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04

Mar

The Manager: Important Piece of The Team Or Useless Figurehead?

Ownership has become a staple of football in the last ten years. Foreign investment is as normal and customary as promotion and relegation. It signals a new era for a club and a unofficial promise that the investment will lead to success on the pitch as well as off of it. Whether the promise is fulfilled is a story for another time, but clubs are not as opposed to takeovers and new ownership as compared to years past.

Normally, owners have been recognized as having positive influences on football clubs, whether it is by investing heavily in the club or raising the club’s profile. In more recent times, some owners have been using clubs as playthings, something to amuse themselves with outside of the business norm. A more common occurrence, however, is for owners to attempt to seize control on not only the business side of the club, but also the footballing side. Anyone in football knows this never ends well.

As a manager of a football club, there is nothing you want more than the unequivocal support of the hierarchy, whether it is in the transfer window, team selections or under pressure when things are not going well. This support allows the manager to focus on his job: dealing with everyday football matters. What happens when the owners or the board abuse their power, however? Essentially, in some cases the manager is merely a pawn, an outlet for an owner to work through. Take for instance, Chelsea. They are currently on their seventh manager since Roman Abramovich took over the club in 2003. No one is under the impression that these managers run the football aspect of the club. For the amount of money they pay, owners are entitled to their opinions. But that is what they should be, just opinions. If they are going to continually undermine the manager, what is the point of hiring one in the first place?

In contrast, clubs such as Manchester United and now Liverpool, have owners who respect the managers and support them. Manchester United may be different as Sir Alex Ferguson is essentially a part of the club and was around long before the Glazers thought about purchasing the club. However, despite fan protests and debt issues, the Glazers have never gotten involved in the footballing side of their investment and continue to support the manager. Their reward has been rich success over the last seven years and ownership of one of the biggest sporting organizations in the world.

Liverpool are another example of a club with a steady hierarchy which supports the management they oversee. John Henry’s recent takeover of the club has brought a calm to the club as Kenny Dalglish is allowed to perform his duties without interruption or interference. The club may not be fighting for the league title at the moment, but its performances in the cup competitions shows that a club can succeed with guidance, rather than a dictator-like approach.

With proven examples of harmonious manager-ownership relationships, shouldn’t it be easier to find a balance? It should be, but sadly situations don’t always allow for it to happen. There is, also, the problem of contrasting interests in an international scenario, where managers are pressured by a country’s respective governing body. The most recent case of this is in England, where Fabio Capello left his post as England manager due to what he called a “misunderstanding”. England’s former captain John Terry was stripped of the armband due to his ongoing racism claim and upcoming court trial.

The decision was not met with any surprise in the country and in my opinion it was the right decision, as Terry has had his fair share of issues. (this was the second time he was stripped of the captaincy) The main problem was that the manager was not consulted before the decision was made, therefore undermining his authority and ignoring his input on a very important issue.

I find it hard to believe that a meeting couldn’t have been held prior to the decision before any action was taken. If Capello chose to resign after any meeting and subsequent decision, it would’ve been less controversial. As it stands, the English FA have taken a massive step and lost a very adept manager.

Overall, the majority of clubs have some sort of stability where the owner doesn’t attempt to do everything and ignore those who are employed to do specific jobs. If given the task of actually running the footballing side on a daily basis, I honestly don’t think I could count the amount of owners who would succeed. By using simple business sense, it should be clear to owners: overuse your power and risk your company collapsing.  Handle the business side of the club and give the manager opportunities, and the club has a chance at being successful. In a results business, however, owners have no patience. Still, if not given the time of day, managers can’t prove themselves.

Unfortunately, in some cases old habits die hard and several trends will continue. On that note, I’m sure Abramovich is preparing another severance package at this very moment.

 

*At the time of posting, Abramovich wielded the axe and fired another manager. Can’t say it wasn’t coming.

