far; that is what people will be thinking about when they see the Seattle Seahawks take the field this season. The Seahawks were mere inches away from winning consecutive Super Bowls this past February and you have to wonder if that will fuel them or weigh them down in 2015?

Marshawn Lynch

The Seahawks possess one of the best rushing attacks in the National Football League and you can expect another heavy dose of it this season. The past five years have seen Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch emerge as one of the most physical runners that the NFL has ever seen. Lynch has been dubbed as “Beastmode” and he’ll once again be vital to any success that Seattle intends on having. Lynch is 29-years of age and you have to wonder if his physical style of play will allow him to continue to be effective in 2015?

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has a career record of 36-12 and even though he threw a costly interception in Seattle’s Super Bowl loss, he is trustworthy with the football as he doesn’t make that many mistakes. 2015 was going to be the final year of Wilson’s rookie deal, but he came to an agreement on a new contract with the Seahawks that will rank him amongst the highest paid quarterbacks in the National Football League.

The Seahawks were 27th in the NFL last season in passing which should improve this year. Over the off-season, the Seahawks acquired tight end Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints. Graham is a tight end by trade, but he is more of a hybrid wide receiver that is so tough to defend, opponents cannot simply have an outside linebacker or safety cover him as it sometimes takes a cornerback to be on him and he will be a big time target for Wilson in the red zone this season.

In order to acquire Graham from the Saints, the Seahawks were forced to send longtime center Max Unger to New Orleans who has been an anchor on Seattle’s offensive line. But the Seahawks still have left tackle Russell Okung who is one of the best in the National Football League as far as protecting the quarterback’s blindside; provided that he is healthy.

The best way to describe the Seahawks defense is as the “Wild Bunch”. The Seahawks have 11 alpha-males on defense that take pride in not allowing opposing offenses to score on them while also frustrating quarterbacks.

The Seahawks secondary is known as the “Legion of Boom” as there are three All-Pros back there in cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and free safety Earl Thomas. The Seahawks did lose cornerback Byron Maxwell in free agency as he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, but they’re hopeful that corners Cary Williams and Tharold Simon will be able to offset his departure. During last season’s NFC Championship Game, Sherman suffered an elbow injury while Thomas injured his shoulder and the Seahawks cannot afford to have that linger over into the 2015 NFL season.

But the Seahawks know a thing or two about rushing the passer as well being that outside linebacker Bruce Irvin along with defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett practically live in opponent’s backfields while middle linebacker Bobby Wagner could be the most underrated player at his position in the National Football League.

The beginning of the season will find the Seahawks facing a ton of adversity as their first two games will be on the road where they’ll meet the St. Louis Rams who have not been an easy out for them in recent years which will be followed by a trip to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers whom they defeated in last season’s NFC Championship Game. It won’t be as easy as it was for the Seahawks last season, but they should still be in play to win the NFC West for a third consecutive year.

St. Louis Rams 9-7

Jeff Fisher

In three years under head coach Jeff Fisher, the St. Louis Rams have become one of the most physical teams in the National Football League, but that physicality alone hasn’t been enough to result in a winning campaign and get them to the playoffs. The Rams enter this season stacked with depth at every position except at quarterback which is a huge question mark for them.

Over the off-season, the Rams acquired quarterback Nick Foles from the Philadelphia Eagles. In parts of three seasons in Philadelphia, Foles was able to compile a record of 15-9 as a starting quarterback which was mainly in the quarterback friendly system of Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Foles has also been unable to remain healthy during his brief career which cannot give St. Louis that much optimism.

For the Rams to be effective on offense in 2015, they must lean on their running game. Last season as a rookie, running back Tre Mason gained 765 rushing yards and if he is able to get 250 carries this season, he should be able to get at least 1,000 yards on the ground. The Rams shocked some people at the 2015 NFL Draft when they selected running back Todd Gurley early in the first round. Gurley is a dynamic runner, but he suffered a torn ACL last year while at the University of Georgia. The Rams are hopeful that Gurley will be able to bounce back and in order to team with Mason to give them a tough combination in their backfield.

The Rams do have speed in their passing game with wide receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Kenny Britt. But St. Louis would benefit from leaning on the running game in order to set up the pass between Foles and his receivers.

