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 www.decoubertin.co.uk) at £16.99 RRP but £7.20 on Kindle through Amazon.co.uk
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

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Thursday, 17 October 2013

NFL Week 7 Preview

Week 6 was a weird sort of weekend with some nail-biters and my begrudgingly losing out in my Eliminator Challenge. Last year I went all the way to week 12, this week I felt the Jets could be strong enough versus the winless Steelers; however Pittsburgh coming off a bye after losing at Wembley regained some composure and made Geno Smith look like the rookie he is in a 19-6 blowout if you can call 19-6 a blowout.

My Patriots came from the depths of despair to somehow win at home versus a very good New Orleans Saints to give them their first defeat of the season, as Tom Brady hooked up with Kenbrell Thompkins for an easy touchdown.  It was the atypical Tom Brady touchdown, less than two minutes left no timeouts, drops by receivers but when they caught it they got out of bounds before Thompkins TD grab with five seconds remaining to tie up a 30-27.

What must be said for this NFL season is how mediocre all these teams are apart from the top contenders of New Orleans, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco.  The NFC is the better conference, the AFC is the Broncos to lose as the Patriots are suffering from terrible injuries - add Jerod Mayo to the list of Vince Wilfork along with continued absence of Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots need a redzone target which Gronk will be; whilst Thompkins elevation to number one target is refreshing.

People may say mediocre but everyone is due a bad game, the Broncos should have bulldozed the Jaguars at home yet they only won by 16 points due to two Manning fumbles and an interception.  Complacency, perhaps or more a notion of get through the game without injury to anyone. Yet considering the spread was 26.5, must be disappointing.

Bye weeks this week for Oakland (at least they cannot lose this week) and New Orleans, who after the injury to Jimmy Graham will welcome the break.

Week 7 Predictions
Seahawks (5-1) at Cardinals (3-3)
Home game on a Thursday for the Cardinals, who are undefeated at home thus far.  The Seahawks are a different team on the road which I have mentioned before; Palmer is being competent and forcing less turnovers however he is facing a superior secondary this week.  Watch out for Andre Ellington in the Cardinals backfield, he is getting more carries over veteran Mendenhall and getting decent production. This will be closer than people imagine.
Prediction: Seahawks by 3

Buccaneers (0-5) at Falcons (1-5)
Who'd have funk these teams would have one win between them. After the rest, the Falcons will welcome this match-up at home.  Mike Glennon is not the answer in Tampa, who after cutting Josh Freeman might be tanking for one of Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota. The Falcons still have Matt Ryan and need to get something from a receiver.
Prediction: Falcons by 7

Bengals (4-2) at Lions (4-2)
Two equal records and two equal teams go head-to-head. This might be a tale of the running backs; Reggie Bush has shaken off the left leg injury and is continuing to get good numbers, whilst the Bengals have the Law Firm and Bernard going equal and no-one getting ahead of the other.  The Bengals still have AJ Green who may have some luck against the Lions secondary, however, that depends upon if the Lions D-line get to Andy Dalton first.  Lions are on a roll, thanks to Kris Durham getting receptions due to Calvin Johnson's injury concerns and being double covered.
Prediction: Lions by 4

Bills (2-4) at Dolphins (3-2)
The Dolphins come off a bye week to face Thad Lewis who led the Bills to a close lose at the Bengals, who are not what we thought they were, the Bills miss the dual-option of EJ Manuel.  The Dolphins however, have a more settled quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, however, like Aaron Rodgers he is getting beat up due to a lack of offensive line.  The Bills may have some joy in that respect, however, I feel the Dolphins will be able to score more.
Prediction: Dolphins by 3

Patriots (5-1) at Jets (3-3)
The Patriots somehow got to 5-1 and now complete the season derby against the Jets on the road.  In a very much defensive battle summed up by Brady being unable to connect with his new receivers and three Geno Smith interceptions.  Whilst Brady can throw and the hope is Gronk returns, Belichick will scheme to unsettle Geno but with the absence of Wilfork and Mayo; the Jets should run, run, run.
Prediciton: Patriots by 3

