Thursday, 12 December 2013

NFL Week 15 preview

Week 14 reminded us of many things. Yes Peyton can still play in the cold, the Seahawks are a very different team on the road and the Saints are a much better team in a dome.

The NFL also reminded us of the joy of participation, when you couple that with a snow blizzard that the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles played in and through.  It did not stop LeSean McCoy running up 200 plus yards of rushing with two touchdowns to enhance the Eagles playoff potential and again put questions on the Lions' who are now tied with Chicago Bears atop the NFC North with three games to go.

Week 15 predictions

Chargers (6-7) at Broncos (11-2)
The Chargers are still maintaining hopes of making the playoffs but they need to win this tough Thursday night battle on the road at Mile High.  The Broncos are rolling, as they scored 51 last week versus a tenacious Tennessee.  Wes Welker will likely miss the game due to a second concussion in a month, yet Peyton Manning has more than enough weapons at his disposal. Watch out for Julius Thomas back to full health at tight end to have a big day.
Prediction: Broncos by 10

Redskins (3-10) at Falcons (3-10)
This could have been a battle between two playoff bound sides instead bad on-field decision making and injury crises have led to this basement battle fodder. Atlanta are not playing awfully, yet could end up with the overall No.1 pick and get Jadaveon Clowney to shore up a battled defence.  They have played hard without sucking, and they should have more than enough to oppose a Washington side who have flattered to deceive pre-season expectation, built around the hopeful return of RG3 that has never materialised.
Prediction: Falcons by 7

Bears (7-6) at Browns (4-8)
Da Bears are rolling with Josh McCown at the helm making few mistakes and scoring more touchdowns.  The Browns are not as bad as their record suggests and in Josh Gordon have one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL currently.
Prediction: Bears by 6

Texans (2-11) at Colts (8-5)
If the Colts win they wrap up the division and a home playoff game, that will likely be versus the Kansas City Chiefs though.  The Colts will not fancy that match-up as their offensive line is woeful and is failing to protect the franchise Andrew Luck. In that same breathe, the Texans have enough defensive lineman to maybe trouble Luck on Sunday. However, the Texans cannot seem to win games presently and it cost Gary Kubiak his job after the most recent loss on Sunday.
Prediction: Colts by 7

Patriots (10-3) at Dolphins (7-6)
The Dolphins were one footstep from being 6-7 and out of the playoff picture, yet Antonio Brown's errant metatarsal (sideline karma is a bitch Tomlin) means the Dolphins got a big road win in the cold of Pittsburgh.  The Patriots will secure the AFC East with victory in the warmer climate of Miami; however, they will have to proceed without Rob Gronkowski who ruptured both his ACL and MCL due to a low but legal tackle.  Tom Brady will still find targets and head to Shane Vereen to benefit the most as the Pats will find a way to win.
Prediction: Pats by 3

Eagles (8-5) at Vikings (3-8-1)
The Vikings lost out to the Baltimore Ravens in a frankly bizarre game on Sunday when five touchdowns were scored in the last 2:03 of regulation. Adrian Peterson may be out this week so Toby Gerhart will get more of the workload.  The Eagles however, will want to win and keep up their momentum thanks to the work of McCoy and Nick Foles who has looked more and more secure of late.
Prediction: Eagles by 8

Seahawks (11-2) at Giants (5-8)
The Seahawks travel East for another road trip, however, unlike last week on the road in San Fran with a team close to their equal this is against the woeful New York Giants who since getting back to 5-6 cannot wait for this season to end and rebuild appropriately.
Prediction: Seahawks by 10

49ers (9-4) at Buccaneers (4-9)
The 49ers will want to maintain their momentum following the vital home win over Seattle, whilst the Bucs  suffered their first lose in five games last week.  The 49ers have Michael Crabtree back and offers a different dimension to their wideout threat, the Bucs will be competitive but cannot see them pulling off the upset.
Prediction: 49ers by 6

Bills (4-9) at Jaguars (4-9)
The Jaguars are on a roll, four wins in five and been impressive with how they have conducting themselves following an 0-8 start. Chad Henne and a returning MJD has helped along with the reliable Cecil Shorts.  The Bills were my tip for a .500 record but the injury to EJ Manuel was something they never recovered from.
Prediction: Jaguars by 7

Chiefs (10-3) at Raiders (4-8)
The Chiefs properly beat up the Washington NFL team last week, if the ref from the Froch-Groves fight was in charge he might have stopped it after six minutes of the second quarter.  The Chiefs still maintain hope of winning the AFC West however they need to continue winning and hope the Broncos come unstuck. The latter is unlikely, but a win over the Raiders is possible. The Raiders have played better than their record suggests but will they have any answer to Jamaal Charles this week.
Prediction: Chiefs by 12

Jets (6-7) at Panthers (9-4)
The Panthers bandwagon came unstuck in the New Orleans dome last week as Rob Ryan's defence had an answer to the play action, run plays of the Panthers. The Jets are suffering behind the so-so play of Geno Smith who is finding out how tough and intense an NFL season is in comparison to the College set-up.  The Panthers will need to bounce back, with Greg Olsen and Steve Smith going to have good days against the Jets secondary.
Prediction: Panthers by 7

Packers (6-6-1) at Cowboys (7-6)
The Cowboys blew up in windy and cold Chicago, luckily they are back at home and facing a Packers team who will still be without Aaron Rodgers whose collarbone and neck injury has not been cleared. Cowboys are one game behind the Eagles atop the NFC East, they need to win desperately.
Prediction: Cowboys by 7

Cardinals (8-5) at Titans (5-8)
The Cardinals have been the biggest surprise of the NFL season, and the most pleasant as man for man they are lesser than some other more vaunted teams. Considering the division they are in, it is a surprise they have 8 wins already and usually that would be good enough for a playoff spot.  However, they are sitting in 7th position behind the 49ers (9-4) and Panthers (9-4), they need to hope one of those teams slips up in due course especially Carolina who they beat earlier in the season 22-6 at home.
After the Titans they go to Seattle, then host San Fran on the last weekend of regular season. The Panthers host the Saints next week, so the Cardinals are not done yet, but most definitely hopeful.  Carson Palmer has two great receiving targets; Larry Fitzgerald and Malcolm Floyd, and two established running backs in Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington.
Prediction: Cardinals by 7

Saints (10-3) at Rams (5-8)
The Saints are close to wrapping up the #2 seed in the NFC, but they have to avoid this potential banana skin on the road at St. Louis although being indoors in December will surely be a home away from home for Drew Brees and his high scoring offence.
Prediction: Saints by 8

Bengals (9-4) at Steelers (5-8)
Good old fashioned AFC North slugfest in most likely freezing conditions, this will be a big test of the Bengals intentions as they need to win this game to stave off the Ravens revival.  The Steelers will be gutted having been so close to an unlikely last minute victory at home to the Dolphins, nevertheless they will still play hard in spite of not being able to finish better than .500 this year.
Prediction: Bengals by 2

Ravens (7-6) at Lions (7-6)
Two evenly matched teams on paper and record, but indoors the Lions will want to put on a show.  Oddly, rookie Safety Matt Elam has just called Calvin Johnson 'pretty old', which for a 27 year old physical specimen is an odd thing to say.  Whilst no respect was surely meant, where else is Matthew Stafford going to throw on Monday night. Reggie Bush will hopefully be back from an ankle injury to lend his rushing and receiving skills to the Lions party.  The Ravens are doing well to stay in the playoff picture, partly due to the woeful nature of the AFC competition - apart from the top 3 of Denver, New England and KC - however, Ray Rice is getting better numbers and Denis Pitta is back from injury and provides Joe Flacco with a safety blanket of a receiver like Jason Witten for Tony Romo in Dallas.
Prediction: Lions by 4

Follow me @JamieGarwood

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

NFL Week 14 review

What did we learn in Week 13?

Well the Seattle Seahawks have possibly punched their ticket to New York in February by securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs, while not totally tied up, should they go to San Francisco this weekend and win they will be all but their by owning tiebreaks over the 49ers, New Orleans and Carolina who they have all beaten this season thus far.

What Monday night's dominant performance versus the Saints showed was how difficult it is for visiting teams to function on the road in the raucous atmosphere of Seattle - we all know it is loud, but if a team cannot even get play calls right and have to change personnel constantly they do not give themselves much of a chance.  The loud atmosphere induces mistakes from veterans. 

That coupled with the fact that Russell Wilson is turning into a master orchestrator of this offence with options everywhere for him to distribute - run, play action, wide out, tight end, solo run; helped by the now named Legion of Boom defence which makes the great look bad as Brees did on Monday.

I think back to the draft of 2012 and all the talk about who will win a Super Bowl ring first between RG3 and Andrew Luck. Might Russell Wilson, the 3rd round pick who beat Matt Flynn for the starting job, beat them both to the vaunted status of Super Bowl champion.

Other things to consider: the Packers need Aaron Rodgers back asap, Geno Smith should not be dumped but needs to be benched to save his season, Denver will be the No 1 seed in the AFC and Houston could be the team with the No 1 pick in the 2014 draft.

