October 23, 2018

EPL FREE KICKS: Are the Gunners, like, good now?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

I think it’s about time we start talking about Arsenal.

And in a good way – which is rare, it seems, in these parts.

Quietly, while everyone has been paying attention to the table-topping troika of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, Arsenal has slowly and surely climbed up and taken the fourth spot on the chart. After starting the season with two losses to City and Chelsea, the Gunners have gone on a seven-game winning streak, scoring 20 goals in the process.

There have been quite a few contributing factors to this stellar run of form. It seems the team has adapted well to Unai Emery’s style and are running over teams with their attack. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have found a way to co-exist, rotating between playing up front and on the wing when on together. Even when playing as a sub, as he has the past two games, Aubameyang has been fantastic, scoring four goals in just 57 total minutes.

Another big reason for the improvement is Lucas Torreira, a summer signing that was slowly implemented into the side. But it has paid off with fantastic results. Without the Uruguayan on the pitch this season, Arsenal has scored nine goals and allowed 10 in 442 minutes. With Torreira playing, it has scored 23 and allowed just four in 638 minutes. That’s quite the game-changing difference.

You also can’t discount Arsenal’s ability to play through injuries this season. In the past, it always seemed like the Gunners would crumble when the pressure was on and bodies were falling. Now, they’re rarely knocked off stride.

Heck, even Mesut Ozil seems happy and is actually taking shots. His three goals this season is just one fewer than last year’s total.

Of course, there is reason to be skeptical. Of those seven wins, only two came against clubs currently in the top half of the table, Watford and Everton. Of course, you can only beat who they put in front of you, as they say, and Arsenal has certainly done that. Both with a match against Liverpool on the horizon, we should get a better idea just where the Gunners are at quite soon.

Manchester United’s Anthony Martial celebrates scoring his second goal agaisnt Chelsea on Saturday. (AP PHOTO)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

The weirdest thing has happened, completely by accident so far this season: Every week, our top player has come from a different team. We haven’t had a player repeat, let alone a player from the same team repeat yet. And we haven’t even seen a player from Spurs or Arsenal in this space, so there’s a real chance we could get to 11 teams.

Anyway, this week our main man is one that was forgotten about earlier this season: Anthony Martial.

The Manchester United winger bagged a brace against Chelsea, including a beautiful piece of ball control and a nice volley to tie the game 1-1.

On Saturday, the Frenchman was everything that FIFA 18 players expect from him. Now, he’s just making the game into reality.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Kevin de Bruyne has beaten the odds and returned even earlier than expected from his knee injury suffered in training last month. His own optimistic timeline had the Belgian returning for the Manchester Derby on Remembrance Day, but there he was on the weekend, coming on as a second-half sub. Once he gets back to full fitness, Pep Guardiola will have a pleasant dilemma about how playing time is split … A good defensive team like Burnley should know better than to switch off before a whistle is blown, especially in its own box. There was no excuse for allowing Bernardo Silva’s goal, which was coolly set up by the ever-savvy David Silva … In the past 10 months, Leicester has won more games at St. Mary Stadium than Southampton … What a luxury it is for Liverpool to have Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge as essentially depth players behind their monstrous front line. With Sadio Mane out and Roberto Firmino being rested, those two subs gave the Reds more than enough talent up front to beat Huddersfield … We know that Marcos Alonso mostly isn’t in Chelsea’s starting XI for his defensive ability, but there’s no excuse for simply lying down in the box looking for a call as long as he did while Martial scored his first goal. Even if he was actually hurt, he should’ve still made some sort of attempt to get up … Being a soccer fan can be pretty pricey to watch – and that’s just sitting at home. If you want to watch your EPL team play its league fixtures, you’ll need a TV package with TSN and Sportsnet. But if you want to watch Champions League, you’ll need to get DAZN. And because TSN and Sportsnet don’t have Champions League and DAZN has no EPL games, you can’t just choose one or the other.

THE LAST WORD

If you didn’t think there was going to be some drama with Jose Mourinho playing against his former club, Chelsea, you’re insane.

He almost lasted the entire game, too, but after a boisterous celebration and some taunting from Blues assistant Marco Ianni following the game’s injury-time equalize by Ross Barkley, there was nearly a pier six brawl on the sidelines.

While ultimately no punches were thrown, Mourinho had to be restrained and there was a ton of pushing and shoving to go around.

Of course, like most things Mourinho is involved with, it was all for show. He and the assistant made up after the game and the beef was squashed.

