This week in: American Football Week 4

Brady threw four interceptions vs the Bills

Last week in the NFL, the Buffalo Bills came from 21-0 down to beat the New England Patriots 34-31, securing a win over their divisional rival for the first time in 9 years.  After their comeback the week before against the Raiders, the Bills are showing that they finally have a team that can compete with the best and have won all three of their games this season.  The Detroit Lions also overcame a big halftime deficit to beat the Minnesota Vikings; the New Orleans Saints won a high-scoring contest 40-33 over the Houston Texans in the Superdome; the Colts put up a good fight against the Steelers, but succumbed to a late field goal; and the Packers beat their NFC North rivals, the Chicago Bears, 27-17.  On Monday night, the Cowboys edged out the Redskins despite not scoring a touchdown, all of their points coming from field goals in an 18-16 victory.

Going in to week four, three teams remain perfect – having won all of their games thus far: the aforementioned Bills, who this week travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals; the Lions, who play the Cowboys in the Dallas; and the reigning champion Green Bay Packers, looking to improve to 4-0 at home against the Denver Broncos.  Five winless teams remain, two of whom meet in Kansas City as the Chiefs play the Minnesota Vikings.  The St. Louis Rams take on the Washington Redskins, the Dolphins are in San Diego for a game with the Chargers, and the Indianapolis Colts play Monday Night Football for their game against Josh Freeman’s Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.  In other games, the Patriots will look to rebound from their loss to the Bills in Oakland against the Raiders; the Giants and Cardinals face off in Arizona; and two of the AFC’s playoff teams from last year meet in Baltimore as the Ravens play the Jets.

Week 4 picks

(Last week 7-9, season 24-24)

Home teams in Bold

Bills -3.5 over Bengals

Bears -6.5 over Panthers

Titans +1.5 over Browns

Cowboys -3.5 over Lions

Vikings -1.5 over Chiefs

Redskins +0.5 over Rams

Saints -7.5 over Jaguars

Eagles -6.5 over 49ers

Texans -3.5 over Steelers

Falcons -4.5 over Seahawks

Giants -1.5 over Cardinals

Packers -13.5 over Broncos

Raiders +4.5 over Patriots

Dolphins +8.5 over Chargers

Ravens -3.5 over Jets

Colts +9.5 over Buccaneers

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Baseball’s Wild Night and Playoff Predictions

If there has been a more exciting night in baseball history, I would love to have witnessed it.  Last night had it all: comebacks, rain delays, blown saves, clutch hits, celebrations, devastation.  The night started with 4 teams vying for 2 wild card spots and the possibility of everyone having to come back to play game 163 today.  It ended with the playoff schedule set and the culmination of the two biggest September collapses in baseball history.

Before a pitch was thrown on Wednesday, the Cardinals and the Braves were tied in the race for the National League Wild Card, the Red Sox and the Rays also had matching records and were competing for the last playoff spot in the American League.  St. Louis took care of business against the Houston Astros and were 5 runs up in the first inning, their victory meaning their worst case scenario was a one game playoff against Atlanta if the Braves also won.  However, the other three games involving the contenders had much more drama than that one in Texas.  This is how things changed throughout the evening:

Through 7 innings:

The Braves were 3-2 up against the Phillies – 6 outs from getting to the playoff game with St. Louis

Boston and Atlanta playoff-bound...oh

The Rays were trailing the Yankees 7-0 and needing some help from Baltimore

The Orioles and the Red Sox were in a rain delay – one that did not look like it would subside – prior to the bottom of the 7th inning with Boston up 3-2.  If they were unable to retake the field – the game would be awarded to the Red Sox

As it stood: Braves/Cardinals to play game 163; Red Sox in playoffs, Rays out

Through 8 innings:

The Tampa Bay Rays rallied against the Yankees and brought the score back to 7-6, the highlight being Evan Longoria’s 3 run home-run.

The Red Sox and the Orioles managed to get back on the field when the rain finally stopped.  Boston pitcher Alfredo Aceves got out of trouble in the 7th after hitting two Baltimore players with pitches, before Daniel Bard worked a perfect 8th.

The Phillies loaded the bases against Atlanta but failed to tie the game when Raul Ibanez struck out.

