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Hardy delivers key hit while trying to find bearings at plate

Posted on 21 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With so much attention paid to the free agents who departed in the offseason, we often forget about the one the Orioles didn’t allow to get away.

Re-signed to a three-year, $40 million contract on the eve of the 2014 American League Championship Series, Hardy is still finding his bearings at the plate after missing six weeks with a left shoulder strain. But the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of Thursday’s 5-4 win over Seattle had Hardy and the Orioles feeling much better.

How does his shoulder feel with two weeks of games under his belt?

“Good and the rest of the body [feels good],” said Hardy, who singled sharply up the middle off right-hander Danny Farquhar to plate Chris Davis and give the Orioles a series win. “That first week I came back felt like spring training all over again and my whole body was sore. But everything feels good now.”

With initial concerns about his shoulder now at ease, the 32-year-old is still trying to find his way with the bat despite hitting two home runs in his first eight games. It’s the second straight year in which an injury has disrupted the start of Hardy’s season after a back ailment suffered in the first week of the 2014 season lingered all year.

As a result of the cranky back, the shortstop hit just nine homers in 2014 after he’d averaged just under 26 per season in each of his first three years in Baltimore. That’s what has made his early home runs an encouraging sign in 2015 despite Hardy slugging just .348 in his first 48 plate appearances.

Thursday’s game-winning hit provided a boost as the Orioles have struggled to score runs in the month of May.

“It’s nice to get hits when you’re feeling like I feel right now,” Hardy said. “Every day I’m making adjustments. I feel like one day I go up there with a different stance [and] next at-bat a different stance. I’m just trying to feel something that feels good and have something to work off of, so it’s definitely nice getting hits when you’re not feeling great.”

Hardy’s defense alone makes him a valuable commodity, but the Orioles need his traditional offensive contributions to help make up for the problems they’re experiencing at the corner outfield spots, traditional run-producing positions.

Of course, manager Buck Showalter isn’t panicking over the veteran infielder’s start, trusting that Hardy will make the necessary adjustments after a long layoff that cost him the first 25 games of the season.

“He’s not there yet where he’s going to be offensively, but he found a way to get it done [Thursday],” Showalter said. “His confidence is fine. With his track record, it’s not his first year in the big leagues. He doesn’t have to get a hit May 20 to be confident. We all know.”

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Hot-hitting Paredes continues making his doubters wait

Posted on 20 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — You keep waiting for Jimmy Paredes to cool off, but the Orioles continue reaping the benefits.

He can’t possibly continue this, right?

That sentiment has been uttered over and over for a month now and the 26-year-old hasn’t slowed down yet, going 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs in Tuesday’s 9-4 win over the Seattle Mariners. His .346 average is just a few plate appearances shy of officially being ranked third in the American League behind Prince Fielder and Nelson Cruz.

His 22 RBIs rank second on the club behind Adam Jones (25) and his 1.001 on-base plus slugging percentage is the best on the roster. A two-run single in the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game was of the “seeing-eye” variety, but 15 of his 36 hits this season have gone for extra bases, including an opposite-field two-run shot in the sixth inning.

Of course, Paredes won’t continue hitting at a near-.350 clip, but the switch hitter — who entered spring training out of options — isn’t merely getting lucky by dinking and dunking singles into the outfield as even the poorest hitters can do over a short period of time. He continues making contact and hitting the ball hard with regularity while serving as the club’s everyday designated hitter.

“Jimmy’s such a sincere guy,” said manager Buck Showalter, who has repeatedly joked that he tries to say as little as possible to Paredes in fear of jinxing him. “Those guys give themselves such a chance to be successful because he never gives in in the effort department. I was watching him during the last out. He’s in every pitch.”

He’s currently hitting 86 points higher than Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, a fellow Dominican who has worked out with Paredes in past offseasons. Results aside, you don’t have to watch Paredes for long to see how he tries to copy elements of the six-time All-Star selection’s swing. With a career .752 on-base plus slugging percentage in parts of nine minor league seasons, Paredes is seeing years of hard work — which included plenty of failure in the minors and in the majors — pay off with a run of success he hasn’t experienced at any level of professional baseball.

