NFL 2014 Week 9 Picks

Fox used English Football style logos for the Wembley game

Fox used English Football style logos for the Wembley game

This week marks the midway point of the NFL season, so this is the time when we roughly know which teams are looking most likely to go deep in the playoffs, while one or two teams might put together a run in the second half that propels them into January with the sort of momentum that led the Ravens and Giants (twice) to recent Super bowl wins. Here’s a look at the main talking points from Week 8:

  • In the first game of 15 almost continuous NFL action last Sunday, Detroit came from 21-0 down at half time to beat the Falcons 22-21 at Wembley Stadium in London.  The winning field goal as time expired was fortuitous for the Lions, who missed the original kick but were called for a delay of game and kicker Matt Prater made his second effort from five yards further away.
  • It was not so much the fact that Green Bay lost to the Saints that bothered me – New Orleans has a fantastic home record and they are hard to beat in the Super Dome – but the fact that during a first half drive, on a second and goal play the Packers put in defensive linesman Julius Peppers as a wide receiver, then Aaron Rodgers threw to him and the former Bears man could not catch a ball that hit his chest. Green Bay ended up getting just a field goal from that drive and did not score another touchdown until the contest was well beyond them.
  • Washington not only beat the Cowboys in Dallas, but also knocked Tony Romo out of the game for much of the second half with a back injury.  Romo was able to come back to try to lead a drive at the end of regulation and in overtime, but Washington’s defense was fantastic all night and helped Colt McCoy enjoy a victory in his first start at quarterback in the NFL since 2011.
  • After their lopsided week 4 loss to the Chiefs, many were writing off the Patriots as a spent force; their 51 point tally against the Bears last week brought their total to 158 in the last four games, during which time they are 4-0.  This weekend, it is Brady vs Manning XVI as the Broncos head to Foxborough to take on New England.
  • The Colts were considered to have one of the best defenses in the league, then gave up 53 points to the Steelers in Pittsburgh.  Cincinnati overcame Baltimore and Cleveland defeated Oakland, so all four AFC North teams currently have a winning record.
  • In the battle of Missouri, the Chiefs beat the Rams in St. Louis, though the week continue so well for Kansas City, as the Royals lost in game 7 of the World Series to the Giants last night.  Since I’m not going to write a separate MLB post, let me just say: Madison Bumgarner.  Wow.

Week 9 Picks

Last week, 8-7; Season, 66-55

Home teams in bold

Panthers +2.5 over Saints

Bengals -11.5 over Jaguars

Buccaneers +6.5 over Browns

Cardinals +4.5 over Cowboys

Chiefs -9.5 over Jets

Chargers +1.5 over Dolphins

Washington +1.5 over Vikings

Eagles -2.5 over Texans

49ers -9.5 over Rams

Patriots +3.5 over Broncos

Seahawks -14.5 over Raiders

Ravens +0.5 over Steelers

Colts -3.5 over Giants

2014 Midterm Elections – Race to Control the Senate

This year’s midterm elections are centered around the battle between the Republicans and the Democrats to have control of the Senate for the two final years of President Obama’s term.  The GOP have been confident of their ability to gain control of the Senate this November, but that should not be taken as an indication that there is a significant shift to the right in the political thinking of voters, it is simply a matter of timing.  The 33 seats that are being contested this year (plus 3 special elections, but I do not expect any of those – Hawaii (Dem.), South Carolina (Rep.) and Oklahoma (Rep.) to change hands) were last up for grabs in 2008, when President Obama won by a landslide and helped sway the vote in some states where Democrats have not traditionally done well.  Also, at a time when Congress has a 14% approval rating, being an incumbent is not so much of an advantage anymore and 20 of the 33 Senate seats up for election have Democratic incumbents.  This will all shift in 2016, when the seats that were last contested in 2010 – a year when the Tea Party movement was at its apex and helped the GOP perform outstandingly in a midterm election – will see 24 Republican Senators facing re-election contests, compared with just 10 Democrats.  Since that will also be a Presidential election with no incumbent running for the White House, turnout is likely to be high, something that currently favors the Democrats – if you want proof of that, it is the  GOP who are moving to disenfranchise people by limiting early voting and introducing barriers prevent some from being able to cast votes in several states, under the guise of preventing (virtually non-existent) voter fraud.

Here is what we know the 114th Congress will look likely come next January, before a single one of the 2014 Senate election votes is counted:

House of Representatives: Control will be maintained by the Republican party, regardless of how the actual vote goes.  In 2012, Democrats won 201 seats to the GOP’s 234, despite the fact that they won a total of 1,417,278 more votes than the Republicans in Congressional ballots.  That is thanks to the redistricting efforts from 2010, which led to huge gerrymandering – something that both parties are to blame for and is completely counter to the democratic process.  If you do not think it’s a problem, I invite you to look at the following districts (out of many I could have chosen): North Carolina 12th; Illinois 4th; Pennsylvania 7th; and Texas 35th.

IMG_6414Senate: 32 Democrats, 2 Independents*, 30 Republicans

*Both current Independent Senators, Angus King (ME) and Bernie Sanders (VT) caucus with the Democrats, though as the pictured quote shows, Senator Sanders is open to changing that fact…but probably not.