As it stood: Braves/Cardinals to play game 163; Red Sox in playoffs, Rays out

Two outs in the 9th inning:

The Phillies tied the game with the Braves with a sacrifice fly by Chase Utley which recorded the second out and scored the runner from 3rd, sending the game to extra innings.

The Rays were down to their last out, trailing the Yankees 7-6, with nobody on base

The Red Sox were one out away from guaranteeing at least a playoff game – the Orioles had nobody on base.

As it stood: Braves had to win in extra innings to force game 163; Red Sox in playoffs Rays out

Despite their precarious position, the Rays were not done.  Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson hit a two-out solo home run over the right field wall to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th and sent the game to extra innings.  In the bottom of the 12th, the crowd (if you can call it that – attendance for a do-or-die game was shockingly low at Tropicana Field) started to get boisterous. Word had filtered through from Baltimore  (the game there was still in the bottom of the 9th due to the rain delay) that the Orioles were rallying.  One out away from closing out the game, Boston’s Jonathan Papelborn gave up back-to-back doubles that tied the game; followed by a single that landed just in front of Carl Crawford and scored Reimold from second to end the game and leave the Red Sox fans for once praying for a Yankees victory.  When the final score was flashed on the board in Tampa, the cheers grew and Evan Longoria had to step out as he waited to bat.  Two pitches later, he hit a line drive shot that cleared the left field wall to give the Rays a walk off win and remove all need for a playoff.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Philadelphia took the lead in the top of the 13th, leaving the Braves on the brink of elimination – a fact that was confirmed when a double play in the bottom of the inning ended the game.  An incredible night of baseball, ending a dramatic September which resulted in:

  • Boston and Atlanta being eliminated, Tampa and St. Louis making the playoffs
  • The Red Sox giving up a 9 game lead over the Rays in September to be eliminated on the final day, the biggest ever collapse in baseball history. (Can we stop talking about the ALCS in 2004 now? Please?)
  • The Braves giving up an 8.5 game lead over the Cardinals in September, the join second biggest ever collapse in baseball history (with the 1964 Phillies)
  • This article getting even funnier than it had been already.  New England Sports Network wondered before the season if this year’s Red Sox team would overtake the 1927 Yankees as the greatest in history, instead they have more in common with the 2007 New York Mets – who lost 12 of their last 17 games to throw away a 7 game lead over the Phillies and miss the playoffs.
Playoff Predictions
For a change, it will be hard for October to match the drama of September as the playoffs started early for a lot of clubs.  Here’s a breakdown of how I see the divisional matchups
Phillies vs Cardinals:  Look out for the team that is on a roll going into October – the 2007 Rockies got hot in September and it carried over to the playoffs and saw them make the World Series – so the Cardinals will not be an easy out for the Phillies. However, with ace pitchers Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels set to start for Philadelphia in the first three games, I think St. Louis will be lucky to win even one game.  Prediction: Phillies in 3
Brewers vs Diamondbacks: This should be a very even matchup – Arizona won the regular season series between them by 4 games to 3 and probably have the best starting pitcher in Iain Kennedy.  However, the Brewers have a strong line-up and great 3/4 hitters in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.  I can see this one going the distance. Prediction: Diamondbacks in 5
Yankees vs Tigers: While New York was throwing away a 7 run lead against Tampa, everyone was focusing on Boston – but the Yankees lost their last 4 regular season games and now face this year’s probable AL Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander for game 1.  If pitching wins in October, then the Yankees are in trouble as they start rookie Ivan Nova in game 2, their ace CC has had a poor month of September, and beyond that nobody knows who will start game 3 – none of the candidates, Garcia, Colon or Burnett, instill much confidence in their own fans.  I hate to say it, but I think the Yankees will come unstuck and will make an early October exit.  However, I still cannot pick against them so I will predict against my head and with my heart.  Prediction: Yankees in 4
Rangers vs Rays: Unlike the Phillies, I do not see Texas having the rotation to stop a team that is on a fantastic run and I think Tampa will make it to the ALCS.  The Rays have stronger pitching, at least as good a lineup, and not having home-field advantage will not mean too much to a team that does not attract many fans anyway.  Prediction: Rays in 5

This week in: English Football – Spurs vs Arsenal

Two teams, both alike in dignity,

Shakespearean Rivals

In fair Tottenham, where we lay our scene…

Actually, the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets seems rather tame in comparison to the North London derby – after all Romeo and Juliet ultimately bridged the divide between the two families through their deaths, nothing has yet done that for Spurs and the scum Arsenal. I’ve covered my distaste for the other lot before; I was thrilled to write about Spurs’s fantastic comeback last year when they won at the Emirates, but the importance of every game never diminishes to supporters – we are never satisfied with the history – the next game is the one we really want to win.

