The Reuters global sports blog
The season-ending WTA championships had many story lines. Could Maria Sharapova recover from her ankle injury to threaten at the year-end championships and become world number one again? Would one of the new major winners lift the trophy? Could Caroline Wozniacki continue her reign as world number one for a second straight year and win the end of season championships for the first time?
This is the first time the end of season championships have been held in Istanbul, Turkey. The crowds have been packed all week so it was an excellent choice of city. The stadium looked great and so did the green tennis court with the purple outer court. The tennis throughout was brilliant.
Unfortunately for Sharapova she had to pull out after her second round robin match against Li Na, thus ending her challenge of becoming world number one. This meant Wozniacki ended up finishing as world number one for the second year running without winning a major and having only won one match at the season-ending championships.
The good news for the event was the brilliant play of the major winners in these championships. Petra Kvitova, Li and Samantha Stosur all played well.
The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series this year. Or, to be more accurate, they won four “World Series” this year, at least that is how it felt to many in Cardinal Nation. Oddly, the final victory – the actual Commissioner’s Trophy winner – was in a sense the least thrilling because it meant the, at times surreal, run was over and it was time to return to the bleak reality we as Americans have become accustomed to.
from Reuters Soccer Blog:
No sooner had Molde stumbled across the finish line to win their first Norwegian league title in their hundred-year history than the speculation had started.
Would Molde coach and former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer be the man to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at the English champions when the 69-year-old finally decides to retire?
Back on track with a combined 9-3 record over the past two weeks which means I head into Week Eight on Halloween weekend showing no fear for what lies ahead.
Yes, it’s Halloween and the Lineman would never let it go by without all kinds of frightening references.
Record: 23-19; Last week 4-2; Pick of the Week: 5-2
from Reuters Soccer Blog:
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was quick to say that his team’s 6-1 mauling of arch-rivals United meant little more than another three points in the bag, but the Italian must surely be hoping it could signal a shift in the balance of power.
Having knocked Liverpool off their perch when they won a record 19th league title last season, United now face the prospect of playing second fiddle to City in England and Manchester, should their heaviest defeat to their neighbours in 56 years prove to be more than just a temporary setback.
That was more like it, a very solid 5-1 effort in Week 6 after a very tough month of average results.
Could we be perfect in lucky Week 7? Feels good.
Record: 19-17. Last week 5-1
Pick of the Week: 5-1
PICK OF THE WEEK
Green Bay Packers (6-0) at Minnesota Vikings (1-5)
(Lines Packers minus-8.5)
Doesn’t it seem a long time ago that Brett Favre was the only storyline that matter in this NFC North rivalry?
In the latest installment, South Africa-based photographer Mike Hutchings describes the gear he can’t live without and what makes shooting rugby different from his usual assignments.
In the xxx third installment, Sydney-based photographer Tim Wimborne describes what is necessary to keep the file fresh throughout the tournament and to satisfy different client needs.
The end of season for the top players can be a tough time because of fatigue; all their work is based around peaking for the slams. With Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer both out of action (neither have played since the last Davis cup tie) the top two seeds were Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray for the Shanghai Masters Series.
Murray has been playing really well having won in Thailand and Tokyo leading into the Shanghai event. Murray has made a concerted effort to play more aggressively, also the courts are faster and so it actually forces him to play more aggressively which is a good thing.
The Lineman took a few hard hits early last week but recovered with a couple of late scores to win my last two picks and finish with a sort of respectable 2-4. The word of the week for Week Six is “desperation” for me and several teams.
Record: 14-16; Last week: 2-4; Pick of the Week: 4-1
PICK OF THE WEEK
St. Louis Rams (0-4) at Green Bay Packers (5-0)
(Lines Packers minus-14.5)
The NFL’s best team against probably the league’s worst team (we say probably only because the Miami Dolphins have also yet to win a game).
St. Louis has had a bye week to think about their visit to Lambeau but the Rams could have had a year to prepare and it would be the same result – a blowout.
With a razor-sharp Aaron Rodgers at the controls the Packers are averaging a league best 34 points while the Rams are at the bottom of the heap averaging just 11.5.
The Packers still have a few areas they could improve on, such as pass defence after giving up an average of 299 yards per game – third worst in the league.
But Charles Woodson and Morgan Burnett are tied for the lead in interceptions with three each while Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has thrown just three touchdowns.
Danario Alexander is the Rams’ top pass catcher with a measly 196 yards.
Rodgers has thrown for 1,721 yards and a league-best 14 touchdowns and will likely add to both those numbers against a Rams secondary that has lost its two top cornerbacks to injury.
Even when they were winning last season, the Rams were crummy on the road. The Pack are great at home.
Giving up more than two touchdowns always leaves me jittery and there is always a chance the Packers could be in a generous mood and let up on their overwhelmed opponents.
But I still expect to see plenty of Lambeau Leaps this Sunday.
Take the leap. Give up the 14.5 and take the Packers.
- – - -
Philadelphia Eagles (1-4) at Washington Redskins (3-1)
(Line Eagles plus .5)
I could just cut and paste my reasons for taking the Eagles again because they are the same reasons I picked Philadelphia over the Bills a week ago (a wrong pick).
The only difference from last Sunday is that the Eagles are even more desperate for a win.