2014 Senate Elections

Safe Democrats Seats

Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Hawaii (Special Election) – Total = 11

Perhaps with the exception of Michigan, none of these have the remotest chance of switching to Republican, even with turnout being lower in a midterm contest.  Senator Cory Booker won a special election in 2013 and the former Mayor of Newark – who one day soon could be on a Presidential ticket, perhaps as a VP candidate – should easily win a full term to represent the state of New Jersey.

Safe Republican Seats

Alabama, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma (Special Election), South Carolina, South Carolina (Special Election), Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming – Total = 12

As you can see, both Oklahoma and South Carolina are having two Senate contests this November, as they replace Sen. Tom Coburn (OK – retiring) and Sen. Jim DeMint (SC, who left in 2013 to head up the Heritage Foundation) and the GOP will win all four of those seats.  Alabama is going to be the least exciting contest in the nation, as Senator Jeff Sessions is running unopposed.  In Mississippi, Senator Thad Cochran only narrowly avoided losing to even further-right candidate Chris McDaniels in the primary (McDaniels won 49.5% of the vote to Cochran’s 49% – but 50% was needed to avoid a run off) but a place that still has the Confederate flag as part of the design of the state’s flag, is not going to be won by a Democrat anytime soon.

Current Tally: Democrats + Independents 45; Republican 42 Read more of this post

Premier League Roundup and Preview – City thrash Spurs and Chelsea vs United

Aguero racked up four more goals against Spurs

Aguero racked up four more goals against Spurs

Last Weekend’s Action

It seems like a long time ago now, but Tottenham’s first nine visits to the Etihad Stadium in all competitions brought them six wins, two draws and just one defeat.  However, since 2011 Spurs have lost all five of their trips to Manchester City’s new(ish) home and last Saturday’s 4-1 capitulation was in fact a significant improvement on the 6-0 thrashing they suffered last season.  There was plenty of action in the match: four penalties; two of which were correctly given (the second and third for City), two were just bad decisions (Lampard dived, Roberto Soldado was outside the box when he was fouled; two of them were converted (both by Sergio Aguero) and two missed (one by the Argentinian striker and one by the inept Soldado).  A sending off; Federico Fazio for pulling back Aguero in the box and giving away the fourth penalty.  Two fantastic goals by Aguero, one by Christian Eriksen which came about thanks to a brilliant challenge by Ryan Mason in the midfield.  The one thing that the game did not have was any effort from the Tottenham players in the final quarter of an hour, something I think should have resulted in them being docked 15% of their wages, to see if they ever gave up on a match again.

Nevertheless, despite the poor performance it was still not the most lopsided scoreline of the weekend in the Premier League, as that honor went to Southampton for their 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland – a result that must have made the more than 300 mile return journey seem even further for supporters heading back to the North East. They will not have been cheered on that long trek had they been listening to BBC Radio 5 Live, as they would have heard their closest rivals, Newcastle, beat Leicester 1-0 to move within 1 point of the Black Cats, who sit just above the relegation zone.  That win for the Magpies – their first of the season – was in a match that was delayed for an hour because a new big screen at St. James’ Park was swaying wildly in the wind and had to be secured before supporters were allowed into the stands, perhaps giving credence to members of the Toon Army who have felt like the sky has been falling on them during the reigns of Mike Ashley and Alan Pardew.  Newcastle’s success means that Burnley are the only top flight club who have not yet registered a win this season, as they were beaten 3-1 at home by West Ham, who have lifted themselves up into fourth place in the table.

The most exciting game of the weekend – at least for from the 85th minute onwards – was at Loftus Road, as Queens Park Rangers fell to a 3-2 defeat to Liverpool in dramatic fashion.  The Reds had opened the scoring through an own goal by Richard Dunne, who now has 10 in his career and more Premier League goals this season for the Merseyside club than Mario Balotelli; but the home side equalized with 3 minutes of the 90 remaining and looked to have earned themselves a valuable point.  However, with the clock at 89:44, Philippe Coutinho put Brendan Rodgers’ mean ahead, only for Eduardo Vargas to pull Rangers level again.  Four minutes of injury time had been signaled by the fourth official and 13 seconds into the fifth minute, a cross by Rahim Sterling was diverted into his own net by Steven Caulker, who now has more Premier League goals…etc and so forth.  That result moved Liverpool up to fifth in the table, nine points behind the leaders Chelsea, who beat Crystal Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park, with both teams being reduced to ten men before half-time. Elsewhere, Stoke made the most of a dubious penalty award to come from behind and beat Swansea 2-1, leaving the Welsh club without a victory since they opened the campaign by winning their first three fixtures; and Everton took three points at home for the first time in 2014/15, dispatching of Aston Villa 3-0 at Goodison Park.

