September 11, 2018

EPL CORNER KICKS: Who’s the best bargain in the Prem?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

So often during the transfer window, we here about the biggest stars going for the biggest sums of money we’ve ever seen.

But rarely do we hear about the small deals for veterans; the smart deals that really help a team on the margins.

It’s rare to hear about the big-money players becoming great values for what they cost and for what the players make in salary.

So just who was the best value in the Premier League last season? The folks at Ladbrokes broke it down and it’s not someone you’d expect: Glenn Murray.

The Brighton striker potted 12 league goals last season while pocketing a salary of 1.56 million GBP. That translates to a goal cost of 97,500 pounds per goal, roughly 11,000 pounds than the next best, Burnley’s Ashley Barnes.

In case you were wondering, Mohamed Salah, who broke the single-season scoring record with 32 goals, had a cost per goal of 146,250 pounds thanks to his 6.2 million salary. Harry Kane was a bit more profitable at 130k per goal, with 30 goals and a 5.2 million salary.

Murray, as you may recall, scored two goals last week in the Seagulls 2-2 draw with Fulham. It’s also surprising to learn that only seven players have more league goals than Murray since the start of last season.

It’s players like the 34-year-old that allow smaller clubs like Albion to survive in the Premier League. Having a bargain-basement striker that produces allows it to invest elsewhere.

Now only if the Seagulls could find 10 more players as efficient as Murray, they wouldn’t be mired in the relegation battle for most of the season.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Let’s just get this straight: Danny Welbeck’s disallowed goal was the right call, no matter what Kane believes. It was a foul and shouldn’t have counted. Maybe old ‘Arry should brush up on the rulebook about goalkeeper possession … James Milner reached 80 Premier League assists last week, tying him with David Beckham for seventh since they started keeping track of the stat in the early 90s. It’s crazy to think how underappreciated a player like Milner is and how he continues to do plenty of good work in one of the EPL’s team sides … Since Aleksander Mitrovic’s Fulham debut in February, no player has scored more goals in the top four tiers of English football with 16. But while we would quip that Newcastle could’ve really used him, he wasn’t a fit with the squad. The striker even admitted so himself, saying he would be too tired from all of the running tracking back he’d have to do under manager Rafa Benitez … Watford’s win over Spurs last week was its first in Premier League play … Lucas has been named player of the month for August and he’s quite deserving. It’s pretty weird that Tottenham players seem to win the award more often than not, but the club is never contending for first in the league … In some awful news for Spurs, goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris had more than double the allowed amount of alcohol on his breath when busted for DUI a few weeks ago. He’ll be needing some rides to training, we think … Luke Shaw was knocked out cold in England’s game against Spain, but has tweeted that he’ll be OK. It was scary stuff, seeing the oft-injured left back down for so long … For the first time in since the Stadium of Light opened 29 years ago, a Sunderland keeper saved a penalty on Saturday.

THE LAST WORD

Think that West Ham is thinking about sacking Manuel Pellegrini after starting the season pointless after four games? It would be an extremely costly move due to some idiocy from team management.

When signing the Argentine manager to a three-year contract over the summer to replace David Moyes, the big bosses or their lawyers forgot to put in a termination clause.

That means that the former Man City boss would make the full amount of his 15-million pound deal if he were to be sacked.

Yikes.

If the Irons do eventually want to get rid of Pellegrini, we’re sure that something could be worked out with the Premier League winner. But after learning what it could cost the team, we think that ownership is certainly going to give him more time to work things out.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

September 7, 2018

Deja Vu all over again + Week 1 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

Tell me if this sounds familiar: The Falcons had a first and goal needing a touchdown in Philadelphia with time winding down. But despite having one of the league’s best offences, they can’t do it in four tries.

Yes, the same thing that happened in last year’s playoffs happened again.

At what point will Atlanta give offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian the boot? That was brutal stuff down at the goal on Thursday night.

The lines are from Westgate and the home teams are in CAPS.

Atlanta +1 over PHILADELPHIA

Nick Foles wasn’t good and the Eagles should be concerned if Carson Wentz isn’t going to be back for a few more weeks. Also, it was nice of the Eagles to play their greatest hit and roll out the Philly Special in the opener.

