Wednesday, December 31, 2008

WILDCARD WEEKEND

Despite a rather embarassing performance predicting the final weekend of the NFL regular season, Sports Amnesia is back again with wild and wacky predictions for the first round of the playoffs involving the wild card submissions and the lesser-rans of the division winners.

At least the prediction of a Giants-Steelers Super Bowl is still intact and will remain so for at least another week since neither are playing this weekend.

For once, we can be thankful for a Patriot-less post-season.

EVERYONE is going against the home teams in these matchups, primarily because the wild cards would appear hotter or stronger than the likes of the Fins, Cardinals, Vikings or Chargers. Danger in unanimity, is what this crystal ball says. All the home teams are underdogs.

Since the advent of the 12-team format in 1990, home squads are 50-22 on wild-card weekend. Never have all four lost.

SATURDAY



ATLANTA AT ARIZONA: The Falcons, along with the Fins are two of the biggest turn-around teams in NFL history, rising from the dregs of the league to playoff spots. The Falcons have done this with a great running game and a rookie QB, namely Charger-reject Michael Turner and Matt Ryan.

Arizona has done it with an ageing Jesus Freak QB in Kurt Warner, some great wideouts and an unimpressive defence. In fact, the defence yielded 79 more points during the regular season than any of the other playoff teams. This points to the Cards being simply incapable of stopping the Falcons.

The Cardinals are 12-4 at home under coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Cardinals defence has been aggressive, despite not being all that impressive overall, claiming 30 turnovers this season but the Fantasy-stat offence gave up 30 turnovers as well. They have virtually no answer for the Falcons running game and frankly, if the Falcons stick to running the ball which is what they do best, they should beat the Cards into gradual submission.

Prediction: Falcons 31 Cardinals 26

*****


INDIANAPOLIS AT SAN DIEGO

In week 12,the host Chargers tied the game in the fourth quarter, but left 1:35 on the clock for Peyton Manning, who drove the Colts 35 yards downfield to set up Adam Vinatieri's 51-yard field goal as time expired.

Count on this game being equally tight. Despite the mysterious underperformance of the Chargers for most of the season, the Chargers are still a dangerous team offensively and they proved this in part, by storming back to overtake the Broncos' three game lead and win the division.

The Chargers have scored 52, 41, 22 and 34 points over their last four games. It isn't likely the Colts have an answer defensively even though their defence has performed admirably since their bye week so it would appear this game will simply be a matter of who has the ball last.

Over his last four games, Chargers QB Phillip Rivers has completed 64.7 of his passes for 1,054 yards and a 123.5 passer rating with 11 touchdowns and just one interception. Incredibly, Manning has been even better in that time, with 1,054 passing yards, an 85.6 completion percentage and a 135.7 passer rating to go with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The issue of course is that Manning is Manning and will not be stopped, not even on the road and it is Manning who shifts the balance in what might be an epic playoff game.

Prediction: Colts 28 Chargers 26

*****

SUNDAY


BALTIMORE AT MIAMI

Naturally, the first order of business is the Ravens Defence. Only one team in the NFL was statistically better and the Ravens are the kind of defence that can bust anyone up but good. They force alot of turnovers but so does the Dolphins' rather underrated defence. Difference is, the Dolphins turn it over offensively far less than does this Colts offence led by rookie QB Joe Flacco.

Nonetheless, in Week 7 this season, the Ravens beat the Dolphins, 27-13, to snap a three-game losing streak. Baltimore stopped Miami's "Wildcat" offense, holding the Dolphins to 71 yards on the ground.

Does the combination of a weak-armed Miami QB and a terrific tag-team running game offset the Ravens' Defence? They say D wins games this time of year along with a running game - they don't say much about a rookie QB. Since 1970, rookie quarterbacks are 2-6 in playoff games

Prediction: Dolphins 26 Ravens 20

*****


PHILLY AT MINNESOTA

This games angle is that Eagles coach Andy Reid meets his former offensive coordinator Brad Childress.

The Iggles rose from the dead several times this season, notably after Donovan McNabb's miserable performance against the Ravens in Week 12, then a crappy showing in a loss against the Redskins in Week 16.

The most dangerous weapon (and perhaps only serious weapon) the Vikings have is Adrian Peterson who was held to just 70 yards in his only game vs. the Eagles last year.

The Iggles defence can be deadly and if Peterson is cut off the Vikes are stuck relying upon two lackluster QBs to save them. Doesn't sound good. Potentially, the biggest rout of the wildcard weekend:

Prediction: Iggles 48 Vikings 17

So my strongest prediction is that not ALL road teams will win this weekend. It just doesn't make sense, historically.

Friday, December 26, 2008

FIVE QUESTIONS ON THE FINAL WEEKEND

After months of stretching the debacle of Sports Amnesia's previous NFL winners choices (New Orleans-SanDiego Super Bowl, pshaw!) it's time, not to ridicule my previous choices rather to embellish further on the season's outcome.

With that in mind, here are my selections in the key games with Playoff Implications and the resultant NFL Playoffs the majority of which, I wager in advance, without the benefit if Sky Sports, a monopoly of galactic influence which would charge a minimum of 40 quid a month to watch NFL games. (this in a country whose primary sport, football, cannot be seen EVER on a professional level without first ponying up the monthly charge of cable...), I will see about five minutes of which, as you can guess, takes some of the fun out of watching the season to begin with.

In any event:

1. Will the JETS beat the DOLPHINS and will the BILLS beat the PATS or JAGS beat the RAVENS to allow the Jets to creep into the playoffs?

Firstly, yes, Jets will beat Dolphins. I know everyone sees these as the trajectory of two opposite motion QBs; Favre, beaten and old, verge of retirement versus Pennington, defeating the team that rejected him, hot on the comeback trail and leading the Fins to completing a dramatic turnaround season. The rationale is that with everyone in the world seeing this as a Dolphins win and ultimately, the AFC East title. Jets in a thrillah, 23-21.

Secondly, no. The Pats are 23-2 in December since 2003 which means they don't lose this time of year unless its absolutely meaningless. Victory gives the Pats a chance at the AFC East and the Bills are well, Patsies this season. Patriots in a snoozer, 31-10.

Lastly, no. The late kickoff means by 4:15 the Ravens will know they HAVE to win to make the playoffs. Now the Jags have likely already packed for the winter holidays seeing as how they sport a crappy 5-10 record and playing the Ravens in Baltimore where the Ravens haven't given up more than 13 points all season, Ravens clinch their playoff spot with a 23-16 victory.

What it all means is that the Jets, for losing to rubbish Western teams all season on the road, will NOT make the playoffs, Favre may rightly retire and the Jets will be left in the same position they were at the end of last season: Huge Question Mark at QB and out of the playoffs. Bravo, but that's pretty much what you get when you spend millions on veterans either just past or beyond their prime. Late season gasping.

What it means for the Fins, similarly, is all or nothing results in nothing. Pats win the AFC East and the Ravens make it in as a wildcard.

2. Will the COWBOYS be able to overcome the IGGLES in Philly and can the RAIDERS upset the BUCS?

First of all, even though this is a vicious rivalry, for the game to mean anything for the Iggles with respect to playoff implications, the Raiders will have to beat the Bucs in the 1:00 kickoff match. Otherwise, its simply a golden opportunity to overturn the Cowboys' apple cart. There's alot of scenarios for a Cowboys playoff but if they win, they're in.

The Bucs have lost three in a row, including a beating at home at the hands of the Chargers. Not an impressive way to limp into the playoffs. Simply put, if they lose again, they're out and even if they win, they still need Dallas to lose to go forward. That's the kind of position losing three in a row just before season's end puts you in. Bucs nip this one, barely, 21-20.

All of which means the Iggles will kickoff their match with only the hopes of spoiling the Cowboys season keeping them from their own season being spoilt.

A simple glance in the direction of Tony Romo's post-season record, or perhaps one might suggest, Romo's record when the games matter most, for an insight on how this will play out.

Iggles 28-20 over choking-dog Romo and the Boys.

Result: Boys and Iggles out, Bucs in.

3. Does Minnesota or Chicago get in the playoffs to become the proverbial Midwestern sacrificial post-season goat?

The sad certainty is that one of these two teams are going to make it in.

