BOB’S NFL 2017 PICKS: SEAHAWKS OVER PATRIOTS IN SUPER BOWL 52

Kicking off my 2017 NFL predictions with AFC East: It doesn’t seem fair, but the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots widened the talent gap in the offseason over the rest of this otherwise weak division:

AFC East

New England – 14-2. Can Tom Brady play great until he’s 45? Probably not. But he just turned 40 and his complementary offensive arsenal can overcome the loss of injured favorite target Julian Edelman.

Miami – 7-9. Do you believe in Jay Cutler?

Buffalo – 4-12. I think the Bills are two wins better with Tyrod Taylor than with rookie Nathan Peterman.  So with a top draft pick at stake, maybe Peterman should get the nod sooner than later.

New York Jets – 3-13. Fair defense. Absolutely awful offense.

AFC North

Pittsburgh – 12-4.  This could be QB Ben Roethlisberger’s swan song. Has the weapons to go out with a bang.

Baltimore – 8-8. The Ravens have missed the postseason three of the last four seasons and the offense isn’t likely to suddenly explode.

Cincinnati – 7-9. A team on the decline. Coach Sherman Lewis probably won’t get a chance to extend his 0-7 record in playoff games.

Cleveland – 3-13.  Rookie DeShone Kizer will be the team’s 15th different Week 1 starting QB in 19 seasons.

AFC South

Tennessee – 11-5. Surprise. The positive pattern should continue behind QB Marcus Mariota: 3-13 to 9-7 to 11-5.

Houston – 10-6. Strong defense and rookie QB Deshaun Watson could help the offense.

Jacksonville – 6-10. Probably back on the right track with Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone.

Indianapolis – 5-11. A below-average defense and a battered QB in Andrew Luck.

AFC West

Oakland – 11-5. On the upgrade and a fun team to watch (Derek Carr, Marshawn Lynch and Khalil Mack).

Kansas City – 10-6. Might rookie QB Patrick Mahomes eventually be an upgrade over steady but ordinary Alex Smith?

LA Chargers – 7-9. Does QB Philip Rivers have another playoff run in him?

Denver – 6-10. The defense is fine but QB Trevor Siemian and the rest of the offense is ordinary at best.

NFC East

NY Giants – 10-6. A slight improvement in the running game would make these Giants tough to beat.

Dallas – 9-7. Can QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott avoid the sophomore jinx? Tough schedule and the defense is iffy at best.

Philadelphia – 8-8. Might surprise. Passing offense could be very good. Decent defense.

Washington – 7-9. I’m not sold on QB Kirk Cousins. Roster appears to have lost more than it gained since last season.

NFC North

Green Bay – 12-4. I think QB Aaron Rodgers will be the league’s MVP this season.

Minnesota – 10-6. The defense should be very good but the offense looks ordinary at best.

Detroit – 5-11.  QB Matthew Stafford can’t perform miracles – at any price.

Chicago – 4-12. QB Mitchell Trubisky is this team’s future. The present doesn’t look so hot.

NFC South

Atlanta – 13-3. Has the talent to bounce back from a disappointing Super Bowl LI collapse.

Tampa Bay – 10-6. Coming off first winning season in six years and might end playoff drought at nine years.

Carolina – 8-8. Probably won’t start 1-5 again but have slipped since 2015.

New Orleans – 6-10. Not likely to make the playoffs but watching pass-happy QB Drew Brees always is fun.

NFC West

Seattle -12-4. My hunch is that the Seahawks will be dynamite this season.

Arizona – 9-7. The Cardinals might surprise if QB Carson Palmer has more left than I think he does.

LA Rams – 6-10. The Rams aren’t good but they’re better than they looked last season.

San Francisco – 3-13. How bad are the punchless 49ers? They’ll miss QB Colin Kaepernick.

AFC Championship Game – New England over Steelers.

NFC Championship Game – Seattle over Green Bay.

Super Bowl LII – Seattle over New England.

