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.

Continue reading

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Roger Goodell, ESPN, Bill Simmons and NFL Week 4 Picks

The Broncos/Seahawks Super Bowl rematch last sunday had a dramatic finish…but the action again takes a back seat
The Broncos/Seahawks Super Bowl rematch last sunday had a dramatic finish…but the action again takes a back seat to other issues

We are officially through the looking glass for suspensions related to Ray Rice – here’s where we stand.

Ray Rice – knocks his fiancée out in an elevator, shows no remorse or compassion as she lays on the floor out cold.  Punishment: Originally 2 game suspension (extended after public outrage when the video was released).

Stephen A. Smith – proffers the ridiculous, abhorrent view that women should try to avoid provoking men into knocking them out cold in elevators. Punishment: ESPN suspends him for 1 week.

Roger Goodell – completely mishandles the Ray Rice incident. Is told by the running back exactly what happened, but only suspends him for 2 games despite the NFL having access to the video.  Is either completely incompetent or completely full of shit. Gives a 45 minute press conference where he gives a non-apology apology (one that made me think of this episode of This American Life…”mistakes were made”).  Punishment: $35.1million. Wait, that’s not a punishment, that’s his salary.  No punishment for Goodell who also claimed not to have even considered resigning.

Bill Simmons – talks on his weekly podcast with Cousin Sal about the Goodell press conference with the type of frankness that made him one of the most popular writers on ESPN for so long, leading to them letting him establish the branched-off Grantland website. Suggests Goodell was lying and refers to what he said as “fucking bullshit” (bleeped out) and dares the bosses at ESPN to call him up about his rant, saying that he gets to talk about this on his podcast.  Punishment – Three week suspension.

So congratulations to both the NFL and ESPN for having no clue what justice is and, in the case of the latter, acting like a totalitarian state by punishing someone who dared to speak out of turn and against the ruling power.

One suggestion for those getting disillusioned with the NFL – check out the Premier League this weekend, two big derby matches: Liverpool vs Everton (7:45am ET NBCSN) and Arsenal vs Spurs (12:30pm ET NBC).  Because every single week there seems to be so much to say, other than anything about the actual games that were played the previous Sunday and it really is just frustrating.

A couple of notes before my weekly picks:

  • Only three teams have perfect records heading into Week 4: Philadelphia, Arizona and Cincinnati.  There are also a trio of winless teams: Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Oakland.
  • Six franchises have byes already this week and the last team to win the Super Bowl after having their week of rest this early was the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.  The teams not playing: Seattle, Denver, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona and St. Louis.
  • London hosts the first of three games at Wembley Stadium this season, with the Raiders taking on the Dolphins which would be a great matchup, if it was 1984.

Week 4 Picks

Last week, 10-6; Season, 27-21

Home teams in bold

Washington -3.5 over Giants

Texans -2.5 over Bills

Bears +0.5 over Packers

Jets +1.5 over Lions

Titans +7.5 over Colts

Dolphins -4.5 over Raiders

Steelers -7.5 over Buccaneers

Panthers +3.5 over Ravens

Chargers -13.5 over Jaguars

Vikings +3.5 over Falcons

Eagles +5.5 over 49ers

Cowboys +3.5 over Saints

Chiefs +3.5 over Patriots

 

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption – 20th Anniversary Running Diary

Unknown-1September 23rd, 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of The Shawshank Redemption, which has ranked as my favorite movie ever since I first saw it, which was probably about 2 years after it came out.  To celebrate the milestone, I watched the movie again for around the 20th time (at least) and kept a running diary of it.  If you have not seen it, you must, must, must watch it. Right now.  Go.  Otherwise, read on.

00:00:10 (DVD Run time)  ♪”If I didn’t care, more than words can say”♪…the music fades and we see Andy Dufresne in the car outside of a house…UH OH HE HAS A GUN! AND LOTS OF SHELLS. AND VODKA…this will not end well.

00:02:14 “I’ll see you in hell before I see you in Reno” – that seems a bit harsh from Andy, after all I’ve been to Reno and it’s not that bad. But how did this case look to the prosecutors and the jury: he confesses to being outside the house, mad at his wife for having an affair, with a gun on the night she was murdered.

00:04:17 “Since I’m innocent of this crime, I find it decidedly inconvenient” – your freedom is on the line, Dufresne, and you get sarcastic with the prosecutor…seems cold.  I cannot remember whether or not I thought he was guilty first time I watched this movie, but looking back I’m starting to think he might have actually done it and isn’t, you know “fo’real innocent”

00:06:14 – Red’s first parole hearing (that we see) out of three. I love how he’s clearly just reciting rote answers to questions, then comes out and tells his friends “Same shit, different day”, with the futility of the proceedings being pointed out by another prisoner saying “I’m up for rejection next week”.

