Welcome to Wednesday Weekly, where I go over your need-to-know water cooler talk, provide some of my favorite upcoming wagers, and have a bit of fun with things I like and dislike. If you’re not a fan of sports, gambling, politics, pop culture, or fun, then still read it anyway because I do it for the pageviews.
Welcome back to my “weekly” blog which, after missing more than a month over the holidays and returning randomly this wee, might be more aptly titled Wednesday Semi-Regularly but that doesn’t have the same ring to it. I apologize for disappointing my readers, but the best I can give you is a halfhearted ‘my bad’ and move on. So let’s dive right in!
Top 5 of the Week
This week I will be going over my top 5 non-QB NFL MVPs. Everyone knows that a quarterback wins this most years, so where is the fun in wasting spots on Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes? Of course one of them is going to win it. Also, remember this is a regular season award. Tyreek Hill, Ezekiel Elliott, Travis Kelce, and a few others have bumped their stock during the postseason, but this list doesn’t factor that in. Also, as there were some spectacular seasons from a lot of players and I can’t include everyone, I’m also only going to include 1 player at any given position. If you aren’t the best at your position, then you can’t be in the MVP discussion, simple enough.
1. Aaron Donald, DT – Los Angeles Rams
Aaron Donald is having one of the most – if not the most – dominant seasons by a defensive player in my lifetime. He broke the single-season sacks record for a defensive tackle (20.5 – just 2 away from the record at any position). He was the nfl leader in tackles for loss, QB hits, and sacks, obviously. He will almost assuredly win the Defensive Player of the Year award, rightfully, but he should be higher in the conversation for MVP. Khalil Mack had his best season so far (even better than his 2016 DPOY season) and he’s and afterthought for this year’s award. That’s how great Donald has been. This was by far the best season by a defensive tackle in my lifetime, and yet there’s almost no chance he wins MVP. We might as well just change the name of the MVP award to the BQB – Best Quarterback. Aaron Donald is the first player I’d want on my team in 2019, period. He’s the real MVP.
2. Khalil Mack, OLB – Chicago Bears
As mentioned above, Khalil Mack is having a career season in his first year with the Bears. That’s saying a lot coming from a 4-time pro-bowler, 3-time First Team All-Pro, and 2016 defensive player of the year. Despite starting only 13 games, he still had a career high in forced fumbles in a new role on a new team. He also led the Bears to the best defense in the league, and was a dominating force in the biggest games in the biggest moments. He was so good that it only took one or two games for everyone to know that two first-round picks was not nearly enough to give up Mack.
3. DeAndre Hopkins, WR – Houston Texans
I still can’t get over the fact that Hopkins had 115 receptions and zero drops. I don’t understand how that can happen. Combine that with his size, athleticism, and precision on routes, and you have the recipe for the best receiver in the league. A few other receivers can best him in a given category; Tyreek Hill is faster, Julio jones is bigger, Antonio Brown is the best route runner, and Odell Beckham Jr. can rival his hands. But nobody else is as great at every skill a receiver needs than Hopkins. You could point to DeShaun Watson as a key to Hopkins’ success, but he also took a team that started a mashup of T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Mallett, and Brandon Hoyer to the playoffs. Oh yeah and then he won a playoff game with Brock Osweiler as his quarterback. The guy can play with anyone.
4. Bobby Wagner, MLB – Seattle Seahawks
Wagner took over the mantle from Luke Kuechly as the best middle linebacker in the league this season. He held together a defense ravaged by departures (Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson) and injuries (Earl Thomas) to keep some semblance of the dominance we used to see out of the Seahawks. They dropped from 11th fewest yards given up to just 15th. To put that in perspective, think about the 2014 49ers. They lost Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, and Chris Borland going into the 2015 season, and dropped from 5th to 29th. They still had Navorro Bowman (4-time All-Pro, including 2015), but even he couldn’t lift his team like we’ve seen with Wagner. Obviously, no two situations are exactly alike, but it just goes to show how remarkable Wagner’s impact was this season.
5. Saquon Barkley, RB – New York Giants
Some might say that Todd Gurley or Ezekiel Elliott belongs here above Barkley, as Gurley had more touchdowns, Elliott had more rushing yards, and both of their teams made the playoffs in the NFC and the Giants didn’t sniff the postseason. There’s a few problems with that thinking, though. First, the Rams and Cowboys had the 6th and 14th ranked offensive lines per Pro Football Focus, and the Giants offensive line was significantly worse at 21st. Second, Barkley had more receptions, receiving yards, and total yards than either of the other two with 2028 scrimmage yards. He made a terrible team palatable for most of the season, and I can’t wait to see what the Giants do if they can get a quarterback and an improved offensive line.