Cowboys (3-3) at Eagles (3-3)
The Eagles defence worry me, as even Mike Glennon had some useful production against them. This week Tony Romo and his new offensive arsenal go up against the Chip Kelly machine.  Nick Foles showed some things last week with his arm, but if the Cowboys can bring pocket pressure Foles' lack of mobility will haunt him. The Cowboys should be in first place by the end of the day.
Prediction: Cowboys by 6

Bears (4-2) at Redskins (1-4)
For a quarterback with bad knees, why does RG3 persist in doing these scrambles to the out of bounds where he could get hit causing more injury.  The Redskins showed little offensive potential, whilst the Bears had half their offence last week thanks to Eli Manning's continued greatness of woefulness.
Prediction: Bears by 10

Rams (3-3) at Panthers (2-3)
Two hot and cold teams who both had huge road wins last week at Houston (where the Rams temporarily retired Matt Schaub) and Minnesota (grieving) respectively.  Cam Newton should be bossing each and every game he plays in, either by his arm or by his immense size out of the pocket on his feet. Yet this will be a game of consistent inconsistency between two inconsistent teams.
Prediction: Panthers by 4

Chargers (3-3) at Jaguars (0-6)
The Jaguars beat the spread last week, the Chargers beat the Colts, an actual opponent.  Philip Rivers seems rejuvenated and resurgent in a division that is on the up and up, and the way the AFC is playing out, the Chargers know they could make the playoffs with nine wins depending upon how the Dolphins, Ravens and Bengals end up. The Chargers should continue here and heap more misery on the worse team in the NFL, although Chad Henne is competent.
Prediction: Chargers by 10

49ers (4-2) at Titans (3-3)
The Titans desperately need Jake Locker to return, whilst the Niners are working the gameplan of Gore first and Kaepernick second.  The Titans are a tough defence, but can they hang with this defence which will target Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Prediction: 49ers by 7

Browns (3-3) at Packers (3-2)
If this was at the Dog Pound maybe, but I hope Aaron Rodgers will please have an enormous fantasy game in this one along with the ever impressive Eddie Lacy.
Prediction: Packers by 8

Texans (2-4) at Chiefs (6-0)
Do not be surprised if the Andy Reid mistake that all pundits are expecting, will occur in probably the most winnable game they have.  Saying that, the Chiefs defence sacked Tyrelle Pryor ten (10!) times last week and Pryor can move quickly.  Can TJ Yates move as quickly?
Prediction: Chiefs by 12

Ravens (3-3) at Steelers (1-4)
Never a good time for the Ravens to play the Steelers, but after two defeats on the trot and the Steelers buzzing after their first win.  The Steelers finally play at home after a month, if LeVeon Bell can stay healthy then the Steelers might be good for a W here.  The Ravens had many runs for negative yards and no gain; whilst Bernard Pierce got more yards receiving than rushing.
Prediction: Steelers by 3

Broncos (6-0) at Colts (4-2)
This could be a match of the season, as the surefire veteran future Hall of Fame quarterback takes on the second year surefire future Hall of Fame quarterback.  Only this time, the veteran returns to the ground he built; Lucas Oil Stadium should be called the Thank You Peyton Auditorium. The Colts lost to the Chargers, admittedly on the road, but they might have had one eye on this match.  Peyton has won one shootout with Romo two weeks ago, if it should succumb to a shootout again as it probably will, there is only one result.
Prediciton: Broncos by 5

Vikings (1-4) at Giants (0-6)
The Giants will finally get the great big winless monkey off their back, Eli Manning will throw for no interceptons and Brandon Jacobs will outrush Adrian Peterson.
Prediction: Giants by 7

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

NFL Week 6 Preview

Week 5 was an odd sort of week; more injuries by the dozens for vital players, very late kick-offs and surprises to be had.
For myself, I went 8-14 making me 30-15 over the three weeks of doing this preview post.

