The 2020 MLB playoffs are set to kick off on Tuesday, and there's no question they'll be unlike any other baseball postseason we have ever seen before.
After allowing five teams from each league into the playoffs since 2012, MLB added three more teams to the postseason from each league this year. Now instead of the three division winners and two wild card teams making the playoffs, the first and second place teams from each division will make the playoffs, along with two wild card teams. It remains to be seen if the playoff expansion will remain in place next season, but it sure did add plenty of excitement to the shortened baseball regular season.
The start of the 2020 MLB playoffs will see the defending American League champions heading to Minneapolis to take on the AL Central champions. The Astros were rocked by a cheating scandal during the offseason, which put a damper on their season even before it began. Then a season-ending injury to ace Justin Verlander left the Astros scrambling to fill out their rotation, which was already depleted by the loss of Gerrit Cole to the New York Yankees in free agency. Zack Greinke has the name recognition at the top of Houston's pitching staff, but Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have filled some of the void after Greinke in the rotation.
The Houston lineup has been just as much of a work-in-progress as the pitching staff. Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker. and George Springer have done most of the heavy lifting throughout the season while Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman combined for just 16 home runs and 65 RBIs this year.
Minnesota has to be elated to not be playing the New York Yankees in the playoffs, for once. Prior to this year's playoffs, the Twins had met the Yankees in their four previous playoff appearances, failing to win a game against New York during that span. Minnesota had one of the most potent offenses in baseball, with four players mashing at least 13 home runs this year. Nelson Cruz was the leader of the Twins offense, clubbing 16 homers, while Eddie Rosario drove in a team-high 42 runs this year.
The pitching staff of the Twins has a tremendous mixture of young talent and veteran experience. Kenta Maeda came to Minnesota from the Los Angeles Dodgers, putting together a 6-1 season where he struck out 80 batters in 66.2 innings pitched. Jose Berrios takes the ball after Maeda, and when Berrios is on, he is one of the best pitchers in the game. Michael Pineda was good in limited action this year, and we will likely see Randy Dobnak as some point in this series, as the rookie was 6-4 in his first season in the majors.
Something has been off with the Astros this year. A lot of it has to do with the cheating scandal and some of the repercussions that has come out of it, but Houston isn't as feared as they were the last few years. Minnesota was 24-7 at home this year so the Astros will have to be perfect to upset the Twins. I'm not seeing it happening. The Twins makes the most of not having to play the Yankees to start the playoffs. Minnesota in 2 games.
This matchup pits power against small ball. The Chicago White Sox clinched their first playoff spot since 2008, using a lineup that ranked third in baseball with 96 home runs. First baseman Jose Abreu inserted himself in the AL MVP race by crushing 19 homers and driving in 60 runs this year. Abreu's 148 total bases led the White Sox this year. Four other Chicago players hit at least 10 home runs during the season.
Along with the potent offense, Chicago also has two of the best pitchers in the game. Lucas Giolito is the ace of the White Sox. Giolito not only threw the first no-hitter in baseball this year, but he struck out 97 batters in 72.1 innings. Complimenting Giolito is Dallas Keuchel, who signed with the White Sox after spending last year with the Atlanta Braves. Keuchel might not have the power of Giolito, but he is just as tough to get a handle on, as he posted a 1.99 ERA this year.
Oakland cruised to the AL West crown this year, finishing the regular season seven games ahead of the Houston Astros. The Athletics come into the playoffs with a little bit of doubt, though. Oakland took a hit earlier this month when it was announced that third baseman Matt Chapman would miss the remainder of the season due to hip surgery, leaving a giant hole at the hot corner for the Athletics. Another Matt has been trying to pick up the slack, as Matt Olson hit a team-high 14 home runs this year, but the first baseman wasn't consistent at the plate, hitting just .195. As a team, Oakland had the fifth-worst batting average in baseball, hitting .225 this season.
The best pitcher for Oakland this year has been Chris Bassitt, who is 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA. Things get a little complicated after Bassitt. Mike Fiers has playoff experience, but hasn't been consistent this year. Jesus Luzardo is the wild card of the pitching staff. The rookie pitcher has electric stuff, but is he ready for the spotlight that comes with the playoffs?
