September 23, 2016

Belichick is the best ever + Week 3 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

What Bill Belichick has done to start this season 3-0 is nothing short of amazing.

In Week 1, he beat a Super Bowl contender on the road, without his starting QB, superstar tight end and starting left tackle.

In Week 2, he manhandled a division rival while losing his QB in the first half.

Now in Week 3, he prepared a rookie QB to make his first career start with just three days of practice time with the first-stringers and defeated a team that will likely win its division.

Belichick already has one hell of a legacy, but he is proving to everyone yet again that he’s not just one of the best, but THE BEST coach in NFL history. Sorry, Vince Lombardi, you’ve lost that title to the man in the sleeveless hoodie.

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

Houston (even) over NEW ENGLAND

Jacoby Brissett didn’t have to do much, throwing for just 103 yards, because the Texans basically gave this one away. The Pats won this on defence and special teams – Belichick’s forte.

CINCINNATI -3 over Denver

The Broncos look like a real contender again, but the Bengals are a strong team and home-field advantage is always good to have in big games.

Oakland +1.5 over TENNESSEE

The Titans might have gotten a little lucky that the Lions couldn’t capitalize on a couple of drives last week. The Raiders, who have the league’s top offence and worst defence, have to see their numbers even out a bit, but it’s more likely the D starts pulling its weight a bit more than the offence drops off.

Arizona -4 over BUFFALO

The Bills are a team in turmoil that lacks an identity other than “trainwreck.” The Cards shouldn’t have a problem travelling east and playing early when their opponent is a pushover.

JACKSONVILLE +1 over Baltimore

While the Jags have disappointed after an off-season’s worth of hype, we have to give this supposedly talented squad at least one more shot.

Cleveland +9.5 over MIAMI

Don’t get me wrong, the Dolphins are my suicide pool pick this week and will win, but the Browns can likely keep it close against a very average Miami squad.

Washington +4.5 over NEW YORK GIANTS

There are a ton of red flags being thrown up in Washington, but in a division rivalry game it’s tough to give more than three points. Also, get ready for another week of “Why didn’t Josh Norman cover an elite receiver” if he ducks Odell Beckham on even one play.

Detroit +7.5 over GREEN BAY

The Lions always lose in Green Bay. That’s a fact. But Detroit has been looking good while the Aaron Rodgers is in a concerning, prolonged slump. Should be enough for a Lions cover.

Minnesota +7 over CAROLINA

The Vikings defence is for real. It actually might not matter that much that Adrian Peterson is out in this one, as with a line this big Minnesota’s D should keep it close at least. And it’s not like AP was doing that well this season, anyway.

San Francisco +9.5 over SEATTLE

The Seahawks never start the season out well, it seems.

TAMPA BAY -5.5 over Los Angeles

Let’s not read too much into the Rams’ game against the Seahawks – they always play Seattle really tough. But travelling cross-country to face a team eager to shake off a big loss is too much for L.A.

Pittsburgh -3.5 over PHILADELPHIA

Carson Wentz has been fantastic, but this entire Steelers team has been, too. The Eagles have played two of the league’s worst teams to get to 2-0 and are about to get a rude awakening by facing a contender.

KANSAS CITY -3 over New York Jets

The Jets have had a couple of extra days after their win in Buffalo, but the Chiefs are a great home team and should come out of this one with a win.

San Diego +2.5 over INDIANAPOLIS

Let’s face it: The Colts might not be good. Their defence is awful, their line can’t block and the whole offence is on Andrew Luck’s shoulders. This is a late kickoff, too, so you don’t need to worry about the Chargers’ potential jetlag.

Chicago +7 over DALLAS

Jay Cutler may be out and the Bears may have looked pretty terrible so far, but this is way too many points for the Cowboys to be spotting.

NEW ORLEANS -3 over Atlanta

A good ol’ rivalry game between two offences with a lot of potential. We’re a bit higher on the Saints, surprisingly, as the Falcons defence may actually be one of the league’s worst.

Last week: 8-7

Season: 20-11

September 20, 2016

FREE KICKS: Let’s not bury Manchester United yet

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Oh, just look at that, another Manchester United landmark loss and a losing streak to boot.

On Sunday, United lost to Watford for the first time in 30 years. We have been getting more accustomed to seeing stats like this over the past few years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

But recently, it was managers David Moyes and Louis van Gaal to blame. This time around it’s the Special One, Jose Mourinho, who actually suffered his third consecutive loss for the first time in 10 years.

The thing is that you can’t look cross-town and point to Manchester City’s success and ask why United isn’t doing the same. While both clubs did bring in new managers in the off-season, United also brought in more key players that need to be integrated into the club.

Paul Pogba, for instance, is incredibly talented, but Mourinho needs to partner him with the right players and find the right formation for these guys to work with.

