World Series hopes are on the line in an epic matchup of American League powerhouses.
In this edition of the Showstopper, we break down the important angles for Game 1 of the ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros. Also, get our insight into two big pro football showdowns: Cardinals vs. Browns and Seahawks vs. Steelers.
Dive into this game-by-game preview before you place your bets this weekend.
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
Friday, October 15 | TV: FOX
It took these hot-hitting squads only four games to advance past their opponents and onto the ALCS. Houston had the edge in the head-to-head series during the regular season, winning 5 of 7 games from Boston in convincing fashion, although the Red Sox did win their last postseason meeting in the 2018 ALCS. Experience is on the Astros’ side, as this is the fifth consecutive season that they’ve reached the ALCS – a rare feat in MLB history. Also, the Astros are 2-0 in the ALCS when they’ve had the home-field advantage during that streak.
In a surprise move, Chris Sale (5-1, 3.16 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) was named the Game 1 starter for Boston. He’ll try to outduel a fellow lefty in Houston’s Framber Valdez (11-6, 3.14 ERA, 1.25 WHIP). Neither pitcher has mastered their command this year and both are coming off brutally short outings in the playoffs, with Sale giving up 5 earned runs in just 1 inning, and Valdez allowing 4 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. However, Valdez did match up very well with Boston during the regular season, going 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 14 1/3 innings.
Boston hopes to get continued strong contributions from Kyle Schwarber and Enrique Hernandez, who both delivered some clutch hits against the Rays. On the injury front, Red Sox slugger Rafael Devers has been dealing with a little discomfort in his right forearm, which seems to flare up whenever he swings and misses. Expect a steady diet of curveballs fed to the plate by Valdez.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Cleveland Browns
Sunday, October 17 | TV: FOX
At 5-0, the Cardinals head into Week 6 as the only undefeated team left. Do the Browns have a shot to knock them off their perch? Cleveland will certainly be hungry for a win at home after a heartbreaking 47-42 loss to the Chargers last week. Despite flashes of solid defense, the Browns have often found themselves locked in shootouts, and another one could be on tap with the fast-paced Arizona offense. The Cards have scored more than 30 points in 4 out of their 5 victories.
The focus will be on the battle of Oklahoma alums, as quarterbacks Kyle Murray and Baker Mayfield face off for the first time since 2019. Murray has tossed 10 touchdowns compared to Mayfield’s 4, though there’s a possibility Kyler will have less weapons at his disposal Sunday. The Cardinals are dealing with at least three positive COVID-19 tests, so it’s worth closely monitoring. Linebacker Chandler Jones is symptomatic, so he’s not expected to play, which will provide more breathing room for Mayfield in the pocket. He’ll take all the help he can get, because Cleveland is dealing with a swath of injuries, including to left tackle Jedrick Wills and right tackle Jack Conklin.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, October 17 | TV: NBC
The Steelers broke their three-game losing streak last week with a win against the Broncos. Now they’ll attempt to keep the momentum going in a home showdown with the Seahawks, who will look much different with Geno Smith under center instead of Russell Wilson. After undergoing surgery on his fractured finger, Wilson will likely be out of action until Week 10. Both the Seahawks and Steelers are 2-3 and fighting their way from the bottom of their respective divisions. Seattle has given up a combined 89 points in its 3 losses.
Pittsburgh rookie running back Najee Harris had a breakout game last week and should see plenty of work again this week. The Seahawks are one of the worst in the league at stopping running backs. In Week 2 they surrendered 237 all-purpose yards and 3 touchdowns to the Titans’ Derrick Henry. Overall, Seattle has allowed at least 450 yards in each of its past four games. Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, paving the way for Chase Claypool to draw more of Big Ben’s targets and build off his impressive 130-yard showing in Week 5.