The Rams also have one of the biggest offensive lines in football and led by guard Greg Robinson, they play with a mean streak.

Chris Long

Defensively the Rams can be a physical bunch, but they must become more disciplined and improve from finishing 17th last season in the National Football League for total defense. Led by defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, the Rams defensive line can put ton of pressure on opposing teams in passing situations. The Rams signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley this off-season and he can be another disruptive force for them on their defensive line. Led by middle linebacker James Lauranitis, the Rams have a very athletic core of linebackers that can play the run as well as the pass. The St. Louis secondary is full of youth and potential, but like everyone other part of that defensive unit, the must play more disciplined football in 2015 if they are going to be a playoff team.

The Rams were the sixth most penalized team in the NFL in 2014 and along with the questions surrounding their future in St. Louis as well as the uncertainty at the quarterback position, it will be difficult for them to make the postseason in 2015, but they will still be a tough out.

Arizona Cardinals 8-8

In 2014, the Arizona Cardinals got off to a hot start with a record of 9-1. But just when it appeared that the Cardinals would be the first team to host and play in a Super Bowl in the same season, the injury bug crept up on them and ended a once promising year. And the Cardinals team that was eliminated in the NFC Wild Card Game at the hands of the Carolina Panthers this past January will look totally different when the 2015 National Football League season begins in September.

Todd Bowles spent the last two years as the Cardinals defensive coordinator, but he is now the head coach of the New York Jets as he’ll be replaced in Arizona by James Bettcher. In 2014, the Cardinals possessed one of the best secondaries in the NFL, but they suffered a huge blow when they lost cornerback Antonio Cromartie in free agency as he signed with the Jets. At the other starting cornerback position, the Cardinals still have Patrick Peterson who remains as one of the best cover corners in the National Football League. And after losing Darnell Dockett on the defensive line in free agency as he remained in the NFC West by signing with the San Francisco 49ers, the Cards must find another anchor in their front seven.

Bruce Arians

Under head coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals were able to sneak up on some teams last year, but that won’t be the case in 2015. Whereas the Cards were 24th in the NFL in total offense last season, they must improve on that if they intend on getting back to the playoffs. Arians and the Cardinals are backing on quarterback Carson Palmer returning this year healthy. Palmer’s 2014 NFL season was cut short due to a knee injury. But the Cardinals need to have Palmer ready to go due to the fact that he is 16-6 as a starter with Arizona.

Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd

The Cardinals do possess two of the bigger wide receivers in the National Football League in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd who can both get physical as well as being aggressive with defensive backs and their effectiveness in 2015 will come down to the overall health of Palmer. The Cardinals are also backing on youth on their offensive line. Guard Jonathan Cooper has only appeared in 10 games after being a first round pick by the Cardinals in 2013 while offensive tackle D.J. Humphries was the team’s first round choice this year and they are expected to be a big part of what Arizona intends to do this season.

The Cardinals have the potential to get off to a quick start this season as their first four opponents didn’t qualify for the playoffs last year. But things will get tougher for the Cards in Week 5 when they begin a three-game stretch that will see them meet the Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens as they look to secure three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1984.

San Francisco 49ers 6-10

The past four years have seen the San Francisco 49ers emerge as one of the top teams in the National Football League, but that wasn’t enough for head coach Jim Harbaugh to keep his job. In four seasons as the 49ers head coach, Harbaugh never had a losing season and San Francisco made one Super Bowl appearance along with three trips to the NFC Championship Game. But Harbaugh consistently clashed with Niners general manager Trent Baalke which led to a messy divorce this past January.

Jim Tomsula

Harbaugh has been replaced as the head coach of the 49ers by Jim Tomsula. Tomsula has spent the last eight seasons as the Niners defensive line coach, including a brief stint as the team’s interim head coach in 2010. Tomsula has never been a head coach at any level of football, but he is someone that Baalke feels that he can work with. Tomsula’s first order of business will be to get the most out of starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick still has wide receiver Anquan Boldin to throw the football to and even at the age of 34, he’s still one of the toughest and most physical wide receivers to covers in football.