The Continuing Rise of the 2-2

Last weekend, two games ended up with 2-2 score lines: Arsenal scored first, but then had to rely on an injury time strike to get a point against Hull (the fourth point of the eleven they have so far that has been earned with a goal in the 90th minute or later); and West Brom were unlucky not to get all three points against Manchester United, as they twice took the lead but ended up with a draw due to Daley Blind’s first goal for the Red Devils.  Interesting games, sure, but what I was most interested in is the continued prevalence of the 2-2 scoreline in this season’s Premier League.  Last month, I noted that there had been 8 such score lines in the opening 50 fixtures; that total has risen to 12 in the first 80 – a rate of once every 6.66 games (slightly down from where it was in late September, but still twice as fast as any other campaign in the last five years).  Here are some stats (interesting only to me perhaps, but still) of the meteoric rise of the 2-2: Read more of this post

NFL 2014 Week 8 Picks

Peyton Manning surpassed Bret Favre for the record number of career touchdown passes on Sunday vs the 49ers

Peyton Manning surpassed Bret Favre for the record number of career touchdown passes on Sunday vs the 49ers

Before getting to my week 8 picks, here are some of the highlights from last weekend’s action, as well as a couple of notes about this Sunday’s games:

  • Peyton Manning. You know the rest.
  • St. Louis not only beat the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, they did so with some fantastic special teams plays.  There was a 90 yard punt return for a touchdown where the Rams players acted as though the ball had gone one direction, fooling the Seattle defenders and giving Stedman Bailey an almost open path on the other side of the field; then in the closing minutes, St. Louis faked a punt on fourth down and avoided having to give the ball back to the Seahawks and give them a chance to win the game by getting into field goal range.
  • The Cowboys have more wins than anyone else in the NFL, as they sit at 6-1 following their defeat of divisional rivals, the Giants.  I still have a feeling that Dallas is going to find a way to miss the playoffs and they are only a half game ahead of the Eagles (who had their bye in Week 7) in the NFC North.
  • Green Bay were 21-0 up on the Panthers by the end of the first quarter and have won four straight games to move to 5-2, but none of their five victories have come against teams who currently have a winning record (Carolina, NY Jets, Chicago, Minnesota and Miami).
  • Talking of the Lions, they managed to score two touchdowns in the final four minutes to overcome the Saints 24-23 in Detroit, leaving New Orleans winless in four attempts on the road.
  • Oakland are now the only winless team in the NFL, following their home loss to the Cardinals, while the Jaguars registered their first victory of the season as they beat the Browns 24-6 in northern Florida.
  • On Sunday, there is another game in London as the Falcons face the Lions at Wembley Stadium, with the game kicking off at 1:30pm London time, which is 9:30am Eastern and 6:30am Pacific time (the time difference is an hour less than usual for a week, since the United Kingdom puts their clocks back a week before the United States.)  That means there are NFL games starting 11 hours apart on Sunday, with the Green Bay/New Orleans night matchup kicking off at 8:30pm ET/5:30PT – and also, the Atlanta/Detroit game goes head-to-head with the Premier League fixtures of Burnley vs Everton and Tottenham vs Newcastle (the latter being played just 12 miles from Wembley).
  • Both Washington and Buffalo had replacement quarterbacks come up big in Week 7: Colt McCoy replaced Kirk Cousins for the second half of Washington’s victory over the Titans, throwing a 70 yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon with his first pass; and Kyle Orton continued to start in place of EJ Manuel for the Bills and led the game winning touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins with just a second remaining on the clock.

Week 8 Predictions

Last week, 9-6; Season, 58-48

Home teams in bold

Broncos -7.5 over Chargers

Lions -3.5 over Falcons (in London)

Bills +2.5 over Jets

Patriots -6.5 over Bears

Ravens +1.5 over Bengals

Texans -0.5 over Titans

Chiefs -6.5 over Rams

Jaguars +5.5 over Dolphins

Buccaneers -2.5 over Vikings

Seahawks -4.5 over Panthers

Eagles +2.5 over Cardinals

Browns -7.5 over Raiders

Colts -2.5 over Steelers

Saints -1.5 over Packers

Washington +9.5 over Cowboys

 

Irrelevant Euro Qualifiers and the Premier League Returns

The irrelevant Euro 2016 Qualifying Process

The weekend that Premier League action restarts following an international break is one that is anticipated more than most, as it comes on the back of qualifying fixtures or friendlies between countries that simply do not mean as much as the club games.  I love the major international tournaments, from the World Cup, to the European Championships or Copa America – basically anything that is not the Olympic Games, where football is an after-thought – but these two-year qualifying group stages are just irrelevant and boring.  That has never been more true than now, as Euro 2016 will feature 24 countries – up from the 16 of recent iterations of the competition – and thus it will be very hard for the major nations to avoid qualifying for the finals.  This past fortnight should have been exciting (except for the awful scenes that broke out in the match between Serbia and Albania): Poland beat the World Champions, Germany; Iceland defeated Netherlands; Slovakia won 2-1 against Spain; England overcame San Marino – so many unexpected successes, but still all the big guns will make it to France because nearly half of the continent will.  With the hosts the only nation guaranteed a spot, that means that 53 countries are competing for 23 slots.  Then consider this list of 20 nations:

San Marino, Andorra, Malta, Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Cyprus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Lithuania, Albania, Gibraltar, Estonia, Latvia, Wales, Armenia, Montenegro, Northern Ireland