You also have to wonder how hard the players are working, considering that United has covered the least distance in the Premier League so far this season, with contenders Liverpool, City and Spurs in the top 3. United has covered 60 less km than Liverpool, for comparison’s sake.

But this is certainly a club that can turn things around.

Sure, losing to a midtable Watford side and to Feyenoord midweek are setbacks, but this team will bounce back – it’s too talented not to.

But one thing seems more certain than ever right now: Pep Guardiola is the superior manager to Mourinho. He tactically ran circles around him last week and now it’s becoming more and more apparent that he can manage his squad better as well.

Look no further than how Pep has handled veterans that no longer fit into the team, like Joe Hart and Yaya Toure. You have to wonder if Pep had gone to United, if he’d simply ship away Wayne Rooney, instead of trying to jam that square peg into a round hole like Mourinho is being forced to.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Sure, scoring against West Ham may be one of the easier things to do in the Premier League these days – more on that later – but you can’t knock West Brom’s Nacer Chadli for scoring two and notching two assists in 74 minutes this week.

The former Spurs winger was incredible against his former London rival and showed the promise that many have touted for years.

But considering the Baggies’ goal-scoring record this season, I see this as more an aberration than a possible uptick in offence for Tony Pulis’ club.

A TRIBUTE TO BARRY

Everton’s Gareth Barry has never been the most exciting player, but he has always been rock-solid. That’s how the Englishman reached his milestone 600th game on the weekend.

He’s just the third player to reach the mark, behind only Ryan Giggs and Frank Lampard. He has also played more Premier League game than 11 of the clubs currently in the EPL.

And what did he do to celebrate? Potted a goal against Middlesbrough. That’ll be one he surely never forgets.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

If you didn’t follow the Portuguese league last year, or played FIFA Ultimate Team, then Islam Slimani’s debut might have surprised you. The former Porto man scored a brace in his Leicester debut and should be an excellent threat in the box for the defending champions. He gives them a solid aerial threat in attack that they’ve lacked … Spurs might be in trouble if reports that Harry Kane will miss two months with an ankle injury are true. It’s a real shame too, as the English forward was finally hitting his stride with two goals in the past two games … Not so sure that was a good red card in the Hull-Arsenal game. The handball didn’t look deliberate enough to warrant a red to me … On the other hand, the refs got the penalty call on Petr Cech completely right. The elimination of the so-called triple punishment (penalty, red card, suspension) for fouls like the Arsenal keeper committed is a great decision and the refs applied it correctly … Does Manchester City need Sergio Aguero back with Kelechi Iheanacho playing so well up front? I mean, of course they do, but the youngster is sure looking like he’s playing up to his massive potential … Oh man, did Raheem Sterling just barely get the ball over the line. If that didn’t go in, it would have made a lot of “misplays of the year” montages … Diego Costa scored yet again, but it couldn’t lift Chelsea to victory this time. Jordan Henderson’s amazing goal did that for Liverpool in this clash of contenders on Friday … Speaking of Friday games, they’re a bit much after watching Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday then a massive slate of Europa League on Thursday. At least there was no Monday game this week … Thanks to the new concussion policy, Ron-Robert Zieler got the start this weekend as Kasper Schmeichel was ruled out for the mandatory six days. Kudos to the Premier League for making a rule about head injuries … On the hand, Anthony Martial looked like he was knocked silly on the weekend stayed in the game. His head injury looked like a concussion for sure … Nolito got himself suspended for stupidly headbutting a Bournemouth player. I’m sure Guardiola was thrilled with that utterly undisciplined behavior … Granit Xhaka’s screamer was a nice candidate for meaningless goal of the week … How in the world was Alvaro Negredo’s “goal” allowed to stand against Everton? He clobbered Maartin Stekelenburg to knock the ball loose from the keeper’s hands and into the net. If anything, it could’ve been a yellow to Negredo for hitting a keeper like that … Congrats to Theo Walcott for scoring his 100th career goal for club or country. It’s a shame that injuries have derailed his career as he probably should’ve gotten to the milestone sooner.

THE LAST WORD

I’ll try not to make this a weekly feature after asking the same question about Leicester last week, but what the hell is wrong with West Ham?

This is a team in shambles that was supposed to contend for a spot in Europe again, but instead are getting beat up on a regular basis.

This weekend was the Irons’ fourth loss of the season and the second game in a row that they’ve let in four goals. Their defence is the second worst in the league, ahead of just Stoke City in goals allowed.

This has to be about more than Aaron Cresswell getting hurt, as the defensive core of this team is about the same as last year.

Dimitri Payet has been his incredible self since getting back into the lineup with two assists in the each of the past two games, but that’s no excuse for leaking that many goals at the back.

While some may blame the move to the Olympic Stadium and adapting to a new home, there has to be more to this once-solid team shipping four goals to West Brom – a side that had just two in four games going into the weekend.

