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Author Archives | Brian Polking

2016 GEICO 500 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Contenders

2016-Geico-500-Odds-Free-Picks-and-Predictions2016 GEICO 500 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Contenders: For the second time this season, the Sprint Cup Series will visit a restrictor-plate track. Massive Talladega Superspeedway will host Sunday’s GEICO 500, and the 2.6-mile tri-oval is the largest track on the schedule.

While Talladega and Daytona are the only two tracks that use restrictor plates, they have some important differences. Talladega has a much wider surface, so while cars can comfortably go three-wide and sometimes even four wide, the added side-by-side racing can also lead to some larger, more violent wrecks.

The other difference is the location of the start/finish line, which is much further down the front stretch at Talladega than at Daytona. As a result, last-lap passes are commonplace at Talladega, and wild finishes are the norm.

2016 GEICO 500 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Contenders

The Favorites

He is the defending winner of Sunday’s race, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all drivers with six wins at Talladega. Last year, he led the most laps in both races at the track, following up his win in the spring race with a second-place run in the fall event. Over the past two years, Junior’s three wins at plate tracks are the most in the series, and during the same stretch, he leads all drivers with five finishes of third or better and 382 laps led.

His victory in the Daytona 500 earlier this year was just the latest in a recent run of success at restrictor-plate tracks for Denny Hamlin. Since the start of the 2014 season, he leads all drivers with seven top-10s and a 9.0 average finish in plate races. During the same stretch, he has won at both Daytona and Talladega, and he ranks third in laps led.

In the last three races at Talladega, no driver has led more laps than Jimmie Johnson. In fact, he has led multiple laps in eight of the nine restrictor-plate races over the past two seasons, leading the second-most laps of any driver over the stretch. He is a five-time winner at plate tracks overall, and Johnson has three top-five finishes in his last five plate events, including a pair of runner-up finishes.

The Contenders  

He came out of nowhere and scored the first Cup Series win of his career at Talladega while driving for a single-car team, and Brad Keselowski has continued his dominance at the track now that he is an established star. In addition to his three wins here, he has finished seventh or better in five of his last nine starts.

After coming within half a lap of winning the Daytona 500 for the third time earlier this year, Matt Kenseth will try to finish what he started this weekend at Talladega. He has three finishes of third or better here since 2012, including a win, and he ranks second in laps led at the track. Kenseth always seems to be running near the front at Talladega, and he is more than capable of finishing there, as well.

One of the rising stars at the restrictor-plate tracks is Team Penske driver Joey Logano. He won the Daytona 500 in 2015 to notch his first plate track win, and later that year, he went to victory lane at Talladega in the fall. Logano is also a two-time winner at Talladega in the XFINITY Series, so he knows how to navigate NASCAR’s biggest track.

He has won at both Talladega and Daytona in his career, and Kevin Harvick always seems to show up at the front when it counts at restrictor-plate races. Since the start of the 2014 season, his six top 10s in plate races is tied for the second most, and he has five straight top 15s at Talladega, including three top-10s in his last four starts at the track.

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2016 NFL Mock Draft: Updated Top 10 with Trade Predictions

2016-NFL-Mock-Draft-Top-5-Picks2016 NFL Mock Draft: Updated Top 10 with Trade Predictions:The 2016 NFL Draft is less than a week away, and considering the first two picks have already been traded, it only seems right that my latest mock draft includes other trades that I think could happen to further shake up the top 10 Thursday night.

Of course, nothing is set and stone with any pick, but it gets a little easier to read between the lines as the pre-draft process goes on longer and longer. With that in mind, here is a complete look at my updated top 10.

  1. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, QB, California

It seems like Goff to the Rams is becoming the worst-kept secret in the NFL. Even beat writers that initially believed Carson Wentz was the pick have been putting their money on Goff. This seems like a done deal at this point.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

The Eagles made it clear that they felt confident in either Wentz or Jared Goff with this pick, so with Goff off the board, Wentz becomes the pick by default

  1. San Diego Chargers: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State 

After spending a decent chunk of money on the offensive line in the offseason, the Chargers seem more likely to upgrade their secondary with Ramsey than add to the O-line with Laremy Tunsil. The loss of safety Eric Weddle and the overall poor state of their defense will factor into the choice, as well.