The injuries sustained including Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer who got tangled up on the touchline and ruptured his ACL and is done for the season.  The Browns still beat the Buffalo Bills thanks to a solid defensive effort and Brandon Weedon, who has the job back for the season. The Browns have a tough schedule ahead of it meaning the winning record will disappear, but you felt stronger for their chances with Hoyer under centre.

The surprises were the Indianapolis Colts holding up the Seattle Seahawks at home to give them their first defeat of the season 34-28; meaning the Colts have beaten both the formidable 49ers on the road and now the Seahawks at home.  Due to the continual woes of the Houston Texans and Matt 'Pick 6' Schaub - who threw his fourth consecutive return interception in as many games at San Francisco - the Colts will probably have a home playoff game which in the Lucas Oil stadium will be of benefit to this still young side led by the ever-impressive Andrew Luck.

The game of the week including 99 points as the Denver Broncos went into Cowboys Stadium and won 51-48 thanks to a Matt Prater field goal as time expired thanks to a Tony Romo interception late in the fourth quarter to set up great field position for the undefeated Broncos who are one of three undefeated teams remaining at 5-0 along with Kansas City and New Orleans.  Romo should not get the burden of responsibility as he, was in the ultimate shootout with Peyton Manning (who threw his first interception of the season), threw for 506 yards. The Cowboys defence needs to man up and make some plays and they should still win the NFC East which is just plain woeful.

New York Jets won on Monday Night Football in Atlanta 30-28 thanks to a Nick Folk field goal as time expired and led by a Geno Smith less than two minute drive to get into position.  The Falcons came up short again on a big stage, losing two prime time games in a week on home turf.  Matt Ryan has a 2-6 record on MNF; yet credit to Geno for making the plays needed. The Falcons though are now 1-4, four games behind the Saints and reportedly without Julio Jones who has broken a bone in his foot to coincide with the continual high ankle sprain for Roddy White and the absence of Steven Jackson.

Eli Manning threw some more interceptions, he has 12 through five games thus far.  At the moment the Giants have the No.1 pick in the 2014 draft. The Giants are officially worse than the Jacksonville Jaguars who scored the most points in one game thus far at the St. Louis Rams yet still lost 34-20.

Week 6 predictions (Byes for Atlanta and Miami)

Giants (0-5) at Bears (3-2)
The Thursday Night Football feast continues with a winless team getting prime time air time. Eli Manning has thrown so many interceptions and this week has faces a formidable defence who will be hungry and eager to bounce back from two straight defeats.  They will bring too much pressure to Eli and Jay Cutler just needs to protect the ball and target Alshon Jeffrey who had 200+ yards off of 10 receptions.
Prediction: Bears by 7

Saints (5-0) at Patriots (4-1)
After losing in a monsoon in Ohio, Tom Brady was visibly perturbed by the lack of options he had as the young receivers dropped three of his last eight passes when the ball was there to be caught. The 13-6 road defeat meant Brady snapped his 52 consecutive games with a touchdown.  Hopefully the return of Rob Gronkowski at home will elicit a huge crowd response; they will need it against a very good Saints side whose defence is playing as well as the Drew Brees offence.
Prediction: Saints by 6

Bengals (3-2) at Bills (2-3)
Andy Dalton won a game throwing for 212 yards. The Bengals defence who sacked Tom Brady four times face the hugely respected talent of Thad Lewis..wait, who the hell is Thad Lewis.
Prediction: Bengals by 8

Lions (3-2) at Browns (3-2)
Cleveland's three game winning streak will be coming to an end this week due to the presence of Brandon Weedon in the dropback.  The Lions are a formidable defence whose front seven will be eager to target the 29 year old QB who holds on to the ball for too long.  Calvin Johnson will return also to prompt a big day for himself and Reggie Bush who had a quiet game last week.
Prediction: Lions by 10

Raiders (2-3) at Chiefs (5-0)
The Chiefs are 5-0 (3-0 v NFC East) and this is their first divisional match of the season against an improving Raiders led by Tyrelle Pryor.  The Chiefs are still making few mistakes and Jamaal Charles either running or catching the ball is having the sort of season that should be getting more recognition.
Prediction: Chiefs by 7