After four straight losses the “Dream Team” tag has been removed from the Eagles but is Philadelphia as bad as their 1-4 record? I think not.
The Eagles offence ranks third, averaging 445 yards per game and first in rushing but quarterback Michael Vick has been prone to the big mistake, tossing a league-high seven interceptions including four against the Bills.
Philadelphia’s more significant issues are on defence where they rank near the bottom of the league against the run, surrendering an average of 26.4 points and 140 yards on the ground.
Defence has been the Redskins strength, Washington allowing just 15.8 points per game (third best behind Baltimore and San Francisco) and leads the NFL in sacks – not good news for an
already banged up Vick.
Great defence, coming off a bye week and playing at home everything would seem to be in the Redskins’ favour.
But the Eagles are in desperation mode and so am I.
Take the Eagles and the half point.
- – - -
Carolina Panthers (1-4) at Atlanta Falcons (2-3)
(Line Falcons minus-4.5)
The Eagles and Falcons are birds of a feather – both failing miserably to live up to pre-season expectations.
The Falcons tailspin has not been nearly as dramatic as the Eagles but this is another team that needs to get things figured out in hurry (like this Sunday) or risk falling to the bottom of the NFC South.
First-year quarterback Cam Newton may not quite be ready for the Hall of Fame as some would have you believe by the lavish praise but he is a lock for rookie of the year taking command of a Panthers offence that ranks fifth in total yards and passing.
Newton has passed for seven touchdowns, run for five more and developed a special chemistry with wide receiver Steve Smith, who ranks second in pass catching with 609 yards.
Atlanta has just been out of sync on both sides of the ball.
The Falcons are a tough out at the Georgia Dome and this is the week when things finally start to click in Atlanta.
Newton is also due for a wonky game and I think this is it.
Take the Falcons and give up the 4.5.
- – - -
Houston Texans (3-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
(Line Ravens minus-7.5)
No All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson and no pass rushing maestro Mario Williams, means no chance for the banged up Texans against a well-rested Ravens team playing at home and coming off a bye week.
It is hard to give up more than a touchdown against a team that has played as well as the Texans but, with their two biggest playmakers sidelined with injuries, it is hard to see Houston having any chance here.
The Ravens defence, led by Ray Lewis (this guy still scares me), is the league’s stingiest allowing just 14.3 points a game while Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offence are starting to find their stride averaging 35 points in their three wins.
M&T Bank Stadium has been a house of pain for visitors, the Ravens going 12-1 in their last 13 home games.
The Texans have never beaten the Ravens and it won’t happen this week.
Houston we have a problem.
Take the Ravens and give up the 7.5.
- – - -
New Orleans Saints (4-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2)
(Line Saints minus-4.5)
New Orleans let me down last week when they failed to cover against the Panthers but I am giving them another shot this Sunday because 4.5 points seems to a little light against a Saints offence that is starting to fire on all cylinders.
Drew Brees is the NFL’s second ranked quarterback tossing 1,789-yards and 12 touchdowns and is at the controls of a Saints attack that sits second in total yards (452 yards per game) and passing yards (336).
Last week the Buccaneers were spanked 48-3 by the San Francisco 49ers, matching their worst loss in club history.
Both defences have struggled giving up an average of 25 points a game but it is hard to see Tampa Bat quarterback Josh Freeman keeping pace with Brees.
The Saints quarterback has an arsenal of weapons to choose from while the Bucs lost one of their biggest threats last Sunday when running back LeGarrette Blount went down with a knee injury.
New Orleans should also be very motivated this week with a win allowing them to open up a two-game cushion on their NFC South rivals at the top of the division standings.
Bucs stopped here.
Take the Saints and give up the 4.5.
- – - -
Miami Dolphins (0-4) at New York Jets (2.3)
(Line Jets minus-7.5)
For me, a week off in Miami would never seem like a bad thing.
Not sure, however, the winless Dolphins enjoyed their bye week as much I would have.
So it’s back to work for the Fish and a visit to the Big Apple for the Monday Nighter against a Jets team that finally appears ready to take flight.
Dolphins have a new look coming out of the break but it is a scary one, with backup Matt Moore in at quarterback for injured Chad Henne.
Miami ranked near the bottom of the league averaging just 17 points a game with Henne calling plays so it is difficult to see Moore as any kind of upgrade – especially going against a Jets defence that ranks fifth against the pass.
New York quarterback Mark Sanchez continues to come under scrutiny but expect him to silence his critics, for one day at least, with a big day against the NFL’s second worst pass defence.
Both teams are desperate (see, I told you that was word of the week) for wins.
Miami coach Tony Sparano likely needs one to keep his job while the Jets need a victory to stay in touch with the 4-1 New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.
The Dolphins have a history of playing the Jets tough, but give me the improving Jets against Matt Moore in the Monday Night prime time spotlight.
Jets cleared for takeoff.
Take the Jets and give up the 7.5
It wasn’t just Irish eyes that were smiling when the Euro 2012 playoff draw was made in Polish city of Krakow – some of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) delegation appeared to be laughing out loud when they were drawn to face Estonia, with the winner heading to next year’s finals.
But despite the protestations of coach Tarmo Ruutli, Ireland probably represents the best possible draw for the Estonians, given that the other alternatives were Portugal, Croatia or the Czech Republic.