Travelers Championship Prediction

The Travelers Championship golf tournament is set for June 21-24 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. That means it’s time to pick your optimal FanPicks fantasy golf lineup. Fortunately, our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.

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Here’s what our best Travelers 2018 lineup looks like:

Patrick Reed ($7,400)

Love him or hate him, this guy’s proving tougher than one of Trump’s well-done steaks. Another star-studded field — Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day are among the headliners — should elicit some magic from a player who loves to beat the best. Since the Valspar in March, he has a Masters win and six other top 10s on the strength of a short game that keeps bailing him out (6th in SG: Around the Green).

Daniel Berger ($6,500)

He was something of a forgotten man at the U.S. Open despite playing in the final group, and he was denied at the 2017 Travelers by Jordan Spieth’s improbable hole-out from the bunker in sudden death. One would forgive Berger if he arrived at TPC River Highlands in a salty mood. He has a scoring average of 67.13 in two turns at the Travelers (T5, P2). That’ll play.

Xander Schauffele ($6,300)

In the last 12 months, he has two top-6 U.S. Open finishes, a Tour Championship win and a T2 at The Players. It’s time for us all to learn to spell Schauffele, because he ain’t going anywhere, and he obviously loves playing against elite fields. He followed up last year’s U.S. Open T5 with a T14 at the Travelers. We’d take something similar this week.

Brendan Steele ($5,500)

Steele has six top 25s (including a T5) in seven appearances at TPC River Highlands with a scoring average of 68.08. But this is more than a course-horse play. Steele is a great driver of the ball (8th in SG: Off the Tee) and a solid ball striker (11th in GIR). He’s overdue for a good finish.

Luke List ($5,900)

Luke’s been on our list multiple times this season, and we’re not afraid to go back to that well. He tends to excel at shorter tracks — like Honda (P2) and Heritage (T3) — and he’s third on Tour in SG: Tee to Green, a stat that’ll play well at a shotmaker’s course like River Highlands.

Aaron Baddeley ($5,200)

Badds was pretty good at Shinnecock, where a final-round 69 snuck him into the top 25. He’s a good putter who has thrived at River Highlands, with a scoring average of 68.23 since 2010. He’s also a surprising second on Tour in SG: Around the Green.

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Posted in Golf

Complete Big 12 preview for the 2018 season.

Oklahoma has a few key players to replace from last year’s squad, but coach Lincoln Riley’s team is the pick to win the Big 12 this fall. The Sooners have claimed the conference title three years in a row and hold an edge over Texas, West Virginia and TCU in the 2018 Big 12 predictions. The Mountaineers will have no trouble scoring points behind quarterback Will Grier, but the defense will be key in whether or not this team contends for the conference title. After eight teams reached bowl eligibility last season, it would not be a surprise to see the conference reach that level or if nine programs hit at least six victories in 2018.

Baylor

Playing with a chip on their shoulder after last year’s 1-11 finish, the Bears should be able to get off to a better start and make a run at their eighth bowl bid in nine years. But staying healthy will be the key.

Iowa State

Coach Matt Campbell was a year ahead of schedule in getting Iowa State back to a bowl game. The program seems poised to maintain its momentum. The Cyclones should be better in the trenches on both sides of the football, and across the board, this is a deeper and more athletic team than the one that went 8-5 a year ago. Another trip to the postseason seems likely in Ames, and finishing in the upper half of the Big 12 is possible.

Kansas

KU finished just 1-11 in 2017, with its only win coming in the season opener against FCS opponent Southeast Missouri State. Coach David Beaty’s record stands at 3-33 in three seasons, with his only FBS win coming against Texas in 2016. The stakes will be high in 2018. If KU struggles to start the season, the moves could come in a hurry.

Kansas State

K-State coach Bill Snyder has enough returning talent and experience to remain a factor in the Big 12, but it won’t be easy with two new coordinators and uncertainty at key positions. The Wildcats started slow in each of the past two seasons before finishing strong and winning bowl games. They will need to play well from the get-go, especially with Mississippi State on the schedule, to reach higher levels this season.

Oklahoma

In Norman, they’re used to replacing All-Americans and continuing to win big. So downgrade the Sooners with caution. Sure, the coaches would like to be more settled at quarterback. And the schedule doesn’t offer the opportunity to ease into things, with UCLA visiting in Week 2, followed by the Big 12 opener at Iowa State the following Saturday. Still, if Kyler Murray or Austin Kendall takes hold of the quarterback position, the Sooners will again have the look of a Big 12 favorite and CFB Playoff contender.

Oklahoma State

Outside the program, all focus centers on replacing QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington, understandably. Inside, however, there’s a quiet confidence, with 12 returning starters and plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

A quarterback must emerge, but Oklahoma State coaches are excited about their options. The schedule offers two comfortable games – Missouri State and South Alabama – to get the quarterback some confidence, before Boise State arrives in Stillwater for an intriguing non-conference clash. If all goes well early, it could signal business as usual for the Cowboys.

TCU

Like always, TCU will field a good defense. But coach Gary Patterson and his staff have assembled what looks like the best offensive skill talent they’ve ever had. If the offensive line comes together, TCU will be closer to pairing an offense that can keep up with the Big 12’s best with a defense that can win games on its own. The last time that happened, in 2014 and ’15, TCU won 23 of 26 games, shared a league championship and nearly crashed the CFP.

Texas

Texas improved from five to seven wins in Tom Herman’s first season. Getting to a bowl game was a nice first step. Herman also established a culture and added some elite talent in his first full recruiting class. To challenge Oklahoma for supremacy in the Big 12, the Horns will have to show significant improvement on offense and hope that Todd Orlando’s defense doesn’t drop off too much despite key personnel losses.

Texas Tech

Texas Tech’s defense got key stops consistently for the first time in years in 2017, but the offense often wasted away those opportunities, particularly in the red zone, where short-yardage situations and field goal tries often ended in disaster.

To take a step forward, the Red Raider offense simply has to get tougher on the ground, the quarterback — whoever wins the job — needs to be steady, the kicking game must take a huge step forward and the defense needs to stay on course. A veteran offensive line and a healthy kicker in Clayton Hatfield should help, but the quarterback’s success or failure will weigh the heaviest on this team’s season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job depends on it.

West Virginia

WVU fans were downright giddy for the 2018 team until departures and injuries hit the Mountaineer defense in the spring. Now, there’s a wait-and-see approach while defensive coordinator Tony Gibson tries to patch the holes.

With Will Grier and perhaps the nation’s best receiving corps, WVU will score. The only question is whether they’ll have to score 50 per game to cover for the defense.

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Posted in CFB

Complete Big Ten preview for 2018.

The Big Ten heads into the 2018 college football season with five candidates to reach the playoff. After winning the conference championship last year, Ohio State is the favorite in the Big Ten to win the league title once again. However, rival Michigan and division foes Penn State and Michigan State aren’t far behind. In the West, Wisconsin is a clear favorite over Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue. The Badgers face a tougher schedule than they had in 2017, but coach Paul Chryst’s program has the returning talent to push Ohio State or any of the teams from the East in the Big Ten Championship.

Penn State

Saquon Barkley is someone else’s problem now, but opponents should still be wary of this offense, especially if Trace McSorley displays the kind of accuracy he showed while completing all 12 of his third-down passing attempts vs. Washington in the Fiesta Bowl. Penn State is going to get its points. But can a graduation-depleted defense stop opponents from getting theirs? That’s what will determine whether this team earns its third consecutive New Year’s Six bowl berth.

