LeBron James Signs With the Lakers

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As I craftily predicted, LeBron James will be taking his talents out west to Hollywood. The deal, as Woj pointed out, is a league max of 4 years and $154M. It was also interesting to note that some of LeBron’s reps were in Philly meeting with the 76ers, who were the other team that seemed most likely to land his services. He was not present at those meetings, though, and he was in fact in Los Angeles. Now he joins the storied Laker franchise that has the second most titles among all NBA franchises (trailing the Celtics, of course).

So what does this mean for the NBA? Well, first and foremost the Western Conference is now even more of a bloodbath than ever. You have, of course, the Warriors, who have won 3 out of the last 4 titles and were a blown 3-1 lead away from having won 4 in a row. You have the Houston Rockets who took the Warriors to the brink and are bringing back their future Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul with a max deal (again, as I craftily predicted) as well as reigning MVP James Harden. You have the Thunder, sort of, who managed to convince Paul George to stay even though everyone and their mother thought he’d be joining LeBron in LA. And now you have the Lakers, who are mainly just LeBron James right now since he hasn’t really acquired any teammates yet. However LeBron has taken a worse supporting cast to the NBA Finals before so just because there isn’t a ton of talent around him now doesn’t mean that doesn’t make the Lakers contenders.

This also takes a mack truck and clears all the small children out of the road for the Celtics to reach their first NBA Finals since 2010 (which happened to be against the Lakers). There is virtually no competition for them. Yeah, the 76ers and Raptors are pretty good, but the Celtics curb stomped the 76ers in the second round of the playoffs last year while the Raptors got destroyed by the Cavaliers, whom the Celtics took to Game 7. And the Celtics did all that without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, who will both be healthy for the start of the 2018-19 season. The LeBron signing also opens the door for a potential LeBron James vs Kyrie Irving NBA Finals, which will just be a bonanza of storylines to work with.

So what do the Lakers need to do in order to unseat the Warriors? Well for one, they need another player. Since they traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance to the Cavaliers at the Trade Deadline (very sneaky play there, LeBron), the Lakers now have room for 2 max contracts in their salary cap. LeBron takes up one of them and they could use another one on one of the potential free agents still out there (DeMarcus Cousins) or pay Kawhi Leonard after acquiring him in a trade from the Spurs (or both, since Leonard has stated he doesn’t really care about the max contract, he just wants out of San Antonio). The development of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball is also critical, however the latter’s may take a little more time since he tore his meniscus and it is unknown how much time he’s going to miss. Provided, their development only matters as long as one or both of these two aren’t part of a package for Kawhi Leonard. However, since the Lakers have no other ammunition except the potential of Ingram and Ball, there really isn’t any other option for them if they want to land Leonard. I’m also interested to see how LeBron works with Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who was taken 31 spots after LeBron in the 2003 NBA Draft. Pretty much everywhere he’s been, LeBron has basically been the Jackie Moon of his organization and has been the alpha over his head coach. Walton doesn’t strike me as the pushover that Tyronn Lue does or David Blatt and Erik Spoelstra did so there could be some potential head butting.

But regardless, this coming NBA season will certainly be a lot more interesting than last season’s. That’s it for today’s blog, sorry about the brevity but I just came back from the beach and I am just dead, however I couldn’t NOT blog this news so I powered through it the best I could. Good on me. Let me know what you think of LeBron James joining the Lakers in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Divisional Round Picks: Day 2

How about Nick Foles getting the job done against the Falcons? He had a solid game throwing the ball, as he went 23-30 for 246 yards and didn’t turn the ball over once and the NFC Championship will be played in Philadelphia. The Patriots took care of business against the Titans and will be advancing to their 7th straight AFC Championship game. The Titans held their own early but once New England got going, there was nothing Tennessee could do to stop them. There were admittedly a few questionable calls that went against the Titans but overall it was a pretty resounding beatdown by New England. Let’s get to Sunday’s slate of games.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

