October 20, 2017

NFL Week 7 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

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

Kansas City -3 over OAKLAND

There haven’t been many crazier finishes to Thursday night’s game than this one. Consider this sequence:

-Jared Cook’s TD is reversed and the ball is placed at the one-yard line with the time being wound down to eight seconds.

-An offensive pass interference call backs up the Raiders to the 11-yard line with three second left.

-A defensive holding call moves the ball up to the five on an incomplete pass with no time remaining.

-A defensive holding call moves the ball up to the two on an incomplete pass with no time remaining.

-Derek Carr finds Michael Crabtree with no time remaining.

-Giorgio Tavecchio, who was just 1/3 on FGs on the night, kicks the game-winning PAT.

Absolutely crazy stuff.

MIAMI -3 over New York Jets

These two teams are pretty much the opposite of what we expected to start the season. The Dolphins defence has carried them while their offence flounders and the Jets actually seem to have a will to live. We shouldn’t expect much from Josh McCown in this game, though.

Tennessee -5.5 over CLEVELAND

The way that the Browns keep on flip-flopping on QBs is seriously concerning. It’s nearly impossible to back a team at any price if they don’t trust in their own quarterback, be it DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan or whoever is behind centre.

L.A. Rams -3.5 over Arizona in London

It’s a really long flight for teams, so there’s no real advantage there. Adrian Peterson lit a fire in the Cardinals defence, but that game was mainly about the Bucs falling apart without Jameis Winston – and Arizona still nearly blew it.

MINNESOTA -5.5 over Baltimore

The Vikings don’t seem to care who is under centre for them, they just seem to keep playing well. The Ravens can’t move the ball and it will only get tougher in Minnesota against a strong Vikings defence.

CHICAGO +3 over Carolina

The Bears came out of Baltimore with an OT win, but have played better at home this season. Carolina’s defence isn’t the same when Luke Kuechley isn’t out there. I’ll take the points.

Jacksonville -3 over INDIANAPOLIS

The Colts’ two wins this season have come against winless teams while the Jags seem to be following a ‘one win, one loss’ pattern. The Colts passing game isn’t great against average teams and should get eaten up against the Jags.

BUFFALO (NL) over Tampa Bay

Even if Jameis Winston is healthy, this will be a tough matchup for the Bucs. And if it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, well, we don’t think he’s getting a revenge game against the Bills.

New Orleans -5.5 over GREEN BAY

A 12-point swing in the line doesn’t scare me. Brett Hundley is no Aaron Rodgers, but the biggest factor we should look at is that the Saints defence is creating turnovers and winning games. Heck, it scored three times against Detroit last week.

SAN FRANCISCO +6 over Dallas

The Cowboys are coming off their bye, but are facing even more Ezekiel Elliott drama. The Niners are switching to C.J. Beathard at QB after the rookie impressed in the pre-season. We know San Fran can keep things close, so why not grab the points against the underachieving Boys?

Cincinnati +5.5 over PITTSBURGH

The  Bengals are 3-0 after an 0-2 start and will be getting Vontaze Burfict back just in time for this rivalry game. Something isn’t right with Big Ben this season. Maybe his thoughts of retirement have taken effect.

Denver +1.5 over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

With no home-field advantage, it’s tough to take L.A. seriously against a fired-up Denver team that will be eager to bounce back from an embarrassing prime-time loss.

Seattle -5.5 over NEW YORK GIANTS

We think last week’s win in Denver was a mirage for the ailing Giants. With a rested Seahawks team coming to town, we should see Eli and Co. shrivel.

Atlanta +3.5 over NEW ENGLAND

The Super Bowl rematch likely won’t feature a 25-point comeback. We should’ve known better last week taking Atlanta in a trap game, but their focus will be 100% on avenging February’s loss. And if there’s a recipe to getting an offence on track, this season it’s face the Pats.

Washington +5 over PHILADELPHIA

Washington will be out for revenge and have had a week off to prepare. The Eagles are certainly flying high, but the visitors have turned things around after struggling through their first two games.

Last week: 5-7

This season: 46-37-2

October 18, 2017

Waiting for the NBA Finals – already

by Dan Bilicki In: Basketball

As great as the NBA is right now with so much talent and exciting players, it’s a bit hard to actually get excited for the season.

Why? Because we know how this is going to end. We’ve read this book. In June, when the Warriors and Cavs are going to tip off for their fourth straight NBA Finals, it will be the culmination of another season of dominance by just a few teams.

Despite the efforts of teams like the Celtics, Rockets and Thunder, the rest of the NBA are simply playing out the stretch with some hope that LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry all fall apart or get hurt for extended periods of time.

Considering that Gordon Hayward’s season may have ended just five minutes into his Celtics debut, that only further solidifies the notion that we’re destined for more of the same at the end of this season. And we’re not reading too much into Golden State’s loss to Houston.

The NBA is by far the most top-heavy league in North America, but continues to grow, worldwide. Just imagine if every team truly had a chance to contend.

Let’s break down what we think will happen this season.