Slavan Bilic is going to have to crack the whip soon.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

September 16, 2016

The Bills need to fire the Ryan brothers + Week 2 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

After completely blowing it on Thursday night at home to division rival New York Jets to start the season off 0-2 and watching their division get eviscerated by Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Buffalo Bills made the only move that really made sense and fired … offensive coordinator Greg Roman?

What?

So the guy that coached his offence to nearly 400 total yards against one of the league’s better units got his pink slip because the defence could hold things together?

This is the sort of nonsense that happened when Rex Ryan was the head coach of the Jets and that teamed turned into an absolute circus towards the end of his tenure. Apparently things look like they’ll be the same in Buffalo, just a lot quicker.

Rex made the terrible move of hiring his twin brother Rob in the off-season and has now doubled down on that by shifting the blame for this awful start to Roman.

Firing a guy who doesn’t deserve it just two weeks into a season is a terrible way to look like a competent organization.

What needs to happen next is a full cleaning of house, with the overrated Ryans out the door and hopeful away from NFL sidelines. I’ve been saying for years that Rob Ryan is the most overrated defensive coordinator of all time, presiding over the historically bad Cowboys and Saints units of the past few years, but still getting new jobs because of his dad’s legacy.

Let’s end the charade and leave at least a little bit of mystique in the Ryan family name, before it’s tarnished beyond repair.

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

New York Jets (-1) over BUFFALO

Even thought the Jets won, man did Darrelle Revis get torched again. So, Revis Island seems like a pretty nice vacation destination these days, doesn’t it?

DETROIT -6 over Tennessee

Looks like the Lions don’t miss Calvin Johnson that much. The Titans may have done a good job stopping Adrian Peterson, but solid run defence isn’t what you need to beat a Detroit team that rarely concerns itself with establishing a rushing attack.

HOUSTON -2.5 over Kansas City

Last year, the Chiefs shutout the Texans 30-0 in an utter beat down. This is an improved Texans team and a banged-up Chiefs team now, though, so I don’t think we’ll get even close to the same result.

NEW ENGLAND -6.5 over Miami

Is the Dolphins defence that good, or did it just get pressure against a weak Seahawks line? It’s probably the latter while Bill Belichick proved he can win without his top QB, LT and receiving option against a Super Bowl contender.

CLEVELAND +7 over Baltimore

Is it wrong to think that RG3’s injury might help the Browns? Josh McCown might be the better option in Cleveland and while this is probably not a game they’ll win, the Browns could score in garbage time to cover.

Cincinnati +3.5 over PITTSBURGH

The hottest rivalry in football should be the best game of the week. Both of these teams are incredibly talented across the board and that means this one should easily be closer than a field goal, either way.

WASHINGTON -2.5 over Dallas

The numbers may actually back the Cowboys in this one, but with this line creeping under a field goal, we think that Washington can exploit Dallas’ porous pass defence and get its season on track.

New Orleans +4.5 over NEW YORK GIANTS

Wouldn’t it be weird if this somehow turned into a lockdown, defensive game? Both sides are going to put up big points and in that situation, we’ll take a few extra with this line.

San Francisco +13.5 over CAROLINA

We know that the Panthers are the much better team here and have had the extra few days to get over their loss to Denver, but this is a lot of points. The Niners could just have enough for a backdoor cover.

ARIZONA -6.5 over Tampa Bay

I really like the Bucs, but this is matchup that’s just not good for them. The Cards will be eager to shake off their loss to the Pats and could run over the visitors.

Seattle (NL) over LOS ANGELES

Russell Wilson may be hobbled by his sprained ankle, but when you consider how awful the Rams looked against San Fran last week and the Seahawks’ talent on defence, they might not need their star QB to do much.

DENVER -6 over Indianapolis

The Broncos have had 10 days to prepare after their tight win over the Panthers, which should be enough to make a plan to contain a Colts team that seems a bit overrated.

OAKLAND -5 over Atlanta

The Raiders were literally two yards away from losing in New Orleans, but their defence should fare much better at home. The Falcons are a very similar matchup, but the Saints are much more effective on offence.

Jacksonville +3 over SAN DIEGO

The Chargers crumbled after Keenan Allen crumpled to the field, crippling their offence. With the Jags riding high after a great game against the Packers, we’ll take the points on the road.

Green Bay -2.5 over MINNESOTA

Leave it to the Packers to spoil the Vikings party. While you can get away with a performance based on Shaun Hill and defence against Tennessee, the Packers are a whole different beast.

Philadelphia +3 over CHICAGO

Could Carson Wentz and the Eagles actually go 2-0? The rookie will face a stiffer test against Chicago, but even then, you couldn’t have been too impressed that the Bears folded last week.

Last week: 12-4

This season: 12-4

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