After watching him bat .302 in the final month of the 2014 season and continue hitting this spring, the Orioles are quietly becoming more confident that they’ve found an everyday player. Of course, no one expects Paredes to continue to produce these video-game numbers, but his ability to keep the barrel of the bat square through the hitting zone has been impressive to watch. If he continues to prove he belongs in the majors as a regular, the next step is finding him a position in the field, which likely wouldn’t occur until the offseason with a plan to have him learn a corner outfield spot to utilize a strong throwing arm he’s shown off — erratically — at third base on occasion.

His 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame alone makes it easy to understand why the New York Yankees, Houston, Kansas City, and the Orioles each wanted Paredes in their organizations at one time. But now he’s offering the Orioles the justification for keeping him.

“He is so upbeat and I’m always pulling for the underdog,” said catcher Caleb Joseph, who spent seven years in the minors and lockers next to Paredes in the home clubhouse at Camden Yards. “For a guy to get claimed and [designated for assignment] and get claimed again and find a home, it’s big and we’re glad he’s on side. He’s real stable for us in the [No. 2 spot] right now.”

There’s no telling how long Paredes’ current hot streak will last as pitchers will adjust and teams will look for his weaknesses at the plate. He’s not particularly patient as he’s walked only five times in 109 plate appearances this season, but he’s been able to adjust to different pitch sequences in impressive fashion. He saw several changeups from Mariners starter Taijuan Walker on Tuesday night before he was able to slap one between third and short for his fourth-inning single.

Everyone keeps waiting for Paredes to come back to earth and understandably so for a player with no track record and such little fanfare. But watching him hit safely in 22 of his 25 games this season and reaching base in 20 straight contests makes it surreal to think how few would have predicted him to even make the club, let alone become one of the Orioles’ best players when spring training began three months ago.

Where would the Orioles be without Paredes over the last five weeks?

“You never know,” Showalter said. “We’ve seen so many guys do good things in spring training and the season starts and it doesn’t happen for them. We’ve seen guys that struggle like heck in the spring and then the season starts and the light goes on. Jimmy was not only trying to make the club and be a part of this, but he knows how you stay here because he’s been down this road before.

“He’s not playing like a guy that’s out of options.”

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Former Ravens kicker Hauschka facing hometown team in Super Bowl

Posted on 27 January 2015 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

QUOTES FROM SEATTLE SEAHAWKS MEDIA DAY

KICKER STEVEN HAUSCHKA

(on why kickers are so good these days) “Because we grew up kicking. I started kicking at three years old, soccer balls that is. You learn how to train better. I think it’s just we’re more athletic, not me in particular, but some of the guys out there in the league are just really, really good athletes that just switched to kicking because they couldn’t make it as a quarterback or something.”

(on if he thinks punters have improved as much as place kickers have over recent years) “I think some of the punters have gotten really good, but as a whole, I don’t think they’re at the level of field goal kickers. I think there’s more put into the field goal at a younger age. I don’t think kids start learning to punt until a little later.

(on playing in the Super Bowl) “I love it. It’s the most exciting thing you can do in my profession. I’m just looking forward to the chance to win the game potentially for our team.”

(on what he was thinking while Seattle was losing to Green Bay in the NFC Championship game) “There were about five minutes there after Russ (quarterback Russell Wilson) threw his last interception we were talking on the sideline saying, ‘Man, this is the end, huh?’ To come back from that, there’s a time where I realized, ‘Man, I’m really bummed. I want to be in the Super Bowl.’ For those five minutes, I realized how much I actually want to play in this game and how excited I am about it. We’re playing on second life now, a second chance.”

(on if being back to the Super Bowl feels any different) “It’s cool. It does feel a little different having just been through it last year. Two long years back to back, but we know exactly what to expect. It’s nice, too, coming from New York where it’s freezing cold, and you’re looking out the window and it’s 20 degrees and blowing snow to being here where it’s sunny and a little clouds.”