Week 14 predictions

Texans (2-10) at Jaguars (3-9)
The Jags came up big on the road at Cleveland suddenly becoming a fun team to watch with running backs throwing TD passes.  The Texans were 14 points up on the Patriots but in a shoot-out Tom Brady beat Case Keenum.  Keenum is a decent QB but he needs some more time studying.  The Jaguars are oddly the favourite in this encounter and should win.
Prediction: Jaguars by 7

Colts (8-4) at Bengals (8-4)
The Bengals are still winning without setting the world alight and the same can be said for Andrew Luck. The key to this game will be how well the Bengals D can attack Luck who has taken many beatings this season, and will rely on Donald Brown who is favoured to Trent Richardson at running back. You can run on the Bengals though.
Prediction: Bengals by 4

Falcons (3-9) at Packers (5-6-1)
The Packers are treading water but still have a chance of making the playoffs; whilst Aaron Rodgers has not been cleared he has not been ruled out.  It may ultimately come down to the man himself, but they need him. They still have Lacy and some talent at wide out; however, the Falcons have been playing hard through these awful injuries. They still have Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, and Detroit showed up this poor secondary on Thanksgiving.
Prediction: Falcons by 3 (if Rodgers does not start)

Browns (4-8) at Patriots (9-3)
The Patriots have the chance to further secure the #2 seed behind the Broncos who look unstoppable. The Browns have come close to 6-6 but obviously have had their usual run of bad luck as always.  Brady looks to be back in the groove helped by the return of Gronkowski to full health and Shane Vereen in his best Kevin Faulk impression. Josh Gordon should have another 100+ yard receiving game
Prediction: Patriots by 8

Raiders (4-8) at Jets (5-7)
The Jets will not make the playoffs and you doubt that Rex Ryan will lie down and await the draft.  He benched Geno Smith again, the Raiders did some good things against Dallas on Thanksgiving with Matt McGloin showed some real poise under pressure helped by Rashad Jennings at running back.
Prediction: Raiders by 4 (and £50 to a mate of mine)

Lions (7-5) at Eagles (7-5)
Now Detroit have the lead of the NFC North, a home playoff game is there for the taking, they have to find a key to some consistency. However, Nick Foles rarely turns the ball over and he will be tested by that front 7 for sure.  Expect big numbers for everyone in terms of fantasy.
Prediction: Eagles by 3, over 80 points

Dolphins (6-6) at Steelers (5-7)
The Dolphins impressively went into the Meadowlands and shut down the Jets to get back to .500 and still have the most realistic chance of making the playoffs.  They can maintain that by beating the Steelers who had gained a second wind but seem to have run out of steam again due to injuries and ageing.
Prediction: Dolphins by 3

Bills (4-8) at Buccaneers (3-9)
This should actually be quite an entertaining game, but the Bills are somewhat like the Browns in that their record should be better whilst the Bucs have done better than people suspected they would.
Prediction: Bucs by 4

Chiefs (9-3) at Redskins (3-9)
Kansas City need to get back on the W bus after two defeats to the Broncos and a solitary shoot out loss to San Diego; luckily they face the woeful Redskins who still play a terribly sub-par RG3 who is not the man he was last season.
Prediction: Chiefs by 10

Vikings (3-8-1) at Ravens (6-6)
The Ravens will win this one, but Adrian Peterson will be the beast he always is.
Prediction: Ravens by 7

Titans (5-7) at Broncos (10-2)
The Broncos won two big games in three weeks sandwiching a close loss in New England. Whilst much is made of Manning's aversion to cold weather, the AFC must go through the Mile High to get to New York. After 4 TDs for Eric Decker last week, which WR will be the popular target, whilst that was merely a match-up decision, expect Welker/D.Thomas to get their fair share of targets this week.
Prediction: Broncos by 10

Rams (5-7) at Cardinals (7-5)
The Cardinals still have ambitions of making the playoffs, but they require the 49ers to slip up and then beat them in the last weeks of the season.  The Cardinals are doing well with Carson Palmer who is finding Fitzgerald/Floyd frequently. That's a lot of f's
Prediction: Cardinals by 6

Giants (5-7) at Chargers (5-7)
The Chargers are another side with a false record, but they should beat the Giants whose momentum has waned and were helped by the Redskins faux pas on Sunday night.
Prediction: Chargers by 7

Seahawks (11-1) at 49ers (8-4)
The Seahawks put down a marker for the rest of the season, and they have the number of Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offence.  The 49ers have to find an answer to that D and also attempt to stop a rampant Russell Wilson. Good luck
Prediction: Seahawks by 7

Panthers (9-3) at Saints (9-3)
The Saints this week will be the team benefiting from the 2nd loudest home field. However, we know what the Saints can and will do at home. This is the test for these Carolina Panthers, who have avoided banana skins, overcome the Patriots and impressed generally. This is the game for them to make people stand up. The Saints found it difficult to stop Wilson's play action and run option with either himself or Marshawn Lynch. The Panthers have a great run attack whilst Greg Olsen is getting good numbers.
Prediction: Panthers by 3

Cowboys (7-5) at Bears (6-6)
Josh McCown v Tony Romo; this should be a good one.  Alshon Jeffrey has had two 200+ yard receiving games this season, the Cowboys have a poor secondary so McCown may have some fun. But then so will Tony Romo, who is in greater sync with his receivers presently.
Prediction: Cowboys by 3

Follow me @JamieGarwood

Thursday, 28 November 2013

NFL Week 13 Thanksgiving Preview

Thanksgiving means so much to so many Americans.  Apart from a public holiday less than a month before Christmas and one long weekend to do your shopping for the next holiday it also means a chance to sit down with the family, hoover down your food and then retire to the Laz-e-boy and watch three NFL games back to back, beer to beer, turkey leg to pumpkin pie.

This year like last there is three Thanksgiving games featuring the two regular hosts of Detroit and Dallas as well as an almighty Thursday night showdown in the AFC North for the NFL Network.

Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) at Detroit Lions (6-5)
In the first game, the Detroit Lions host their division rival Green Bay Packers in a match for the supremacy of the NFC North where it appears only one team from that division will make the playoffs due to the play of the Carolina Panthers and the West division.
The Lions have so much talent in abundance and yet they have conspired to lose their last two games at Pittsburgh when Stafford had over 300 yards in the first half and yet Calvin Johnson had no receptions in the second half leading to a 10 point loss. Last week they lost at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game again they should have won on paper, yet they are a team who lose from winning positions. Not good for momentum and play off pushes.
The Packers will be starting Matt Flynn who led the team well in the tie versus Minnesota on Sunday, Flynn knows the system and has good targets in Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin.
Expect a lot of throws in this game although Eddie Lacy could make a differemence in the dome where his asthma problems will not surface, having sat out the fourth quarter and overtime at the weekend.

Prediction: Lions by 4

Oakland Raiders (4-7) at Dallas Cowboys (6-5)
The Cowboys will like their chances of getting to seven wins before the Eagles travel across the country to Arizona on Sunday in a close encounter.
Oakland came close to defeating Tennessee but oddly two missed field goals by Seb Janokowski meant they lost by four instead of winning by two.  Matt McGloin is decent at times and done a good job but the Titans are just as good at defence as are the Cowboys.  Expect Rashad Jennings to have a good day with the run, although the Raiders do not have the same number of wide out weapons that Tony Romo has to call upon - Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin.

Prediction: Cowboys by 7

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6) at Baltimore Ravens (5-6)
The Steelers have done extremely well to get close to .500 having opened the season 0-5, this has been due to the offense being left to Big Ben and the defence slowly resurfacing to past glories.
The Super Bowl champions however have had a god awful year not helped by the lose of veteran defenders to retirement, Denis Pitta lose to injury before the season started and then the ineffective play of both Ray Rice and Joe Flacco. 
Something to remember about this match-up is that this is always close and comes down to a late field goal as it did earlier in the season at Pittsburgh when Shaun Suishman connected with a time expiring field goal for a home victory. This again will be close.

Prediciton: Steelers by 3

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

AVB's people problem

The Tottenham Hotspur manager, Andre Villas-Boas, is facing a crisis of some sort at White Hart Lane. After having off-loaded the club's best player in the usual Spurs way and getting the most money you could for that same player, AVB promptly bought seven players of varying position and quality to help with the club's bid for a top four finish and the ultimate goal of returning Champions League football to the other North London club.

However, for want of a better word, this season has started to become a bit unstuck for the Lilywhites following a second consecutive Premier League defeat.  And when we say defeat a 6-0 away lose to Manchester City is still only a defeat as only three points were lost.  Of course pride and confidence will take a bruising for those players involved, and AVB himself looked a little bit more than stunned at the game's conclusion as he zombie-walked down the tunnel looking for some consolatory handshakes from City staff.

Yet not all can be put at the door of AVB, he has at his disposal a squad that in essence has two starting XIs in them and perhaps too many players to keep happy. Of course, his stubborn-ness in maintaining his 4-2-3-1 formation is causing all manner of problems for Roberto Soldado up front; who too often finds himself isolated from play and with little or no chance of making an impression on the game.  His only open play goal, away at Aston Villa in a 2-0 victory came from one of the only occasions when Spurs passed forward and with fluidity.  It came from harassing Villa defenders forcing an error and in two passes giving Soldado a shooting opportunity in the opposition penalty box which he duly converted with aplomb. 

AVB prefers the slow-tempo build up offense of passing teams to death and force openings by moving defenders out of position.  Unfortunately, by being so stubborn in his formation and tactics, opposition have grown accustomed to this practice and drop deep saying to Tottenham try and break us down, knowing that the pass will go sidewards or backwards wasting Soldado's runs into space with no ball forthcoming.

However, whilst a lot has been made of Bale's absence, AVB has been scuppered by the loss of Danny Rose at left-back to injury.  This has forced Jan Vertonghen to play in that position when his best role is at centre back, the role that got him into the Premier League Team of the Year last season. Younes Kaboul's return to centre back after two injuries last season, has not gone well and Michael Dawson looks to have lost a yard of pace. 

An injury to Capoue in the middle of the park has meant that Sandro and Moussa Dembele play more often, whilst Paulinho is not showing the Brazilian flair expected of him.  The elevation of Andros Townsend to the right flank has been good, yet he has evolved into a one trick pony coming onto his favoured left foot too often to attack when he should maybe deliver. Lewis Holtby is all guile without any end product and now Christian Eriksen has an ankle injury.  Nevermind his refusal to even use Jermain Defoe in his system, despite the fact the striker can score goals and has been reduced to taking on European teams instead on Spursday nights.

