Super Bowl XLIX

Yeah, I know, it’s the Super Bowl on Sunday. How exciting, right? Except, this time I really do not feel that enthusiastic about it.  Why is that? Let me see…

Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (OT)

To be fair, if Brandon Bostick hadn't gone for the ball, Jordy Nelson only had AN EASY BLOODY CATCH
To be fair, if Brandon Bostick hadn’t gone for the ball, Jordy Nelson only had AN EASY BLOODY CATCH

AKA, the biggest collapse you can imagine in an NFL game, as Green Bay managed to throw away a 19-7 lead, WITH THE BALL, and only five minutes remaining.  How did they do it? Well firstly an interception where, for some reason, Morgan Burnett just decided to slide before midfield when he had AN OPEN FIELD IN FRONT OF HIM AND HE COULD HAVE ENDED THE GAME; then a bad series, with a 3 and out; a collapsing defense gives up two touchdowns in one drive (one called back because Marshawn Lynch was an inch out of bounds); a fucked up (sorry for the swear, but what other word could you use) onside-kick recovery; another collapsing defense; and then worst of all, Aaron Rodgers calls TAILS…oh because “Tails never fails”, Aaron? Shall I tell you who would have called Heads, British Aaron Rodgers, and he’d have insisted it was the Queen’s Head on an English Pound Coin.  (Just kidding, I still want to get rid of the monarchy).  Oh and we had the ball at the one yard line twice in the first half, yet only got a total of six points from those two drives.  GAHHH.  Needless to say, when I’ve been wearing Packers gear around in the last two weeks, I’ve got many comments, mostly disbelief in the result and that I’m still displaying my fandom.

Anyway, Seattle are the reigning champions, very unlikeable for the above victory, Pete Carroll being Pete Carroll, Marshawn Lynch acting like he’s better than talking to the media; the number of their players who have been suspended for performance enhancing drugs over the last three years; their overrated home crowd who were basically silent before the fake field goal touchdown (which I did not even mention above, because it should have been a footnote to the victory); and a million other reasons. So, let’s hope their opponents are someone worth rooting for…

Patriots 45, Colts 7

New England deflated Indianapolis’ chances by airing out the football, as Tom Brady threw for 226 yards and three touchdowns.  The Patriots ensured there was not too much pressure on them by racing into an early lead, then inflating their score in the second half.

Yes, the Patriots cheated (STOP THE PRESSES!!!!!) and had their balls too low.  I mean the pressure in their footballs was too low. Or a little bit. And it might have been deliberate.  Either way, they could have played perfectly, honorably and with great panache, I still would not want a Boston team to become champions in any sport, so this was not a deciding factor.

Actually, it was because I now want New England to win the Super Bowl, because even if they do, it will still be somewhat tainted, just like the Red Sox 2004 World Series win is by the number of players from that squad who have been implicated in PEDs since then.  So, enjoy Patriots fans, I’m putting a big asterisk next to this Super Bowl victory.


*P*a*t*r*i*o*t*s* -1* over Seahawks

Conference Round, 2-0; Playoffs 8-2


Premier League Returns With Chelsea vs Man City

After a two-week gap for the F.A. Cup and League Cup to take center stage, the Premier League returns to action this weekend, with the top two teams facing each other on Saturday.  Before looking at that Chelsea vs Manchester City game, here’s a recap of what happened in the cup tournaments over the last fortnight.

F.A. Cup 4th Round

Chelsea 2 Bradford 4 - Football, bloody hell!
Chelsea 2 Bradford 4 – Football, bloody hell!

Last weekend was possibly the biggest collection of upsets in a single round of the F.A. Cup, none were bigger than the one that occurred at Stamford Bridge.  Early on, it seemed as though League One’s Bradford City were going to take a hiding, as they fell behind 2-0 to Chelsea inside half an hour.  However, the Bantams pulled one back before half time, then scored three more after the break to record an astonishing 4-2 victory over the current leaders of the Premier League.  It was only the second time in either of Jose Mourinho’s spells in charge of the Blues that he has lost at home inside 90 minutes to another club from the English leagues – the other being Sunderland last season.