If all things stay equal, i.e. both teams win, or perhaps more likely, both teams lose, the Vikings will back in on the basis of tiebreakers. That means the Bears need to the Vikes to lose to the Giants and they need to beat the Texans on the road. That's the ONLY way they get in (if my scenario above, that the Bucs actually win, works out). And whilst I was surprised they didn't blow it all against the Pack last week on MNF, all it probably means is that Bears fans can torture themselves an extra week.

The Bears are 5-0 in their last 5 games after a MNF appearance. By contrast, the Texans are 4-1 at home this season. To my thinking, the most important item of note is that the Texans seem to follow most any impressive victory with a loss. They beat the Titans at home a few weeks ago (then were crushed like grapes against the Raiders.)

There's a nagging feeling that the Bears simply can't advance to the playoffs because they don't deserve it but it says here the Bears 24 Texans 20.

Simultaneously, the Vikings will hosting a Giants team that might play its first team for the first half only, if that. Now, either the Vikes are so pathetic they can't even beat the Giants' 2nd team in the 2nd half, OR they will fall so far behind early that it won't matter - especially when you consider that the Giants have won the last 3 in Minnesota.

Derrick Ward will get his 1,000 yards rushing and the Giants will be only 5th team in history to have a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in the same season.

Giants win 30-13 and the Vikes spoil their season with turnovers.

Meaning of course, Bears fans get another week to suffer and host a wildcard game.

4. Can the Chargers complete their dramatic come-from-behind finish by beating the Broncos at home and make the Broncos the Official Jets of the West?

The short and sweet of this is that the Chargers have won four of the last five head to head matches whilst scoring twice as much as the Broncos. Granted, the Broncos haven't been as strong as the Chargers the last few seasons but the Broncs have spent the last five weeks losing to the Raiders, Carolina and Buffalo whilst barely beating KC and whipping the mediocre Jets.

Verdict: Chargers 38 Broncos 31

5. How will the other seedings shake out?

Based on the above results and a few others, here's how Sports Amnesia sees it:

NFC

1 NY Giants
2 Atlanta
3 Chicago
4 Arizona
WC Carolina
WC Tampa Bay

Meaning:

First Round NFC matchups:

Tampa Bay at Chicago
Carolina at Arizona

AFC

1 Tennessee
2 Pittsburgh
3 New England
4 San Diego
WC Indianapolis
WC Baltimore

First Round AFC Matchups:

Baltimore at New England
Indianapolis at San Diego

Based on all of the above, here are some far-reaching predictions:

NFC
Chicago 20 Tampa Bay 3
Carolina 33 Arizona 16

thus,

Chicago at Atlanta
Carolina at New York Giants

Atlanta 23 Chicago 13
Giants 27 Carolina 23

thus,

Atlanta at NY Giants

Giants 36 Atlanta 17

AFC

New England 17 Baltimore 16
Indianapolis 37 San Diego 28

thus,

Indianapolis at Pittsburgh
New England at Tennessee

Pittsburgh 28 Indianapolis 24
New England 31 Tennessee 14

thus,

New England at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh 27 New England 17

THUS

SUPER BOWL

NY Giants v Pittsburgh.

And if it gets this far, madames et messieurs, we'll let you know the Super Secret result.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

WEEK 2

How do you follow up a week full of big injuries and upsets?

JAGS(-5)over Bills -Bills arent facing a jet-lagged team this week.

Packers (-3) over LIONS - either the Lions really suck or the Falcons are going to the Super Bowl.

RAMS (+8.5) over Giants - surprise.

SEAHAWKS (-7) over Niners -

Dolphins (+6.5) over CARDS

Patriots (-1) over JETS - too easy to write off the Pats now that Brady's gone.

TEXANS (+4.5) over Ravens

CHIEFS (-3.5) over Raiders

BRONCOS (+1.5) over Chargers

Steelers (-6) over BROWNS

Eagles (+7) over COWBOYS


last week: 10-5

Sunday, September 07, 2008

WEEK 1 PREDICTIONS

Ok, Thursday night football with these timezones, very difficult. For the record I was mildly surprised the Jints didn't perform an Openng night post-world champion flop. Nor was the defense as bad as presumed. Or, more likely, the Skins are just not ready for primetime.


Bengals (-1.5) over RAVENS
Joe Flacco, zero to hero in one pre-season? Nah. Hard to pick for the Bengals, a team forever rotting on the inside but even 9-7 covers.

Lions (-3) over FALCONS
Another rookie QB another loss. Yes Michael Turner could rush for 189 yards and yes both teams will proably run the ball like Woody Hayes' old OSU teams but this too will be a low scoring affair and the passing edge must go to the Lions.

Jets(-3) over DOLPHINS
So many good stories here: Two QBs with new teams, Fat Parcells back, Ricky Williams from bong hit to starting running back. Jets have reloaded and know Pennington's flaws and patterns. He will probably complete 20 dink passes and Ricky might even score but the Dolphin D is not up to the task. Favre is still learning the Jets O but seriously, would you rather rely on Pennington as your starting QB? I didn't think so.

PATRIOTS (-16.5) over Chiefs
Easy pickings. Mystery shrouds Tom Brady in first start back since Super Stunner '08. The Chiefs are the right team to come back against. Not unlike throwing against tackling dummies. My only concern is that the Pats jump to an early 5 TD lead and Brady comes out. Still, Chiefs can't score. Or defend. Herm Edwards? Nah.

Texans (+6.5) over STEELERS
I'm not convinced Big Ben is worth his significant paycheck. The Texans are in the second year of a good new coach and will be greatly improved. This will be closer than it should be.

TITANS (+3)over Jaguars
Alot of people like the Jags to the Super Bowl but is Gerrard is not capable of doing it on his own and the O line is too banged up to help the run. Is this Vince Young's season in the sun?

SAINTS (-3.5) over Bucs
Yes the Bucs beat the Saints twice last season but Nawlins survived the latest hurricane wave and this Saints team might well be Super. The Bucs won't outscore them.

NINERS (+2.5) over Cardinals
Neither team has a settled QB situation. The Cards are crap on the road and Frank Gore will roll.

BILLS (-1) over Seahawks
The Bills might well be the best team that doesn't make the playoffs this season. The Seahawks are going to be jet-lagged all day and the nucleus of that surprise team of a few years ago is like faded wallpaper.

EAGLES (-7.5) over Rams
Donovan McNabb is ready for one last hurrah. The Rams will struggle all season not to be the worst team in the NFL.

Panthers (+9) over CHARGERS
Week one is where the Panthers make their comeback statement now that Delhomme is finally back. They always field a tough D. Don't be shocked by an upset here, even on the road and despite SD's potentest of offensive attacks.

Cowboys (-5.5) over BROWNS
The Browns are a mess. There are big expectations which will make that mess all the bloodier. The Boys on the other hand will win the NFC East and won't choke til Round 2 of the payoffs.

Bears (+9.5) over COLTS
Lots of questions for Peyton, shown up by his kid brother and banged up. Unlike Brady and the Chiefs, da Bears are not the D you want to get the rust off against.

PACKERS (-2.5) over Vikings
If Favre were the Messiah everyone says he is, the Pack would have won more tan one Super Bowl. The Pack are a strong team and Aaron Rodgers has waited a long time to get here-he won't disappoint. The Vikes? The wanted Favre so wHat does that say about their current QB? Vikes D is good but they can't stop the O froM turning the ball over.

Broncos (+3) over RAIDERS
This is Jay Cutler's breakout season -it'd better be - he's my starting fantasy team QB. Da Raiders will be better this year than last year but tht's like saying AIDS isn't as bad as the ebola virus.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

NFL POWER RANKINGS

1. New Orleans Saints- avoiding more hurricane disasters is the 1st sign of les bons temps to come. This is potentially the most fearsome offense of 2008-09.
2. New England Pats- last year`s Super Bowl flop was the harbinger of doom to come, or at least that`s what most of us cling to after the 18-0 run. The demise will liely be slow coming.
3. Dallas Cowboys- until the playffs anyway, a formidable team.
4. San Diego Chargers- when or if all the heavies are healthy, they could go all the way.
5. Indy Colts- Peyton's brother won it all faster. Peyton's leaky line will not keep him healthy forever.
6. NY Giants-mild super hangover and injury means the Dwill fall somewhat short.
7. Carolina Panthers-Jake is back. That should suffice.
8. Baltimore Ravens-must be crazy to go this high with an aging defensive nucleus, rookie coach and rookie QB but they'll limp to the top of their division by season's end,
9. Jax Jags-still not good enough to win the division but still a teamno one fancies playing
10. NY Jets-even with Broadway Brett and millions in aging free agents still only 2nd best team in Jersey.
11. Chicago Bears-run, run, run. Don't let any of the QBs pass.
12. Tennessee Titans- will start strong then fade, just missing the playoffs.