(on if the warmer weather helps his kicking) “Yeah, the kicking weather is perfect here, and I think everybody on our team needed a little warm weather.”

(on if this Super Bowl is different being the defending champs) “Yeah, I think there are always those storylines, but at the end of the day, I think whoever plays the best football is going to win the game. That’s what I remember. The Patriots have had the last couple chances in the Super Bowl not going well for them. I’m sure they’ve got every bit of motivation to win this game too just like we do. There’s plenty of motivation on either side. That’s not going to be what wins it. It’s just who plays the better football that day.”

(on what’s like to be playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl being a Massachusetts native) “It’s fitting. It’s very fitting to play your childhood team in this game. I grew up rooting for the Patriots. When they won that first Super Bowl on (Adam) Vinatieri’s foot, that was the craziest thing. I can only imagine what it feels like as a Seahawks fan to watch that and see our first Super Bowl last year. I’m excited about it.”

(on New England being as good as anyone in football in the last 15 years compared to the teams that he grew up watching) “They’re incredible, what they’ve done with different players every year, too. There’s really only a couple key guys that have been there. It’s impressive. It shows you how important those key guys are and just the environment that they have there.”

(on who his favorite New England player was growing up) “(Adam) Vinatieri. I had a framed picture of him signed and stuff from the ‘Snow Bowl’ game. That was impressive.”

(on if kickers think about possibly winning the game) “You honestly don’t have to think much at all this week. It’s just your body knows what to do, and the key is just to go out there and let your body do what it wants to do. I know how to swing, and no mental thoughts are going to make me swing better right now.”

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Looking at who’s going to win the NFL Conference Championships

Posted on 16 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

The NFL’s version of the final four is upon us, and the Seattle Seahawks are poised to defend their crown and repeat as champions. In the NFC, Russell Wilson is going after his second Super Bowl ring, as well as Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. In the AFC matchup, Tom Brady has a chance to climb the Mt. Rushmore of 4 time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, joining Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. Andrew Luck leads the upstart Indianapolis Colts, as the only quarterback in the tournament who is attempting to win his first Lombardi Trophy.

Ever since the Patriots caught fire after their dismal performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in front of a national football audience, I’ve been predicting a Patriots – Seahawks finale. I still believe that after this Sunday’s games are over, those are still the two teams that will be left standing.

I expect the Patriots to activate Jonas Gray, and come out running against the Indianapolis Colts. Gray rushed for over 200 yards in Lucas Oil stadium, and with the addition of LeGarrette Blount, I expect more of the same this Sunday. Bill Belichick is a master of situational football, and just like he abandoned the run in the Patriots’ win over the Baltimore Ravens in the prior week, he will once again adapt his personnel to match his opponent.

On the other side of the ball, I do not believe that the Colts can go up to New England without a running game, and get away with it. They will go only as far as Andrew Luck will take them, and Belichick will take away what Luck does best, he will commit more players to defend the pass, and dare the Colts to run on his defense.

The Seattle Seahawks look to be a team on a mission. They are peaking at the right time, and their defense is the difference maker. They  have solid corners, unbelieveable safeties, active linebackers, and a defensive line that at times is dominant. They have a mercurial quarterback in Wilson, arguably the best running back in the NFL in Lynch, and they don’t beat themselves. They are also the most complete team in the playoffs.

The Green Bay Packers have come this far with sheer grit and determination, and on the arm of Aaron Rodgers. His calf injury has hindered his play, but on one leg he is still better than most NFL QBs on two legs. The key to the Packers having a chance is to unleash stout running back Eddie Lacy, but I do not see his offensive line opening up holes for him. He’ll have to make his own, and although he is capable of just that, I don’t believe it is going to be enough.