Manchester City exited the tournament at the exact same time, as they also lost at home to lower division opponents, as Middlesbrough triumphed 2-0 at the Etihad.  The reigning champions had returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates less than 24 hours before the match kicked off (in part due to a delayed flight, but mostly because of ridiculous planning to fit in lucrative friendlies in their owner’s home Emirate, Abu Dhabi).  However, City still played pretty much their best players, so nothing should be taken away from Boro’s achievement.

In comparison to those two results, Manchester United’s 0-0 draw away at League Two’s Cambridge seems like a positive scoreline, especially since they now have a home replay to try to progress to the fifth round of a wide-open competition.  Only United and Arsenal – who overcame a resilient Brighton comeback to win 3-2 –  remain in the F.A. Cup out of the current top 6 in the Premier League, since Southampton were beaten 3-2 at home by Palace; while Leicester scored twice in the final 10 minutes to eliminate Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane.  Bolton held Liverpool to a draw at Anfield; Blackburn knocked out Swansea 3-1; and the match between Sunderland and Fulham at the Stadium of Light ended goalless. Continue reading

NFL Conference Round

I do not really want to talk about this weekend’s NFL games.  It’s become too important suddenly.  The Packers are a game away from a return to the Super Bowl, which would be just their fourth since I have been a fan (I started following them and the sport in the early 1990s) and second since I’ve been living in the United States.  Potential success is so close, yet there is such a big obstacle in the way: I do not want to listen to previews, I do not really want to write about it – I just want time to pass as quickly as possible so that the kick off can happen and I can sit there for three and a half hours, watching from behind my hands.  I really do not want to talk about it, because I think that Green Bay are going to win and I do not want to dare type that out loud.  Not because I believe in jinxes (I do not) or that I could have any affect on the game, but just I really want to be right about this.  Still, let’s look at what happened last weekend, starting with the Packers.


Green Bay 26-21 Dallas Cowboys

The game was basically clinched when Dez Bryant dropped a throw from Tony Romo on the one yard line with four minutes to play…what? Okay so it was probably a catch, despite what the letter of the law said, but a couple of points that were not forthcoming in the furore over the reversed call:

  • With more than 3.5 minutes remaining, Aaron Rodgers would definitely have gotten the Packers into at least field goal range and the way he was playing that second half, would have gotten a touchdown to win it in all likelihood.
  • Because of that first point, it was a ridiculous play call from the Cowboys, who should have run on 4th and 2 not least to limit the amount of time Rodgers would have had to respond. They did not need that big play at that time, regardless of it looked like a catch to anyone not in a zebra suit.
  • Dan Bailey’s missed field goal towards the end of the first half was just as important to the Cowboys loss.  If he makes it, Dallas goes in 17-7 up at the half (they would have kicked off and the Packers would not have had such good field position to start), instead it was 14-10.
  • People did not mention enough about how well Green Bay played because of that call: Rodgers was superb in the second half – ON ONE LEG!; Julius Peppers – who many dismissed as overrated when he signed as a free agent from Chicago – made a great play to force a fumble from DeMarco Murray; and Davante Adams made a superb catch and run for a touchdown, completely bamboozling the Cowboys defensive back.
  • In 2012, the Packers lost in Seattle thanks to a ridiculous catch call that was made by the replacement refs, which was the start of the Seahawks incredible home-field performance.  This time, the Bryant non-catch was correctly ruled incomplete (per the rules of the game) and now Green Bay gets to go into Seattle and end their NFC dominance in front of the 12th man. Boy, I’m pumped up for this game, let’s move on to the other contests from last week.

Continue reading

Premier League Recap and Preview: Defoe Returns to the Lane and City vs Arsenal

Defoe Joins Sunderland

Jermain Defoe, he's a…Spurs hero
Jermain Defoe, he’s a…Spurs hero

Over the period of time I was a season ticket holder at Tottenham (2002/3 – 2006/7) my favorite player for the club was Jermain Defoe*.  From the moment he first joined Spurs in January of 2004, I rated him as the best available goalscorer we had, right up until the point he was sold to Toronto FC a year ago.  This weekend, he will return to White Hart Lane, but will be pulling on the red and white strip of Sunderland, as he signed for the Black Cats during the week.