Colin Kaepernick

In four years with the 49ers, Kaepernick has an overall record of 25-14 with a trip to the Super Bowl on his resume. But for all that it’s worth, Kaepernick is an athlete that is playing the quarterback position and the Niners need him to be more of a pocket passer going forward.

Under Harbaugh, the Niners bread and butter on offense was their running game as they were one of the more physical teams in the National Football League and a big part of that was running back Frank Gore who is now with the Indianapolis Colts. Gore left San Francisco as the 49ers all-time leading rusher and now running backs Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush have some big shoes to fill. Bush and Hyde will have the luxury of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League that is anchored by offensive tackle Joe Staley who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last four years. But will Bush and Hyde be able to replace Gore’s leadership?

Vic Fangio was the 49ers defensive coordinator for the last four years and he led one of the best units in the NFL, but he is no longer in San Francisco as he is the new defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Fangio has been replaced in San Francisco by former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini who will run a similar 3-4 defensive scheme.

Just like the leadership of Gore on offense, the 49ers lost leaders on the defensive side of the football as well this off-season with the retirement of defensive end Justin Smith and middle linebacker Patrick Willis. The 49ers were able to sign former Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett who like Smith, plays with a high motor. The Niners are expected to have a healthy NaVorro Bowman at middle linebacker this year after he missed the entire 2014 National Football League season as the result of a knee injury. Prior to Bowman’s knee injury, he had tremendous lateral range which will be tested even more this year without the presence of Willis beside him. Over the past few years, outside linebacker Aldon Smith has become one of the best edge rushers in the NFL, but after his latest arrest, the Niners and Baalke felt that it was time to move on as they released him this off-season.

Three of the 49ers first three games this season will be on the road as they’ll travel to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, and New York Giants. And the Niners can ill afford to fall too far behind the Seattle Seahawks if they want any chance of winning the NFC West in 2015.

X-Clinched Division

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2015 AFC South Projections

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X-Indianapolis Colts 12-4

The Indianapolis Colts have shown that they are good enough to contend in the AFC, but will they be able to take that next step in 2015 and win the Super Bowl? Each of the past three years has seen the Colts go 11-5 in the regular season as they were able to advance a round further in the postseason over the last three years. And if you follow that formula for the Colts, they could win the AFC in 2015.

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck has been the Colts starting quarterback in each of the last three seasons and he has proven that he is more than capable to put the team on his back. At 6’3″, 235 lbs., Luck is big and strong, but his biggest muscle is his brain as he is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the National Football League. Luck doesn’t tend to get fazed by adversity and this could be the season where he is named as the NFL MVP.

But as good as Luck has been, his teammates with the Colts need to improve their game around for this team to win the Super Bowl. The Colts were able to make the AFC Championship Game last season and they are looking to build off of that.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has attempted to improve the team around Luck as in this off-season he signed wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson spent the first 12 years of his NFL career with the Houston Texans where he was one of the top wide receivers in the league as he totaled 1,012 receptions, 13,597 receiving yards, and 64 receiving  touchdowns. Johnson did this without the luxury of having a top-tier quarterback that was throwing him the football. But that now changes with Johnson being thrown the football by Luck. Along with Johnson, Luck will be throwing the football this season to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton who is one of the most explosive wide receivers in football.

The Colts struggled to run the football in 2014 as they were 22nd in the National Football League in the category. Running back Frank Gore spent the first decade of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers where he was one of the most underrated runners of this era. But even at the age of 32, the Colts are hopeful that Gore will be able to gain at least 1,000 yards on the ground for the ninth time in his career.

Chuck Pagano

Defensively, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t have a star player that can take over the game, but he relies on his system which means that all 11 players must do their job.

In their first five games of the upcoming NFL season, the Colts will not face a team that made the playoffs in 2014, and a fast start for Indianapolis in 2015 could be just what the doctor ordered as they’ll need to get home-field advantage in the AFC as they look to solidify their chances of making the Super Bowl this February.

Houston Texans 9-7

In 2014, the Houston Texans kept a recent theme going in the National Football League where the team that finished the previous season with the worst record in the league was able to show vast improvement in the following season. The Texans went 2-14 in 2013, but they were able to turn things around in 2014 as they went 9-7 and barely missed out on making the playoffs under head coach Bill O’Brien who was in his first year in Houston.

