October 19, 2016

FREE KICKS: Is the Premier League getting more offensive?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It’s a little thing that I’ve been beginning to notice in the scorelines this year: There seem to be a lot less zeroes.

In fact, there have been just 36 clean sheets this season in 160 games. That’s 22% of games have ended with a team blanked on the scoreboard. Compare that to last year’s clean-sheet rate of 26.9% and you see that the league has been getting a bit less defensive.

Another thing to consider is that defence tends to be better early in the season, when teams are still building chemistry in attack and new players are learning systems. There tends to not be as much turnover in defenders over transfer periods, with less bonding needed on the backline.

So is this a trend, or just a coincidence? Managers might be looking for more goals to keep owners happy.

It should be noted that goal-scoring is actually at an identical pace as last season, with teams potting 1.35 goals per game.

So, maybe with every club flush with TV money, we’re seeing more parity in the Premier League. With the same amount of goals, but less clean sheets, it’s a reasonable assumption to make.

And as for less zeroes showing up on the scoreboards, it’s great for casuals to see and might draw in some more fans from around the world. The illusion of more goals usually means more attention.


Heading into this weekend, Maarten Stekelenberg wasn’t even in the top 10 of fantasy goalkeepers. After saving two penalties against Manchester City and putting on a very impressive performance, he’s now the top fantasy GK.

The Dutch keeper stopped both Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero from the spot and made an incredible leaping save late in the game to preserve the draw.

Phil Jagielka should be sending the keeper a gift after bailing out the defender, whose two clumsy challenges resulted in the penalties.

This great performance comes after letting in a long-distance effort by Paul Pogba with the Dutch national team last week. Good to see him bounce back against the Premier League’s best.


It’s always a nice move when a player doesn’t celebrate after scoring against their former club. That was the case this week as Nacer Chadli didn’t whoop it up after roofing one against Spurs. Class act … Ben Foster made a fabulous save to earn his team a point … Bournemouth’s 6-1 demolition of Hull will do wonders for its goal differential and could doom the Tigers in the end. That tiebreaker always looms large late in the season … Way to celebrate your manager’s new contract, Tigers. If they play like that too often, Mike Phelan will be out of a job by Christmas … Granit Xhaka had a well-deserved straight red. A senseless challenge and he made no attempt at the ball … What a way for Mesut Ozil to celebrate his birthday. His fantastic volley was the goal of the week … Looks like resting Riyad Mahrez for Champions League is going to be a thing for Leicester. Do the Foxes have their priorities right, though? They don’t have much of a shot at winning the title, so shouldn’t they be concentrating on the league? The Foxes were totally out of sorts against Chelsea … If you’re going to forget to mark someone on a corner, it better not be Diego Costa. The Blues’ striker is on form right now … David De Gea saved Manchester United’s bacon yet again. If he ever leaves, the Red Devils will be in big trouble … United 34% possession against Liverpool was the least it has had in a Premier League game, ever … It makes all the sense in the world that the Reds somehow picked up their first clean sheet of the season against a team like star-laden Manchester United. This Liverpool side can’t stop the lower sides from scoring, but can hold off Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co.


It’s getting harder and harder to play fantasy football.

Just this week, you could’ve brought in two hot players like Christian Benteke and Heung-Min Son and you would’ve been very disappointed.

Son played just 19 minutes after suiting up for the South Korean national team twice during the break and also played 90 minutes of Champions League football on Tuesday.

Benteke did play 90 minutes against West Ham – one of the league’s worst defensive units – put up a whopping minus-1 fantasy points. Yep, that’s what a yellow card and a missed penalty will get you.

And with Aguero making a substitute appearance missing a pen, that’s another minus-1 that most owners had to swallow – especially bad if he was your captain…

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

October 14, 2016

No Fun League + Week 6 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

Remember when games were supposed to be fun? The NFL doesn’t.

This year, the league has been flagging celebrations left and right, giving unsportsmanlike penalties to guys who simply danced after scoring a TD.

Antonio Brown has been flagged for shaking his butt, twice. Josh Norman was flagged for shooting a bow and arrow while on the sideline. Terrelle Pyror was flagged for putting the ball down!

It has gotten out of hand. This rule came in when celebrations were getting a bit out of hand in the days of Chad Ochocinco, but now the NFL has gone too far.

Even worse, Brown was told to change his cleats or be ejected last week. What was wrong with his shoes? They had a picture of one of Brown’s inspirations on them, Muhammad Ali. The week before he wore black and yellow cleats with Arnold Palmer’s likeness on them and was told to take them off.

Are Arnie and Ali’s faces going to offend somebody?!

The NFL needs to lighten up and concentrate on the games. It’s OK to penalize a guy he has advertising on his shoe, or if he pulls a cellphone or a sharpie out during a celebration, but really, just let the guys dance and have some fun. These aren’t robots, they’re human.