*Okay he was my joint favorite for the two seasons that Edgar Davids was at the Lane, but the Dutch midfielder was something special and it was amazing  to see him come to Tottenham

Some have questioned the logic of the North East club spending big money on both a fee and Defoe’s wages, but regardless of his age or lack of recent form, I was still hoping the transfer would not go through in time for him to make his debut against Tottenham.  This is beyond just the fact that the diminutive striker has an excellent record of scoring on his first appearance for a club, having done so with West Ham, Bournemouth, Spurs, Portsmouth and Toronto FC.  Defoe is an out-and-out goalscorer and someone who is deadly from anywhere around the edge of the box if he has even half a yard of space.

Any confidence I had in anticipation of this game (which as always, is limited with Spurs) was completely annihilated by the news that Defoe would be playing for Sunderland – he will score and chances are, he will get the winner.  One other guarantee – the entire stadium will applaud him and chant his name on Saturday and many Spurs supporters, like me, will be wishing he had on the white shirt of Tottenham…especially when Roberto Soldado is warming up on the sidelines.

Last Week’s Action

Tomorrow’s encounter is crucial for Spurs and Sunderland, as they both suffered narrow defeats last weekend.  The Black Cats were beaten 1-0 at home by Liverpool, who struck early through Lazar Markovic and held on against 10 men following Liam Bridcutt’s second-half dismissal.  Tottenham lost 2-1 away at Crystal Palace, a result that had many pundits pointing to “Spurs being Spurs”, mocking the way that they can beat Chelsea in one game, then lose to the Eagles in the next.  However, it was not exactly a poor performance and the defeat was in part due to referee Anthony Taylor, who awarded Palace a spot-kick from which they equalized, even though Benjamin Stambouli played the ball; then denied a penalty at the other end when Harry Kane was brought down in the box.  Perhaps Spurs should have been better at taking their chances, but there was a huge slice of ill-fortune to their defeat.

Southampton registered their first win at Old Trafford since 1988 and moved into third place in the table in the process, beating the Red Devils 1-0 through a Dusan Tadic goal.  It was a strange loss for Manchester United, who have an array of attacking talent, combined with a poor defensive unit, but failed to muster a single shot on target during this match.  Chelsea avenged their loss earlier this season to Newcastle by beating them 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, a result that moved them two points clear of Manchester City in the title race, after the reigning champions were held to a draw at Goodison Park by Everton. Continue reading

Premier League Returns

After the break for the F.A Cup action last weekend, Premier League football returns this weekend with the top two teams, Chelsea and Manchester City, currently separated only on alphabetical order.  Here’s a rundown of the fixtures, which are the reverse of the games that were played in the first weekend in December.

Keeper Simon Mignolet will be hoping to improve his form against his old club
Keeper Simon Mignolet will be hoping to improve his form against his old club

Sunderland vs Liverpool

Last time: Liverpool 0-0 Sunderland

Liverpool won their rematch with AFC Wimbledon in the F.A. Cup on Monday night, but they will be eager to pick up three points in the league to remain in any contention for a top four spot, as they are currently seven behind Southampton.  Sunderland’s only victory in their last ten league matches was against Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby, but they are still three points above the relegation zone.  The Black Cats last won a Premier League game at home on October 4th, so they will be very eager to show some form in front of their own supporters.  Prediction: Draw

Burnley vs QPR

Last time: QPR 2-0 Burnley

Queens Park Rangers have lost all nine of their away league matches this season and if they cannot get a result against one of the bottom of the sides, they might go the whole season without picking up any points on the road.  Burnley got two credible draws away at Manchester City and Newcastle in their last two league games and a victory over QPR would lift them out of the bottom three.  Prediction: Burnley win

Chelsea vs Newcastle

Last time: Newcastle 2-1 Chelsea

Newcastle inflicted Chelsea’s first defeat of the season last time they met, but this time they will be without Papiss Cissé and Chieck Tiote, both of whom are on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations.  Also, the Magpies still do not have a manager after Alan Pardew’s departure to Crystal Palace.  Chelsea have a perfect record at home in the league and will be eager to get back on track after their 5-3 defeat to Tottenham on New Year’s Day. Prediction: Chelsea win Continue reading

NFL Divisional Round Preview

There are just eight teams left in the race to be crowned Super Bowl champions in Arizona next month.  Before looking at this weekend’s divisional round, here’s what happened in the opening four playoff games:

  • The Cardinals will not become the first team to win the Super Bowl at home, as they managed just 78 yards of offense and were beaten 27-16 by the Panthers.  The victory meant that Carolina joined Seattle – whom they face this Saturday – as the only teams to win a playoff contest after finishing the regular season with a losing record.
  • Flacco led the Ravens to an upset victory in Pittsburgh over the Steelers
    Flacco led the Ravens to an upset victory in Pittsburgh over the Steelers

    Baltimore shocked the Steelers in Pittsburgh, as Joe Flacco once again upped his game in the postseason and led the Ravens to a 30-17 victory.

