Category Archives: CONTRIBUTORS

Greg’s Gambling Lines: NFL and NCAA acton for October 4-7

So I didn’t do too well last week. I went 1-4 to start, but I went 3-2 in NFL action the next day, and I would’ve been 5-0 if the scores of the 4 PM games had held with two minutes to go. Look, it happens, but this weekend is going to be a lot of fun for football fans such as myself. Why? Cause this weekend, we have five college games on Saturday being played between two Top 25 teams, including two in the SEC that involve teams only in the Top Ten. This weekend is going to be a vital one in college football, and you are going to see a lot of  movement in the Coaches and AP polls on Sunday. We have some great NFL action as well, and I think we’re going to have a bit of fun along the way.

Note: All picks will be against the spread, and all odds, unless otherwise noted, are -110 (or 10/11). That means you need to bet $110 to win $100, and the ratio stays the same for however much you bet.

College Football Saturday:

Illinois (+14.5) at Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been in close games all year, and they’re coming off of a really bad collapse on Saturday Night in Lincoln. The Badgers have the look of a team in disarray, and while they will not be intimidated by the Illini, they’re in a bit of trouble right now. Illinois is coming off of a bad loss at home to Penn State, but they’ve looked solid on both sides of the ball and should be able to give Wisconsin a run for their money. Take the points here.

North Carolina State (+15) v Florida State

Call me insane, but I’ve got a hunch on this one. After watching Florida State the last couple of weeks, you can tell that they are a very good team that can compete with anybody in the country. They also happen to have very good trends in regards to games against the Wolfpack, having won their last 5 against NC State and 4 of the last 5 away to NC State. But NC State is 7-1 SU in its last 8 games at home, and they’ll be raring to go against the Seminoles. I’m going to take the points here.

**Parlay** #12 Ohio State (-3.5) v #21 Nebraska, Under 57.5 (+260)

I hope you guys take my advice when I pick Ohio State games, because if there is one college team that I know, it’s the Buckeyes. Last week they had a strong showing against the Spartans and pulled out a one-point win in East Lansing to go to 5-0. This weekend, they host Nebraska, who is coming off of a miraculous 30-27 comeback win against Wisconsin. Last year, the Buckeyes dominated in Lincoln for the first 35 minutes. It was 27-6 five minutes into the 3rd. Then Braxton Miller got injured and fumbled the ball, sparking a Nebraska comeback for the ages, as they pulled it out 34-27. Don’t expect that to happen again this year, as the Buckeyes are 22-3 in their last 25 at Ohio Stadium, and they just love playing under the lights. Lay the points and take the under as the Buckeyes pull this one out and go to 6-0.

**7-point Teaser Pick** #10 Florida (+9.5) v #4 LSU, Over 35.5 (-130)

This is a HUGE game in The Swamp. 5-0 LSU visits 4-0 Florida in a Top Ten showdown. This game could have SEC and National Title implications on the line. It doesn’t get much better than this. Now, with both defenses playing very strong this season, the belief is that this will be a low-scoring game. Here’s a funny trend though: 4 of the last 5 games between these two teams has seen the total go over the Vegas line. Why? Because these teams have a tendency to play low-scoring games against each other before going guns blazing against one another. Another funny stat is that these games tend to be very tight in the Swamp. Teaser the two, take Florida +9.5 & lower the over/under bar to just over 5 TDs, and enjoy the game.

**7-point Teaser Pick** #2 Oregon (-17.5) v #24 Washington, Under 72 (-130)

Big rivalry game in Eugene as the Ducks and Huskies face off. Look, I know it’s tempting to take the over here, but I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: the total has been under the Vegas line 6 of the last 9 times these teams have played each other. Take the under and lay the points here, but just to be safe, I’m going to teaser it and pray for the best.

Quick disclaimer on these next two: the only reason I’m picking these two games at all is because of the fact that they are big games. I don’t like the prospects for these at all, but I’m just putting it down on paper because of the massive interest in these games on Saturday.

#5 Georgia at #6 South Carolina Over 53.5 

Another game between two undefeated SEC teams, with this one taking place in Columbia. The winner of this game will be in the drivers’ seat in the SEC East race should Florida lose to LSU. Both teams have high-potent offenses and will be able to move the ball efficiently against the other side’s defense. It’ll be a very exciting game, and I expect it to be a high-scoring affair. Take the over.

#8 West Virginia at #11 Texas Over 73.5

Just take the over. Do not fuck with Geno Smith and West Virginia. Just take the fucking over. This game will be a shootout, just fucking lay the points.

NFL Sunday (Rapidfire)

**Parlay** Green Bay (-7.5) at Indianapolis, Over 48

Kansas City (+7) v Baltimore, Under 46

Pittsburgh (-3.5) v Philadelphia, Over 43

San Francisco (-11) v Buffalo, Under 44.5

Alright, so much for that. Have a good weekend everybody, and remember: If you actually bet these picks, then you deserve what happens.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

Greg’s Gambling Lines: NFL and NCAA Picks (September 29 and 30)

This has been a crazy week for me in terms of gambling. Despite going 5-5 in my inaugural Gambling Lines column last week, I lost quite a bit of my earnings from the early games betting on the Michigan-Notre Dame over/under. Despite that, I made back a small amount of cash on Sunday’s NFL games.

I had two bets on Monday Night Football, my bigger one getting decided on the final play. One of those bets was a seven-point teaser: Seahawks +10.5 and Under 53 (-130). That bet was over by halftime, but the other bet, Seahawks +3.5 was a much larger bet, and one that I profited on because of much-maligned refereeing incompetence. Honestly, I’m glad I profited, but I’m much happier that the regular referees are coming back. I’m furious with the owners for allowing this to drag on as long as it did. Anybody with half a brain knew that it would come down to someone getting cost a game (I knew it in preseason). For this to have dragged on as long as it did screams malpractice and incompetence of the highest order, and I found Jim Irsay’s tweets on Wednesday to be incredibly insulting to my intelligence.

Anyway, let’s get on to some selections. We’re going to introduce some NFL picks into the mix this week in addition to the NCAA picks. I think I’ve got some good ones this week, but nothing’s a sure thing when it comes to Vegas.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all picks will be against the spread, and all odds are -110 (or 10/11). That means you need to bet $110 to win $100, and the ratio stays the same for however much you bet.

Thursday Night Special:

NFL + NCAA Parlay: Baltimore (-12) v Cleveland and Stanford (-7) at Washington (odds: +$273)

Stanford has had Washington’s number over the years, and in spite of Washington starting off well at home this season and having a primetime game on national television against the #8 team in the country, Stanford should be able to pull this out. As far as the NFL game is concerned, 0-3 Cleveland is traveling on short rest to face a Baltimore team riding high after sneaking away with a win on Sunday Night Football against New England. Cleveland may have a trend of playing well in primetime games, but don’t over think this one. Lay the points for both favorites tonight.

NCAA Saturday:

#25 Baylor at #9 West Virginia Under 81.5

This one was too big to turn down. Yes, both teams are very good offensively, with Baylor averaging 51.3 PPG and West Virginia 47.3. But look at the teams they’ve faced: West Virginia played Marshall, James Madison and Maryland, while Baylor played SMU, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe. Best team of those six is Maryland, and West Virginia was held to 31 points in that game last week. Yes, this one is bound to be a shoot-out, but 82 points is a bit too high for my liking.