The White Sox struggled down the stretch, losing 9 of their last 12 games. Even with those struggles, it's going to be tough for Oakland to beat both Giolito and Keuchel. The teams split the first two games, and the White Sox have a little too much power for Oakland to handle in the elimination game. Chicago in 3 games.
What a wild season it has been for the Toronto Blue Jas. First, the Blue Jays found out they couldn't play in Toronto this year, forcing the Blue Jays to play their home games in Buffalo. Toronto also had to deal with the future of their franchise going through a bit of a sophomore slump. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit .262 with 9 home runs and 33 RBIs this year, but the son of former star Vladimir Guerrero had bigger expectations for this season.
At least the Blue Jays did get Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio to pick up some of the slack. Bo Bichette hit .301 in 29 games this year, while Biggio clocked 16 doubles this year. Even with what Bichette and Biggio were able to do, who would've though Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez would be the ones leading the Toronto offense? Gurriel hit .308, while Hernandez led the team with 16 home runs.
On the mound, Toronto has Hyun-Jin Ryu and a lot of questions after. Ryu was 5-2 with 72 strikeouts this year, his first season with the club after leaving the Los Angeles Dodgers during free agency. The Blue Jays haven't found anyone to step up in the rotation after Ryu. Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson have both posted ERAs north of 6.75 during the regular season.
Tampa Bay is almost the polar opposite of Toronto. All pitching and a little bit of hitting. Brandon Lowe provided the ower for the Rays, hitting 14 home runs this year, but he was the only Tampa Bay batter to reach double digits in home runs. Willy Adames, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, and Hunter Renfroe provided some pop during the regular season, but it remains to be seen if they can provide enough when the pressure is turned up in the playoffs.
It's hard to find a better three-man rotation in baseball than what Tampa Bay has to offer. Tyler Glasnow is a strikeout machine, Blake Snell is a former Cy Young Award winner, and Charlie Morton is a veteran who has postseason experience. The Blue Jays might be able to steal a game in this series, but it's hard to see them beating the American League's top-seed twice in a three-game series. Tampa Bay in 3 games.
The New York Yankees had higher expectations for this season, but injuries again threw a wrench into the plans of the Yankees. Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres all missed time due to injuries this year, while on the mound James Paxton won't be available for this series, and might be lost for the rest of the postseason. Even with the injuries, the Yankees are still a dangerous team.
DJ LeMahieu could make a case for the AL MVP award, as without LeMahieu's presence in the lineup, New York might have not made the playoffs this year. LeMahieu hit .364 this year, and amassed 115 total bases, which ranked second on the Yankees behind Luke Voit, who has been just as important as LeMahieu. Voit crushed a league-leading 22 homers this year. With Judge and Stanton back healthy, their lineup is one of the most feared in baseball.
If the Yankees could, they'd probably start Gerrit Cole in every game of this series. Cole has been phenomenal in his first season in pinstripes, going 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA and 94 strikeouts. Masahiro Tanaka has been his usual steady self during the regular season, and he always seems to perform even better in the playoffs. If the Yankees can get a lead late in the game, they do have the luxury of turning to Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
While DJ LeMahieu has a case for the AL MVP, there award is likely going to Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez, who played out of his mind this year. Ramirez smacked 17 homers, drove in 46 runs, and swiped 10 bases. Had it not been for Ramirez, Cleveland likely would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now. If Cleveland wants to make a deep run in the playoffs, Ramirez is going to need some help, though. A prime candidate to provide some support to Ramirez is Francisco Lindor, who could set the table for a big contract splash in 2022 with a strong postseason this year.
Much like the Yankees, Cleveland has a stud at starting pitcher, followed by a solid starter. Shane Bieber is likely your AL Cy Young winner after going 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts this year. After Bieber, Carlos Carrasco is one of the strongest second-starting options in baseball. Zach Plesac rounds out a rotation that took a hit earlier this year when the Indians traded Mike Clevinger to the San Diego Padres. Brad Hand and James Karinchak give Cleveland a strong back-end of the bullpen, much like you see from the Yankees.
This series is going to depend on who can take the first game of the series. Shane Bieber has been amazing for Cleveland this year, but is he ready for the bright lights of the playoffs? We know Gerrit Cole is ready. The Yankees get to Bieber in the first game, and the Indians win the next game to setup an elimination game which the Yankees squeak out to move on to the next round. New York in 3 games.