I will be skipping the NFL for this week of wagers, since nobody cares about the Pro Bowl. Next week, I’ll have a full assortment of Super Bowl predictions, including game score and stats, with a ton of props mixed in. Buckle up!
Overall 2018-19 Record: 13-13-0
2018-19 NFL Record: 7-10-0
2018-19 NBA Record: 6-3-0
Since I still haven’t thought of a better way to deliver mid-week NBA picks in a weekly column (due to the betting lines being released within 1-2 days of the games), you’re stuck with only getting my picks on Wednesday and Thursday games. Sorry, I’m not happy about it either.
Indiana -6 vs. Toronto
The Raptors have been great this season, and are coming off three straight wins without Kawhi Leonard. But tonight is a back-to-back, and Toronto is also without OG Anunoby and Jonas Valanciunas. They do boast a lot of depth, but so do the Pacers, and they are healthy and haven’t played since Sunday. I expect the Pacers to race out to an early lead and never look back.
Cleveland +16.5 at Boston
Okay, so this might be tough to stomach, but hear me out. The Celtics will win this game, but they also usually play deeper into their roster during blowouts. The Cavs are tanking, but the players still want to win, especially the young guys. I could see the Celtics winning by 10-12 easily. Even if they win by 16, they don’t cover. I’ll take a 16.5 point spread against any team not named the Warriors.
New Orleans -4 vs. Detroit
The Pistons are 7-15 on the road and the Pelicans are 15-6 at home. The Pelicans have been playing well, coming off a 20-point win over the Grizzlies. The Pistons have been struggling, including coming off a 14-point loss to the lowly Wizards (who tied the Pistons in the standings with that win). I don’t usually look at individual games to predict the following games, but this one seems like a no-brainer.
Golden State -8 at Washington
Betting on road dogs is never a situation that you want to find yourself in, but I think I can make an exception. The Wizards are bad, and the Warriors are historically good. Plus the Warriors have a new piece in DeMarcus Cousins, and they are trying to bring him up to speed. I expect a blowout, and I expect to see enough minutes of the big 5 (the Warriors seriously have 5 All-NBA players in their prime – SHEESH) for this one to get out of hand.
Things I Like and Things I Don’t Like
The media narrative surrounding Robert Covington. I always love it when people finally start to recognize the value of a defensive star. It’s not a unique situation (Andre Roberson, Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, etc. have all been lauded defensively), but it is fairly rare to see widespread understand of that impact. Covington deflects the most passes and has the second most steals in the NBA. He’s the guy who is usually overlooked (like he was in Philadelphia) that finally gets his moment to shine. Good for you, RoCo.
I don’t like
The media narrative surrounding Karl-Anthony Towns.
Somehow, people have gotten this idea that Towns has regressed or at the very least peaked. This guy just turned 23 a few months ago, and has improved per 36 minutes over last season in all the following: points, offensive and defensive rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, defensive rating, defensive BPM (Box Plus/Minus), and Total BPM. His shooting percentages have slipped slightly, but he’s still close to 50/40/85 territory. Towns has become a top-10 player in the league, and he got less All-Star fan votes than someone who hadn’t seen a minute of playing time.
The Los Angeles Rams making the Super Bowl. They are solid in every facet of the game, have a creative, young coach, and have likable playmakers in Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, Aqib Talib, and Ndamukong Suh. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t so likable. But everyone should be happy to see a new team start to succeed to freshen up the malaise of the same teams over and over each year.
I don’t like
The New England Patriots making the Super Bowl… again. The Patriots have been in the Super Bowl 9 of the past 18 seasons. That’s a ridiculous streak, and I hate everything about it. Mostly I hate that Tom Brady gets all the credit, when he’s surrounded by talent and has a great defense year after year. Not to mention he’s played with the best coach in the history of football for his entire career. Outside of maybe one or two years in his absolute prime, Brady hasn’t done anything in a given year that 5-10 other quarterbacks could do in the same situation. Well, at least we have the world’s greatest villain to root against! (and secretly bet on because who are we kidding, the bad guys always win).
DeMarcus Cousins coming back healthy.
It’s easy to forget how dominant a player was after having them sit out for more than a full season. Cousins has only played in 2 games for a total of 36 minutes, but that gives us a perfect look at his per-36 minutes stats where he’s put up 22/15/8/1/1. It’s a small sample size, but he looks like he’ll definitely be back to full strength soon.
I don’t like
Gordon Hayward coming back, uh, not healthy. It’s a shame to see this Hayward playing like he is. Prior to his injury, this is a guy who was fighting for an All-NBA spot against Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Now he’s barely noticeable off the bench, scoring 11 points per game, and only surpassing 20 points in 2 games (Ironically, both games he also scored over 30 points, and both were against the Timberwolves. Because of course they were).