The Best Stanley Cup Champion This Decade Is…


Before I reveal which team won the poll, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who participated in the poll conducted. Over 70 votes were cast, more than expected, and overall, it shows readers do love the content that’s published.

Time now for the choice for the best Stanley Cup Champion of the decade.

The winner is…

The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks!!


While the NFL champion didn’t come as a true surprise, the 2010 Blackhawks winning the poll was in some ways compared to how well the Penguins, Capitals, Kings and Blues performed. This didn’t stop hockey fans from the atlantic to the west coast from taking the team which had the longest championship drought turning into this decade. The number two seeded Blackhawks had a fantastic 2009-2010 season in which they put up 112 points and won the Central Division, which at that time meant their 14th division title, and the first since the 1992-93 season, when they were in the Norris Division. They powered through Nashville and Vancouver before sweeping number one seeded San Jose to advance and take on the underdog Philadelphia Flyers. The Blackhawks won in six games against the Flyers, (who had an impressive season themselves tallying 88 points) beat the Bruins down three games to none in the second round, and uprooted both the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens.

Q: What made this team so special?

A: There are a lot of things that makes this team iconic, and not just because it was the first of three championships, although that may be a contributing factor. Let’s begin with goaltender Antti Niemi who came on in the later half of the season and went 26-7, recording seven shutouts and finished with a .912 save percentage. In his second NHL season, the Blackhawks made sure that their top defensemen, lead by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson could keep the puck away from extra attackers and make sure the red-hot net minder did his best. Antti Niemi was even considered for the Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

The Blackhawks that season had one of the deepest rosters a hockey team could have had especially with the cap space. Players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Tomas Kopecky made up an excellent supporting cast. Marian Hossa and Kopecky came in that year to bulk up the first two lines. It looked like what was built the previous three years came together, and no team in the league possibly could have taken them out in a playoff series.

Kris Versteeg scores on Michael Leighton in a high-scoring 6-5 win in Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.

As one of the voters commented under the poll, “Byfuglien, Ladd, Sharp, Hossa, Kane, Toews, Versteeg and Brouwer were either first line players or immediately became first line players the moment they got more playing time on other teams. Not to mention the third line of Ladd-Bolland-Versteeg, two of whom scored 50 points or more.” The Philadelphia Flyers found a way to beat great playoff teams and caught fire similar to how the 2007 New York Giants got hot during the post-season, but they couldn’t get past the enormous depth factor the Blackhawks possessed in a seven game series.

The author’s Stanley Cup pick: the 2015-2016 Pittsburgh Penguins


Ah yes, the team that’s always a threat even if they don’t go to deep in the playoffs or to the Championship. With all due respect to the Blackhawks, who had a peak for a few years, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin have done it for most of this decade. Star Maple Leafs scorer Phil Kessel was brought in during the offseason, which gave the Pens the scoring advantage when it mattered most. Although the Pens only took second place in the Metropolitan with 104 points, there was no doubt during the season that they were the best team in their division, especially if it came from a best of seven matchup. What made the difference mid-season ironically was the head injury to Marc-Andre Fleury on April 2nd that brought in dazzling rookie Matt Murray, and made the defense even better, as he slammed the door on any scoring chances opponents might capitalize on.

Q: What made this team so special?

A: The roster is quite impressive especially with the additions of Kessel and Nick Bonino in the offseason, but what really stands out are the three teams they beat in the playoffs. Up first was the defensive stalwart that was the New York Rangers, headlined by elite goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Pittsburgh had struggled the past two years to beat the Rangers, and had even struggled against them in the regular season. The Pens dispatched the Rangers in five games, making life miserable for their defense. The President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals were next for round two, and Pittsburgh again proved how much better they were against Alex Ovechkin’s squad, winning the series in six games. Last but not least, their conference finals matchup was against the previous Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, led by Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop. It took seven games, but the Pens edged out the Lightning to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Three opponents that could give anyone in the East fits, had been subdued by a deep and focused club led by the future back-to-back Conn Smythe winner.

The Western Conference Champion San Jose Sharks finally peaked after choking a 3-0 series lead the year before to the Los Angeles Kings, pinning L.A.’s ears back handily in five games. The Sharks got into two physical series after against Nashville and St. Louis, both going to game sevens with San Jose prevailing. Pittsburgh had to face a team that was getting ugly to win series in seven games, and the Sharks made smart moves getting James Reimer and Roman Polak at the trade deadlines during the mid-season. While one might argue that Antti Niemi (mentioned above) was worthy of being Vezina Trophy finalist, rookie Matt Murray had to go through three complicated series, two of which he was under fire against some of the best offenses of the decade. Murray found ways to put out the Sharks’ fire time and again, and did his best work at San Jose’s SAP Centre, clinching the Cup on the road in game six.