Panthers (1-3) at Vikings (1-3)
The Vikings return from their late summer holiday in London with a W, against the frustrating Carolina Panthers.  The Vikings if they play Matt Cassel will probably have too much for this Panthers team who cannot get the best out of Cam Newton.  It will probably be Cassel's last start as the Vikings acquired free agent Josh Freeman after he was cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Prediction: Vikings by 3

Steelers (0-4) at NY Jets (3-2)
Unbelievably the Jets have a winning record and are one game behind the division leading Patriots who they might join at 4-2 if results go their way this week.  Expect J-E-T-S to hold up their end of the bargain; they are getting offensive options back on the field with Mike Goodson in the backfield, Stephen Hill making plays at wide out and Santonio Holmes possibly returning, as well as the defence holding firm.  Big Ben will be shrinking come Sunday night.
Prediction: Jets by 7

Eagles (2-3) at Bucs (0-4)
The Bucs come off a bye with Mike Glennon firmly placed in the quarterback position yet the defence is not making plays.  If Michael Vick remains injured Nick Foles could well step up into the position as he did in the 2nd half of the Giants game and get results.  From a fantasy perspective avoid LeSean McCoy, Foles is a passer and will seek out DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek alternatively.
Prediction: Eagles by 4

Packers (2-2) at Ravens (3-2)
Felt the Ravens were lucky to escape Miami with a W as the Dolphins did some good things including a pick six of the worst throw ever seen by Joe Flacco.  The Packers after a bye look ready to shake things up with a mixture of passing and Eddie Lacy back holding the rock.
Prediction: Packers by 4

Rams (2-3) at Texans (2-3)
Hmm, this is a tough one to call. Usually two bad or losing sides you look at the quarterback, yet the Texans vaunted defence is not making plays; perhaps signing the ageing Ed Reed was a mistake. Yet the Texans should follow the 49ers game plan to nullify the Rams and Sam Bradford.  If Arian Foster is back to his best then that is probably going to be the difference.
Prediction: Texans by 7

Jaguars (0-5) at Broncos (5-0)
The Broncos are 28 point favourites to win this game...get on it people
Prediction: Broncos by 27

Titans (3-2) at Seahawks (4-1)
The Seahawks lost their first game of the season but on the road.  Back at the boisterous home turf, the intimidation factor might be too much for Ryan Fitzpatrick, whilst the Titans wideouts will be too soft for the Seahawks secondary.
Prediction: Seahawks by 10

Cardinals (3-2) at 49ers (3-2)
After their two game skid, the 49ers look to have got their heads back on straight after the Aldon Smith incident.  The defence are making plays as always, Kaepernick is not making turnovers and Frank Gore keeps on running.  The Cardinals are doing some good things but mostly on the defensive side, yet that is in the secondary. The 49ers O-line will be too strong to protect Gore.
Prediction: 49ers by 7

Redskins (1-3) at Cowboys (2-3)
Tony Romo played very well, remember that, and he was finding targets all over the field and yet because of playing Denver it became a throwing contest, so expect DeMarco Murray to have a big day against the weak Redskins defense.  Be interesting to see how RG3's knee looks after a bye.
Prediction: Cowboys by 7

Colts (4-1) at Chargers (2-3)
Philip Rivers is the biggest fake in all of football; he is playing well and yet he faces the Raiders and seemingly freezes. Admittedly he has not many options to throw or hand off to, whereas the Colts are playing with confidence. Interesting to see if Donald Brown gets the goal-line carries over Trent Richardson again for fantasy purposes.
Prediction: Colts by 7

Follow me @JamieGarwood

Thursday, 3 October 2013

NFL Week 5 preview

In Week 4, I got off to the worst start by sheepishly predicting the Rams would upset the 49ers.  However, the Rams could not utilise some good pitch position and some woeful throwing by Sam Bradford led to a sizeable victory by the 49ers who sit 2-2 behind the dominant Seahawks. 
Elsewhere during the week I went 10-5 which adding to the previous week of 12-4, I am now 22-9 over two weeks.