This year, there’s something different about the upcoming game – Tottenham should actually consider themselves favourites to win.  They sit 7 places and 2 points above Arsenal, despite having played one less game, following three straight victories over Wolves, Liverpool and Wigan.  In contrast, the Gunners have been struggling for form and have won just 2 of their 6 league comes – those triumphs coming over Bolton, who have lost 5 in a row, and Premiership newcomers Swansea City.  Away from home their form has been even worse, taking just 1 point from a possible 9 and conceding 12 goals in those games – although 8 of those did come at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

Looking at the probable starting line-ups, there is no reason for Spurs to consider themselves underdogs for a change.  With Scott Parker adding grit to a midfield full of flare with Modric, Bale and Van der Vaart, and former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor having made an excellent start since joining on loan from Manchester City, Tottenham have the core of a very strong team.  In contrast, Arsenal lost their two best players last year as both Nasri and Fabregas left for pastures new, have little up front other than Robin Van Persie, and still look very vulnerable at the back despite the addition of German defender Per Mertersacker.  Spurs have a great opportunity to put a significant gap between themselves and their North London rivals this Sunday – for once I am confident they will be able to do it.

Elsewhere this weekend, it is the Merseyside derby as Everton host Liverpool; Manchester United try to return to winning ways, having drawn with Stoke last week, when they play Norwich at Old Trafford; Blackburn take on Manchester City; Aston Villa, who have shared the points in 5 of their 6 games this year, are at home to Wigan; and Chelsea will be picking up 3 more points at Bolton.

Predictions

Last week, 7-3, overall 17-12

Everton vs Liverpool – Draw

Aston Villa vs Wigan – Home win

Blackburn vs Man City – Away win

Man United vs Norwich – Home win

Sunderland vs West Brom – Home win

Wolves vs Newcastle – Draw

Bolton vs Chelsea – Away win

Fulham vs QPR – Away win

Swansea vs Stoke – Home win

Tottenham vs Arsenal – Home win

This week in: Baseball – Wild Card Mania

As was covered here, September had looked like it was going to be a quiet baseball month, with almost all of the playoff places already decided – only the AL West seemed like it was still a race between the Angels and the Rangers.  The Atlanta Braves have gone 9-16 in September and seen the Cardinals pull within 1 game of them for the Wild Card, having started the month 8 back.  The Boston Red Sox have been even more generous, returning all of the 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays they enjoyed as recently as September 3rd.

All four teams have two games left to play against divisional rivals – the Braves face the juggernaut Phillies, who won their

Swing and a miss

100th game of the season on Monday night; while the Cardinals face the Houston Astros, who are just playing to spoil now. In the American League East, the Orioles look to continue to frustrate the Red Sox, having beaten them in 4 of the 5 games they have played in the last week.  There is bad blood between the two teams this season also, with one of their games in July descending into a brawl, after Boston’s David Ortiz felt that the Orioles’ Kevin Gregg had been throwing at him on two straight pitches.  Meanwhile, the Rays host the Yankees, who have already guaranteed themselves home-field advantage for the ALDS and ALCS (should they make it that far).  With New York now likely to face Detroit in the divisional series, which starts on Friday, their focus will be on getting their line up and pitching rotation set.  The Tigers will be able to start ace pitcher Justin Verlander in 2 of the 5 games and so the Yankees will be holding CC Sabbathia back to face him, rather than him going for his 20th win of the year in either of the remaining regular season games against the Tampa Bay Rays.