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, left,  and Patric Hornqvist celebrate a goal by Conor Sheary against San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones during a 2-1 overtime win in Game 2. The Pens would take a two game lead over San Jose in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

AFC Playoff Prediction Picks for 2019-2020


The AFC has easily been the conference of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots since Peyton Manning retired in 2016, but a few challengers stepped up last year and got some jabs in. The Kansas City Chiefs, even though they lost in overtime in the Conference Championship, seem to have re-vamped and refreshed their defense with sight on future domination. The Denver Broncos added a quarterback who knows how to beat New England in the playoffs, and it looks as if Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh could break through and set up some good match-ups. It’s time to analyze who is the real deal and who could surprise given what’s going on.

AFC East: New England Patriots

Tom Brady showed last season he still has it in his early 40s. Will 2019 be as magical for him with Rob Gronkowski retired?

Is anyone surprised by this? The New York Jets have been a dumpster fire even before Todd Bowles’ tenure, and Adam Gase can’t fix it. The Dolphins are quickly becoming the Jets, but the Buffalo Bills look like they can improve this year especially if sophomore quarterback Josh Allen can stay healthy. Still, the top dog in this division is lead by the dynamic duo of Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady. They’ll probably be slow for the first four weeks, but they’ll be back to good as normal by the time we hit November.

AFC North & official dark-horse pick: Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Mixon and co. better up the ante this season, because their three division rivals will be at their heels.

This should get the attention of a lot of football fans and pundits, especially since the other three teams were headlined at the beginning. This isn’t a hot pick with a lot of people, but it is one that should it happen, makes a lot of sense. While most “experts” have the Cleveland Browns winning the division, there has been a lot controversy with quarterback Baker Mayfield verbally going after many people (players and coaches especially) and how Odell Beckham will fare this season. The Browns have a first year head coach who’s  been an offensive coordinator at best in the NFL. Considering that these are the Browns, sports fans should be careful with the hype, because this could just be a .500 year from them.

As for the rest of the AFC North, Lamar Jackson, while showing he could light a fire under the Ravens’ offense last year and be dynamic for them, is too predictable now that the rest of the league has broken down his playing. Even the Ravens coaches have been trying their best not to make him too simplistic. Factor that in with Terrell Suggs and a few wide receivers gone and this isn’t what you consider to be a playoff team, but a team that may struggle all year to put points up. The Pittsburgh Steelers, while getting rid of two headaches in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, can focus on football. They’re the least chaotic of the three, though their wide receivers coach Darryl Drake passed away before week two of the preseason rolled around. The Steelers had issues that were deeper than Brown and Bell last year, with conflicts arising among quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the future of Mike Tomlin if the team keeps losing to bad teams.

That leaves Cincinnati, the only team not filled with drama as the remaining choice. Team owner Mike Brown and his brass finally had the courage to fire Marvin Lewis and turn a new page toward what could be success. New head coach Zac Taylor is everything Lewis is not in terms of football and philosophies. The Bengals made sure to go over who they wanted carefully, and with two good quarterbacks who need an extra push or two, the Bengals could have a better season offensively, and that includes the dynamic, two-way threat of Joe Mixon in the backfield. As for the defense, it’s still a solid unit, but what may help the Bengals most is a different philosophy, especially when playing a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers or performing better in tight games. With the least amount of baggage and not a lot of expectations, this team could surprise a lot of people.

AFC West: Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs


Raiders Chargers Football
The Chargers barely lost the division race to the Kansas City Chiefs last year. Even with their defense not fully healthy and Melvin Gordon III holding out, this team still has Anthony Lynn, who’s done better in the division than Vic Fangio and Andy Reid.

The loss of safety Derwin James and Melvin Gordon III’s holdout will be issues during the season, however this team has a top tier head coach in Anthony Lynn and quarterback Philip Rivers, bolstered with a cohesive unit on both sides of the ball. Unless more players are hit with serious injuries, the Chargers still have a shot to win the division, especially against a Kansas City Chiefs team that will have last year’s film looked at by every team and broken down. If Los Angeles can take care of business against the Chiefs and the Denver Broncos, this team could get a top two seeding placement.