00:07:58There must be a con like me in every prison in America” – and in Orange is the New Black, she even has the same nickname, Red!

00:08:27 This is the first shot of the prison, which is actually in Mansfield, Ohio.  My wife took me there last summer and it was simultaneously fascinating to see the place where my favorite movie was shot; and horrifying to think that people were actually incarcerated in such a shithole that had so much lead in the paint, we could both feel it in our lungs by the time we left.  Also, our tour guide said he had NEVER SEEN THE SHAWSHANK REDMEPTION…but he did buy into a whole load of ghost stories about the place so we got to hear a lot about them.

images-100:09:59You speak English, butt steak?” – Captain Hadley seems nice…

00:11:00 I really do not know whether or not after enough time had passed in prison, I would find myself willing to bet on which new inmate would break first…but if I did, the guy wearing a bow tie who is in tears while he is being marched in would definitely be my choice.

00:11:57 On the tour, you get to walk into the prison and look up at the same angle as Andy does as he is being marched in.  I tried to take a video that would replica the movie but it fell short on two counts: 1) Frank Darabont is a great director; 2) I was using an iPhone.

00:12:50 Warden Norden makes his authority known by having Hadley beat someone for daring to ask when they eat, then tells the prisoners “Put your faith in the Lord, your ass belong to me…(muttering) and the sisters.”

00:14:35 I don’t mean to spoil the ending for anybody who might be watching along with this and has never seen it before (which will literally be zero people so I’m just going to go ahead and spoil) but how lucky was it that Andy got an end cell.  And also for Heywood that “fat-ass” (sorry I do not know if he had any other name in the movie) was his neighbor and he got to wind him up until he broke.

00:15:34 We now take a break in this running diary to get an article from Buzzfeed…

The 7 Best Lines in the Scene When Fat-Ass Breaks Down Crying

1. “You’ll wish your Daddy never dicked your Mommy”

2. “Poke your ass out, give me a first look”.

3. “And it’s Fat Ass, by a nose!”

4. “I want my Mommy” “I had your Mommy, she wasn’t that great!”

5. Hadley: “What the Christ is this happy horse shit” Inmate: “He took the Lord’s name in vain. I’m telling the warden”.

6. “What is your malfunction you fat barrel of monkey spunk” – Captain Hadley the charmer.

7. “You run this place like a fucking prison!”

Then Hadley beats Fat Ass to death and it doesn’t all quite seem so funny…still number 5 was great. Continue reading

Premiership Roundup and Weekend Preview – Manchester City vs Chelsea

Welbeck and Hart look on as the Arsenal striker's lobbed effort comes back off the post
Welbeck and Hart look on as the Arsenal striker’s lobbed effort comes back off the post

September is no time to be making snap judgements about how a team will fair in the Premier League – although I am ready to abandon my ridiculous notion that Spurs will finish anywhere other than sixth – but Manchester City are in danger of falling behind on several front at this early stage.  Last Saturday, they were outplayed for the first 25 minutes by Arsenal at the Emirates, who did everything except score, with Danny Welbeck guilty of missing a great chance on his debut.  However, the Gunners’ own frailties were made clear when they were caught on the break and fell behind to Sergio Aguero’s goal, but they turned the game around with goals from Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez in 10 second half minutes.  City came back to earn a draw thanks to a header from Martin Demichelis, but on the back of a defeat against Stoke in their previous league match and with Chelsea up next – who beat them twice last season – the reigning champions are in danger of being winless in three Premierhsip games, something they avoided for all of 2013/14.  They have already reached three in a row without victory in all competitions as they were beaten 1-0 in Munich at Bayern, who were without Frank Ribery and could only use Arjen Robben off the bench.