None of these teams are going to qualify, so it basically means that 23 spots are being contested by 33 teams.  Plus, I did not even put Scotland, Finland and Iceland in that grouping because I felt that it might be a little harsh on them, even though the latter two have never made it to a major tournament, while there are Scottish people who are legally allowed to drink who were not born the last time their home country made a European Championship or World Cup (Euro 96). When UEFA determined the seedings for the qualifying draw, Israel were ranked as the 23rd best team in Europe (thus expected to qualify for the 24 team tournament) despite the fact that they: a) are not in Europe; and b) last competed in an international tournament in 1968, when they came third in the Asian Cup, held in Iran.  The whole system is a joke and it will get even worse when the tournament itself arrives and some crappy team gets three draws in the group stage and somehow makes it to the second round, because they’re one of the best third-place finishers, just like the 1990/1994 World Cups.  Ridiculous.

Meanwhile, the qualifying for the African Cup of Nations was actually getting interesting, except for the fact that Morocco has pulled out of hosting the event due to ebola fears and now there may not actually be a tournament for which to qualify…still more interesting than the UEFA competition, however.

Premier League Recap and Weekend Preview

At least the Premier League is back this weekend and I get to watch Tottenham play…oh I actually cannot remember who they’re facing this weekend. Let me just check…Saturday early kick off, 12:45pm local time, that’s 7:45am Eastern and 4:45am Pacific, still there’s always coffee to help with the early start…and they’re playing…Manchester City away.  Oh for fu…

Smithers, dismember the corpse and send his wife a corsage

Smithers, dismember the corpse and send his wife a corsage

Since my weekend will be ruined by Spurs before it even really starts, let’s have a quick look back at the action from two weeks ago – the highlights:

  • Chelsea maintained their unbeaten record with a 2-0 victory over Arsenal and also managed to get under Arsene Wenger’s skin once again as he reacted to a challenge on Alexis Sanchez by confronting and pushing Jose Mourinho, who clearly loved the whole incident.
  • Tottenham earned a win for Mauricio Pochettino against his old club, Southampton, holding on to win 1-0 thanks to a Christian Eriksen goal.  Somehow that result meant that Spurs, who had not won since the second game of the season, have spent the last two weeks above the Gunners, who suffered their first defeat of the campaign in the aforementioned game with Chelsea.
  • Fans of 2-2 draws got to enjoy two more of them, as the matches between Leicester and Burnley, plus Swansea and Newcastle ended with that scoreline, bringing the season’s total to 10.  In the latter match, Papiss Cissé once again scored both – as he had done against Hull – probably saving Alan Pardew’s job ahead of the international break.
  • Manchester United moved into the top 4 with a 2-1 home victory over Everton, with Angel DiMaria and Radamel Falcao both getting on the score sheet.  This proves that Louis Van Gaal is indeed a genius and he can inspire his team to greatness…or, they were very lucky to get away with the three points, needing to rely on some stunning saves from David de Gea and Leighton Baines’ first ever penalty miss in the top flight.

Strength of Schedule Rankings

That one lucky victory is not the only bad sign for Manchester United supporters either.  Since there were two weeks in between fixtures, I spent some time (okay I did it today at the last-minute, but still) looking at the strength of schedule each team has faced so far.  I mapped out who each club has faced so far, giving their opponents a value from 1-20 based on their current league position – it looked something like this:

Position Team Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7
1 Chelsea Burnley Leicester Everton Swansea Man City Aston Villa Arsenal
2 Man CIty Newcastle Liverpool Stoke Arsenal Chelsea Hull Aston Villa
3 Southampton Liverpool West Brom West Ham Newcastle Swansea QPR Tottenham
4 Man United Swansea Sunderland Burnley QPR Leicester West Ham Everton
5 Swansea Man United Burnley West Brom Chelsea Southampton Sunderland Newcastle
6 Tottenham West Ham QPR Liverpool Sunderland West Brom Arsenal Southampton
7 West Ham Tottenham Crystal Palace Southampton Hull Liverpool Man United QPR
8 Arsenal Crystal Palace Everton Leicester Man City Aston Villa Tottenham Chelsea
9 Liverpool Southampton Man City Tottenham Aston Villa West Ham Everton West Brom
10 Aston Villa Stoke Newcastle Hull Liverpool Arsenal Chelsea Man City
11 Hull QPR Stoke Aston Villa West Ham Newcastle Man City Crystal Palace
12 Leicester Everton Chelsea Arsenal Stoke Man United Crystal Palace Burnley
13 Sunderland West Brom Man United QPR Tottenham Burnley Swansea Stoke
14 West Brom Sunderland Southampton Swansea Everton Tottenham Burnley Liverpool
15 Crystal Palace Arsenal West Ham Newcastle Burnley Everton Leicester Hull
16 Stoke Aston Villa Hull Man City Leicester QPR Newcastle Sunderland
17 Everton Leicester Arsenal Chelsea West Brom Crystal Palace Liverpool Man United
18 Newcastle Man City Aston Villa Crystal Palace Southampton Hull Stoke Swansea
19 Burnley Chelsea Swansea Man United Crystal Palace Sunderland West Brom Leicester
20 QPR Hull Tottenham Sunderland Man United Stoke Southampton West Ham