03

Feb

A Dark Secret Emerges: Modern Day Racism Steps Into The Light

The title may have the word modern in it, but the whole problem of racism deserves a medieval description. Lets imagine that football is the traditional White Knight, the saviour, and racism is the proverbial dragon; a menace to society and a massive threat. In this context, the scenario plays out quite simply: knight seeks out dragon, dragon puts up an almighty fight, knight overcomes and prevails. However, what happens when the dragon isnt directly in front of him, but actually emerging from the knight himself? How do you fight it then? This is the issue at hand, with racism emerging rather quickly and altering the overall  shape and image of football.

The most troubling part of it all is the sudden increase in which racism reports are being identified. Even more frightening is that the majority of the newfound cases are appearing in England, the so called home of football. At the time of writing, John Terry, the England captain, has been stripped of his armband as he faces criminal charges over claims of alleged racism against another player.

Before this issue, Liverpools Luis Suarez was suspended for eight games for allegedly racially abusing Manchester Uniteds Patrice Evra. To go even further back, Bulgarias national federation was fined 40,000 by UEFA after its fans directed racist abuse at England players during a Euro 2012 qualifying match in September 2011. These are all separate incidents but fall under the same issue.

Racism had never fully been eradicated from the game, but it was never enough of an issue to distract from the main focus: football.

With the issues above becoming prominent in the game along with persistent and, frankly, disgusting fan abuse, something must be done. A job for FIFA, right? That would be the suggestion of many but as shown, even the governing body is clueless as to how to remove this plague. To be fair, FIFA has for some time been launching anti-racism campaigns in an attempt to stamp out racism. But is it actually done to combat the issue or just to appease some? The efforts are noble but they become questioned when contradicted. Ive never been a fan of Sepp Blatter, but his response to the racism issues were laughable and showed how daft he really is. Mr Blatter stated,

          Maybe one of the players has a word or a gesture which is not the                     correct one, but the one who is effected by that, he should say that           this is a game.

          We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and      this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism                and discrimination.

Hearing this made me sick, as it showed the lack of knowledge persons had, including the governing body of football, about the issue. No one can be expected to forget racial abuse or profiling by just shaking hands and walking away; its never that easy and trying to sidestep the problem ultimately makes it worse. That point raises a question. Is enough being done to educate persons on a whole about how damaging racism is? Obviously based on the points made so far, the answer would be an emphatic NO. But why isnt enough being done? Sweeping the problem under the rug makes for uncomfortable viewing later on when it re-emerges again, more toxic than the last time.

Clearly some sort of collective effort is needed, but it needs a catalyst. This is where footballers can use their public images for a greater purpose. Actions speak louder than words is the old saying, and could not be more relevant in this situation. As spokespersons for the game, footballers should become aware of the problem and make serious efforts to rectify it, in both their conduct during games and activities away from the pitch. By encouraging more programs with organizations such as Kick It Out, it would show not only the footballing world, but all individuals that footballers are making a conscious effort to implement knowledge. It becomes equally important at the grassroots level, ensuring that children are aware of the problem from early, guiding them and showing them how football can be used as a tool to hopefully combat the issue.

Of course, there are individuals who will continue to create problems and ignore any efforts to resolve any confrontations. The important thing is that the majority see it as their obligation to correct a longstanding problem. Football needs to find a point where it can attempt to purge itself and essentially start fresh. In some cases there will be a knee-jerk reaction to specific situations, such is the severity of the problem.

If this purge is to be successful, however, awareness must be more prominent and the participants in the Beautiful Game, must become protagonists. The internal conflict must be resolved with a outright vision and with a strong sense of purpose. For the knight to win, he must look deep inside himself and fight the dragon on a different level. What level is that? That answer comes with careful analysis.

Football, find that level. This dragon needs to be slayed.

24

Jan

Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
Unknown (via theyuniversity)

19

Jan

Approaching the Home Stretch: The Battle for Supremacy


 

The turn of the year brings with it many things: silly resolutions that are abandoned before the month is out, new challenges to face and  an urge to make this year better than the last. Football is no different, although the prize for most is ultimately the same. This time of year signals a focus which could lead to glory for some, or bitter disappointment for others. The flurry of Christmas games in England is normally a scale to help decipher who is best equipped for the run-in to the season’s end. However, at this point, I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest  that one team will pull away. Its rather the opposite, as the teams at the top of the table (the top three at least) look like keeping close to each other until the very end.

