This week in: American Football – Week 5

Don't cry for me Tony Romo

Last week in the NFL, the Cowboys gave away another late lead, to lose a game they had seemed destined to win.  Having lost to the Jets in week 1 after a Romo fumble and a blocked punt, this time the Cowboys literally threw away a seventeen point lead, their quarterback throwing three interceptions – two of which were returned by the Lions for touchdowns.  The Eagles also were victims of a comeback, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 24-23, dropping Philadelphia to 1-3 for the season.  Elsewhere, the Patriots bounced back from their defeat to the Bills in Week 3 to beat the Raiders in Oakland; the Packers were powered by four throwing touchdowns from Rodgers, who added two more with his feet, in their 49-23 demolition of the Denver Broncos; the Ravens thrashed the Jets 34-17, in a game in which neither quarterback, Sanchez nor Flacco, distinguished themselves.  The Giants and the Redskins both won, leaving the two tied atop the NFC East with records of 3-1; Washington beat the St. Louis Rams, who remain winless alongside the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, who have still not been able to cope with the loss of their quarterback and leader, Peyton Manning.

Week 5 is the first to include bye weeks, so this round gives a rest to Cleveland, Dallas, St. Louis, Miami, Washington and Baltimore.  For teams that are playing, NFC North rivals the Bears and Lions play each other in Monday Night Football in Detroit; the Packers travel to Atlanta to face a Falcons team they defeated in the playoffs in convincing fashion last January; .  In another rematch from January’s postseason, the Jets and Patriots meet up again in Boston, Tom Brady looking to gain revenge for New England’s defeat.

Predictions

Last week 8-8, season 32-32 – this week I’ll provide a reason for each pick

Home teams in bold

Bills + 2.5 over Eagles – because Buffalo is 3-1, Philadelphia 1-3 and the line is just wrong

Bengals +2.5 over Jaguars – because Cincy has a good defence and I do not think Jacksonville will win the game, let alone cover

Titans +7.5 over Steelers – because I do no see Pittsburgh covering when their QB is injured and they have been unconvincing thus far

Chiefs +2.5 over Colts – simply taking the points – Kansas City has looked much improved in the last two weeks, and Indy are still winless.

Raiders +6.5 over Texans – Houston has not played particularly well thus far and yet are 3-1, meanwhile Oakland has lost to New England and a tough one in Buffalo, but I can see them at least covering this spread.

Vikings -2.5 over Cardinals – because the coin came up tails – I could not pick between these two woeful teams.

Saints -5.5 over Panthers – New Orleans has been quietly putting together good results since their opening day loss to the Packers.  They’ll continue that run here.

Giants -9.5 over Seahawks – I do not think the Giants can cover this spread, yet I do not think that Tavaris Jackson can keep Seattle this close…changed my mind several times but decided that the NFC West is so bad, I had to take New York.

49ers -1.5 over Buccaneers – because although I do not trust Alex Smith, despite him leading San Francisco to last week’s win over the Eagles, Tampa Bay played Monday night on the East Coast and have a short week before the West Coast game on Sunday.

Chargers -4.5 over Broncos – I would have taken San Diego at 9.5 let alone -4.5

Patriots -9.5 over Jets – because Brady will be out for revenge, and will doubtlessly get it, as well as the Jets looking very ropey in their last two games.

Packers -5.5 over Falcons – because Green Bay is the best team in the league, and I’m biased.

Bears +5.5 over Lions – I think this will be a close game, so taking the points.

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

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: 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

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

This week in: English Football

This Saturday sees the return to Premier League action, following a break for international fixtures last weekend.  After three games, the Manchester clubs are the only two teams in the whole of the English League system to still have a 100% record, as both City and United have won all three of their games thus far.

Unfortunately, at least for us Spurs fans, that has left Tottenham Hotspur languishing at the bottom of the table having played just two games, but both of those were losses against the Mancunian teams.  Up next for Spurs is a trip to Wolves, who are unbeaten thus far having taken 7 points from their first 3 games.  With Van der Vaart injured and Peter Crouch now

And with you, we smile a tiny amount

sold (despite this plea to Modric less than a month ago), the forward line will take on a new look, with on-loan, former Arsenal man, Emmanuel Adebayor set to partner Jermain Defoe.  Luka Modric (who’s desire to leave this summer I covered here) remains in the squad and manager Harry Redknapp will be hoping that the Croatian’s head is in the right place for this game –  interest from Chelsea having been given as the reason for his no-show against United and his insipid performance against City.