Pittsburgh -4.5 over CLEVELAND

Do the Steelers really need Le’Veon Bell to beat the Browns? Probably not. And this team might actually be galvanized by the star RB’s holdout and eager to prove that they don’t need him. Big Ben has an outstanding record vs. the Browns, too.

MINNESOTA -6 over San Francisco

Jimmy G’s first season as a  franchise QB gets off to a rough start. The Vikings are one of the best teams out there and their defence is no joke. Home-field advantage is big in Minny, too.

Cincinnati +3 over INDIANAPOLIS

The Bengals came off the rails at the end of last season, but could regroup with the help of an outstanding pass rush and A.J. Green’s ability out wide. Andrew Luck makes his long-awaited return, but will it be enough?

BALTIMORE -7.5 over Buffalo

We’re not very high on the Ravens, but we are very low on the Bills. This is a squad that is seriously lacking and starting Nathan Peterman demonstrates just how low it can go. At least Shady McCoy can play, for now, but what line is there to block for him?

Jacksonville -3 over N.Y. GIANTS

The Giants’ full recovered offence gets a big test right off the bat. The Jags defence should put Eli Manning under pressure all day and not give No. 2 pick Saquon Barkley much room to run.

Tampa Bay +9.5 over NEW ORLEANS

This could be one of those wonky Week 1 games, where nobody is really up to speed. We like the Saints to take this one, but covering by double-digits is a bit much against a division rival.

NEW ENGLAND -6 over Houston

There’s a lot of hype for Houston this season with so many players coming back from injury, but the Pats are still one of the league’s best teams. There’s also no telling what we’re going to get from Deshaun Watson in his first game back from a torn ACL less than a year ago.

Tennessee -1.5 over MIAMI

The Titans are coming off a playoff berth and could be even better while the Dolphins could be on their way to the first overall pick. Two teams going in different directions.

Kansas City +3 over L.A. CHARGERS

We’re not sure why they’re giving the Chargers a home-field advantage boost when they don’t really have one. Expect a ton of Chiefs fans in L.A. As for the teams, the Chiefs are the more talented team and should take it.

DENVER -3 over Seattle

Somehow, Case Keenum is a big upgrade at QB for the Broncos and the pass rush should have Russell Wilson on the move all game long. Getting the Mile High advantage also helps early in the season when conditioning isn’t great for visitors.

CAROLINA -3 over Dallas

Losing your centre is tough news – it’s even worse when your backup is in charge of marking Luke Kuechly. The Panthers are the more talented team, but we’re interested to see what Dallas’ offence looks like this season.

Washington +1 over ARIZONA

The Cards could be a very deep sleeper, but we think Washington is a better bet to make some noise this season. Arizona’s biggest advantage, Patrick Peterson, is kind of neutralized in this one, considering Washington seemingly lacks a true WR1 for him to blanket.

Chicago +7.5 over GREEN BAY

A rivalry game in Prime Time? Are you really ready to surrender more than a touchdown? The Bears get a big boost from landing Khalil Mack and Matt Nagy’s offence could do well against the Packers’ inexperienced secondary.

New York Jets +6.5 over DETROIT

The Lions haven’t been able to really put the boots to anybody consistently for a few seasons, so it’s difficult to give so many points. The Jets have experience going against new Detroit coach Matt Patricia from his Pats days, too.

L.A. Rams -4 over OAKLAND

This one could be a blowout. There’s no reason to think that the Raiders will be able to hang with a team like the Rams.

Last season: 127-107-10

Last playoffs: 6-5

PREDICTIONS

AFC EAST: New England Patriots

AFC NORTH: Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC SOUTH: Tennessee Titans

AFC WEST: Kansas City Chiefs

AFC WILD CARDS: Jacksonville Jaguars, L.A. Chargers

NFC EAST: Philadelphia Eagles

NFC NORTH: Minnesota Vikings

NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons

NFC WEST: L.A. Rams

NFC WILD CARDS: New Orleans Saints, Washington.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Jaguars over Chiefs

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Vikings over Rams

SUPER BOWL: Vikings over Jaguars

MVP: Drew Brees, NO

FIRST-OVERALL PICK: Oakland Raiders

September 6, 2018

32 NFL team-by-team predictions for 2018

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

With a new season kicking off tonight, let’s run down where each team stands and where we see them finishing come January.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh

The Steelers remain the class of the AFC North. Even with the drama surrounding Le’Veon Bell, this is a team that has plenty of receiving weapons – including the best in the game, Antonio Brown. The defence is among the league’s top units, too.