 

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Nelson Cruz agrees to four-year deal with Seattle

Posted on 01 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz will not be returning to Baltimore after agreeing to a four-year deal with the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

As first reported by the Dominican newspaper El Caribe, the 34-year-old will receive a total of $57 million after spending a season with the Orioles that was described as a “platform” year by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. Baltimore had hoped to retain Cruz’s services after he led the majors in home runs, but the organization was unwilling to offer more than a three-year deal as Cruz was initially seeking a five-year commitment.

The good news is that the Orioles will receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round after making Cruz a $15.3 million qualifying offer last month, but they will need to replace production that resulted in the veteran receiving the Most Valuable Oriole award last season. The organization signed Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract last spring after interest in the outfielder was lukewarm because of his connection to the Biogenesis scandal and subsequent 50-game suspension.

The Orioles may prove wise not making a lucrative commitment to a player who will turn 35 next July and is coming off a career year, but finding a productive bat to replace his work at the designated hitter spot and in left field won’t be easy. They’ve reportedly shown interest in outfielder Torii Hunter, but it’s believed the 39-year-old would have to accept a one-year deal.

Another option that’s reportedly been discussed is Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who has battled injuries in recent years and is still owed more than $107 million over the remaining five years of an eight-year, $160 million contract inked before the 2012 season. Of course, the Orioles would demand that the Dodgers take right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and his bloated contract off their hands in any potential trade, but it’s difficult envisioning the organization assuming such a deal without further financial assistance accompanying the 30-year-old outfielder.

Kemp hit .287 with 25 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and an .852 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, the first season in which he played more than 106 games since 2011.

Perhaps the easiest way for the Orioles to make up for Cruz’s production in 2015 would be a bounce-back season from first baseman Chris Davis as well as the respective returns of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, but counting on Davis isn’t easy after he hit just .196 and saw his home run total drop from 53 in 2013 to just 26 in a nightmare 2014 that ended with him being suspended 25 games for amphetamine use.

In 678 plate appearances for the Orioles in 2014, Cruz hit .271 with 40 home runs, 108 RBIs, and an .859 OPS.

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Orioles can prove to be beasts of East by surviving West Coast

Posted on 18 July 2014 by Luke Jones

Sitting in first place at the All-Star break for the first time since 1997 didn’t exactly earn the Orioles any favors as they started the second half of the season in Oakland on Friday night.

A 10-game West Coast trip against the two teams with the best records in the majors and the second wild card leader in the American League probably gave manager Buck Showalter a restless night or two over this week’s respite. Knowing the Orioles play their next 23 games against clubs with winning records — not to mention the six following that against teams with .500 marks at the break — likely made him lose even more sleep.

Of course, Showalter and the Orioles have every right to feel good about themselves after winning 25 of their last 40 to move to 10 games above .500 and turn a 4 1/2-game deficit into a four-game lead over that stretch. They’ve built themselves a small cushion in a division in which no one is without sizable warts and imperfections with Toronto and New York seemingly moving in the wrong direction and Boston and Tampa Bay being mostly bad all season.

No, the trip to the West Coast will neither break nor make the Orioles’ chances of winning their first American League East title since 1997, but those 10 games allow them an opportunity to flex their muscles as a man amongst boys in an underwhelming division. Holding their own in Oakland, Anaheim, and Seattle — even going 5-5 — would not only keep the Orioles in first place but allow them to return home in late July in prime position to continue their quest to a second postseason appearance in the last three years.

A strong showing against the imposing AL West over the next couple weeks could be the difference between a relatively comfortable journey to October and needing to scratch and claw over the final two months of the regular season. In the same way that the Orioles took advantage of the recent struggles of the Blue Jays, the rest of the AL East will be rooting for Baltimore to wilt before finally returning to Camden Yards on July 29.

A starting rotation that’s pitched to a 3.18 ERA over its last 33 games will now face the two highest-scoring offenses in baseball over the next six contests. It was a 1-6 run against the Athletics and the Angels earlier this month that saw the Blue Jays’ one-game lead in the division turn into a 2 1/2-game deficit by the time they left the West Coast.