  1. Dallas Cowboys: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

You can almost see Jerry Jones pushing for Ezekiel Elliott, and while he would likely shine in the offense, Bosa fits the Cowboys 4-3 base defense and is one of the safest bets to be a productive NFL starter. More importantly, he would be a much-needed addition to a mediocre Dallas front that has little in the way of depth.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

Teams seem to differ wildly on the seriousness of his knee injury, but the Jaguars’ staff has put Jack through extensive drills and have raved about him throughout the draft process. I think they pull the trigger.

  1. Baltimore Ravens: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss 

Tunsil falls into Baltimore’s lap, and the Ravens won’t think twice to fortify their offensive line with one of the best prospects in the entire draft. With Joe Flacco coming off an injury, keeping him upright is as important as ever.

  1. Tennessee Titans (Trade): Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

The Titans haven’t been shy about their desire to trade back into the top 10 and select an offensive tackle, and with Tunsil off the board, I expect them to jump ahead of Cleveland to make sure they land Stanley to protect Marcus Mariota. The 49ers should be willing partners since they can address their need at receiver with the No. 15 pick and land some extra assets.

  1. Cleveland Browns: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

Cleveland has plenty of needs, but Buckner is easily the best player available at this point in the draft, and it’s not like the Browns couldn’t use a dominant pass-rusher off the edge.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia

The front office has made it clear that they want to upgrade the pass rush by any means necessary, and a speedy, explosive edge-rusher like Floyd is exactly what the Buccaneers need.

  1. Miami Dolphins (Trade): Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Miami has gushed over Elliott throughout the pre-draft process, and after letting Lamar Miller go in the offseason, grabbing a workhorse like Elliott will be worth an extra pick or two to move up three spots.

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2016 ToyotaCare 250 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Top Challengers

2016-ToyotaCare-250-Odds-Predictions-and-Free-Picks2016 ToyotaCare 250 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Top Challengers: The XFINITY Series heads to Richmond International Raceway this weekend for yet another companion event with the Cup Series. Despite the Cup drivers also being at the short track, there aren’t nearly as many big names pulling double duty in Saturday’s ToyotaCare250 as there have been in the other companion races this season.

Perhaps most importantly, Kyle Busch isn’t on this weekend’s entry list. Busch has four wins this year and has dominated every race he has entered. With Busch out of the picture, Saturday’s race should be the most wide-open event since the opener at Daytona.

Let’s check out the frontrunners and some sleepers to bet on in the ToyotaCare250.

2016 ToyotaCare 250 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Top Challengers

The Favorites

His last XFINITY Series start at Richmond came back in 2002, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. used to dominate the short track. In five starts here, he has three wins and a second-place finish, and he has led 605 laps. Junior has gone on to win three races at RIR in the Cup Series, so you can expect him to return to the XFINITY Series with a bang.

The last time he ran an XFINITY Series event at Richmond was in 2013, and Brad Keselowski swept both races at the track that year. He is a three-time winner at RIR overall, and in his last nine starts, he has seven top-five finishes. Keselowski is a lock to be in the mix for the win Saturday.

The Contenders

Although Richmond has never been his strongest track, overlooking Austin Dillon this weekend would be foolish. After all, he is one of the most accomplished drivers in the field, and in six XFINITY starts this year, he has six top-10s and four top-five finishes. He also finished in the top 10 in both races at Richmond last season, so he is trending in the right direction at the track.

He picked up his first win of the year last weekend, and Erik Jones continues to show the most muscle among the series regulars. He has five finishes of third or better in seven starts this season, and he finished in the top five in both races at Richmond last year. Of the non-Cup drivers, Jones is the best bet to reach victory lane.

He enters Saturday’s race as the points leader, and Daniel Suarez has piled up six top-10s in seven starts this year to go along with a 6.6 average finish. He also has three top-five finishes so far, and he is consistently one of the best series regulars. In a lighter field, Suarez could make some noise at a track where he finished sixth last spring.

Although he is still waiting for a breakout performance, Justin Allgaier has quietly been one of the most consistent drivers in the XFINITY Series in 2016. He has finished 12th or better in all seven races, and he has six straight top 10s, including three straight finishes of sixth or better. Allgaier is clearly trending in the right direction, and it is only a matter of time before he kicks down the door and returns to victory lane.

The Sleeper

You don’t land a developmental contract with a powerhouse team like Joe Gibbs Racing without having some serious talent, and that is exactly the position Matt Tifft finds himself in this weekend. The youngster will pilot the No. 18 JGR machine, and considering how dominant that team has been with Kyle Busch behind the wheel this year, Tifft will have every opportunity to make his Richmond debut a special one.