There is also a question about whether or not the Yankees would want to go all out to win and thus help their rivals, Boston, in the process.  The last time the two teams faced off in a playoff series was the 2004 ALCS when New York collapsed – having being up 3-0, only to lose the last four games.  Though the Red Sox have been struggling throughout September, once the playoffs start then anything is possible and they will still be a dangerous team to face.  In 2000, the Yankees themselves ended the season by winning only 3 of their final 18 games, but that did not stop them once October came around and they went on to win the World Series.  At the same time, the Rays are on a roll and if they complete their comeback and make the playoffs, then they will be a have a lot of belief and will be a tough team to knockout.  New York will not worry about who joins them in the playoffs and, while they will be resting their veterans and holding back their best pitchers, the players who do go out their will just be playing to win.

With the playoffs starting this weekend and four teams already playing “win-or-go-home” type games, it should be an exciting week in baseball.  With any luck, at least one of the two races will be tied after Wednesday’s games and there will be a Game 163 – a one-off, winner takes all matchup for the Wild Card.

Pan-Am: Mad Men with Wings – without story or characters

Pan Am-bien

When ABC announced they were making a 60s “period drama” of Pan-Am – the former American airline which suffered a tragic demise after a terrorist bomb took down one of their planes over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 – it was compared in previews to the critically acclaimed AMC series, Mad Men.  While that show is also set in the 1960s, the story revolving around an advertising agency, the period aspect of the show has always been used to enhance the story line, Pan Am relies on this as the basis of the show.

At Sterling Cooper (Draper Price) the Civil Rights movement, Kennedy assassination and equal rights for women are all used as ways to develop the overall plot and for character developments, not as the entire show itself.  Pan Am does try to suggest some history for the characters – be it two sisters on the same flight crew, one of whom ran from her wedding and was then used as the cover girl on Life magazine, the other who is jealous of that fame and is herself helping a government agent, or a flight attendant who is confronted with her lover bringing his wife and son onto the flight – but this is not the focus of the show. All that the new ABC show is interested in showing is the differences between then and now. From the excitement over a new plane even the pilots are showing, the new Polaroid camera that a couple of passengers are eager to show off (“It develops the picture right inside it!”), the pilots and flight attendants walking through the airport to the awe of impressed passengers and people smoking on a plane – the entire hour seemed to be based around things that happened in the 60s that would not occur in the present day.  Apparently Pan American Airways did not have a coach section either, as all of the flight part of the show focused solely on the first class cabin.

It is hard to judge new shows based solely on their first shows – there is a lot of introduction and back story that happens in order to give exposure to all of the characters and themes the show hopes to follow – but Pan Am seemed particularly clunky and awkward at this process also.  Everyone was asking to be reminded of other people’s names and there were flashbacks a la Lost, only without the intrigue (indeed this being on the same network as Lost – the plane that relayed the message to the captain about the missing stewardess was “Gander Oceanic” – Oceanic 815 being the flight from the previous show and Gander being a synonym for looking for something that is Lost).  The score of the show, composed by Blake Neeley, was clearly designed to give it a grandiose feel – reaching crescendos on both the take off in the opening montage and the “heroic” escape from Cuba during the Bay of Pigs – but the music ended up just being distracting rather, as opposed to adding to the mood of the show.

To be fair, Pan Am did one good thing with its opening show.  Sundays were becoming jam-packed: Breaking Bad is reaching the climax of another fantastic season; Boardwalk Empire returned this Sunday, along with The Simpsons and Family Guy; Dexter is back next week with the promise of the show taking a new direction.  With so much to choose from on one night of television, it is almost a relief to be able to check out from Pan Am.

This week in: English Football – United Stand Alone

United fans offer "encouragement" to Torres

After both Manchester sides had won all four of their opening league games, last weekend Fulham became the first team to take points off either of them, as they came from behind to draw 2-2 with City at Craven Cottage.  Meanwhile, up at Old Trafford, United suffered no such slip up as they dispatched title rivals Chelsea 3-1.  Having been three down at the interval, Fernando Torres gave Chelsea some hope when he scored just his second goal for the club a minute after half time.  All of that good work was undone, however, when Torres later contrived to miss an opportunity that had to be seen to be believed.  The Spaniard did everything right to get into position, timing his run perfectly – he then went around Man United’s keeper de Gea with some great footwork, only to then blast the ball wide from 6 yards with an open goal in front of him.  With only 10 minutes left in the game, that miss effectively killed off any chance of Chelsea getting anything from the game.