Ohio State

OSU ended last season with a win over That Team Up North and a defeat of USC in the Rose Bowl, but the 55–24 setback at Iowa still can’t be explained. Plus, the late-season momentum was offset by the loss of a multitude of key players, QB J.T. Barrett atop the list. The Buckeyes will march onward with a new quarterback, a roster loaded with hungry talent and a defense that still plans to come after people.

Michigan

This is a pivotal season for coach Jim Harbaugh, whose struggles against his three main rivals are well documented. His fourth Michigan team will once again be outstanding on defense. If the offense, a trouble spot in recent years, shows any improvement, this team can compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff — even against a difficult schedule that includes the usual suspects from the Big Ten East as well as Notre Dame (on the road) and Wisconsin (the top team from West). However, if the quarterback play remains an issue and the offensive line doesn’t progress, it will be more of the same in Ann Arbor.

Indiana

Head coach Tom Allen landed Indiana’s best recruiting class in years and has upgraded the program’s athleticism. But depending on freshmen to win against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State is not a winning formula. With questions at quarterback, the offensive line and across the defense, the ceiling for this team could be six wins.

Maryland

Coach DJ Durkin’s endless enthusiasm was tested last year. Injuries crippled a promising team that upset Texas in the opener. The Terrapins got pounded by the Big Ten’s biggest bullies. Now there’s a second straight top-30 recruiting class in tow, five new coaches, a new state-of-the-art indoor practice/sports medicine facility in New Cole Field House, and a whole new offense with some healthy quarterbacks. Big Ten foes may not have to “Fear the Turtle” just yet, but they’ll have to start paying attention.

Michigan State

Michigan State bounced back from a 3–9 season to reach double-digit wins for the sixth time in eight years. With 19 returning starters from a team that went 10–3, the Spartans are a dangerous contender in one of the best divisions in college football and will continue to be a problem for Penn State and Michigan. A return to the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2015 is unlikely but not impossible. No one is expecting Michigan State to leapfrog Ohio State, but that’s the way coach Mark Dantonio likes it.

Rutgers

A bowl game is the hope for coach Chris Ash’s third season — a goal he is not shying away from. But if bowl eligibility does happen, it will likely be achieved early. Six of the first seven opponents Rutgers faces were a combined 20-52 last season, including three that lost 10 games or more. The closing five-game stretch of Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State — a combined 52-14 last year — isn’t conducive to making bowl headway. In the end, it all comes down to offensive improvement and the play at quarterback for this team.

Wisconsin

The defense has been the star for the first three years of the Paul Chryst era, a stretch that includes 34 wins. Now, the Badgers might have to light up the scoreboard if they’re going to make a run at the Big Ten title. A light non-conference schedule should give the defense a chance to grow, but that group needs to be ready for a Big Ten slate that includes road games against five bowl teams from a year ago.

Iowa

There is a lot to like but also a lot to question about this Iowa team. QB Nate Stanley and TE Noah Fant both have star potential, the defensive ends might be the best in the Big Ten as a group and the kicking game is solid. On the other hand, the top two running backs have to be replaced, along with all three starting linebackers and an All-America cornerback.
One of Iowa’s biggest strengths might be its schedule, which doesn’t include games against Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State – three of the Big 4 from the Big Ten East.

Nebraska

Nebraska has been largely absent from the national discussion since 2001, and the Cornhuskers haven’t won a conference championship since 1999. Without overstating things, coach Scott Frost and staff were miracle workers at UCF, taking a program from 0-12 the season before they arrived to 13-0, including a Peach Bowl victory against Auburn, last year, their second in Orlando.
Whether they can work such magic in two seasons again is uncertain. Nebraska had better than 4-8 talent a year ago, and much of it returns. New systems are in place all the way around, causing growing pains, and the schedule is daunting. But the Cornhuskers will be up-tempo, aggressive, physical — and competitive.

Minnesota

For the third time in four seasons, Minnesota figures to enter November still in search of an elusive sixth win — and bowl eligibility. A year ago, in coach P.J. Fleck’s first season at Minnesota, the Gophers lacked depth and talent and finished at 5-7, including 2-7 in the Big Ten. It marked the first time Minnesota had missed a bowl since 2011.
“The outside people are going to say, “What about your wins?”” Fleck said during the spring. “Again, I’m not worried about all that. I’m not worried one bit about any of the wins and losses. I’m worried about developing this football team.”
Fleck, who took Western Michigan from 1-11 to 8-5 in Year 2 in Kalamazoo, received a one-year rollover contract extension at Minnesota during last season and now has five years remaining to build the program in his image.

Northwestern

With 27 wins in the last three seasons and a new lakefront facility, Northwestern clearly has momentum. Keeping it likely depends on QB Clayton Thorson, who, if healthy, can take the Wildcats a long way. But his uncertain status and key losses at running back, safety and defensive tackle increase the degree of difficulty. Northwestern needs line play to excel and for its star power on defense to shine again. Although the schedule is tough, Northwestern misses both Ohio State and Penn State and gets almost all of its marquee opponents at home.

Illinois

Coach Lovie Smith’s teams are 5-19 overall and just 2-16 in the Big Ten, including an unprecedented 0-9 in 2017. He has a six-year deal, so the administration is giving him time. The fans want to see some progress and some excitement. The schedule is challenging, with an early game against South Florida in Chicago, visits from Penn State and Iowa and trips to Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern.
During the past two decades, the third year has been a charm for Illinois coaches. Ron Turner, Ron Zook and Tim Beckman earned bowl bids in their third seasons. If offensive coordinator Rod Smith continues to have a golden touch with quarterbacks, like he did at Arizona, the offense will improve. Enough to bump the win total to six? Probably not.

Purdue

Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Coach Jeff Brohm exceeded those expectations by leading Purdue to its first bowl win since 2011. Veteran defensive leaders keyed the turnaround last year. Now, with so many of those players gone, the pressure is on the offense. Purdue could take a step back in Year 2 before it takes two steps forward in Year 3.

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Posted in CFB

Mets at Rockies Preview

Two teams that have struggled mightily following promising starts meet Monday as the New York Mets visit the Colorado Rockies for the opener of their four-game series. Play this single game contest here. The Rockies have lost 12 of their last 16 games and hit a new low Sunday, when closer Wade Davis gave up four runs in the ninth inning of a 13-12 interleague loss to Texas.

The Mets improved to 2-4 on their 10-game road trip with Sunday’s 5-3 win over Arizona after staging a four-run rally in the ninth, which was highlighted by Brandon Nimmo’s two-out homer and Asdrubal Cabrera’s solo blast. Nimmo continued to impress with three hits from the leadoff spot while right fielder Jay Bruce returned to the starting lineup after missing three games with a sore back and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Colorado dropped two of three to the Rangers over the weekend despite recording 15 hits in Sunday’s loss – including three from Gerardo Parra, who doubled twice and collected four RBIs. The Rockies are 4-11 this month and need better results from a bullpen that was viewed as a strength early in the season but faltered again Sunday, allowing seven runs over 3 1/3 innings.

