American League Wild Card Preview

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American Wild Card Preview

By Jared Peterman

The American League (AL) wildcard game presents the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals playing to advance to the American League Divisional Series vs the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Three or four years ago, you wouldn’t have believed the Athletics and Royals were playing in October, but the Royals have ended their 29 year playoff drought, while the Athletics have revived their franchise over the past three seasons.  The two franchises square off at Kauffman Stadium, the home of the Royals.

The match up couldn’t be set any better as both teams have their aces on the hill in the one game playoff.  James Shields will face off with Jon Lester, giving this game an AL East type feel to it from a few years ago as Shields pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays and Lester pitched for the Boston Red Sox.  Shields was acquired prior to last season along with RP Wade Davis for blue-chip prospect Wil Myers and others, while Lester was acquired at the trade deadline this season along with OF Jonny Gomes for slugging sensation, OF Yoenis Cespedes.  Shields has hurled five postseason games from 2008-2011, going 2-3 and losing his last three appearances.  Lester is known for his postseason dominance throughout his Red Sox career, starting ten games and posting a 2.11ERA over his postseason career.

The Royals surged into the playoffs with an extraordinary month of September, while Oakland has had a losing record since the All-Star break.  Kansas City led the AL in team batting average, but failed to hit 100 home runs throughout the season, the worst in the AL.  Oakland’s offense has been abysmal since trading Cespedes, but the absence of him isn’t the only issue with Oakland as Stephen Vogt and Brandon Moss have drastically regressed over the second half of the season.

Expect a pitcher’s duel in Kauffman Stadium between old AL East foes, Shields and Lester, as Kansas City looks for their first postseason series in 29 years and Oakland tries to make their third straight postseason series. I have a hard time picking against Lester in the postseason as I pick the Athletics to beat the Royals 3-2.

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NFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

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NFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

By Jared Peterman

NFC EAST:

The typical 8-8 Dallas Cowboys find themselves as the dark horse to win the NFC East after three weeks due to the change in the offensive philosophy and their defense actually being respectable, so far.  Yes, the pressure has been taken off Tony Romo to lead the Cowboys’ offense due to the legs of DeMarco Murray (75 attempts, 385 yards, 3TDs), but in order for the Cowboys to steal the divisional title, Romo must make the right decisions and limit the turnovers.  Dallas had one of the worst defenses in football history last season and it only got worse on paper this offseason, but through three weeks, it hasn’t been terrible.  In a terrible defensive division, the Cowboys can rise to the top behind playmakers, Murray and WR Dez Bryant.

NFC NORTH:

The Detroit Lions made their statement as a real contender to win the NFC North when they took down the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 and rising to the top of the division.  It was only the second time Matthew Stafford defeated the Packers with Aaron Rodgers at QB in his career, but he wasn’t the headline of the statement victory, instead it was the defense.  Detroit’s defense has been a focal point throughout the three weeks of the season as they held the Packers to seven points and have allowed 45 points on the season, tied for second best in the NFL.  The offense has been shaky the past two weeks, but I have no problem believing in Stafford throwing the Lions to the NFC North crown with the hands of Calvin Johnson and company.

NFC SOUTH:

Everyone’s favorite to win the NFC South resided in New Orleans or Carolina coming into the season, while Atlanta flew under the radar after an injury plagued season.  Through three weeks, Atlanta sits at 2-1, defeating divisional foes, New Orleans and Tampa Bay.  Week 1 proved why the Falcons can win the NFC South, and they proved that with pure offense from the arm of Matt Ryan, into the hands of WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White.  The Falcons have scored a league leading 103 points through Week 3 and look to build on that to win a divisional title. Atlanta’s play down the stretch will determine their standing in the NFC South as they’re faced with a grueling final five games.

NFC WEST:

The San Francisco 49ers are currently 1-2 and third in the juggernaut NFC West, but they’re my dark horse to rise atop the division.  With a banged up defense, I’m putting my trust in QB Colin Kaepernick to lead the 49ers to a divisional title with his arm and his legs.  The offense is loaded with weapons at the disposal for Kaepernick to become a superstar, but he’s been limited to shorter passing routes in the scheme.  If the weapons around Kaepernick, especially TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree can stay healthy all season, the 49ers have the offense to score points on Arizona and Seattle’s stout defenses, as well as shutting their offensives down with a still above-average defense.  This formula puts San Francisco in a prime position to catch the NFC West title.

AFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

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AFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

By Jared Peterman

AFC NORTH:

Despite the recent injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a real threat to win the AFC North Division.  Through Week 3, the Steelers sit 2-1, one game back of the Cincinnati Bengals, and tied with the Baltimore Ravens. Besides the horrible loss to the Ravens, the Steelers have shown flashes of dominance, especially in Week 3 vs the Carolina Panthers.  Behind the Steelers’ drive to the divisional title is the effectiveness of WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, the two have helped the Steelers put up 30 point efforts in Weeks 1 and 3.  If the defense can find a way to stay healthy, Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot at winning the AFC North.

AFC EAST:

Through Week 3, the Buffalo Bills find themselves atop the AFC East division at a 2-1 record, 1-0 in the division.  Despite being in first place through three weeks, the Bills are still my dark horse candidate to win the division as everyone expects the New England Patriots to win the division as always.  The Bills shocked the Chicago Bears in a Week 1 overtime win and continued the success against the Miami Dolphins, a divisional rival.  Buffalo’s defense has been the strong suit throughout three weeks as it’s held their opponents to 52 points, 8th best among the NFL.  The defense has been strong, but their legitimacy relies on the offense and their explosive playmakers. Besides QB EJ Manuel, RB CJ Spiller is the key to keeping the Bills’ in contention with the AFC East crown as he can impact the game with a single carry. If the Bills can figure out how to productively feed Spiller, opponent’s defenses can be in trouble, as well as the rest of the AFC East.

AFC SOUTH:

After a stunning win at Arrowhead Stadium vs the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, the Tennessee Titans have been embarrassed the past two weeks by the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals, but that isn’t scaring me to pick them as a dark horse in an Indianapolis Colts’ favored AFC South division. At the moment, Tennessee is tied with the Colts at a 1-2 record, and have a pretty manageable schedule in front of them.  Ray Horton’s defense has been much better than the points against shows as turnovers have put the defense in tough spots against the Cowboys and the Bengals.  QB Jake Locker decides whether the Titans challenge for the AFC South or have another losing season.  The run game between Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey has been sneaky productive from the YPC standpoint and Locker is surrounded by weapons in WRs Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, along with TE Delanie Walker. Tennessee is a little bit of a long shot to win the division, but if Locker puts it together, beware AFC South.

AFC WEST:

Flat out, the San Diego Chargers (2-1) are true contenders to win the AFC West division and made their statement clear as they defeated the Seattle Seahawks by scoring 30 points against the Super Bowl Champions.  Although I don’t view the Chargers as a true “dark horse,” most people assume the Denver Broncos will win another AFC West title behind Peyton Manning, therefore the Chargers are my dark horse pick.  The secondary seems rebuilt with the additions of CBs Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett (Rookie).  The true reason the Chargers can win the divisional title is their offense and the resurgence of Antonio Gates through three weeks.  The injuries of RBs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead hurt their run game, but Donald Brown gives legitimate insurance at the position.  The key to the Chargers’ AFC West crown relies on the health and production of the playmakers around QB Philip Rivers.