I was even lucky enough to predict the correct margin of victory for the Arizona Cardinals over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who again succumb to a late field goal.  The Redskins won on the road at Oakland after going 14-0 down.  There were two upsets as the Bills won at home against the Ravens and the Browns convincingly defeated the Bengals at home 17-6. 

There is now a three way tie atop the AFC North between those two teams and the Ravens with all three 2-2; so will the winner of that division be the only representative in the playoffs. The AFC is shaping up to have six from Patriots, Broncos, Colts, Ravens, Bengals, Chiefs, Texans and now add the Dolphins. 

I would have considered the Titans but the loss of Jake Locker to a hip strain for a supposed four weeks may disrupt their momentum at a crucial time, the replacement Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the more capable back-ups, however, he needs to have good ball control and avoid turnovers, something Locker had done thus far.

This week's predictions (Byes this week for Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Washington, Tampa Bay)

Bills at Browns
Thursday night football usually means bad football, however with these two .500 teams we might be in for a surprise. The Browns are riding a wave of momentum thanks to the play of Brian Hoyer who is throwing for fun and is 2-0 since getting the starting gig.  The Bills probably have more offensive weapons yet there is an inconsistency to EJ Manuel's play along with injury concerns over running backs CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson.
Prediction: Browns by 3

Saints at Bears
Jay Cutler finally had his bad game and will want to bounce back in this shoot out against Drew Brees and the 4-0 Saints.  However, this is a match-up of two decent offences; yet player of the month Jimmy Graham is having a purple patch of form as well as some receiving yards for Darren Sproles.
Prediction: Saints by 7

Patriots at Bengals
The Patriots having won by 7 at Atlanta on Sunday night, face another tough road trip to the Bengals who are smarting after a shock loss to the Browns.  The Bengals will be hoping to pressure Brady like they did against Aaron Rodgers two weeks ago.  However, Brady showed signs of clicking with his young receiving core.  The Bengals will need to attack the run defence of the Pats without Vince Wilfork whose ruptured Achilles means he is done for the season.
Prediction: Patriots by 4

Lions at Packers
The Packers come off a bye week and the Lions have a spring in their step.  If the Detroit defence and vaunted front seven can unsettle Rodgers like they did Cutler, and Rodgers has looked susceptible to pressure versus Bengals.  Yet you feel Rodgers has more weapons and the Packers need to stop a rampant Reggie Bush who is the real star of the Lions offence.
Prediction: Packers by 3

Chiefs at Titans
If Locker was fit the Titans would have been favourite for me, yet the Chiefs are playing solid mistake free football led by Alex Smith and the great play of Jamaal Charles who is rushing big and catching out of the backfield for big yards. Whilst fans of Dwayne Bowe will feel aggrieved at this, the defence of the Chiefs is making huge plays as Michael Vick and Eli Manning will attest to.
Prediction: Chiefs by 7

Seahawks at Colts
This should be a great one. The Colts are making noise and are being heard.  The Seahawks had a huge win on the road at Houston after being 20 points down to win in overtime led by a Richard Sherman pick six off Matt Schaub.  Andrew Luck will be targeted but also tempted to throw down field, and Trent Richardson might have a big day.  Another stat this week was that Marshawn Lynch has less yards per carry on the road than when at home. A tough one to predict.
Prediction: Seahawks by 3

Jaguars at Rams
Not the greatest spectacle on paper,  a possibility for the Jaguars perhaps to score double-digits yet the Rams will require a response and will have the chance if they can get the run going.  Do not expect fireworks.
Prediction: Rams by 7

Ravens at Dolphins
This writer was not a fan of the Dolphins before the season, yet they have the potential to be a playoff team due to the consistency of Ryan Tannehill and this under-rated defence.  They will have another chance to make a statement such as their victory over the Falcons against Joe Flacco, who threw five (FIVE) interceptions versus the Bills last week. The Ravens also ran the ball only nine (NINE!!) times, a sheer waste of Ray Rice's ability and yet the Dolphins run defence is pretty good.
Prediciton: Dolphins by 5