TV: 8:40 p.m. ET, SNY (New York), AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Mets RH Jacob deGrom (4-2, 1.55 ERA) vs. Rockies LH Tyler Anderson (4-1, 4.48)

DeGrom leads the majors with a 0.87 ERA since April 21, registering 83 strikeouts against 17 walks in 10 starts during that stretch. The Floridian was a hard-luck loser on Wednesday, when he allowed one run with seven strikeouts and no walks over seven innings in a 2-0 setback against Atlanta. Nolan Arenado is 2-for-14 against deGrom, who turns 30 on Tuesday and owns a 3-0 record and 0.99 ERA in five career starts against Colorado.

Anderson matched his longest outing of the season on Wednesday, allowing one run while striking out six over seven innings in a 7-2 win over Philadelphia. The 28-year-old native of Las Vegas has gone 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA in five starts at Coors Field this season, compared to 3-0 with a 4.08 ERA in nine road outings. Anderson is making his first start against the Mets since settling for a no-decision on July 28, 2016, when he allowed one run over six frames.

WALK-OFFS

1. The Mets have scored a total of six runs over deGrom’s last five outings.

2. Colorado has lost eight consecutive home games.

3. The Mets activated Jeurys Familia, who picked up the win on Sunday, from the 10-day disabled list and optioned fellow RHP Jacob Rhame to Triple-A Las Vegas.

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Posted in MLB

World Cup Prediction

The World Cup kicks off June 14 in Moscow with a meeting between the two lowest-ranked teams in the field, which, in some ways, is quite appropriate. The competition is meant to be a crescendo, one whose drama and defining moments don’t occur until the very end. With the way the draw and schedule worked out, that’s precisely how Russia 2018 is shaping up to play out.

Russia vs. Saudi Arabia will be a massive 90 minutes for the host nation, which can set its tone for the tournament in front of its partisan crowd. But once it’s over, the focus will shift to the traditional powers and the individual superstars who figure to have plenty of say in determining the 2018 world champion.

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At least that’s how we see things going. In anticipation of the 32-team, month-long battle for international supremacy, we size up the tournament field and make our picks for who will get out of each group and how the knockout stage will unfold–from the round of 16 to the moment the trophy is lifted July 15 at the same Luzhniki Stadium where all of the drama will kick off.

In case you’re in need of a refresher, here are the eight groups at the World Cup:

Prediction

Group Winners: A – Uruguay | B – Spain | C – France | D – Croatia | E – Brazil | F – Germany | G – Belgium | H – Colombia

Group Runners-Up: A – Russia | B – Portugal | C – Denmark | D – Iceland | E – Switzerland | F – Mexico | G – England | H – Senegal

Spain will win its second World Cup in three cycles by relying on an experienced core balancing solid defense (goalkeeper David De Gea; center backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué), a masterly midfield (Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Thiago) and an emerging front line (Marco Asensio, Isco, Diego Costa).

Their ball control will wear out defending champ Germany in the semifinals and then, in the final, Belgium, which will outlast a slew of talented teams in the Red Devils’ half of the draw: Brazil (upset by Mexico), France (which has at least one stinker every five games) and Uruguay.

Ultimately, the teamwide strength of Spain will prevail in a tournament of surprises over the individual stardom of Brazil’s Neymar, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi (who will go out in the group stage as Argentina finishes behind Croatia and Iceland).

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Posted in EPL/MLS

U.S. Open Predictions

As far as sports predictions go, it doesn’t get any harder than trying to accurately forecast who will win a golf tournament. In any given week, there are something like 30 players who could feasibly take home the trophy. Compare that to the other individual/country club sport, tennis; in those Grand Slams, there are realistically only…five?…players who could win.

Making matters worse for the golf predictions industry: Every once in a while, a Shaun Micheel or Todd Hamilton or Ben Curtis will come around, steal a major championship and rudely remind us that there are way more than 30 players who can win, should their stars align.

Thus, the following picks are educated guesses at best and indulgences in a fool’s exercise worst. But that never stopped anyone in the internetsphere. So let’s have a crack at it—here are some predictions for this week’s U.S. Open Championship, which begins Thursday morning at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.

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SLEEPERS WHO WILL CONTEND COME SUNDAY AFTERNOON

  • Guys who have success this week will need to fly it a country mile off the tee and have a full arsenal of short-game shots. Rain last week and on Wednesday has softened the course considerably, tilting things in long hitters’ favor even more than anticipated, and the shaved areas around the greens will force players to employ a variety of different trajectories with their chips and pitches. A player I keep coming back to is Tony Finau, who is second on the tour in driving distance in 18th in strokes gained off the tee. Finau has played well in majors before—remember when he took 10th at Augusta on an ankle the size of a softball?—and he’ll be on the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
  • Bryson DeChambeau. He is long enough, his iron play is strong enough, and he is hot enough, having just won the Memorial. Winning this event often comes down to making a lot of difficult pars on long holes, and DeChambeau has the game to do it. Calling him a sleeper may be a stretch—he’s up to 22nd in the world and has a good chance of making the Ryder Cup team—but he is at least a napper, as he has never really contended in a major. DeChambeau could be this year’s Brooks Koepka: a winner who was well-known among golf fans but not so much among the crowd that only watches four times a year.

WINNER PREDICTION

So, so hard to pick against Dustin Johnson here. He’s had tremendous success in U.S. Opens. He was absolutely dominant last week. And he has the extra motivation of wanting to prove that he is the desering world No. 1. He’ll certainly be in the mix come Sunday, but I’m going with Brooks Koepka this week. He’s flown a bit under the radar this year mainly because he simply hasn’t played very much—he missed 15 weeks with a wrist injury—but he hasn’t missed a beat since his return, highlighted by a solo second at Colonial. He’ll become the first back-to-back winner since Curis Strange in 1989.

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Posted in Golf

MLB InGame Showdowns

Another two games are set for InGame action.  A maximum of 5 swaps are allowed in this contest with play time of 5 consecutive minutes necessary before a starting player can be benched. Each entry will receive 2 Power Multiplier which can be applied to any starting player to receive 2x points for a duration of 15 minutes respectively. Check out the matchups previews below and play for free.

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Nationals at Yankees Preview

The New York Yankees have relieved heavily on homers of late, with 20 of their last 22 runs scored courtesy of the long ball. After Didi Gregorius recorded his third multi-homer performance of the season in the opener, the Yankees (43-19) vie for a sweep of the abbreviated two-game interleague series versus the visiting Washington Nationals (36-28) on Wednesday.

Gregorius is batting .313 over his last 12 games after belting a pair of solo homers in Tuesday’s 3-0 triumph for New York, which has won 10 of 12 overall and 18 of its last 22 at home. The Yankees’ bullpen pushed its scoreless innings streak to 21 2/3 innings with 3 1/3 spotless frames in the opener, lowering its ERA to a majors-best 0.63 in 42 2/3 innings over the last 14 games. New York’s fourth shutout this season resulted in the second time in as many games that Washington has been blanked, with the latter collecting just eight hits in the process. Manager Dave Martinez said Bryce Harper is expected to be fine after the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player was hit in the elbow and foot by a pair of pitches in Tuesday’s tilt.

TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, ESPN, MASN (Washington), YES (New York)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Nationals RH Erick Fedde (0-1, 4.76 ERA) vs. Yankees RH Sonny Gray (4-4, 4.81)

Multiple media outlets reported that Fedde is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Syracuse to replace fellow right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who was shuffled to the disabled list on Sunday with an ailing shoulder. The 25-year-old allowed three runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings to take the loss against San Diego on May 23 in his lone spot start with the Nationals. Fedde has a 3-2 mark with a 4.76 ERA in 56 2/3 innings with Syracuse this season.