The Jaguars are coming off an ugly win over the Buffalo Bills, but a win is a win, especially this time of year. The defense played exceptionally well while the offense barely did enough to win. Interesting thing I noticed from that game, Jacksonville’s best three healthy receivers are Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Kelan Cole. Not one of them caught a pass in that game and were only targeted once apiece. But again, it was enough to get the job done. The Steelers had an odd year. There were times where they looked downright abysmal and others where they looked like the cream of the crop in the NFL and are a poor fake spike decision away from having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But the game everybody is certainly going to circle on their schedule from this year is their home loss to this same Jaguars team. Back in week 5, the Jaguars annihilated the Steelers 30-9 at Heinz Field, which included intercepting Ben Roethlisberger 5 times. In fact, the defense was playing so well in that game that quarterback Blake Bortles threw his last pass of the game with about 8 minutes left in the third quarter. 23 minutes of game time without attempting a single pass and they were still able to win by 21. It also helped that Leonard Fournette was the definition of a bell cow in that game, as he ran for 181 yards on a whopping 28 carries, both career highs for the rookie out of LSU. He also put the nail in the coffin with a 90-yard touchdown run in which he basically went untouched the whole way. But I think things are going to go differently for the Steelers. After that loss, they seemed to figure their shit out and won 10 of their last 11 games, the one loss being to the Patriots on the aforementioned failed fake spike. Antonio Brown was in the MVP discussion for much of the year before injuring his leg in that loss. He missed each of the final two games of the season but he is expected to suit up for this one. But keep an eye on how well he’s able to make his cuts. Jacksonville boasts arguably the two best corners in the NFL right now in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye and if Brown isn’t his usual elusive self, he’s going to have a hard time getting open. But if he’s fine and can do what he does best, then we’re going to have some really fun receiver/corner matchups to watch. I think the key to this game is going to be the Steelers’ offensive line. They don’t have to give Roethlisberger a load of time to throw the ball, just enough so that he’s unimpeded in his 3-step drops because you can bet pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler are going to be coming for him with Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson bumrushing the middle. They’re also going to need to create the lanes Le’Veon Bell needs to rush through while also throwing linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack off his scent because those two fly through gaps like missiles. I think if the Steelers offensive line has a good day, the Steelers will exact revenge on the Jaguars. If not, I think it’s going to be a loooooong day for the Steelers offense and we may get a repeat of Week 5. But I think the Steelers will pull it off and return to the AFC championship game for the second straight year.

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Projected Score: Steelers 27 Jaguars 24

New Orleans Saints (11-5) vs Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

The Saints are coming off a thrilling victory over the Panthers that came down to the final play and will look to ride that momentum into Minnesota and the same building where Super Bowl LII will be held. The Saints were able to beat the Panthers despite Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara not having great games statistically. That’s why Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, though. Even when defenses force the Saints to become one-dimensional, they’re breathing a little easier than most other teams because they have #9 under center. These two teams squared off all the way back in Week 1, which seems like an eternity ago. In that game, Sam Bradford absolutely picked apart the Saints secondary, which has since done a 180 and gone from a weakness to a strength. Bradford’s season also did the same, as an injury suffered in practice forced Case Keenum into the starting role and he played so well that no matter how this season ends, head coach Mike Zimmer is going to have a real decision to make at quarterback in deciding between Keenum, Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater. Offensively, Minnesota was hovering just outside of the top 10 in pretty much every category. They had to deal with some injuries, as promising rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL back in Week 4 after getting off to a really impressive start to his career. LaTavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon were able to pick up the slack in the backfield but the biggest thing that propelled this offense was the emergence of receiver Adam Thielen. Thielen was fantastic in 2017, as he caught 91 passes for 1276 yards and 4 TD’s. He emerged as the biggest threat in a suddenly solid receiving group that features the likes of Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Minnesota’s defense was sensational this year, as they finished the season as the NFL’s #1 defense in both points and yards allowed. Everson Griffen is finally starting to get the respect he deserves as a pass rusher while Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith each continue their astronomical growth as players in the secondary. This is a difficult matchup to pick because I think both teams match up so well with one another. But I think the key thing here is going to be quarterback play and it’s really hard to bet against Drew Brees, no matter how well Case Keenum might be playing. I think the Saints are going to win this one and they’re going to hope it’s not the last time they win a game in Minnesota this season.

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Projected Score: Saints 28 Vikings 23

That’s it for my picks in the divisional round. Let me know what you think of them in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

Wild Card Round Picks: Day 2

Welp the Titans made me look pretty stupid. But that’s why I don’t gamble on sports, things like that happen. Though I think Travis Kelce getting knocked out with a concussion was a huge blow for the Chiefs, as I don’t think they scored a single point after he went to the locker room. That was, to me, the biggest factor in their blowing a 21-3 lead (just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it that 28-3 does). There was a brief shining moment as it appeared Marcus Peters had stripped Derrick Henry of the football and Derrick Johnson took it to the house, only to have it overturned by replay, which was the correct call as Henry was clearly down before the ball left his possession. As for Falcons-Rams, I may have gotten that pick wrong, but I feel that if the Rams’ special teams didn’t dig them into an early hole like it did, then they probably would’ve beaten the Falcons because as the game went along, that offense looked more and more comfortable until the Falcons regained their footing. Though I could have sworn I read somewhere that Julio Jones and Marcus Mariota were both going to be scratches from their games. Maybe I misread or read fake accounts. *UPDATE* I figured out what happened with that. PFT Commenter of Barstool Sports was quote tweeting injury reports for both players from past seasons and making them out to be for these games and I fell for the trap. It happens to the best of them. So with that, let’s get to the Sunday picks. Make sure you read all the way through, because I do have an announcement to make at the end of this blog.