The constant changing of personnel is doing the team no favours, AVB needs to stick to his best starting XI and give those players the confidence to take the team forward. This Sunday they are at home to Manchester United, a team likewise going through changes and dropping points.  However, both teams are only two points off of fourth place.  All is not lost for the teams, although judging by betting patterns and rumour mills it may be a whole lot more than three points that Villas-Boas may lose come Sunday evening.

Desert Runners

DESERT RUNNERS plays in the ‘Best of Fests’ at IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) this week and is eligible for the Audience Award.
Desert Runners is directed, produced and edited by Jennifer Steinman and tells the story of an eclectic group of non-professional athletes who take it upon themselves to take on the Desert Grand Slam of runs resulting in Five Marathons in Six Days across the four harshest deserts in the world - Atacama, Sahara, Gobi and Antarctica.  All whilst running and carrying everything you need to survive (food, first aid, supplies, water) in a rucksack on your back.
The documentary follows the runners, Dave O'Brien a 56 year old Irish businessman, who as he has got older has become an ultra-marathon nut in an attempt to combat ageing.  Ricky, an ex-baseball player from America. Samantha, a law student from Melbourne, Australia who dreams of being the first female to complete the challenge and the youngest person at the same time.  In her words, she has time for structure before her dreams get undone by the stringent nature of societal rules of marriage and security.
Steinman not only offers incredible insight into the psychological nature of these competitors who go to extreme ends of the earth to fulfill their ability but shows how their sheer belief has guided them to the end result.
This close proximity with the competitors showing the harshness and physical toil that they put themselves through is in sharp juxtaposition with the sheer awe and beauty of the natural landscapes the runners have as a backdrop.  Allowing Steinman to also offer a picture postcard of Mother Nature as well as a tough cookie to overcome when running through her.
At times as gruelling as it is inspiring offering an amazing insight into the mind of runners in general coupled with some wonderful landscape cinematography.  Desert Runners is one of the most exhilarating documentaries of recent years.
Desert Runners as well as being up for Best Documentary at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam; was named as one of the Best of the Fest at the 2013 Edinburgh Film Festival and won Audience Awards at the 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival and 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Monday, 25 November 2013

In praise of...Bill Foulkes

It is always sad when a true footballing legend passes away. Some leave too soon, some live a full and happy life grateful that they have fulfilled their career to the best of their ability in spite of certain obstacles put in front of them and in the process become iconic for that club and can be called a club great by their retirement and in their passing become legend.

William Anthony Foulkes was born on 5th January 1932 and sadly passed away this morning 25th November at the age of 81.  Foulkes was a one club man for the 17 years at Old Trafford and played 688 matches for the Red Devils, the fourth most for the club - behind Bobby Charlton, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

Foulkes won four league titles (1956, 1957, 1965 and 1967), one FA Cup in 1963 and the European Cup in 1968, ten years after perhaps the biggest obstacle of his career was overcome.

In February 1958 on the way back from a European Cup tie in Belgrade, Manchester United were waylaid in Munich and despite the unsavoury conditions the plane attempted a take off. The plane crashed yet Foulkes survived, whilst several team-mates of the Busby Babes died.

Oddly Foulkes benefited from the death of Mark Jones and the forced retirement of Jackie Blanchflower due to sustained injuries in the crash. They were first choice centre-halves so Foulkes had to step into the fold and be a leader for the newly formed team.  He was in the words of Bobby Charlton "as hard as nails, as tough as teak – I was always glad I didn't have to play against him."

Yet listening to Foulkes' contemporary Jimmy Armfield on BBC 5 Live this evening, Armfield mentioned how following the Munich Air Disaster Foulkes had to be an example to the team and two weeks following the crash Foulkes was playing again in an FA Cup tie at home to Sheffield Wednesday.  United won the match 3-0 and got to the final at Wembley, which they lost.  Armfield also mentioned how Foulkes would say how he had to mask some of the difficulties of dealing with the disaster and how his grit and toughness embedded in him by his work in the mines and his National Service in 1955.

It is telling that Armfield chose to mention this story on the same day that English cricketer Jonathon Trott decided to leave the Ashes tour of Australia due to stress-related issues with immediate effect.  Trott's issues will not be disclosed and he is allowed his privacy. 

My praise for Foulkes is that following the death of team-mates and the fact he faced death down, Foulkes easily could have taken as much time of as he wanted.  Instead Foulkes manned up and decided to be an example to those around him, and hence enhance his reputation not only as a professional but as a human being meaning his legend grew.

Sometimes when you hear of individuals such as Trott or Marcus Trescothick talk of the stress related issues such as depression in a sporting context - where you travel the world and are paid handsomely for being quite good at a sport - in contrast to the careers of Foulkes and Charlton and what they had to overcome, a turn of phrase from another bygone era, 'You never had it so good'.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

NFL Week 12 preview

Week 11 had two big match-ups between undefeated Kansas City at Denver Broncos, with Denver winning to go atop the AFC West standings and had the Chiefs their first defeat of the season.  Denver are now in the driving seat but have two big games in consecutive weeks on the road at New England and then back at Kansas City.

The other game saw two playoff contenders the New England Patriots travel to the Carolina Panthers, the Panthers continued their winning streak to six as they benefited from a flag being picked up in the end zone which denied the Patriots a chance from the one yard line to win the game.  Although, Tom Brady would be under centre or in the shotgun, the Panthers did enough to win the game due to their formidable defence and Steve Smith getting the upper hand of the returning Aqib Talib in terms of pushing and shoving.

In other games, the Detroit Lions lost out on the road to Pittsburgh despite Calvin Johnson having two touchdowns in the first half yet did not have a reception in the second half. They lost by 10 in a game they should have bossed, but perhaps two road games were too much for this optimistic side.

The bottom is falling out of the San Francisco 49ers, they suffered their second loss in two games on the road to New Orleans Saints. Again the Saints benefited from a questionable call, but Ahmad Brooks practically clotheslined Drew Brees in the pocket.  Garrett Hartley kicked the winning field goal. The Niners lost in New Orleans for the second time in 10 months following their Super Bowl defeat in February.  The 49ers are now 6-4, 3.5 games behind the Seahawks with the Arizona Cardinals with the same record.  Could San Fran miss out on the playoffs?

Bye weeks this week for Cincinnati, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Seattle

Week 12 preview
Saints (8-2) at Falcons (2-8)
What a terrible year for the Falcons, so much expectation lost to lack of form and injuries all over the field. The Saints dodged a potential bullet versus the 49ers, and they should have their wicked way with the Falcons poor defence. Something forgotten is how bad Matt Ryan has thrown this year, admittedly he has few weapons, but the ball has not got to them.
Prediction: Saints by 8

Steelers (4-6) at Browns (4-6)
I fancied the Browns to upset the Bengals, and the Steelers upset the Lions in surprising fashion led by Big Ben throwing 400+ yards.  Anticipate Pittsburgh to throw but Joe Haden caught more passes than AJ Green (1 catch, 7 yards) last week, and he will be on Antonio Brown who had a huge day on Sunday.  A tight contest but defence should will out.
Prediction: Browns by 3

Buccaneers (2-8) at Lions (6-4)
The Lions need to get back into the groove and probably will at home against the winning Bucs who have a gem in Bobby Rainey at running back. The Bucs can throw though and Revis Island v Megatron should be an amazing sight.
Prediction: Lions by 4

Vikings (2-8) at Packers (5-5)
This could be an ugly game, reserve quarterbacks duel it out on the frozen tundra of Lambeau.  Eddie Lacy faced a formidable d-line last week, he may have more joy this week.  Scott Tolzien looked decent throwing for 300+ yards but 3 interceptions take the gloss of a game they could have won.
Prediction: Packers by 3

Chargers (4-6) at Chiefs (9-1)
The Chiefs begin a huge two game home stand with two divisional rivals. The Chargers just cannot gain consistency in their play week to week - the loss of Alexander and Floyd have hurt and put too much pressure on Ryan Mathew and Danny Woodhead, whilst Philip Rivers continues to frustrate.
Prediction: Chiefs by 6

Bears (6-4) at Rams (4-6)
Is it a blessing or curse to have a bye week after the best performance of your season as happened to the Rams who blasted the Colts in such high fashion. They return to home field against the travelling Bears who have injuries to still contend with and the five hour game in the mud patch last weekend v Baltimore.  The Rams might be fresher and the early start will work against Chicago, although Josh McCown has done pretty well replacing Jay Cutler
Prediction: Rams by 4

Panthers (7-3) at Dolphins (5-5)
For all the controversy, there was still the continued growth of Cam Newton at quarterback and of Carolina as a team. They forced a fumble and intercepted Brady, whilst Cam was clean throwing for three touchdowns, a surprise considering the running weapons at their disposal including Cam.  The Dolphins kept their season alive and have a shot at the six seed. Only one team out of five or six can get the sixth seed due to the presence of Kansas or Denver at fifth seed.  None of those play off chasing sides have a winning record, they all suck.  The Dolphins will not be able to defend Tannehill enough.
Prediction: Panthers by 12

Jets (5-5) at Ravens (4-6)
The Ravens can count themselves unfortunate losing in Chicago due to the elements considering they got a season high day out of Ray Rice finally, but Joe Flacco still threw a pick six.  The Jets had a God awful day in Buffalo getting blown out with Geno Smith being benched in the fourth quarter following three interceptions. If Baltimore win they are in the playoff hunt again.
Prediction: Ravens by 3

Jaguars (1-9) at Texans (2-8)
Yikes! How can you pick this one seriously and with actual confidence in your selection.  Matt Schaub was brought in after Case Keenum caved into the Raiders defence.  Bad move, give Keenum the ball and let him lead and learn.  Fancy the Texans, but will probably be proven wrong.
Prediction: Texans by 3