Gray was saddled with a no-decision on Wednesday despite retiring the first 12 batters he faced while scattering two hits and striking out eight over eight scoreless innings against Toronto. The 28-year-old has recorded quality starts in three of his last four trips to the mound. Gray has limited the current crop of Nationals to just a .219 batting average against him, although the hurler has yet to pick up a decision in two career starts versus the club.

WALK-OFFS

1. New York manager Aaron Boone said slumping C Gary Sanchez, who is mired in a 4-for-53 stretch with 18 strikeouts, is expected to sit out his second straight game on Wednesday.

2. Washington CF Adam Eaton has hit safely in both games since being activated from the 60-day disabled list.

3. The Yankees are expected to call up Jonathan Loaisiga to replace fellow RHP Masahiro Tanaka to start either Thursday or Friday’s game against Tampa Bay.

Rockies at Phillies Preview

Scott Kingery has been shuffled around the field this season as the Philadelphia Phillies try to find a home for the promising prospect. The 24-year-old looks to follow up a season high-tying four-RBI performance on Wednesday as the Phillies (34-30) bid for a series victory versus the reeling Colorado Rockies (32-34), who have dropped a season-worst five straight and nine of 11.

Kingery belted a three-run homer for his first blast since April 10 as Philadelphia claimed an early lead and held on for their second straight win with a 5-4 triumph on Tuesday. Cesar Hernandez has hit safely in four consecutive contests and scored a run in three straight and six of his last seven for the Phillies, who evened their six-game homestand at 2-2 and improved to 21-11 at Citizens Bank Park this season. Trevor Story had two singles to record his fourth straight multi-hit performance on Tuesday and crossed the plate twice in the opener to give him six runs scored during his six-game hitting streak. Story will get his first look at right-hander Nick Pivetta while left-hander Tyler Anderson will get the nod for the Rockies.

TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountains (Colorado), NBCS Philadelphia

PITCHING MATCHUP: Rockies LH Tyler Anderson (3-1, 4.81 ERA) vs. Phillies RH Nick Pivetta (4-5, 3.76)

Anderson recorded his fourth straight no-decision on Thursday despite working a season high-tying seven innings against Cincinnati. The 28-year-old allowed just two runs on five hits versus the Reds and kept the ball in the park after being taken deep eight times in his previous six outings. Hernandez (6-for-9) and Maikel Franco (3-for-7) have gotten their licks in on Anderson, although the left-hander has flustered both Aaron Altherr (0-for-5, three strikeouts) and Odubel Herrera (0-for-3, three strikeouts).

Pivetta has answered a three-start winning streak with three straight losses after permitting four runs on six hits in five frames in Thursday’s 4-3 setback versus the Chicago Cubs. The 25-year-old British Columbia native has yielded nine earned runs over 14 innings while allowing the opposition to bat .294 against him during his losing skid. Pivetta was torched in his lone appearance against Colorado, yielding eight runs on as many hits in 2 2/3 innings at Coors Field on Aug. 5.

WALK-OFFS

1. Colorado LF Gerardo Parra has recorded five multi-hit performances in his last eight games.

2. Philadelphia 1B Carlos Santana has gone 0-for-5 — albeit with three walks — in his last two contests on the heels on a seven-game hitting streak.

3. Rockies C Tom Murphy excelled in his major-league debut with three hits on Tuesday after batting .289 with 16 homers in 49 games with Triple-A Albuquerque to open the season.

Twins at Tigers Preview

The Detroit Tigers went nearly the entire month of May without Miguel Cabrera earlier and now will be without their slugging first baseman for the remainder of the season. Cabrera ruptured a tendon in his biceps in Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Minnesota and will undergo season-ending surgery, leaving Detroit scrambling as it resumes the three-game set versus the Twins on Wednesday.

Cabrera was hurt when he took an awkward swing at an offspeed pitch and immediately grabbed his arm, but the severity of the injury wasn’t revealed until after he was sent for an MRI exam. “It’s a very sad day for our baseball team,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s a special player and a special person to have around here. It’s a blow. I feel terrible for him.” Minnesota vaulted past Detroit into second place in the American League Central as Ehire Adrianza belted a grand slam as part of a three-hit game in the series opener. Jose Berrios owns a 3-1 record against the Tigers despite an 8.49 ERA, but he beat them with eight strong innings on May 21, allowing two runs on three hits.

TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, FS North (Minnesota), FS Detroit

PITCHING MATCHUP: Twins RH José Berríos (7-5, 3.66 ERA) vs. Tigers LH Matthew Boyd (4-4, 3.20)

Berrios tossed his second complete game of the year and his first since his season debut, striking out 10 and limiting the Chicago White Sox to two runs and six hits to improve to 4-1 over his last five starts. The 24-year-old has racked up 44 strikeouts over his last five starts, including nine in the victory over Detroit last month. Nicholas Castellanos is 5-for-10 with a homer and four RBIs off Berrios.

Boyd posted his first road victory of the season at Boston in his last outing, limiting the Red Sox to two runs and four hits over 6 1/3 innings. The 27-year-old had his second shortest outing of the season at Minnesota in a 6-0 loss on May 17, permitting only one hit while allowing two runs and walking four. Brian Dozier has been a nemesis for Boyd, going 13-for-32 with three homers, three doubles and five RBIs.

WALK-OFFS

1. Adrianza is 9-for-20 with two homers, seven RBIs and seven runs scored in his last seven games.

2. John Hicks, batting .285 with five homers and 22 RBIs, will take over as Detroit’s starting first baseman.

3. The Twins signed RH Matt Belisle one day after he was released by Cleveland.

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Posted in MLB

Complete ACC preview for the 2018 season.

Clemson is once again the pick to win the ACC title for the 2018 college football season, but the conference has continued to improve its depth in recent years. Miami took a step forward under coach Mark Richt last season by winning its first Coastal Division title and are the pick to win the division once again in 2018. Virginia Tech isn’t far behind, with Georgia Tech and Pitt next in line as contenders. Clemson should be picked No. 1 or No. 2 nationally by most this preseason and holds a significant edge over the rest of the Atlantic. New coach Willie Taggart should have Florida State in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl and is the top threat to the Tigers in the Atlantic. Behind projected first-team All-ACC quarterback Ryan Finley, NC State ranks just outside the top 25 and headlines the next tier of teams in the division. It’s a close call behind the Wolfpack, as Boston College, Wake Forest and Louisville each finished 4-4 in the league last fall and not much separates this trio once again in 2018.

Boston College

This should be one of coach Steve Addazio’s best teams, even though it may not show up in the record, as the Eagles draw both Miami and Virginia Tech out of the ACC Coastal Division and travel to an improved Purdue in the non-conference slate. Still, RB AJ Dillon should have a big year, and the defense has enough returning firepower to keep games close. If either Anthony Brown or EJ Perry provides a real threat in the passing game, the Eagles can win more than seven games under Addazio for the first time in his six years at the Heights.

Clemson

Upsets happen, as Clemson knows after losing to Syracuse last year and Pitt in 2016. But this team is just so much more talented than almost everyone it will play. A fourth consecutive playoff appearance seems like the baseline for this team. Clemson-Bama Part 4 sounds fun.