Bill O’Brien

O’Brien inherited a good defensive club that can also run the football. But the Texans biggest problem is at quarterback. The Texans used four different players at starting quarterback last season and the player that saw the most time there (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is now a member of the New York Jets. O’Brien and the Texans are hopeful that Ryan Mallett is ready to emerge and become the starting quarterback in Houston, but he has some fierce competition from former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Last year the Texans acquired Mallett from the New England Patriots due to his familiarity with O’Brien who was his offensive coordinator in 2011 with the Patriots. Mallett was 1-1 as a starter last season until a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Mallett is now healthy and O’Brien along with the Texans are hopeful that he ready to lead this team mentally as he has all of the physical tools to be a solid NFL quarterback.

However, Hoyer and Mallett were teammates with the Patriots as they each studied under O’Brien and the most determined player will win out.

Arian Foster

The Texans were fifth in the National Football League in rushing last season and you can expect more the same in 2015 as running back Arian Foster is one of the best in the business as far as carrying the rock. But the biggest problem for Foster in the NFL has been the ability for him to remain healthy as a groin injury will more than likely keep him sidelined to begin the season. Hands down Foster is the Texans all-time leader in rushing and if he can have another season in which he can gain at least 1,200 yards on the ground, it will be big for Houston and their potential postseason push.

The Texans decided to part with wide receiver Andre Johnson who is the best pass catcher in the franchise’s history, but they still have a depth at the position led by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is coming off of a season that saw him reel in 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns. And if Hopkins and Mallett, or Hoyer are able to develop some chemistry, they could be a nightmare for secondaries in the NFL this season.

The Texans were 16th in total defense last season and they are in line to vastly improve this year. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft, but a knee injury that he suffered in Week 1 last year due to the turf at NRG Stadium in Houston limited him to just four games last season. Clowney underwent micro fracture on his knee as he hopeful that he can finally display the talent that made him such a feared edge rusher in college. On the defensive line the Texans went searching for the beef and they found it when they signed defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork spent the first 11 years of his NFL career with the Patriots where he developed a reputation as one of the best nose tackles in football. With the Patriots, Wilfork also was a tremendous leader on the defensive side of the football as he helped New England win a pair of Super Bowl Championships during his time there.

Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has some strong linebackers to work with aside from Clowney. The Texans need inside linebacker Brian Cushing and his bad knees to hold up for an entire season while outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is no slouch when it comes rushing the passer and he will look to feed off of the players around him. But the Texans defensive front seven will be led by the freak of nature that is defensive end J.J. Watt.

J.J. Watt

Watt has four seasons under his belt in the NFL and he is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year which is the second time that the honor has been bestowed upon him while his 57.5 sacks have him on a pace to threaten Bruce Smith’s all-time sacks record of 200. Players with Watt’s freakish ability to rush the passer, cover the pass, and play the run don’t come along that often as he might be the toughest defensive matchup that the NFL has seen since the days of Lawrence Taylor. Watt’s presence makes the players around him better and if he is not double or triple-teamed, he will make opposing offenses pay.

Led by cornerback Johnathan Joseph who received a contract extension this off-season, the Texans have a very athletic secondary that can be good on its own, but once they are combined with the front seven that is in Houston, they are free to do more due to the ability of the players in front of them.

The Texans will once again contend for a playoff spot in the AFC, it is just a matter of whether or not that they will be able to dethrone the Indianapolis Colts for the top spot in the AFC South.

Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11

The Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2015 National Football League season looking to end the pain and suffering. For the first time in the history of the Jaguars franchise, they are coming off of their fourth consecutive season in which they lost 10 or more games. But in spite of the fact that Jacksonville was 3-13 last season, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has a plan in place to turn things around as long as the front office there practices patience with him.

Blake Bortles

Bradley’s time as the head coach of the Jaguars will be defined by what he is able to accomplish with quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles was the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft and he was able to display flashes of his potential last season as a rookie. Bortles record as a a starter was 3-10 as he passed for 2,908 yards with 11 touchdowns while being picked off 17 times and sacked 55 times. For this season Bortles has to develop better pocket awareness which will minimize his sacks and interceptions while it will also increase his passing yardage and touchdowns.