What is particularly worrying for Manchester City – and the rest of the Premier League in general – is how good Chelsea already look and how well Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have slotted into the side.  Going forward, Jose Mourinho’s side look unstoppable and that is clear from the fact that they have racked up 15 goals in their four Premiership fixtures thus far, but if there is hope for everyone else, it is on the defensive end.  Last weekend against Swansea – who also entered the game on 9 points from their opening three matches – Chelsea fell behind when John Terry diverted the ball into his own net, but then a hat-trick from Diego Costa and a debut strike from Loic Remy helped the Blues ease to victory, even with Jonjo Shelvey claiming a second for the Welsh club before the end.  The one worry for Mourinho – other than his back line – is the fitness of Costa, who has been struggling with a hamstring issue (which also forced him off after ten minutes of last season’s Champions League final) and he was reduced to just a substitute appearance in Chelsea’s first European match of the campaign, a 1-1 home draw with Schalke.  However, with Remy and Didier Drogba available as well, it is unlikely that the Blues will have similar striking issues that they had last year, when a lack of goals from the forward men was what ultimately cost them the title. Continue reading

The NFL, Domestic Violence and (Less Significantly) Week 3 Picks

Ravens-jersey-be-nice-to-girlsOver the last couple of weeks, the question that has been raised again and again is whether or not we should still watch the NFL, the query being set against the backdrop of numerous incidents of domestic violence and other criminal activities by the players.  While this is an understandable reaction to the reports of vile incidents that have taken place, the idea of boycotting the league is one that may make individuals feel better about themselves, but will do nothing to affect change.    The general feeling that has been voiced over the last few weeks following the Ray Rice video release, charges brought against Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dwyer, alongside the arrest of Adrian Peterson for hitting his four-year old son with a branch, has been “what’s wrong with the NFL?”.  This misses the point, the real question is “What’s wrong with men?”.

This is not just an issue with the NFL. An estimated 1.3 million women each year are the victims of domestic violence; 25% of women experience abuse during their lifetimes; one-third of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner (all figures from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and all are estimated because a large number of domestic violence cases are never reported).  Domestic violence can only be stopped by one group of people: not the NFL, who have certainly not helped themselves by the appalling manner in which they’ve handled these issues; not the prognosticating talking heads in the media; and certainly not the victims, who might be in fear for their lives and those of their children, so the question of “why would you stay with someone who hits you?” is particularly ignorant. The only group that can bring an end to domestic violence are men. It’s quite simple, do not hit your spouse. No. Matter. What.  It’s cowardly. It’s abhorrent. It’s wrong.

As for Peterson – if you think hitting a FOUR YEAR OLD CHILD with a branch, switch, hand or anything, teaches them something other than violence is acceptable, you’re mistaken.   I mean, this should not even be a debate.  I cannot even elaborate on this because it is so basic.

That’s not to say that the NFL and its fans cannot do their part: not rooting for players who commit such vile acts, teams should be willing to cut players no matter how important they are to the franchise if they are found guilty of such crimes.  The Ravens should offer a free jersey exchange for those who have Ray Rice on the back of their shirts and fans should want to trade them in.  Even something as seemingly insignificant as a fantasy league – would you really want to win if the key to your success was Peterson or Rice? A message needs to be sent – in the NFL and as a society in general – that domestic violence is not acceptable and those who do it should be ostracized.  Oh and of course, Roger Goodell should resign. Continue reading

Premier League Action Returns

Unknown-1Like a kid on Christmas morning who has got the exact present they wanted, but realized they will have to wait another day to play with it since it did not come with the requisite batteries, Manchester United fans have had to wait through the international break to finally get a glimpse at their deadline day signing, Radamel Falcao.  With the Colombian striker’s debut likely this Sunday against Queens Park Rangers, alongside a thrilling slate of fixtures, this weekend promises to be one of the most exciting of the season, even at this early stage.  Before we get to what’s to come, here’s a look back at the action that took place two weeks ago – before the annoying stoppage for the international calendar to take over – starting with the most surprising result and ending with Tottenham being thrashed by Liverpool.

Manchester City 0 – 1 Stoke 

Maybe this was not so much of a surprise, because since the start of the 2013/14 season, Manchester City have played 37 games against teams other than Stoke and scored 106 goals, but in their three fixtures against the Potters they have managed to find the net just once in 270 minutes.  The reigning champions enjoyed 72% of the possession and should have had a penalty when YaYa Toure was fouled in the area, but Stoke earned their victory with a fantastic individual run and finish by Mame Biram Diouf.  The result was particularly satisfying to the Potters’ manager, Mark Hughes, who was sacked by City in 2009.

Everton 3 – 6 Chelsea

This was not surprising for the fact that Chelsea won, but because of the actual scoreline.  The match had everything (other than good goalkeeping and defending): five goals in ten second half minutes; Diego Costa scored in the opening and final minute, but also showed his nasty side by berating Seamus Coleman after he put the ball into his own net; Samuel Eto’o got a goal against his former club with his very first touch; and Tim Howard had to forfeit the title of “Secretary of Defense” he had been given with his performance against Belgium at the World Cup.