Even with the daunting stretch staring them in the face, the Orioles couldn’t ask for better timing as they’ll feel more rested now than they will at any point over the rest of the season. Aside from the current ankle injury to starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez — which many critics would deem a blessing anyway — the Orioles are as healthy as they’ve been at any point during the first half of the season.

Showalter has set up his rotation to include the 23-year-old Kevin Gausman — who could finally be with the Orioles for good — and will be looking for his starting pitchers to pick up where they left off to close the first half. And he’ll hope the inconsistent offense — currently ranked seventh in the AL in runs scored — will finally hit its stride and struggling first baseman Chris Davis starts looking more like the force he was a year ago and less like the .199 hitter who was lost at the plate for the first 3 1/2 months of the season.

By no means was it a perfect first half for the first-place Orioles as they lost catcher Matt Wieters for the season and saw their $50 million investment in Jimenez lead the majors in walks, but Baltimore was the least flawed of anyone in the division and still appears that way beginning the most difficult road trip of the season.

The Orioles can use these next 10 games to flex their muscles as the clear favorite in the division and solidify their first-place standing or could see themselves fall back with the rest of the imperfect pack in the AL East.

They’ve grown accustomed to being the hunter over the last three seasons; it will be interesting to see how they start the second half as the hunted after four days off to think about it.

By no means is it do or die, but the West Coast trip will be an opportunity for the Orioles to stake their claim as the overwhelming favorite in the division while sampling what they could see again in October.

 

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Orioles reportedly talking to left-handed starters Saunders, Capuano

Posted on 10 February 2014 by WNST Staff

With the start of spring training fast approaching, the Orioles continue their stated quest of adding a veteran starting pitcher and are reportedly looking at two veteran southpaws to potentially add to the mix.

Baltimore is talking to former Orioles starter Joe Saunders and journeyman Chris Capuano, according to Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Saunders pitched with Seattle in 2013 — going 11-16 with a 5.26 earned run average — while the 35-year-old Capuano pitched to a 4-7 mark with a 4.26 ERA with the National League West champion Los Angeles Dodgers

“Chris is in excellent physical condition and his mound sessions are going extremely well,” Capuano’s agent Michael Moye told FOX Sports.

Of course, the 32-year-old Saunders earned local fame pitching for the Orioles in the latter stages of the 2012 season after he was acquired from the Arizona Diamondback on Aug. 26, 2012. The lefty was 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven regular-season starts before earning the win in the inaugural 2012 AL Wild Card Game against the Texas Rangers, pitching 5 2/3 innings and allowing just one earned run.

Despite another solid outing in Game 4 of the Division Series, Saunders departed via free agency last winter by signing a one-year, $6.5 million contract with the Mariners.

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

Posted on 13 January 2014 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: Women’s College Basketball-Syracuse @ Maryland (Thursday 8:30pm from Comcast Center live on Comcast SportsNet), Georgia Tech @ Maryland (Sunday 2pm Comcast Center); Boxing: Jean Pascal vs. Lucian Bute (Saturday 10:15pm from Montreal live on HBO), Ivan Redkach vs. Tony Luis (Friday 10pm from Memphis live on Showtime); MISL: St. Louis Ambush @ Baltimore Blast (Friday 7:35pm from Baltimore Arena live on YouTube), Baltimore Blast @ Syracuse Silver Stars (Sunday 1pm from Syracuse, NY live on YouTube)

10. Paul Mooney (Saturday 7:30pm Howard Theatre)l Iliza Shlesinger (Thursday-Saturday Baltimore Comedy Factory); Doug Stanhope (Thursday 8pm Magooby’s Joke House); Todd Glass (Thursday-Sunday DC Improv); Baltimore County Restaurant Week (Tuesday-Sunday throughout Baltimore County); Enough Said“, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler“, “Riddick” and “Carrie” available on Blu-Ray/DVD (Tuesday); “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit“, “The Nut Joband “Ride Along” out in theaters (Friday)

Iliza Schlesinger is both humorous and not safe for work.

I have no interest in seeing Jack Ryan, but I could use some more Keira Knightley in my life.