Florida State

After Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M, FSU’s administration wanted a head coach who could take the football program in a completely new direction. Willie Taggart checked every box. The biggest change, of course, is the swapping of Fisher’s plodding pro-style offense for the up-tempo, spread attack Taggart employed at Oregon and USF. FSU’s defense also will take a more aggressive stance under former Michigan State co-coordinator Harlon Barnett.  Judging by the excitement during spring drills and offseason workouts, FSU’s players are fully on board. That alone should help the Seminoles improve upon their dismal 7–6 campaign from a year ago. How much they improve will depend largely on how quickly they can execute their new schemes at a high level.

Louisville

The Cardinals have more questions in 2018 than they’ve had during any season of Bobby Petrino’s second tour of duty at the school. Louisville must solve significant issues on defense and replace a former Heisman-winning quarterback. And they must do so against a schedule that begins with Alabama in Orlando and includes a road trip to Clemson. Another season in the middle of the ACC Atlantic pack looms.

NC State

NC State got a preview of life without DE Bradley Chubb in the Sun Bowl. The offense did the heavy lifting behind QB Ryan Finley and the receivers and put up 52 points in a win over Arizona State. With so many personnel changes on defense, the same formula will have to work in 2018 for the Wolfpack to avoid a step back after their first top-25 finish under Dave Doeren and only third in the past 20 years.

Syracuse

Syracuse enters Year 3 of the Dino Babers era with reason to believe that a four-year bowl drought could end this fall. The Orange bring back experienced lines, have quality quarterback depth and feature an experienced secondary. The schedule is slightly less of a gauntlet, too.

There are questions, though, on both sides of the ball. How will SU replace its linebackers, including three-time captain Zaire Franklin? Can the receiving corps pick up the production that graduated with Steve Ishmael and Erv Philips?

This projects to be a season in which Babers’ reputation begins to take shape. A postseason appearance would invite talk of a contract extension. But another disappointing finish would hurt much more than the last two seasons.

Wake Forest

The building blocks are there for a third straight bowl appearance. That starts on both lines, where Wake finally boasts talent and experience. Depth is always a concern, and a couple key injuries could eliminate a small margin for error. Coach Dave Clawson has rebuilt the facilities and the culture, and this is now a program that expects to win.

Duke

There’s reason to believe Duke will once again be stout on defense. It could be up to the offense — which averaged only 19.8 points in ACC games — to determine whether the Blue Devils will be a borderline bowl team or emerge as a contender in the Coastal Division. The schedule certainly gets tougher, with non-conference road games at Baylor and Northwestern and a crossover game at Clemson.

Coach David Cutcliffe likes what he sees from his group. “We know this team can run,” he says. “[This] was the most physical Duke football that has been out here in quite some time. This is something we’ve got to build on; I’m anxious to see.”

Georgia Tech

Coach Paul Johnson’s teams traditionally outperform expectations, but last year’s 5-6 record was disappointing because a play here or there in games they led late against Tennessee, Miami or Virginia cost them a bowl berth. With nearly the entire offense returning and a defensive philosophy that should better fit the personnel, it’s easy to envision those games going their way in 2018. There’s never a huge margin for error at Tech, but with even small improvements in TaQuon Marshall’s passing, offensive line play and the kicking game, Tech should return to the postseason and factor into the ACC Coastal race.

Miami

Last year was a rude awakening for the Hurricanes, who elbowed their way into the College Football Playoff discussion in November only to get thrashed by Clemson in the ACC title game. No one in Coral Gables will forget that feeling, and confidence is high on campus that Miami is building the type of team that can compete with the top dogs in any conference. They’re not playing at a championship level consistently, but they’re showing flashes, and Mark Richt’s last two recruiting classes have been excellent. The former Miami quarterback has restored the shine to his alma mater.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels have plenty of room for improvement after limping to a 3-9 record in 2017, but it remains to be seen whether they have enough talent to make much progress. Top priorities on offense are patching together a passable offensive line and getting consistent play at quarterback. On defense, UNC must avoid major breakdowns after allowing five runs of more than 50 yards and five TD passes longer than 65 yards a year ago. With a non-conference schedule that includes two road games and a matchup against UCF, a bowl game would be a good accomplishment.

Pittsburgh

In the past two seasons, Pittsburgh has pulled off major upsets against Miami, Clemson and Penn State. But at what point do the Panthers advance past the occasional stunning win and start to develop more consistency across the board? Coach Pat Narduzzi’s program took a step back in 2017. It finished 5-7 (3-5 in the ACC) after posting 8-5 records in each of his first two seasons. The mission in 2018 is to prove the program is trending upward, as was the case in 2015 and ’16.

Virginia

In Year 2 at Virginia, coach Bronco Mendenhall took the team from two wins to six and helped the Cavaliers reach their first bowl game since 2011. He may be hard pressed to continue that upward trajectory this season, at least in terms of wins and losses. The team lost key seniors in key spots, robbing the lineup not only of production but also of leadership.

The offensive and defensive lines are being largely rebuilt, and the entire offense figures to have a different feel as Virginia moves to a dual-threat quarterback and a scheme more reminiscent of what Mendenhall and his staff employed at BYU. There’s enough depth on defense to be optimistic, and if Bryce Perkins shines at quarterback, the offense could be interesting.

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech fans couldn’t have asked for much more from coach Justin Fuente in his first two years in Blacksburg, where he’s gone 19–8, won a division title and seamlessly handled the transition from legend Frank Beamer. It’s possible that 2018 might be his greatest challenge so far, however, with three-quarters of the roster being sophomores or younger. Fuente and his staff have recruited well, but those classes are just now starting to hit a turning point in their development.

The schedule’s manageable, with Clemson rotating off, Miami at home and the Coastal Division not overwhelming, but the Hokies will need to do a lot of growing up at key positions if they’re going to make a run at the division title again.

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Posted in CFB

Odd ball choices to win the PGA US Open 2018

The PGA Tour returns to Shinnecock Hills on Long Island for the U.S. Open this week, 14 years after Retief Goosen tamed the challenging layout to win his second career major.

After Brooks Koepka bludgeoned Erin Hills last year to the tune of 16-under par, the USGA has strengthened the test this year, with four-inch rough just a couple feet off the fairway.

With an incredibly strong field featuring all of the top players, it should be a dramatic week at the season’s second major.

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Here’s who to target on the drafting board:

Jon Rahm

There isn’t much value on the board with the top players in the field, but Rahm’s is as good as it gets. The 23-year-old already has five wins in his career, and he’s coming off a fourth-place showing at the Masters. Rahm ranks second on tour in strokes gained: off the tee, so he should be able to avoid the unforgiving rough around Shinnecock Hills and give himself plenty of chances to shoot at flags. The fiery Spaniard is prone to emotional meltdowns, but strong play this week should help him avoid that and net him his first career major title.

Henrik Stenson

Any tournament requiring accuracy plays right into Stenson’s hands, as the Swede is among the most precise players in the world. He leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: approach the green and greens in regulation on shots from 200 yards or more. Both of those stats will be crucial around a Shinnecock Hills layout in which seven of the par 4s play 469 yards or longer. Stenson has also shown he’s at his best in the biggest events on tour, posting five top-15 showings in his last seven majors.

Adam Scott

 

For a long time, it didn’t look like Scott would be playing in the U.S. Open, but the Australian star went to sectional qualifying and took care of business to make the field. He’s employing a local caddie this week that he has used in previous trips to Shinnecock Hills, including one in 2013 that saw him shoot a then-course record 63 from the championship tees. That familiarity with the course, and solid play of late, make Scott an attractive option.

