December 15, 2017

NFL Week 15 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

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

INDIANAPOLIS +2.5 over Denver

The Broncos defence looks like it’s finally playing up to the standard we expected coming into the season, but it’s only doing so against awful teams like the Jets and Colts.

Chicago +5.5 over DETROIT

The Lions are about as one-dimensional as you can get with their passing game basically their only strength. These two teams played out a close one a few weeks ago and this one should be the same.

KANSAS CITY +1.5 over Los Angeles Chargers

L.A. has been on a fantastic run, but let’s not just hand them the division so easily when they have to go into Arrowhead Stadium and beat a Chiefs team that is getting back on track. Keenan Allen should have a big game with Marcus Peters hurt, but K.C. has been rolling on offence since Andy Reid gave up play-calling duties.

Arizona +4 over WASHINGTON

The Cards have looked surprisingly competent with Blaine Gabbert under centre and their defence has been doing well, too. Washington’s playoff hopes are over and there’s questions about the team’s future direction, so we don’t see them being too focused here.

Houston +11 over JACKSONVILLE

Between the Jags’ likely hangover after facing Seattle last week, Leonard Fournette yet again missing practice this week, a big amount of points to be laying and the fact that T.J. Yates is probably better than Tom Savage, it actually makes sense to back the Texans here.

CAROLINA -3 over Green Bay

We actually don’t think Aaron Rodgers will be too rusty or anything like that in his return from a broken collarbone. What we do think is that the Panthers are a better overall team than the Pack and have home-field advantage. Rodgers is amazing, but the rest of this team just needed overtime to beat lowly Cleveland.

NEW ORLEANS -15 over New York Jets

The Jets might’ve had some hope of keeping this one close if Josh McCown was playing, but with Bryce Petty, this one will be a laugher.

NEW YORK GIANTS +7.5 over Philadelphia

The Eagles are still a good team and even a scary playoff team with Nick Foles replacing Carson Wentz, but are they worth spotting more than a TD on the road against their biggest rival? The Giants kept it close against Dallas last week for three quarters, is that so out of the question here?

CLEVELAND +7 over Baltimore

The incompetent Browns are getting close to that elusive first win of the season and could get it here. The Ravens have dominated in their former home, but are coming off a rough game with the Steelers. They could be ripe for the picking.

Miami (NL) over BUFFALO

The Dolphins are -82 in point differential but somehow have a 6% chance of making the playoffs. The Bills are in the second wild-card spot at 7-6 and benched their starting QB for no reason a few weeks ago. Nothing in the AFC playoff race really makes sense.

MINNESOTA -10.5 over Cincinnati

The Vikings should be thrilled to be home after two tough games on the road in the NFC South. Their defence shouldn’t have any issue with Andy Dalton and the Bengals will be in tough trying to keep up with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the fast track.

Los Angeles Rams +2 over SEATTLE

The Seahawks defence just keeps suffering more injuries, leaving it a shell of its once-dominant self. The Rams have always been game against their NFC West rivals and could’ve beaten the Seahawks earlier this season.

PITTSBURGH +3 over New England

This is a risky one, for sure. The Pats are usually good coming off a loss, they’re on the road on a short week and have Rob Gronkowski back. But, I actually like the Steelers a bit more. They’re a rare home ‘dog, have a dynamite offence and this is essentially their Super Bowl. Win this one and the Steelers should have home-field advantage through the playoffs.

SAN FRANCISCO -2 over Tennessee

The Jimmy Garoppolo hype train is for real, and while it is starting to runaway a little bit – the Niners are favoured against an eight-win team? – the reality here is that the Titans have been awful for a few weeks now and Marcus Mariota is ailing.

Dallas -3 over OAKLAND

The Raiders simply can’t play defence and their passing game has turned to garbage. Derek Carr has looked like an average QB at best this season.

Atlanta -6.5 over TAMPA BAY

The Bucs have quit and there are going to be some changes in the off-season – if not earlier. It might be time to reevaluate what they have in Jameis Winston, too, or at least get him a coach to help mould him into the star QB he can be.

Last week: 6-8

This season: 106-84-7

December 8, 2017

NFL Week 14 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

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

New Orleans -1.5 over ATLANTA

That was a pretty good Thursday nighter – when you look past the glut of injuries and Matt Ryan’s absolutely terrible picks. Other than that, it was a great watch.