It's another eventful week in the NFL.
Four teams -- the Jets, Falcons, Saints, and 49ers -- are the first teams to get a bye week. After Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers narrowly escaped Thursday Night Football with a 28-22 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, the reigning Super Bowl champs are the first team with five wins in the league. Who will join them on Sunday? We know that we'll get at least a second five-win team since the 4-1 Ravens are hosting the 4-1 Chargers. That is going to be an epic battle, so let's start with that clash of AFC contenders. Welcome to our Week 6 NFL Best Bets.
Playing on the road is a difficult task for any team, but if any team can escape with a victory, it's Justin Herbert and the Chargers. This isn't the Chargers of the last decade. This team is winning the close battles. Herbert is playing at an MVP level this season and already has led this team to big-time wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns -- two of the top teams in the AFC. This L.A. team is deep at the skill positions, can rush the passer, has an improved offensive line and a great young coach. What's not to like?
All that said, Lamar Jackson seems to be playing as he did during his 2019 MVP campaign. Not to mention, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown is actually catching passes. He eclipsed 100 yards last week and scored two touchdowns (including the game-winning catch in overtime). Simply put, this is a tough team to bet against. It did take last-second heroics for the Ravens to beat the winless Lions and a pretty pedestrian Colts team. Overall, Baltimore hasn't faced a test like this yet this season. Take the points and the better overall squad. Chargers may win this game, but if they don't, they are not going to lose by more than a field goal.
PICK: Chargers +3.5
It's been a tough start to the season for the Chiefs. They had great odds to return to the Super Bowl and are now last in the AFC West heading into Week 16 with a 2-3 record. They desperately need this game. This is a great opportunity for the Chiefs to prove they are still elite by defeating a team that made the postseason last year on the road. The Chiefs are going to turn it around against a Washington defense that is allowing the sixth-most passing yards and second-most passing touchdowns this season. Patrick Mahomes is going to blow up. Tyreek Hill is going to dominate. Travis Kelce is going to continue to provide a steady source of receptions down the middle of the field. As long as the Chiefs' offensive line holds against Chase Young, it's going to be a long day for Washington's defense. Betting on Mahomes to right the ship isn't a really difficult choice.
PICK: Chiefs -6.5
Yes, the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league. Betting on them on the road against a divisional rival might seem crazy at first. However, the Texans are 7-3 against the spread as underdogs in their last 10 games. Plus, the Colts are emotional after completely giving away the game against the Ravens in which they blew a 22-3 lead late in the game. This is going to cause a bit of a hangover in that locker room. When New England suffered a terrible loss against Tom Brady and the Bucs, the Texans managed to cover the spread the following week. Look for history to repeat itself. Texans coach David Culley has Houston playing hard in spite of its lack of talent and quarterback Davis Mills appeared to take a step forward last week against the Pats. Houston has played pretty good pass defense, too. The Texans have allowed only seven passing TDs this season.
PICK: Texans +9
Sunday night will be an interesting matchup to watch as Geno Smith will make his first start in four years as the Seahawks travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. I hate betting on Ben Roethlisberger, but it's hard to envision the Seahawks covering the spread without the services of Russell Wilson. And as much as I think Big Ben should hang up his cleats, you have to give him credit for the way he dominated a solid Broncos defense last week. Roethlisberger looked better than he did earlier in the season and was able to get the ball to his playmakers -- Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and running back Najee Harris. Seattle's defense is one of the worst in the league and their secondary is even worse than their front seven. Look for the Steelers to light up Seattle in the passing game.
PICK: Steelers -5
Both of these offenses can put up a lot of points, though they go about it very differently. The Browns are a run-heavy team, and even though they will be without the services of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt is more than capable of getting the job done. Meanwhile, Arizona's offense runs through electric quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray is able to move the chains with his legs but he isn't afraid to toss the ball either. He loves getting his guys involved and his weapons are elite in DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, and Christian Kirk.
The Browns are coming off an 89-point slugest with the Chargers and hit the OVER in their other game against a high-end offense in a 33-29 loss to the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have scored 30-plus points in four of five games this year. Smash the OVER.
PICK: OVER 49.5
Week 2 of the NFL was full of breakout performances, thrilling finishes and potentially the start of the Justin Fields era in the NFC North as the Bears' win over the Bengals finds them in first place in the division.
