Premier League 2015/16 Season Preview

It’s the most exciting time of the football season, as the friendly matches come to an end and the fixtures that count begin this weekend, with everything possible and fans dreaming that this could be a big year for their club.  It is a fresh slate now, everyone starts on zero points and has the opportunity to…

Urgh, I can’t do this. Maybe for most teams, there can be a sense of enormous optimism surrounding the new season.  But I’m a Tottenham fan and let’s be honest, this year is going to be just as disappointing as all of the others.  It is honestly a coincidence that my last post of 2014/15 was after the North London derby – Spurs did go rapidly downhill after that peak, but I was working on another project that took up all my writing time.  But any hope I might have had in that post (and looking back at it, there was not much, since I correctly predicted they would be back below Arsenal within three days) was evaporated by the end of another poor season, albeit one that we somehow managed to finish fifth on the final day (thanks for thrashing Liverpool, Stoke!).

Pochettino has put all his eggs in one Harry Kane shaped basked
Pochettino has put all his eggs in one Harry Kane shaped basked

There are some major danger signs heading into the new season for Tottenham.  The biggest one is how much we will be once against relying on the form of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen to win matches for us.  Now Kane was brilliant from November to March, but then tailed off in the final two months of the season.  Last year he scored 31 goals in all competitions, including 21 in the Premier League, but what if he is only 80% as effective this campaign? That would still be a very good return (say 16/17 league goals) but his strikes were worth 24 points* to Tottenham last year.  So if Harry Kane is very good, but not outstandingly brilliant this time around, then his goals would be worth around 19 points, a five point drop for Spurs.

*As in if you removed Kane’s goals from the final score, how many points would Spurs have dropped. Against Arsenal, he scored both in a 2-1 win, so his value for the match was 3 points, changing it from a loss to a victory.  Versus Aston Villa he scored 1 in another 2-1 win, so it is a value of 2 points as it took the team from 1 point to 3.

Of course, last year he did not play in the first dozen or so games, so there is a chance he could be worth even more, but that relies on his not getting injured or missing any playing time, but I’d be surprised if that happens given how much he was relied upon last year, then played for England in the European Under-21 Championships, and has been fielded by Mauricio Pochettino for 70+ minutes of pre-season games, including on Tuesday against Real Madrid, less than four days before the Premier League campaign kicks off at Old Trafford.

Why is this happening? Because Tottenham do not have any other options up front.  Last year, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado were often bench-warmers and rarely played after November, but those two enigmatic strikers are likely on their way out before the month is up (to Villa and Villareal respectively) and no replacements appear to be arriving imminently.  I’m sure we will do a last-minute, August 31st 11pm deal again for a player who will probably work out just as well as Grzegorz Rasiak did (yes it’s been 10 years since that transfer, but I’ll never forget that all of us away fans at Fulham had to scream at himto jump to challenge for headers in his final match for the club five months later.  JUMP!)

Alongside the lack of strikers, we could lose our best player of the last two years (Hugo Lloris) before the transfer window slams (the only verb you can use for the occasion) shut, as he is wanted by both Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain. Also, it appears as though the central midfield will be anchored by a pairing of two out of Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason and, defender, Eric Dier.  Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Benjamin Stambouli have all been shipped out, but the most frustrating thing is not that Pochettino is giving the youngster a chance there, I like that, but rather he is not playing the right one.  If Tom Carroll is given a run in the side, his range of passing and cool head in the midfield would mean that people would be clamoring for him to be called up to the England team, that’s how good he looks.  But, for some reason, odds are that by September 1st, he’ll have been shipped out on loan and some Championship side will get to enjoy watching him this season.

The other sign that this could be a very bad season for Tottenham, is how much they relied upon late goals last year.  In 2014/15, they picked up 14 points in the 85th minute or later of matches.  On one side, this shows that Pochettino had them fighting fit until the final whistle was blown, which is great, but it would be statistically unrealistic to expect them to grab so many crucial late goals again.  So, if say they were to pick 7 points in the final five minutes this campaign, alongside Kane being only 80% as effective, then that’s 12 points removed from last year’s total.  In 2014/15, that would have meant finishing 10th in the table and I fully expect that to be around where we end up this year (I’d believe anything from 7th to 14th).

So my first prediction for 2015/16 (which is slightly more than a long-shot than the rest of my prognostications for the division, which I promise I will get to in a minute and leave Spurs alone) is this:

Mauricio Pochettino will be the first Premier League manager to leave his job in 2015/16 – Odds 20/1

I will even predict when it will happen: November 8th, the day we will be thrashed by Arsenal at the Emirates.  By then, Tottenham will have played a dozen games, I project they will have a similar number of points to fixtures and Daniel Levy will once again replace his coach.  My only hope is the replacement will be Jürgen Klinsmann…

And so, onto the other predictions for this season. Continue reading

Advertisements

Premier League – Spurs Beat Arsenal and Chelsea Move Closer to Title

Tottenham Win The North London Derby

As was the case with their game against Chelsea on New Year’s Day, the early part of Saturday’s North London derby appeared to be a typical Spurs performance – on both occasions I was pleasantly surprised by what followed.