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2016 NFL Mock Draft: Cleveland Browns Trade the No. 2 Pick

2016-NFL-Mock-Draft-Top-5-Picks2016 NFL Mock Draft – Cleveland Browns Trade the No. 2 Pick: It was just a few days ago that the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams shook up the 2016 NFL Draft by trading the No. 1 overall pick. Now, the Cleveland Browns have followed suit, shipping the No. 2 overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have now made two separate trades to move up from No. 13, so they clearly have their eye on someone. Check out a complete look at how I see the top 10 pick in the draft playing out following the latest trade.

2016 NFL Mock Draft – Cleveland Browns Trade the No. 2 Pick

  1. Los Angeles Rams: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

I could see either Wentz or Goff being selected, but the size and physical tools of Wentz give him a higher ceiling. His familiarity with a pro-style offense is a selling point, as well.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: Jared Goff, QB, California

The Eagles have already been on the record as saying they like both Wentz and Goff, so there is no denying that they are taking a quarterback. Goff is probably the most NFL-ready QB in this class, so Philadelphia has the luxury of shopping Sam Bradford or letting Goff learn for a year.

  1. San Diego Chargers: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State

The Chargers heavy investment in their current offensive tackles combined with the loss of Eric Weddle makes Jalen Ramsey the most likely choice. He might be the best prospect in the entire draft anyway, and he will certainly help San Diego’s shaky pass defense.

  1. Dallas Cowboys: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State 

We all know about the Greg Hardy situation, and Randy Gregory is one strike away from a long suspension. With that in mind, grabbing the versatile Bosa, who fits Dallas’ defensive scheme, will allow Dallas to fortify its defensive front with one of the best prospects in the entire draft.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

Jack’s range and overall athleticism are off the charts, and the fact that Jacksonville’s coach and general manager flew to UCLA to take another look at him tells you all you need to know.

  1. Baltimore Ravens: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

Baltimore won’t hesitate to sure up its offensive line with a player that likely would have gone No. 1 overall had Tennessee not traded out of the spot. Tunsil can start at left tackle in the NFL tomorrow and succeed. 

  1. San Francisco 49ers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon 

All the trading that has gone on at the top of the draft pretty much eliminates any chance the 49ers have at landing a quarterback with his pick. Instead, they can bolster their pass rush with a player most scouts consider a top-five prospect. 

  1. Cleveland Browns: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Cleveland tries to move down again for even more picks, but if they stay at No. 8, Hargreaves makes a ton of sense. Joe Haden is coming off an injury, and Justin Gilbert has been a colossal bust. Hargreaves has the skills to be a future No. 1 corner.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia

Tampa Bay’s needs to bolster its pass rush in a big way. Floyd may be a slight reach here, but he has the speed and athleticism to be a major force of the edge.

  1. New York Giants: Sheldon Rankins, DT Louisville

A good pass rush can solve a lot of problems, and the Giants know that as well as any team. They added Olivier Vernon in free agency to bring pressure of the edge, and Rankins will do the same at the point of attack.

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2016 Food City 500 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Contenders

2016-Food-City-500-Odds-Free-Picks-and-Predictions2016 Food City 500 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Contenders: Short track racing returns to the Sprint Cup Series this weekend, and Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway will be the second short track event of the 2016 season.

Unlike the track that hosted the first short track event, Martinsville, Bristol’s high banks allow drivers to maintain an incredible rate of speed relative to the size of the track. As a result, Bristol has earned the nickname “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”

Bristol is also famous for a physical brand of racing, and when 40 drivers are crammed on a small, fast track, it is no surprise that paint is usually traded and tempers often flare. For a look at favorites and top contenders, here is my preview for the Food City 500.

2016 Food City 500 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Contenders

The Favorites

After back-to-back wins at Martinsville and Texas, Kyle Busch heads to Bristol as the hottest driver in the series. By the way, he is a five-time winner at Bristol, and since joining the series in 2005, no driver has led more laps or logged more fastest laps at the short track. Needless to say, a third straight win could be on tap for Busch this weekend.

He is the defending winner of this weekend’s race, and Matt Kenseth has been to victory lane at Bristol four times in his career. Over the last 10 races at the track, he has finished sixth or better six times, and he has finished third or better in three of his last five races here. Overall, Kenseth ranks second in laps led at Bristol, and no one has a better driver rating.