Bortles will need to develop chemistry with his young wide receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Allen Robinson. And like Bortles, the Jags young trio of wide receivers has potential, but it is time for them to take their respective games to the next level if the Jaguars are going to have their first non-losing season since 2010. In the off-season the Jags signed former Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, but he will find out real quick that it’s Bortles who is throwing him the football and not Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Jags are putting together a young offensive line that led by offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, has to step up and provide more protection for Bortles while opening holes for a rushing attack in Jacksonville that was 21st in the National Football League last season in rushing.

Defensively the Jaguars were looking to be a force, but things took a turn for the worst on the first day of rookie minicamp when defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., suffered a torn ACL. Fowler was the third overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft and he was expected to be an impact player for the Jags.

Whereas the Jags have youth on offense, their defense is made up primarily of journeymen who are looking to hold on in the NFL as Bradley is hopeful to get the most out of them this season.

The Jags need to get some early victories this season in order to gain some confidence for their young team. Week 4 will be a big game for the Jaguars as they travel to take on the Indianapolis Colts who have won the AFC South in each of the last two seasons and are favored to do so once again in 2015. If Jacksonville gets off to another slow start, it won’t matter how many improvements that Jags owner Shad Khan has made to EverBank Field, as the boo birds will arrive and he might end up parting with Bradley.

Tennessee Titans 5-11

The 2-14 mark of the Tennessee Titans in 2014 was their worst regular season since 1994 when they were still the Houston Oilers. Last year was also the first season for Ken Whisenhunt as the Titans head coach and he spent his time in Nashville attempting to find players that would fit into his system.

Ken Whisenhunt

Whisenhunt hopes that he took a step towards turning things around for the Titans when he used the second overall pick of the 2015 National Football League Draft on quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota comes to the Titans as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but things will a little bit different for him this fall. Mariota was able to flourish at the University of Oregon while operating in the spread offense, but now he must get adjusted to taking the majority of his snaps under center. The Titans are impressed with the physical tools that Mariota brings to the table such as his speed and strong arm; now he just has to adapt to a pro-style system. Mariota will now be operating in a Titans offense that was 29th in the NFL last season in total offense while scoring 14 points or less on seven occasions. And while Mariota was at Oregon, it was very common for his offense to score 14 points or more in a quarter.

Led by rookie wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the Titans do have some potential in their passing game, but it just a matter of the Mariota and the wide receivers being able to get on the same page sooner rather than later. Last season running back Bishop Sankey was the Titans leading rusher at just 569 yards. And the Titans must improve their running game as they try to balance out the expected growing pains for Mariota as a rookie quarterback. In recent years the Titans have used early round picks to bolster their offensive line and now is the time for the likes of offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Chance Warmack to take their games to another level as Mariota will need to be protected.

Under Whisenhunt, the Titans have gone to a 3-4 defense, but they are missing that big nose tackle on the defensive line that can take on double and triple teams in the interior. The Titans did sign outside linebacker Brian Orakpo this off-season to be an edge rusher, but in the last three seasons he has only appeared in 24 games as injuries have limited him. And the Titans must fins a way to improve a defensive unit that was 27th in the National Football League last season in total defense.

Under the guidance of Whisenhunt, this is a young Titans team that will be fighting an uphill battle in the AFC South.

X-Clinched Division

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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An Underrated Star

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Paul Goldschmidt

Throughout his Major League Baseball career, Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has put up big numbers. Goldschmidt made his MLB debut with the Diamondbacks in 2011 and it didn’t take him that long to put up big numbers at the plate. In 2012, Goldschmidt became the Diamondbacks every first baseman and he went on to bat .286 that year with 20 home runs and 82 runs batted in. In 2013, Goldschmidt led the National League in home runs (36) and runs batted in (125) as he made his first MLB All-Star Game appearance. Goldschmidt also finish second to Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen that year in the NL MVP voting. This season Goldschmidt has even flirted with becoming the first NL player since Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937 to hit for the Triple Crown and he is leading the Senior Circuit in runs batted in (94), third in batting average (.331), and he’s tied for sixth in home runs with 26 which included a 482-foot blast last night against the Cardinals. And in just five seasons with the D’Backs, Goldschmidt is already fifth in career WAR for the organization with 22. Goldschmidt has managed to do this while playing his home games at Chase Field in Phoenix which has deep outfield dimensions. In a very short period of time Goldschmidt has developed a reputation around MLB as being one of the premier players, but he’s someone that the casual fan probably doesn’t know about.