Jimmy Walker

Walker is certainly trending in the right direction heading to Shinnecock Hills, as he’s posted three top-six finishes in his last five starts. The other two showings are both in the top 25, so it’s safe to say the 2016 PGA Champion is on top of his game right now. While Walker has missed the last two cuts in the U.S. Open, his form lately is too good to pass up this week.

Brendan Steele

If proficiency off the tee is going to be a premium, Steele is a quality long-shot, as the veteran pro is eighth on tour in strokes gained: off the tee. The 35-year-old’s career record in major championships hasn’t been great, but he does have two straight top-15 showings at the U.S. Open. A strong ball-striking week should give Steele some opportunities for a number of birdies, and, if he can roll in a few putts, don’t be shocked if he’s around Sunday afternoon.

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Posted in Golf

MLB InGame Showdowns

Another two games are set for InGame action.  A maximum of 5 swaps are allowed in this contest with play time of 5 consecutive minutes necessary before a starting player can be benched. Each entry will receive 2 Power Multiplier which can be applied to any starting player to receive 2x points for a duration of 15 minutes respectively. Check out the matchups previews below and play for free.

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Red Sox at Orioles Preview

The visiting Boston Red Sox will try to clinch their fourth straight series win over the Baltimore Orioles when the teams play the second of three straight at Camden Yards on Tuesday. Two sacrifice flies in the top of the 12th inning accounted for all the offense in a 2-0 win for the Red Sox in the series opener Monday night.

Steven Wright and five relievers combined on a five-hit shutout for Boston, which is 10-1 in the last 11 contests against the Orioles dating to last season and has claimed six straight games in Baltimore. Mookie Betts returned from an oblique strain and had a hit in five trips to the plate in the opener of a 10-game road trip for the Red Sox. Orioles shortstop Manny Machado missed Monday’s contest due to an illness and could return Tuesday to face Eduardo Rodriguez, against whom he is 6-for-31 with five strikeouts. Baltimore counters with streaking rookie David Hess as it attempts to end a five-game slide.

TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, NESN (Boston), MASN2 (Baltimore)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Red Sox LH Eduardo Rodriguez (7-1, 3.68 ERA) vs. Orioles RH David Hess (2-2, 3.07)

Rodriguez has won four straight and already surpassed last season’s win total after emerging victorious against Detroit on Wednesday. He limited the Tigers to one run and five hits over 5 2/3 innings while striking out five in his fifth consecutive home outing. The 25-year-old started his current winning streak with 5 2/3 scoreless innings in a victory over Baltimore on May 20, improving to 5-5 with a 3.97 ERA in 12 career meetings.

Hess has a 0.96 ERA over his last three starts after stifling the Toronto Blue Jays through six innings his last time out. The solid stretch began after a rocky effort opposite Rodriguez at Fenway Park last month, when Hess gave up five runs across 4 2/3 frames. The Tennessee native has a 3.00 ERA in two home starts while yielding 10 hits and a walk in 12 innings.

WALK-OFFS

1. Orioles 1B Chris Davis was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts Monday as his average through 57 games fell to .150.

2. Red Sox LF Andrew Benintendi is 13-for-30 with six walks in eight games against Baltimore this year.

3. Boston 1B Mitch Moreland is 2-for-19 over a six-game span to drop his average from .310 to .287.

Nationals at Yankees Preview

The New York Yankees have seen their notoriously loud bats fall silent of late as the club matched a season low with three hits in its last outing and is batting .176 over the last four games overall. The Yankees (42-19) look to avoid hitting the snooze button once again Tuesday when they open an abbreviated two-game interleague series against the visiting Washington Nationals (36-27).

Gary Sanchez is mired in a 4-for-53 stretch while teammates Greg Bird (1-for-16) and Aaron Judge (2-for-23) are also slumping. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who has answered a six-game hitting streak by striking out five times in his last two contests, scored a run in the last meeting with Washington – a 3-3 deadlock on May 15 that was suspended after 5 1/2 innings. While the Yankees became the final major-league team to get shut out when they were blanked by the cross-town Mets on Sunday night, the Nationals also lost a 2-0 decision to San Francisco hours earlier to fall to 4-5 in their last nine outings. Anthony Rendon, who belted a solo homer in the suspended game versus the Yankees, is 6-for-16 with five RBIs and six runs scored in his last four games.

TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, MASN (Washington), WPIX (New York)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Nationals RH Tanner Roark (3-6, 3.56 ERA) vs. Yankees LH CC Sabathia (3-1, 3.59)

Roark recorded his first win since April 30 after allowing two runs on six hits in an 11-2 romp of Tampa Bay on Wednesday. The 31-year-old worked six innings in that contest, marking the 11th time in 12 starts that he has ventured that far into a game. Roark will be making his first career start versus the Yankees, although he is very familiar with Stanton (8-for-33, four home runs) from the slugger’s time with Miami.

Like Roark, Sabathia also snapped a prolonged winless drought in his last outing after yielding two runs on three hits in seven innings of a 7-2 triumph over Toronto. The 37-year-old, who won for the first time since April 29, was taken deep twice to raise his home run total to seven in his last five trips to the mound. Mark Reynolds is 4-for-18 with a homer versus Sabathia, but the left-hander owns a 2-1 career mark against the Nationals with a 2.25 ERA and an 0.92 WHIP while limiting the club to a .185 batting average.

WALK-OFFS

1. Washington rookie OF Juan Soto is 20-for-61 and has reached base safely in 16 of 19 games played.

2. New York’s bullpen allowed only two unearned runs and struck out 25 in 19 1/3 innings over the past week.

3. Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy (right knee surgery) is expected to accompany his club to Yankee Stadium and could be activated from the disabled list this week, according to the Washington Post.

Twins at Tigers Preview

The Detroit Tigers just suffered the scheduling misfortune of having to play three of the best teams in the American League – the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians – in consecutive series and took one game from each opponent. After a well-deserved day off, the Tigers will host the division-rival Minnesota Twins on Tuesday in the opener of a three-game series.

Detroit battled all three of the likely playoff teams while finishing up a stretch of 18 games in 17 days and managed to go 10-8 before getting a day off. “We’re hanging in there,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters. “We played a lot of close ballgames. One swing here and there could’ve changed it, and one good pitch here and there. So, 10-8, yes, but we could’ve been better, and I think that’s what keeps driving these guys. We can do better.” The Twins are hoping they can do better as well after dropping four of their last six and scoring three runs or fewer in each of the four setbacks. Minnesota will try to get the bats going against Detroit left-hander Blaine Hardy while countering with veteran Jake Odorizzi on Tuesday.

TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, FS North (Minnesota), FS Detroit

PITCHING MATCHUP: Twins RH Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 4.24 ERA) vs. Tigers LH Blaine Hardy (2-1, 3.66)

Odorizzi is winless in his last five starts and is coming off the lone loss in that span after allowing three runs on six hits and a walk in five innings against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. The 28-year-old is struggling to work deep into games and completed six innings only twice in his last 10 starts. Odorizzi is seeing Detroit for the first time this season and is 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA in four career starts against the Tigers.

Hardy is trying to hang onto a spot in the rotation and followed up two strong performances with a loss at Boston on Wednesday. The 31-year-old was ripped for five runs on eight hits in six innings and allowed a home run – just his third homer surrendered in 32 innings. Hardy was better in a no-decision at Minnesota on May 21, when he scattered two runs and seven hits across five innings while striking out four.