When August rolled around, I predicted that the season would run the same course as the last. United and Chelsea sparring for top spot, City being in the hunt but not having that extra push as yet and Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs scrapping for fourth place. Granted, the latter seems bound to happen anyway, but the balance of power at the top seems to be shifting. City seem hell-bent on becoming the new powerhouse in Manchester, and on a larger scale, England. At the same time, all of the other contenders ,at one point or another this season, seem to have lost their identity. This has given the table an extremely interesting look, as the big spenders from the blue half of Manchester proudly lead the rest of the pack. Whether they’ll be there come May is another story, but it got me thinking. It’s been such an odd season so far that there can be no certainties.

To this end I’ve decided to analyze each of the title contenders or near-runners based on their seasons so far, and try to figure out where they will end up. Ironically, the positions of the teams right now help with my analysis and are probably a slight indication as to who’ll be top of the dross come summer, and who will be highly disappointed.

So, let’s begin.

 

Manchester City

Current Position: 1st

Key Player: David Silva


City flew out of the blocks at the beginning of the season, scoring for fun in games and generally swatting away any opposition. Their position right now is totally justified. The rash influx of foreign talent was expected during the summer but I don’t think people expected them to play like a team as quickly and as easily as they have. That being said, the goals haven’t been flowing as freely of late, and the result have been harder to come by. Add to that the fact that they are missing a couple of key players and the juggernaut has become a tad vulnerable. The league is way too unpredictable at the moment to say that the top of the table clashes will decide the destination of the title, but if City can get a healthy amount of points from those games, it will be very hard to bet against them.

Upcoming Games: v Tottenham, at Everton, v Fulham, at Villa, v Blackburn, v Bolton

Predicted Points: 16/18

 

Manchester United

Current Position: 2nd

Key Player: Wayne Rooney


Like City, United started the season ruthlessly, racking up wins and playing with the swagger that the defending champions should have. Then, something weird happened. The performances started to deteriorate. They were still winning games but scraping through them. Then, it got worse. A week after exiting the League Cup with a limp display, United were embarrassingly dumped out of the Champions League due to their own overconfidence and some very questionable displays. An off-colour Wayne Rooney hasn’t helped their cause but the blame isn’t just his to shoulder. The whole team has lost its aura of invincibility. Now, I am a die-hard United fan, and as much as I would love to blame the club’s massive injury list for these issues, I just can’t. Failure to secure a central midfielder in the transfer window was seen as a fatal mistake and the sudden and unexpected re-signing of Paul Scholes until the end of the season only adds fuel to the fire. The performances have improved of late and will probably stay that way as key players return from injury. United typically shift into gear at this time of the season, but I’m not sure that will be enough to defend their title.

Upcoming Games: at Arsenal, v Stoke, at Chelsea, v Liverpool, at Norwich, at Tottenham

Projected Points: 14/18

 

Tottenham Hotspur

Current Position: 3rd

Key Player: Gareth Bale


Spurs, for me, have been the revelation of the season. The one thing that has been missing from this team for a while has been consistency. Guess what? It’s there now, for the most part. It begins with a solid and stable starting XI, which is a surprise considering the manager. Harry Redknapp is known as a tinkerer to most, but this season he’s decided to stay true to his starters, allowing for continuity and an impressive run of form.  Good move, Harry. The true test is how the team reacts to any injuries that may occur and, more importantly, games against the lower lights in the league. Spurs have a propensity to struggle against smaller teams and this could be their undoing. If, however, they manage to rectify that issue, another promising Champions League run awaits. The league’s not far off either. Have a go, Coys.

Upcoming Games: at City, v Wigan, at Liverpool, v Newcastle, at Arsenal, v Man Utd

Projected Points: 12/18

 

 

 

Chelsea

Current Position : 4th

Key Player: Juan Mata


 

Chelsea look a far cry from the team that constantly challenge for the League title each season. Whether it’s the new management, the lack of youthful legs, or just Fernando Torres (seriously, what is wrong with him?), the team just look extremely jaded each week. Chelsea fans obviously know unless the top three slip up MASSIVELY, they have no chance of winning the title. Most will be looking to the summer and a possible revamp of the team. Andre Villas Boas has begun clearing the deadwood by removing Nic Anelka and attempting to ship out Alex and Salomon Kalou but yet questions will still remain. Will Drogba still be around come season end? Or Lampard? Either way, Chelsea seem to be entering a rebuilding stage that may take some time and could have an effect on their imminent success. They are still in 3 competitions but, of those three, the FA Cup is probably their best bet.