Goldschmidt plays in Phoenix where the Diamondbacks tend to be somewhat of an afterthought. The Diamondbacks have not a winning record since 2011 which was subsequently the last time that they made the playoffs. And when a team is not playing on the big stage, their players don’t get that exposure. However things are changing in Phoenix.

Tony La Russa was named as the Diamondbacks president of baseball operations last year. La Russa spent 34 years as a Major League Baseball manager as he won three World Series Titles with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals while also taking the Chicago White Sox to the playoffs. And La Russa along with Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart, and manager Chip Hale are attempting to change the culture in the desert from top to bottom.

The D’Backs lost 98 games in 2014 and led by Goldschmidt, they are a different team in 2015 as they are well on their way to eclipsing their win total from last season. The Diamondbacks more than likely will miss the playoffs this year, but they are an improving club. And if the D’Backs are ready to contend for the National League West crown in the near future along with becoming a consistent playoff team, the name of Paul Goldschmidt will then become a household name.

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In Cespedes We Trust

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The best thing to compare the 2015 Major League Baseball season of the New York Mets to are the highs and lows that are associated with the stock market. The Mets record has fluctuated this season and if they were indeed a stock that was purchased this past May or June, the stockholders would be happy people right about now. In April, the Mets won 11 games in a row and they became the talk of baseball as they’ve been a franchise that has been moribund for so long, but then they became the talk of New York City. As the season went along, the Mets record began to dip and by June 24, they had a losing record as it seemed like they were on the track to becoming the “same old Mets”. The main problem for the Mets this season has been their hitting as they’ve ranked near the bottom of most offensive statistical categories in the National League, but they were able to get a reprieve in late July.

In a trade that raised some eyebrows as the Mets appeared to simply be reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, New York acquired infielders Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from the Atlanta Braves in late July. And in typical Mets fashion, they botched a trade that would have seen them re-acquire outfielder Carlos Gomez from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for shortstop Wilmer Flores and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. After this the Mets were taking a beating in the New York media for their handling of the trade until they received a shot at redemption when they acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. The acquisition of Cespedes has now given the Mets a form of life that they have lacked for a very long time.

Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes is the true definition of a five-tool player as he has power bat, hits for average, he has speed on the bases, he has a strong throwing arm, and he has defensive range in the outfield. And the baseball fans in the United States are no stranger to what Cespedes can do as they’ve seem him be a productive player over the past three years for the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox, and Tigers.

But before Cespedes came to New York, the Mets lineup lacked an identity as it appeared to be kept together by spit and glue whereas now that have themselves a legitimate cleanup hitter. In 23 games with the Mets, Cespedes is batting .311 with 7 home runs and 21 runs batted in. And over that stretch, Cespedes is already seventh on the team in home runs this season. Since August 1 when Cespedes began playing for New York, the Mets are 17-6 and they are now in first place in the NL East with a 6.5-game lead over the Washington Nationals. The Mets offense has exploded to the point that they have scored 10 runs in a game five times since Cespedes joined the club as to only doing it once before the trade.

Over the past few days, Cespedes has been on a personal tear. In the Mets 14-9 victory over the Colorado Rockies this past Friday night, Cespedes went 5-for-6 which included him hitting three home runs; one of which was a grand slam. And in the Mets 16-7 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies this past Monday night, the team set a franchise record by hitting eight home runs which was capped off by a two-run blast from Cespedes in the ninth inning as New York finally has an offense to compliment their pitching staff that is currently third in the NL this season in team earned run average at 3.31.