Buffalo Bills (9-7) vs Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)

This will be the Bills first playoff appearance since 1999, which had been the longest such drought in the major four sports. It was kind of an odd season for them. They went 9-7 after starting out 5-2 and included a disastrous quarterback switch. For whatever reason, Tyrod Taylor was benched in favor of Nathan Peterman against the Chargers. Peterman promptly threw 5 first half interceptions (not all of them were his fault, but they’re still charged to him). He was benched in the second half for Taylor, who played reasonably well in what was basically the perfect moment for Taylor to establish himself as the unquestioned starter. Week 17 came along with their playoff hopes on the line and they got the job done by beating Miami. They just needed the Ravens to lose to the Bengals, since the Titans and Chargers had won their games, in order to make the playoffs. 4th and 12, Andy Dalton hits Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard TD and the Bills are going to the playoffs. It came at a price, though. In their victory over Miami, Buffalo lost star runningback LeSean McCoy due to an ankle injury, where he had to be carted off the field. Good news for Bills fans, though, McCoy said the injury wasn’t as bad as he thought and he’s hoping to suit up against Jacksonville. I’m not so sure if that’s going to help them a whole lot. McCoy is at his best when he’s able to make hard cuts and juke guys out. That’s hard to do on a bad ankle. I don’t think it’s going to go well for him in this one, especially against a Jaguars defense that’s as dominant as this one. Jacksonville has been a revelation this season. They recorded their first winning season in a decade and were the breakout team of the AFC en route to a 10-6 record despite inconsistent play from quarterback Blake Bortles. However Bortles looked pretty good to close out the season and I think it may have the higher-ups in Jacksonville rethinking their plans to move on from him. The only way I think Bortles has 100% job security is a Super Bowl victory, though. But the story of this Jaguars team has been the defense. I’ve raved about the impact signing Calais Campbell has been ad nauseam, but he really has been the difference. The Jaguars were just okay defensively prior to his arrival from Arizona with a lot of young players with potential. Campbell arrives, then suddenly they’re the #2 overall defense in the NFL behind only the Vikings. Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye (whose arrival I also think contributed heavily to the defense’s success) have been shutdown corners, Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler have been absolute studs rushing the passer, Telvin Smith and Myles Jack have been holding down the second level, really no matter where you look on this Jacksonville defense, you’ve got guys that are kicking ass. It’s that fire on defense that I think is going to give the Jags the win in this game, though I think the Bills will be competitive throughout. Their defense is pretty underrated.

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Projected Score: Jaguars 20 Bills 17

Carolina Panthers (11-5) vs New Orleans Saints (11-5)

In my opinion, this is the game of the Wild Card Round. This will be the third time these two teams will square off this season, each of the prior two meetings being won by the Saints, which gave them the tie-breaker for the division crown. The Panthers defense has looked similar to the one that helped lead them to an appearance in Super Bowl L, as Kawann Short continues to dominate on the interior of the defensive line, which sucks because he’s a Boilermaker. The Boilermaker on the other sideline, Drew Brees, has also been damn good for the Saints, as his connection with Michael Thomas is reminiscent of when he was hitting Marques Colston on a consistent basis. But the biggest matchup I’m going to watch for is Saints runningbacks vs the Panthers front 7. The Saints offensive line has been very good this year despite injury troubles. Rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk has been very good like I expected him to be (which unfortunately wasn’t published because this blog didn’t exist back then) and Andrus Peat has adjusted very well to a move to guard. Larry Warford has also been terrific and Max Unger has been his usual self. Their runningbacks Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have been the deadliest 1-2 punch in the game this season. To think, this group included Adrian Peterson for a few weeks before getting sent to the Cardinals. Imagine if that trio had been able to gel. Turns out it took Peterson leaving for this group to really come together. Ingram finished with 1124 yards rushing, fifth in the NFL, while Kamara had over 1500 yards of total offense. Both players’ play styles complement each other so well that defenses have a hard time keeping up. But the Panthers defensively have one of the best front 7s in football, as you’ve got guys like Short and Star Lotulelei clogging the interior, Mario Addison on the edge, and Shaq Thompson, the ageless Thomas Davis, and Luke Kuechly at linebacker. So if any team were to match up with well with the Saints, it would be the Panthers. However that hasn’t been the case this season, as the Saints beat the Panthers twice by scores of 34-13 in Week 3 and 31-23 in Week 13. So perhaps the Panthers are figuring things out, as that margin of defeat was cut significantly the second time around. I really want to pick the Saints for this game but I just have the weirdest gut feeling that the Panthers are going to pull this one out. I’m going with the Panthers, however my brain doesn’t feel good about it.

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Projected Score: Panthers 24 Saints 20

That’s it for the blog. As promised, I have an announcement to make. I’ll be adding a new writer to my staff. When that will be I’m not sure, we’re still working out how we want to do things. But I’m very excited to get another guy producing content, as writing 1000+-word articles a day while balancing school and work can get a bit rough. Let me know what you think of my picks or my new “hire” (I say that very loosely, as I still don’t have a revenue stream to pay anyone with) and hit me up on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.