We cap off the week with a Monday Night Football showdown between the Packers and the Lions with the winner finding themselves tied for first in the North. The Packers put up an absolute dud of a performance last week against the Saints in Week 1 while the Lions looked surprisingly effective while playing catch-up against the West-leading 49ers. The expectations for these two teams couldn't have been further apart coming into the season but with matching 0-1 starts on the books, I think there are a couple of interesting props and roster construction angles to exploit.
NFL DFS Showdown Picks
*Prices are from DraftKings
Captain: TE T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions ($9,600) ($14,400)
I'm normally not a fan of playing a tight end in the captain spot, but T.J. Hockenson is not your average tight end. He finished 2020 with an elite 18% target share in the Lions' offense and picked up right where he left off in Week 1, finishing with an 18.2% share on 50 routes run last week. Hockenson has always carried premium TD upside as a red-zone target but what was most encouraging about last week was that he ran nearly 55% of his routes out of the slot, leaving him a matchup against Chandon Sullivan, who's allowing a 67% catch rate in his coverage. In a game where the Lions are projected to be down early, expect Hockenson to get fed once again. His red-zone utilization gives him enough juice to take the captain's chair in my builds.
Core Consideration: QB Jared Goff, Detroit Lions ($10,000)
Two principles I take into Showdown slates apply to this play. Generally speaking, if I have a pass-catcher as my captain, I'm finding a way to get their QB into a flex spot. The second is that your build needs to tell a story. Mine is that the Packers come out with something to prove after getting embarrassed in Week 1 and that we'll likely see upwards of 50 pass attempts from Jared Goff as he attempts to mount a comeback. Goff is a surprisingly effective passer when getting good protection and this unit gave him a clean pocket on 86.7% of snaps last week. Expect that to continue tonight as Goff will continue to feast in garbage time.
Contrarian Play: WR Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers ($2,000)
I still chuckle at the thought of the return of Randall Cobb being on the short-list of demands from Aaron Rodgers in the midst of his holdout. I do, however, think there is something to be said about the importance of chemistry between a quarterback and his receiver and I expect that in a typical game (which Week 1 was not), Aaron Rodgers is going to find his spots to get Cobb involved. In a game script that figures to have the Packers up by a healthy margin, not many are going to look at the tertiary passing options for Green Bay and I think a $2,000 Randall Cobb could sneak in a handful of receptions at single-digit ownership..
Salary Relief: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions ($2,400)
This one fits perfectly into my narrative for the game as well. In a game where the Lions are likely to flirt with 50+ pass attempts and coming off a week where St. Brown ran routes on 75% of the team's passing plays, I will be overweight on Amon-Ra tonight. Lining up in the slot on 74.5% of plays means St. Brown will primarily see coverage from Chandon Sullivan, the most favorable of the options GB lines up in their defensive secondary. Expect St. Brown to see his target volume increase tonight. If Detroit can be more effective in getting to the red zone, he carries decent scoring upside with the way he's utilized in this offense. Plus, who doesn't love the extra motivation of playing against their big bro?
Monday Night Football Best Bets
Taking a look at the wagering side of this game; before we determine anything else we must ask ourselves what we think of these Green Bay Packers. I tend to look at last week's performance as the exception and not the rule. With that being the case, I am laying the 11.5 points and taking GB tonight. Over the past six seasons, oddsmakers have been fairly sharp when it comes to these larger spreads and NFL teams cover double-digit spreads more than 55% of the time. The total for tonight is sitting at 48.5 and given the somewhat surprising ability of the Lions to make up ground last week, I am confidently on the "over" side of that line.
Picks: Packers -11.5, OVER 48.5 points
Taking a look at the prop market, I am again mainly investing in the "GB Blowout" narrative:
D'Andre Swift: OVER 28.5 Receiving Yard
Coming off a 65-yard performance in a very similar game script, this one feels like a no-brainer. Swift averages nearly 8 yards per reception so this really boils down to whether you think he catches more than 3 passes. I certainly do and I'm confidently on the OVER for this prop. FanDuel is currently carrying the best odds at -110.