Since the acquisition of Cespedes, the Mets front office has a good problem on their hands. With the recent surge of the Mets, attendance is up at Citi Field as they now have more than a puncher’s chance to make the playoffs. But all is not well in New York as Cespedes is set to become an unrestricted free agent this winter unless the Mets are able to pony up the bread to keep him there.

Once this season concludes, Cespedes will only have four years of MLB service, but being that he played for several years on the Cuban National Team, his former agent Adam Katz worked out a clause in his initial contract with the Athletics which forced the team that he last plays for prior to becoming a free agent, to release him if no new deal is in place to prevent him from becoming a free agent. And per MLB rules, that team could not re-sign him until May 15 of the following year. The Mets have between now and five days following the conclusion of the 2015 World Series to blow Cespedes and his new representatives of Roc Nation Sports away with an offer that would make him balk at free agency in order to remain in Queens. So the onus is now on Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon who has been crying poverty over the past few years to overspend on Cespedes or he will face a revolt from the team’s fan base.

With Cespedes at the core of the Mets lineup, New York has a team in place that can not only make the playoffs, but do some damage there as well. Cespedes made a name for himself on the MLB in the small market of Oakland before having a cup of coffee in Boston and Detroit respectively. But there is nothing quite like being able to do it on the big stage of New York City which has been known to make or break the best of them. Cespedes is a native of Cuba and with a large Latino population in the Big Apple, they would welcome him there with open arms if he decided to stay long term.

Contractually we don’t know what will happen with Cespedes and the Mets, but the only thing that they can do in the meantime is to ride the wave of momentum that he has created around him in New York City.

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A New Day For The Cubs

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The Chicago Cubs are in the midst of their best year since 2008. The Cubs currently have a record of 72-51 as they are on the cusp of eclipsing their win total of 73 games from last year. And only the stellar seasons of the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates respectively are preventing the Cubs from being in first place in the National League Central.

Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon is in his first year as the manager of the Cubs and he’s always been known to do things a little bit differently. For nine years, Maddon was the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays and during his time in Tampa, he led the Rays to their only American League Pennant in 2008 along with three additional postseason appearances. Maddon has never been a conventional manager which is perfect for a Cubs organization that is desperate to re-write their record book.

Whereas the Cubs have not made the playoffs since 2008, they have not played in the World Series since 1945 and they haven’t won the Fall Classic since 1908 as this is a franchise that is hungry for a title.

When Tom Ricketts purchased the Cubs in 2009, he looked to revitalize every aspect of the organization which included renovations to Wrigley Field which has been the team’s home ballpark since 1914. Ricketts would simply love to build a new ballpark for the Cubs, but the City of Chicago has designated Wrigley as a landmark which hasn’t stopped him from building and developing the actual team.

Theo Epstein

In 2011, the Cubs hired former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to be their new president of baseball operations. During Epstein’s time with the Red Sox, he helped them win a pair of World Series Titles; including the team’s first championship since 1918 which was 86 years in the making. Epstein brought Jed Hoyer to Chicago with him to be the Cubs general manager after Hoyer’s stint with the Red Sox as the team’s assistant general manager. And as Epstein and Hoyer have rebuilt the Cubs minor league system, they have turned over the reigns to Maddon to get this team to the promised land.

When the Rays began their turnaround in 2008, it was Maddon that was at the helm of that young team which is once again the case for a young Cubs squad in 2015.

Anthony Rizzo

The Cubs currently have seven players on their roster as everyday players that are 26-years old or younger and they aren’t just on the roster to get coffee for the veterans. First baseman Anthony Rizzo is in his fourth season with the Cubs and he has the makings of a player that could someday become the National League MVP. This season Rizzo is batting .291 with 25 home runs and 76 runs batted in as he has become the epitome of what a cleanup hitter should do. Rookie third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant began the year in the minors as the Cubs were looking to milk all of the service time possible before calling him up. But since Bryant joined the Cubs on April 17, he has been a regular in the starting lineup as he has 20 home runs and 75 runs batted in. And aside from Rizzo and Bryant being named to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game last month, the Cubs now have two anchors in their lineup for the coming years.