SUPER BOWL:Logically, given the above, Saints v. Pats but Pats will not even make it to the AFC final. Final score: Chargers 23 Saints 20.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

FINAL: Germany v Spain:

Well, it's all over in less than 24 hours and the final, I can't decide is either the least appealing of all options or bound to be a good final in any event regardless of the fact I can't stand either team.

Germany did it by lucking out against the Turks in their semifinal, out-Turkeying Turkey by scoring a last-minute goal of their own just moments after Turkey had a late score, yet again to come back and tie the match. For me, Turkey are the team of the tournament for their dramatic finishes, even if they didn't make it as far as the final. They made it further than anyone envisioned.

Spain did it by derailing the Russian over-hype train that everyone was knocking each other over trying to climb aboard. Let's face it, it's difficult to recall a more overhyped player than Arshavin, who didn't play in the first two games, allegedly dazzled for two more and then fizzled out on the big stage like a wet firecracker. I was rooting for Russia since they aren't Spain, who I can't stand anyway with their nancy boy strikers, rubbish backline and sometimes middling midfielders. But Russia didn't show up for the big match, shot their wad against the Dutch and that was that. PLUS, you had to figure after the first three underdogs advanced to the semifinal it only made sense that Spain, even though they were favoured, were the real underdog against the Russians solely for their storied history of choking in precisely these sorts of situations, and would therefore go through.

So it's the North against the South in the final and I don't really care which side wins.

*****

Although the final is still to be played I'm ready with my all-tournament team which is subject to change should someone unexpected score a hat-trick.

Keeper: Iker Casillas will be in the final but so is that glowering douchebag, Lehmann, so being there doesn't mean much. Casillas' high point was probably stopping the penalties against the Italians that sent them forward. The man who didn't however, Gianluigi Buffon, had a more stunning tournament from the three goal debacle against the Dutch (one of which was wrong and two more of which were virtually unstoppable), to the penalty he stopped against Mutu which kept Italy from immediate elimination, to one spectacular save against another when the Italy back line was one of the worst they've fielded in a decade. Buffon more than anyone, kept his team in the running and deserves to be the starting keeper.

Right Back: Hamit Altintop, Turkey.- the man of the match against both the Czechs and Croatia, Altintop was solid throughout. Other possible choices, Vedran Ćorluka, Croatia - or Sergio Ramos for Spain. Ćorluka in particular, a bright young spot with great forward motion who will likely end up as the team's starting centre back in due course.

centre back: Hands down, Carles Puyol - for once his team hasn't crashed out early and Puyol, one of the best defenders in the world, consistent throughout bar the early exit against Sweden with the bum knee. He helped shut the Russians down with a brilliant performance and might well be one of the keys if they are to defeat Germany tonight.

Left back: Very close between Yuri Zhirkov whose every game sounded like jerk off jerk off jerk off but was one of Russia's better players despite being held scoreless, and my favourite, Giovanni van Bronckhorst whose clearance sent the Dutch forward for their 2nd goal against Italy and set the Dutch scoring machine in motion, the king of the fastbreak for the Dutch. There will be those whingeing for Philipp Lahm, especially after his game-winner against the Turks but less face it, his defence was quite often rubbish, including the opening half against Turkey and he relied too often on cheap fouls to compensate for a lack of skill.

Defensive Midfielder: Konstatin Zyryanov comes to mind although he was more forward than defending, he scored the winner against Greece and was solid against the Swedes to get the Russians back on track after that hideous opening (and closing) match against Spain. The winner though, is Marcos Senna for Spain who did a brilliant job helping Pujols shut down the Russians in the semi-final. Orlando Engelaar may have found himself in this tournament performing quite competently, gets a vote for honourable mention.

Right midfield: Bastian Schweinsteiger was, along with Wayne Rooney, one of the bright young stars of Euro2004. Rooney was busy marrying his ChavCow girlfriend in a crass display of imperial money wasting and Schweinsteiger was busy kicking ass, getting a red card against Croatia and scoring against the Portugese and Turkey. Andrés Iniesta had a brilliant semi-final against the Russians but too little too late. Darijo Srna was one of the strongest on a strong right sided attack for Croatia.

Centre midfield - Sorry, gotta go with the Germans here again in the form of Michael Ballack. Very true he was nearly invisible against Croatia but that sizzling goal against Austria was one of the strongest of the tournament and his engine in the middle when he was running well, was driving the Germans forward. However, he might miss the final which would knock him out of the running, as far as I'm concerned. There's a real glut here though. A vote could be made for Cesc Fàbregas who was absolutely brilliant in the matches he played in, even coming off the bench and he clearly outplayed Arshavin who might have been given the nod if he wasn't so overhyped and had played better in the semi-final. Likewise Luka Modric, the new Tottenham Spur who will likely be crushed in the Premiership ultimately but has quite a motor on him and watching his pace is worthwhile. And Hakan Yakin certainly merits a vote considering he was a scoring machine for a team with no offence. My favourite would be Wesley Sneijder for the Dutch, who was great whilst the Dutch were hot but they plunged out so suddenly and quietly that you almost forgot about those first two matches against Italy and France wherein he was simply brilliant and had two memorable goals. Yes, there is your winner.

Left midfield: You might be tempted by Lukas Podolski as the easy choice with three goals but he disappeared after the first two games and unless he scores a hattrick in the final, he's not my guy. Arjen Robben would have been a logical choice, that brilliant goal against France but as he was with Chelsea and in Spain this season, he's a brittle little fucker who is hurt more than healthy and that in the end, spells his demise. David Silva has had flashes, and normally Ronaldo would fit in here automatically but he had a rather rubbish tournament combined with a disappointing finish so eff him, he's won enough stuff this season with Man U. Instead I'm picking Roger Guerreiro, the anti-Pole when you consider that nation's skinhead racist tendancies it must be difficult for a Brasilian to survive in Poland even if he is a decent footballer. Impressed against both Germany and Austria.

Forwards: : One thing for certain, it isn't going to be Toni who had the worst tournament for a forward and most certainly the most missed shots of anyone on earth. Good thing Mario Gomez was there to keep him company in ignominy. I would have voted for Ivica Olić but for those crossbars against Turkey. Nope, the guy I'd want most up front would be Semih Sentürk and I would pair him with David Villa more because of that late, clutch winner against Sweden than his hattrick against the Russians. If I were desperate, I'd play Hakan Yakin up instead of in midfield and there you go, quite a side.

Manager: No doubt about it: GUUS

As for tonight's final, traditional winners against traditional losers. Simply because I think Lehmann is a big, noisy douchebag and a rubbish keeper to boot, I'm going to go with Spain. Class over Schmutz. Spain 3 Germany 2. And it will be a good match.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Turks unveil third consecutive gob-smacking come-from-behind shocker.

If they waited any longer to launch their comebacks they would have to have a time machine to go back in time and score their goals to avoid elimination.

Just when you thought three goals in 15 minutes to win 3-2 after being down 2-0 against the Czechs was the most amazing comeback you've ever seen here is the unimaginable score by Semih Senturk against the Croatians with no time left in the match to draw even, force extra time and then penalties which of course, they won.

Which of course, saved the Turkish keeper's bacon. It was Rustu Recber's screw up, coming out of the goal mouth to chase a ball he had no chance of getting, that helped the Croatians score their goal, the goal they and all the world thought, with so little time remaining, was going to be the clincher for Slaven Bilic and his lads, who will be forever haunted by this loss. Now all they've got is preparation for England in the World Cup Qualifiers.



The Turks are a hard side not to love demonstrating unparallelled determination, desire and of course, results.

So far in the quarterfinals there have been two results with the advancement of two underdogs, Germany and Turkey.

And now the two will be paired against each other with the Turkish population of Germany swelling to over two and a half million or about 3 percent of the entire German population.

The Germans made short work of the Portugese. Sort of.

The Portugese dominated many sections of this match but seemed content with long, sloppy passes into the box rather than clever man to man to man elusive passing, the kind of lazy sort of football that see the English out early of every tournament they're in.