UConn (-16) v Buffalo

Okay, I know Connecticut is coming off a loss against Western Michigan, and yes, they’re two wins against Maryland and UMass are nothing to write home about, but come on. Buffalo lost to Kent State 23-7 at home last week, with their only TD coming courtesy of a Hail Mary at the end of the half with a catch that the receiver couldn’t make again if he got another 50 chances at it. To only be favored by 16 is a blessing in my eyes. Lay the points.

Saturday’s Big Money picks:

**Seven-point teaser #1**: #14 Ohio State (+9.5) at #20 Michigan State under 49 (-130)

This game could go either way. That being said, Michigan State’s offense has struggled in three of their first four games, and they’ve given up an average of 11.8 points per game. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State has been able to score points this year, but they haven’t really had a big test yet. Having watched Ohio State in all four games this season, I’ll say this: the offense is not as good as Urban Meyer would like it to be, and Braxton Miller is not a legitimate Heisman Candidate this year. Last year, Ohio State lost 10-7 at home to Michigan State and struggled to move the ball. Six of their seven losses last year were by a TD or less. They brought in Urban Meyer because he is one of the best coaches in the country, but the biggest thing that he’s been able to do wherever he’s gone is win games. Sounds pretty simple, no? If they’re going to be in close games this year, they will be able to win them. I think they’ll be able to leave East Lansing with a win, but just to be safe, do a teaser and give yourself a bit of a handicap.

**Seven-point teaser #2**: #22 Nebraska (-4.5) v Wisconsin under 58.5 (-130)

Nebraska’s first ever Big Ten game last year was away to Wisconsin, where the Badgers welcomed them with a 48-17 ass-whooping at Camp Randall. This year, Nebraska’s got revenge on their mind, and this would be the perfect scenario for them to get one over the Badgers. While Wisconsin’s loss to Oregon State doesn’t look as bad as it did a few weeks ago, they haven’t really impressed in their first few games. Their most impressive win was last week when they won by 11 against UTEP. If Utah State makes a field goal at the end of the game in Week 3, we’re talking about a 2-2 Wisconsin team here that was supposed to coast into the Big Ten Championship Game. While they’re probably going to represent the Leaders Division in Indianapolis, it’s clear that something isn’t quite right in Madison, and they’re going to suffer for it against Nebraska.

NFL:

San Francisco 49ers -3.5 at New York Jets

The line here is lower than it should be with the 49ers are coming off a loss in Minnesota, while the Jets are coming off an OT win in Miami. When you factor in that the Jets have lost Revis for the season, and that their offense is a disaster going up against a defense that made a habit last season out of trying to kill QBs, it’s fair to say that the bookies made it easy for bettors here. [Editor’s note: the house always wins in the long-run, Greg!]

Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals Under 40

The Cardinals, much to everyone’s surprise, are 3-0 going into this game against Miami. While the offense has been consistent, putting up an average of 22.33 PPG, their defense has been the driving point, and they made a huge statement against the Eagles on Sunday. As a huge Giants fan, it’s given me a massive amount of joy to get the opportunity to see Michael Vick get popped repeatedly on television in two of the first three weeks of the season, and the Cardinals were being more vicious than a dog who just managed to survive getting electrocuted to death. They forced a number of turnovers and have been able to contain both Tom Brady and Vick the last two weeks. Miami, on the other hand, has been very efficient at stopping the run so far this season, and while they’ve given up quite a few points in the first three weeks, they should be able to do well against Arizona’s offense.

Denver Broncos -6 v Oakland Raiders

Despite getting beaten handily the first two weeks, Oakland is coming off a big win against Pittsburgh, while the Broncos have (not so surprisingly) lost two straight with Peyton at the helm. It’s fair to say that the Raiders were facing an injury-depleted Steelers lineup last week, while the Broncos have had a rather difficult start to the schedule going up against three playoff teams from last year. Even with this being a divisional game, the Broncos haven’t looked bad by any means in their first three games. I expect them to cover here against Oakland.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -3 v Washington Redskins

As much as I hate to say it, Tampa Bay looks like a legitimate team right now. Schiano is coaching this team very well and has them fighting until the end against the teams they’ve played these first three weeks. While Washington has looked like a very good team as well in these last few weeks, I can’t help but feel as though this is one of those games where we’ll get to see a team have all of the pieces come together. I think the Bucs will pull it out here.

St. Louis Rams +3 v Seattle Seahawks

The NFC West has had a trend over the years of divisional games typically being won by the home team. This one should be no different. In spite of how horrible St. Louis looked last week, they should be able to do much better this week against Seattle. Yes, the Seahawks were impressive in their win on Monday night (even if they were handed the game by the refs at the end), but Seattle is a different team when they play at home. Seattle also loves playing on Monday night (they have the highest winning percentage in the history of MNF). However, they have not been as good on the road. I’ll take the points and expect St. Louis to win outright.

————-

Alright, there’s my picks for the 29th and 30th of September. Enjoy, and remember: if you’re dumb enough to bet your house on one of these recommendations, then you deserve what happens to you.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

EPL Recap Week 5: Moronic Liverpool-Manchester United Fans and John Terry Soil It All

Last weekend saw some phenomenal action in the English Premier League, with two marquee match-ups grabbing the spotlight in England: Liverpool vs. Manchester United and Manchester City vs. Arsenal. It was meant to be a great weekend of football that would be capped off by two matches would be watched by millions around the world, and as far as action was concerned, both lived up to the hype. However, I need to deviate from the usual format of “title-contender,” “mid-table,” and “relegation” in recapping the matches to point out some troublesome off-the-pitch action.

At Anfield, it was supposed to be an emotional day, as Liverpool were playing at home for the first time since the Independent Hillsborough Panel issued their report and completely exonerated the club’s fans for what had happened on 15 April 1989. Manchester United came to Anfield, with Sir Alex Ferguson and the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust pleading for the traveling Manchester United fans (who were given a near-full away allocation for the first time in quite a while) to end all offensive anti-Liverpool songs and show respect to the opposing fans. Just this once, in respect of the 96.

Man United wore jumpers before the match with “96” on the back, and Luis Suarez shook Patrice Evra’s hand, thus putting that issue to bed once and for all. After a beautiful tribute on the pitch, with balloons being released into the air, flowers were presented to Ian Rush by Sir Bobby Charlton, and a three-sided crowd mosaic was put on display during the opening minute of play, the focus went back to matters on the pitch, but the hostility off it was as ripe as ever.

In the 12th minute, a select amount of traveling Man United fans could be heard clearly over the television singing “Where’s your famous Munich song” towards the rest of the ground, a reference to the chant sung by a minority of Liverpool fans about the 1958 Munich Air Disaster. Eyewitness accounts claim that this was in response to two fans at the Anfield Road end of the stadium doing the “Munich Aeroplane Pose” towards them a minute earlier. After the match, while being held in the ground by stewards as the rest of fans left, a number of fans could be heard yet again singing the aforementioned song, in addition to chants of “Always the victims, It’s never your fault” and “Mur-der-ers”, which are references to both the Hillsborough and Heysel Disasters of 1989 and 1985 (link to the video here).

Things were rather eventful on the pitch as well, with Jonjo Shelvey getting sent off for a two-footed challenge on Jonny Evans, who got nothing despite going in two-footed as well. While heading towards the tunnel, the 20 year-old Shelvey had some words with Sir Alex. After the match, which was a 2-1 Man United win, Jonjo took to twitter to apologize to the fans for getting sent off. However, he also added one other tweet, which read:

“I have also apologised to Sir Alex, just where I come from people don’t grass people up to get someone sent off.”