Since joining Team Penske, Joey Logano has become quite the force at short tracks, especially at Bristol. He has three top-five finishes in his last five races here, and he has won two of the last three Cup races at Bristol. He will try for a third trip to victory lane at the short track this weekend.

There was a time when Jimmie Johnson wasn’t all that great at Bristol. Those times are long gone, and in 10 races since 2011, he leads all drivers with seven top-10s and six top-five finishes at the track. Johnson has finished fourth or better in three straight starts at Bristol, and he was the runner-up in the spring event last season.

The Contenders  

Three-time Bristol winner Carl Edwards is off to a strong start in 2016, and Sunday’s race is a golden opportunity for him to return to victory lane. He has finished seventh or better in three of his last four starts at Bristol, and he won the spring race here in 2014. Edwards has also led more than 70 laps in four of his last five starts at the track, so he knows how to find his way to the front.

While he can be a bit boom or bust at Bristol, there is no denying that Brad Keselowski knows how to seal the deal at the track. He won back-to-back races here in the fall of 2011 and the spring of 2012, and he has five finishes of sixth or better in his last nine starts here. Keselowski is a rising star at the short tracks and he could add another win to his resume this weekend.

It has been a while since Kurt Busch went to victory lane at Bristol, but his five wins at the track are still tied for the most among active drivers. He has also been recapturing his old form since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, logging three top 15s in his last four starts, including a top-five finish.

His luck has been awful at Bristol recently, but Kevin Harvick always seems to have a fast car at the track. He led nearly 200 laps here last spring, and he came back with a second-place finish in the summer race. Harvick is routinely one of the fastest drivers week in and week out, so don’t count him out this weekend.

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2016 Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Top Challengers

2016-Xfinity-Series-Odds-Free-Picks-Predictions2016 Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions – Favorites and Top Challengers: The XFINITY Series prepares for its first short track race of the 2016 season this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. The high-banked short track is one of the most popular on the schedule for both drivers and fans, and not surprisingly, several Cup regulars are pulling double duty as they try to pick up a win at “The Last Great Coliseum.” For a complete breakdown of the loaded field, here is my preview for Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300.

2016 Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 Odds, Free Picks & Predictions: Favorites and Top Challengers

The Favorites

He has won four of his five starts in the XFINITY Series this year, and there is a good chance that Kyle Busch will add to his win total this weekend. After all, he leads all drivers with eight wins at the short track, including four in his last five races. Busch has finished third or better in 10 of his last 11 starts at Bristol, including six straight, and he has won six times during the same stretch.

Bristol has been one of Kevin Harvick’s best track across all forms of racing, and he is a five-time winner at the track in the XFINITY Series, giving him the second-most victories of any driver in the field this weekend. He has remained one of the most consistent drivers here, piling up six straight top-10 finishes and 11 in his last 12 starts. Expect Harvick to be in the mix.

He is quickly becoming one of the top performers at Bristol, and Joey Logano has finished in the top five in his last five starts here in the XFINTIY Series, winning two straight. Logano has also won two of his last three Cup races here, and he swept both the XFINITY and Cup events atthe track last fall.

It seems like only a matter of time before Kyle Larson picks up a won at Bristol. He finished second by a matter of inches in his first XFINITY start here, and he hasn’t slowed down. He has four top-five finishes in five career starts, and he has finished second three times, including in his most-recent start last summer.

The Contenders

His record at Bristol in the XFINITY Series doesn’t stack up with some of the frontrunners, but he does have two top-five finishes in five starts. Perhaps more importantly, he his overall results in the XFINITY Series have improved significantly since becoming a full-time Cup driver. This year, he has a 5.2 average finish in five XFINITY starts, including a win, so Dillon is a top candidate if you don’t want to bet on the obvious favorites.

He enters Saturday’s race as the XFINITY Series points leader, and Daniel Suarez showed a natural feel for the Bristol as a rookie last season. He finished second in his track debut last spring, and he followed up the runner-up performance with another top-five finish in the summer race. Suarez has already shown he can contend with the big names at Bristol, and he has looked even better in 2016.

While he hasn’t yet found victory lane in 2016, Erik Jones has been in the mix for the win in just about every race. He has two second-place finishes and two third-place finishes in six XFINITY starts, and he has finished eighth and fourth in two previous starts at Bristol in the series. Jones runs near the front every weekend, and Saturday’s race should be more of the same.

