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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Friday, April 21, 2017 at 3:43 PM

THE JIM SEZ FRIDAY SPORTS REPORT: MLB NEWS/NOTES PLUS TONIGHT'S NBA PLAYOFFS...AND 2017 NFL SKED STUFF ...OUR LATEST NFL DRAFT REPORT EXAMINES THE TOP LINEBACKERS

The National Football League schedule-maker had everyone sitting up and paying attention last night when the 2017 sked hit the airwaves - there's the usual Kickoff Game to start things with the champion New England Patriots hosting the Kansas City Chiefs but can't the league give us a break with these season-opening New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys games? Enough!

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl rematch pitting the aforementioned Pats versus the Atlanta Falcons will take place in Week 7 (in Foxboro) and there's more playoff "rematches" than you can shake a stick at ... just check 'em out including Green Bay at Atlanta in a Week 2 Sunday Night affair.

Lots of good stuff - and maybe ESPN even is happy with their slate of games, who knows - and this year's Thursday night games features a bunch of good old-fashioned rivalries including Kansas City at Oakland (Week 7) and Washington at Dallas (Week 13).

Hey, football, you can't get here fast enough!


MLB NEWS/NOTES

Lots of slow-starting teams so far in this still-young 2017 Major-League Baseball season - see San Francisco, Texas and Toronto, for starters - and it's interesting to check out their skeds this spring-time weekend:

SAN FRANCISCO (6-10) - The Giants are keeping fingers crossed that skipper Bruce Bochy is fine after his heart procedure but it's time for someone to wake up the SF bats (10th in the National League in runs scored and 14th in home runs). Maybe this weekend trip to Coors Field will help - right now SS Brandon Crawford (.509) leads the club in slugging percentage.

TEXAS (5-10) - The Rangers entered Thursday's series-opening game against Kansas City just minus one in the runs differential category (72 runs scored/73 runs allowed) but getting key hits has been a problem and we don't have to enlighten you regarding their shabby bullpen ... now-former closer Sam Dyson already has blown three saves.

TORONTO (3-12) - Egads, the Blue Jays have been a major mess so far (sported a -21 runs differential following yesterday's 4-1 extra-innings loss to Boston) and nobody in this lineup can hit as Toronto ranks 13th in batting average and 14th in runs scored in the American League. "Joey Bats" Bautista (6-for-51), where are you? Maybe a weekend series on the left coast - at Anaheim - can stir the quiet Jays' bats.


NBA PLAYOFF NEWS/NOTES

Okay, so the panicked hoop folks in/around Boston are trying their best to take solace from the fact the only other time an NBA playoff #8 seed led a series against a #1 seed two-games-to-love was way back in 1993 - then the top-seeded Phoenix Suns rallied to beat the Los Angeles Lakers and actually went all the way to the NBA Finals.

Is this scenario gonna be in the cards for this year's Celtics? Stay tuned.

All we can tell you is the East's top seed is struggling mightily - they've been outscored by 14 points in all during the Game 1 and Game 2 home setbacks and Chicago's born-again PG Rajon Rondo (yes, a key member of Boston's last championship team back in 2008) dished off 14 assists in Tuesday's rollicking 111-97 win while G Jimmy Butler is averaging a healthy 26 points per game so far.
One key here for the visiting - and 2-point underdog - Celtics is to take the heat off grieving G Isaiah Thomas and spread the wealth on offense where F Al Horford (only 7 points in Game 2) and key reserve G Terry Rozier (5 points and only four field-goal attempts in Game 2) must bring their proverbial "A game" on this Friday night.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers/Bloggers are all geared up for the NBA Playoffs that continue to roll on this weekend/this month/this spring - so just go online right here or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 each/every day during these NBA Playoffs and we'll send you straight into the winner's circle. Plus, there's Major-League Baseball on tap every day including exciting weekend action here such as the Washington Nationals at the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox at the Baltimore Orioles. Hey, get 'em while we're hot!

 

THE NFL DRAFT REPORT

Our extensive Jim Sez NFL Draft coverage rolls on with a look at the top incoming Outside Linebackers (OLBs) and Inside Linebackers (ILBs):

HAASON REDDICK, OLB, Temple - Usually lined up as a down lineman during his career with the Owls, but former 185-pound walk-on (and now 6-foot-1, 238-pounder) is slated for 'backer position and he sports great pursuit speed. Registered 22.5 tackles for losses last year as a senior. Might be a good fit at pick #13 with the Arizona Cardinals.

REUBEN FOSTER, ILB, Alabama - News breaking yesterday that this 6-foot-1, 240-pound tackling machine had a "positive test" in his system at the recent NFL Combine and so that may knock 'em down a few pegs on draft night. Great sideline-to-sideline defender that plays with a high degree of intensity. Let's plug 'em in for now at #17 with Washington.

ZACH CUNNINGHAM, OLB, Vanderbilt - First unanimous All-America in school history, this 6-foot-3, 235-pound collected 19 tackles in upset win against Georgia last fall and sports safety-type speed. Seven forced fumbles and six sacks in his three years with the 'Dores and a likely top 20 pick on draft night. In fact, let's put 'em right there at pick #20 with Denver.

TAKKARIST McKINLEY, OLB, UCLA - Might have slipped between the cracks in his college career (we never heard all that much about this pass-rushing fiend) who collected just four sacks a year ago but he's top 25 material say the experts. Mark McKinley down as pick #24 with the "Las Vegas" Raiders.

T.J. WATT, OLB, Wisconsin - J.J.'s little brother is chock full of energy (and emotion) but be aware that he started only one year at outside linebacker in Wisky's 3-4 scheme. Let's flip a coin whether he goes to Detroit with pick #21 or the New York Giants at #23.

JARRAD DAVIS, ILB, Florida - Great football IQ and not afraid to throw around his 6-feet-1, 240-pound body. Pencil 'em in at pick #30 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

TYUS BOSWER, OLB, Houston - Could slide into Round II if some of these aforementioned outside linebackers drop a bit, but this former Coog star packs a punch at 6-feet-3, 247 pounds.