Kansas City bulked up defensively and got a defensive coordinator they wanted to fix last year’s debacles. We’ll see how additions like Khalen Saunders (drafted) and Frank Clark (traded for) fit in with the front seven. 2018-2019 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes could have a drop in production from last year, most notably when the Chiefs face the NFC North this season. Still, this is a team that could still make the playoffs, even if there are off-field issues. Unfortunately for a team like Denver, unless a team vying for a wild card seed has a downward spiral, the Broncos may miss the playoffs on the proof that their offense would be their weakest link. Denver could display this year that they’ll stay in the race until the last few weeks of the regular season.

AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts

The Jaguars defense looked lazy most of last season, but changes in quarterback and play-calling should help fix that.

Questions arise when a team that was so dominant one year falls off completely a year after. Sometimes, it’s certain players and not coaches, sometimes it is the coaches, and sometimes it’s one specific injury. Left tackle Cam Robinson went down after week two and it showed how sensitive the Jacksonville offense was. Quarterback Blake Bortles played terribly and the offense became a wreck, winning only three games after. The defense rebelled and looked like it didn’t want to play. Robinson will be back, but the Jaguars added Nick Foles to the mix and dumped Bortles. While we can talk about Bortles until the season ends, the addition of Foles is an upgrade needed and wanted. He’s everything this team needs, and what upper brass and former head coach Tom Coughlin wants: a good player with great character. The Jaguars still have their core, and even bolstered that with their recent draft picks. With the best roster in this division, they have to be in first…right?

As for Indianapolis, while Andrew Luck may be out a good part of the year, their chances to make the playoffs are still bright. Though there are debates on how the Titans and Texans will be, consider this; for Tennessee, they just aren’t in the discussion with the other three teams (Jacksonville being the third), and there’s too much pressure on Marcus Mariota, especially to remain healthy. For Houston, it’s the defense. They hit the reset button on the secondary, Jadeveon Clowney is holding out, and J.J. Watt has had injury issues the past five years.

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Denico Autry (96) sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. Moriota would leave the field after the sack.
Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Denico Autry (96) sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. The Colts defense proved to be the dominant team to their division rivals last year. In their home game against Tennessee, the defense knocked Mariota out. Tennessee needs their star quarterback to be healthy if they have a chance this year.

That said, I like the Colts’ chances. There’s a good comparison with them and the Los Angeles Rams: their general manager can draft, the coaches develop the players well, the coaches are popular throughout the league, the offensive lines are among the best,  but the Colts differ with their defense in that there will be progress built from last year. This team could be good enough to get the fifth or sixth seed.

NFC Playoff Prediction Picks for 2019-2020


Well that was a fun offseason. Two NFC West teams had the top two picks in the 2019 Draft and it looks like they could have a better year, but they will have to contend with the other two teams, both of whom made the playoffs last year. The rest of the NFC looks to be more vulnerable than the NFC West, but nothing is guaranteed. It’s time for the six picks for who will make the playoffs this season, why they’ll be the ones to not just get in, but why they’re better than the rest of their division. So here goes.

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles


Let’s start with an easy one. The Washington Redskins are an absolute mess (with reports of almost 50 employees who’ve left since this was published) and the New York Giants are thin on both offense and defense, so that leaves the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas however, has contract issues with key pieces on their offense, with Ezekiel Elliott, their franchise running-back looking more likely he’ll hold out for the season. Regardless if Elliott returns, defenses will know how to defend Amari Cooper more, even with Jason Witten coming out of retirement. As a matter of fact, Cooper is also in a standoff with both Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.

The Eagles may have more stability with Nick Foles gone and Carson Wentz coming back to prove he really can play a full season. The defense was pretty good last year, even after tiring on long drives by Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense. Wentz will need to spread the ball around more, but the Eagles look to be in the best shape in this division.

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons


Falcons’ pass-rusher Vic Beasley wishes he could’ve gotten a sack on Drew Brees on this play. This could be his last season in Atlanta

Word is that Atlanta may have issues retaining key pass rusher Vic Beasley for the 2020 season, but that will be after this year. As for the 2019 season, the Falcons are ready to make their mark in the South and have a great year. Last year the Falcons had bad luck with injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball as they went 7-9. Quarterback Matt Ryan was the main reason for those seven wins, but one has to wonder how better they would’ve been if the defense was say, even 75% healthy.