Just another day on As Manchester United Turns.

October 20, 2018

NFL FANTASY: Freeman’s IR trip frees up Coleman, Smith

by Dan Bilicki In: Fantasy, Football

Devonta Freeman might as well be known as Mr. Glass.

After missing time with a knee injury earlier this season and being sidelined with a foot ailment last week, the Falcons running back has been put on the IR after undergoing groin surgery.

While Freeman is a candidate to return this season, the earliest he can be activated is Week 15. While there’s no doubt that he’s talented, we’re not sure that we’d trust him in a fantasy semifinal or final matchup. But, if you have IR slots in your league, there’s not harm in stashing him, just in case.

This is good news for Tevin Coleman owners, as he’ll retain the starting job as long as Freeman is out. But a name to look out for – and he should already have been on your radar – is Ito Smith, who has scored a TD in three straight weeks and took 11 carries from Coleman last week.

If Coleman goes down, Smith could become a fantasy stud and is a rare handcuff that has some starting potential.

COOKED HAMMYS

Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook have already been ruled out for Week 7 with hamstring injuries.

The Jags’ and Vikings’ top running backs, respectively, both haven’t played since Week 4 and we’re not sure they’ll be back next week, either.

Cook practised on Wednesday before getting a DNP on Thursday, having aggravated the injury. That he was able to get in a full session this week was promising, but the setback puts everything up in the air.

Fournette doesn’t seem close to returning and we’d wonder if he even makes the flight to London next week. Our optimistic guess would be that he returns after the bye, in Week 10.

Latavius Murray and T.J. Yeldon (who was taken off the injury report on Friday) should continue in their featured roles.

CLEVELAND ROCKS

Quick: Can you name the five defences that have allowed the most passing yards this season?

Now, can you name the Cleveland Browns’ next five opponents?

To save you the time, the answers are the same: Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

So when you consider that Baker Mayfield has thrown at least 41 passes in each of his three starts, this could be a recipe for fantasy success in the coming weeks.

Now is the time to ring up the owners of Jarvis Landry and David Njoku in your league and see what the asking price is. A few of the cheaper and more widely available options are Antonio Callaway (although we’re not thrilled with his 40% catch rate), Damion Ratley (six catches on eight targets last week with Rashard Higgins out) and Duke Johnson Jr., who has a potential to be huge as a FLEX option in PPR leagues after a slow start to the season.

DEFENCE DOESN’T REST

In case you were wondering just how good that 32-point performance by Denver’s defence was on Thursday night, the answer is pretty good, but not an all-time great.

It was the first time that a DEF had put up at least 32 points since New Orleans did it in Week 6 last year against Detroit and just the 11th time a DEF has scored 30 or more points in a week since 2012.

The all-time record is actually held by the Cleveland Browns, who in 1989 collected a cool 52 points against the Steelers in a 51-0 shutout in which they forced eight turnovers, had six sacks and scored three TDs. The highest total since 2000 is 46 points, which the Seahawks scored against the Eagles in 2005.

DJ SAVED?

We hate to celebrate people losing their jobs, but David Johnson owners must be thrilled with the announcement that the Cards have canned offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

Drafted as a top-five pick in most pools this year, Johnson has largely been a bust, in most part due to a schematical failure. Repeatedly, Arizona would run Johnson between the tackles to little effect as his 3.2 YPA would show. Johnson is most dangerous out in space and in the passing game, yet this season he has just 30 targets (tied for 12th in the league at RB) after leading the position with 120 and 80 receptions in 2016.

Byron Leftwich takes over as OC of the Cards and you should bet that his first task should be to get DJ going.

SIT/START

Start Andy Dalton (QB, CIN at KC)

The Red Rifle is on track for a career season and the Chiefs pass defence is lacking.

Sit Andrew Luck (QB, IND vs. BUF)

Since Vontae Davis retired at halftime in Week 2, the Bills defence has allowed just four TDs.

Start Marlon Mack (RB, IND vs. BUF)

Returned from injury to take the lion’s share of touches in the Colts backfield last week. Buffalo is much better against the pass than the run.

Sit Jordan Howard (RB, CHI vs. NE)

This game is shaping up to feature shifty Tarik Cohen more than the bruising Howard.

Start Michael Crabtree (WR, BAL vs. NO)

Has the 12th most targets in the league and the Saints have allowed the most points to opposing WRs.