The lines are from Vegas and the home teams are in CAPs.

Denver -3 over SAN DIEGO

Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to put the special teams coordinator in charge with Gary Kubiak out with health issues?

Cincinnati +9 over NEW ENGLAND

The tax for taking the Patriots is getting higher than ever. Sure, they’re one of the top three teams in the league, but this is a must-win for the Bengals and they can’t back down. At the very least, a garbage-time TD is always in the offing to cover.

NEW YORK GIANTS -3 over Baltimore

The Ravens shook up their coaching staff, but will it be enough to right the ship? Probably not on the road against a Giants team that could either explode or implode.

Carolina -3 over NEW ORLEANS

Cam’s back and the Panthers’ season is going down the drain. Whoever loses out of the playoff hunt for good and we think Carolina is too good to be bounced this early.

Pittsburgh -7.5 over MIAMI

The Dolphins are floundering right now and need to move on from Ryan Tannehill. The Steelers are going into full overdrive with LeVeon Bell back and Sammie Coates emerging as a playmaker.

CHICAGO -2.5 over Jacksonville

I can’t believe we all bit so hard on the Jaguars hype this off-season. It’s clear that this team still has many problems and it likely begins with the coaching.

San Francisco +7.5 over BUFFALO

It would be perfect for Colin Kaepernick to come in and reinvigorate these 49ers. Things are going a bit too well for the Bills right now, and that’s when things usually go wrong.

Los Angeles +3 over DETROIT

The Lions bounced back and surprised the Eagles thanks to a terrible fumble call that should’ve been reversed. This smells like a letdown game for Detroit.

Cleveland +7 over TENNESSEE

The Titans’ running game has been excellent so far and they could certainly pound the Browns. But should Tennessee really be favoured by seven?

Philadelphia -2.5 over WASHINGTON

This is where the real test is for Carson Wentz: Can he bounce back after his first loss. Washington won its Beltway rivalry game, but didn’t look great doing so.

Kansas City -1.5 over OAKLAND

Jamaal Charles is back to 100%, which should spell doom for a Raiders team that is still working on coming together.

Atlanta +6 over SEATTLE

The Falcons’ tour of wonderment continues after upsetting the Broncos last week. This seems like the exact same situation this week: On the road against a team with a really tough defence, that loves to run and has a shaky offensive line.

GREEN BAY -4 over Dallas

All the talk about Dak Prescott potentially keeping Tony Romo on the sidelines could end this week against a very tough Packers defence.

HOUSTON -3 over Indianapolis

The Colts are basically Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and a bunch of scrubs. There’s going to be lots of changes in Indy this off-season, I see.

ARIZONA -7.5 over New York Jets

Carson Palmer is back, but is that a good thing? With Eric Decker shelved the Jets’ attack really lacks bite.

Last week: 7-6

This season: 41-33

October 12, 2016

Here we go again: An NHL 2016-17 preview

by Dan Bilicki In: Ice Hockey

It might be a little later than usual, but the puck is dropping on a brand-new NHL season that will slowly grind its way through 82 games before getting into the two further months when the games actually matter.

Starting a week or so later than usual is nice, but the reason why turned out to be a very poor one.

In an effort to make a quick cash grab, the World Cup of Hockey was foist upon us. But when you consider that games not featuring Canada didn’t do very well in TV ratings and that even the American’s games did absolutely awfully south of the border, you can’t say that this pre-season mess was a success.

And then, when you consider that the Jays’ wild-card game was the highest-rated program on Sportsnet this year – just a week or so after the World Cup ended – you know that they have to be disappointed with this new tournament.

Even the Canadian players had a bit of a subdued reaction after winning the tournament. There was no raucous celebration that you’d usually see after a team wins the Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal – there was no jumping around or piling on each other. It was as if they knew that this was a second-rate tournament that didn’t live up to the hype.

At least there weren’t any serious injuries, which was one of the biggest fears heading in.

As for the NHL season, we’re starting to see some young guns coming in that have a chance to be some really special players. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were great for Team North America in the World Cup and should be stars in this league for years to come. All they have to do is overcome the crappy teammates they’ve been saddled with for now…

On to predictions!

ATLANTIC: Tampa Bay, Montreal, Florida.

METROPOLITAN: Washington, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders.

EAST WILD CARDS: New York Rangers, Philadelphia.

CENTRAL: Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas.

PACIFIC: Anaheim, Los Angeles, Vancouver.

WEST WILD CARDS: Nashville, Calgary.

EASTERN FINAL: Pittsburgh over Montreal.

WESTERN FINAL: Dallas over Los Angeles.

STANLEY CUP FINAL: Pittsburgh over Dallas in 6.


HART: Jonathan Toews, CHI

ART ROSS: Alex Ovechkin, WAS

NORRIS: Shea Weber, MTL

CALDER: Auston Matthews, TOR


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