Leicester 1 – 1 Arsenal

A good point for the newly promoted Leicester, but it was a shock that Arsenal did not win the game late on, as they picked up points in the final five minutes of their opening two fixtures with Everton and Crystal Palace.  On transfer deadline day, the Gunners brought in Danny Welbeck from Manchester United to strengthen their attack and – unfortunately – if he is played as an out-an-out striker, he could enjoy a renaissance similar to the one Daniel Sturridge has found at Liverpool. Continue reading

NFL 2014 Week 2 Picks

Dan Carpenter of the Bills kicks the winning field goal against the Bears
Dan Carpenter of the Bills kicks the winning field goal against the Bears

While all of the experts are saying that you cannot overreact to Week 1 (moments before they then make some definitive statements based on the first games), here’s a few things we did learn from the opening action in the 2014 NFL season:

  • Ray Rice should never play in the NFL again. The release of the video that showed him knocking out his then fiancée was abhorrent and shocking; the fact that he showed no remorse for his actions at the time (or since) and instead just treated a fellow human being with complete disregard and without compassion is at least as bad as the original act.  If the Packers signed Rice, I would stop rooting for them and I am sure fans of the other 31 teams would feel the same.
  • Talking of Green Bay, the fact they lost to the Seahawks in Seattle is not too much cause for concern for me; especially as the team that has been touted as their main rival in the NFC North – the Chicago Bears – were beaten at home by the Bills.
  • Right now there are three teams tied atop the AFC East at 1-0, while the Patriots are bottom as the only ones to lose in Week 1 – falling to the Dolphins in Miami who scored 23 unanswered points in the second half.
  • The NFC East is probably the weakest division in the league (again) this year and their combined score in the first half this week was 73-16.  Had it not been for Philadelphia’s second half comeback against the Jaguars, all four teams would have been 0-1.
  • Defense was not on display in Atlanta’s overtime victory over New Orleans as both offenses racked up 34 points in regulation, before the Falcons got the win with a field goal in overtime.

Week 2 Predictions

Last Week, 11-5; Season, 11-5

Home teams in bold

Steelers +2.5 over Ravens – Pittsburgh were far from impressive in giving up their lead to the Browns and only winning in overtime, but even though they have finally cut Ray Rice (once there was irrefutable video evidence of his actions) I just cannot pick Baltimore this week.

Falcons +5.5 over BengalsThe Atlanta offense looked more potent than the Bengals, who only scored field goals in the first 55 minutes of their victory over Baltimore last week.  So I am taking the points.

Dolphins -0.5 over BillsIn a few weeks, I think that beating the Patriots will be more impressive than defeating the Bears, but for some reason I really hope that Buffalo will be good this year.  I do not believe it yet though.

Browns +6.5 over Saints – I think this will be a relative close game, even if New Orleans can avoid going 0-2, I cannot see Drew Brees putting up enough points to blow out the Browns outside on the banks of Lake Erie.

Titans -3.5 over Cowboys – This seems almost too easy: the Cowboys looked awful against the 49ers (especially in the first half), while Tennessee had a comfortable victory at Kansas City.  The closest contest could be who will throw more touchdown passes to Titans players: Jake Locker or Tony Romo.

Lions +2.5 over Panthers Carolina will have Cam Newton back and scored an impressive win without him in Week 1 (albeit over the Buccaneers, who I do not think will be good again this season), but Detroit’s offense looked great against the (admittedly also woeful) Giants.

Patriots -3.5 over Vikings – One of the hardest picks to make this week I think.  The Patriots are 2-6 on their last 8 road games and did not look good against Miami, but the reasons to choose New England – Tom Brady has Gronkowski back as a target and a week of practice with him; Patriots rarely lose two in a row; Minnesota beat a poor Rams team…and I just convinced myself and changed my selection away from the Vikings.  

Cardinals +1.5 over GiantsThe chance to get points against an NFC East team…done!

Jaguars +5.5 over WashingtonSee above!

Rams +5.5 over Buccaneers I honestly do not have any clue which way this game between two mediocre teams will go so taking the points.

Seahawks -5.5 over Chargers – Seattle have had 10 days to prepare for this matchup and Sn Diego played late on Monday night.

Broncos -13.5 over Chiefs – I am not sure how many points they would have had to make this in order for me to take Kansas City – I think Peyton Manning will enjoy racking up the points and his own stats.

Packers -8.5 over Jets – completely biased pick of which I am not ashamed.