PREDICTED STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Cleveland

Boston

Toronto

Washington

Milwaukee

Miami

Charlotte

Philadelphia

- – -

Detroit

Brooklyn

Indiana

New York

Atlanta

Orlando

Chicago

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Golden State

Oklahoma City

San Antonio

Houston

Utah

Minnesota

L.A. Clippers

Denver

- – -

Portland

New Orleans

L.A. Lakers

Memphis

Sacramento

Dallas

Phoenix

AWARDS

MVP: Kevin Durant, GS

TOP ROOKIE: Lonzo Ball, LAL

DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Kawhi Leonard, SA

TOP SCORER: James Harden, HOU

EAST FINAL: Cleveland over Boston in six

WEST FINAL: Golden State over Oklahoma City in six

NBA FINAL: Golden State over Cleveland in five

October 17, 2017

FREE KICKS: An epic South London upset

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Crystal Palace hadn’t even scored a goal in seven games heading into its tilt with defending champion Chelsea on Saturday.

Well, the Eagles picked one hell of a time to finally find the back of the net.

An own goal by Cesar Azpilicueta opened scoring, followed by an equalizer by Tiemoue Bakayoko. But just before the stroke of halftime, Wilfried Zaha put Palace ahead for good.

It was the most stunning upset of the season so far, bar none. The defending champions losing to a team ranked among the worst in Premier League history.

Chelsea sorely missed Alvaro Morata up front and Eden Hazard couldn’t provide the superstar performance that the Blues needed in this one.

The result goes to show you that anything can happen in soccer and that home-field advantage can truly matter. That little boost, even for a team that has disappointed its fans and is already on its second manager, can make a difference.

A trip north to Newcastle is next for Palace and should be a good test to see if the Eagles are going to turn things around.

Chelsea, on the other hand, prepare for a Champions League date with Roma before taking on fourth-place Watford next weekend.

There’s no time to rest with the fixtures flying fast and furious for Antonio Conte’s men.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

When a team scores seven goals, chances are that one of its attackers will take this honour. While Gabriel Jesus would be a fine candidate, we’re going to go with Raheem Sterling this time.

With his goal against Stoke, the English winger already has six goals this year after scoring seven all last season. He also added two assists in the game – his first two of the season, in fact.

Sterling’s name has been bandied about in transfer rumours involving Alexis Sanchez, but with the way that the City winger has been playing and the fact he is six years younger than the Chilean, a straight swap may not be in Sky Blues’ best interest.

But good luck getting Arsene Wenger to pony up some cash in any type of deal like that.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Anybody that trust Jose Mourinho that his Red Devils would be attack-minded against Liverpool clearly doesn’t know the Special One. A frustrating 0-0 was always in the cards between these two heated rivals … The Reds losing Sadio Mane to another injury is just more bad news for the struggling side. Sure, Liverpool has some depth in attackers, but Mane is something special … Granit Xhaka was literally picking his nose when Watford scored the winning goal against Arsenal. That pretty much sums up the Gunners season so far … Troy Deeney didn’t think much of the Gunners CBs, either. The Hornets forward was able to boss that trio around when he wanted … Christian Eriksen might be Spurs’ best player. Harry Kane and Dele Alli are too prone to disappear at times while the Dane is incredibly consistent … Tammy Abraham’s brace gives him four goals on the season. That might not sound too amazing, but the Swans only have one other goal so far. How about a little support for the Chelsea loanee? … A dumb foul by Seagulls captain Bruno probably cost Brighton three points against a lacklustre Everton side. That penalty by Wayne Rooney could make the difference between staying up and relegation later this season … West Brom could have an issue between the sticks. Ben Foster missed Monday’s game with a knee injury – to which manager Tony Pulis didn’t know the extent of – and backup keeper Boaz Myhill also picked up a knock … Leicester City needs to start winning games. The Foxes have just one victory this season and are in the relegation zone after failing to beat the Baggies. What happened to the plucky underdogs that ran away with the league two years ago? … Mike Ashley is finally putting Newcastle up for sale and I’m sure that fans couldn’t be happier. One of the most hated owners in the Prem won’t be missed.

THE LAST WORD

After that 7-2 demolition of Stoke, Manchester City now has an astounding goal differential of +25 through eight games. That’s actually a record for this point of the season in the Premier League era.

Second-place United isn’t doing so bad either – its +19 differential is tied for fourth best all time.

The Citizens are no strangers to this sort of thing: They have led in GD through five weeks in five of the past seven season.

But here’s where things get interesting from an historical standpoint: Of the eight teams to be at +15 or better through eight games, only two have won title, Chelsea in 2005-06 and City in 2011-12. And since 2002-03, only four of 15 teams to lead in GD at this point have won the league.

What does it mean, though? Early season strength of schedule can play a role in this, with more difficult fixtures potentially on the horizon.

Players aren’t as worn down yet, either, and some sides are just starting to come together.

Whether or not City goes on to win the league remains to be seen, but what we do know is that we haven’t seen a team this good, this early.

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