T.J. Hockenson: Anytime TD
I'm not the biggest fan of these "to score" props, but I'll break from the norm with this one. I am projecting the Lions to at least have a go at it in this game and there simply isn't a scenario where that doesn't involve a score for Hockenson. +220 odds at FanDuel sort of feels like stealing given that I see this game going over the 48.5 total.
AJ Dillon | UNDER 8.5 Rushing Attempts
I know that the betting public is forecasting a fairly comfortable win for the Packers, but let's not get carried away. AJ Dillon would have to nearly double his career average for carries to get to this number. Plus, it's a bit unlikely that this game gets so far out of reach that Green Bay brings in their backups. Even last week when they did bring in the second-stringers, Dillon only saw 4 carries. I'm expecting Aaron Jones to have a monster day on the ground, as evidenced by my Saturday article.
Week 1 is in the books and it's time to move on to the best bets in Week 2.
If you listened to my article earlier this week, you would have started 1-0 for taking the Giants with the points against Washington in that thriller of a matchup Thursday night. Now, let's dive into Week 2's best NFL bets.
Tennessee Titans/Seattle Seahawks Over 54
The Seahawks' offense was high-flying in the first half last week. Because the Colts never really threatened the outcome of the game, the Seahawks were able to take the air out of the ball and finish the game with an easy win while only scoring seven in the second half. While both the Titans' defense and offense looked atrocious, expect Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to have big bounce-back weeks and make this an epic high-scoring game. This has all the makings for a shootout in which both teams put up 30-plus points.
Cincinnati Bengals +2.5 @ Chicago Bears
Until that Monday night game, the Bengals had the honor of winning the craziest Week 1 game over the Vikings in overtime. The Bears' defense, which is supposed to be their strength, looked awful against the Rams, including one of the most blown coverages you'll ever see on Cooper Kupp's long touchdown. It was simply an awful week for the Bears. I don't think it gets any better until they remove Dalton and promote Justin Fields. If they don't do that prior to game time, the Bengals will run away with this one.
Los Angeles Rams -3.5 @ Indianapolis Colts
Coming out of Week 1 the Rams looked great on both sides of the ball. Matthew Stafford had a great first game, going 20 for 26 with three touchdowns. The Colts... They didn't look that great on either side of the ball. While Carson Wentz's overall numbers didn't look bad, most of the yardage and one of his two TDs came in the fourth quarter as they were chasing from two or more scores back, never actually threatening to win the game. I'm leaning towards the Rams winning this in a blowout and would consider alternate spreads.
Arizona Cardinals -3.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings
Kyler Murray appears to be a man on a mission to avenge last season's bitter ending after absolutely torching the Tennesee Titans in Nashville. The Vikings' defense, who hasn't been as formidable as years past, is going to have their hands full with Kyler. Last week they allowed Joe Burrow to complete nearly 80% of his passes, and Burrow isn't a threat to run nor has a receiver as talented as DeAndre Hopkins. If the Vikings offense doesn't step up and make this a shootout, things could get ugly in Phoenix.
Dallas Cowboys + 3.5 @ Los Angeles Chargers
Dak Prescott looked great in Week 1 and if there were any issues with his shoulder after throwing 58 times, he had 10 days to get healed up again and ready for the Chargers. I can almost guarantee, whenever the Cowboys go to play either Los Angeles team in their stadium, that there will be more Cowboys fans than LA fans. So while they aren't playing in Jerry World, they'll have more fan support. My concern for Justin Herbert and the Chargers is their efficiency in the red zone. His most potent weapons in Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler become less effective as they get closer to the goal line. That leaves Jared Cook and Mike Williams as your bigger bodies in the red zone, which isn't ideal. The Cowboys have a decent chance to win this one outright, but you can take the points for some cushion.
- Cowboys ML (+160)
- Titans +6.5 (-105)
- Steelers ML (-225)
- Rams -3.5 (-110)
Five Props To Consider
- Calvin Ridley OVER 6.5 receptions (+115)
- Tyrod Taylor OVER 34.5 Pass Attempts (-105)
- Aaron Jones OVER 88.5 combined yards (-115)
- Nick Chubb OVER 17.5 carries (-120)
- James Robinson OVER 9.5 carries (-125)
All five of these props have an excellent chance at hitting. I like the idea of wagering a three-leg prop parlay with the last three props listed (Jones, Chubb and J-Rob). Thanks me on Monday.