WALK-OFFS

1. Tigers RHP Jordan Zimmermann (shoulder) will make his third minor league rehab start on Monday and could return to the majors this weekend.

2. Twins SS Eduardo Escobar was named AL Player of the Week on Monday after batting .462 with nine extra-base hits and eight RBIs last week.

3. Minnesota 3B Miguel Sano struck out at least once in each of his last 13 games.

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Posted in MLB

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview

The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup is on our doorstep. The most publicized sporting event in the world… Yes, yes, even before the Olympic Games, will once again bring together the countries of the planet around the same passion. THIRTY-TWO nations have qualified for this great tournament, some for the first time, others are accustomed and some that… will shine by their absence. Over the next few weeks, before the start of the “beautiful game” tourney, FanPicks will cover every nation participating in the group stage. Don’t forget to enter the World Cup contests at fanpicks.com

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Group H

Poland

Poland will be in their 7th World Cup participation, and their return to the big stage since 2006. In this very open group, they have many chances to shine, especially since they can count on top scorer Robert Lewandowski. He scored a record and 16 goals in the qualifications and was voted best player in Poland for a seventh consecutive year. Qualified first of his group with 8 wins, one defeat, one draw, the Polish defense worries a little with 14 goals conceded, the highest total of all group winners. Jakub Blaszczykowski, Wojciech Szczesny, Bartosz Bereszynski and Kamil Grosicki are there to prove that Poland is more than the business of one man and that it may be the best team they have presented for generations!

Senegal

They will only be at their 2nd participation in the World Cup, but Senegal had seduced at the first, going to the quarter-finals in 2002. Since then, nothing. This time, they’ve qualified not only by winning his group, but also by not losing any match, a first in 12 qualifying tournaments. Sadio Mané, a brilliant Liverpool player, will be the rock of this team. And interestingly, coach Aliou Cissé, was captain of the selection who did wonders in 2002. Another miracle this year?

Colombia

Colombia achieved its best performance in the 2014 World Cup by going to the quarter-final in Brazil, beaten by the host team 2 to 1. James Rodriguez, with six goals scored, had received the Golden Boot and international fame. Argentinian coach José Perkeman had the credit for bringing Colombia to this stage. He is still there and he can count on players like David Ospina, Radamel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado and of course Rodriguez. In this open group, it has been said, Colombia has a good chance of pursuing its course.

Japan

Japan qualified for its first World Cup in 1998, they never missed an edition since. Alternating group and round phase of the 16, Japan, if we follow this logic, should go to the eighth of the final this year. But its not that simple… Coach Akira Nishino has been in office just two months before the start of the World Cup, it’s not much time set up is team to his system of play. The team will still want to forget the painful performance of 2014, two losses a draw in a group that was within the reach of the samurai’s. They can count on players like Maya Yoshida (Southampton) and Shinji Okazaki (Leicester) to work they way through group H.

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Posted in EPL/MLS

Complete SEC preview for the 2018 season.

After winning its fifth title in nine seasons last year, Alabama is primed for another run at the national championship and SEC title in 2018. The Crimson Tide are the pick in 2018 SEC predictions to edge Auburn and win the West Division and knock off Georgia in the conference title game to claim the league championship. The Bulldogs are also primed for another run into the CFB Playoff. Coach Kirby Smart continues to add elite talent on the recruiting trail, and there’s a strong foundation to build off the 2017 season. Auburn is Alabama’s biggest challenger in the West, followed by Mississippi State and Texas A&M. The race to finish second in the East is wide open. Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky or Missouri are next up, with Tennessee and Vanderbilt projected at the bottom of the division.

Florida

Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen embraces the incredible expectations that drove his former boss, Urban Meyer, to retire for a season and cost Will Muschamp and McElwain their jobs at Florida. Mullen’s ability to develop quarterbacks is critical given the long-standing issues under center. He and his staff must prove to be strong recruiters to rebuild Florida’s talent level and depth after four straight classes outside the top 10. The 46-year-old will benefit from a favorable schedule. Doubling last season’s total of four wins is within reach.

Georgia

Georgia doesn’t have the experience coming back that it did last year, but it may have as much talent. It’s just younger and inexperienced talent, and that does matter, and would be a reason not to expect another CFB Playoff run. Then again, the schedule is far from daunting. Georgia has to go to LSU, and September games at South Carolina and Missouri could be troublesome. Auburn visits Athens.

Georgia should be a heavy favorite to repeat as SEC East champion. Everything else probably depends on how quickly the defense reloads.

Kentucky

If Kentucky can find a competent quarterback, there is enough experienced talent at the other positions to envision the Wildcats breaking through the seven-win plateau for the first time in the coach Mark Stoops era. If not, the Wildcats could be in danger of taking a step back by either falling to a lesser bowl than the last two seasons or missing postseason play altogether.

Missouri

There’s just enough turnover to give one pause, but most of the reasons for last year’s second-half surge return. That suggests a pretty high floor in a division that features quite a few teams that bottomed out in 2017.

South Carolina

If a Will Muschamp-coached team is ever going to get the offense going, this would seem the year with QB Jake Bentley and WR Deebo Samuel in the fold. The defense has personnel question marks, but Muschamp and 3rd year defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson have earned the benefit of the doubt on that side of the ball.

With Florida and Tennessee in transition thanks to coaching changes, South Carolina can realistically enter the season with its eye on second place in the SEC East, the same spot it claimed a year ago. It’s probably a bit much to expect the Gamecocks to compete with defending conference champion Georgia, but South Carolina gets the Bulldogs in the second game of the season at home, so there’s always hope.

Tennessee

Tennessee doesn’t have much margin for error, particularly with a challenging schedule that opens with offensive juggernaut West Virginia. The Vols plan to be efficient with a low-risk offense, mindful of turnovers while featuring aggressive blitz packages and coverage schemes. New coach Jeremy Pruitt hopes that recipe is good enough to produce (at least) six wins in Year 1.

Vanderbilt

The overall win total dropped by only one game from 2016 to 2017, but a deeper dive into the numbers reveals that the Commodores took a significant step back in coach Derek Mason’s fourth season. To get his team back into the bowl picture — and to stay off the hot seat — Mason will need to solve the Commodores’ defensive issues. Even if QB Kyle Shurmur and the offense continue to progress — a realistic proposition with an improved offensive line and the addition of Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the backfield — Vanderbilt will struggle to stay out of the SEC East cellar if the defense is allowing 40-plus points in league games.

Alabama

There was a different feel to Alabama’s most recent national title. For one thing, the Tide had to overcome a bewildering rash of injuries and a November loss to Auburn. There also were the emotional swings of the title game, topped off by the iconic second-and-26 walk-off winner.

The end result was the same, though — a fifth national title in the past nine seasons — and the expectations remain, thanks to many of the players who were involved in the crucial moments of that wild night in Atlanta. Alabama will begin the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. And there’s a good chance the Tide will end the season in that spot as well.

Arkansas

It would be unreasonable to believe the Razorbacks could go from 1-7 in conference play to a contender in the SEC West in the course of one offseason. Quarterback play will likely go a long way in determining whether the offense builds up steam in coach Chad Morris’ debut. And the defense — which gave up a staggering 7.1 yards per play in SEC games — needs major help at all three levels. The debut of Morris should provide some splash and dash, but the Razorbacks need a further injection of speed and depth across the board to make a significant move in the brutal SEC West.

