The Reuters global sports blog
Over here in Europe, interest in NFL has grown markedly this year if Twitter trends are taken into account. Maybe the annual game in Wembley has boosted UK interest along with better live coverage on satellite TV but the players themselves deserve credit.
Undoubtedly the story of Denver Bronco’s quarterback Tebow has captured the imagination of fans around the globe. It’s not just his religious beliefs, it was his style of running and the fact he seemed to throw the ball all wrongly but still produced results.
The England Patriots, surely now the hot favourites for the title , ended his remarkable run in the divisional playoffs this weekend but Eli Manning’s nerveless performance for the Giants as Aaron Rodgers and the weak Packers defence fell apart means NFL’s new viewers may still be tuning in come next weekend’s Conference championships.
You’re Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, it’s the final game of the regular season against the Detroit Lions, and you’ve got a dilemma: play your strongest team, a winning combination, or rest your stars fearing serious injuries to any of them.
What do you do? McCarthy said on Monday he wants veteran left tackle Chad Clifton to play the game, he wants Clifton’s experience for the playoffs so naturally he needs a run out against the Lions. Easy.
Week Eight was full of surprises, not many of them pleasant. The St. Louis Rams taking down the New Orleans Saints was the big shocker while the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens managed to escape with wins but were unimpressive failing to cover.
It all it added up to a disappointing 2-4 week but we bounce back in Week Nine.
Record: 25-23; Last week 2-4; Pick of the Week: 6-2
PICK OF THE WEEK
Atlanta Falcons (4-3) at Indianapolis Colts (0-8)
(Line Falcons minus-7.5)
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?
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
Given the nature of American football, Super Bowls inevitably get billed as a battle of two quarterbacks and this year’s finale features two of the most entertaining in the game – Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
It is, of course, a gross over-simplification to view the complexities of the game as simply a contest between the two men who take the snaps.
That was another great football weekend made all the more exciting for the Lineman by going a very respectable 3-1. Only two games this week and both look like crackers. Enjoy.
Playoffs: 5-3. Pick of the Week 1-1.
Last week: 3-1
Regular Season Record: 53-49
PICK OF THE WEEK:
Green Bay Packers (12-6) at Chicago Bears (12-5) (Line Packers minus-3.5): I backed the Pack to get to the Super Bowl when the season started and there is no reason to slip off the Green Bay bandwagon now.
The Lineman is only sure of one thing this weekend and that is that football fans are in for a real treat with all four games shaping up as potential classics.
It was a rough ride for home teams last weekend with only the Seattle Seahawks surviving and who says you need an elite quarterback to win in the playoffs.