That has since been deleted, but it’s clear that he’ll probably see some reprimand from the FA for that remark.

Yesterday was supposed to be a chance for Liverpool and Manchester United to move on and show that there is some common decency in football in spite of what is a very heated rivalry. Alas, the lunatic/idiotic minorities in each fan-base have overshadowed the silent majorities. Just when it seemed as though society had taken another positive step, we’ve been reminded of how far we still have to go. There’s never true unity when tribalism is still in play.

After all matches had taken place on Sunday, a stunning development took place in the form of Chelsea Captain, (twice) former England National Team Captain, and overall undeserving media darling John Terry releasing a statement. The reason? He was retiring from the England National Team effective immediately. The announcement came less than 24 hours before his FA hearing in regards to the incident that had taken place last season involving Anton Ferdinand. The statement from John Terry read as follows:

“I am making this statement today in advance of the hearing of the FA disciplinary charge because I feel the FA, in pursuing charges against me where I have already been cleared in a court of law, have made my position with the national team untenable.”

Now, I’ve already explained this in a prior post on this website, but just for the sake of clarity, let me explain how fucking ridiculous this quote is. First of all, John: You are not being charged for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. You are being charged with misconduct and violating Rule E3, which deals with “bringing the game into disrepute.” Rule E3 specifically says that a player on the pitch cannot use “threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.” It doesn’t matter what context you used them in, because The FA rules state that your intent doesn’t matter as you still used incredibly offensive language.

In addition, John, you used one, if not two “aggravating factors” as defined in the first subheading of rule E3. The aggravating factors are defined as “a reference to any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability,” which you have admitted to doing in a court of law.

Also, the process for this charge is different than what you faced in a criminal court. The FA are not undermining the English Justice System, as they are operating under a lower burden of proof than a criminal court. You were found not guilty, because there was a reasonable doubt as to your intent. Here, you have to face the same burden of proof as Luis Suarez, known as “balance of probability,” in regards to whether or not you used the words “Fucking Black Cunt,” something that, as I have already pointed out, you have admitted to in a court of law.

John, you have no leg to stand on here. The FA has done what it believes is the right course of action and it is not untenable by any means. Why? Because they are operating by fair and consistent standards. Just because you’re an English media darling and a national hero doesn’t mean you deserve special treatment from your own governing body.

Your retirement from the English National Team is the equivalent of a spoiled little kid running to their Mom because they’ve been grounded by Dad for saying “fuck you” in response to being asked to clean their room. Your excuse? “Mom lets me say that all the time cause she knows that I don’t mean it.” Well you know what? Fuck off John.

Next week we’ll see a normal weekend EPL review, but yesterday was just too insane to focus on what happened on the pitch.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

Greg’s Gambling Lines: College Football Week 4

Okay, I’ve never had my own column for picking winners before. Alas, with my only column these days being the EPL wrap-up column every week, we had to figure something out to get me writing articles on a more regular basis [Editor’s Note: You can pitch and write on your own ideas too!]. So here’s my first ever gambling column going into tomorrow’s College Football games. If I do well, then we’ll continue it for the rest of the season. If it doesn’t go over well, then we gave it a shot. Still, it’s about time my gambling addiction came in handy.

I’ll have three “Big Money” picks this week, in addition to one specialty parlay.

Note: All picks will be against the spread, and all odds, unless otherwise noted, are -110 (or 10/11). That means you need to bet $110 to win $100, and the ratio stays the same for however much you bet.

Alright, here are my picks for this Saturday’s College Football action:

Kansas (+9) at Northern Illinois

Kansas is getting its leading rusher from last season James Sims back from suspension going into this game, but Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox have filled in for him rather well despite his absence the first three games. They’ve started off 1-2, but I think they’ve got enough here to beat the spread at Northern Illinois.

Miami (Ohio) (-24.5) v UMass

High-octane passing game at home against a team that’s coming off three consecutive spankings against BCS Conference opponents? I’ll take that. I’m weary about spotting 24 points, but willing to take the risk here.

Louisville (-13.5) at Florida International

Not exactly thrilled to be going with this pick, but Florida International beat Louisville 24-17 in their meeting at Louisville last season. Louisville’s starting off the season well, however, and should have that humiliation from last year fresh in its mind going into this one.

Washington State (-20) v Colorado

I’m going to sum this up for you rather sweetly: Colorado is fucking horrible. They’ve not only lost to Colorado State and Sacramento State in close games, but they’re also coming off a humiliating blowout to Fresno State. Lay the 20 points and expect the Buffs’ miserable season to continue in their first Pac-12 game of the season.

Arkansas (-9) v Rutgers

I know Arkansas’s got injury problems and has lost to UL-Monroe & Alabama at home, but they should be strong enough to bounce back here. Yes, Rutgers is 3-0 and coming off a big Thursday Night win at South Florida, but John L. Smith needs this game to somewhat salvage the season (and his locker room).

Under 59.5 UAB at Ohio State

The Ohio State offense has been out there for a little while, and chinks in the armor are starting to show in spite of their 3-0 start. While UAB might not get much going with the ball, they should be able to give Braxton and Co. a tough time as the Buckeyes play their last tune-up before the Big Ten schedule starts.

Three “Big Money” picks

Notre Dame (-5.5) v. Michigan

As much as I hate to say it: Notre Dame looks legit right now. The defense is playing very well, while the offense is carrying the load and doing its job so far. Michigan, however, hasn’t really had a conventional opponent since Alabama. Air Force is an option offense that Big Ten teams don’t usually run, and UMass is, well, UMass. So take Notre Dame here against the spread. Still, I’d love it if both of these teams could lose. Seriously, could we please try to make that happen?

Florida State (-14) v Clemson

Okay, before you all get started: Yes, Florida State hasn’t played anybody yet. But they’re kicking the shit out of whoever the hell they do play. I mean, you gotta be doing something right to win 69-3, 55-0 and 52-0 your first three games. Yes, Clemson is much tougher than Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest, but that defense is still suspect. Remember the Orange Bowl against West Virginia? I mean, that was only 9 months ago…

Auburn (+20.5) v Louisiana State University

This one is based on history more than anything. This is a massive rivalry game, with Auburn and LSU always playing tough (and close) games against each other in Auburn. Yes, Auburn has struggled in their early season games so far, but I have my doubts that this will be a blowout by LSU. Take the points and look for Auburn to give LSU a bit of a scare here.

*7-Point Teaser*:

South Carolina (-3 / under 55.5) v. Missouri (line: -130)

——–

Alright, there’s my picks. Enjoy, and remember: if you’re dumb enough to bet your house on one of these recommendations, then you deserve what happens to you.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

EPL Recap Week 4: A Rare Moment of Solidarity

This weekend’s English Premier League action has been very exciting, but the action seemed to take a back seat for the most part, because of revelations that took over 23 years to finally come to light.

The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel were revealed on Wednesday September 12th. Thousands of documents from the disaster were being made public for the first time, and the findings confirmed that what the families of the victims, and Liverpool fans in general, had been saying about that day for over 23 years were the truth.