Of course, the Portugese were sore losers, blaming Chelsea for announcing their manager was going to be Felipe Scolari once the tournament was already underway. But equally the argument for the distraction of Ronaldo with ongoing tug-o-war between Man U and Real Madrid, could have been made. A distraction, it should be pointed out that was essentially of Ronaldo's own doing.

So now we move on to the other two quarterfinals this weekend - should we expect equally a shocker from the Russians over the Dutch or will the favourites make it out this time? My guess, all of which have been wrong so far in the QFs, is that the Dutch will take it 3-1. Just don't count on it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

RUSSIANS ARE STILL A FORCE TO BE RECOKONED WITH

It's difficult not to be tempted into imagining that this, the Russian slot, is in essence, the England slot, had the English actually played up to expectation, if they'd managed to beat the Russians in Moscow after holding a 1-0 lead.

But they didn't.

The Russians were minced by the Spanish in the opening game of the Group and by a deceptively large margin, 4-1. The truth in that match was that after the Spanish scored, the Russians had them on their heels in the 2nd half and looked quite capable not only of taking the lead but winning the game. Alas, a counter attack set them back and before they knew it the momentum was crushed as were the Russians' hopes.

Hiddink had the team refocused and working hard to achieve that little extra that would put them over the top.



But they've bounced back under the steady hand of Guus Hiddink, the manager with a history of taking pretty much any team he manages and making them a threat.

They beat the Greeks, eliminating them and last night made easy work of the Swedes, who they also eliminated 2-0, presenting themselves as the second seed of the group set to face the Dutch next.

Imagine the connotations of the a Dutch born manager of the Russians facing the Dutch national team, knowing all their secrets. The Dutch are hot but this has all the makings of a upset.



So, two years in to a five year plan to get the Russians up to the world class level, not suprisingly, Hiddink has them there already. The quarterfinals and almost as suprisingly as the Italians considering their shoddy beginnings.

Tonight, Germany face Portugal in what is likely the most anticipated of the tournament in the knock out phase. Given Germany's last two performances; a surprising loss to Croatia and an uninspired 1-0 victory over the Austrians, they will have to play their best football of the tournament to hold the Portugese quiet. Don't count on it. Prediction Portugal 2 Germany 1.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So, Groups A, B and C are done.

Yesterday's match between Italy and France surely must have marked the first time a team lost 3-0 in the opener but still qualified to the next round.

On the other hand, even though they're through, they've now got to face Spain without their midfield force of Pirlo and Gattuso, who are both suspended. Never fear though, they've got plenty of Roma reserves ready to come in replace them like any combination of Aquilani e Ambrosini Aquilani e Perrotta Aquilani e Camoranesi Ambrosini e Perrotta Ambrosini e Camoranesi Perrotta e Camoranesi, etc.

src="http://images.gazzetta.it/Hermes%20Foto/2008/06/18/0K2MKNTR--346x212.jp
g">

De Rossi celebrates the free kick that shot into goal for a 2-0 lead off of
Henry's foot.

And beating France? No big thing. After all they played the least inspired football of perhaps anyone in the entire tournament. Yes, maybe Austria or Switzerland, it might be argued, were worse sides, but even that is arguable and in any event, both sides showed considerably more spirit than the old mutts of France. Good riddance to them. England would have been a better represenatative.

The Italians were given a second life after Romania's Mutu missed that penalty kick in that 1-1 draw last week and they made the most of it, bravo!

Meanwhile in the other Group match, Holland's second side put Romania out of their misery as well. It's difficult to imagine the Romanians weren't up for it with a quarterfinal berth at stake but losing 2-0 to the Dutch's reserves means either they didn't care or wow, the Dutch really ARE that good. Quite likely the Dutch attack will make mincemeat out of their next opponents however, it would be a tense exciting match against the Swedes and perhaps a higher scoring affair against the Russians.

****

On Monday, the only relevant match in Group B was Austria against Germany which ended, not suprisingly perhaps with a 1-0 victory by Germany punctuated by the fastest missile goal of the tourney off the foot of Michael Ballack. Whilst the match remained 0-0 throughout the first half the Austrians had a prayer but the suddenness and fierocity of the Ballack goal simply sucked the life right out of the Austrians. The Germans are now destined to meet their fate against Portugal, rested and ready to roll.


Make sure to bank on the Russians tonight. Hiddinck v Dutch will be a great quarterfinal.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tři góly za 15 minut a Češi jedou domů!

Well, the Czech team has now redefined disaster after surrendering 3 goals in 15 minutes to see a 2-0 lead and advancement to the quarterfinals of the Euros destroyed by the Turks and perhaps even by Petr Cech, considered one of the top keepers in the world, whose howlers were the final nails in the coffin.


It's all over but the crying.

Stunning. Probably the greatest comeback in the European Championship history and to top it, this is the 2nd time the Turks have come from behind for victory, having erased a 1-0 deficit to the Swiss in the match before this one.

Question is, are they any good?

Seems like a silly question considering their two most recent performances but let's face it, neither the Czechs nor the Swiss are world class. Whilst their performances have been pretty amazing it doesn't mean they are going any further than as far as they've just gotten. But they would appear to be a very, very dangerous underdog.

In the other, meaningless Group A match, the Swiss defeated the Portugese, 2-0 against a Portugese side that was missing most of their starting 11.

Turkey will face Croatia in one quarterfinal whilst the Portugese await tonight's matches to see who they will face.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

BLOODY SPANIARDS DON'T QUIT, TOP SWEDEN IN WANING MOMENTS

I can't shake the feeling that this Spanish side is the most over-rated of the tournament.

Everywhere, all these accolades and all this sweet talk about what a brilliant side they are and frankly, their finish of yesterday's game was disappointing. They deserved the one point they were heading for, not the three that clinched it for them.

Sure, Sweden were efficient but dull. Touch defending, the type of team like Greece last Euro, that could have surprised.

The Dutch counter-attack would eat this flimsy Spanish defence for a snack.

Yeah, David Villa, four goals in two games is scary. And Torres is equally scary. But the Spanish back line is even scarier. Almost as scary Marchera, the Butcher of Bilboa, possibly the filthiest player in the group.

So now the Spaniards will likely play the Romanians in the quarterfinals. There, I've said it.

The Dutch are making a mistake resting their players because they're riding on momentum right now and the minute you start resting those players is the minute that momentum is going to disappear. I'd rather see the Italians or French play the Spanish than the Romanians. IF The Russians meet the Dutch in the quarterfinals I think there's a chance for a massive upset. No one would know the Dutch mind better than Guus Hiddink, Russia's manager.

And so the Greeks are out of it, suprise. The magic was gone as quickly as it arrived. YOu can't fool everybody all of the time.

So today the only meaningful match will be the Czech Republic against Turkey. The Portugese will take their foot of the gas for a match and look to face the winner of Austria-Germany. Notice I didn't say Germany. That's because who knows - the Austrians just might have it in them. The least likely candidate advancing to the quarterfinals would be a nice touch.

Friday, June 13, 2008

FAVOURITES EMERGING

After two games each played through Groups A, B and C, three favourites have emerged whilst the others struggle to beat each other down far enough to make it to the quarterfinals.

Of the three who are already through to the next round, Portugal, Croatia and Holland, it is difficult to say who is the better side but surely quite simply to be impressed by all three of them.

Portugal cruised past a solid Czech side on Wednesday night by a deceptive 3-1 margin with Ronaldo scoring once and assisting on another, the final last second goal that made the match seem more of a route than it was. They have shown fluidity and pace throughout both of their matches so far and as expected, have made it through with two victories in two games.



On Thursday, Croatia stunned Germany with such ease that it appeared they were actually the better football team, not just lucky in their 2-1 victory.

Despite the fact Germany controlled the majority of possession, 56 per cent overall, a lack of offensive ingenuity cost them. Through a combination of deliveries from open play and set-pieces, German manager Löw's men showered 19 crosses into Croatia's penalty area, yet managed just four shots on target. Bilić's side, in contrast, delivered the ball into Germany's box on ten occasions, but their ability to break quickly out of defence, channelling their play through midfield linchpin Luka Modrić, allowed them to register eight shots on Germany's goal, with custodian Jens Lehmann beaten twice. With two efforts on target each, Olić and Niko Kranjčar were responsible for half their country's firepower.