After a couple of lackluster performances in the last two races, Ty Dillon should get back on track this weekend at Bristol. In five XFINITY starts at Bristol, he has compiled a 5.2 average finish and never finished worse than seventh. Dillon has also finished in the top five in his last three starts here, so he is trending in the right direction.

The Sleeper

His last start at Bristol in the XFINITY Series came in 2013, but Justin Allgaier is a former winner at Bristol, and he finished eighth and fourth in his two most-recent starts at the track. Allgaier has five straight top 10s heading into Saturday’s race, and he could be a surprise contender at a track where knows what it takes to reach victory lane.

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2016 MLB Picks and Predictions: American League Award Favorites and Sleepers

2016-MLB-Picks-and-Predictions2016 MLB Picks and Predictions: American League Award Favorites and Sleepers: The first week of the 2016 MLB season is in the books, and before things get into full swing, it is time to take a look at the frontrunners for the top individual awards in the American League. I’ve also included a sleeper for each award in case you want to try for a bigger payoff.

2016 MLB Picks & Predictions: American League Award Favorites and Sleepers

American League Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Forget about the fact that he is one of the best all-around players in baseball, capable of winning a triple crown and a gold glove. It is just common sense to make him the favorite to win the MVP. After all, he has been in the majors four seasons and has one MVP and three runner-up finishes. He is easily the safest bet to take home the honor in 2016.

Sleeper: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox

Opponents adjusted to Abreu last year, but he still managed to finish his second season with a .290 average, 30 homers and 101 RBI. His strong finish to the year has carried over into the start of this year, and Abreu’s immense power should result in even bigger numbers this year thanks to an improved White Sox lineup. Look for Abreu to finish around the .300 mark while being among the leaders in homers and RBI.

American League Cy Young: David Price, SP, Boston Red Sox

Pitching between Detroit and Toronto last season, Price ended up leading the American League in ERA and finishing second in WAR. He also ranked in the top five in WHIP, strikeouts and wins, and after showing he can dominate in Toronto’s hitter-friendly park, there is no reason to expect a drop in his performance in 2016. Price is a former Cy Young winner and was runner-up for the honor for the second time last year. He could recapture the award as the ace for a revitalized Red Sox team.

Sleeper: Carlos Carrasco, SP, Cleveland Indians

Carrasco is oozing with potential, but inexperience and injuries have held stopped him from outing it all together. Still, he finished last season ranked fourth in the majors in strikeout rate and fourth in the AL in WHIP, and he should only get better. Yes, he is a bit of a gamble, but Carrasco has the stuff to overpower any hitter and could run away with the Cy Young if he realizes his immense potential.

American League Rookie of the Year: Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

It has been a slow start for Buxton, but of all the rookie of the year contenders, he is the safest bet to see a full-time role all season. He is also expected to bat leadoff for the Twins sooner rather than later, and his combination of power and speed should result in solid numbers when all is said and done.

Sleeper: Tyler White, 3B, Houston Astros

White is off to a torrid start, and he is batting over .600 after the first handful of games. He was recently moved into the middle of a Houston lineup loaded with young sluggers, so the RBI opportunities should continue to be there. The only question is whether or not he will continue to see regular at-bats once prospect A.J. Reed arrives on the scene.

American League Home Run Champion: Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

He has led the majors in home runs in two of the past three seasons, so his raw power speaks for itself. Davis plays in his home games in a hitter-friendly park, and with excellent protection around him in the lineup in the form of Adam Jones and Manny Machado, opponents can’t afford to pitch around Davis. Look for him to land somewhere in the 40-to-50 home run range and be right in the mix for a third home run crown.

Sleeper: Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

Encarnacion has finished fourth, seventh, third and seventh in the AL in home runs over the last four seasons, and he has left around 100 at-bats on the table in all of those seasons because of injuries. Granted, there is no guarantee he will be able to avoid an injury in 2016, but if he reaches 600 at-bats, he is a near lock to belt 40-plus home runs and could even walk away with the crown.