Titans (4-6) at Raiders (4-6)
I really really want Tennessee to win this game.
Prediction: Titans by 3

Colts (7-3) at Cardinals (6-4)
If the Arizona Cardinals want to be taken seriously as an NFC wildcard team, this is a game they have to win. Carson Palmer is doing decent along with Andre Ellington behind with L-Fitz and Malcolm Floyd going deep; along with their unheralded defence led by rookie of the year contender Tyrann Mathieu. The Colts will rely again on Andrew Luck, but can that O-line keep him upright.
Prediction: Cardinals by 6

Cowboys (5-5) at Giants (4-6)
The Giants are streaking and will fancy getting to Tony Romo even with Eli Manning still throwing pick sixes, but at least they are in victories recently. The Giants D has awoken from a September slumber and scoring points.  Dallas need to get back on the horse and prove they can win this division, that no-one wants to win.
Prediction: Giants by 4

Broncos (9-1) at Patriots (7-3)
The Broncos are scoring for fun, as is Peyton Manning who is on course for 54 touchdowns in the regular season. The record is 50 held by Tom Brady in the 16-0 season.  Manning has an awful record at Foxboro, one of the few venues he does not have a winning record in.  Belichick will welcome the challenge and do not forget the storyline of Josh McDaniels want to stick it to his former employer.  Brady has a near full quota of offensive weapons in his armoury, but this could be as big a shoot out as Denver had with Dallas earlier in the season, but perhaps the Broncos will come unstuck.
Prediction: Patriots by 4

49ers (6-4) at Redskins (3-7)
Interesting to hear Santana Moss' comments in regards to RG3 saying the quarterback should take some blame in regards to the team's performances this season.  RG3 is not a pocket passer, the two touchdowns he threw came on the run or out of the pocket. If that is the case why not run more, yet he will not put his knee in jeopardy. Expect pressure from the Niners to make RG3 move and not much joy for Alfred Morris.  The Niners need the win more, and will do so accordingly.
Prediction: 49ers by 7

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Monday, 18 November 2013

Big 12 makes noise

The Big 12 is one of the NCAA powerhouses yet it suffers from an identity crisis across two major sporting events.  In one, they are dismissed as an also-ran, a conference that does nothing to the bigger national picture. And in the other sport, it is helped by having a powerhouse team on a national stage.

Currently in College Football, Baylor is the only undefeated side in the Big 12, is ranked No3 in the nation behind Alabama (SEC), Florida State (ACC) and Ohio State (Big10).  Baylor are playing a brand of attacking offensive football which made darlings out of the Oregon Ducks who are missing out on another National Championship tilt due to their loss at Stanford two weeks ago.

Baylor Bears average 61.2 points a game (1st in nation) but also concede only 17.4 (7th in nation); they score points for fun and teams find it hard to match them.  They are led by coach Art Briles and quarterback Bryce Petty who has close to 3000 yards and 24 touchdowns.  Admittedly, these numbers do not match say Johnny Manziel nor Jameis Winston (Flordia State) but they have not been helped by their schedule.

The Big 12 unlike the Big 10, SEC and Pac 12 is not split into divisions, every team plays each other once in the season and they do not have a Big 12 championship game between the top two teams, meaning you have to beat everyone and hope that everyone else messes up.  Baylor back ended their schedule meaning they have three games left starting with at Oklahoma State who are ranked No10 nationally and are 9-1.  A win against them will make Baylor the No 3 side in the nation and the team that steps in should the Crimson Tide or Seminoles lose between now and the end of the season.

This would be rich reward for Briles who has made some noise in the Big 12 without much national recognition apart from getting Robert Griffin III the Heisman two years ago.  They have been consistent, the scheme works and makes stars of their young students.  After the OK State road trip they are at TCU who are currently 4-7 and then a home game to Texas which will end the regular season.

Whereas, Baylor are struggling for recognition, you look at a conference opponent in another sport that makes noise regularly year-in, year-out. Led by the formidable Kansas Jayhawks, the Big 12 in College Basketball is rightly one of the hotbeds of the national conscious of the sport.  Bill Self is chasing his 10th consecutive conference title in Lawrence and after defeating Duke last Tuesday by 11 points and with the expected No.1 player in the country - Andrew Wiggins - the expectation for that banner is high.

However, the other players in the Big 12 also play a big part.  Oklahoma State have Marcus Smart returning when it was thought he would leave for the NBA which will benefit them hugely.  Kansas State are always a solid exponent of conference play as well as the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners. However, the biggest surprise may well come from Iowa State.

The Cyclones are one of those wonderful David stories, as a team that surpasses expectations thanks to the development of a program under a young unheralded coach. In this case Fred Hoiberg, who was highly ridiculed when given the job after the retirement of his father, Ames four years ago.  Fred has overcome the shouts and jeers of nepotism to make a name for himself with the small program by taking them to the tournament last year and defeating Notre Dame in the first round. 

The Cyclones also were one of the teams to give Kansas a real scare last year, with the Jayhawks only coming through in overtime on the road.  This past weekend they recorded a 77-70 win over #7 ranked Michigan who reached the Final Four last year, this is probably the biggest win of Hoiberg's reign and will make people notice of their intention to be a Top 25 side in the nation.

A young coach doing great things with an unfancied unattractive side reminds you of Butler and Brad Stevens - yet Iowa State are helped by being part of one of the big noises in College Basketball.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

NFL Week 11 Preview

My apologies to any readers who were expecting my Week 10 preview, unfortunately, I took the week off much like my New England Patriots who enjoyed a bye week themselves. However, I am back and firing on all cylinders for the last 7 weeks of the regular season with many storylines to see out.

What do we know? The AFC is awful, with only three real contenders for the AFC Championship with two playing in one division and with the Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) playing their first test of the season on the road at Denver Broncos (8-1) before playing them again in two weeks, that division will get shaken up and answers provided. If the Chiefs win on Sunday, the division is theirs and if they split the series it could still be. The Chiefs come off a bye themselves, whilst Manning had more hits to add to the bruises he already has attained.

The NFC is all together a more entertaining conference with the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints fighting for the Number 1 seed following San Francisco's home loss to the playoff bound Carolina Panthers.  There will be one bad team from the NFC in the playoffs thanks to the NFC East with the Cowboys reluctant to take the lead with the Eagles having an easy run-in and a bye week.

Bye weeks this week are for Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams, why some weeks do we have six teams on a bye and this week only two. Seems bizarre in the scheduling matters to be fair, but hey we have more games this week to predict wrong.

Week 11 Preview
Colts (6-3) at Titans (4-5)
The Colts got pulverised at home to the St. Louis Rams 3-38 and now go on the road to the Titans for an in-division match-up versus the Titans who have lost Jake Locker for the season.  The Colts seem reliant on Andrew Luck at moment, and not getting much help from Trent Richardson. The Titans defence is as good as the Rams defence, so I fancy an upset here on the short week as Ryan Fitzpatrick showed some cohesiveness.
Prediction: Titans by 3

Jets (5-4) at Bills (3-7)
The Jets are rolling thanks to the defence making plays and stops, this allows Geno Smith to not have to make big plays and therefore eliminating mistakes from him; this along with a ground attack of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell is paying dividends. Feel for the Bills as they have talent but they needed EJ Manuel to lead this team, so a shame his injury has cost the Bills a possible breakthrough season.
Prediction: Jets by 6

Ravens (4-5) at Bears (5-4)
The Bears made a mistake of playing an immobile and injured Jay Cutler, Josh McCown played with some ability and when you have Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall as offensive weapons the pressure is not on McCown and more on head coach Mark Trestmann.  The Ravens beat the confusing Bengals last week and are getting more from their defence than Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Both teams could still make the playoffs but they need to win their division to do so.
Prediction: Bears by 3

Browns (4-5) at Bengals (6-4)
The Bengals have lost two in a row at Miami and v Baltimore, they should be 8-2 and with the #1 or #2 seed somewhat secure; instead their play has scuppered due to the play of Andy Dalton, also the lose of Geno Atkins and others on defence is forcing them to not make turnovers on teams they should be dominating. The Browns come off a bye with Jason Campbell having no turnovers in his two starts previously, their defence is under-rated and have playmakers in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron ready to make a statement.
Prediction: Browns by 3

Redskins (3-6) at Eagles (5-5)
The Eagles have not won at home in nine games, methinks this may be the lucky 10th occasion to get above .500 before their bye week. Nick Foles got the win thanks to some lucky plays and bonehead defensive plays.  However, they are scoring at a rate of knots was expected under Chip Kelly. Tellingly, they took the lead over the Packers and chose to protect the ball and employed LeSean McCoy effectively. The Redskins need to bounce back, but they may be the worst team in the NFC East which is due to their inconsistency and terrible injury concerns.
Predicition: Eagles by 7

Lions (6-3) at Steelers (3-6)
You have an explosive passing offence going up against an ageing defence, the Lions are one game ahead in the NFC North and one more victory whilst the Packers have Scott Tolzien at QB is just what they need. The Steelers do have Big Ben, but the Detroit front seven should be able to nullify and wrap him up.
Prediction: Lions by 4

Falcons (2-7) at Buccaneers (1-8)
Who'd have funk these teams would have 3 wins between them by Week 11, the Bucs finally got their first W due to a combination of run and throw.  Revis Island should wrap up Roddy White and /or Julio Jones, and the Falcons are just poor at the moment.
Prediction: Bucs by 3

Cardinals (5-4) at Jaguars (1-8)
The Cardinals are a surprise package and could make the playoffs if things go their way and facing the Jags might be a much needed bonus. If Carson Palmer is upright he makes plays along with Andre Ellington in the backfield. The Jags beat the troubled Titans but still its the Jags, come on.
Prediction: Cardinals by 7