Germany must now beat Austria, who drew with one point against Poland, in order to advance to the next round for the right to meet Portugal. Croatia are on their way to a match against what would appear to be the Czech Republic, provided, of course, the Czechs are able to put away Turkey who, after their 2-1 victory eliminated Switzerland, are still capable of pulling another upset.

And yesterday produced the two finest matches in one day of the comepetition.



First, Italy hung on by their fingernails to a qualifier when they managed a draw against Romania when Gigi Buffon saved a Mutu penalty as well as Italy's final gasp to avoid a humiliatingly early elimination.

The Italians appeared to have been outplayed by the surprising Romanians however through guile and luck were able to drag a point out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Their destination is no longer entirely in their own hands as they must rely upon a Dutch victory over Romania next Tuesday and then will have to beat France themselves in order to advance.

But perhaps the biggest news of the tournament, on the heels of stunning the Italians last week, the Oranje Machine rolled over France with ease, 4-1. Nederland naar kwartfinale EK

Funny thing is, the Dutch were outplayed for a large part of the second half, despite their 1-0 lead, by the French who finally seemed to wake out of their tournament slumber and play like a team who looked like they had a little imagination.

But it was the Dutch counterattack, the speed and the length covered with amazing surety that saw the Dutch go ahead 2-0 and then 3-1, just seconds after the French had scratched back that impressed the most.

With the Dutch having outscored the two finalists of the last World Cup, Italy and France by a stunning 7-1 aggregate, no matter what anyone else does leading up to the quarterfinals, the Dutch most surely have to have established themselves as favourites. Who they will meet in the next round depends on the matches being played on Saturday between Sweden v Spain and Russia v defending Euro champs Greece.

Top Three

1. Holland
2. Portugal
3. Croatia

4. Spain
5. Germany
6. France
7. Romania

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Disappointment abounded for yours truly last night as the Czechs fell mightily to the favoured Portugese 3-1 and the Swiss lost in the last minute to the Turks 2-1 in Group A.


Portugal were ahead 1-0 on Deco's goal before the first 10 minutes had transpired

Whilst the loss is not disasterous for the Czechs, who can still make it to the quarterfinals if they beat Turkey, the Swiss are unofficially out of the tournament becoming the first team since the Belgians in 2000 to fail as a host team to qualify to the next round. The Portugese guaranteed themselves first place and will face the 2nd place team of Group B.

The Czechs played rather brilliantly at times with the slow and tree-like striker 6'8Jan Koller on the bench for the first half. Libor Sionko, who scored the equaliser in the first half and Milan Baros, who seems a different player in international tournaments, played wonderfully together for naught. The Portugese were fluid at all times although their back line and indeed their keeper have been in part, exposed as a potential flaw in the later rounds.

After falling behind early 1-0, the Czechs attacked and threatened and pressured until Sionka's equaliser. But the second half was a bit gloomier and the Portugese seemed their goal would come inevitably as it did. And just when the Czechs seemed on the very precipice of equalising, the Portugese counter-attacked and only because he passed off to his teammate was Ronaldo deprived a 2nd match goal.



The Turks, well, they made it past the Swiss on a last minute goal by Arda and did it in a rain so intense there was serious contemplation of postponement.

Either due to the rain or the inept offense the game had all the charm of the recent France-Romania tie but you at least got the feeling these two were trying.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

DAVID VILLA HAT TRICK PROPELS SPAIN, BOOSTS HIS VALUE

Every tournament in memory, Spain have roared in with big reputations and expectations only to slink out in disappointment. Just last World Cup they opened with a 4-0 victory before failing.



They may well end this tournament in disappointment as well but much as they started off the last tournament they were in before falling, Spain unleashed a potent offensive attack on the Russians before finishing with an impressive 4-1 victory.

David Villa scored a hat trick virtually assuring that what was already certain to be an expensive outlay for somebody is just about to get even more expensive as he is shopped around by his Spanish professional team, Valencia, to various Premiership teams, notably, Chelsea.

What we witnessed, like the night before in the Dutch thrashing of the Italians was a potent counter-attack,a sort of football fast break that caught the opposition's defence flat footed and resulted in big, glorious scores.

The truth is, whilst they may think they impressed, this was not as dominating as the scoreline suggests and the Russians had plenty of opportunities early on to even the score before it finally got out of hand.

Sweden Oust Defending Euro Champs



En drömöppning.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic hadn't scored for Sweden in over 16 internationals but when he finally did last night after a few sharp challenges, it was enough to see the Swedes past a feeble offense of Greece -

The defending Euro champs Greece were unimpressive clearly hoping that by holding back, making a tight defence and neglecting their offence, perhaps much like Romania, they might continue their improbably reign over Europe.

No such luck. Sweden's firt goal was quickly followed by a second after a major keeping gaffe and before they knew it the Greeks were not only out of the match, but quite probably out of the tournament. They will certainly have to beat the Russians and then an improbable result against Spain.

RANKINGS: With every team in the tournament now having had the chance to show their wares, it's time to have a look at the most impressive of those teams, the early favourites after one game:

1. Portugal
2 Germany
3. Holland
4. Spain
5. Sweden
6. Czech Republic
7. Croatia
8. Romania
9 Switzerland
10 Austria

Wednesday's games: Portugal v Czech Republic - one of these two teams will likely be shown to be less than dazzling. The Czechs are probably too old to match the spark of the Portugese. Switzerland v Turkey whilst all the talk is about the Swiss missing their captain, they appear to have become more resolute. I predict a Swiss victory outright here meaning they will likely have to beat Portugal to advance. Too bad.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Oranje-Mania!



Perhaps in and of itself, a victory by Holland over the World Champion Italy was not entirely surprising. The Dutch after all, have always been a threat to burst open even if historically, these last several tournaments that they've actually qualified for saw them bow out without much fanfare. A low budget England in some respects.

But the magnitude of the victory; 3-0, the swiftness of two counter attacks, the dazzling offensive flair and indeed the final result shocked not only the football world in this, the most exciting match of the tournament to date, but also the Dutch themselves. The announcers, shrill with joy in Holland were repeating over and over again, "this is unimagineable, unbelievable, 2-0 against the World Champions, 3-0 against the World Champions!"

There are more than a few excuse makers for the Italians. Ruud van Nistelroy's first goal came amid a rather hysterical cry for offsides in what did in fact seem to be a blatantly offside play however, revisionist refereeing saw the official explanation toted up by the referee, Peter Frojdfeldt and his assistants who are adamant that they are correct.

Fifa rule 11.11 – a player must ask for permission to leave pitch and can be judged active and in play if he does not.


In regard to law 11, officials are advised that a player who leaves the pitch without permission and does not return immediately must be taken into account when determining offside. Presumably, this can apply only to a specific passage of play since a footballer with, for example, a broken leg could be stranded for a very long while. In the instant case, the Italy right-back Christian Panucci hurt himself while trying to deal with an attack and tumbled behind the by-line.

Irrespective of how the officials wriggled out of being hailed for a blown call, the Dutch were simply magical from the start, pressurising an Italian defence which was clearly lacking without Fabio Cannavaro acting as its anchor
and making two strong, powerful counterattacks that sealed the victory.

The first came minutes after van Nistelroy's opening goal. The Italians were threatening the Dutch goal and the lead when Giovanni van Bronckhorst created a magnificent box-to-box finish starting with a goal line clearance at his own end and ending with Van der Vaart carrying the ball upfield, passed to Van Bronckhorst on the left. The full-back charged forward and crossed to Dirk Kuyt whose header down was driven in by Wesley Sneijder. The move lasted seconds and Italy never recovered.

van Bronckhorst scored the final goal in the second half, also on a counter attack that sliced through the Italian defence with ease and gave the Dutch the securing goal which officially squashed any Italian dream of staging a miraculous comeback.

France 0 Romania 0: zzzzzzz.
Contrasting the brilliant performance by the Dutch was the snooze fest undertaken by a somnambulist French attack, resembling at times the traditional English sides in international tournaments for their distinct lack of pace, desire and technique.

The Romanians are clearly content with allowing the scoreless draw and played for it through the 2nd half. No doubt they will be looking for three straight such results to qualify, a la Switzerland in the last world cup, slinking in without having scored a single goal.

Based upon 6 matches through 3 groups with only Group D remaining, it would appear the current teams to beat are Germany, Portugal, Holland and well, there aren't any other favourites yet.
FIRST WEEKEND, FEW SURPRISES


The first four matches of the Euro 2008 on Saturday and Sunday, evoked few surprises.