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2016 NBA Playoffs Picks & Predictions – Western Conference Playoff First-Round Series Predictions

Free-NBA-Picks-and-Predictions2016 NBA Playoffs Picks & Predictions – Western Conference Playoff First-Round Series Predictions: The 2015-16 NBA regular season is over, and the playoffs begin this weekend. As has been the case in recent years, many of the top teams in the league reside in the Western Conference, but unlike past years, the depth of the conference isn’t nearly as strong. As a result, many of the first-round matchups in the conference could end up being one-sided, as they gap between the top four teams and the bottom four appears sizeable.

2016 NBA Playoffs Picks & Predictions – Western Conference Playoff First-Round Series Predictions

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

An impressive collapse by the Utah Jazz opened the door for the Rockets to claim the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, but Houston won’t get any luck breaks from the Warriors. The defending champs just set the single-season record for wins, and they won all three meetings with the Rockets. Even if James Harden gets hot and goes for 40-plus points, Houston’s defense has shown no signs of being able to hold Stephen Curry and Golden State in check. Look for the Warriors to overwhelm the Rockets with their offensive firepower in a clean sweep.

Prediction: Golden State Warriors Win in 4 Games

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies

It was only a few years ago that the defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies were an Achilles’ heel for the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs aren’t going to have any trouble dispatching the Grizzlies this time around. Memphis was already struggling to find a new identity, and injuries have decimated the Grizzlies, leaving them a shell of their former selves. Missing Marc Gasol is going to be especially brutal in this series as LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard should be able to impose their will on the offensive end, and a banged-up Memphis team is going to struggle to mount any offense against San Antonio’s stingy defense. Expect the Spurs to cruise.

Prediction: San Antonio Spurs Win in 4 Games

No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 6 Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks have been a tough out in the playoffs historically, but in this series, they are simply overmatched. Deron Williams has not chance of keeping Russell Westbrook in front of him, and while Dirk Nowitzki can still score, he can’t slow down Kevin Durant. Losing Chandler Parsons late in the year was a big blow to Dallas’ offense, and it will make keeping up with the high-scoring Thunder next to impossible. The Mavericks will find a way to steal a game because they don’t go down without a fight, but don’t expect an upset.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder Win in 5 Games

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers

It is somewhat remarkable that the Trail Blazers are even in the playoffs, let alone the No. 5 seed. After all, Damian Lillard is the only starter back from last year’s squad after free agency decimated Portland’s roster. Granted, the backcourt tandem of Lillard and C.J. McCollum will do its share of damage, but the Clippers held Lillard to 32.4 percent shooting in four regular season meetings, winning three of them. Los Angeles also has the edge in both firepower and playoff experience, and DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin should be able to expose a weak Portland frontcourt.

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers Win in 5 Games

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2016 NBA Playoffs Picks & Predictions – Eastern Conference Playoff First-Round Series Predictions

Free-NBA-Picks-and-Predictions2016 NBA Playoffs Picks & Predictions – Eastern Conference Playoff First-Round Series Predictions: The 2015-16 NBA regular season is in the books, and to some degree, the Eastern Conference shook out the way many expected with the Cleveland Cavaliers claiming the top seed. However, the Toronto Raptors finished just a game back of the top spot, and the teams seeded third through sixth all finished with identical records. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards missed the playoffs completely, creating some interesting first-round matchups. Here is a complete rundown of all four first-round Eastern Conference playoff series, along with my predictions.

2016 NBA Playoffs Picks & Predictions – Eastern Conference Playoff First-Round Series Predictions

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons

It certainly hasn’t been a smooth ride for the Cavaliers, but they still managed to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and they aren’t losing to the Pistons in the first round. Granted, Detroit has a variety of athletic forwards that they can throw at LeBron James, but even if they aren’t a cohesive unit, the Cavs still have more talent and firepower than the Pistons. Throw in the fact that Andre Drummond’s atrocious free throw shooting prevents him from being a factor down the stretch of games, and James and company will cruise to the second round.

Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers Win in 5 Games

No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Indiana Pacers

The Pacers have a serious X-factor in forward Paul George, but while he may allow Indiana to steal a game, he can’t win this series by himself. The Raptors have a huge advantage in the backcourt, and George Hill and Monta Ellis aren’t going to be able to contain DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Meanwhile, the Pacers don’t have an interior scoring option capable of taking over a game. The Raptors claimed the regular season series 3-1 and should continue their dominance in the postseason.