Upcoming Games: at Norwich, at Swansea, v Man Utd, at Everton, v Bolton, at West Brom

Projected Points: 12/18

 

Arsenal

Current Position: 5th

Key Player: Robin Van Persie


Arsenal have had the ultimate rollercoaster season so far. They had an awful start to the season, then rallied to have an impressive mid-season run and now are bobbing along inconsistently. Truthfully, without RVP, this season would’ve been one to forget before Christmas even came around. Luckily, he’s managed to stay injury-free and that always gives Arsenal a chance. However, cover for him is desperately needed as this team will be in trouble should he be out for an extended period of time. Per Mertesacker looks a massive liability in that defense and the team is still prone to goals from set pieces. Anything above 4th place seems a pipe dream, so expect to see them and Chelsea fighting for that final position. The way both have been playing, it’s not a fight I particularly want to see.

Upcoming Games: v Man Utd, at Bolton, v Blackburn, at Sunderland, v Tottenham, at Liverpool

Projected Points: 10/18

 

Newcastle

Current Position: 6th

Key Player: Demba Ba


Newcastle are second in my “Revelation of the Season” poll, running Spurs very close. Their displays this season look more like those of top four hopefuls rather than mid-table dwellers, which is always a positive. They play without fear, move the ball around effectively, and in Demba Ba, have one of the deadliest and in form strikers in the league at present. Their midfield also looks like one of the best in England right now, behind only City. Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote complement each other well; one being a silky passer with a eye for the perfect pass, the other a no-nonsense enforcer marshalling the back four. Like Spurs, unfortunately, they still struggle against lower opposition at times and that in all likeliness means their current position probably won’t change between now and the end of the season.

 

Upcoming Games: at Fulham, at Blackburn, v Aston Villa, at Tottenham, v Wolves, v Sunderland

Projected Points: 14/18

 

Liverpool

Current Position: 7th

Key Player: Luis Suarez


Where to begin? For all the hype from Liverpool fans stating they will challenge this season, not much has been done to prove this as fact. Liverpool look more of a threat to themselves than anyone else, honestly. Aside from a couple good performances here and there, the team looks bereft of ideas at times and have been unbelievably wasteful in front of goal. Their plight hasn’t been helped by the well publicized racism issue that surrounded Suarez, who is currently serving his eight match ban for the aforementioned offense. You’d think a player that cost them in excess of $30 million would be able to help them through all this but sadly, Andy Carroll’s been more of a liability than an asset this season and continues to look out of place. If you include the long-term absence of Lucas (who was very impressive up until his injury) and the constant injuries Steven Gerrard seems to pick up, there’s not much to be proud of at Anfield this season. To put this into context, Adidas pulled the plug on Liverpool this week due to the team’s under-performance on the pitch. That’s as big of a warning sign as you’ll get. Looking at all that, seventh place is looking like a treat right now.

Upcoming Games: at Bolton, v Wolves, v Tottenham, at Man Utd, v Everton, v Arsenal

Projected Points: 9/18

 

 

 

Based on those analyses, it’s safe to say that this season has been a neutral’s dream, with no clear-cut winner as yet. The home stretch promises to be just as entertaining, with teams jostling for final position. I’ve made a provisional table based purely on my analysis and what I’ve seen this season. It’s clear that each of the teams at the top will need some improvements come summer, but for one, it’ll be made that much easier by the silverware in their cabinet.

 

1.     Manchester City

2.     Manchester United

3.     Tottenham Hotspur

4.     Arsenal

5.     Chelsea

6.     Newcastle

7.     Liverpool

8.     Stoke

9.     Swansea

10.      Norwich

11.      Everton

12.      Sunderland

13.      Aston Villa

14.      West Brom

15.      Fulham

16.      QPR

17.      Wolves

18.      Bolton

19.      Blackburn

20.      Wigan

*Illustrations by H.G. Fields

*The illustrator, being a keen Spurs supporter, found working on the RVP image rather difficult and thus did not want to attach his name to the image. Football, bloody hell.