Raiders (3-6) at Texans (2-7)
For all of Case Keenum's impressive play since replacing Matt Schaub, he does not have a victory this may change this Sunday when they face the Raiders at home.  Terrelle Pryor is suffering with a hamstring which is stopping his mobility and therefore focusing on his less than good throwing. The Texans have lost many people due to injury but they still have JJ Watt who may be able to get to Pryor enough to force mistakes.
Prediction: Texans by 4

Chargers (4-5) at Dolphins (4-5)
Two teams who should be above .500 face off to end one of the other's weak playoff hopes. The Dolphins could win but off-the-field issues regarding the Incognito/Martin situation is having a negative effect on a team that had higher expectations. The Chargers are doing okay but need to get back to basics, maybe it is a good time to go to Miami in more ways than one.
Prediction: Chargers by 3

49ers (6-3) at Saints (7-2)
The Saints had forty that's 40 first downs at home to the Cowboys on Sunday with over 600 total offensive yards.  The Saints have a fortress at home, yet the 49ers won there last year but that was when Colin Kaepernick's read option play was still an enigma, however the Saints defence is better and the mixture of running backs as well as wide-out threat means the Saints are close to tying up a home playoff game. The fact that the Carolina Panthers may provide a sterner test than the Niners may say it all to the Saints.
Prediction: Saints by 7

Packers (5-4) at Giants (3-6)
The Giants are on a winning streak despite Eli throwing another pick-six last week to Tracy Porter (who became the first man to return interceptions thrown by both Manning brothers for touchdowns), yet the Packers are without Aaron Rodgers and miss him badly.  The Giants defence has improved, and they finally have a running back in Andre Brown to take the pressure off of Eli when necessary.
Prediction: Giants by 6

Vikings (2-7) at Seahawks (9-1)
The Seahawks are one game away from a much needed bye week before they travel to Candlestick, they may have Percy Harvin back from his injury and they face a Vikings team led by Christian Ponder who must be have cold sweats in facing this formidable defence in Seattle - the loudest place to play. Seattle do struggle against weaker/losing sides but this should be one way traffic.
Prediction: Seahawks by 10

Chiefs (9-0) at Broncos (8-1)
The game of the weekend will help us find out a lot about both sides.  Can Denver force Alex Smith to commit enough turnovers to allow Manning to score his touchdowns? Can Denver protect Manning enough to avoid getting hit by the blindside? Can Jamaal Charles run all day on this defence which gives up points for fun? A lot of questions will be answered but it all comes down to Manning and his health.
Prediction: Chiefs by 3

Patriots (7-2) at Panthers (6-3)
This should be a great Monday night game between two good sides. Brady is coming off a bye and Belichick rarely loses coming off a bye.  The Panthers had their breakthrough win against a winning side last week in San Francisco which was more about their defence than Cam Newton's play.  The defence will be tested by Brady and with Gronkowski having two weeks of rest and reps expect a statement from this ragged Brady bunch.
Prediction: Patriots by 3

Follow me @JamieGarwood on twitter

Monday, 11 November 2013

Meet Daniel Johnson...Part 2

“I wanted nothing more than to be a foreign filmmaker, but of course I was from Brooklyn, which was not a foreign country. Through a happy accident I wound up being a foreign filmmaker because I couldn’t raise money any other way.”
- Woody Allen

Following on from my earlier interview with up and coming film-maker Daniel Johnson, now is the time to talk to Daniel about well, now.  What is he working on currently on a part-time basis and long-term what is on the horizon for him in the coming months, I also ask him about his feelings about social media and the current YouTube phenomenon for young film-makers.

Daniel, thanks for talking to me again. What are you currently working on?

My web-series, 'Sally The Life Coach', and working on a screenplay for another production company.. and considering starting a new script of my own. I'm also creating quite a few showreels for actors.
Do you do other work apart from your own screenplays and directing?  Many people must imagine that you sit around writing all day and editing.
Most of my work at the moment is creating showreel content for actors, and also some directing work I do in Rugby for Harlequins TV. Being a freelancer, lots of other things pop up -- could be writing a script for someone, or doing some editing -- last week I even did some sound recording for a job -- so it all varies! 

Where do you sit on the YouTube generation?

I think there is a new, younger generation coming through, who totally know how to find an audience on YouTube. I was there at the birth of YouTube, but it's not my generation. You get these kids now, aged 15 or 16, and they have millions of viewers -- but what they create is really niche stuff, specifically targeted at their generation. Like if you look at someone like Jenna Marbles, she makes a living through YouTube videos.  They have great talent and a connection with their audiences that I find us older directors find harder to make. 
Has the growth of social media been a positive for young filmmakers aiming to break into the mainstream? Or do you think young filmmakers can have a voice without having to pine for the mainstream due to the proliferation of the social media?
Social media is a great way to connect with people and to share your work - but I think people also get far too caught up into it. The key to success isn't nagging people on Twitter, the key is to keep creating great work, that's how you get better. So I think social media serves its purpose, but you don't want to focus on it too much. It can be great but it can also be distracting, so you need to think about how you use it.
Do you attempt to make films/stories that will appeal to a wider audience whilst still having your identity on the product?
It's difficult to get right. What draws me to making films is to do what I want to do, what I think will appeal to people. But my audiences are far lower than I would like, so it's tricky. There are TV shows and movies out there that I don't think are particularly good, but people really love them. So how should I deal with that knowledge? If I try to make things to fit a market need, then I'm likely to be losing a bit of myself.  I think essentially you need both. To create things that people want to see, but viewed through your own outlook, your own take on the world. It's not an easy thing to do. 

Can you elaborate a bit more on 'Sally The Life Coach': how did it gestate and what is it like working with an actress who has worked on a nationally loved show?
Working with Natalie [Gumede currently starring on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing] has been a really great experience. I think at first I felt a little bit of pressure, because she was coming off this huge, iconic show, and then here she is in my web-series, and I was thinking, "Oh God, what if my project is really shit? How will it make her look?"  But then I got over that. All you can do is what you do, and you try and create the best project you can. Working with Natalie is a blast, she's SO dedicated, and so hilarious too - it was really a lot of fun.  I've known Natalie for many years so more than anything we were just excited to be doing a project we both really believe in.

Where you apprehensive of working with Ms. Gumede giving her experience on bigger productions?
Working with more experienced actors like Natalie is actually a real pleasure. And we both knew what 'Sally The Life Coach' was, it's a smaller, more personal project that we both believed in. But definitely, when you're working with someone who is a TV star, it does make you pay extra attention -- you want to be professional and you want it to be valuable for the actor. 

What are your expectations of the web-series?
I just hope it gets seen by as many people as possible. My big hope is that people get to discover some great actors through it -- Will Hartley, Steve Mitchell, Elizabeth Guterbock and Tony Craig are all great actors, and they've all had some great successes already, but I'd love to help their work reach a wider audience. And with Natalie, I want people to see it because she's really funny in it. So far people have see the Kirsty character in Coronation Street, and they've seen her incredible dancing on 'Strictly Come Dancing', but I feel this project will really show people how versatile she is.   And for me, I guess this is my way of showing people I am capable of longer form projects, of writing episodically. I really like working on this format and I hope it leads to more for everyone involved. 

If you would like to see more of Daniel Johnson's short films then please seek out his website and follow him on twitter @danieljohnsonuk

Natalie Gumede can be followed on twitter @NatalieGumede

Keep your eyes peeled for more interviews with Daniel Johnson

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

NFL Week 9 preview

Week 8 had one of the greatest endings in recent NFL history as the Lions overcame the Cowboys at home thanks to a record-setting day by Calvin Johnson, leading to a tantrum by Dez Bryant on the touchline but maybe the Cowboys should look at their defence that gave up 623 total yards in a game they should have won.

Personally, this writer went to Wembley Stadium in London to watch the San Francisco 49ers steamroll the Jacksonville Jaguars 42-10 in a very one-sided victory, but the 49ers look good again as they have returned to basics getting a lot of rushing yardage from Colin Kaepernick who had 2 rushing touchdowns, Frank Gore who got the first one of the day and some good carries for Kendall Hunter also.

Elsewhere, the Broncos overcame a 21-7 deficit at home to Washington to score 38 unanswered points as Robert Griffin III had one of the worst games of his career. Washington were victims of being greedy, after going head thanks to a Manning turnover (third consecutive game with one for Peyton) they continued to throw when they should have used Alfred Morris and Roy Helu on the ground to eat up time and frustrate the Broncos.  Instead RG3 thought he was a Manning aiming downfield to passers unable to catch in double coverage when screens and short passes would be key.

New England overcame a 17-3 half-time deficit to Miami at home and yet came up big in the third quarter as Tom Brady with a swollen hand did enough to get to 6-2 and again be in control of the AFC East following defeats for the Jets (at Bengals) and Bills (at Saints).