In the Group A Swiss opener, Switzerland lost to the Czech Republic, 1-0. By the end of the firstthe half at St Jakob Park, with Swiss captain Alexander Frei in tears, injured for what appears to be the remainder of the tournament, the Swiss hopes looked hushed, just like the stadium.


Frei cries...

But they came out in the 2nd half and put on a gutty display, the game constantly in question and the Czechs assisted by a couple of dubious non handball calls which would easily have given Switzerland a draw and thus deprived the Czechs of the 2 of the 3 points they ultimately earned.

In addition to the blown hand ball calls, the lone Czech goal came on a mis-kick from substitute Vaclav Sverkos in the 71st minute and sealed the fate.

What it all means is that it will take a national disaster to stop the Czechs from making it to the next round.



Portugal 2 Turkey 0: Hardly a suprise. Picked by many, including Sports Amnesia, to make it to the finals, the Portugese never struggled, barely worked up a sweat and so thoroughly dominated the Turks that you have to wonder whose defence might have a prayer of stopping them. The match could have easily finished 4-0 or 5-0.

There are more than 170,000 Portuguese living in Switzerland, and local authorities said nearly 20,000 fans were in Neuchatel on Sunday to try to get a glimpse of Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates

The two Group A winners will face each other on Wednesday as will the two losers.

Everyone's favourite to win the top scorer honours, Man U's Cristiano Ronaldo, did not as many had hoped, suffered a broken leg in the middle of one of his patented, smirking step overs, but was held scoreless in any event. Not that it mattered, there are plenty on this side who can put it in the net.

On Sunday, the Austrian side of this dual-host set up opened with the Austrians facing the Croatians.

Although the Croatians are now notorious in the UK having taken two games from the English and having prevented the English from qualifying for this very tournament, they were less than brilliant against an Austrian side that proved much steadier and much more heroic than anyone realistically thought possible.

"I'm not losing confidence," Bilic said. "We have the three points. We did not sink against Austria despite the poor second half. Football is a strange game: we can play even worse than yesterday, and still beat the Germans."

Croatia, led by supercool manager Slaven Bilic, had to wait only four minutes into the match to score.

A fourth-minute penalty from recent Spurs signing, Luka Modric - the earliest in the history of the European Championship - gave the Croats a 1-0 win on Sunday over co-host Austria, which is considered the weakest side in the 16-nation tournament.

The result was disappointing for Croatia despite gaining the maximum 3 points but it doesn't matter much - they have Germany looming ahead of them next, a game that will test the best of both sides.

Austria can take their morale victory but it won't get them into the quarterfinals and it looks quite clear, as was expected, that neither host nation will advance.

Germany 2 Poland 0: Germany forward Lukas Podolski who was, ironically enough, born in Poland, scored twice in Sunday night's 2-0 win over Poland to fire his side top of Group B.

It was the type of clinical finish that convinces many who think the Germans have a good chance to make it to the finals, that their instincts are right, as they are with every tournament the Germans enter: they are a good bet to advance.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bracket Virology

Well, time for that annual bout of comedy and humiliation called making the bracket selections for March Madness, the NCAA Tournament. Another one of those bad habits that can't be beaten into submission.

As tradition requires, two different brackets were set up, one to depict upon close examination or records, momentum, roster and coaching, the probable outcome despite not having seen a single NCAA basketball game all season albeit perhaps one or two highlights during oh, say the Big East or ACC tournament. We'll call this the Factual Bracket, simply to gauge the absurdity factor.

The second bracket was constructed of guesses and "feelings". Based upon what you say when you have already admitted to not having seen a single game in its entirety all season? Why based of course, upon that incisive factor; the Who Do I Want To Root For factor meaning picking only teams I want to root for. What is the criteria that makes me want to root for a particular school? Why the logic buggers comprehension.


Without judging harshly, is it any wonder U Conn blew it?

Anyway, without preamble, I bring you the Sweet Sixteen of my Factual Bracket: We'll start with the good news in the East, a perfect record: NC, Washington State, Louisville and Tennessee. Of course, bearing in mind these are seeds 1 through 4 it doesn't really take a work of genius to figure.

In the Midwest, not quite so lucky, or 50% of the possible four I chose made it in: of Kansas, Clemson, Wisconsin and Georgetown, only Kansas and Wisconsin are still in it. Clemson, we now know, never made it past Villanova in the first round and Georgetown were upset by 10th seeded Davidson just last night. Of course, they told me there would be no 10th seeded teams in the tourney this far in but what do "they" know anyway?

Over in the South, more of the same: Memphis and Texas, the two top seeded teams made it forward whilst my other two imaginative choices, Pitt and Marquette, the 4th and 6th seeds, fell by the wayside, in Round Two to Michigan State and Round One to Kentucky, respectively.



Lastly in the West another meagre display; two of the four remaining sides were successful: UCLA and West Virginia, the 1st and 7th seeds but hardly shocking. Not as shocking as seeing the other two choices, U Conn and Purdue, the 4th and 6th seeds, fail to make it through.

So, in the closest guess to reality the result stands at 16 possible winners, 10 chosen.



In the other bracket, the one based upon wishes and teams I wanted to root for, the exact same number correct although in the East, a less than perfect score but in the South, I've got Memphis and Stanford in the Elite Eight, three of four possibilities still alive.

All in all, considering the pair o brackets, sticking close to the vest with few insanely dodgy upset selections, a typical season concluding of course, in all instances of a NC v UCLA Final. Variations on a Theme.

Monday, February 04, 2008

NOT SO PERFECT ANY MORE


author of my favourite quote of the night which was actually just a requote of a Mike Tyson quote: "Every one has a plan until they get punched in the face."

Last night Superman's cape was not only tugged on but ripped from his shoulders as the NY Giants dished out a highly unexpected loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII last night at University of Phoenix Stadium by a 17-14 margin.

In doing so the Giants not only became World Champions but ended the Patriots 18 game unbeaten run and perhaps FINALLY put to rest this long-running Boston as King Sports Town silliness. Once again it is New York and perhaps when the Mets win the 2008 World Series, this will be solidified. Just forget about the Knicks and the Rangers.

Yes we know all about what a genius Bill Bellichick is. We know Tom Brady was on the path to becoming only the third quarterback in NFL history to win a 4th Super Bowl ring. We know the Patriots entered this game on the tide of victories which had been unprecedented in NFL history. We know nobody was supposed to be able to beat the Patriots and certainly not the Giants. Just because they played the Patriots tight in the season finale didn't mean they weren't going to have Brady and Moss nightmares all afternoon. The pros installed the Pats as 12 point favourites, after all. To hell with the Giants' impressive post-season run, the Patriots were the team of destiny.

You've got to wonder after this victory whose stock rose faster and higher, Eli Manning or Giant defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who did what no other defensive guru could do: shut down to Pats. Of course it wasn't just Spagnuolo but the entirety of a brave Giant defence, an overwhelmingly perfect job by the line to do exactly what every knew had to be done to beat the Pats and that was, make Tom Brady's life hell and proving that not even Brady can complete passes on his back.


Not likely to top that catch in the rest of his career...

And Eli, well hell, all he did was lead perhaps the second or third most compelling last minute-game-winning drive in Super Bowl history. All he did was some insane sort of Houdini elusion from thirsty New England defenders to make that crazy Ally-Oop pass that David Tyree somehow, magically caught with his hands against his helmet, Lynn Swannish in all of its absurd beauty. And all he did in the last three games was beat Tony Romo, Brett Favre and Brady, all away from Giants Stadium. The new folk hero of Manhattan even if like me, you're not even a Giant fan.

Of course Brady and the Patriots didn't go down without a whimper. He led an 80 yard scoring drive which culminated with a touchdown pass to Moss and gave what many believed would the the lead the Pats would not relinquish (before Manning's own tight heroics) but even then, with only seconds left ticking, Brady unleashed what might very well have been the pass which could have put the Pats in FG tying position were it not for a last second tip by the Giant defender.

And let's not forget Plaxico Burress, scorned by many for his bold prediction which proved not only nearly spot on but which he helped fulfill with a game winning touchdown catch. Well done indeed.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

There Will Be No 18-1


How many secret video tapes
does a Super Bowl Champion make?


There is no alternative to the perfect season.

