The Reuters global sports blog
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.
Nadal on the other hand looked a bit flat in Shanghai and lost to world number 23 Florian Mayer in the third round. It is a match Nadal would not have lost at the beginning of the year; it’s not unusual at this time of year to see Nadal a bit flat. I believe he needs to get some rest and try to recover to have a chance to get back to world number one next year. I am not expecting much from Nadal for the rest of the year but his competitive personality will mean that he will do his best regardless.
Murray on the other hand is looking sharp, once Nadal fell out of the draw he became the heavy favourite to win Shanghai. For the players outside of the top 10 in the world this is a good time to get their ranking up – especially if you are fresh and motivated.
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.
The Euro 2012 two-legged playoffs should offer plenty of action and eight entertaining matches, with the last four berths in next year’s finals up for grabs.
While Ireland will start as strong favourites against Estonia, the other three ties appear set to be nerve-jangling affairs in which two former Yugoslav repubics will be eager to avenge painful defeats against their respective opponents, while another is aiming to make history in only their second tournament as an independent nation.
from Reuters Soccer Blog:
Sweden’s 3-2 victory over the Netherlands to qualify for Euro 2012 may have surprised many observers, but Swedish footballers have a long history of success against Dutch opposition.
The home of "Total Football" has for many years been something of a finishing school for Swedish footballers, and five of the players in the victorious Sweden squad play their club football in the Netherlands.
OK, it is not exactly the big week I was looking for but 3-3 at least has the Lineman heading back in the right direction. But catch a look at the Pick of the Week 3-1 (soon to be 4-1).
Good tipping to all.
Record: 12-12. Last week 3-3
Pick of the Week: 3-1
PICK OF THE WEEK
San Diego Chargers (3-1) at Denver Broncos (1-3)
Maybe I am one of those guys who keeps banging his head against the wall but for the second time in three weeks I am backing the Chargers as my sure thing.
from Reuters Soccer Blog:
UEFA's plan to spread out fixtures during international weeks makes perfect sense and should bring an end to those strange weekends during the season with no top class soccer, when I find myself watching rubbish old B-movies and darts.
The idea would see a national team play on Thursday for example and then Sunday, or Friday and Tuesday like now or Saturday and Tuesday.
The Great Britain Junior Davis Cup team were trying to win the Junior Davis Cup for the first time in UK history. We have a great team and were seeded number 1 because we won the European team championships for the first time this summer.
The team consisted of Kyle Edmund at number 1, who at 16 had made the semi-finals of the junior U.S. Open, Luke Bambridge at number 2, and Evan Hoyt at number 3. We prepared very well by getting to Mexico 6 days early to acclimatise to the altitude, time zone, and heat. We were determined to win. The reason we arrived 6 days early is that it takes a day for every hour to adjust to the time zone. The ball flies quicker and further through the air because of the altitude. Also in altitude it is harder to breath because of the air.
As the number 1 seeds we drew Thailand, Germany and Canada in our group to qualify for the semi-finals. We had to beat all the teams to be certain of qualifying, which we did. We won all our matches but it wasn’t quite as straight forward as that. Evan Hoyt our third ranked boy was struck down with food poisoning an hour before his opening match against Thailand and our number 1 Kyle Edmund was on antibiotics for the whole event because of a fever and couldn’t play singles on the opening day against Thailand. These kinds of situations are always a balancing act, but the depth of the team is so good that we could play any one of the three boys.
from Photographers' Blog:
By Bogdan Cristel
After 40 hours of flying Bucharest - Amsterdam - Beijing - Auckland, I arrived in New Zealand; my first time in the Southern Hemisphere.
The first nice surprise here was that both my check-in pieces of luggage arrived on the same flight (I expected it to take a week and to be on the safe side packed a toothbrush in my hand luggage).