Week 9 preview Byes for Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, Arizona, 49ers, Jacksonville

Bengals (6-2) at Dolphins (3-4)
The Dolphins have now lost four games in a row, and they continue to protect their quarterback. Now they go up against a formidable defence who made life a misery for Geno Smith last week. Coupled with Andy Dalton looking solid himself, not turning the ball over, this one looks a foregone conclusion.
Prediction: Bengals by 8

Steelers (2-5) at Patriots (6-2)
The Steelers are a frustrating sort of team, they should beat a team like Oakland and frustrate Terrelle Pryor but Pryor is making plays week in, week out. The Patriots are seemingly trying to build momentum and for them it is all about balance. Avoid Brady in fantasy until his receiving core gets to full health as they are getting good yards and scores from Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden currently.
Prediction: Patriots by 6

Chiefs (8-0) at Bills (3-5)
The Chiefs are probably the least convincing undefeated side in recent years owing to a soft schedule but you can only play who is on your sheet.  The Bills have shown flashes but miss CJ Spiller and the Chiefs defence should be able to get to Thad Lewis enough, but the Browns got within a touchdown of the Chiefs owing to Jason Campbell not turning the ball over. Yet Alex Smith protects the ball better than anyone at the moment in the NFL.
Prediction: Chiefs by 7

Vikings (1-6) at Cowboys (4-4)
The Cowboys will be grateful for this match-up as they can get back on the horse so soon after falling off. The Vikings are woeful and they had no answer to Aaron Rodgers and his depleted receivers, the Cowboys have plenty of catching talent and should be dominant as they usually are against teams with losing records.
Prediction: Cowboys by 10

Titans (3-4) at Rams (3-5)
The Rams came so close to rocking the apple cart by getting a signature win over the Seahawks at home, they outgained the Seahawks in yardage and kept them to only 129 total yards yet gave up an 80+ yard TD to Golden Tate.  They are at home but face a Titans team coming off a bye and if Jake Locker is healthy and plays to the level he showed before his hip injury then they should have too much.
Predition: Titans by 4

Saints (6-1) at Jets (4-4)
The Saints are as under the radar as Katrina was in the White House, yes Drew Brees is having another stellar season and Jimmy Graham caught two touchdowns despite not being 100% yet it is the Rob Ryan defence that is making noise and turning sufficient heads.  Geno Smith has had few answers to complicated defensive schemes as Belichick and Mike Zimmer (last week) has showed. Watch out for Kenny Vaccaro their first round draft pick who should be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion
Prediction: Saints by 14

Chargers (4-3) at Washington (2-5)
The Chargers come off a bye and have a great balance currently with running backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead making first downs and then Philip Rivers doing the rest.  Washington need to get back to basics, much like the 49ers did after their mini-crisis when 1-2. Start running the ball again RG3
Prediction: Chargers by 7

Falcons (2-5) at Panthers (4-3)
The Panthers were impressive at the Bucs last week and right now Cam Newton is playing excellent football; his stature in the pocket and explosiveness out of it makes the Panthers a viable wild card contender for the playoffs.  They have this divisional match-up and two games versus the Saints to come but I like the Panthers run and gun offence currently, run first and they still have Steve Smith and Greg Olsen as receivers.  Matt Ryan had four interceptions last week, another week to forget for pre-season Super Bowl favourites.
Prediction: Panthers by 7

Eagles (3-5) at Raiders (3-4)
Expect the Raiders to outrush the Eagles who have forgotten how to score an offensive touchdown. Whatever happened to this vaunted Eagles offensive machine that was going to change football?  The Raiders have been impressive, much more than I imagined they would be thanks to Terrelle Pryor. I think I might lose a bet with a friend of mine over the Raiders win total, which may be beaten in the next three games.
Prediction: Raiders by 7

Buccaneers (0-7) at Seahawks (7-1)
How do we still get these blowout sort of games. The Bucs have little run defence so expect Lynch to have a better day than he did on Monday, Percy Harvin's return cannot come soon enough for this Seahawks offence. Bucs will remain winless, but they are not as bad as Jacksonville, with Mike Glennon showing some competency at quarterback
Prediction: Seahawks by 10

Ravens (3-4) at Browns (3-5)
Jason Campbell did some good things last week and did not turn the ball over, whereas Joe Flacco does turn the ball over.  The Browns defence is underrated, maybe this is the surprise of the weekend.
Prediction: Browns by 3

Colts (5-2) at Texans (2-5)
This must have been thought as a high profile divisional match-up but the Colts are right now a good team playing above expectations at offence and defence. Whilst Case Keenum did well and kept it close against the Chiefs, he came up short and if the Colts defence play to a level like they did versus the Broncos this will be one-sided.
Prediction: Colts by 7

Bears (4-3) at Packers (5-2)
The Packers and especially Aaron Rodgers were from another planet (24 of 29 completed passes) as they had seven successive scoring drives on Sunday, on the eighth they kneeled to end the game. The combination of Jordy Nelson (123 yards, 2 TDs) and Eddie Lacy (89 yards of 192 total rushing yards) who is offensive rookie of the year material may be too much for a Bears defence who gave up 48 points to Washington. The defence have to contend with Josh McGown as Jay Cutler is still out with a groin injury.
Prediction: Packers by 10

Lets Talk About Dez

The Dallas Cowboys still claim to be America's Team despite them not winning a Super Bowl this millennium, despite Tony Romo only ever winning one playoff game. The Cowboys have been an exciting team this season in a sub-par division, well they have been involved in two exciting regular season games.  Two of the most exciting games in recent memory, and they have lost both of them.

They scored 48 points in a game, and lost to the Denver Broncos on a time expiring Matt Prater field goal at JerryWorld thanks to a Tony Romo interception that negated his entire 500 yards he threw for previously to the one costly reception to a Bronco.

On Sunday, they succumb on the road to the Detroit Lions as they allowed a Matthew Stafford one yard rushing touchdown when Stafford jumped over his offensive line to break the plain and give tie the game before an added on point gave them the 31-30 scoreline with 12 seconds remaining.

Stafford's touchdown led to a very volatile shouting and shoving match between Cowboys wide receiver, Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten as they jawed about how the team has somehow lost from a winning position of 30-24 whilst in possession of the ball with 84 seconds remaining.  This was Bryant's second spat of the game as he earlier was seen being volatile towards Tony Romo on the sideline following another unsuccessful drive.

Bryant's comments and behaviour is thought to stem from some professional jealousy as Bryant was on the sideline watching Megatron Calvin Johnson gain 329 receiving yards from Stafford off of 14 receptions and 16 targets.  Stafford-Johnson cemented their reputation as the best QB-WR combo in the NFL currently, as Stafford's ability to get the ball to Johnson and Johnson's sheer skill in grabbing the ball out of the air sometimes in triple coverage.

Bryant shares an element of that faith and belief with Tony Romo, yet Bryant's ability is sometimes blown aside by his downbeat demeanour which makes people question his skill level but not his talent.  Bryant has all the ability in the world, yet his head is sometimes not there.

On Sunday in Detroit, Bryant had 3 receptions for 72 yards for 2 TDs off of 6 targets.  On the opposite side, Terrance Williams had 2 receptions for 64 yards for 1 TD off of 10 targets.  In comparison to Johnson's record setting day these numbers are pitiful and in the shoot-out that this game became you would expect Bryant to break three figures.  Yet this is indicative of the Cowboys unwillingness to take a game by the scruff of the neck and conspire to mess up from a winning position.

Whereas in the Broncos game they were always playing catch-up against the Manning machine, here they were ahead for most of the game until the last 12 seconds.  They were sitting on the threshold of a 5-3 record a two game lead over the others in the division, instead they sit at .500 (4-4) and a one game lead over the Eagles whom they embarrassed last week on the road.

The Cowboys defence gave up too many points to the Broncos and in spite of the sterling effort of Sean Lee who picked off Stafford twice on Sunday, they could not shutdown Johnson when he was the only person Stafford was aiming at.  Whilst Johnson had 329 the next best receiver Kris Durham had 64 yards only.

You cannot begrudge Bryant's behaviour, he could tell something was going wrong and that the Cowboys were not taking advantage of the situation they were in. Whilst teams like Denver and San Francisco (against Washington and Jacksonville) went for the jugular on Sunday, the Cowboys showed a lack of a killer instinct.

Against poor teams they are very good, wins versus Rams, Redskins and Eagles attest to that but they have lost to four playoff bound teams in Kansas, Denver, San Diego and now the Lions. 

Their defence now ranks last in passing yards, allowing 315.4 and they still have to face Drew Brees, Jay Cutler (if back from his groin injury), Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning on the run-in. If they get to 8 wins they should win the NFC East and have a home playoff game but that might be against the 49ers or Seahawks which they will be no match for.

Bryant made have made a lot of noise on Sunday, but maybe he was saying the right things, unfortunately for him no-one in Dallas is choosing to listen.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

When Friday Comes: James Montague Q&A

When Friday Comes is a book by respected football journalist, James Montague, who has written for the New York Times, World Soccer, CNN and The Blizzard.  The book is a collection of Montague's travails around the Middle East from Egypt to Israel following football, and how in spite of political differences football appears to be a unifying item of personal pleasure for many people across the vast region.
To help support the release of the book in hardback, Mr. Montague in his very hectic schedule afforded me the opportunity to ask him some questions about the book and his time in the Gulf, the rise of football and the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar in 2022.
Where did the idea of the book come from?
The book idea came shortly after the first time I arrived in the Middle East. I moved to Dubai in 2004. It was quite a strange place when I got there. Blisteringly hot, all these clash of cultures and values. It was a booming totem to neo-liberalism wrapped in a strong Islamic culture. It was pretty disorientating at first. But football was something that very clearly permeated most strata of societies in the Middle East. So when I travelled to other countries in the region I'd watch the local league, watch the national teams, read about the intrigues and controversies of the game. It was fascinating but also gave me a window on the region that I think very few other areas of life can offer. I'd have never known about the schism, if that isn't too harsh a word, between the Jewish Ashkenaism and Mizrahim communities in Israel. Or the pronounced sectarian divisions in Lebanon if it wasn't by first looking at football in those countries. It was the perfect mirror in many ways. 
The book covers a period of eight nine years. A version came out in 2008 but I decided to essentially write a sequel as the region changed forever thanks to Arab Spring and also the economic explosion in the Gulf. On the one hand you had this incredible movement for change that swept away much of the old order in some countries, and football, especially in Egypt, played a part. So it wasn't just a mirror of understanding any more. It was actually an agent for change in itself. People don't like to see football in that way. But we look at art and culture in such terms. But why not football?  