But the arrival of Maddon to Chicago brought with it huge expectations although some people didn’t think that the young Cubs were ready to achieve in 2015. After several years of rebuilding, the Cubs were expected to need another year to develop, but under Maddon there time appears to be now. Although the Cubs currently own the second wild card spot in the National League, they have a strangle hold over that position as they possess a 6.5-game lead over the San Francisco Giants. The folks in Chicago are so confident in the Cubs postseason chances this year that the Cubs front office has already given season-ticket holders the opportunity to purchase playoff tickets for October.

During his time as an MLB manager, Maddon has left no stone unturned to lighten the mood in the clubhouse. During Maddon’s time with the Rays, he was infamous for having his club dress up in costumes on road trips just to lighten the team’s mood. And upon Maddon’s arrival in Chicago, he had the press there eating out of his hand as he heldd his introductory press conference at a watering hole where he promised to buy a round of drinks for everyone in attendance.

There are long suffering sports fans and then there are the folks that follow the Cubs. It’s been 106 years since the Cubs won the World Series and the next closest current title drought in Major League Baseball belongs to the Cleveland Indians who have not won the Fall Classic themselves since 1948. And aside from the drought of the Cubs, it is the bad luck that has been in place to befell them over the years which ranges from “the curse of the billy goat” to the infamous black cat incident in 1969 just to name a few. Maddon doesn’t believe in curses or jinxes, but even if he had to bring a witch doctor to change the fortunes of the Cubs, he would pony up the bread for it.

Kris Bryant

With the young bats of Rizzo and Bryant leading the Cubs lineup and a pitching staff that has the fourth lowest team earned run average in the NL as they are led by starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and his 15 wins, Chicago has what it takes to makes the playoffs. And everyone that is currently on the Cubs roster is too young and thus too immune to remember the team’s long history of futility which could be good for the North Siders come October.

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A Star In The Making

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Chris Archer

The Major League Baseball career of Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer has been an interesting one. Archer was selected in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB Draft by Cleveland Indians. And after three years in the Indians minor league system, Archer was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2008. Archer was working his way up in the Cubs system until he was put on their 40-man roster in 2011 to avoid being made eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. But not long after that, Archer was traded to the Rays. And unlike the Indians and Cubs, the Rays have committed to Archer.

In 2012, Archer made his MLB debut as he would go 1-3 with a 4.60 earned run average in six starts. In 2013, Archer would finish third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting as he went 9-7 with a 3.23 earned run average to help the Rays make the playoffs. And when the Rays traded starting pitcher David Price to the Detroit Tigers last year, it gave Archer the opportunity to shine as a frontline starter.

This season with the Rays, Archer is 11-9 with a 2.77 earned run average. Archer has struck out 205 batters so far this year which is a big reason why he was named to his first MLB All-Star team last month.

And as far as the strikeouts go, Archer has had eight games this year in which he has struck out at least 10 batters. On June 2, Archer went 8 innings as he struck out 15 batters in a 6-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. This past Thursday night, Archer threw the third complete game of his career and his first since 2013 as he only allowed one hit against the Houston Astros. And the amazing thing about Archer’s outing versus the Astros was that he only needed 98 pitches to throw the complete game.

It’s no secret that the Rays play in one of the smaller markets in Major League Baseball as only the Miami Marlins have a lower payroll than Tampa Bay this year. And whereas players know that they won’t be able to secure that lucrative deal with Tampa, their time with the Rays is a chance for them to showcase their talent which could potentially lead to a better contract with a team that plays in a bigger market.

Archer falls into that category, but unlike former Rays players who have gone on to get those big deals through free agency, it might not be as easy for Archer. Archer isn’t scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent until 2022 when he’ll be 33-years old which means that Tampa Bay will control the majority of his Major League Baseball and at that age, it will be tougher for him to secure a lucrative deal on the open market. But in the present day, the Rays have a stud in Archer who has an electric fastball that is good for Tampa Bay and MLB as a whole. Aside from becoming a solid starting pitcher, Archer has become an ambassador for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America as his commercial with the organization has been plastered on television this year during national games and on the bigger networks such as ESPN and the MLB Network. And although the Rays play the underdog role to a tee, they have a pitcher in Archer that can take the mound on every fifth day and put fear into opposing lineups.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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