The Falcons are a logical pick to win the NFC South because the other three teams don’t look as if they’re either strong enough or have answers to key questions or issues. Tampa Bay has a new coach and this will be Jameis Winston’s most important year, especially with a defense that is poor in defending and tackling. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s upper body injury will be tested early especially when he’s hit or tries to throw, and the Panthers failed to get a win after being demolished by Pittsburgh with Newton starting in the middle of last season. As for New Orleans, they sputtered offensively even before the controversial no-call in the conference championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. Drew Brees looked like he hit 40, and there could be a drop-off in defensive play for the Saints after being close to perfect last season. The Falcons have a fresh defense, a top tier quarterback and a head coach who’s more than ready to provide answers to questions asked. Expect them to stand out this season.

NFC North: Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers on the run against the Chicago Bears defense Week 1 of 2018. Green Bay’s comeback win against the Bears in Lambeau last year was one of their few highlights

There’s already anger and plenty of booing by Bears fans reading this expecting that their team should be first in a lot of predictions. Problem is, the Bears are vulnerable with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio leaving to become head coach in Denver, and there’s plenty of film on the Bears from last season for the league to break down and pick apart. The Bears had a shot last season and failed to win a playoff game. It’s understandable that almost all the key players had either not won or didn’t go to a playoff game before that, but it’s important to take away considering who’s in their division. While the Lions are already having issues in preseason, and Kirk Cousins is the classic choke that the Vikings are stuck paying, we should expect that the Green Bay Packers will use every bit of wiggle room that they can.

While both the Packers and Bears will be in the spotlight on September 5th, every  football fan who follows the game knows that it’s the second game, which will be in Lambeau Field, that could matter more. Green Bay hired an offensive head coach who is not like Mike McCarthy, meaning he will have a fresh scheme, play sheet, and better ideas on how to attack the Bears defense. The Packers defense will probably be refreshed since they’ve been more active with additions and made sure to tune up key positions. The Bears secondary looks less certain than even Green Bay’s weakest links. Also, the Packers don’t have to wonder if their kicker will hold them back, at least for now.

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers.

Nick Vannett celebrates with the 12th Man after scoring a touchdown in the first half of the Seahawks’ win against the Kansas City Chiefs this past December

By far and away the best division in the NFC, every team here reached the Super Bowl within a ten year mark after the Los Angeles Rams won the conference last year. However, those Rams lost a good amount of their defense and offensive line this offseason while Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona all gained key pieces on both sides of the ball. Seattle by far and away is the best team to not just take the Rams head-on (they lost both games to L.A. by a combined seven points), but they have the advantage on their division rivals San Francisco (losing their first game to them last year after sweeping them four years straight in overtime and committing over 20 penalties) and Arizona (who have a rookie head coach and quarterback who has never played in the pacific northwest). Seattle’s defensive front will be their weakest link, especially in the first half of the year, but fortunately for them that should be the easiest part of their schedule. Most people know though Seattle likes to heat up in the second half of the year, especially with the offense on a roll and the defense gelling together. Not to mention, Seattle has one of the best home advantages in the 21st century.

The Los Angeles Rams should not be taken lightly even with Jared Goff struggling in the Super Bowl last year and Todd Gurley not fully healthy yet. Sean McVay is one of the top head coaches in the league, and the architect of the team, general manager Les Snead knows how to replace those lost spots. Every team they play this year though, especially their division, will be giving them their best every week, and while the Rams will probably make the playoffs, they will take more dents and not be like they were last year. That’s what happens to teams who lose the Super Bowl (unless you’re New England).

The 49ers have a realistic possibility of making the playoffs in 2019 if Jimmy Garappolo can stay healthy (10 in white)

Finally, the San Francisco 49ers do deserve respect, especially if Nick Bosa and Jimmy Garappolo stay healthy year-round. Kyle Shanahan’s squad has shown they can hang against quality opponents (except for a few teams) and hang close most of those games. Injuries have been a big issue though during those two years, and it’s now or never for general manager John Lynch on down. Fortunately for San Francisco, there aren’t a lot of teams left in the NFC that make me wonder if they’ll get to the playoffs barring a certain number of issues arise elsewhere. A team that competes and plays hard in every game while keeping the score close usually finds a way to sneak into the playoffs, even if they struggle against two of their three division rivals.