Arsenal had suffered a bad start to the season, but scored five in their game against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park – unfortunately for Wenger’s team, two of those goals were into their own net and they slumped to a 4-3 defeat.  The North London club is suffering its worst start to a league season in almost 60 years and this week Arsene Wenger was given the dreaded vote of confidence by the board – usually a sure sign a manager is about to be replaced in English football.  This time, that is unlikely to be the case – Wenger has a good relationship with his employers and has developed enough goodwill during his tenure at the club to ensure he will have the opportunity to turn things around.  The win for Rovers was much-needed relief for their own under fire boss Steve Kean as some of Blackburn’s supporters had been protesting his position as manager prior to kick off.

In the other games last weekend, Tottenham dismantled Kenny Daglish’s Liverpool team 4-0 at White Hart Lane, the last three goals coming when the visitors had been reduced to 9 men following the sendings off of Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel.  All three of the promoted sides won, with QPR and Norwich winning away at Wolves and Bolton respectively, and Swansea taking care of business at home against West Bromwich Albion, scoring their first (and second, and third) Premiership goals in the process.  As predicted here, draw specialists and not yet beaten Aston Villa and Newcastle United shared the points, while Everton beat Wigan, and Sunderland got their first victory of the season in impression fashion, putting four past a previously unbeaten Stoke side.

This week’s fixtures sees Arsenal host Bolton, hoping to get their season back on track prior to next weekend’s North London derby with Tottenham; Spurs travel to Wigan looking for their third straight league win; Manchester City entertain Everton, while Manchester United face a tricky away game in Stoke.  There is an early bottom-of-the-table clash between 20th placed West Brom and winless Fulham; Blackburn hope to build on their win over Arsenal when they take on Newcastle at St. James’ park; and Torres will be watching as other strikers get the chance to put some goals past Swansea at Stamford Bridge.

Predictions

Last week, 4-6; overall 10-9

Man City vs Everton – Home win

Arsenal vs Bolton – Draw

Chelsea vs Swansea – Home win

Liverpool vs Wolves – Home win

Newcastle vs Blackburn – Home win

West Brom vs Fulham – Draw

Wigan vs Tottenham – Away win

Stoke vs Man United – Away win

QPR vs Aston Villa – Draw

Norwich vs Sunderland  – Away win

The Death Penalty and the Execution of Troy Davis

On September 21st 2011, Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia for the murder of a police officer, Mark MacPhail, in 1989.  Davis was convicted on the basis of evidence from nine eyewitnesses – seven of whom have since recanted their testimony, stating that they had been forced to cooperate by the police under threat of being put on trial themselves should they not comply.  One of the two who did not reverse the evidence he provided was Sylvester Coles, a man who has been identified by several people as the actual killer of MacPhail.  Indeed, three witnesses provided affidavits that Coles had confessed the murder to them.  There was no forensic evidence linking Troy Davis to the crime, no murder weapon found, no DNA evidence presented.  Despite all of this, upon appeal to the 11th Circuit Court, Davis was told that he was not entitled to a retrial as he had “failed to prove his innocence”.

On December 7th 2000, Claude Howard Jones was executed by the state of Texas for the murder of Allen Hilzendager in his liquor store in Point Blank, TX.  Jones protested his innocence up until his death – ten years later in 2010, he was exonerated after DNA evidence proved that the hair that had connected him to the scene of the crime was, in fact, not his.  Claude Howard Jones is proven not guilty – he remains dead.

1,269 people have been executed in the United States since 1976 – while a further 3,251 prisoners are currently on Death Row.

Executions in the US by year

How many of those put to death were innocent of their crime? It will never be known for sure whether or not Troy Davis was responsible for the murder of Mark MacPhail – but if there is any shred of doubt, why would the execution be carried out?  Surely one innocent person being murdered is too many, therefore the utmost scrutiny should be given to capital cases and the onus should be on the prosecution to prove beyond all doubt the guilt of the suspect.