In the other fixtures, Arsenal have a great opportunity to register their first league win of the season as they host Premiership newcomers Swansea City. The Gunners boast new signings Mikel Arteta from Everton and Yossi Benayoun on loan from Chelsea, bolstering their team from the side that lost 8-2 at Old Trafford in their last outing.  Manchester City have a local derby of sorts as they take on Wigan at Maine Road…oops, make that the City of Manchester Stadium…wait, what? The Etihad Stadium? Okay, fair enough, sounds all above board and not like they’re just trying to get around the FIFA Financial Fair Play rulings coming into effect next year.

The Etihad Stadium of Rule-Bending

Another Lancashire derby sees top-of-the-table-by-a-goal Manchester United travel to Bolton, Wanderers having been indifferent at the start of this season and likely to offer their traditional capitulation against the Red Devils.  Chelsea have a long away trip to Sunderland; while Stoke, with their new signings Crouch, Palacios and Cameron Jerome, host Liverpool.  The other Saturday game sees Arteta-less Everton take on an Aston Villa team who look a lot less dangerous now that Ashley Young is plying his trade with Manchester United.

Sunday’s games are not exactly marquee fixtures, with Martin Jol’s Fulham taking on a struggling Blackburn Rovers; and Norwich City playing West Brom, a match that sounds like a Championship game, but is actually a Premier League one.

Predictions

Arsenal vs Swansea – Home Win

Everton vs Aston Villa – Draw

Man City vs Wigan – Home win

Stoke vs Liverpool – Draw

Sunderland vs Chelsea – Away win

Wolves vs Tottenham – Away win

Bolton vs Manchester United – Away win

Norwich vs West Brom – Draw

Fulham vs Blackburn – Home win

This week in: American Football

The National Football League returns this Thursday, September 8th, with a matchup of the last two Super-Bowl winners – the reigning Champion Green Bay Packers hosting the New Orleans Saints.  As the preparations for this season were disrupted

Last year’s Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers

by a lockout, teams that have returning quarterbacks and coaches are at a clear advantage over those who have new people learning the playbooks. Both of these sides have such stability, and the Packers, who only made it into the playoffs thanks to an improbable comeback by the Eagles against the Giants, return hoping to stay healthier than last year.  If they do, they have the chance to make the postseason as a Number 1 seed and have an excellent opportunity to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

Elsewhere this week, the rival Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers face off in the first game of the regular season, and the Indianapolis Colts face the Houston Texans in a repeat of last year’s first fixture which saw an upset as the Texans beat Peyton Manning’s Colts.  With Manning’s fitness in doubt, a condition which could see the QB end his streak of 227 consecutive NFL game starts,  the Houston Texans will like their chances of beginning 2011 with a win.  Also, the new superteam, the Philadelphia Eagles, have a tough opening trip to a rejuvenated St. Louis Rams team –  the dome atmosphere could help the Rams to a surprise victory over Michael Vick’s highly rated Eagles.

Season Picks

NFC North – Packers                                                    AFC North – Ravens

NFC South – Saints                                                       AFC South – Titans

NFC East – Cowboys                                                    AFC East – Patriots

NFC West – Cardinals                                                 AFC West – Chargers

Wild Cards – Eagles, Falcons                                   Wild Cards – Colts, Steelers

NFC: Packers over Saints                                          AFC: Patriots over Chargers

Superbowl: Packers over Patriots

Each week I will also pick the winner of each game, but to make it harder, I’ll go against the spread* – as laid out by ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game: (home team in bold)

Packers – 4.5 over Saints

Falcons -2.5 over Bears

Bills +6.5 over Chiefs

Browns -4.5 over Bengals

Buccaneers -3.5 over Lions

Titans +3.5 over Jaguars

Texans -2.5 over Colts

Rams +5.5 over Eagles

Ravens -2.5 over Steelers

Chargers -8.5 over Vikings

Redskins +3.5 over Giants

Cardinals -5.5 over Panthers

Seahawks +5.5 over 49ers

Cowboys +4.5 over Jets

Broncos -0.5 over Raiders

*The spread basically handicaps the teams, so for example the Packers have -4.5 favourites over the Saints, meaning a win by 5 or more points would be a win for Green Bay, but a win by 4 or less points or a Saints win is a New Orleans win against the spread.

You can also pick against me by joining the group on ESPN Political Footballs, or by clicking here