This is obviously not a perfect process, since it does not take into account home/away factor, nor does it necessarily reflect how good a team is – you would expect Arsenal to be a tougher opponent than Southampton, despite their current positions in the table.  But what it does show is the form of the clubs that each team has faced, so when I then plugged in the values and worked out the average position of the opponent of each team, the rankings came out as follows (SOS = Strength of Schedule, AVP = Average Position of opponent, basically the higher up the list, the harder the fixtures have been for each side)

SOS Club AVP
1 Liverpool 8.43
2 QPR 8.57
3 Newcastle 8.86
4 Arsenal 9
= Everton 9
6 Burnley 9.14
7 Aston Villa 9.29
8 West Ham 9.71
9 Swansea 10.29
= West Brom 10.29
11 Chelsea 10.43
= Man CIty 10.43
13 Tottenham 10.57
14 Southampton 11.29
15 Leicester 11.43
16 Sunderland 12
17 Stoke 12.29
18 Hull 12.57
19 Crystal Palace 13.14
20 Man United 13.29

So Manchester United have had, relatively speaking, the easiest fixtures thus far, yet they still sit precariously in fourth place, ahead of 5th and 6th placed Swansea and Tottenham on goal difference.  As you would expect from looking at the league table, this also suggests that Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton are likely to move up the standings in the coming weeks as everything evens out (maybe not so with QPR, who have helped improve opponents’ positions by being rubbish and losing to them), while the likes of Hull, Crystal Palace and United have inaccurately lofty positions to this point.  Or, I could just have had too much time to think about the Premier League with no games to watch, plus my desire to avoid this weekend’s likely massacre at the Etihad.

Weekend Action and Predictions

Following on from Manchester City’s demolition of Spurs on Saturday, Arsenal can reclaim their regular position of being above their North London rivals by beating Hull at home, two ever-presents in the Premier League meet at Goodison Park as Everton take on Aston Villa; there is an all-claret-and-blue affair between Burnley and West Ham; a London derby as Crystal Palace host Chelsea; Newcastle and Leicester will be the teams drawing 2-2 this week; and Sunderland have the longest trip of the weekend, as they head to the south coast to play Southampton.  Last season, Tim Sherwood took over at Spurs following their home defeat to Liverpool and he could repeat the trick this campaign – should rumors have any basis in fact – at QPR, as Harry Redknapp’s position has come under increased scrutiny ahead of their meeting with the Reds on Sunday.  Also that day, Stoke play Swansea at the Britannia, while the Monday Night matchup is between West Brom and the overrated Manchester United.

Predictions

Last time, 3-7; Season, 28-42

Home team listed first

Manchester City vs Tottenham – Don’t ask

(okay, Home win)

Arsenal vs Hull – Home win

Burnley vs West Ham – Draw

Crystal Palace vs Chelsea – Away win

Everton vs Aston Villa – Home win

Newcastle vs Leicester – Draw

Southampton vs Sunderland – Home win

QPR vs Liverpool – Away win

Stoke vs Swansea – Away win

West Brom vs Manchester United – Draw

 

 

NFL 2014 Week 7 Picks

Mike Nugent's sliced field goal attempt meant the Bengals and Panthers tied

Mike Nugent’s sliced field goal attempt meant the Bengals and Panthers tied

Before getting to the predictions for this weekend, here is a quick look at some of the stories from Week 6 in the NFL:

  • The Bengals and Panthers played out the first tie of the 2014 NFL season.  The final score of 37-37 was the highest number of points in a tied game since the introduction of sudden death overtime for regular season contests in 1974.
  • Denver’s win over the Jets in the stadium in which they lost the Super Bowl last February means they are 8-2 in their last 10 games, with the two defeats both coming against the Seahawks.
  • Green Bay should have been out of sight of Miami by half-time, but their victory ended up being really exciting as Aaron Rodgers faked a spike on the second-to-last play of the game, then threw a touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless with three seconds remaining.
  • Only two teams have been shutout so far in 2014: the New York Jets in San Diego in week 5; followed up by their fellow Jerseyites the Giants, who lost 27-0 in Philadelphia last Sunday night.
  • People are starting to believe that the Cowboys are for real, as they inflicted just the second home defeat on Russell Wilson’s Seahawks, winning 30-23 in Seattle.  Their game this Sunday at home to the Giants looks like a foregone conclusion – so my guess is that it will be a huge letdown game for Dallas, with Tony Romo throwing multiple interceptions.
  • 1 minutes and 3 seconds into the second quarter of their contest with the Buccaneers, the Ravens were 35-0 up with Joe Flacco having thrown five touchdown passes.
  • The Raiders and Jaguars lost their Week 6 games by a combined five points – with Oakland particularly impressive against the Chargers – but both teams remain winless at 0-5 and 0-6 respectively.