Is the sport growing abundantly in that region?
It was huge when I got there. You have derbies in Egypt and Iran that pull 100,000 fans. Saudi Arabia too. In Israel you'll have ten per cent of a city's population turn out to see their team. What is changing now is that money from the region is changing the game in the West. Qatar and the UAE especially are reshaping the financial aspects of top flight European football. It will be an interesting few years to come. 
You seemed to encounter some really scary moments, did you ever fear for your safety?
The Middle East is seen as an alien planet. But I was met with kindness and compassion almost everywhere I went. You begin to see things as they are. The issue of Islam's influence on Western society is one that is gaining momentum. There is a fear of this alien concept sweeping the land. But when you spend time in the region you see something different. People aren't that different. They want jobs and a family, they want to get married, get laid, get wasted. We see a conservative, crazy place. But most of the places I've been to are no more conservative than Christian societies in the 20th century. These are ancient civilizations that had values of tolerance and multiculturalism whilst we in England were still building mud huts. The great game of competing empires has given rise to militant Islam and emasculated many countries in the region from having a functioning middle class and political class. We are surprised with the problems Egypt is experiencing in reconciling its new democratic order. But we propped up Mubarak, who liquidated any reasonable, liberal, left of centre opposition. Are we surprised that all is left is the Army and the Brotherhood?
Where you in Egypt around the time of the Arab Spring?
Much of the new book follows the exploits of the Ahlawy, the Al Ahly Ultras of Cairo's biggest club. They played quite a role in the revolution, and after it too. There was the incident at Port Said where 72 of their fans were killed after a game. I wasn't there but the aftermath was pretty dicey. The scariest was when the initial verdict that sentenced 21 Al Masry fans to death for their role in the killings. I was with the Ahlawy in Cairo and there was wild celebration. 15,000 fans were there, firing guns in the air. But the people of Port Said were livid. Police shot 30 people dead when they stormed the prison the AL Masry fans were being held. President Morsi announced a curfew and I went down to Port Said on the last bus before the curfew fell. The city was deserted. Empty. It was a ghost town. Except for one street where protesters were fighting with the police over burning barricades. I was cowering behind a Red Crescent ambulance, hearing gun fire wondering how I had got there. That night there was a march to break the curfew. It ended with a protester being shot dead and a gun battle followed. I remember having to get back to my hotel, hiding from car to car past the gun fire. That was pretty scary.  

Which country was the scariest? Which country was the safest in comparison?
It's not a country but Gaza was pretty malevolent. I went there in 2009, not long after the Israelis had bombed it even further back in to the dark ages. Journalists were being kidnapped but Hamas was in control so there was order laid atop chaos. I felt it was cursory. And it was also a dark, miserable place. It left its mark on me.   The safest? No question Oman. It is beautiful. In many Gulf countries, if you can call Oman strictly a Gulf country, it is difficult to meet the local population. But Omanis are warm and eager to meet you. I have a favourite pool bar I go to in Seeb where I would get hammered in almost every game, drink tins of lager with my Omani opponents and talk about life in the country.  Although sometimes they can be a little too warm. I have never been propositioned by so many men my life!

Where you surprised that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and that region in particular?
In a way, no. FIFA is about taking the power centre away from European football and I was not surprised at all. Qatar played the game better than anyone else. It remains to be seen whether FIFA's investigation into the bids will find anything. But I wasn't surprised at all.
Will the 2022 tournament be moved or taken away from them?
I suspect that it will. There's too much money at stake for FIFA. Moving it to Winter is a no no. Platini, UEFA and the top clubs want January-February but that can't take place because of the Winter Olympics. November December is Blatter's choice, but that clashes with the Champions League. That leaves having it in Qatar in July which, unless they can show vast improvements in the cooling tech they promised, won't happen, or moving it to May-June. Which is an option. But again you feel like there are some people who actually hope that Qatar will have been found to have done something bad so it makes it easier (ie, won't cause massive legal issues). It is being used as  pawn in the up and coming 2015 FIFA presidential vote. It will be clearer after that.

What country or continent are you covering next?
My next book is called Thirty One Nil. I've been following the underdogs as they try to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. It has been quite a journey that started in 2011. From Palestine, Tajikistan, Haiti, Rwanda, Samoa, the US. So, pretty much every continent is covered!

Are you the Michael Palin of football?
Well, I wouldn't say that although it is kind of you to say. I always wanted to write football books that appealed to people who loved the game but also those who have never seen the beauty in it before. I hope journey helps to show that in some small way. 

What advice would you give to young writers and bloggers of football to get more recognition and get noticed?
Get out there. Get into the smoke and the heat. There are so many people writing blogs and analysis. What journalist are doing less because of the financial restrictions on the trade is travelling to stories. Get your self there. See it with your own eyes. And you will have the stories no one else has.
When Friday Comes is out in hardback from DeCoubertin Books (@deCoubertin at £16.99 RRP but £7.20 on Kindle through
James Montague can be followed on twitter @JamesPiotr

Denver will not win the Super Bowl

The Denver Broncos were an offensive juggernaut during the first 6 games of the season defeating reigning Super Bowl champions, Baltimore Ravens, on the opening night of the season and then winning 51-48 in Cowboys Stadium in one of the great NFL regular season games.

Yet oddly signs of failing started to appear during the sixth consecutive victory of the season over the worst team in football, Jacksonsville Jaguars in a 35-19 victory at home, in a game that they were favoured to win by 28 points, a spread that initially dropped to 26.5 points.

This is the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team so bad that even Tim Tebow cannot get into the squad.  The Broncos decided to play their worst game of the season against the worst team.  It happens in team sports, a sure fire winner is prone to drop to their opponents weaker level. This is a mental issue in terms of complacency and treating it like a practice or pre-season encounter.

However, would-be MVP Peyton Manning threw for his 2nd interception of the season and was at fault for one of the two fumbles the team suffered on the day.  The other was due to the running back core of Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno. On the day Moreno had 3 rushing touchdowns off 42 total yards and 15 carries.  In the second half, Manning threw for no touchdown and threw for 295 yards. Chad Henne out-gunned Manning by eight yards in the game including 190 yards to newly reinstated Justin Blackmon, whose ability earmarked the future problems for the Broncos secondary.

After the Cowboys and Jaguars victories, the stat that started doing the rounds was that the Broncos secondary and defence overall was allowing a huge amount of passing yards and after Sunday's defeat in Indianapolis they rank 32nd and last with 319.9 passing yards per game. 

Initially, the stat was inflated because opponents being two touchdowns or more down in the game would be required to throw more frequently to score more quickly, hence the 500 plus yards afforded to Tony Romo in Dallas. Yet any Super Bowl contending team to be considered a contender over a pretender needs to make plays on defence - they have 9 interceptions but none for touchdowns; three forced fumbles two recovered for no touchdowns.

Unlike say the Kansas City Chiefs who have had 10 interceptions for three return TDs and seven forced fumbles for one touchdown; the Chiefs' limited offence is getting overshadowed by a high scoring defence - does that remind you of the Baltimore Ravens first Super Bowl winning team with Trent Dilfer at quarterback.

Then we come back to the main man, Peyton Manning, a man who is on an agenda to win one more Super Bowl title before his eventual retirement.  Manning chose Denver over Miami due to the receiving core and the decent defence, however that defence lost Elvis Dumervil due to fax issues. They lost Von Miller for the first six games of the season due to misconduct suspension, Champ Bailey to a foot injury that made him miss the first four games of the season and lost Ryan Clady to a season-ending injury. This means Manning protection on the offensive line is not great and his old body is having to pick itself up off the turf more often; yet also he is having to throw more to keep the team ahead due to the defence not getting many stops or turnovers.

Yet Manning when he is under centre is starting to show some weakness in his arm.  The flight of the ball is going very high and appears to have less zip on the ball; the Colts defence played brilliantly in wrapping up his downfield options with Demaryius Thomas having an awful day and Julius Thomas having his first non-existent game of his career.  Only when the Broncos were down 21 points in the fourth quarter did Manning start throwing to the ever-reliable Wes Welker who made some astounding reaction catches to keep drives alive on third downs.  Manning also showed a lack of composure and was visibly shaken by the blind side hit by Robert Mathis which led to a safety, prompting him to throw quicker to avoid being hit and asking his receivers to get separation swifter.

Yet Manning was then let down by some odd play calling.  Manning was throwing it all over the place and a tiring Colts defence did not have many answers to him in that form in a hurry up offense.  They had 1st and Goal at the Colts two yard line to make it a one point game if they convert a two-point conversion, yet they handed it off to Ronnie 'Fumble' Hillman who promptly fumbled handing the ball back to the Colts with 2:38 left in the fourth quarter. The unfortunate part was that the Broncos had three timeouts before Hillman's blunder, the fumble meant they had to burn those timeouts either side of the two minute warning. Matt Prater converted a field goal with 10 seconds remaining, prompting an onside kick that the Colts recovered leaving Andrew Luck to take a knee and the win.

This week the Broncos host the Washington Native Americans at Mile High, a game on paper they should win, yet the Redskins showed they are getting back to some sort of form from last season beating Chicago 48-44 at home.  RG3 looks back to his old self, leading by example and is being helped by rookie tight end Jordan Reed who had nine catches and 134 yards.  This is indicative of the Broncos woes versus opposing tight ends allowing 43 catches for 568 yards but only two touchdowns. That is 13.2 yards per catch, although they might not allow red zone scores for tight ends, Coby Fleener did have one last week and the field position will open up the read option play calling for Washington who got three rushing touchdowns off of Roy Helu last week.

After the Washington game there comes a much needed bye week for the Broncos and Manning to rest his arm. They come back in Week 10 at San Diego, then comes the key two match-ups versus the Kansas City Chiefs sandwiching a trip to New England.  You could not ask for a tougher four game stretch.  The Chiefs who are being helped out by a weak schedule (they play Cleveland and Buffalo) before they face the Broncos, meaning they could be 9-0 when they face the Broncos for the first time; they also face Denver off a bye which is a huge advantage.