You do not win 18 games in a row in one magical, perfect season only to lose the last one of all. Not when the best coach in the sport has two weeks to prepare.

Final Score

New England 41 NY Giants 23


The number one reason why the Giants will lose:

Two week layoff loses momentum.

Of course, there are others who will try and lead you astray

XLII reasons.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Who Will Be Super Bound on Championship Sunday?


Something to bear in mind: in games in which the NFL's final four had a 100-yard rusher, the Giants (6-0), Packers (5-0), Patriots (5-0) and Chargers (6-1) won 95 percent of the time.

Also bear in mind both of these matchups are repeats of Week 2 and both of the underdogs this weekend were blown out in Week 2.

San Diego @ New England


Flying Nowhere Fast...

You want a challenge? Try and figure out how the Chargers have a chance to win this game.

First of all, the odds of the Chargers gimping their way two weeks in a row to shocking upsets? Forget about the injuries to their starting QB, their star running back and their All-Pro tight end and think about the fact that the Pats are 13-2 in the post season since Coach Happy Face Belichick took over, 7-0 in the postseason at home and of course, 17-0 so far this season.

That isn't to say just because nobody's beaten the Pats yet since the preseason that the Chargers are incapable of winning this game. It just makes it bloody improbable.

But oh, it's the turnovers the Chargers are so famed at, it's the turnovers giving them an advantage, a prayer...blabla...The Patriots turned the ball over just 15 times this season, a franchise record and the fifth-lowest total in league history. So much for that game plan and prayer.

Yeah yeah, the Chargers are hot leading up to this game not having lost since Thanksgiving but what's hotter than an undefeated season? And besides, even if the weather is frigid, hot in the cold, since 1993 New England is 22-3 (including playoffs) when the kickoff temperature is 34 degrees or less.

About the only teeny tiny thing that the Chargers might like to think in their favour is the controversy surrounding the extortion in an alleged assault and battery case against Randy Moss and the distraction it causes. Distraction? Does it really seem possible that the Pats are capable under Belichick, this season, being distracted?

They might also rest their hats on the fact that a Chargers victory would likely be the biggest upset in AFC Championship history. After all, who would have bet on them beating the defending World Champions minus their three offensive stars?

But let's be real. The Pats are not the Colts. Brady is not Manning and the Chargers are not going to be catching anyone off guard.

QB Philip Rivers has two gimpy knees and is presumed to be the starter. Stupid move. If you want to give Rivers some playoff time, give it to him only if Volek can't handle it. Otherwise you stand the chance of a gimpy and immobile Rivers getting stuffed, panicking, fumbling, throwing interceptions and letting the game get away from them early and permanently. Let's not forget, gimpy or not, Rivers doesn't have any AFC Championship experience.

Not only that but Billy Volek once had two consecutive 400-yard passing games while subbing for Steve McNair in Tennessee.

Somebody is going to have to use those Charger receivers to expose the Patriots less-than-impressive secondary but if the Chargers fall behind early the game will get out of hand very quickly.

Forget about the upsets. If you're a Chargers fan your best bet is to pick them with the points and hope the game isn't overturned too quickly.


Who's your hero, baby?

Believe me, I'd like to be that crazy guy (no, not THAT one shirtless at Lambeau tonight) who says oh, I've just got this feeling that the Chargers will pull out another surprise and oh, no team has ever gone 18-0 in history and what about the last time the Chargers ventured into Gillette Stadium with a historic Patriots winning streak on the line? They beat the two-time defending Super Bowl champions to a pulp, 41-17, in Week 4 of the 2005 regular season. New England entered that game having won a franchise-record 21 consecutive home games dating to Week 17 of 2002 but...

Just for fun, I had a read through the San Diego papers. I mean what's it like to have to write for a sports page about a game your team has been told by the entire country they have absolutely zero chance winning.

Patriots
Are Perfect But Not Unbeatable


Oh?


Prediction: Patriots 24 Chargers 13


******

NY Giants @ Green Bay BRRRR



They just won't shut up about the cold for this game, will they?

First of all why the hell are they playing this game at night? Won't it be cold enough even at mid-day?

Think they'll be making snow angels on the sidelines this game or will their teeth be chattering so hard they won't be able to move? Mark Schlereth, a former lineman who's undergone more than a dozen surgeries in his career describes stepping out of the tunnel onto Lambeau Field under these conditions as "being punched in the face."

Now you can just see old notoriously bad in the cold Eli Manning playing a big psyche job on the Packers like even though historically he sucks in cold weather, up until a few weeks ago when he "found himself", "turned the corner" he sucked generally as a QB anyway, this new Eli is in fact, quite capable in the cold and fools them all.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, via a column by Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News, Manning has played in only six games where the temperature was 39 degrees or less, and only one game where it was 29 degrees or less. He has four touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a passer rating of less than 60 points in those games.

On the other hand maybe he'll only have to throw 20 passes all game and simply hand it off to Brandon Jacobs, who at |6-foot-4, 265 pounds is the biggest back the Packers have faced all season.


Super Zoom Zoom?

That's maybe something you're dreaming about if you're dreaming about a Giant upset. Especially as it keeps your mind out of those nightmares wherein Favre picks apart the Giants' continuously depleted secondary or former Giant Ryan Grant running rampant past the Giants front line who won't get good enough footing on the icy pitch to mount any kind of rush or trouble for Favre. You might see a performance by Favre
somewhat similar to the ease with which Brady turned out the Jags last weekend. But no, because Favre is generally not as patient as Brady and you'll not be surprised to see him throwing a pick or two, even against the depleted secondary.

That plus the fact that the Giants will likely blitz the hell out of him every time the need arises.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Manning,
Brett Favre
is 43-5 in home games when the temperature is 34 degrees or less.

But here are the things: the cold will sufficiently negate the passing attack of the Pack and even if it didn't the Giants will come at Favre hard, from all directions and force him into Favre-like mistakes. Grant was once dumped by the Giants and his mincing running will not be suited to a cold, icy pitch whereas the Giant combo of Jacobs and Bradshaw will combined for over 150 yards rushing. Manning will be managed appropriately so that he won't have the opportunity to make Favre-like mistakes.



Bottom line is I'd much rather see a rematch of the Pats-Giants final regular season game than listening to Favre accolades for the next two weeks.

Prediction: Giants 24 Packers 16

Monday, January 14, 2008

SEMI SUPER WEEKEND ENDS WITH A FEW LESS OF THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Should we be thankful not to see the predictable league finales, the Godzillas v the Mothras and instead watch the King Kongs v The Faye Wrays? Or should we bemoan the lack of the Super marquee but predictable matchups, the #1's v #2's, the Pats/Colts and Giants/Packers?

For one, the two QBs more famed for their performances on the field rather than the advertising market will be there. Brett Favre and Tom Brady are still potential Super Bowl opponents and they are by lengths, the most accomplished QBs remaining and frankly, would have been even if the Colts had been able to beat the Chargers.

And whilst many are certainly sick of Peyton Manning and have been for years and there still we be a Manning present, at least it is the New York media's favourite whipping boy this time around, the Manning who appears to have finally turned the corner, the Manning who is infinately less annoying and is certainly easier to root for.



On Saturday we had the Snow Bowl after all, after hearing all week the weather was not going to be a factor confined to a "few flurries". Surprise. Not only did the Packers fall behind quickly (14-0 after 4 minutes quickly) due primarily to a few fumbles by the man who would later become their hero in Ryan Grant but with the homefield snow falling at a near-blizzard rate, the Pack proceeded to score on their next 6 possessions, pulling away once and for all, leaving the Seahawks and Mike Holgrem in the snow, 42-20 as Grant redeemed himself with three touchdowns and 201 yards rushing.

Several records fell along the way but perhaps most interesting was that Favre joined Joe Montana as the only QB to throw for over 5000 post-season yards. A few of those yards came on that crazy underhanded toss for a first down that Favre made - an ill-advised toss for nearly anyone but Favre who wins ugly as he wins often.

Among the rants and raves:

"Patrick Kerney was billed as the next big thing as far as NFL defensive linemen are concerned. Kerney, one of the league's leading sackers this season, was invisible, and it wasn't because he was wearing a white jersey in a snowstorm. Mark Tauscher and the Packers' offense silenced the overhyped Kerney."



Failing, quietly in the snow...

*****

The other Saturday game featured the fearsome and fearless and undefeated Patriots of New England and, as they have in every other game they've played this season outside of the exhibition season, the Pats won and as usual they won with a fair amount of ease.