Prediction: 11-5

Cincinnati

A decidedly average team last year, the Bengals didn’t get better or worse, but they did get a bit older. That’s not the right direction for them to be moving, but the veteran core could

Prediction: 8-8

Baltimore

This could be it for the Joe Flacco era in Baltimore. We’d like to say that he’ll go out with a bang, but it’s more likely the defence carries this team and probably falls just short of .500.

Prediction: 8-8

Cleveland

Just because the Browns are better, doesn’t mean that they’re going to make the playoffs or anything. There’s still plenty of room for improvement and it’s not going to happen with Hue Jackson as coach.

Prediction: 5-11

AFC EAST

New England

Clearly the cream of this division crop, especially given how poor the other three teams could be. The Pats real challenge will come in the playoffs and whether or not Tom Brady will ever start acting his age.

Prediction: 12-4

N.Y. Jets

Sam Darnold gets to start right off the bat, which isn’t a bad thing for his development, but might be a bad thing if the Jets are hoping to make a run this season. The rest of the Jets roster beats out the next two teams, though.

Prediction: 6-10

Buffalo

It’s hard to believe this team made the playoffs last year. The Bills might have the least all-around talent of any team in the league, but at least have a few bright spots on the roster like a pretty good defensive backs corps and LeSean McCoy running the ball – if he doesn’t get suspended.

Prediction: 5-11

Miami

The Dolphins got rid of their best players on the both sides of the ball and will be led by a QB that has missed nearly a season and a half, and was never above average in the first place. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Prediction: 4-12

AFC SOUTH

Jacksonville

While everyone touts the Jags as a potential powerhouse, let’s remember that they only went 10-6 last year. The passing attack still has some question marks with Blake Bortles remaining a pivotal piece. The defence and running game should be fantastic, though.

Prediction: 10-6

Tennessee

The Titans are going from a coach that didn’t know what he was doing to one that seems fairly competent. This was already a playoff team and we could see Tennessee be even better — but only if Marcus Mariota stays healthy.

Prediction: 10-6

Houston

So much went wrong the Texans last year that you can’t help but think they’ll be bounce back. The defence has potential to be special with J.J. Watt returning, but we’re still a bit skeptical of Deshaun Watson. He has only started six games and he’s coming back from a torn ACL and his O-line is awful.

Prediction: 9-7

Indianapolis

Andrew Luck is back! Can he run the ball or play defence? The Colts QB should single-handedly win the team some games, but it won’t be enough to bounce back from a 4-12 seasson.

Prediction: 6-10

AFC WEST

Kansas City

The Chiefs traded away their starting QB and their top corner back after winning the division last year and we still think they’re good enough to do it again. This is a case of a well-built infrastructure leading to wins, even in a tough division.

Prediction: 12-4

L.A. Chargers

The biggest concern for the Chargers, other than what seems like an annual injury curse, is that their home-field advantage might be the league’s worst. Can Phil Rivers and Co. overcome having to use a silent count at home in some games? The talent is certainly there to do so.

Prediction: 9-7

Denver

We actually like the Broncos as a nice sleeper built its pass rush and some improved QB play from Case Keenum — he can’t be worse than the Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler combo from last year. It wouldn’t even surprise us to see them in a wild-card spot, except this is a tough division at the top.

Prediction: 8-8

Oakland

The Raiders weren’t particularly good last year, underperforming to a 6-10 record after getting a lot of pre-season hype. Now, they’ve hired a coach that hasn’t been on the sidelines in a decade and traded away one of the three best defenders in the league. This team could be a trainwreck.

Prediction: 3-13

NFC NORTH

Minnesota

The Vikings are one of the most loaded teams in the league and they just added a Pro Bowl-calibre QB in Kirk Cousins. Minnesota’s defence was one of the league’s best and now we could see some more consistency on offence, although the offensive line does worry us a bit.