Week 6 Picks

Last week, 7-8; Season, 49-42

Home teams in bold

Jets +9.5 over Patriots

Ravens -6.5 over Falcons

Vikings +4.5 over Bills

Dolphins +3.5 over Bears

Colts -2.5 over Bengals

Jaguars +4.5 over Browns

Saints +2.5 over Lions

Panthers +6.5 over Packers

Titans +4.5 over Washington

Seahawks -6.5 over Rams

Chargers -4.5 over Chiefs

Giants +6.5 over Cowboys

Cardinals -3.5 over Raiders

49ers +6.5 over Broncos

Texans +3.5 over Steelers

 

 

 

 

NFL 2014 Week 6 Picks

Rodgers found Jordy Nelson for a 66 yard touchdown pass against the Vikings

Rodgers found Jordy Nelson for a 66 yard touchdown pass against the Vikings

With just five weeks of the season in the books, there are no unbeaten teams left in the NFL and only two who are yet to record a victory – the Raiders and the Jaguars.  Twenty-two of the league’s thirty-two teams have recorded either two or three victories so far, with only a couple of outliers to what looks like a very open year where any team who gets on a roll could make a deep run in the playoffs.  Here’s a quick look around the league and how things went in Week 5;

NFC North 1. Packers/Lions 3-2; 3. Vikings/Bears 2-3

  • Green Bay took advantage of Minnesota’s quarterback problems to race to an easy Thursday night victory, with Aaron Rodgers able to sit the fourth quarter with the game beyond the Vikings’ reach.
  • It turned out to be a great weekend for the Packers as Chicago gave up an early lead to lose to the Panthers; while the Lions kicking woes continued and it cost them dearly against the Bills.

NFC East 1. Eagles/Cowboys 4-1; 3. Giants 3-2; 4. Washington 1-4

  • Philadelphia and Dallas both kept up their impressive starts by beating St. Louis and Houston respectively, though the Cowboys needed overtime to overcome the Texans.  Still, the only team that has beaten either of them to this point is the 49ers.
  • After their 30-20 victory over the Falcons moved them to 3-2, there has been the suggestion that New York Giants could be surprisingly good this year.  However, their three wins have come against Washington – who have only beaten the winless Jaguars – plus Atlanta and Houston, who had a combined record of 6-26 in 2013.  I think the Giants are going to be 2014’s “good-bad team” – they will be able to beat other mediocre sides, but will lose against tougher opponents.
  • Outside of destroying an awful Jacksonville team, Washington had their best performance of the year on Monday night as they hung tough against the reigning Super Bowl champion Seahawks.  In the second half, the Washington defense looked really pumped up and was holding Seattle, but the offense just could not put up enough points for them to draw level.

NFC South 1. Panthers 3-2; 2. Falcons/Saints 2-3; 4. Buccaneers 1-4

  • There might not be any good teams in the NFC South this year, even though the Panthers are disproving those (including me) who thought they would not be contenders to top the division again this season.  Their two losses to the Steelers and Ravens were poor, though they did recover last weekend enough to come from behind and beat the Bears at home.
  • New Orleans required overtime to win at home over the Buccaneers and have yet to put in an impressive performance this year, as their offense as sputtered not exploded as we have come to expect in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era.  On a bye this week, the Saints will need to improve massively ahead of their next five fixtures which look very tricky: @Detroit; vs. Green Bay; @Carolina; vs. San Francisco; vs. Cincinnati.

NFC West 1. Seahawks/Cardinals 3-1; 3. 49ers 3-2; 4. Rams 1-3

  • Arizona lost for the first time this season last week, but it was in Denver against Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ potent offense, which destroyed the Cardinals’ previously strong defense.  They are now down to their third string quarterback – Logan Thomas – so Arizona will need that defense to recover quickly in order to keep them in games over the next few weeks, until either Drew Stanton or Carson Palmer can return.  
  • Seattle’s only loss so far was in San Diego against an impressive Chargers team and their victory against Washington on Monday showed they can still ground out wins when they are not firing on all cylinders.
  • San Francisco have managed to hang in there and are only a half game back after five weeks and they should improve in the second part of the season as they get more used to their new stadium and have players come back from suspensions.  The 49ers also need Colin Kaepernick to get over a relatively poor start, though he did show signs of that in last weekend’s victory over the Chiefs, throwing for 201 yards and a touchdown, with no picks.

Read more of this post

Premier League Roundup and Weekend Preview – Chelsea vs Arsenal

Chadli gives Spurs a surprise lead at Arsenal

Chadli gives Spurs a surprise lead at Arsenal

Despite only enjoying two separate five-minute spells when they were the better team in the North London Derby, Tottenham managed to leave the Emirates with a point last weekend following a 1-1 draw with Arsenal.  For much of the first half, Spurs once again looked like a group of players who had never met each other before and were unable to put together any sort of passing move, but somehow they were able to make it to the break without conceding.  Eleven minutes into the second half, Christian Eriksen caught Matthieu Flamini in possession inside the Arsenal half, gave the ball to Erik Lamela who threaded through a lovely pass that Nacer Chadli converted to give Tottenham a surprising lead.  Any hopes of a smash-and-grab victory were dashed fifteen minutes before the end, when a mishit by Lamela – who, to be fair, worked hard defensively even though it is clearly not his forte – allowed Alexis Sanchez the opportunity to cross and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain lashed in the equalizer.  Spurs held on for the final quarter of an hour and by one basic metric – an important one to us supporters – Mauricio Pochettino has already improved on last season.  In 2013/14, eight matches against Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham (our three biggest rivals) ended with no wins, one draw and seven defeats.  So far this year, Tottenham have beaten the Hammers and got a point against the Gunners – there may be bigger aims in the Premier League, but these fixtures are the ones fans look to when the schedule comes out.