To sum it up in a paragraph would be incredibly disrespectful, as there’s so much more to the story that can be expressed in words. Alas, this is a football piece, and I have to try my best to do so: On 15 April 1989, 96 Liverpool fans who went to Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium for the FA Cup Semi-final against Nottingham Forest were killed by a crush that was the result of a lack of police control. The Independent Panel found that South Yorkshire Police changed or deleted 116 of 164 statements by officers to shift blame on to the fans in an orchestrated cover-up. To top it all off, it was found that ambulance services being allowed access into the ground could have saved 41 lives. They were lined up outside the stadium ready to go in but were denied access by South Yorkshire Police. Nobody to date has ever been held accountable for this disaster. After 23 years of fighting, the families have finally gotten the truth from their government, and can now begin the fight for justice and having those responsible finally be held accountable.

In the aftermath of this news coming to light, almost all grounds in England hosting a match this weekend held a tribute of some sort for the Hillsborough victims and the families of those who died. Reading played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” over the loudspeaker before their match against Tottenham. Everton held a particularly moving tribute prior to their match on Monday night against Newcastle, with Margaret Aspinall and and Trevor Hicks, heads of the Hillsborough Families Support Group and Hillsborough Justice Campaign, both of whom lost children on 15 April, in attendance. Sunderland showed a message on the screen showing their support for the families prior to their match at home against Liverpool. All of these acts are indicative of a rare moment of solidarity in English football, and it reminds us all of the fact that there is more to life than football, as we have all been reminded of the fact that 96 Liverpool fans went to a match 23 years ago and never came home.

With that solidarity being highlighted, it’s time for us to review the highlights of this weekend’s Premiership action:

TITLE CONTENDING: Man United’s 4-0 smashing of Wigan at home

I’m not gonna mention the shenanigans that took place at this match, as its already been beaten to death in the press. As far as what happened on the pitch, Man United took their chances at home and made it clear that they are back and hungry to reclaim the league title this season. After a scoreless first half, Paul Scholes got things started with a goal in the 50th minute, marking his 700th appearance for Man United with a goal at Old Trafford. Another usual suspect put the game to bed 12 minutes later, as Javier Hernandez scored to put United up 2-0. Then Alexander Büttner, making his debut for United, opened his account with a goal that resulted from a terrific run on his part, followed by a finish from a tight angle off the keeper and in. Late in the match, 17 year-old Nick Powell came off the bench for United to make his debut in front of the Old Trafford faithful, and capped it off with a debut goal of his own.

MID-TABLE: Everton 2-2 Newcastle

This was a phenomenal match. Everton started off much brighter and got the opening goal in the 16th minute on a truly great finish by Leighton Baines. Newcastle started to get something going at the end of the first half, and was able to get the equalizer early in the 2nd, courtesy of Demba Ba. The match became much more open as a result of that goal, and, in the 88th minute, Everton appeared to have snatched a late winner with a goal from Victor Anichebe. Alas, this was not to be as Demba Ba scored yet another equalizer two minutes later to seal a point for a very injury-depleted Newcastle United.

RELEGATION: Southampton loses 6-1 to Arsenal at The Emirates

This might be a bit cruel to put Southampton’s 6-1 loss as the worst performance of the week, seeing as it was against Arsenal. But having already played Manchester United and Manchester City tough but losing 3-2 in each match, in addition to a 2-0 home loss to Wigan, this one hurt for Saints fans. They conceded two own goals in this match, in addition to one from Podolski, two from Gervinho, and one from Walcott in a 6-1 drubbing. They’ve lost four straight matches in the Premier League since being promoted, with this one being the worst of the bunch. It’s fair to say that this is worthy of being distinguished as a team in relegation form.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

First Round Football Farce

The NFL season has finally arrived, and every team has their own set of expectations. Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck lead the pack of the newest draft picks meant to bring their respective teams, as well as themselves, into football glory. As the first two picks in last April’s NFL draft, both have the weight of their cities on their shoulders. Given the history of the draft and how these high draft picks generally faired, it’s confusing as to why there is so much emphasis put on how well a player did in college and how he was drafted. It’s common knowledge that dominant college football performance by far doesn’t mean dominant professional performance. So why do we even care?

Ryan Leaf was destined for greatness. After a strong showing in high school, he enrolled at Washington State University, not a particularly strong football school, and proceeded to an amazing three season with the Cougars. He played in 32 games for the Cougars, starting 24 of them. His junior year, he averaged 330.6 yards passing per game and threw for a then Pac-10 conference record 33 touchdowns. He also helped the Cougars defeat the Washington Huskies 41-35 for the first time in Husky Stadium since 1985. Leaf ended the school’s 67-year Rose Bowl drought and helped bring the Cougars their first Pac-10 championship in school history. The Cougars would go on to lose the Rose bowl to Michigan, the eventual National Champions.

After this amazing performance, Ryan Leaf stated that he intended to forgo his senior season at Washington State and enter the NFL draft. Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning were slotted to be the number one and two top draft picks in 1998. You couldn’t go wrong with either one. Initially wanted by Indianapolis, Ryan Leaf failed to appear for an interview with the team, and thus the colts drafted Peyton Manning with their first pick, while with the second pick the San Diego Chargers picked Leaf. Both were scouted as essentially worry free picks, so both teams felt they had won in the draft. Leaf was stated after he was drafted “I’m looking forward to a 15-year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl and a parade through downtown San Diego.” This would statement would mark the beginning of one of the worst careers by a top 5 draft pick in NFL history, if not the worst. In four seasons, Leaf appeared in 25 games, making 21 starts. He completed 317 of 655 passes for 3,666 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. He ended his career with a quarterback rating of 50. While not nearly as bad as this career, there have been numerous first round picks that have had a similar fate: JaMarcus Russell, Courtney Brown, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Roy Williams, Charles Rodgers, Mark Sanchez, David Carr and possibly Sam Bradford. The list could go on.

My question is, why is there so much emphasis put on where in the draft a person is placed, given the history of draft busts? There have been great players that have come out later in the draft—Tom Brady is the prime, but not normal, example of arguably one of the best players to play the game being drafted late in the draft (he was drafted 6th round, 199th pick). He was thought to be a fringe professional that might be a decent backup. The Patriots literally found a diamond in the rough. Jay Ratliff, Troy Brown (another Patriot), Matt Hasselbeck (drafted same year as Leaf), Marques Colston, Donald Driver, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe are just the top few of the many late round draft picks that rose to prominence. Kurt Warner could be placed in the same category because he wasn’t even drafted! All these players went on to  have amazing careers when everyone felt they weren’t worth a first round pick.

I understand that it’s nearly impossible to determine how a player is going to fair once they go pro—their performance in college is the only the only thing to go by. You go by their potential to transition from college football to professional football. I get that. But, there has been research done that gives an idea of when it’s best to pick certain positions as well as an idea of the chances that a position will be a benefit or a bust. According to a Grantland article by Bill Barnwell, there is a little over a 50% chance that the QB you draft will deliver good value and have a respectable career in the NFL by his fifth year in the league—the lowest chance of any position in the NFL. The research is 60% in favor of a running back being successful within his first five seasons in the league. The tight end position provided the most stable chance of getting a good career out of a draft pick, with around an 87% success rate in the first five years. The research is essentially stating that as the importance level of the player goes down, his chances at success go up. As for when to pick positions, the QB and RB positions are again the worse positions to fill by far. Outside of the first round, both positions lose their overall potential value drastically after each round. The WR position holds up pretty well until after the second round, when proceeds to bomb in value as well. Again, as the overall importance level drops, the overall bang for your buck seems to go up, with TE’s holding their value the longest over the course of the draft. Hardly a pleasing set of numbers for a general manager with important holes to fill. It’s just interesting to see how much importance is still put on draft placement. There is absolutely no guarantee that a player will be worth anything once they go pro, especially at QB and RB. So why all these ridiculous bonuses and guaranteed money for a player that can’t guarantee anything about their performance?