12

Jan

The Enigma That Is Tim Tebow


 

At the time of writing, the Denver Broncos have managed one of the upsets of the season, removing the Pittsburgh Steelers from the playoffs and ensuring their unlikely season continues. At the core of this successful season lies a player by the name of Tim Tebow. He didn’t even start the season as a Broncos starter, but he’s sure finishing it as one. The way he has inspired his team has impressed some and confused others, none more so than myself. To say I’m not a fan of Tebow is a gross understatement. I admire what he has done this season, but I honestly don’t believe all the hype around him is justified. More on that later.

Now, Tebow isn’t exactly what you would call a “traditional” QB. His throwing action isn’t the best, neither is his accuracy, or decision making, and he LOVES to run with the ball. Granted, there are other QBs in the league who love a good run up the field (Michael Vick & Cam Newton are perfect examples). However, unlike Tebow, the others have awareness and a fairly decent throwing arm. As bad as it sounds, calling Tebow a “running back playing signal caller” isn’t fictitious. Be that as it may, after becoming the Broncos’ starting QB in midseason, Tebow did what no one expected. He won, and then won again, and again, to the bemusement of everyone outside Denver. His “heroics”, as they were called, in the fourth quarter of games, ensured that Denver continued to win and closed in on a playoff spot. But soon, as quickly as the heroics started, they started to fade away. The Broncos lost three games in a row, with Tebow as a non-factor. Somehow they managed to ride that slide into the playoffs, with quite a few bandwagoners as well. Weird, but a reality. Tebow made the post-season.

 

Before I talk about the Wildcard game against the Steelers, it’s time to revisit the point I made earlier about the hype. I have never seen someone polarize opinion and create widespread debate as much as Tebow has. From Tebow’s first miracle victory against the Miami Dolphins, interest was sparked. A new phrase was even coined, “Tebow Time”. After Tebow Time came the art of “Tebowing”. Basically, Tebow gets to the ground on one knee, fist clenched to his forehead and prays.  This in itself became a fad, with many across the country mimicking the action. The hype continued apace also in part to Tebow’s religious beliefs, resulting in some calling him The Messiah.


Now, I have nothing against Tebow’s religion, but believing he is the second coming? Ridiculous.

The real reason I believe the hype is unjustified is because I think that the Broncos defense, and not Tebow, are the real saviours. If it wasn’t for that defense, what Tebow does would be pointless. They create the platform for Tebow to get the offense going. Without that defense, Tebow Time wouldn’t exist.

Personal griping aside, Tebow HAS improved the Broncos, with his unorthodox offense befuddling defenses, giving the team a new dimension. This is where we get back to the Wildcard game against the Steelers. The first half of the game was as unexpected as you can imagine. The number one defense in the league was torched by deep completions and found themselves down at the halftime interval. Tebow had five completions for a stunning 185 yards and continued his passing job in the second half, finishing with 316 yards and two passing touchdowns, one of which ended the game in overtime.

 Tebow is as dividing as they get. Whether you love him or hate him, he’s clearly doing the right things and is improving well, as the Broncos playoff run shows. Whether they get any further remains to be seen, but for Tebow and the Broncos, this season has been a positive one.

Will Tebow be starter next season? More than likely.

Is he a good fit for Denver? Absolutely.

Will the hype continue? Just ask the many kids, teams and the guy next to you who are currently Tebowing. You’ll get your answer.

*Special thanks to H.G. Fields for the quality illustrations

09

Jan

NFL Wildcard Aftermath

After The Smoke Cleared


 

Wow.

 

That was the first word that left my mouth once the final Wildcard game had ended. Maybe it was the 80 yard TD pass that Tim Tebow threw to end the game, or just sheer disbelief that the number one defense in the league played so badly. More on those later, but all of the weekend’s Wildcard games were hugely entertaining. Unless you’re a Falcons fan. Then it was just abysmal. I went with the obvious choices with my predictions and other than the result that shocked everyone, I managed to get the others right. So, time to look back at each result and pick from the wreckage.