Sit Allen Robinson (WR, CHI vs. NE)

He’s likely to see Stephon Gilmore in coverage, who has allowed fewer than 20 receiving yards in each of the past three games.

Start C.J. Uzomah (TE, CIN at KC)

He’s the last TE standing for the Bengals and has a solid matchup against the Chiefs.

Sit Evan Engram (TE, NYG vs. NO)

Looks set to return from injury, but the Saints are allowing the fewest fantasy points per touch to TEs in the league (1.38).

STAT CORNER

Julio Jones’ 707 receiving yards are the most for a player without a TD in a team’s first six games in NFL history, per Elias Sports.

ADD OF THE WEEK

Greg Zuerlein, K, LAR

If there’s such thing as an elite fantasy kicker, it’s Legatron. After missing five weeks with a groin injury, Young GZ returns to action and should be in your fantasy lineups ASAP.

DROP OF THE WEEK

Alfred Morris, RB, SF

With Matt Breida healthy enough to play, Morris quickly went from presumed starter to a one-snap night – a carry which was nullified by penalty – and is also behind Raheem Mostert for now.

WAIVER WIRE DEFENCE

Indianapolis Colts DEF

Unfortunately, the Colts won’t get to face one of the worst QB to ever play, Nathan Peterman, but it should put up a healthy score against a team led by Derek Anderson, who signed with the team just last week.

October 19, 2018

NFL Week 7 picks

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Picks

The lines are from Betway.com and the home teams are in CAPs.

Denver -1 over ARIZONA

This is truly a lost season in the desert. Looks like the Cards made a terrible call with Steve Wilks as head coach.

L.A. Chargers -6.5 over Tennessee at London

Who knows what you’ll be getting with the Titans on any given week and it usually isn’t good. The Chargers, on the other hand, have only lost to two of the league’s three best teams.

New England -3 over CHICAGO

The Pats were savvy enough to get the best of Patrick Mahomes, they should be able to do just as well against Mitchell Trubisky. Khalil Mack’s injury also doesn’t bode well for the Bears.

Buffalo +7.5 over INDIANAPOLIS

Derek Anderson isn’t great, but he’s miles better than Nathan Peterman. The Bills can play defence well enough to not be getting this amount of points.

JACKSONVILLE -5 over Houston

We aren’t yet ready to believe that the Jags defence is shot, especially with a game at home. The Texans can’t protect Deshaun Watson or block the run. Could be trouble.

Detroit -2.5 over MIAMI

Beginners luck runs out fast for Brock Osweiler, who has somehow only beaten the Bears in his three team debuts. The Lions come off a bye and coach Matt Patricia should know the Dolphins well.

NEW YORK JETS +3 over Minnesota

Home dogs have a great record this season and the Jets have played better at home this season. The Vikings lost solid rookie CB Mike Hughes last week, too, and we’re still not sure if Dalvin Cook is going to be a game-changer after his injuries.

Carolina +5 over PHILADELPHIA

Let’s not go overreacting to the Eagles big win over the Giants last Thursday, or the Panthers slipping up in Washington. Five points seems a few too high between two teams that are fairly even on paper.

TAMPA BAY -3 over Cleveland

The Bucs fell short last week in Jameis Winston’s first start, but could make up for it at home against a Browns team that is just short of pulling it together.

New Orleans +2.5 over BALTIMORE

Do we really think that Joe Flacco is going to out-sling Drew Brees? And with the two-headed monster of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram both playing, can the Ravens outstanding defence slow them down?

SAN FRANCISCO +10 over L.A. Rams

The Niners aren’t going to win, especially against the league’s best team. But giving a team 10 points at home against a division rival is too much to pass up.

WASHINGTON -1.5 over Dallas

The Cowboys finally looked truly alive last week, but it’s not like Washington didn’t either. We’re rarely one to take a pick simply because of “value,” but shouldn’t Washington be giving the full three at home to their biggest rival?

KANSAS CITY -6 over Cincinnati

K.C. plays on Sunday night for the second week in a row thanks to a flex. With Patrick Mahomes now seemingly at home under the lights and the Bengals suffering a few injuries on defence last week, the Chiefs surely have a shot at winning this one big.

New York Giants +5.5 over ATLANTA

The buzz around the Eli Manning situation is starting to get toxic in New York. This is just about the time that he puts together a nice game and people quiet down for a week before he’s back in the dumps.

Last week: 5-9-1

This season: 43-43-5

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