The execution of the innocent is only one of the reasons I am against the death penalty, albeit the most important one. Arguments for capital punishment cite it as being a deterrent to those considering crimes, but evidence does not support this -the murder rate in the United States increased in the years following the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976 – showing no downward turn due to fear of execution.  The majority of capital offences are crimes of passion – situations in which the perpetrator is not thinking rationally and would not avoid an action due to a supposed deterrent.  Capital punishment is also clearly irreversible – while you can release someone who has been incarcerated incorrectly and attempt to compensate them for the time they have lost, if you execute someone it can never be undone.

Arguments based on financial cost of lifetime imprisonment versus the death penalty do not hold up, as studies have shown that capital cases cost more to the taxpayer than incarceration without parole.  (While I do not think that monetary concerns should be the basis of an argument to put someone to death, I note it here as a further assertion against capital punishment).  If the cost of keeping people in prison is of concern, then the primary area that should be looked into is sentences for non-violent offenders for drug related crimes – it’s a separate point entirely but 20+ years for simple possession of narcotics is far too punitive.

July 17th, 2007.  September 23rd, 2008.  October 27th, 2008.  September 21st, 2011.  Four different days that Troy Davis was given as the date he would be executed – it is hard to imagine the psychological trauma of a person who knows they are scheduled to die and then it is delayed, three times.  The delays were due to his appeals, as Davis was fighting to prove his innocence the whole time, but this appointment with a lethal injection meant that, unlike everyone else in the world who is not on Death Row, he had a clock ticking down to the end of his life.  That he had a small amount of time added on with each stay of execution did nothing to change the fact that the days, hours and minutes were running out for him.  Innocent or guilty, this psychological torture falls under the definition of cruel and unusual punishment – a fate that the 8th Amendment is supposed to protect citizens from.

There is, of course, the argument of retribution – the death penalty as justice for the families and friends of the victims of capital crimes.  I have total sympathy with those who have lost a loved one, in that situation I am sure that I would want to kill the person responsible myself.  However, that is the reason that trials are by a jury of peers and not those directly affected by the crime – it is important for due process to happen, a critical examination of the evidence and an appropriate sentence handed down by the judge.  Executions of guilty people have brought back to life exactly none of their victims – it is a primal desire to want to see the person responsible for taking someone from you to die – but it does not change what has happened, does not deter future crimes from occurring and, in the long run, will not provide comfort to those who sought the vengeance in the first place.

One final point, as I noted here, Rick Perry’s record of 234 executions carried out in the state of Texas under his Governorship was cheered by the crowd at the Republican Debate earlier this month.  Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin on Twitter (@michellemalkin) was appalled that #RIPTROYDAVIS was trending – rather than #RIPMARKMACPHAIL.  The death of MacPhail should be remembered and his memory honoured – I do not believe that he, as a police officer who was working a second job as a security guard on the night he was killed, would believe that having someone put to death based on questionable evidence was the way to do this.  It also missed a couple of crucial points: that Davis might have been innocent and, if he was in fact guilty, he had thus paid the debt that society imposed on him by losing his life.  Is Malkin against people resting in peace after they have been executed?  Does this carry over to those who have served time in prison for crimes – should they never be forgiven despite rehabilitation?

The United States currently has a political climate based on hate of anyone who has an opposing view – Malkin herself was subjected to disgusting racist abuse which she re-tweeted – ignorant people who took Alec Baldwin’s (@alecbaldwin) plea to his followers to “Go all town hall” on her as a suggestion to be vile rather than provide reasoned debate.  Freedom from persecution is one of the building blocks of the USA, people have the right to hold whatever opinions they desire, as along as their actions do not impinge on anyone else’s inalienable rights.  Reasoned debate is needed over the use of the death penalty, I fear that at the present time such a thing will not be allowed to occur.  To me, the death penalty is not justice, just wrong.