A perfect example of how I feel about high draft picks that haven’t played is when Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said that RG3 is simply “Bob Griffin” until he proves himself in the NFL. That is exactly how these picks should be treated. You haven’t proven shit, so your not shit until you do. Instead, Andrew Luck is Peyton Manning’s replacement (which he’ll never be, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback the NFL has seen since Joe Montana and I’ll debate that with who ever wants to lose) and Robert Griffin III is going to take the Redskins out of the doldrums of the NFL (which we’ve all heard before). Why can’t we just be realistic about these players? Yes, they were good/great/amazing in college, but that doesn’t mean shit anywhere else?! As a Lions fan, I know how great it is to have a high number one draft pick. Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams all haunt me to this day. While Calvin Johnson is absolutely amazing, it took more than just a great receiver to get the Lions winning again. So while having a great new draft pick is great and could help put a positive outlook on a team, it doesn’t mean anything until they prove something. As Cam Newton and Panthers will tell you, even having a number one draft pick instantly work out doesn’t mean that you team will be great.

I know that being drafted in the first round means that you have the most potential to succeed in the NFL, and that’s why it’s so important. At the same time though, it’s only potential! So why can we just treat as just that, potential? These aren’t the conquering heroes that every analyst and remote control general manager make them out to be. They are potentially a key piece of a puzzle that has to come together to make a great team. And as for Reggie Bush’s career (or insert any number of other great picks that haven’t lived up to the hype) can attest to, potential can only get you so far.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala

Looking Inside the JLBSports Crystal Ball: NFL Predictions Sure To Go Wrong

For me, this has been the quickest NFL offseason ever. At this point last year, my Green Bay Packers were the reigning champs, and I squeezed every second I could out of that. Hell, last season my team was undefeated up until mid-December—I held my balls in the face of every other fan for almost ten whole months. It’s been different this year though. After the Packers laid an egg against the Giants, Linsanity bridged the gap between the Super Bowl and the NBA playoffs, and before I knew it, the Olympics rolled around to preoccupy every second of my sporting fandom. A family vacation even helped to bridge the small gap between the Olympics and the start of the English Premier League. There’s been no sporting lull at all! Sure the Little League World series ate up the last few weeks of August, but that’s what Chopped on the Food Network is for. If I’m going to watch a competition, damn right it’s going to involve food and not 12 year olds.

Alas, the kids are back at school, and stores aren’t selling bermuda shorts anymore—it’s officially football season America. With the start of the NFL season tonight, the JLBSports staff put together our official predictions that are sure to go 110% wrong. The Cardinals have a better shot at a wild card spot than us getting these totally right. But hey, that’s the fun of it all. When things go wrong, it usually makes for good television. How do you think reality TV works? Here are our staff predictions for the best reality show in the world: the NFL.

–Justin

*denotes wild card team

JUSTIN’S PICKS:

NFC EAST
Giants

NFC NORTH
Packers
Bears*

NFC SOUTH
Saints
Falcons*

NFC WEST
49ers

AFC EAST
Patriots

AFC NORTH
Ravens
Steelers*

AFC SOUTH
Texans

AFC WEST
Chargers
Broncos*

SUPER BOWL PICK: Packers over Texans (35-28)

The world seems to assume that the New England Patriots will run away with the AFC, and they should. During the greatest passing expansion in NFL history, the Patriots have the NFL’s 1A quarterback in Tom Brady. You can’t win a Super Bowl anymore without a top-tier passing attack. I think Eli Mannning and New York Giants proved last year that good quarterbacks are possible of making that elite leap in the postseason (Aaron Rodgers did the year before), and you need to be able to play a little defense when it matters most. The Patriots had one of the worst defenses in football last year, but it can only get better with 1st round pick Chandler Jones providing some much needed pass rush. That being said, the Houston Texans are entering their second year under Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, and outside of the Steelers and Ravens mauling everyone in the AFC North, they had the best defense in the AFC last year. Week 14 in New England could decide the top seed in the AFC, and it’ll give everyone a sample of how the Texans can handle a great team in cold weather. I think good crunch time defense and a healthy Matt Shaub will be the difference come January. Expect Shaub to make that elite leap in the playoffs this year.

(I have to get this off my chest too: If Ryan Tannehill doesn’t end up being the worst quarterback in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins will overtake the New York Jets in that division, leaving Gang Green in last. ESPN and the New York media will sensationalize the shit out of Tim Tebow to get him to be the starter by week eight. Things aren’t looking good when Darrelle Revis is already saying this about their quarterback situation: “You’ve got to do what’s best for the team, and I don’t know if we’ve been wise in that department.” You can’t make this stuff up folks.)

GREG’S PICKS:

NFC EAST
Giants
Eagles*

NFC NORTH
Packers
Bears*

NFC SOUTH
Falcons

NFC WEST
49ers

AFC EAST
Patriots

AFC NORTH
Steelers
Ravens*

AFC SOUTH
Texans

AFC WEST
Broncos
Chargers*

SUPER BOWL PICK: Ravens over 49ers (13-10)

I had a tough time choosing the NFC East winner. I really hate looking like a homer, but I’ve had a change of heart about the Philadelphia Eagles’ chances the last couple days. I think Vick will be healthy towards the end of the season and enable Philadelphia to go on a run before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. In the AFC, I really didn’t wanna choose the Denver Broncos to win the division because I’d appear to be on the Peyton bandwagon, but their defense is so good that I expect them to do very well. That being said, I think the Baltimore Ravens will finally get their revenge on the New England Patriots for last year’s traumatizing end to the AFC Championship Game, setting up the all-Harbaugh Super Bowl that the media wanted last year. The big game in New Orleans will showcase two of the finest defenses in the league, but Joe Flacco and the Ravens will come out on top, with all his doubters finally quieted until the end of time.

MICHAEL’S PICKS:

NFC EAST
Eagles
Cowboys*

NFC NORTH
Packers

NFC SOUTH
Panthers
Saints*

NFC WEST
49ers

AFC EAST
Patriots

AFC NORTH
Steelers
Ravens*

AFC SOUTH
Texans

AFC WEST
Chargers
Broncos*

SUPER BOWL PICK: Packers over Texans (26-17)

The NFC South and West are by far going to be the most fun to watch this season. As long as the Carolina Panthers can give more support to Cam Newton in the passing game, they have the most explosive offensive package in the division and arguably in the NFC. The Seattle Seahawks are on the right track, but it seems to be coming together faster for the San Francisco 49ers, so I gave it to them. The Green Bay Packers win the NFC North for reasons that don’t need explaining if you’ve been watching football. Though my Detroit Lions will contend, I don’t think they have the running game that they need to make a Super Bowl run. They’ve an elite passing attack, but last season was Matthew Stafford’s first healthy year in the league, and that team is in big trouble if his injury-bug returns.