Captain Perfect Leads the Charge

Now as formidable a named QB as Favre, Pats QB Tom Brady was offered a wide open field of short passes by the Jacksonville defence who double and triple teamed Randy Moss and dared anyone else to beat them.

They didn't need to ask Brady twice to dink them to death.

"It was a dump-down game," Jaguars rookie safety Reggie Nelson sniffed. "Anybody can go 26-of-28 in a dump-down game."

Nearly perfect on the short pass, Brady completed 26 of 28 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns and one of those incompletions was a dropped pass. He went 12 for 12 in the first half for 120 yards. His 92.9 completion percentage was an NFL record in the playoffs and regular season but perhaps more impressive that he's improved his post-season record to 13-2.

Of course the game wasn't all Brady. The Pats remained perfect as a team this season bar the two losses in the preseason (to Tennessee 27-24 on 17 August and to Tampa Bay 13-10 the week before that) and the defence, led by Rodney Harrison's late-game preserving interception was stout enough to hold off the Jaguars' final charges. Perhaps most surprising was Lawrence Maroney's 122 yards rushing which in fact outgained the vaunted rushing attack of the Jags all by himself.

Was the game actually closer than the 31-20 would suggest?

Well, consider that despite near-perfection, the Pats only outgained the Jags by 53 yards all game, they held the ball less than five minutes longer than the Jags and the game was in fact, tied at the half. The biggest difference might well have been two turnovers by the Jags, none by the Pats. The Pats were actually penalised more than the Jags, an appalling 74 yards in penalties which coach BB will certainly rage about all week in preparation of the injury-depleted Chargers.

Sunday's Upsets

In a sense, it was Sunday that saved us from the predictable. History shows that there are oftentimes upsets against the homefield favourites at this stage of the playoffs and 2008 was no different.

It might have appeared shocking that the Mighty Colts, defending champs and home of the explosive offence would have lost their final game in the Ugly Dome. But consider that this isn't even the best offence in the NFL anymore, not by a long shot, and that the defence has been decimated by the loss of a pair of key players maybe not so suprising.

Then again, if you said the Chargers would lose, on top of their All-World tight end their All-World running back and their starting quarterback you'd certainly not have given the Chargers much of a shake.

You might have even thought that given a few dodgy calls by the refs in the Colts favour in the first half which drove the normally placid Norv Turner into sideline rages, this was not a game the Colts would lose.



For one, the subs filling in for LT and Philip Rivers performed admirably. Michael Turner finished with 71 yards and a better yard-per-carry average than LT and even Billy Volek managed to lead the final drive and score the winning touchdown.

I mean what were the odds of that happening, Chargers losing essentially all of their key offensive players yet still scoring 4 TDS? For one, Rivers didn't miss the entire game and whilst he was playing he was playing admirably, perhaps even over his head, given the time the failing Colts pass rush was giving him to throw.

On the other hand you could point out that the Chargers would appear to be Peyton Manning's new achilles heel, having lost to them three straight times now and having thrown 10 interceptions in those three games.

Of course in winning their 8th straight game the Chargers proved they are no flukes. Yes, they started the season slowly, ridiculously, hopelessly even but since that slow start they've rolled and that roll has been led by a defence that does the important thing: turnovers. Two Manning interceptions killed deep scoring threats and were key moments in the game. They didn't always stop Manning but they made it count when they did - even though the Colts lost only 6 fumbles all season, the cough-up by Harrison who was stripped on his first catch of the day and remained silent thereafter.

And perhaps most importantly, when it counted, the Colts vaunted offence was not better than the Colts defence and in the end, the 28-24 victory, narrow as it was, was well-deserved. One only wonders whether or not the Chargers deserve facing the 17-0 Patriots next.

*****

And of course whilst one Manning brother was losing in an upset another was winning in an upset.

You can't accurately call the Giants victory over the Cowboys an upset. Sure, the Cowboys had the best record in the NFC and were playing at home but the weeks leading up to this moment had been tinged by poor and perhaps even worrying performance, particularly by Tony Romo, who did himself no favours with a highly publicised jaunt to a Mexican resort with Jessica Simpson when many QBs, either Manning for instance, would have been spending the off week studying the defences of potential opponents.

On the other hand, Jessica Simpson is a nice distraction from the rigeurs of an NFL season and Romo, despite all the negative publicity, was not the sole cause of the Cowboys' downfall.

For one, as he has now for several weeks on the trot, making the league wonder if perhaps he hasn't turned the proverbial corner and is now ready to take over the reigns as Top Manning, Eli Manning had a flawless game in leading the Giants.

In particular, the inspirational and rapid touchdown just before the end of the first half when most of the world was ready to believe that the demoralising and incredibly time-consuming march, led by Romo, to a Cowboys touchdown with under two minutes remaining in the half was going to cook the Giants' goose, proved instead to be the turning point of the game after all.

Sure the Giants still had to win it but standing back up after the Cowboys thought they'd given the Giants their final fateful kicking of the season just before the end of the half was a sign from the Football Gods that this game, like the one that preceded it, was not going to play out based on predictive methods.

And perhaps even more exciting than younger Manning's coming of age or the Cowboys losing was the creepy post-game tears shed by Terrell Owens who is clearly mixing and abusing his medications again.

Owens, laughably, argued that he'd "always had his QB's back" which might come as a surprise to people like Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb, the other two QBs he's played with, both of whom he viciously stabbed in the back.

So with the Cowboys out there's really nothing left in the NFC to hate any more. Unless of course you don't fancy spending the two weeks leading up to the Stupor Bowl listening to how fantastic Brett Favre is or what a great fairytale it would be to see him win it all after all he's been through. Another redemption of a lost career, etc. etc.

Best pray for a Giants-Pats rematch if you're looking for excitement.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

So, the cat's out of the bag.



My bold Redskins 26-24 victory over the Seahawks prediction in the Wild Card Weekend was never meant to be. The momentum of 4 victories on the trot, the inspiration of the dead teammate, the legendary coach leading them, all alot of blablabla in the face of the Seahawks flashing their invincibility at home around like 100 dollah bills at a car wash full of pimps.

Instead, a 35-14 pasting and the end of the season for the nation's capital.

But not before that brief, dramatic turnaround in the 4th quarter that showed at least that they weren't going down without a fight. Well, not until Scott Suisham choked that kicked that would have maintained the momentum the Skins had ripped from the unsuspecting arms of the Seahawks.



And next week the Seahawks won't have the homefield advantage on their side.

They will be in Green Bay.

Some insiders fancy Seattle of all the NFC teams to make it to the Super Bowl and whilst the chance of Destructo Favre showing up instead of Super Favre is always a possibility, the Pack won't fold so soon. Green Bay 30 Seattle 20.

*****

Jax 22 Pittsburgh 16

This ended up looking a little better for Sports Amnesia's crack betting crew which lost on one match but won on the other.

There was never really any doubt that Jacksonville, having dismantled Pittsburgh already this season, would prove unable to do so again, especially in light of Steeler wounds.

And up to the 4th quarter that proved to be right but just like in Seattle, the losing team did not go down without a fight and it wasn't until a demoralising holding penalty on a 2-point play that would have cut the Steelers' deficit from 5 points to 3, that the game began to turn again.

Still, without that failed 2-point conversion the Jags would have had to have done more than kick a wobbling field goal to win and the smart money now says that their first playoff win since 2000 will be their only playoff win of 2008.

SUNDAY

NYG @ Tampa Bay

Eli "Bad Decisions Under Pressure" Manning zero post season wins. Jeff Garcia, two post-season wins against the Giants in two tries.

Gruden's decision to rest starters the final two weeks of the season means there's a chance they'll lose the crucial battle between each other's run offence v run defence. So long as the Giants can run Eli will not choke as badly as he has often choked in the past. Giants 31 Bucs 23

Tenn @ San Diego

Last year's wunderkinds did the predictable Schottenheimer Shuffle out of the playoffs and began this season under the guidance of Coach Turner as though they were ready to fold an entire season into one neat little compartment of failure.

They haven't won a playoff since 1994 and although they did beat these Titans on the road already this season, QB Rivers has not yet proven he can handle the post-season pressure. On the other hand Vince Young appears to thrive in the spotlight.

The Chargers have momentum and home field advantage.

Final Score: San Diego 23 Tennessee 21