CINCINNATI -6.5 over Chicago

Mitchell Trubisky might be good down the road, but he’s not up to it this season. Chicago’s offence can’t move the ball and coach John Fox is as good as gone come Black Monday – or sooner.

BUFFALO (nl) vs. Indianapolis

If Nathan Peterman gets another start, there’s no way it could be worse than his first. The Colts have little to play for and should have their hands full with LeSean McCoy and the Bills running game.

San Francisco +3 over HOUSTON

The Niners look like they’re setup pretty well with Jimmy Garoppolo leading the way. San Fran is by no means a good team, but there’s potential, while the Texans look like toast with Tom Savage.

Green Bay -3 over CLEVELAND

The Packers absolutely NEED this win with a potential return by Aaron Rodgers just around the corner. Brett Hundley could have some trouble against the surprising Browns defence, but the Pack should feast on DeShone Kizer, who might be the league’s worst starting QB.

Minnesota -2.5 over CAROLINA

The Vikings have proven that they can do it on the road and that Case Keenum is capable of leading the offence. Carolina will be desperate, but we’ve seen how a frustrated Cam Newton can snowball downhill pretty quick when things get tough, which should happen this Sunday.

TAMPA BAY (nl) vs. Detroit

If Matt Stafford can’t play, that’s terrible news for the Lions. There might not be a worse backup QB situation in the league than Detroit’s, with Jake Rudock the man behind Stafford.

Oakland +4 over KANSAS CITY

In a game with two teams that slumping pretty badly, we’ll take the points. Of course, the Chiefs could explode on offence again while the Raiders haven’t looked good at all this season, but don’t you just feel this will be a struggle that comes down to a field goal?

NEW YORK GIANTS +4 over Dallas

If you don’t think the Giants will be fired up for this one, with despised head coach Ben McAdoo gone and Eli Manning, as mediocre as he may be, starting again, you’re crazy. Dallas looked great against Washington last week, but we’ll remain dubious of the Cowboys offence as long as Ezekiel Elliott is out.

New York Jets -1 over DENVER

The Broncos are a tire fire heading for an off-season teardown. The team isn’t playing for lameduck coach Vance Joseph and you can’t trust Trevor Siemian in the slightest.

L.A. CHARGERS -6 over Washington

Washington gets more injured by the week. The Chargers beat Cleveland last week, but didn’t exactly impress while doing so. We can see them bouncing back and having a great performance against these banged-up visitors.

ARIZONA +3 over Tennessee

The Titans may have a good record, but they’re pretty overrated. The ‘exotic smashmouth’ brand isn’t working so well this season and there are certainly concerns over Marcus Mariota’s development. Tennessee also only covered last week thanks to a long, meaningless last-minute score that probably shouldn’t have happened. And, you know what, Blaine Gabbert isn’t the worst QB starting this weekend.

Seattle +2.5 over JACKSONVILLE

Don’t expect much offence in this one, with two of the league’s top defences squaring off. When it comes down to it, though, it’s much safer to bet on Russell Wilson than it is to give a couple of points with Blake Bortles.

LOS ANGELES RAMS -2 over Philadelphia

The Rams defence isn’t as good as the Seahawks, which was able to contain the Eagles last week, but they’re no slouches. Staying out on the West Coast will help Philly a bit, but we could be seeing the beginning of a late-season slump with the tough matchups adding up.

Baltimore +5.5 over PITTSBURGH

After how beat up the Steelers were on Monday night, getting a short week to play another grueling rivalry game won’t help. The Ravens loss of Jimmy Smith hurts their outstanding defence, but we’ll take the points.

MIAMI +11.5 over New England

I don’t doubt the Pats will be ready for this one, but a bigger matchup with Pittsburgh looms and they’ll only have a short week to prepare for it. New England will certainly look to control this game on the ground and should grind it out rather than put up a big score.

December 5, 2017

FREE KICKS: Pogba a real Red Devil

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Manchester United won its game against Arsenal, but it lost something much more important.

Just four games after getting Paul Pogba back from an extended absence, United will be without the key midfielder for three contests after he picked up a red card for stamping on the leg of Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin.

It was unfortunate for a couple of reasons and perhaps a bit of karma, too. Its timing is perhaps the most unfortunate thing about it: The Red Devils’ biggest game of the season, the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, is next Sunday.

Without the ultra-talented Pogba, you can bet that manager Jose Mourinho is more than likely going to try to park the bus against an attacking side that is as talented as what City rolls out every week.