Auburn

Gus Malzahn faces some lofty expectations. The Tigers’ sixth-year head coach just signed a seven-year contract extension for $49 million, with $36.75 million guaranteed, after a 10–4 season in which he won the SEC West and defeated both National Championship Game participants (Alabama and Georgia). Now, though, many fans will define an Auburn season as a success or failure based on whether it defeats those two rivals, and the Tigers must do so on the road in 2018. Good luck, Gus.

LSU

LSU’s schedule isn’t conducive to finding a path back into the SEC’s upper echelon. The Tigers will face two teams that played in the College Football Playoff (Alabama and Georgia) and two teams that played in New Year’s Six bowls (Auburn and Miami). Add games at home with Mississippi State and at Texas A&M, and it’s difficult to picture the Tigers being able to challenge for SEC West supremacy. The key for coach Ed Orgeron is not to slip so far that he’s facing a must-win-big scenario in 2019 to keep his job.

Mississippi State

When Dan Mullen left Mississippi State after nine seasons to return to Florida, the school elected to go outside of the SEC and hire Joe Moorhead as coach. There’s some risk there (mostly related to recruiting), but the hire was hailed by outside observers, and 2018 could prove why immediately.  Mississippi State lost very little of consequence from its 2017 team, and despite a fairly challenging schedule, there’s reason for optimism in Starkville. Eight wins are expected, and some believe that this could be a 10-win team with the right breaks.

Ole Miss

Coach Matt Luke led the Rebels to a 6-6 mark in a tumultuous 2017 that included the cloud of the NCAA investigation hovering above. His candidacy for the full-time job was not looking strong until the Rebels won three of their last four games, including a 31-28 upset at No. 16 Mississippi State.

Barring a reprieve, Ole Miss is banned from a bowl game for the second straight season. The Rebels have enough firepower on offense to pose some serious problems, but they will need to show significant improvement on defense — most notably against the run — to reach the six-win mark again.

Texas A&M

Weary from four consecutive seasons with eight wins or fewer, A&M pulled off a major coup and lured Coach Jimbo Fisher to College Station. The Aggies have bet $75 million over 10 years that Fisher can duplicate the success he had at Florida State, where he won the 2013 national championship. Fisher inherits 15 returning starters and some top-flight talent. But the Aggies have lacked the physicality and depth to compete for championships in the rugged SEC. If significant strides are made in those areas, A&M could make a run at exceeding the eight-win plateau. Competing immediately for an SEC championship may be asking for too much too soon.

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Posted in CFB

MLB InGame Showdowns

Another two games are set for InGame action.  A maximum of 5 swaps are allowed in this contest with play time of 5 consecutive minutes necessary before a starting player can be benched. Each entry will receive 2 Power Multiplier which can be applied to any starting player to receive 2x points for a duration of 15 minutes respectively. Check out the matchups previews below and play.

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Indians at White Sox Preview

The Chicago White Sox just finished off a series win against one powerhouse opponent and will try to make it two in a row when they host the Cleveland Indians in the opener of a four-game series on Monday. The White Sox took two of three from the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park over the weekend and are winners of six of their last 10 games.

Chicago is slowly climbing the standings and owns series wins over both Boston and Milwaukee in the last two weeks, although the current run of success began after it dropped three in a row at Cleveland from May 28-30. The White Sox beat the Red Sox with pitching, allowing a total of six runs in the three games while getting solid starts from Dylan Covey, Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez. The Indians totaled 25 runs against Chicago’s staff in last month’s three-game sweep and polished off a series win at the Detroit Tigers over the weekend by bashing their way to 14 hits in Sunday’s 9-2 triumph. The White Sox will try to slow that offense with the struggling Lucas Giolito while Cleveland counters with fellow right-hander Carlos Carrasco.

TV: 8:10 p.m. ET, SportsTime Ohio (Cleveland), NBCS Chicago

PITCHING MATCHUP: Indians RH Carlos Carrasco (7-4, 4.23 ERA) vs. White Sox RH Lucas Giolito (4-6, 7.08)

Carrasco battled through a rough four-start stretch but snapped out of the funk while allowing one run and striking out 10 in seven innings to get the victory Wednesday against Milwaukee. The 31-year-old Venezuelan was ripped for six runs in 3 2/3 innings at Minnesota in his previous turn on June 1. Carrasco had little trouble in four starts against Chicago in 2017, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.23 ERA.

Giolito is trying to battle out of his own funk and earned a win at Minnesota on Tuesday while surrendering two runs and six hits over six innings. The 23-year-old issued just two walks over 12 innings in his last two starts after handing out 37 free passes across 49 frames over his first 10 starts. Giolito started at Cleveland on May 29 and absorbed the loss while allowing five runs and nine hits in six frames.

WALK-OFFS

1. Indians C Roberto Perez left Sunday’s game after being hit in the hand with a pitch and could be forced to the disabled list.

2. Chicago 1B/3B Matt Davidson is 0-for-13 with eight strikeouts over his last four games.

3. Cleveland SS Francisco Lindor snapped out of a five-game hitless funk by going 3-for-5 on Sunday.

Cubs at Brewers Preview

Milwaukee hasn’t hosted postseason baseball since 2011, but the atmosphere will be about as close as can be expected in June when the Brewers host the Chicago Cubs for a three-game National League Central showdown starting Monday. The first-place Brewers lead the Cubs by a half-game despite dropping seven of eight against Chicago this season.

The Cubs had a four-game winning streak snapped Sunday but have won 11 of 14 to close the gap on the Brewers, who dropped five of their last eight after posting two victories in three contests at Philadelphia over the weekend. The Brewers could have slugger Eric Thames, who has been on the disabled list since April 25 with a torn ligament in his left thumb, back as soon as Monday to provide some pop in the middle of the lineup. The Cubs’ rotation will remain short-handed, though, as manager Joe Maddon told reporters Sunday there is no timetable for right-hander Yu Darvish’s return and it is unclear whether he will pitch before the All-Star break.

TV: 8:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, NBCS Chicago Plus, FS Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Cubs LH Jose Quintana (6-4, 4.20 ERA) vs. Brewers RH Junior Guerra (3-4, 2.83)

Quintana’s performance has been uneven, but he has put together two strong outings in a row. The 29-year-old recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts Wednesday against Philadelphia, allowing two runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision. Quintana has been dominant against the Brewers, going 4-1 with a 0.63 ERA in six meetings – including two wins this season in which he has allowed only five hits over 13 scoreless innings.

After a couple of rough outings to begin May, Guerra has gotten back on track with quality starts in four of his last five outings. The 33-year-old allowed three runs over six innings in a tough-luck loss at Cleveland last time out. Guerra is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in seven games (four starts) against the Cubs, but he was tagged with the loss in a 3-0 defeat April 28 at Chicago despite giving up one run and three hits over six frames.

WALK-OFFS

1. Chicago RF Jason Heyward has recorded an extra-base hit in four straight contests for the first time since a six-game streak in 2015.

2. The Brewers on Sunday added depth by acquiring INF Brad Miller from Tampa Bay in exchange for 1B Ji-Man Choi.

3. Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo has driven in a run in seven straight contests with an at-bat, the longest streak by a Cub since Moises Alou had an RBI in 10 consecutive games in 2004.

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