Eagles at Giants
1-3 versus 0-4 in the awful NFC East. Eli Manning has no protection and the Chip Kelly offence could not keep up with Peyton Manning. This match will be decided by the play of LeSean McCoy against a run defence that is non-existent; pay note fantasy fans.
Prediction: Eagles by 7

Panthers at Cardinals
Carolina might have too much for the Cardinals who are plainly a hot and cold team.  The Panthers got a win before their bye week thanks to utilising the power of Cam Newton's prowess out of the pocket.  The Panthers might goad Carson Palmer to throw considering Rashard Mendenhall is not getting much joy with the rushing.
Prediction: Panthers by 3

Broncos at Cowboys
Can the Cowboys come up with a plan to slow down the accurate and precision machine of Peyton Manning's led offence that averages 40+ points a game.  Manning has no interceptions and 16 touchdowns, whilst sharing the joy for touches with Welker, the Thomases and Eric Decker.  Romo can sling it but can he sling it enough versus these Broncos? Probably not.
Prediction: Broncos by 10

Texans at 49ers
The Texans keep beating themselves and the 49ers are seemingly turning the corner thanks to getting back to the sort of defence that got them to the Super Bowl last year, and with Aldon Smith away from the team more players are coming to the party.  Schaub will probably not have enough and with Arian Foster not producing, the 49ers D will have too much.
Prediction: 49ers by 6

Chargers at Raiders
Terrelle Pryor returns for the Raiders following Matt Flynn stinking out the joint.  They go up against a resurgent Philip Rivers in this AFC West contest, along with Danny Woodhead becoming the focus of the offense. Most of these matchups I have predicted thus far have been picking the better defence over a weaker defence; in this case you pick the better quarterback.
Prediction: Chargers by 10

Jets at Falcons
The Falcons need to win this otherwise they will be an incredible four games behind the Saints if they beat the Bears. The Falcons came close against a good Patriots side, but the comeback was too late.  Whilst the Jets defence has turned some heads you do wonder if they will be able to contain Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, who had a career day on Sunday. Career day at the age of 37, yeah its about time.
Prediction: Falcons by 7

My thanks to the boys at DundeeNFL who hosted me as we talked the Week 4 action, follow this link to the podcast

The Kings of Summer

Jordan Vogt-Rhodes' film The Kings of Summer was an audience favourite at Sundance this year, and following a brief cinema run it gets a DVD release where it might garner the more wide-ranging audience it deserves.

Utilising a script by Chris Galletta that is both funny and sentimental in equal doses, the film tells the story of three teenage boys in surburban Ohio, who upset by the actions of their parents and another boring summer decide to go live in the woods where they will build a house and live off the land for the summer.

We know that coming-of-age films from Stand By Me follow this thread of thought, whereas that stellar work was more a journey for the boys as they went to discover a body, those boys were always wanting to return home; here the boys are just rebelling as they are not happy with their current situation.

Joe (Nick Robinson) is dismissed at school and wants to be one of the boys, plus he and his Dad, Frank (Nick Offerman) are at continual loggerheads since the passing of Joe's mother.  During a game of Monopoly, Frank swindles some property prompting Joe to phone the police reporting a theft.  Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is the jock with an ankle injury meaning he has to wear a boot all summer; he is not happy at home as his parents drive him crazy, his mother is played by Megan Mullally of Will and Grace fame.  They are joined by the eccentric Biaggio (Moises Arias) who provides the most laughs by way of his odd behaviour.

Galletta's script is quite funny in places and maintains that flow of laughs throughout the film, whereas some scripts can suffer from a willingness and need to get sentimental and dramatic in tone.  The ending involving a scare with nature is played straight but the back and forth of Joe and Frank's dialogue helps the action bounce due to the already cantankerous nature of their relationship.

Special credit to the cinematographer, Ross Reige who shoots with a great eye and gets some great shots in the woods where the boys reside even providing a great crash zoom and focus during the blowout keg party at the start of the film.