As for Arsenal, they cannot be too disappointed with a draw in the derby, as it maintains their unbeaten record in the league and they followed it up with a 4-1 thrashing of Galatasaray in the Champions League in midweek.  It really looks as though the combination of Danny Welbeck (who grabbed a hat-trick in that victory over the Turkish side), Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanches and Oxlaide-Chamberlain is starting to click; the biggest weakness for the Gunners is the lack of a top-notch defensive midfielder in their squad.  Flamini certainly does not appear to be good enough to dominate in that position against the better teams, while Wenger deployed Santi Cazorla there in the Champions League, but that would be very risky against other top-four sides.  This weekend, Arsenal face their toughest challenge so far this season as they face the only other unbeaten side, league leaders Chelsea, who thrashed them 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in March.  The Blues had a comfortable 3-0 win over Aston Villa last weekend to maintain their position atop the Premiership and with them having Cesc Fabregas in the lineup to haunt his old club, who were unwilling to break their wage structure to bring him back when he was leaving Barcelona in the summer, Sunday’s encounter is mouthwatering.  I’m particularly excited to see Fabregas score and then not celebrate, leading to the commentators talk about how much respect it shows for his former club, ignoring the fact that he’s not exactly showing loyalty to the team that currently pays his wages.  If Spurs ever played Real Madrid again (say, if they somehow ended up in the Europa League…) and Gareth Bale scored, I’d hope he did his stupid finger-heart celebration – I’m not going to be any less pissed off just because he stands there solemnly while being congratulated by his team-mate.  You scored, enjoy it.  Read more of this post

NFL 2014 Week 5 Picks

Ray Rice shows his support for women's wellbeing on the field, if not in casino elevators

Ray Rice shows his support for women’s wellbeing on the field, if not in casino elevators

With approximately one quarter of the season gone, here’s what we have learned so far from the 2014 NFL season:

  • There does not seem to be any standout teams so far – the only two undefeated sides, Cincinnati and Arizona, have both only played three games and, although the Bengals have played better than anyone else overall thus far, neither has the aura of invincibility.
  • Green Bay are 2-2, but looked great on the road against Chicago and only have 5 games remaining away from Lambeau Field, so their early struggles could be behind them (speaks the ardent fan).
  • Teams that might be far better than I thought heading into the season: Dallas; Detroit; Kansas City; Cincinnati.  Teams that might be much worse than I predicted: New England; New Orleans; Tennessee.  Teams that look as bad as everyone thought they would be: Jacksonville; Oakland.
  • I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to point out the hypocrisy that will be on show this weekend and for the rest of October as NFL players wear pink to show how much they care about women during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Perhaps if the Commissioner, Owners and players gave up some of their earnings to charities that help battered women, it might be more believable that they give a fuck.

Week 5 Picks

Last week, 7-6; Season, 34-27

Home teams in bold

Packers -9.5 over Vikings – Even though when I pick against Green Bay, they win and lose when i back them, Teddy Bridgewater is an injury doubt for this Thursday night NFC North matchup and I think even the Packers’ defense can contain Christian Ponder.

Falcons +3.5 over Giants – Okay, so the Giants won two games, I still do not think they’re that good.

Bills +7.5 over Lions – Buffalo won in Chicago, I think they will at least keep it close in Detroit.

Bears +2.5 over Panthers – Comeback game for Cutler who looked good for 29:59 against Green Bay, just missed a game-tying touchdown at the end of the first half and then went to pieces in the third quarter.  Also, Chicago are 0-2 at home and 2-0 on the road so far this season.

Titans -2.5 over Browns – I still think Jake Locker is a good quarterback and is going to come good at some point this year.

Texans +4.5 over Cowboys – It would be vintage Dallas for them to have started so well this season, then disappoint their fans by losing a cross-state rivalry game.

Ravens +3.5 over Colts – Baltimore’s last road game was in Cleveland, the town the franchise left to setup in Maryland, replacing the Colts who had left two decades before.  This does not mean anything for the game, but I’m picking the Ravens just because I think they’re playing better right now.

Rams +7.5 over Eagles – Starting to get a little worried that I’ve picked seven road teams in succession, but I think St. Louis’ defense will cause problems for Philadelphia, even if they do not have enough to win the game they should keep it within a touchdown.

Saints -10.5 over Buccaneers – Last chance, New Orleans. Lose this and I’m picking against you for the rest of the year.

Jaguars +6.5 over Steelers – Jacksonville spent the first half of last season being awful and losing by double digits to every opponent, then flipped it in the second half of the year and covered – then won – most of their games.  I’m thinking a home fixture against Pittsburgh is exactly what they need to avoid an 0-5 start and they win this outright.