WESTGATE SUPERBOOK SUPER BOWL LII ODDS

By now you might know that the New York Jets are the biggest longshots to win the NFL championship game in Las Vegas history. The Westgate LasVegas SuperBook has posted the odds on the Jets winning Super Bowl LII at 1,000-to-1.

Last season, the longest odds were 200-to-1 for Cleveland and San Francisco.

The rest of the odds to win Super Bowl LII:  New England 11-to-4 (bet $4 to win $11)...Green Bay, Oakland and Seattle each 8-to-1...Pittsburgh 10-to-1...Dallas and NY Giants each 12-to-1...Atlanta 16-to-1...Tennessee 20-to-1...Kansas City and New Orleans 25-to-1...Carolina 30-to-1...Arizona, Denver, Houston, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay each 40-to-1...Baltimore 50-to-1...LA Chargers 60-to-1...Cincinnati 80-to-1...Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, LA Rams, Miami, San Francisco, Washington each 100-to-1...Buffalo 200-to-1 (thank goodness for the Jets).

I still can’t believe that the Bills now are favored by 9 points Sunday over the visiting Jets.

Bob’s most tempting picks at the odds – Green Bay (8-to-1)...Seattle (8-to-1)...Atlanta (16-to-1)...Philadelphia (40-to-1).

Bob’s worst bets at the odds – Chicago (100-to-1)...Buffalo (200-to-1)...NY Jets (1,000-to-1).

 2017 RED WINGS: DISAPPOINTING FINISH TO AN INTERESTING SEASON

The Red Wings wilted down the stretch – 2-5 in their seven games before Monday afternoon’s season-ending 10-1 home win over Pawtucket – and missed the International League playoffs for the fourth straight season and the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.

The Red Wings and Lehigh Valley both finished with 80-62 records but the IronPigs earned the tie-breaker with a 13-9 record in the season series between the two teams. Lehigh Valley also showed some class by winning their last six games.

Rochester was hurt by recalls to Minnesota in the final weeks but so was Lehigh Valley. IronPigs slugger Rhys Hoskins was promoted to the Philadelphia Phillies August 10. Without him, Lehigh Valley was 6-13 in the next 19 games before reeling off six clutch straight wins to end the regular season. Give the IronPigs credit for that.

The Red Wings had a 3.39 earned-run average. After leading the IL in earned-run average for most of the season, they faded down the stretch to finish third behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 3.33) and Durham (3.37). Rochester last led the league in ERA in 1976.

The Red Wings outscored opponents by 80 runs (587 to 507).

Rochester ranked 11th in home runs (103) and 13th in stolen bases (51).

The Red Wings had the second-fewest errors (72) in the IL.

The Red Wings used 66 players this seasons, including 42 pitchers (including one stint emergency appearance by infielder Leonardo Reginatto).

Matt Hague led the IL in hits (149) for the fourth time in his career. No one else has led the league in hits more than twice. His .297 batting average trailed on Tyler Wade (.310 for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) among qualifiers.

Rochester is the only team in the 14-team IL to post a winning record in each of the last five seasons: 77-67...77-67...77-67...81-63...80-62.

Rochester’s final official paid attendance was 445,581 for 68 home dates (average 6,553; ranked 9th in the 14-team IL). Turnstile attendance probably was in the 325,000-to-300,000 range.

...RED WINGS: ONLY TWO TRIPS TO THE PLAYOFFS IN THE LAST 20 YEARS

Rochester is tied with Columbus for the most Governors’ Cup playoff championships (10) and have lost in the Finals an International League-most 11 times.

But the last 20 years (1998 through 2017) have not been kind to Rochester in terms of making the playoffs:

Durham – 14 trips to the playoffs (won the Cup 4 times)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre – 13 (2)

Columbus – 7 (3)

Louisville – 6 (1)

Buffalo – 5 (2)

Pawtucket – 5 (2)

Toledo – 5 (2)

Indianapolis – 5 (1)

Toledo – 4 (2)

Charlotte – 3 (1)

Lehigh Valley – 3 (0)

Richmond -- 2 (1)

Gwinnett – 2 (0)

Norfolk – 2 (0)

Rochester -- 2 (0)

Syracuse – 2 (0)

Ottawa – 1 (0).