Follow the entire team on Twitter @JLBSportsTV

Confessions of a New York Giant Fan: Why Big Blue Won’t Repeat

As a lifelong Season Ticket Holder of the New York Giants, I’ve been on a nineteen-year emotional roller-coaster ride, with my mood every autumn and winter being determined by how Big Blue did in their most recent game. I’ve been in attendance for some phenomenal wins, and an equal number of devastating losses. Even while attending The Ohio State University last season, I did not miss a single game, going as far as to watch a handful of games on sketchy internet streams. Thankfully, I was able to attend the last two home Giants games of the season while on winter break, the latter of the two being a one-game playoff for the Division Crown and a spot in the playoffs. While watching the playoff games in my dorm room, my RA, fully aware of the extent of my fandom, gave me a pass on dorm rules during games, allowing me to curse and scream my head off after quiet hours as the Giants went on their second magic carpet ride to a Super Bowl Championship in five seasons (which, in turn, resulted in me being a celebratory drunk for a full week).

That Super Bowl Championship has had me in a state of euphoria for quite some time. Just as we began to think that the Giants would once again collapse in the second half of the season (which, for the record, always happens because the NFL insists on giving the Giants a back-loaded schedule. Seriously, can’t you give us a fucking break every once in a while?), they got hot at just the right time, got their star players back from injury, and went on to lift the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time in their history. Even the most pessimistic of Giants fans (such as myself) are confident about the future of the team, seeing as we have a young core of players, a remarkably strong and deep defensive line, and to top it all off, a Top-Five QB in Eli Manning who, as long as he is on the field, gives us a shot to win any game we’re in.

With all of that positivity in mind, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and make a not-so-bold prediction: The Super Bowl Champion New York Giants have too many holes to mount a serious repeat challenge.

There are a number of reasons why I believe this is gonna happen; some of these reasons are logical and based on the team’s current players and coaching staff, while others are down to pure speculation and are based on my many years as a die-hard fan. While I could easily just list them out in bullet-point fashion, I feel it necessary to give a bit more insight. For the most part, what is about to follow are my rambling thoughts on certain Giants players, most of which have been bottled up for years. So, without further ado, here’s my list of reasons why my beloved New York Giants will have a massively unsuccessful season in defense of their crown:

5) Our Linebackers Suck

I have lost count of the number of times I have cursed out Giants linebackers over the years. The Giants haven’t had had a strong core of starting linebackers in the last decade. Yes, the team has gotten by (thanks to a very strong and deep defensive line), but for a team that prides itself on having a strong defense, it has always disappointed me that the Giants have yet to find a high-caliber linebacker in recent years. Yes, Michael Boley has done a decent job, but I don’t consider him to be a top notch linebacker. Starting alongside him? Chase Blackburn in the middle and Mathias Kiwanuka as the other outside linebacker. As much as I love and appreciate Chase Blackburn for all he’s done as a Giant, he’s not a starting linebacker. Kiwanuka is a defensive end who gets thrown in at OLB in order to get him more playing time, knowing that he’ll get less snaps in the DE rotation with Tuck, Osi, and JPP in the mix. When used in the pass-rush, he is very effective. However, his run-stopping ability is well below-par. Behind these three on the depth chart are first-round bust Keith Rivers, late-round sophomore Jacquain Williams, and undrafted sophomores Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger. Fair to say that this group fails to inspire me.

4) I have no faith in the secondary

For some reason, when the Giants draft secondary players in the first or second round, they always seem to be highly disappointing. Aside from Corey Webster in 2008 and Terrell Thomas in general, I haven’t really had any trust in a Giants CB to contain a receiver since Jason Sehorn, who I affectionately refer to as the best white corner of the last quarter-century. This season is no different. I have no faith in Corey Webster or Prince Amukamara to cover receivers effectively. To make matters worse, with Terrell Thomas injured yet again and Aaron Ross (aka “The First Round Nickel CB”) leaving for Jacksonville via free agency, the Giants have very little depth behind their two starters, a fact which disturbs me given the growing tendency in the NFL to spread the ball around and rely on the passing game. While I have some faith in Kenny Phillips to continue doing the job at strong safety (especially in his contract year), I cannot say the same about Antrel Rolle. In spite of being the highest-paid safety in the league, Antrel Rolle has had largely infuriating moments as a Giant. His tendency to get stupid personal fouls is something that has always made me try to pull my hair out. All in all, in a league that depends more and more on a quarterback’s ability to slice up secondaries, this group of players gives me very little faith.

3) The Offensive Line Actually Offends Me

Having watched Football for years, I’ve held one core belief more than any other: Whether you play in high school, college, or the NFL, your games are won and lost in the trenches. The Giants offensive line has experienced a lot of upheaval in the last two years. In 2008, the Giants had, bar none, the best offensive line in the league. From right-to-left, you had McKenzie, Snee, O’Hara, Seubert and Diehl at the top of their game, enabling Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward to run the ball all over the field and open up the passing game for Eli. The following season, the offensive line play deteriorated, which, in-turn, led to the decline of the running game. The main reason why Eli has thrived statistically the last three years is because of the running game’s decline. Last off-season, the Giants released O’Hara & Seubert, two of the aforementioned fixtures on that 2008 offensive line, and were replaced by David Baas & Stacy Andrews. In spite of these changes, the Giants had the worst rushing offense in the entire NFL last season. This off-season, hot-headed & much-maligned RT Kareem McKenzie left, as did Stacy Andrews.

In addition, David Diehl, drafted as a LG turned into a massively below-average LT, moved back to LG last season, has again been moved, this time from LG to RT, a position he has never played before in his life, meaning that only one starter from 2010, Tom Coughlin’s son-in-law Chris Snee, still has his place on the OL. From right-to-left, the offensive line this season will probably be Diehl, Snee, Baas, career backup Kevin Boothe, & William Beatty. I really think we could’ve addressed this in the first round of the draft. While I admit that David Wilson is clearly a talented running back that replaces the void created by the departure of Brandon Jacobs, I believe we could’ve addressed the need in another way and taken an offensive tackle to replace Kareem McKenzie. Cordy Glenn and Jonathan Martin were both projected first-round picks that were still on the board. By taking one of them, you could’ve plugged them in at RT & kept David Diehl at LG, his natural position, boosting the overall quality of the offensive line & potentially reviving a running game that has never been less effective than it was last season. Defenses are gonna be able to stop Eli eventually. It’d be nice to have a half-decent running game to keep them on their toes as well.

2) The Schedule is Fucking Scary (The NFC East as well)

The Giants always seem to get horrible scheduling decisions from the NFL. This usually comes in the form of a very back-loaded schedule, but the NFL has also found more creative ways to screw with Big Blue. For example, in 2009, the Giants were handed their first game on Thanksgiving Day since 1992. The catch? They had to travel approximately 1,770 miles to play the Denver Broncos away on three-days rest. The Giants lost 26-6 en route to one of the franchise’s finest in-season collapses in recent memory, going from 5-0 to 8-8 and missing out on a playoff spot. Now, I’m not saying that the schedule was entirely responsible for enabling the collapse to continue, but it certainly didn’t do us any good. This year, the NFL truly had something special in store for my beloved Jints. For the first time in NFL history, a defending Super Bowl Champion has been handed the toughest Strength-Of-Schedule of all NFL teams. It’s only fitting that the 9-7 Giants, the first ever 9-7 team to win a Super Bowl, has to be given such a horrifying obstacle. To top it all off, the schedule becomes murderous after the Week 5 game against the Browns. Starting with the San Francisco 49ers in week 6, the Giants play seven games against teams who made the playoffs last season, with the remaining four games being against division rivals. The only break the NFL gives the Giants? A week 11 bye right before a Sunday Night game against Green Bay. At least they didn’t give us the bye earlier. Thanks for that, Roger… you greedy scumbag.