Entertaining, well acted and a great addition to the pantheon of coming-of-age films.

The Kings of Summer is out now on DVD (£15.99RRP) from StudioCanal, my thanks to EM Foundation for the screening disc

Thanks For Sharing

Having previously gained some acclaim for his screenplays Keeping The Faith and The Kids Are All Right, Stuart Blumberg was bound to jump into the directing chair sooner than later and here is his debut Thanks For Sharing a somewhat semi-autobiographical tale regarding sex addiction in the city that never sleeps.

A stellar cast combine to create an entertaining comedy drama that focuses on the crippling nature of sexual addiction and how the mantra of one day at a time is important.

Adam (Mark Ruffalo) has been sober of sex for seven years.  He is a well adjusted professional with a phone from the late 1990s to avoid the images of pornography so apparent and available in the social media, even when he is in hotel rooms on business he asks for the television to be removed from his room to save himself. 

Adam meets Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), the girl of his dreams who is everything he imagines and wants to be with; yet his close group friend Mike (Tim Robbins) says he will have to come clean eventually about his addictive past, considering Phoebe discloses her ex was an alcoholic and she is recovering from breast cancer.

The contrasting storyline concerns a young doctor Neil (Josh Gad) who is suffering severely with his sexual addiction, it is affecting his performance at work where he is fired for putting a camera on his shoe so he can see up his bosses skirt.  Neil needs help and starts taking the group therapy seriously with the introduction of Dede (Pink under her real name, Alecia Moore), a young female who lost her best friend after sleeping with her best friend's father.

Mike himself has a storyline with the return of his troubled son, Danny (Patrick Fugit) a junkie who used to steal from his home and they kicked out until he was clean.  Danny comes home and both he and Mike start to see each other in a different light until old wounds start to resurface including Mike's own sexual and alcohol addiction.

The film in the first half is really entertaining with a breeziness of dialogue and delivery helped by the expert performances of the experienced actors; however in the second half the film slowly becomes a little bit too dramatic for its own good.  A fault that could have been aimed at the same writer for his Keeping The Faith screenplay where the running time was too long and he was not too sure where to take it.

A fault to find with the film is that the ensemble is too many with female characters especially somewhat restricted by their roles as either faithful wife, trophy girlfriend and bad girl.  At the start when Adam talks to Neil about not taking the subway (so he avoids grinding up against women) and get rid of his porn collection, you wish for the film to have a somewhat satiricial or perhaps critical eye on the proliferation of sexual images in the everyday media; after a break-up with Phoebe, Adam sees a picture of a runner in a magazine and immediately collates that image with Phoebe which throws him off the deep end. 

When Adam does go dark, Ruffalo comes to the fore as a good actor but he is oddly shown up by Emily Meade in the role of Becky, a former conquest of Adam who has severe Daddy issues.  Becky's issues are in sharp contrast to Adam who quickly reverts to his saintly role and there is always someone in a worse state than you.  Becky is not aware of her problem and is probably reluctant to seek help due to the subsequent stigmatism by her peers, but maybe that is the message of the film, the help is available to those who need it and seek it.

The criticism of the ensemble comes to the fore in the problematic role of Tim Robbins' character Mike.  Is he the father figure to Adam even though they are 10 years apart in age roughly and his back story is not really developed nor explored until he and Danny separate causing some wobbly camerawork when Mike sees some alcohol.

A better film would have been a bro-mance drama between Ruffalo and Gad, the age gap is wide enough for it to be a surrogate big brother role even a father figure role.  Gad also has natural comic talents (fat man on a bike, fat man in leotards) and his charm is enthused by the chemistry with Moore in the significant role of Dede; Gad has the funniest lines and you wonder what sort of film it might have been if that editing process had occurred.

However, it is refreshing to see such an open and honest film in regards to the sensitive nature of sexual addiction.  There are some obstacles and hoops the actors have to jump through, but it is a solid ensemble effort by all and one that does hold your attention in part due to the performances and not the direction.

Thanks For Sharing is out on Friday 4th October