 

Texans 31-10 Bengals


The result surprised no one honestly, but the performance the Texans put in was hugely impressive. Who would’ve thought that they would be going into the Divisional round with a third string QB leading them there? Not me. However, while T.J Yates hasn’t been explosive, he’s been solid. This is more than can be said for Andy Dalton, who’s been fairly inconsistent. Add in Arian Foster, who after being shutdown in both teams’ last meeting was all over the field, and you’ve got a pretty solid team in the Divisional Round. They go up against the Baltimore Ravens, and the seemingly unstoppable Ray Rice. Which way will it go? I think Baltimore may nick it. Just.

 

 

 

 

 

Saints 45-28 Lions


Now before this game even started, I didn’t give the Lions a chance of winning. Obviously the result proves I was right, but if you watched the game you know it wasn’t a lopsided win. The Lions stated a game with a ferocity that allied their name. They charged down the field with the swagger of a team with a point to prove, and prove a point they did. They have shown this season that they are contenders, after years of humiliation and disappointment.

However, this game was too big a hurdle for them right now as Drew Brees showed his class and torched the Lions in the second half. I also believed that turnovers would be key in this game, and they were. The Saints gave up two fumbles and managed to escape unscathed. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford threw two picks that effectively gave the Saints the advantage and in the end, the game. The Saints now look ahead to their game at the 49ers, while the Lions can feel satisfied and disappointed at the same time. Bittersweet end to their season.

 

Giants 24-2 Falcons


This score line absolutely flatters the Falcons. No, seriously, it does. The Giants scored ALL the points in this game, destroyed the Falcons with the bottom ranked run offense in the league and really didn’t have to do much. A combination of a botched coverage, some awful decision making and play-calling, and some impressive defensive stands by the Giants, let to this being a non-contest. Both defenses started brightly, but once Brandon Jacobs and Ahmed Bradshaw really got into the game, the Falcons looked lost. Eli Manning had an effective yet quiet game, such was the success of the running game.

 Leaving Michael Turner on the sidelines on those awfully carried out fourth down attempts was an early white flag waved by Atlanta. They really did nothing of note and deserved to lose. On the other hand, the Giants late season surge continues. The defense is looking as strong as it has this season and are playing as a unit. Up next? A trip to Lambeau to face the Superbowl Champions. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

 

Broncos 29-23 Steelers (OT)


Well, well, well. Steelers fans everywhere must be livid, still shocked at what happened to their team. The team with the best defense in the league did a bad job backing it up as Tim Tebow shone during the first half. Tebow, known for his “heroics” in the latter portions of games this season, drove the Broncos forward and gave them a fairly impressive lead. He had 185 yards in the first half while only completing five passes. FIVE. In the regular season, the Steelers hardly gave up any big plays in the air. Did the Mile High air intimidate them? Did the Tebow magic scare them? Whatever it was, they were poor in Denver and Big Ben had to be at his best (while not 100%) to get them level and take the game to overtime.

It took Tebow one play to end the game. One. Why? Not because of Tebow Magic. Not because of his spirit. This happened because the “best” defense in the league decided on a formation that brought all of the defenders near or around the line of scrimmage and left no one in coverage. On the first play. End result? A 80 yard TD play and the end of the game. Tebow lives to play another day. Will Tebow Time happen next week? No. New England awaits.

 

Divisional Round

With all that sorted, it’s time to look ahead to the Divisional round, and some interesting matchups. Four games, four teams will be left. Who will progress?

 

Saints @ 49ers

Fearsome offense meets brutal defense as the Saints travel to San Francisco. All the talk of the Saints struggling outside should be dispelled after this game as I believe they will continue to be offensively aggressive and impressive. However, they haven’t faced a defense as strong and unrelenting as San Francisco’s, which hasn’t allowed a rushing TD all season. Not one. Something’s got to give during this game. My pick? The 49ers defense. As impressive as they have been this season, I think the Saints will just have too many options. The Saints must run the ball, though, as it has worked for them very well. I predict the 49ers to keep the Saints in check until the half, but expect Brees to get fired up after that. You can’t stop Drew Brees for an entire game, right?