In addition to the murderous schedule, the NFC East is admittedly tougher than it was last year. The Giants clinched their playoff spot the last week of the season, in what was essentially an extra playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys with the winner taking the division & the loser going home (FYI: The Jets game was also a playoff game in some respects, with the losing team needing a miracle the last week of the season to clinch a postseason berth). The Cowboys could’ve easily put the Giants to bed in Week 14. All they had to do was hold on to a 12 point lead with 4 minutes to go. The Giants and Cowboys both finished 9-7. They are clearly on similar levels. If Miles Austin catches the ball that got caught in the lights in that Week 14 game or Jason Garrett doesn’t ice his own kicker against Arizona, Dallas could’ve been the ones lifting that Lombardi Trophy last February. The Week 17 game would’ve been meaningless if one of those two situations were handled properly. In Philadelphia, the Eagles are regrouping and look very dangerous going into the season. Last year, the “Dream Team” finished the year strong, finally coming together the last four weeks of the year. This year, DeSean “The Jerk” Jackson looks sharper (no longer distracted by his contract situation), the team is deeper and has a better understanding of Andy Reid’s philosophy. In all seriousness, I think Philly is gonna win the NFC East this year and maybe, just maybe, make a deep run in the playoffs (FWIW: just writing that makes me wanna vomit). To top it all off, Washington has a new rookie QB in Robert Griffin III and a much more experienced and talented team than they did last season. Mike Shanahan, now in his third season as Head Coach, is starting to put a team together in DC. I have a weird feeling that he’s got something going on down there. If he gets it right, the rest of the division is really gonna be in trouble, and none of us want that to happen.

1) Fate

The Giants have a tendency of fucking up massively after a championship season. In many cases, it hasn’t even been because of on-field play. In 1987, a year after the team’s first Super Bowl Championship, the players went on strike mid-season, causing games to be canceled for week 3, but replacement players to be used in weeks 4-6. The Giants went 0-3 in games played by replacement players. They finished 6-9, missing the playoffs & a chance to defend their crown. Had the Giants gone 2-1 in those three games, they would’ve made the playoffs as a wild card team, potentially getting a shot to do so. In 1991, Ray Handley took over for Bill Parcells as Head Coach a year after Big Tuna won Super Bowl XXV. Handley was a mediocre head coach who wasted a perfectly good opportunity to make a name for himself with a talented Giants team coming off its second Super Bowl in five seasons, missing the playoffs in 1991 and 1992. Handley is best remembered for his inability to pick a starting QB between Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler, both of whom led the Giants to Super Bowl glory in 1986 and 1990. The controversy heavily marred his job as coach of the Giants and the team’s record failed to truly reflect the team’s ability and talent.

Those two cases aside, the most notable case of the New York Giants being unable to capitalize on a Super Bowl Championship was 2008. Coming off of a victory in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants had a much more talented team than what it had in 2007. The group was more experienced and in my opinion was the best team that Tom Coughlin has had in his eight years (going on nine) as Giants Head Coach. They Giants started the year 10-1 and were cruising going into their game against Washington. That team thought it was going to go back to the Super Bowl. They thought it was their God-given right to make it back to the Super Bowl. Then Plaxico Burress, already declared out for Sunday’s game with an injury as a precaution going into the playoffs, went into a night club in New York City two days before the game with an unregistered gun concealed in his sweatpants (the reason he was carrying the gun was because Steve Smith was robbed at gunpoint three days earlier by a stranger outside his apartment). The gun went off, shooting Plaxico in his right thigh. The magnitude of the story really didn’t sink in until after the Giants beat Washington that Sunday to go to 11-1. Plaxico reported himself to police the day after the game to face charges of criminal possession of a handgun, as Burress was carrying an expired Concealed Carrier of Weapons License from the state of Florida and was not registered in New York. Burress was suspended for the rest of the season by the Giants and released the following April. The off-field distraction, however, proved to be devastating for a team that thought it was well on its way to defending its Super Bowl crown, going 1-3 the last four games of the regular season before losing to Philly at home in their Divisional Round playoff game. Players on that team have spoken of the disappointment of that year and what might have been, many of whom still blame Plaxico for the team’s decline at the end of that season.

Honestly, knowing those three stories well, and knowing for a fact that the Giants just love to knock me down when I least expect it as a fan, I have good reason to believe that the Giants are gonna miss the playoffs this season. The team really isn’t anything to write home about right now, we’ve got an incredibly tough schedule and are playing in a division that’s gotten miles tougher. The last team to repeat as Super Bowl Champions was the Patriots in 2004. Five other teams have been able to accomplish the feat. In the age of free agency and where teams know each other much better than they did ten or fifteen years ago, let alone even further back, it’s very difficult to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, let alone follow up such a season with a decent campaign.

The Giants have a target on their back in 2012 and have a very tough schedule to go with it. If there’s any time that I’d consider it acceptable to not do very well after a Super Bowl Championship, it’d be this season. Why? Because I’m expecting it! Honestly, I’d rather they didn’t make the playoffs this year than have them tease me like they’ve done in years prior. Knowing them, however, they’ll make a point of it to be cruel and kick me when I’m most vulnerable. Honestly, this could go either way. But I can honestly say that the Giants won’t win the Super Bowl this season, and I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs either. But hey, I’ve seen them win two Super Bowls in my lifetime. That’s two more than I ever thought I’d see…

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

EPL Recap Week 1: “It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint!”

With the opening weekend of the English Premier League season behind us, it’s worth noting that the League Table is going to look very different in May compared to how it looks now. Yes, some teams got some very good results, while others faltered or disappointed. But it’s worth noting that this is a marathon of a competition, and even if you win big in your opening match, you could still play like shit in your next 37 matches and get relegated. The tortoise always wins over the hare.

There are two perfect quotes in my opinion to describe the Premier League. Both of them come from Brian Clough, who won the Football League with Derby County and Nottingham Forest back in the 1970s. When Clough was being interviewed by the BBC’s John Motson, he was asked what Nottingham Forest’s priorities were for the upcoming season, given that they were defending the European Cup and seen as favorites in contention for the Football League, FA Cup, and League Cup. Clough responded in a rather bold and hilarious manner:

“The Football League, always has been and always will be (our top priority). I would gladly go out of the European Cup, the Football League Cup, and the FA Cup, which we’re not even in yet. I would gladly go out of all of them tomorrow if you could guarantee me winning the Football League.”

John Motson quickly asked why Clough felt so strongly about the Football League being his top priority. Clough responded in a rather harsh manner yet again, but he did so with a lot of insight, making it clear how tough it really is to win a League Championship:

“Because that (the Football League) is the one that you have to have every single aspect of football management about you to win it. You’ve got to have endurance, you’ve got to have talent, you’ve got to be a little bit daft, you’ve got to have strength, psychology, you name it, and of course, you’ve got to have very good players, but it’s a real endurance battle over nine or ten months.”

That’s what makes this competition so special in my opinion. You could have the talent to win against the best teams in the league on your day, but over the course of nine or ten months, all of your results will be averaged out by the strength of your overall playing squad and how you’ve done throughout the season. To win the football league is an accomplishment that isn’t taken lightly. It’s always deserved by the winners. You can’t call it a fluke. Maybe injuries play a part, but it’s the responsibility of the team to keep playing and to ensure that the injuries don’t effect the results too much.