Broncos -7.5 over Cardinals – Really wanted to take Arizona and their awesome defense for this, but Denver has had two weeks to prepare (as have the Cardinals) and I think they will have too much for the leaders of the NFC West.

Chiefs +7.5 over 49ers – A battle between the two cities whose teams won the baseball wild card games – I’ll take Kansas City to keep this one close against San Francisco.

 

Chargers -7.5 over Jets – At least the Jets will not be losing in prime-time this week.

Bengals +2.5 over Patriots – Why would New England be favored?

Seahawks -7.5 over Washington – So the Kirk Cousins > RG3 debate is not necessarily over, but might just be irrelevant right now.  Cousins looked awful against the Giants and against the best defense in the league, it is hard to see things getting better.

 

 

 

Premier League Preview – Merseyside and North London Derbies

Walcott might not have enough fingers this time to show the score

Walcott might not have enough fingers this time to show the score

This weekend’s Premier League fixture list sees two of the biggest derbies in the country both take place on Saturday, as Liverpool host Everton in the early kick off, then Arsenal take on Tottenham later in the day.  Most seasons, any North London derby is a contest I look forward to, even if I have trepidation about how the match will go, especially when it is being played at the Emirates (as this Saturday’s fixture is).  However, this year I am contemplating whether or not I should even watch the game, given the fact that Spurs will not only lose the match, but could well be taken apart by an historic margin.  The largest ever victory for either side in this matchup is Arsenal’s 6-0 defeat of Tottenham in the 1934/5 season; this year with the combination of Tottenham’s porous back line and the Gunners’ array of attacking talents, they are likely to rack up at least that many.

To clarify, this is not some sort of reverse jinx or the pessimism returning after my brief hazy Tottenham-optimism that reared it’s head in my Premiership season preview, it is rather just a fact, based on how the two teams are currently playing.  Against West Brom last week, Spurs put in one of the worst performances I can ever remember watching – and I’ve seen us lose 4-0 at home to Blackburn.  The passing was awful, going forward we looked clueless and like the players had never even met each other; the 1-0 scoreline to the Baggies was the least they deserved.  When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed as the new Tottenham manager in May, I was really disappointed because I did not think that he was the right man for the job, preferring instead for them to go for Frank de Boer.  Nevertheless, I put aside my thoughts on that and realized that maybe I was not the best judge of who should be in charge, given that I was happy when Andre Villas-Boas was appointed and never thought Martin Jol should have been sacked; while I did not ever like Harry Redknapp, who took the club to their highest finish in the Premier League era.  My issues with Pochettino were his spotty record in the transfer market and the fact that he did not take the FA Cup seriously while at Southampton, but I did like the style of football he had the Saints playing during his tenure at St. Mary’s.  In his first couple in games in charge at White Hart Lane, it appeared as though he had at least got the players to buy into his philosophy – the work rate against both West Ham and QPR was excellent, the pressing high up the field worked and the passing moves looked relatively good.

Since that positive start, the wheels have completely come off and Spurs look as inept as they did under the stewardship of Tim Sherwood – unable to come up with any game plan to combat even the relatively easy task (in Premier League terms) of playing West Brom at home.  The attacking midfield trio of Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli should be given a chance to gel as they are all talented and can make the dynamic work if given a chance, but there need to be more options both behind and ahead of them if they are going to be truly effective.  Emmanuel Adebayor is having one of his fallow spells, where he is not exactly playing badly, but at no point do you ever think he is going to score, while the options to replace him – Harry Kane and Roberto Soldado – are hardly guaranteed net-busters either.  It makes the decision not to strengthen the forward line in the summer an obvious mistake, as teams can focus on the attacking midfielders and know they are not going to be caught out by an in-form striker getting space in behind them.  Added to the goal-shy strike force is a wing-back pairing of Eric Dier (who seems like a perfectly good centre back, but is not good enough defensively on the flank) and Danny Rose, who misplaces so many passes and cannot cross a road, let alone the ball into a dangerous area; and holding midfielders who do nothing going forward, in the form of Nabil Bentaleb, Etienne Capoue or Paulinho.  The central defensive partnership seemingly changes every game, with Pochettino unsure of whether he wants to play Younes Kaboul and Chiriches, or Vertonghen plus Fazio.  With Kaboul having been made the club captain, he is likely to start most league games (Hugo Lloris should have been given the armband as he is our most outstanding player in any position) and while he is good in the air and can have great games, he is far from being a reliable defender.

In all, Spurs are in complete disarray once again and when they come face to face with an Arsenal team who put three past Aston Villa in four minutes last weekend – including a goal and an assist for the rejuvenated Mesut Özil – they are going to be lucky to come away with anything other than a heavy defeat.  If there is anything I can hold onto going into the derby, it is at least that Tottenham made it through in the League Cup this week, despite being outplayed by Championship leaders Nottingham Forest, who took the lead before Ryan Mason scored a wonderful first goal for Spurs and Soldado and Kane fired them through to the next round.  The Gunners chances of winning another trophy this season were reduced by one competition, as they put out a weakened side and were beaten 2-1 at home by Southampton.  By the final whistle on Saturday however, those results will be forgotten about by both sides…and I will be wishing I had decided not to watch the match.

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