This Week in: American Football – Week 3

Harvard's finest - Ryan Fitzpatrick

Although Week 2 in the NFL reinforced some of the lessons from the opening round of fixtures, some of the games showed that the season is still early and the shape of it is still to be determined.  New England, Green Bay and the New York Jets have started strongly and have the look of dominant teams for this season; the Colts without Peyton Manning, the Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks appear to be cannon fodder for their opponents.  The Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills, two franchises that have suffered barren years of late, are both 2-0 and are showing signs of promise for their fan-bases.  The Bills’ Quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, led his team to 35 second half points, scoring a touchdown on every drive they had in the third and fourth quarters, for a dramatic last-minute win.  However, their opponents, the Oakland Raiders, had played the late Monday game on the West Coast prior to this game on the East Coast at 1pm on Sunday, so this comeback may have had as much to do with their fatigue as the Bills resilience.

The Ravens and the Cowboys had much different outcomes in their second games compared to their initial outings.  Baltimore followed up their thrashing of the Steelers in Week 1 by themselves taking a beating from the Tennessee Titans; while Dallas QB Tony Romo, who had fumbled away a 14 point lead over the Jets in the opening fixture, was the hero this time around – throwing a 77 yard pass in Overtime to set up the winning field goal, despite having suffered a fractured rib on an earlier play. The Eagles and the Falcons are both 1-1 after Atlanta won on a night that their former Quarterback Michael Vick came back to face them for the first time as a starter for another team – though it took a concussion to Vick in the third quarter to swing the momentum in that game.

The Eagles are expecting Vick to return in time to face the New York Giants for their game in Philadelphia.  Elsewhere this week, the Bills host the Patriots in a battle of 2-0 teams; the Bears and the Packers meet in a Chicago in a rematch of the NFC Championship game in January; the unbeaten Redskins face their divisional rivals, the Dallas Cowboys; and the Steelers get to beat the Indianapolis Colts.

Week 3 Picks

(Last week 8-8; season 17-15)

Home teams in Bold

Bills +8.5 over Patriots

Bengals -2.5 over 49ers

Dolphins +2.5 over Browns

Titans -6.5 over Broncos

Lions -3.5 over Vikings

Saints -3.5 over Texans

Eagles -7.5 over Giants

Jaguars +3.5 over Panthers

Chargers -14.5 over Chiefs

Raiders +3.5 over Jets

Rams +3.5 over Ravens

Buccaneers -1.5 over Falcons

Packers -3.5 over Bears

Cardinals -3.5 over Seahawks

Steelers -10.5 over Colts

Redskins +6.5 over Cowboys

This week in: English Football – Man Utd vs Chelsea

I can't hear any booing...


This Sunday sees Manchester United take on Chelsea at Old Trafford, a matchup of the two sides who have won the last seven Premier League titles.  United have won all four of their league games thus far – winning 2-1 at West Brom in the opening match and then smashing Tottenham 3-0, Arsenal 8-2 and Bolton 5-0.  Chelsea have picked up 10 points out of 12 available to them, but have been overshadowed by both the Red Devils and Manchester City, who have been dominating the sports pages with their impressive performances.  Fernando Torres, bought by Chelsea for £50m in January, is still misfiring and has only scored once for the Blues.  He is looking a shadow of the player he was when he won Euro 2008 for Spain and was such a clinical finisher in his first two seasons at Liverpool.  It will be interesting to see if manager Andre Villas-Boas sticks with youngster Daniel Sturridge, who started and scored in the win against Sunderland last Saturday, rather than either Torres or Didier Drogba.

Also on Sunday, Tottenham host Liverpool, the away side having suffered their first defeat of the season away at Stoke last weekend.  Spurs picked up their first win of the campaign that same weekend against Wolves, but have also had a Thursday

Touchdown! Wait, wrong football...

Europa League fixture away in Northern Greece to contend with (which they drew 0-0).  While this would normally mean that a team would be fatigued, manager Harry Redknapp opted to leave many of the first choice players at home and played a very young team against PAOK Salonika.  The theory he subscribes to is that the Europa League is not worth trying to win and, thus, he is focusing his attention on getting back into the Champions League for next season – a decision which baffles me on several counts:

1) The Premier League is even stronger this year than last.  Manchesters United and City, and Chelsea are all beyond reach, so Tottenham look to be in a three-horse race for the final Champions League spot with Arsenal, who they last finished above in about 1961, and Liverpool, who strengthened their squad greatly from last season.

2) Even if they qualified for the Champions League, Spurs have little chance of winning it. Shouldn’t triumphing in the Europa League trump just being in the top European competition? When did trophies get devalued to a point that you would rather just be in another tournament than win the one you’re in?