Kane heads in the winner against Arsenal on Saturday
Kane heads in the winner against Arsenal on Saturday

After dominating the early exchanges, Tottenham fell behind after some poor defending to a well-taken Mesut Özil goal and went into half-time 1-0 down on the score sheet, but ahead in manner of performance and time of possession.  It is goals that win games though and, luckily for Mauricio Pochettino, he has a man who has found the knack of getting them. That Harry Kane grew up 15 minutes from White Hart Lane and is a Spurs fan must have made scoring a brace against their biggest rivals – including a fantastically placed header to win the match four minutes from the end – all the more sweeter for the English striker.  To those who remain in the crowd rather than on the pitch, it is great to see a local lad come good for the club.  As the chant goes, Harry Kane, he’s one of of our own.

Any victory over Arsenal will is significant for us Tottenham supporters, but this result had wider implications as well.  It lifted Spurs above the Gunners in the table (albeit probably just for three days, but we will get to that in a minute); moved Pochettino’s men to within a point of the Champions League qualification places; and extended a secretly-not-too-bad home league record against Arsenal in the Premier League era.  Since the rebranding of the top flight in 1992, Spurs have finished below their arch rivals in 20 of the 22 completed seasons.  However, in the 23 North London derbies played at White Hart Lane in that period, Tottenham actually have a positive record, winning eight, drawing ten and losing just five.

Despite all the good feeling that surrounds Spurs right now, there is unlikely to be much time to enjoy it.  On Tuesday, they face a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool, who have thrashed them on each of the last three meetings between the two sides, while the Gunners have a home fixture against bottom club Leicester.  Why could there not have been a break this week, followed by the F.A. Cup this weekend and Tottenham could have basked in the glow of their derby win for a fortnight.  Instead, reality will come crashing back down upon them (us), along with some Daniel Sturridge goals and – somehow – Martin Skrtel will get a brace. Continue reading

Premier League Preview – North London and Merseyside Derbies

North London Derby

Chadli earned Spurs a point at the Emirates earlier this season
Chadli earned Spurs a point at the Emirates earlier this season

A lot has happened in the last week in the Premier League: the transfer window shut, leaving clubs unable to add to their squads before the end of the season; the man who has managed the third most games in the Premier League resigned; and there was a whole round of fixtures last weekend.  However, all of that already seems like a distant memory as tomorrow will be one of the biggest games of Tottenham’s year – home to Arsenal.

The North London derby represents the last, best chance Spurs have of breaking the hoodoo of not having finished higher than their arch rivals for the last two decades, as a victory would lift them back above the Gunners in the table.   However, the task looks particularly daunting right now, since Arsenal are in their best form of the campaign, have won their last three league matches without conceding a goal, and with Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott both returning from long-term injuries, they have a plethora of attacking talent at their disposal.  In the Guardian this week, they did a selection of combined XIs from the rivalry games that are taking place this weekend (also Liverpool/Everton and Atletico/Real Madrid) and somehow the Spurs/Arsenal team comprised six Tottenham players – a fact that I think will be completely laughable by the end of the lunchtime fixture on Saturday.

To be fair, I feared that Spurs would get embarrassed by Chelsea on New Year’s Day and they ended up winning that match 5-3, but the way they have been playing recently – although improved – does not fill me with any confidence heading into the North London Derby.  Outside of Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane – both of whom have been in excellent form – there are no outfield players who can be replied upon on a weekly basis.  Jan Vertonghen and Federico Fazio have formed a reasonable partnership in the center of defense over the last couple of months, but both are liable to make critical mistakes.  In the center of midfield, Mousa Dembélé has returned to somewhere near the player he was when he first joined the club, but unless he is joined by Benjamin Stambouli – rather than Ryan Mason or Nabil Bentaleb – there is no dominance for Tottenham in the middle of the park.  The return of Nacer Chadli following a three-week absence for a family issue is actually a huge plus, apart from Eriksen and Kane, he is the only player who has anything like a knack of finding the back of the net.

In comparison, the Arsenal squad is full of players who love to get a goal against Spurs: Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud.  Throw in Ozil’s ability to completely tear us apart through the midfield and this could be a really messy game for us Tottenham supporters.  I was sitting in the Paxton Road end for the 5-4 defeat back in 2004 – probably the worst game I’ve ever witnessed in person, perhaps combined with the 3-4 F.A. Cup replay loss to Manchester City – my fear is that this time, the Gunners might rack up a similar number, but we will be lucky to score even once.

So why am I looking forward to a fixture in which I think my team will be heavily beaten? Because there is always the hope that maybe we will win and maybe this time things will be different. But as any other fans of The Shawshank Redemption can tell you: hope is good thing, maybe the best of things (Dufresne); or, hope is dangerous, hope can drive a man insane (Red).  Continue reading

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.

Prediction:

*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.

Nearly...
Nearly…

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).