Prediction: Toronto Raptors Win in 5 Games

No. 3 Miami Heat vs. No. 6 Charlotte Hornets

Although the Heat secured home-court advantage by emerging from the logjam of teams lurking below Cleveland and Toronto, they tend to run as hot and cold as any team in the NBA, sometimes during the same game. The individual matchups don’t really favor Miami either. Nicolas Batum should be able to check Dwyane Wade or Luol Deng, but Goran Dragic is going to have his hands full trying to slow down Kemba Walker. Losing Chris Bosh means the Heat are relying solely on the mercurial Hassan Whiteside to carry the load in the paint, and the lapses on both ends that have plagued Miami all season will be costly in the postseason.

Prediction: Charlotte Hornets Win in 6 Games

No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 5 Boston Celtics

Boston’s Brad Stevens is one of the best young coaches in the NBA, but there is a reason that Atlanta won the regular season series between these teams 3-1. Yes, the Hawks took a step back compared to last season, but they are still a solid team. With Paul Millsap and Al Horford, they Hawks have to skilled big men that should be able to consistently score against Boston’s mediocre interior defense. In fact, Millsap averaged 22.5 points on 57.6 percent shooting against the Celtics. The Hawks also have several long, athletic wing defenders that can slow down Boston’s go-to scorer, Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics will put up a fight, but Atlanta is the better team.

Prediction: Atlanta Hawks Win in 6 Games

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2016 MLB Picks and Predictions: National League Award Favorites and Sleepers

2016-MLB-Picks-and-Predictions2016 MLB Picks and Predictions: National League Award Favorites and Sleepers: The 2016 MLB season has just begun, and with months of baseball ahead of us, it is time to take a look at which players could end up claiming the top honors in the game when all is said in done. Up first are my award predictions for the National League.

2016 MLB Picks & Predictions: National League Award Favorites and Sleepers

National League Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

Harper took home MVP honors last year at the ripe old age of 22, so there is no reason to belief he has approached his ceiling yet. He led the NL in runs, home runs, OPS, slugging percentage and WAR while finishing second in batting average and walks, and the Nationals’ lineup appears to be even better in 2016. Look for Harper to make another run at a triple crown while finishing as one of the most valuable and productive players by every statistical measure.

Sleeper: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

The Cubs project to be one of the best teams in baseball, and Rizzo is the most proven slugger for a lineup loaded with upside. Last year, he finished sixth in the NL in homers, third in RBI and sixth in WAR, and he should only get better as he and his teammates gain experience.

National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw has claimed the Cy Young in three of the last five seasons, picking up an MVP during the same stretch. Last year was a bit of a down year by his standards, and he still led the NL in innings pitched and strikeouts while ranking in the top three in ERA, WHIP and batting average against. In other words, Kershaw is the safest bet to win another Cy Young in 2016, and there isn’t any player that can be considered a close second.

Sleeper: Johnny Cueto, SP, San Francisco Giants

Splitting last season between Cincinnati and Kansas City made him somewhat of a forgotten man in both leagues, but Cueto could do some damage now that he is back in the NL. After all, he had the second-best ERA and best batting average against in 2014 while pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly parks. In fact, Cueto had an ERA below 3.00 in his final five seasons with the Reds. Moving to a pitcher-friendly park should result in an immediate return to form.

National League Rookie of the Year: Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies

Jose Reyes’ status remains in doubt, and Story has more than capitalized on the opportunity. He has hit at least one home run in each of his first three games, tallying four homers and seven RBI overall. For whatever reason, voters have been willing to overlook a team’s record when handing out Rookie of the Year honors, so Story should continue to showcase his power for the rebuilding Rockies with a hitter-friendly home park for the rest of the year without being penalized.

Sleeper: Kenta Maeda, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Maeda looked sharp in his first start for the Dodgers, and the 28-year-old has the advantage of having played professionally in Japan before coming to the majors. Despite his age and experience, Maeda still qualifies as a rookie.

Home Run Champion: Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins

Incredibly, Stanton finished tied for 10th in the NL in home runs last year despite logging less than 300 at-bats. If he stays healthy for an entire season, 50-plus bombs is a real possibility. No player can match his raw power, and it will likely be a one-man race for the home run crown if Stanton dodges the injury bug.

Sleeper: Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets

After joining the Mets last season, Cespedes slugged 17 home runs, putting him on a pace to hit 45 had he played the entire year in New York. Two players tied for the NL lead last year with 42 home runs, so Cespedes is more than capable of competing for the home run crown in his first full season for the Mets.

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