Saints 24-14 49ers

 

Denver @ New England

Before all the Tebow Time chants come out, I’m going to suggest that Broncos fans watch this game with their eyes between their hands. The Broncos defense has been the unsung hero, not Tebow. Making stops and being solid has kept them in games and allowed to offense to go about its business. On the other side of the field, the Patriots defense has been awful. Awful. They are dead last in the league, but somehow they’ve managed to snag the number one seed in the AFC. How? Tom Brady. Brady has been pure class this season, and with Hernandez, Gronkowski and Welker in the Patriots arsenal, he has a quality cast behind him. Like Brees, Brady is near impossible to keep quiet over an entire game and, if this game goes to form and expectations, it will be a blowout. Tebow Time will die in Foxboro.

Patriots 38-7 Broncos

 

Houston @ Baltimore

The Texans have done so well this season and getting this far is no more than they deserve. Sadly, I think this is where it will end. The Ravens have been very reliable this season, with Ray Rice being phenomenal. This game will come down to who has the better running game, as Joe Flacco has been poor by his standards this season, and T.J Yates, while impressing, isn’t a player you’d want to be throwing all game. However, with Andre Johnson in the side, Yates has a big target to aim at and ease the pressure on Arian Foster. If the Ravens defense steps up and neutralizes Johnson, it could be a long night for the Texans.

 

Ravens 28-17 Texans

 

New York @ Green Bay

Probably the tastiest of the Divisional games, the Giants head to Lambeau in a repeat of the 2007 NFC Championship game. The Giants won that game and hope to do the same this time against a much more potent Packers team. Despite the Packers awful defense this season, they have been relatively untroubled. (Aside from the loss to the Chiefs and the near escape against the Giants) Getting to Aaron Rodgers will be vital to the Giants cause and with such a fearsome pass rush, it is very possible. I’m still worried about that Giants secondary despite the win over Atlanta. If they become exposed, the scoreline could be quite high. I expect it to be either way, but the Giants must limit the damage done, use Jacobs and Bradshaw to trouble the defense and take their shots down the field. A classic awaits.

Packers 38-34 Giants

 

05

Jan

"To be the ultimate team, you must use your body and your mind. Draw up on the resources of your teammates. Choose your steps wisely and you will win. Remember, only teams succeed."-
Jose Mourinho

The Unwavering Supporter

Sitting in the stands, making my feelings known to the team. They’re losing, but in a strange way I’m happy. The tide is shifting, the players moving collectively, the game is won already to me. My team and I are in sync with each other. We know it’s coming. One, then two, three, four, five. The goals pour in with effortless ease. Worried? Me? Never. This team never quits, so why should I quit on them? Every game is an opportunity to prove my support; an opportunity I relish. Irrespective of the situation, the occasion, the stakes…..nothing changes. Why, you ask? One word. I think it, they think it, we both embrace it. Live by it.

Believe. <BEL19VE>

Believe

Round 3 of the world’s oldest club football cup competition begins this weekend. This video expresses the magic and excitement of the FA Cup.

04

Jan

NFC Wildcard Preview #2

NFC Wildcard Game Preview

Atlanta Falcons (10-6) @ New York Giants (9-7)

Sunday, January 8th, 1PM ET.

The New Meadowlands, East Rutherford, New Jersey

 

Atlanta travel to New York to face the late surging Giants.

 

Postseason in New York….a staple of American football. The fact that the Giants were required to beat two out of sorts teams to reach the playoffs ( Jets and Cowboys) should not take away from how dangerous they are. However, a stronger challenge awaits now in the form of the Atlanta Falcons, who must be thrilled that they are making a trip to New York, rather than back to Louisiana to face the Saints. Detroit did them that favour by failing to beat a second string Packers team in a mad shootout at Lambeau. However, unlike the Lions, who aren’t expected to leave the Dome with a win, no one would be surprised if the Falcons progressed this weekend. An interesting game awaits.

 

Key Notes

New York Giants

The Giants endured a rocky season, with a very ugly mid season slump tied in with an impressive rally at the season’s end.