WHY THE IL PLAYOFF QUALIFYING SYSTEM STINKS

Simply put, it is blatantly unfair in a 14-team league when the winners of the three divisions make the playoffs – and one of the divisions has SIX teams and other two divisions have FOUR teams.

There should be two seven-team divisions. The two division champs plus the two teams with the next-best records make the playoffs. Seems pretty simple to me.

The 2016 Red Wings were 81-63 (fourth-best record in the IL; Gwinnett won the awful South Division with a 65-78 record and made the playoffs – Rochester, 15 ½ games better than Gwinnett, did not make the playoffs) and 80-62 in 2017 (fourth -best record in the IL; Indianapolis won the West Division with a 79-63 record, 1 game behind Rochester while playing an unbalanced schedule in an inferior division).

Rochester’s 161-125 record is the third-best cumulatively over the last two seasons, but the Red Wings missed the playoffs BOTH seasons. That stinks.

I complained to the Red Wings and to the International League after last season’s rob job. Both said it was a fluke. This is the second fluke season in a row.

INDIANS, DIAMONDBACKS ARE RED HOT

The Cleveland Indians have won 13 straight games (outscoring opponents 93-25 in the process) and can tie the franchise record with a 14th straight win Wednesday night at the White Sox.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have won 12 straight games (outscoring opponents 77-26 in the process) and can set a franchise=record with a 13th straight win Wednesday night at the Los Angeles Dodgers.

SPRAYING BASEBALL HITS (AND MISSES) TO ALL FIELDS...

The trade for Justin Verlander gives the Houston a 1-2-3 punch at the top of the starting rotation (with Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr.) capable of winning the 2017 World Series. The Astros definitely have a championship-caliber lineup.

The Minnesota Twins won’t go away and 7 of their last 10 games will be against the trade-depleted Detroit Tigers (minus Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez – and Victor Martinez, who is done for the season with an irregular heartbeat).

The New York Yankees appear likely to post their 25th consecutive winning season. The next longest winning streak entering this season was 9 by St. Louis and the Cardinals are no lock to make it 10.

FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine early last week wrote that Los Angeles Angels veteran Albert Pujols, after pointing out that he is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, now is “the worst player in baseball.” Pujols is primarily a DH so he has no value on defense and he probably is baseball’s slowest runner. But in three subsequent games last week (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) Pujols was 8-for-13, with 1 double, 2 HRs and 10 RBI. He has 89 RBI (needs 9 more RBI for his 14th 100-RBI season).

With a 147-133 (+14) advantage, the American League appears likely to win inter-league play over the National League for the 14th straight season.

15 WINS FOR A RED WING ARE A LOT, PARTICULARLY NOW

Aaron Slegers enjoyed a great 2017 season with the Rochester Red Wings. He won an important game Friday night to boost his record to 15-4 with a 3.40 earned-run average.

Winning 15 games is a rarity in minor-league baseball due to shorter seasons and more frequent recalls than in the past.

Since Rochester’s pro team became the Red Wings in 1928, pitchers have posted a total of 33 seasons with at least 15 victories. Here they are:

15 wins (22 times) – Art Decatur (1928)...Ira Smith (1931)...Ken Raffensberger (1938 and 1939)...Clem Dreiswerd (1941)...Glenn Gardner (1944)...Bud Byerly (1946)...Max Surkont (1947 and 1948)...Cloyd Boyer (1949)...Eddie Yuhas (1950)...Jackie Collum (1951)...Jack Faszholz (1952)...Cot Deal (1956)...Dick Ricketts (1958)...Herb Moford (1961)...Dave Leonhard (1967)...Fred Beene (1969)...Roric Harrison (1971)...Bill Kirkpatrick (1974)...Mike Parrott (1977)...Aaron Slegers (2017).