  • For the fourth consecutive year, the Bengals made the playoffs but lost their opening game, as they were defeated by the Colts, 26-10 in Indianapolis.  Cincinnati were without their best wide receiver, AJ Green, as well as their tight-end, Jermaine Gresham, but Andy Dalton was simply outplayed by Andrew Luck, who threw for 376 yards and a touchdown.
  • Dallas came from 20-7 back to beat the Lions 24-20 and advanced to the Divisional Round.  Much was made of a picked up flag with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter that reversed a pass interference call that would have kept a Detroit drive alive.  However, the lack of discipline of the Lions’ defense was what cost them: in the game-winning touchdown drive for the Cowboys, they committed penalties on third down that kept the chains moving.

Divisional Round Predictions

Last week, 4-0; Playoffs, 4-0

Home teams in bold

Ravens +7 over Patriots

I fully recognize this could be a huge blowout for New England and the Ravens looked far from convincing over the last month of the season.  However, they played a fantastic game against Pittsburgh last week and they have a history of performing well both in the playoffs and specifically against the Patriots.  Also, it is nearly a month since New England played a good game: they were lucky to edge past the Jets in Week 16 when they were still playing for the number one seed; rested starters and lost to Buffalo in Week 17, then had a bye week.  That is a long time to have gone since playing particularly well and it could result in Brady and company being somewhat rusty in the first half of this contest.

Seahawks -11 over Panthers

Not sure how high they would have to make this line for me to take Carolina in Seattle.  Part of me, as a Packers fan, wants the Panthers to cause an upset, but I also want Aaron Rodgers to be able to prove himself against the best, which would mean going through the Seahawks.  Regardless of my preference, the Panthers are only .500 for the season thanks to the win over the Cardinals and their third string quarterback in the Wild Card round – this will be a very one-sided contest.

Packers -5.5 over Cowboys

Yes, Dallas are 8-0 on the road. Yes, Aaron Rodgers might be hoping around on one leg. Yes, I’m terrified of seeing Matt Flynn warming up on the sidelines.  No, I’m not taking the Cowboys under any circumstances.  Go Pack Go!

Broncos -7 over Colts

Peyton Manning against his old team; Andrew Luck versus the man he took over from at quarterback for the Colts.  The truth is, Manning did not look the same in the second half of the season, but he just got to rest for the first time since Denver had their bye in week 4.  I really wanted to find a way to pick Indianapolis in this contest, but I do not think they will be good enough to beat the Broncos on their own turf.





NFL Wild Card Weekend

This weekend sees the start of the NFL playoffs, as we have reached the point where there are just eleven games left to play in the 2014 season.  Before getting onto my predictions for each of those games, here’s a quick rundown of the main action from Week 17:

  • Baltimore labored to victory over the Browns, but their eventual success was enough to earn them the 6th seed in the AFC, as the Chargers were beaten by the Chiefs.  The win for the Ravens meant that both Kansas City and Houston were eliminated, despite having victories in their final contests of the season.
  • The last thing Packers wanted to see last Sunday, but Rodgers now has a week of rest
    The last thing Packers wanted to see last Sunday, but Rodgers now has a week of rest

    Seattle clinched the number 1 seed in the NFC, despite struggling in the first half of their game with the Rams.  Green Bay earned the other bye in the conference, as Aaron Rodgers overcame a leg injury to lead the Packers to yet another home victory over the Lions.

  • Carolina won in Atlanta to claim the NFC South with an unimpressive record of 7-8-1.  However, they get to host the flailing Cardinals in the opening round of the playoffs, so a sub-500 team could once again win a postseason game, just like the Seahawks did in 2010.
  • Tampa Bay rallied from a 20-7 fourth-quarter lead over the Saints to lose 23-20 and guarantee for themselves the first pick in the this year’s draft.  It was a particularly impressive defeat as it required New Orleans to: a) score 9 points inside the final 2 minutes; and b) not tank themselves so as to avoid having to face quarterback – and likely number 1 pick – Marcus Mariota twice a season for the next decade.
  • I ended the regular season with a 7-9 week picking against the spread, to bring my final total to 133-123.