They took care of the Cowboys at the Meadowlands in Week 17 to win their Division.

The Giants secondary has been very shaky at times this season, looking lost in several games.

On offense however, the Giants are adept at big yardage plays (20+ yards at a time)

Eli Manning comes into his own in the 4th quarter and has become the Giants hero in several games (19 fourth quarter comebacks in his career)

The running game will be tested be a very stingy Falcons run defense ( ranked 8th in the league)

 

 

Atlanta Falcons


The Falcons run game is effective, but has stagnated of late. Michael Turner did have an impressive showing in the blowout win against Tampa Bay, however.

 

To ease pressure on Matt Ryan, the run game must gain valuable yardage.

 

Ryan has not won a postseason game while at the Falcons.

 

The Falcons must be ready for a fearsome Giants pass rush, which neutralized Tony Romo and the Cowboys last week.

 

The offensive line must protect Ryan and allow him to work inside the pocket.

 

 

 

Key Players

Atlanta Falcons


Matt Ryan, QB : Ryan has had a stellar season, although he’s been overshadowed by the league’s big names. (Brady, Brees, Rodgers) He leads this team without the swagger of a typical QB. He is very effective and also extremely underrated. The offensive line will have to be at their best to keep him ticking if they want to take control of this game.

 

Tony Gonzales, TE : Gonzales has been as reliable as he has ever been during his NFL career, as demonstrated by him signing a new contract extension. His safe hands, blocking strength and solid route running make him one of the best in the league. He will need to be utilized to cover for the deficiencies in the running game at present.

 

Roddy White, WR : White has explosive pace and is a good route runner. If Ryan looks his way, it is probably on a deep pass or a play action move, meaning a big gain. He has been a tad suspect with his catching this season but it relatively reliable down the field.

 

Julio Jones, WR : The rookie has had a slow start to his NFL career, with injury delaying his progress at the beginning of the season. However, he has been solid and at times crucial to Falcons’ drives as he is very quick and move through the field well. Like White, however, he has a knack for dropping catches, which at this point in the season must stop if the Falcons hope to progress.

 

 

New York Giants


Eli Manning, QB : Eli has had one of his best seasons to date, with some impressive numbers, limiting interceptions and even more impressive comebacks. His ability to throw a deep pass is unbelievable and with the Giants having home advantage against a team who are used to “Dome weather” and aren’t used to New York’s unpredictable January weather, expect Eli to air it out. The run game will need be established, however, to allow him play action opportunities and open up the passing lanes.

 

Victor Cruz, WR : How Cruz began last season as an undrafted free agent is beyond me as he is clearly a player with talent, shown in full this season. He has become extremely important to the Giants. His overall speed is impressive but it is his acceleration that is terrifying. His ability to shake defenders on his route is sublime and his YAC (yards after the catch) are also noteworthy. Expect Eli to look Cruz’s way a couple times in this game and expect a touchdown and his now famous ‘Salsa Dance’.

 

Ahmed Bradshaw, RB : Bradshaw is a powerhouse of a running back, able to barge his way through tackles and find running room. The Giants have had running success when Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have both been used in games. The running game has been average of late, but if Bradshaw can somehow blitz past the Falcons run defense, it’ll pave the way for Manning to do his business.

 

 

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE :  Pierre-Paul has been outstanding this season, from blocking field goals to just being an all around threat. He is a nightmare for opposing QBs and has helped the Giants possess one of the best pass rush defenses in the league. His impact cannot be emphasized enough.

 

Last meeting: Week 1, 2009 ( Giants, 34-31 in OT)

 

Predicted outcome: This is one of the closest Wildcard games and one of the hardest to call. The Falcons have been great this season and in Ryan, have a quality QB. The Giants, however, also have a quality and more so clutch signal caller in Eli Manning. The key points in this game may be Ryan exposing the Giants shaky secondary or the Giants pass defense, Pierre-Paul in particular, putting pressure on Ryan. It could well come down to one of these factors topping the other, but this could be a high-scoring affair. Giants have found momentum of late and at the Meadowlands, I think they could just edge this one.

 

Predicted Score: Giants 28-21 Falcons