Prediction: 10-6

Green Bay

Aaron Rodgers is one of the best players in football and he’s back after last season’s broken collarbone. The Packers will always be able to move the ball on offence with Rodgers, but can the defence hold up its end of the bargain?

Prediction: 9-7

Chicago

The trade for Khalil Mack launches the Bears into contention for a wild-card spot. Mitchell Trubisky should be able to operate well in an RPO offence with some new weapons to throw to. Mack provides some pass-rush pressure in a division with some good QBs.

Prediction: 9-7

Detroit

The Lions are the odd man out in this division. They’re always in close games, even when they should be — for better or worse. Will a coaching change matter? Well it depends on how much you think of Matt Patricia, who we’re not entirely sure about considering how his tenure in New England ended.

Prediction: 5-11

NFC EAST

Philadelphia

The Super Bowl champs have one of the best rosters in the league, but could have some issues, especially early on. We’re not sure when Carson Wentz will be healthy and Nick Foles has looked bad in the pre-season. Top receiver Alshon Jeffery will miss some games, too. It’s not enough to derail their season, but maybe to cost them a first-round bye.

Prediction: 10-6

Washington

There’s little buzz about Washington, but it has quietly gotten better this off-season, switching Kirk Cousins for Alex Smith. This could be a nice sleeper pick for a wild-card spot if Jay Gruden can keep the offence humming with a new QB under centre.

Prediction: 9-7

N.Y. Giants

The biggest issue for the Giants is the offensive line, but with a new, competent coach, Odell Beckham healthy and Saquon Barkley in the backfield, this could be an explosive attack. The defence took a huge step back last year, but with Ben McAdoo gone, it should have some positive regression.

Prediction: 7-9

Dallas

The Cowboys have more problems that they’re willing to admit. Their receiving corps may be the league’s worst, the defence hasn’t improved too much, Jason Garrett remains an average coach at best and the offensive line – the team’s biggest strength – already has some injury issues. This could be a lost season for Dak and Zeke.

Prediction: 6-10

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta

The Falcons were  a blown red-zone situation away from beating the Eagles in the playoffs last year and potentially returning to the Super Bowl. While the offence fell a bit under Steve Sarkisian, it’s by no means a poor group and should be among the league’s top 10. The defence is young, fast and should hold up its end of the bargain.

Prediction: 10-6

New Orleans

The Saints surprised many last year by running the ball more often and holding it up defence. We don’t question New Orleans’ ability to adapt on offence, but will the defence be able to hold off some natural regression?

Prediction: 10-6

Carolina

The Panthers are already facing some issues with linebacker Thomas Davis out and starting LT sidelined. But the key players are obviously Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. If either one misses time, that side of the ball could fall apart for the Cats.

Prediction: 9-7

Tampa Bay

The Bucs and Jameis Winston are headed for a messy divorce. He’s already going to miss three games due to another suspension and he hasn’t exactly proved to be worth the trouble. Coach Dirk Koetter hasn’t exactly panned out either.

Prediction: 3-13

NFC WEST

L.A. Rams

After years of mediocrity, the Rams might be the best team in football. The offence, orchestrated by coach Sean McVay is among the league’s best and is well-balanced. The defence just added several big pieces, including Ndamukong Suh to pair with Aaron Donald up front – possibly one of the best DT pairs in NFL history.

Prediction: 13-3

San Francisco

Now, it’s the real test for Jimmy Garoppolo. The contract has been signed and the games matter for the former Pats backup, now. The rest of the 49ers aren’t too shabby either, but the running game took a hit with the loss of free-agent signee Jerick McKinnon. It’s also questionable if the defence can hold up.

Prediction: 9-7

Seattle

The Legion of Boom is dead. The Seahawks will look to rebuild on the fly and change their identity on defence. The good news is that Russell Wilson is still in charge of the offence and is more than capable of keeping his team in games.

Prediction: 7-9

Arizona

The Cards are a team in transition at QB, so our expectations aren’t very high. David Johnson returns to anchor the running game and Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s best CBs, but what else is there? Larry Fitzgerald can’t do it forever and we also don’t know how Steve Wilks will fare as a head coach.

Prediction: 4-12

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