16 wins (9 times) – Jack Berly (1930)...Hi Bell (1931)...Ira Smith (1932)...Fritz Ostermueller (1933)...John Michaels (1934)...Nub Kleinke (1936)...Mike Mikan (1947)...Cot Deal (1953)...Dave Gassner (2004).

17 wins (4 times) – Paul Derringer (1929)...Blix Donnelly (1943)...Ira Hutchinson (1943)...Ed Barnowski (1966).

18 wins (7 times) – Tex Carleton (1929)...Carmen Hill (1931)...Mike Ryba (1939)...Charles Brumbeloe (1940)...Tom Poholsky (1950)...Jack Faszholz (1954)...Bob Keegan (1959).

19 wins (5 times) – Nub Kleinke (1934 and 1937)...Hank Gornicki (1940)...Herschel Lyons (1940)...Bill Reeder (1948).

20-or-more wins (6 times) – Mike Ryba (24 in 1940)...Paul Derringer (23 in 1930)...Bob Weiland (23 in 1936)...Si Johnson (22 in 1939)...Hi Bell (21 in 1928)...Ray Starr (20 in 1931).

THURSDAY’S NFL “BEST BET”: PATRIOTS (-8 ½) OVER KANSAS CITY

The 2017 NFL kicks off Thursday night: Kansas City at New England.

The Patriots are favored by 8 ½ points. That seems like a lot. The Chiefs are a good team.

But New England is the defending champion and some analysts say Tom Brady never has had more offensive weapons to call upon – even with the loss of favorite target Julian Edelman to a season-ending knee injury. NEW ENGLAND (-8 ½) 28, Kansas City 17.

SHORT SHOTS

24-year-old center/right winger Seth Griffith is an interesting addition to the roster of the Buffalo Sabres. He signed a one-year contract for $650,000 whether he plays with Buffalo or Rochester. He was the AHL’s First-Team All-Star right wing in the 2015-16 season with the Providence Bruins (24 goals and an AHL-most 53 assists for 77 points in 57 games). In 38 games with the AHL Toronto Marlies last season, he had 10 goals and 34 assists for 44 points. In 58 games in the NHL he has 6 goals and 10 assists.

The National Women’s Soccer League defending champion North Carolina Courage, the transplanted Rochester-based Western New York Flash, won 1-0 Sunday at the Chicago Fire to boost their record to a league-best 14-5-0. The Courage are 8-2 at home and 6-3 on the road. No other team in the league has a winning record on the road. The other nine teams are a combined 23-52-20 on the road.

Two-time Eclipse Award champion four-year-old filly Songbird has been retired after a suffering severe bone chip that might have caused her to break down if she raced again. She won 14 of her 16 career starts and earned almost $5 million. One of her losses was by a nose after an epic length-of-the-stretch against six-year-old champion Beholder in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, September 6

Clint Frazier (23)...Tyler Austin (26)...Brian Dumoulin (26)...John Wall (27)...Ryan Clady (31)...Mitch Moreland (32)...Neil Walker (32)...WWE’s Braun Stowman (34)...Derrek Lee (42)...Eric Zeier (45)....Igor Korolev (47)...Kevin Willis (55)...Fran Healy (71)...Ron Boone (71). Chris Christie (55) is invited to the birthday party if he brings his own food....On this date 22 years ago (1995), Cal Ripkern Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game to top Lou Gehrig.

Thursday, September 7

Kevin Love (29)...Gorkys Hernandez (30)...Wade Davis (32)...Brianna Scurry (36)...Mark Prior (37)...Derrick Dockery (37)...Antonio McDyess (43)...Jason Isringhausen (45)...Scott Virkus (58)...Bert Jones (66)...Joe Rudi (71)...Jacques Lemaire (72)...Forest Blue (72)...Rocvky Frietas (72). Corbin Bernsen (63) and Gloria Gaynor (68) are invited to the birthday party. On this date 137 years ago (1880), Geo Ligowsky patented a device to throw clay pigeons for trapshooters; and on this date 26 years ago (1991), Dan Marino became the fastest QB in NFL history to throw 100 TD passes.