Wild Card Weekend Predictions

Home teams in bold

Panthers -4.5 over Cardinals

Although Carolina ended the season with a losing record, compared with Arizona’s 11-5 mark, the two teams have been on opposite trajectories over the last month.  The Cardinals will be forced to start Ryan Lindley in this playoff game and, despite the strength of their defense, I do not think they will be able to score enough points to beat the Panthers.

Ravens +3.5 over Steelers

In week 9, Pittsburgh beat the Ravens by 20 points and Ben Roethlisberger threw for six touchdown passes.  However, the weather in western Pennsylvania calls for snow and ice on Saturday night, plus the Steelers will be without their star running back, Le’Veon Bell, due to injury.  Also, Joe Flacco has a proven track record on the road in playoff games and I think that Baltimore will pull off an upset.

Colts -6 over Bengals

Not only is AJ Green a doubt for this game with a concussion, but to pick Cincinnati, you would have to believe that Andy Dalton can win in the postseason, on the road no less.  I will take Indianapolis and Andrew Luck over the Bengals, especially since they beat them 27-0 earlier in the season.

Lions +8 over Cowboys

My upset special for the opening weekend: I think that not only will Detroit cover in this game, but they will win outright and progress to face Seattle in the divisional round.  Maybe it is just that, as a Packers fan, I would rather face the Cardinals or Panthers next week than the Cowboys, but I think that the Lions’ defense will cause issues for Dallas.  Add to that the fact that most people were tipping the Cowboys to be one of the worst teams in football before the season began, so everything is gravy from here-on out; Tony Romo’s ability to capitulate, despite his strong showing in December; and the fact that DeMarco Murray has already carried the ball 392 times in 2014, I think Detroit has a great shot this Sunday.  Of course, it will mean that Matt Stafford will have to beat a winning team on the road for the first team in his career (0-16 to this point).


Tottenham Beat Chelsea and Premier League Festive Round Up

The run of thirty Premier League games inside a week came to an end on New Year’s Day, with only one team failing to pick up any points during that period.  With attention switching to the F.A. Cup third round this weekend, here’s a run down of how each club performed between Christmas and New Year, in order of how many points they gained and starting at the most obvious of places.

7 Points

Here comes the story of the Harry Kane
Here comes the story of the Harry Kane

Tottenham – To get the formalities out of the way, Spurs were somewhat lucky to pick up all three points on Boxing Day, as they won 2-1 at the King Power Stadium to consign Leicester to another defeat; then two days later, Tottenham held Manchester United goalless at White Hart Lane, despite a barrage of shots from the visitors in the opening forty-five minutes.

Of course the game I really want to talk about was the New Year’s Day contest against Chelsea.  Before this match, Spurs had only beaten the Blues in the Premier League three times, yet in their last eight home fixtures against them, they had also been beaten just once.  Early on, it looked as though the game would follow a familiar script – Tottenham had the better of the opening 15 minutes, but then fell behind to a Diego Costa goal, following a mazy run and shot by Eden Hazard that came back off the post.  However, while I saw a thrashing coming, Spurs instead fought back thanks to a brilliant individual goal by Harry Kane, then took the lead when Christian Eriksen fed Nacer Chadli, whose shot hit the woodwork and came back to Danny Rose, who finished first time.   Just before the interval, Harry Kane was fouled by Gary Cahill in the area to win a penalty that was converted by Andros Townsend, giving Mauricio Pochettino’s men an unexpected 3-1 half-time lead.

Knowing that a comeback was still very much on the cards, I believed that Tottenham needed a fourth goal and that came in the 52nd minute, as Kane linked up well with Chadli, turned Matic beautifully and finished with a well placed (if deflected) shot.   Nevertheless, it would not be a Spurs game without some anxiety and that came when Hazard made it 4-2 just after the hour mark.  Tottenham were not to be denied and Chadli settled the nerves once again with another deflected effort.  Not even a late John Terry goal could dampen the mood of the home crowd, who celebrated seeing their side record a rare victory over one of their biggest rivals and move up to fifth in the table, two points outside of the top four places. Continue reading