Texans -2.5 over Raiders – Why do I have confidence in a team that won just two games in 2013, giving points on the road? Ah, they are playing Oakland.

49ers -7.5 over Bears – San Francisco may have taken the second half off against the Cowboys in Week 1, but they still won at a canter.  Chicago really needs to bounce back from their opening game defeat to the Bills, but even as they are adjusting to a new stadium, the 49ers will be very tough to beat.

Eagles +2.5 over Colts – Philadelphia scored 34 points in the second half against the Jaguars last week to overturn a 17-0 deficit; the Colts scored twice in the final 8 minutes to cut the score from 31-10 to within seven against the Broncos.  This could be a high-octane fourth-quarter and I could see either team winning in a blowout, or a really close game.  So basically, I have no idea and am taking the Eagles on gut instinct.

 

 

 

NFL 2014 Season Preview and Week 1 Picks

Last year, I did a two-part, 5,500+ word preview for the NFL 2013 campaign and my research for that helped set me up to finish above 50% picking games against the spread during the regular season once again.  However, this time around life has got in the way of me being able to do any type of reading up on the teams, so you can take my predictions with an even bigger grain of salt than you might have done otherwise.  On a weekly basis, I will be posting my picks and might pick out a few points, but I will not be covering the NFL in as much depth as I have done for the last three years.  Here is a whiz-bang look through my prognostications for the 2014 season:

NFC

North

1. Green Bay Packers 13 – 3

2. Detroit Lions 10-6

3. Chicago Bears 7-9

4. Minnesota Vikings 6-10

Rodgers came back in Week 17 to stun Soldier Field with a last minute game winning touchdown
Rodgers came back in Week 17 to stun Soldier Field with a last-minute game winning touchdown

People seem to like Chicago to be good this year, but while their offense looks strong, on defense they are unlikely to be able to get stops at crucial times which will cost them in close games.  I think the absence of Jim Schwartz from Detroit will help them take a huge step forward – assuming Jim Caldwell learned from Peyton Manning in Indianapolis – and Minnesota will be better when they start Teddy Bridgewater.  I’m picking the Packers to take the division though – a totally biased pick but if Rodgers is healthy for all 16 games, they should be in a very strong position to claim one of the top 2 seeds in the NFC.  Julius Peppers addition alongside Clay Matthews should help up front as Green Bay tries to patch up a very porous defense.

East

1. Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

2. Washington 7-9

3. Dallas Cowboys 6-10

4. NY Giants 6-10

One of the worst divisions in football last year, the NFC East is unlikely to have improved much this time around, with the exception of the Eagles who head into the second year of Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense.  Dallas has no depth or defense; Washington would be better off starting Kirk Cousins than Robert Griffin III, if they are going to try to force RG3 to be a pocket quarter-back and take away his rushing threat; and the offensive line of the Giants is a complete mess so expect lots of Eli Manning throwing interceptions as he tosses the ball away to avoid a sack.

South

1. New Orleans Saints 11-5

2. Atlanta Falcons 8-8

3. Carolina Panthers 7-9

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

If the Saints can sort out their defense, then they have a chance to win a second Super Bowl following on from their 2009 success.  They should not have too many problems winning the NFC South: the Falcons are coming off a 4-12 season and on Hard Knocks, they appeared to be a thoroughly nice organization, but not one that I can imagine getting back to double-digit wins this year; the Panthers had an easy schedule in 2013 and will find it much tougher to return to the playoffs this time around; and the Buccaneers are some people’s dark horse pick for the division, but I am not convinced Josh McCown is as good as he looked in that brief spell for the Bears.

Can Seattle repeat their 2013 success?
Can Seattle repeat their 2013 success?

West

1. Seattle Seahawks 14-2

2. San Francisco 49ers 11-5

3. Arizona Cardinals 7-9

4. St. Louis Rams 3-13

Although I am definitely not picking Seattle to repeat as Super Bowl champions (more on that below), it is hard to imagine them failing to coast through the regular season.  Their job of topping the NFC West has been helped by the myriad suspensions suffered by the 49ers, who I expect to come on strong in the second half of the year and should have enough to be a Wild Card once again.  St. Louis have lost their quarterback, Sam Bradford for the whole of 2014 and with him goes any chance they have of progression; while the Cardinals – who finished last year with a 10-6 record, have regression written all over them.

NFC Playoff teams: 1. Seattle; 2. Green Bay; 3. New Orleans; 4. Philadelphia; 5. San Francisco; 6. Detroit Continue reading