3) If Spurs manage to finish fourth – next summer, after Euro 2012 when current national team boss Fabio Capello’s contact expires, Harry Redknapp will be ordained as the next England manager – so he would not be around for the Champions League campaign anyway.  The man has won one trophy in his whole career (the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008) – he should be doing his all to try to add to that total.

But Redknapp looks to be persisting with this policy in the Europa League – a tournament he referred to before the season as a “nuisance”.  I guess Sebastian was wrong – the seaweed is greener in somebody else’s lake.

Elsewhere this weekend…well there’s not a very good slate of games to be honest.  Arsenal, who won their first league game of the season against Swansea last weekend, will travel to Blackburn – who’s fans are planning a pre-game protest over their inept manager Steve Kean.  Draw specialists Aston Villa will be sharing the spoils with Newcastle; Bolton take on Norwich at the Reebok Stadium; Fulham will be the team beaten heavily by Manchester City this weekend; and Swansea try to score their first Premiership goal ever when they play West Brom in Wales.

Predictions

Last week I predicted 6 correct outcomes versus 3 wrong ones – having failed to notice there was a Monday night game and so totally missed QPR vs Newcastle.

Blackburn vs Arsenal – Away win

Aston Villa vs Newcastle – Draw

Bolton vs Norwich – Home win

Everton vs Wigan – Draw

Swansea vs West Brom – Home win

Wolves vs QPR – Draw

Spurs vs Liverpool – Home win

Fulham vs Man City – Away win

Sunderland vs Stoke – Away win

Manchester United vs Chelsea – Home win

This week in: American Football Week 2

The first weekend of the NFL season is in the books and there are already plenty of talking points.  Most impressive performance of the week went to the Baltimore Ravens, who tore apart their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers, winning 35-7 against the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs.  They also forced seven turnovers in the game – have they ever done better than that? “Never More” quoth the Ravens.

February’s Super Bowl winners, the Green Bay Packers, won a shootout 42-34 over the previous year’s champion New Orleans Saints in the NFL opener – the Packers defense stuffing Mark Ingram’s run on the one-yard line in the final play of the game. Elsewhere, Cam Newton looked impressive on his debut, throwing for a rookie record 422 yards and 2 touchdown

Look out Cam Newton - Clay Matthews is coming to town

passes, but his Carolina Panthers team still fell to the Arizona Cardinals 28-21.  The Peyton Manning-less Colts were roughed up in Houston and with their quarterback likely to miss the whole season, it could be a tough year for Indianapolis – and my pick of them making the playoffs.  The Eagles new dream team won their first game of the season in St. Louis; the Jets made a storming comeback, thanks to a fumble from Tony Romo and a blocked punt touchdown, to beat the Dallas Cowboys; and the Redskins defeated fellow NFC east team, the New York Giants.

This week’s fixtures sees the Packers head to Carolina to give Cam Newton a proper introduction to the NFL, as he’ll be seeing Clay Matthews coming around his offensive line – much more intimidating than anything the Cardinals threw at him last week.  The Saints and Bears face off in New Orleans in a matchup of two of last year’s NFC teams; the Steelers can get their season on track with a home game against the Seattle Seahawks and the Cowboys are in San Francisco to play the 49ers – a game that would be a must-see…if this was 1993.

Week 2 Picks

A reminder: Each week I will pick the game’s against the spread (as set by ESPN on Pickskin Pick ’em). Last week I went 9-7 against the spread (see them here) – a whole 1 game better than a coin flip would perform on average.

Home teams in bold

Bills -3.5 over Raiders

Saints 7.5 over Bears

Browns -2.5 over Colts

Lions -8.5 over Chiefs

Packers -10.5 over Panthers

Ravens -5.5 over Titans

Buccaneers +3.5 over Vikings

Jaguars +10.5 over Jets

Redskins -4.5 over Cardinals

Steelers -14.5 over Seahawks

Cowboys +2.5 over 49ers

Broncos -5.5 over Bengals

Texans -2.5 over Dolphins

Patriots -6.5 over Chargers

Eagles -2.5 over Falcons

Rams +6.5 over Giants