This also comes after Pogba had said that he wouldn’t mind if some of City’s key players missed the derby with injuries. While nobody asked about is claiming this red was a karmic comeback, it certainly fits a near-textbook description of it.

As for the foul itself, it was the type of stamp that was tough to avoid for Pobga. Bellerin stuck his leg out to block the ball in quite the awkward fashion, and you can bet that the Frenchman was expecting to come down hard on the Spaniard’s leg.

The game had plenty of excitement and a couple of United players put in incredible performances. Jesse Lingard is often a forgotten piece among the big stars at United, but has been playing very well this season. His two goals were the difference in this big win on the road against a top team.

And then there’s the man who nearly won our player of the week award: David De Gea.

The Spanish goalkeeper was incredible, making 15 saves on 16 shots on target while Arsenal had 75% possession, partly in thanks to Pogba’s sending off.

The highlight among many fine stop was De Gea making a stunning double-save on Alexandre Lacazette and then Alexis Sanchez in close.

Who would’ve thought that Phil Jones’ absence would lead to so much work for De Gea?

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

We all know that Philippe Coutinho is capable of some huge games and his effort this week against the Seagulls was certainly a big one. The Brazilian potted a goal and picked up three assists in the Reds’ 5-1 victory over in Brighton, which had allowed just seven goals in seven home games this season coming in.

The problem with Coutinho has always been his consistency and his durability. He has played just eight games this season and has been blanked in four. If he can eliminate those games where he’s a no-show, Liverpool would be even more dangerous.

The other question, which is perpetually hanging over his head, is if/when he will be joining Barcelona. The rumours won’t go away and you have to think that the Reds will cash in if the price is right – as they’ve done in the past.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Can we really call Mourinho vs. Arsene Wenger a rivalry when Mourinho so clearly owns the Gunners boss? It’s embarrassing to think that these two are even compared to each other sometimes … I keep on forgetting which British manager is in charge of which team. Is Big Sam at Everton or West Ham? Where did David Moyes end up? How about Roy Hodgson and Alan Pardew? … By the way, heading into the weekend, there were nine British managers in the Premier League, including all of the gaffers for the bottom seven teams. There are none in the Top 6 and none have won a major trophy in England … Moyes would be smart to keep Adrian between the sticks. He’s much better than Joe Hart has been for the Irons … We’re not sure if Liverpool could get away with going three-at-the-back against a better club than BHA when two of the three starters are Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can, two central midfielders. Although Wijnaldum did a stellar job and Can has played the position before … Spurs are in a major funk and need to turn it around fast if they want to play in Champions League next season. Tottenham has two points in its past four games and has sunk to sixth in the table … Davinson Sanchez’s red card creates even more defensive issues for Spurs, with Toby Alderweireld out for the time being, they’re getting pretty thin at the back and will have to move Eric Dier back and perhaps move Ben Davies more centrally.

THE LAST WORD

The path is set for everyone in this summer’s World Cup and, sadly, the Chicago Fire won’t be involved.

This year doesn’t seem to have the usual Group of Death, but certainly has a Group of Life.

Host Russia has a relatively easy path into the knockout phase, beginning with the opener against Saudi Arabia. After that, it’s Uruguay and Egypt in one of two groups with just one European side.

Many are also touting Group E as an easy one, but that would be undervaluing the three teams grouped with Brazil. While the South American giants look to have an easy route straight to the final, 2014 proved that anything can happen. Switzerland looked good in qualifying, Costa Rica can park the bus and have a world-class keeper in Keylor Navas to get results. And don’t forget Serbia, a talented squad that can make some waves if everything comes together.

Many are touting Group F, featuring defending champs Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. We think this is another situation as Group E, with one giant club and three others duking it out for second.

There are several potential Cinderella teams that could pull an upset and make the knockout phase, too. Morocco could earn a results over Spain or Portugal, Senegal could catch Poland or Colombia sleepering, and what if Egypt upsets Russia and we see the hosts fail to advance for a second time after South Africa eight years ago.

Obviously missing from the proceedings are Italy, Netherlands, Chile and the States – the country which has bought the most tickets for the event – and it feels like we’re missing them.

Imagine Italy in Group F instead of Sweden, or the U.S. facing Belgium and England in Group G. How about Netherlands-Argentina to open Group D instead of – let’s face it – diminutive Iceland?

We’re already pouring over our brackets. Now we just have to wait seven months for kickoff.

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