If Kansas split the series with Denver and are the No.1 seeds in the AFC then Kansas will have a huge advantage due to the loud Arrowhead crowd.  Denver require home field due to the altitude of Mile High, of course that did not come to fruition due to the Ravens' play off bandwagon. Manning has a history of not winning huge road play-off games (did he ever win at New England in the postseason?) and there is a theory that Manning plays better when ahead in the game when he can maintain his coolness and dictate the tempo, however, when he is behind in the game he struggles and panics which goes against his better nature.

Denver's remaining schedule is v Washington, v Kansas, @ New England, @ Kansas, v Tennessee, v San Diego, @ Houston and @ Oakland.  Conceivably they could finish that stretch with a 6-2 record meaning a 13-3 record. That is usually good enough for #1 seed in the AFC.

However, the Chiefs still have v Cleveland, @ Buffalo, @Denver, v San Diego, v Denver, @ Washington, @ Oakland, v Indianapolis, @ San Diego.  For the Chiefs they could finish 7-2 which would mean a 14-2 record for them, although the two series against Denver and San Diego will dictate the path their postseason goes to, and San Diego could sneak a wild card due to the fallowness of the AFC this year.

The Broncos so touted as the AFC Super Bowl favourite may have the offensive weapons to compete with anyone, yet they have questions of their defence to answer and Manning's health needs to be monitored.  The Chiefs and Chargers will have a say in the course of the AFC West let alone the AFC representative in New York at the Super Bowl.

Follow me @JamieGarwood on Twitter.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

NFL Week 8 preview

Week 7 was built up as the week Peyton Manning returned home to Indianapolis, the place he spent the majority of his career and won his only Super Bowl ring at.  The week leading up to this tussle was overshadowed by the tweets and comments of Colts owner, Jim Irsay, some of which was at times derisory.

The Colts won somewhat convincingly, giving them a third victory over a Top 5 team following a home win over the Seattle Seahawks and the road win at San Francisco.  They have beaten those three supreme contenders by a total of 11 points. The three teams have a combined record of 17-1 and that one is Seattle defeating the Niners. 

The question coming into the game was also concerning the physical prowess of Manning himself, he and the Broncos offense has been on fire but against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars the week before, a game they were meant to win by 30 points and only won by 16, Manning had an interception and fumbled.  It might have been a case of playing within themselves against a lesser opponent (the Jags have lost each of their games by double digits - a record), yet Manning's ball flight and accuracy seemed to diminish from the Cowboys victory on the road. 

Indianapolis had a game plan to attack Manning from his blind side with Robert Mathis leading the charge, and his sack which caused a safety led to Manning suffering immensely being unable to find targets downfield, but credit should be given to the Colts secondary who tied up Decker and Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker had some joy in the fourth quarter getting separation when needed and shorter passes found their target.  However, the Broncos were guilty of some poor play-calling. Having converted a short yardage touchdown with Moreno, the next time they were at the two yard line they handed off to Ronnie Hillman, who has a history of fumbling, and naturally fumbled making it a 9 point deficit instead of one point if Denver converted a two point conversation.

The Colts will feel great and Chuck Pagano should be ecstatic with the defensive performance thus far this season, yet they suffered a season ending injury to veteran Reggie Wayne, who suffered an ACL tear when turning on the field. A cruel injury that may well affect their offense, but the Kansas City Chiefs have shown you do not need a stellar offense if your defence can punch the opposing quarterback in the mouth.

Bye weeks this week for six teams - Chicago, Tennessee, Indianapolis, San Diego, Houston, Baltimore - meaning less games to pick:

Panthers (3-3) at Buccaneers (0-6)
The Bucs are a terribly poor side and to had to injury, Doug Martin has a torn labrum meaning he could be out for the season. So it is all change in the offensive department, although Mike Glennon's arm is still finding Vincent Jackson who had two more TDs this past weekend. The Panthers were too strong for the Rams (30-15) at home on Sunday, Cam Newton needed to have a long look at his own play before their bye week. Newton has returned better numbers, is turning over the ball less and making big plays. Expect them to heap more misery on Tampa.
Prediction: Panthers by 7

Cowboys (4-3) at Lions (4-3)
The Lions are a frustrating bunch, full of so much talent and potential yet they could not get the upper hand of a Bengals side. They still have Megatron whose two TDs showcased his amazing hands and Matt Stafford's belief in his receiver, amazing Stafford only has 4 INTs considering the bombs he throws so regularly.  The Cowboys shut down the Eagles (who have injury issues) and Tony Romo is having a great year, getting people involved and has momentum.
Prediction: Cowboys by 4

Browns (3-4) at Chiefs (7-0)
The Chiefs easy schedule is here still, yet you can only beat who is in front of you.  The vaunted defence had no sacks in the first half against Case Keenum (who had a great debut), yet had five in the second half and made the plays they needed to do. The worry for the Chiefs is their offense is not being productive at the moment apart from Jamaal Charles who is playing through the pain but they restrict turnovers to the opponent as Alex Smith leads them down the field. 
Prediction: Chiefs by 10

Dolphins (3-3) at Patriots (5-2)
Following the controversial call to end the Pats-Jets game on Sunday, where Nick Folk has a 56 yard field goal become an easier 42 yard attempt, the Patriots will be pleased to get home to Foxboro.  A win at home to another division rival will help cement the position atop the AFC East. The Dolphins have suffered two awful home defeats to the Ravens and Bills, games they should have won.  Hopefully Gronkowski who got some playing time will continue to get targets and hopefully Brady will aim for shorter passes and stop aiming downfield where his arm just cannot aim anymore.
Prediction: Pats by 4

Bills (3-4) at Saints (5-1)
The Saints come off a bye at home to the Bills who won at the Dolphins with Thad Lewis getting his first NFL win. The Saints are having that nice balance of star studded offence but getting plays on defence from Rob Ryan's scheming.  The Saints should have too much for the weaker Bills.
Prediction: Saints by 7

Giants (1-6) at Eagles (3-4)
The Giants will not have the No.1 pick in the draft, they were never as bad as the record indicated and the zest they showed in the defeat to Chicago paid off with a home victory to the sorry Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night. The Eagles meanwhile lost at home to the Cowboys, their ninth consecutive home defeat - a franchise record, they ended up with Matt Barkley under centre who promptly had three INTs.  The Giants might have turned the corner here and if their D-line can shut down and pressure whomever the QB is, maybe it will be their 2nd win and Phillies 10th home defeat.
Prediction: Giants by 3

49ers (5-2) at Jaguars (0-7)
I'm going to watch this car crash at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, me and my mate are considering having a drinking game of downing a pint for every TD scored. Expect to be drunk by halftime. Its a worrying trend how bad the Jaguars are and how many bad teams there are in the NFL this season.
Prediction: 49ers by 20 pints, sorry points

Jets (4-3) at Bengals (5-2)
The Bengals got another big win on the road at Detroit, the Jets held firm at home to the Pats thanks to their defence making turnovers.  Andy Dalton is a walking interception and if their d-line can shut down the dual running backs, the Jets benefited from Chris Ivory having a stellar day.  The Jets have a limited pool of talent but they are getting results, and if the game is tight they are winning those games. Upset of the week.
Prediction: Jets by 3

Steelers (2-4) at Raiders (2-4)
Two 2-4 teams face off on the west coast, the Raiders are coming off a bye and the Steelers coming off two consecutive victories.  The defence has turned up for the Steelers and if they can pressure Tyrelle Pryor then Big Ben will do enough to win this game in a low scoring affair.
Prediction: Steelers by 3

Redskins (2-4) at Broncos (6-1)
It appears RG3 is back like his old self, his movement is better and he is making plays as well as support from his running crew. Roy Helu had 3 TDs off of 49 yards and Jordan Reed at tight end is an imposing target. The Broncos questionable pass defence was put to the sword by Andrew Luck and his crew of Heyward-Bey, Wayne and Hilton.  The Broncos need to get pressure to Manning, but if Manning can get some consistency in his targets then it should be an easy win, but this is the sort of game RG3 could surprise you in, much like his debut at New Orleans last year. Is it too much to ask for an upset? The Redskins have shown they can score, and although Matt Forte had 3 rushing touchdowns Moreno and Hillman are not his equal
Prediction: Redskins by 2

Falcons (2-4) at Cardinals (3-4)
This game does not interest me, yet it is the type of game Arizona could win, but the Falcons should have Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez back as weapons for Matt Ryan.
Prediction: Falcons by 6

Packers (4-2) at Vikings (1-5)
The Vikings are as bad as the Jags, Browns, Bucs and that is with Adrian Peterson.  The Packers might be without Jermichael Finley who was in ICU on Sunday night, so the receiving core for you fantasy guys will be play Jordy Nelson and Boykin who had 100+ yards and a TD. Otherwise this will be a blowout as the Vikings cannot go pound for pound with Rodgers.
Prediction: Packers by 10

Seahawks (6-1) at Rams (3-4)
Poor Sam Bradford, finally getting some offensive weapons and targets getting good numbers and then boom, one tackle on the sideline means back up Kellen Clemens will be throwing the rock. Surely some Rams fans would prefer Kurt Warner back in the white and blue.  Clemens' first start of the season, is an easy one, against the best defence in football the Seattle Seahawks who will need a win to stay one game ahead of the Niners who will undoubtedly win in London this Sunday. The only bright spot is that the Seahawks are not as formidable on the road as at home, though Russell Wilson had one of his better games of his young career at Arizona last week. The Seahawks have an 11 day rest for this game, the Rams are in confusion before they even start.
Prediction: Seahawks by 12

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