9. Jay-Z (Thursday 8pm Verizon Center); Stone Sour/Pop Evil (Friday 8pm Rams Head Live); Rusted Root (Monday 7:30pm Rams Head on Stage); Big Daddy Kane (Friday 9pm Howard Theatre); Charles Bradley (Thursday 7pm 9:30 Club), Big Head Todd and The Monsters (Saturday 7pm 9:30 Club); Gipsy Kings (Monday 7:30pm Birchmere); Dangermuffin (Friday 8pm Gypsy Sally’s); Bruce Springsteen “High Hopes”Switchfoot “Fading West” and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings “Give The People What They Want” available in stores/on iTunes (Tuesday)

I’ve seen Jay-Z a few times, probably won’t make down to DC Thursday night. But if he ever toured with The Roots there would not be a price I wouldn’t pay.

Charles Bradley > Charles Barkley > Matt Barkley > My elementary school friend Matt Besche. Actually, strike that. Matt Besche is WAY better than Matt Barkley.

Drew Forrester said the new Springsteen record isn’t a home run. Fair enough. I really like this tune though.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings are example number 6,789,403 why Brooklyn is now the capital of the music world.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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“The Reality Check” Final Regular Season NFL Power Rankings

Posted on 01 January 2014 by Glenn Clark

Glenn Clark’s Rankings…

32. Houston Texans (Last Week 32)

Bill O’Brien plus Teddy Bridgewater seems like a pretty solid equation.

31. Washington Redskins (31)

No solid equations to be found.

30. Oakland Raiders (30)

You’d assume most coaches that are still employed a few days after the season ends are safe…unless they coach the Oakland Raiders.

29. Cleveland Browns (29)

Can we just get to the part where they hire Romeo Crennel already?

28. Atlanta Falcons (28)

Jadaveon Clowney would fit REALLY well here.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (27)

Oh hey look-anything else!

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26)

Not Greg Schiano sounds like an improved equation to me.

25. Buffalo Bills (23)

They were interesting at times.

24. Detroit Lions (22)

Jim Schwartz did a nice job there, but it was an absolutely unthinkable end.

23. Minnesota Vikings (25)

Some new coaches inherit one quarterback. The new Vikes coach will inherit negative three.

22. New York Giants (24)

Their record was one game worse than the Ravens’.

21. St. Louis Rams (19)

Would Jeff Fisher take a chance on Jay Cutler?

20. Tennessee Titans (21)

Would Mike Munchak/next Titans coach take a chance on Jay Cutler?

19. Miami Dolphins (13)

Knicks-like choke.

18. Chicago Bears (16)

Stupid to take that chance on Jay Cutler.

17. Dallas Cowboys (14)

And what could have been. (Probably nothing.)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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“The Reality Check” Week 17 NFL Power Rankings

Posted on 25 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Glenn Clark’s Rankings…

32. Houston Texans (Last Week 32)

Yup.

31. Washington Redskins (31)

But at least you didn’t lose to a guy playing through a season ending back injury or anything.

30. Oakland Raiders (30)

Less interesting than the “Best of” shows some radio stations air on Christmas.

29. Cleveland Browns (29)

There’s a chance they’ll be involved with the playoff race.

28. Atlanta Falcons (28)

But for a moment.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (27)

Thank God I won’t have to write about them again.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26)

Kinda remarkable they’ll finish in the top 30 when you think about it.

25. Minnesota Vikings (22)

Thanks for nothing.

24. New York Giants (25)

There’s DEFINITELY no way they can still make a Super Bowl run, right?

23. Buffalo Bills (24)

That should’ve been more helpful.

22. Detroit Lions (18)

I probably shouldn’t drop them this far. Also, I don’t really care that much.

21. Tennessee Titans (21)

Calm down. They only beat Jacksonville.

20. New York Jets (23)

We’ve never been bigger fans.

19. St. Louis Rams (20)

And with the number two pick.

18. Green Bay Packers (16)

But I think they get in.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (19)

No freaking way this can happen, right?

(Continued on Page 2…)

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