Every week, I’ll be writing a quick recap of the weekend’s games, highlighting the “good,” “bad,” and “ugly” action. We’ve labeled this “Title Contending,” “Mid-Table,” and “Relegation.” Now when teams or players are mentioned under these specifications, it doesn’t mean that they’re title contending or relegation sides, it just means that for that week, their performance was worthy of such a distinction. Although the entire league is a marathon, I’ll be highlighting the, um, jogs that happen every week that ultimately make up the race.

TITLE CONTENDING: Newcastle’s 2-1 win over Spurs sends Premier League the message: “We’re Here to Stay”

Last season, Newcastle floated around the Top Four in spite of making very few high-profile moves a year after selling Andy Carroll for £35m to Liverpool. Many thought they would fade away eventually, and while they didn’t finish Top Four, they stayed around & endured. They’re in a position to push forward from there and maybe make a run into the Top Four. Alas, they were being forgotten by a lot of pundits, with the likes of Spurs and Chelsea being picked to finish above them. With the likes of Demba Ba (16 goals last season) and Papiss Demba Cisse (13 goals in 13 starts last season), this strike force can carry Newscastle far. This huge win against Spurs at home does indeed send the message to the rest of the Premier League’s big dogs that Newcastle is here to stay, and St. James’ Park is a scary place to play.

MID-TABLE: Manchester United struggle at Goodison Park as Everton pulls off a 1-0 stunner on MNF

After losing the Premier League in the final seconds last season against city rivals Manchester City, Manchester United came out with guns blazing in the transfer market, looking to reclaim the top spot in the league and the city. United brought in Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie in the off-season, but it was Everton who started their Premier League campaign with a bang on Monday Night. The Blues dominated the majority of the night, with Marouane Fellaini scoring from a corner in the 57th minute to send Goodison Park into a rapturous roar. It was a deserved victory for Everton, with Robin van Persie’s Manchester United debut being a less-than-stellar performance off the bench.

RELEGATION: Norwich City and QPR each lose 5-0

On Friday, the mood around Fulham FC was one of nervous disposition given Martin Jol’s not-so-shocking admission that Clint Dempsey would not play for Fulham in their season opener against Norwich City and had requested a transfer to Liverpool. Fulham, minus Dempsey, went on to smash Norwich City in their opening match of the season, winning 5-0 at Craven Cottage, as Duff, Petric, Kacaniklic and Sidwell scored the goals in a nightmare debut for Norwich City manager Chris Hughton.

While Chris Hughton’s Norwich City debut was much less than desirable, Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City debut could only be described as a dream start, as his boys went on to crush QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road. If that sounds familiar to you, you’re probably thinking of QPR’s Premier League opener last season, when they lost 4-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers. QPR had the last laugh, however, as they stayed up on the last day of the season, while Bolton were relegated thanks to numerous injury problems and other issues. It’s just a simple yet ever-so-true reminder of the fact that the league is not won and lost in the first week of the season.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

Sorry Josh Beckett, But We’re Breaking Up

Dear Josh Beckett,

This is going to be hard, but we believe that we have come to a crossroads in our relationship. We’ve come a long way. We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs. We’ve had good and bad. Recently though, it’s just been flat out bad. Everyone is miserable. You know we are and I’m sure you are too. We don’t even sleep in the same bed anymore. It’s like you’re not even pitching for the same team. So unfortunately, we’re going to have to end our relationship. Red Sox fans are breaking up with you.

When we first met each other in the 2006 season, we we’re overjoyed! We loved each others company and everything was peachy. You had a good first season with the sox and everything was right in the world. The following year in 2007, you blasted out a 20 win season, we made it all the way to the World Series, and won it! You earned the ALCS MVP award! You were amazing! We were on cloud nine together! I was so proud of you. Proud of us.

It was some of the happiest moments we had in Boston for 20 years. We had broke the Curse of the Bambino two years before you were there and your arrival seemed to help signal to us a decade of world class baseball for the Red Sox. After that 2007 season though, something seemed to change. We had gotten through the lust stage and entered in the next phase of our relationship. Unfortunately, I don’t think you were ready for the commitment. The Honeymoon was over, and the cobwebs set in.

During the 2008 season, you brought home a 12-10 record and a 4.09 ERA. Not spectacular, but respectable. I mean jesus, you can’t win 20 games every year. We know this. Times get hard. Shit’s just not poppin’ off. We made our feelings known and you returned in 2009 with a 17-9 record and a 3.86 ERA. THAT’S the Beckett we had fallen in love with. It felt right again. We had rekindled our love for each other. We felt loved again by you. We rewarded your hard work with a 4 year, $68 million contract extension. That’s around $17 million a year as a thank you! Then 2010 came around. Injury plagued and collapses galore, it was just a shitty year no doubt about it. You went 6-6 5.78 ERA and played 21 games due to injury. We forgave that, you were hurt as was everyone else. But damn. A 5.78 era? Your the ace! Like I said though: forgive and forget. The real reason I’m writing this is the 2011 season anyways.

2011 started off exciting. Everyone was rearing to go and ready to kick some ass. Everybody was well rested and feeling good. Then they started playing. Lackey and Dice-K went down, and by June 10th Dice-K had a season ending injury. Injuries were rampant throughout the lineup. We persevered though and by September 1st we held a 9 game wild card lead. We had shown our depth as a team getting through all the injuries and we were going into the playoffs. Then the wheels fell off. We started free falling at top speed, going 7-20 and decimating any chance we had at a wild card position. We were devastated by the end of September. This had never happened in major league baseball. Ever. What came next broke our hearts. This was the beginning of the end for us Josh.

News broke after the season that pitchers had been indulging in video games, fried chicken and beer during the games in the dugout and clubhouse. It also broke that YOU were at the helm of this activity. Really asshole? Our beloved Red Sox, the team that has loved you for years now and is paying you $17 million a year is on the tail of historical meltdown in the month of September, and your ass is eating fried chicken and throwing back brewskis? What the hell kind of loyalty is that? Did you even care? Your actions directly contributed to the departure of Terry Francona, one of the best managers in the game today. He was amazing and the Red Sox let him go because he couldn’t control you guys. Your a professional baseball player Josh, he shouldn’t have to control you! We were disgusted with you and I’m writing this letter now to let you know we still are.

The 2012 offseason was a prefect example of the type of drama that ruins a teams chances of winning. We had to bring in Bobby Valentine, who has no experience or loyalty with the team and must now patch up relations with a clubhouse that is completely fractured. You helped bring this clubhouse drama to the media and it spread like wildfire. We didn’t trust anyone anymore. How could we, after what the team did last September. In 2012, you’ve gone 5-9 with a 4.97 ERA just to throw salt in the wounds. The last game you played before we couldn’t stand you anymore, you gave up 8 home runs and didn’t even bat an eye about it. That’s why we’re done with you. Not because you’re not pitching well, but because you don’t give a shit that you’re not. That’s why were booing you. We want you to care that you’re doing poorly, like everyone else does. I mean, Big Papi slumped all season last season and we stood behind him. We understand slumps, we’re fucking RED SOX FANS. Your lack of concern for your performance and your attitude is why we’re calling it quits. The team is doing reasonably well and can still grab a wild card spot. So even though you’re yet again falling apart at the end of the season, the rest of the team will carry the load and get the job done. All we wanted was your respect and you showed us that it wasn’t worth your time. So sorry Beckett, you’re not worth our time. Have a good career, or what’s left of it.

It’s not you, it’s me. Actually, it’s just you.

Sincerely,
Red Sox Fans

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala