Category Archives: NFL

NFL Superbowl XLVIII Predictions

The Conference Championships were, on the one hand, perfect and yet not so profitable. Both winners were those predicted, and by the exact spread predicted as well. That would have been impressive had I left it there, but unfortunately my best bet predictions failed to come in, so a mixed bag in the end. But attention now turns to the Big Show on 2nd February.

The match between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks promises to be one of the closest for some time. This is what is likely to happen when the number 1 offence (Broncos) meets the number 1 defence (Seahawks). Even comparing the weaker side of things offers little help, as the Broncos had the 19th ranked defence compared to the Seahawks 17th ranked offence. Both teams had a 13-3 record during the regular season, but how comparable are those? The combined record of the Broncos’ opponents was 120-136, or 0.469. For the Seahawks this was 125-130 or 0.488. Hardly an Earth shattering difference. It can be argued, though, that Seattle had a harder division with the 49ers (12-4), Cardinals (10-6) and Rams (7-9) combining to 29-19 whilst the Broncos’ AFCW combined to 24-24. It would indicate that the Seahawks 13-3 was slightly more impressive.

In terms of momentum I am not a great believer in the concept of momentum carrying through from the end of season when looking at a team that hasn’t had to play in the wild card weekend. That week off gives a team to recharge and refocus as much as to lose focus. But comparing the Divisionals and Conference matches might give us a better indication. In the Divisionals both teams had relatively close wins with the Seahawks just too strong for the Saints, and the Broncos edging a surprisingly good Chargers. The Conference matches were also similar with neither team blasting past their opposition, although arguably the Broncos victory was more ‘impressive’, whilst a similar argument could be made that the Seahawks were facing a more difficult opponent in the 49ers. The bottom line is that the scale, and nature of the victories in the post season does little to differentiate the teams.

So we have two teams that are evenly matched when on the field, had very comparable regular seasons and post-season performances. What about the key personnel? In simple terms (and that is what my knowledge requires it to be) that means the head coach and quarterback. The Broncos are coached by John Fox who took the Panthers to the Superbowl in the 2003-04 season. Four more post season appearances haven’t got to the Superbowl, but he has secured top place in the AFCW for the last three years before losing in the Divisionals. Pete Carroll, in charge of the Seahawks has (yes, you can guess) a comparable record, although has never been to the Superbowl. Not as though one or the other has recent experience of lifting the Lombardi Trophy.

Quarterback could be the difference. Peyton Manning, leading the Broncos, has had what can only be described as a glorious season. Leading the league’s number one defence has seen a return to his best that may not have been expected after the injury absence of 2011. 68.3% completion ratio and a league leading 55 TDs contributed to a 115.1 rating, a rating that can represent performance but not the experience of his 16 years in the NFL. Russell Wilson, on the other hand, is only in his second season. However, in that time he has avoided most of the media circus that has surrounded his compatriots such as RG3. This season saw a completion rate of 63.1%, 26 TDs and a rating of 101.2, his second season with a post 100 rating. He can also scramble, although such activity can be an issue with fumbles not being unheard of. He is certainly an exceptional talent, but without the experience that Manning has. In a close competition of youth versus experience, the edge usually goes with experience.

What does this all mean? Unfortunately it means that the two teams are very closely matched in all departments. And this is reflected in the odds. The Broncos are 2 point favourites which, given that represents the minimum score possible, is about as close as it can get. Even the standard money line is only 1.80/2.05. But one interesting concept is the MVP market. This is almost always awarded to the QB of the winning team – Manning is at 2.00 whilst Wilson is at 4.20. Interpreting that to meant that Manning will make more plays – longer drives and more scores, it would indicate the markets are expecting Manning to do more.

It is very tricky to call, but in a match up with so little to call between the teams I fear that it is experience that will show, and the Broncos will win the match. I say fear, but that is only because I want the Seahawks to win (always had a soft spot for Seattle). With it being so close, I wouldn’t look to back the winner market. The total points (known as the over/under market) is currently priced at 47 (1.90). This seems just a bit too high – my numbers predicted 44. Either backing under at 1.90, or selling the spread (which stands at 46-49 on Sporting Index) might be a better value option.

Prediction: Broncos (+10)

Best Bet: Sell spread on total points (46-49)

NFL Conference Predictions

Firstly a review of the divisional success rate. All four winners were correctly predicted, but both the 49ers and the Patriots were far more comfortable than expected. Nonetheless, a distinct improvement on previous predictions.

The AFC title game sees the New England Patriots at the Denver Broncos, or yet another episode in the Brady-Manning saga (14 meeting, 10 wins for Brady with 2 from 3 in the post season). But these two QBs are at the tail end of their career (of course Manning has been breaking all sorts of records just to remind people that age also means experience). Neither has had a stellar couple of weeks, and the rest of the teams are also suffering from injuries – but those injuries are on both sides, meaning both coaches need to adapt. In the end, these two teams were the heavy favourites to meet at this point, and the bookies reflect the sheer range of weapons in Denver by making them favourites at 1.41 compared to the Patriots 3.00. That translates into a spread of 5.5 for Denver, with an over/under of 56 points (1.90). Denver look like they will still have too much for New England, and by more than the spread. But although New England have lost their TE, the Broncos have lost an excellent pass rusher. I don’t expect the scorelines to dip, and the over 56 points seems a good bet.

The NFC match up sees the San Francisco 49ers at the Seattle Seahawks. Before I start, a confession. I have always regarded Seattle as my ‘second’ NFL team, and so any predictions should bear that in mind! Seattle saw off a spirited New Orleans in the Divisionals, whilst the 49ers crushed the Panthers after an excellent performance in beating Green Bay – they certainly have momentum. That said, an excellent season for the 49ers has been mired by an inability to beat a Seattle team that has a truly outstanding defence. Seattle also has a real advantage in playing at home; there aren’t many stadiums where the crowd can register as an earthquake! However, the Seattle offence has gone of the boil since around week 14, and is facing another exceptional defence in the form of the 49ers. Given the status as divisional rivals, this will be a hard-fought game without doubt. There is a division in opinion as well; a lot of ‘pundits’ are placing the 49ers as 3 point favourites, whilst the bookies have the Seahawks at 1.55 (against 2.60). The spread is currently down at 3.5, but this time the 49ers are 1.86 favourites with the 3.5 points (against 1.95), meaning that the spread might come down or the game is going to be very, very tight. The over/under at 39 (1.90) is to be expected in such a tight game. With little difference, I have to go for the Seahawks out of loyalty more than analysis, but that might not be the best bet as offering 2.60 on the 49ers outright is far too generous!

Predictions: Broncos (+10); Seahawks (+6)

Best bets: Patriots/Broncos over 56 points (1.90); 49ers (2.60)

NFL Divisional Predictions

Well a 50/50 record in the wild card play offs wasn’t anything to write about, so it is time to turn attention to the Divisional round.

The AFC sees the Indianapolis Colts at the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers at the Denver Broncos. The first game is likely to be the game of the round, with the Colts having had an excellent season whilst performing an almost miraculous comeback against the Chiefs. However, the Patriots are also a solid team with a lot of experience in the post season. The QB position is key, and although Luck has shown himself as an excellent player, Brady is still one of the main players in this position. The Patriots are also undefeated at home which will be another hurdle for the Colts to overcome. The bottom line is that the Patriots look as though they have just a bit too much for the Colts, and the defensive weaknesses the Colts showed last week might be too much this week. The Chargers were something of a surprise getting past the Bengals, but Denver will be too strong for them. The Broncos are strongly tipped to win the title this year, and with Manning having an outstanding year they can look to the Conference game next week.

The NFC sees the San Francisco 49ers at the Carolina Panthers, and the New Orleans Saints at the Seattle Seahawks. The NFCW where the 49ers and Seahawks play has been strong all season, and it is difficult to see past these teams this week. The Panthers had a strong season, and mainly under the radar in a year that was generally poor for the NFC, but their strong record was matched by the 49ers who will be on a high after beating a much fancied Packers team last week. In terms of the team match up it is close, but the 49ers regular season record appears stronger given the other NFCW teams and they will also be strongly motivated to carry on their efforts to make up for last year’s disappointment. The Saints managed to win their first road play off game last week, but the Seahawks will be a different proposition than the Eagles were. A 7-1 home record (compared to the pretty poor 4-4 the Eagles had) shows a team strong at home, and the 13-3 record in the regular season was the best in the NFC and joint best in the NFL (with the Broncos). The ‘hawks will have too much for the Saints.

So the predictions are Patriots (+6), Broncos (+14), 49ers (+3), Seahawks (+7).

NFL Wild Card Predictions

The first round of the NFL play offs sees the wild card teams take on two divisional winners with the worst records in the Conference.

The first AFC match sees the San Diego Chargers (9-7) at the Cincinnati Bengals (11-5). In this case it is difficult to look beyond the home team; the Bengals are undefeated at home, with the Chargers only 4-4 on the road. Both teams ended the season with winning streaks, but the Bengals lead in almost all categories giving them a significant edge. The other AFC match sees the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) take on the Indianapolis Colts (11-5). This has all the hallmarks of a classic match, and the Colts have a good season record in a weak division, whilst the Chiefs have had an excellent season. Add to that a 6-2 home record taking on a 6-2 away record and there is little to choose. The Chiefs better scoring record has to be countered by a poor end to the season against the Colts 3 successive wins. In football this would have draw written all over it, but that isn’t possible in a wild card match! And so I’ll go for the Colts to sneak a win, perhaps in OT, on the basis of home field advantage and the fact that my friend supports them (and our other favoured teams are already out of contention!).

The first NFC game is the New Orleans Saints (11-5) at the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6). This is another close game in the making, but the question remains as to whether the Saints can win their first ever play off game on the road. With two such close teams, in terms of W-L, points and TDs, it will come down to one score, and that score will be for the Eagles. The other game sees the San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at the Green Bay Packers (8-7-1). Regular season records would seem to favour the 49ers, but that would be to ignore the impact of Aaron Rogers’ injury as well as the minor issue of a West coast team taking on the Packers in the ice bucket that is Lambeau Field. The Packers will be determined to live up to the promise of their talented team, whilst the 49ers will be just as keen to make up for last year’s disappointment in the Superbowl. In almost every other year the Packers would have to be favoured in a home play off game, but this year I believe that the 49ers will be too strong for the Cheeseheads.

So the predictions are Bengals (+10), Colts (+3), Eagles (+7) and 49ers (+7).

NFL Regular Season Prediction Review

It has been a while, but as the regular season ends and the post season activity starts it is worth reviewing the NFL predictions made in August of 2013.

AFC Review

At least the prediction of Denver and New England was right, and if I was generous I’d say that was a 50% rate on divisional champions! New England were clear winners, and the AFCE was only disappointing this year. Denver are looking very good, with Manning dominating the QB position, but they were pushed very hard by the surprising Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh, the prediction for the AFCN, were pretty poor this year, but rallied to an 8-8 just missing out on the play-offs. Houston, the remaining divisional prediction, were nothing short of dreadful. 2-14, with a 14 game losing streak shows a team in disarray. The wild card predictions I made were Cincinnati and Baltimore. The Bengals have made the post season with a solid victory of the AFCN, but Baltimore also had a very disappointing season when considering they are the reigning champions. San Diego made up the play off teams, but only (in my opinion) by being the best of the rest.

In summary, of the six teams predicted to be involved in the post season action three will be. 50% is not really a great return when considering that any team has a 37.5% chance of making the post season on pure random chance.

NFC Review

The NFCN was predicted as a Chicago – Green Bay battle, and so it turned out, although how much of this was due to the GB QB injury is another matter. Detroit did finish under .500, and the Vikings had a terrible season that was closer to the 3-13 than the 8-8 hoped for. The NFCE was a disappointing division this year, with the predicted dominance of the Giants and Redskins being woefully off the mark. The Cowboys did finish with the predicted 8-8, but my tip for the bottom rung ended up winning the division! The NFCW was probably the best return, with Seattle edging out a solid 49ers team just as was predicted. However, Arizona were a lot closer to the top two than had been predicted, and the NFCW must be seen as one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. If the NFCW was a good prediciton, the NFCS was dreadful. Atlanta didn’t push on, and Tampa were poor leaving the Panthers to dominate a division I predicted them to barely hit .500 in! New Orleans did push on though.

Again, three out of six post season teams were predicted, with two correct divisional champions. Not brilliant at all.

Summary

Not a very good year at all really. Some came off well such as the NFCW, but others were way off the mark such as Houston. More work is needed for next season!

NFL Week 2: The 2-0 and 0-2 Review

As mentioned in the last NFL round up, a week is a long time on the road to the Superbowl. Each game represents 6.25% of the regular season; that might not seem a lot but compared to rugby (4.5%) and football (2.6%) it certainly represents a more significant chunk of the ‘margin of error’ that may be needed to get into the post season. Whilst there is a long way to go, it is possibly appropriate to look at those teams that have had the good, and the not so good, starts to the season and focus on the 2-0 and 0-2 brigade before we head into week 3.

The 2-0s

Heading into week 3 there are eight 2-0 teams, with five of them in the AFC. Two of those can be found in the AFC East where the Patriots are just ahead of the surprise package of the Miami Dolphins. Traditional domination of the division with a promising, but lucky, upstart? Far from it. The Patriots points difference of +5 shows how close things have been, only managing to beat the Bills by 2 in week 1, and the Jets by 3 in week 2. More than that, the relationship between their star QB Brady and the rest of the team appears to be slipping; this is a team that was the epitome of ruthless professionalism for so long, and yet the personnel changes in the team over the close season appear to have upset the balance. Then again, it is the mark of a good team that can win whilst playing ‘ugly’, and a 2-0 divisional record puts them in a very good place. They will be looking to secure a win against a poor (borderline imploding) Tampa in week 3, but this division could turn out to be far closer that anyone thought if the Jets can sort themselves out (unlikely given the QB trouble) and Bills maintain their impressive level of performance. Miami’s win over Cleveland is difficult to assess – the Browns look pretty poor – but the win at Indianapolis was another matter. This was a tight game that the Dolphins nearly let slip, but Tannehill had an excellent game with 23/34 for 319 yards and 1 TD. The next two weeks will be very difficult for the Dolphins (who are 2-0 for the first time in what seems like donkey’s years); Atlanta at home will be difficult and a trip to New Orleans certainly won’t be a picnic (although seeing that game as a meeting of 3-0 teams would be surreal). It is a bit too early to peg Miami as play off material, but they and their fans should take heart from an impressive early start.

Houston are secure at the top of the AFC South with a 2-0 record, but is this the sign of a dominant team? I don’t think so. A record 21 point fightback that was nearly too late against the unfancied Chargers in week 1 saw them squeak a win, and they required another 4th Quarter comeback to beat the Titans. This is not a team that is storming to the top in the way it appeared to do last season, although the same ‘win ugly’ epithet applied to the Patriots may apply here as well. Will they win the AFC South? Almost certainly, even if they don’t improve tremendously they should have enough to hold off their rivals, but this is not what Houston want. If they are to win the Big One, they’ll need to play better than this.

The AFC West is home to the other two 2-0 teams – the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. Kansas’ record may flatter them slightly with one win against the hapless (and utterly abysmal) Jacksonville Jaguars, but the defeat of Dallas in week 2 underlined their credentials. But this is a team that has now matched their entire win total from 2012. Is this a team that can set the NFL alight? Possibly not. Going from a 2-14 to the play-offs is certainly possible, but more time is needed to see if the Dallas win was due to an exceptional Chiefs team or a weak Dallas team. Denver, on the other hand, look as though they are justifying their pre-season status as one of the favourites for the Superbowl. A comprehensive beating of the reigning champions in week 1 was followed by a similarly dominating victory against the Giants in week 2. Manning (P) couldn’t match the 7 TDs of week 1 (but then again, who could expect him to), but his two TDs helped the Broncos rack up 41 points whilst the defence forced his younger brother to throw 4 interceptions. Both offensively and defensively the Broncos have impressed against good opposition, and if they – and particularly Peyton – can remain healthy they should go all the way.

The first NFC team with a 2-0 record is the Chicago Bears. Two narrow wins have secured this position, and I was able to watch the second of these against the Vikings on Sunday. Did they look like a 2-0 team? No. Even playing against the traditionally poor Vikings secondary they fluffed their lines, and Cutler was lucky to be given an escape route to take the win back (although, to be fair, he did at least run that drive well). They should be a 2-0 team at this stage, but by more than 4 points. They face a tricky trip to Pittsburgh next, and then at the Lions, by which time we’ll see if I am being unfair.

New Orleans have secured a 2-0 record beating both Atlanta and Tampa Bay, and whilst they haven’t blown out either team they have done enough to justify their position atop the pile in the NFC South. Arizona might just put an end to this run next week though. Seattle rounds off the NFC 2-0 teams, and whilst their win at Carolina might not have been impressive the victory over San Francisco certainly was. The 49ers have been heavily tipped for a return to the Superbowl this year, and the Seahawks restricted them to one FG in what is turning into one of the most ’emotional’ rivalries in the NFL. That victory, though, puts the Seahawks at the top of my NFC teams.

The 0-2s

These teams will start to worry. 0-2 teams have made the post season, so it isn’t all over, but for some it looks a much steeper hill to climb. Again there are eight 2-0 teams, mirroring the other side with five in the NFC and three in the AFC. Two of the AFC 0-2 teams are in the AFC North, namely the Browns and the surprising Steelers. The Browns loss to Miami may not have been completely expected, but few would have expected them to beat the Ravens – and that was before the Ravens were beaten in week one. But the Steelers are the real surprise having gone down to the Titans and the Bengals. The problem is that these weren’t really close defeats for the Steelers, and there isn’t a clear sign of when they might get over this bump in the road. True, they are suffering from injuries, but there is no depth in a team that is giving up a lot of penalties and turnovers. Chicago and Minnesota won’t be easy for the next two games, but two wins are needed to get this team back on track.

The final AFC 0-2 team is Jacksonville, losing to Kansas City and Oakland. Two games, two defeats, 11 points in total and no TDs. This is a truly dreadful team. Seattle in week 3 won’t help (although Sporting Gods everywhere have been known to use matchups like these to remind people that there are no ‘sure things’), but even looking down the ‘to play’ list it is difficult to find a potential win. This could be a 0-16 year for the Jaguars (only 2 worse than last year) – something Detroit would like to see I think.

The NFC North sees two surprising names on the 0-2 list: New York Giants and Washington Redskins. New York have had two tough games at Dallas and at home to Denver, so I don’t see a real worry here other than Eli’s ability to throw interceptions (that needs sorting sooner rather than later!). They should beat Carolina in week 3 to get off the mark. Washington don’t look anything like the team from last season, and questions have to be asked as to whether their charismatic QB has lost a step or two coming back from injury – even if it is only temporary. The Eagles should have been beaten at home, and although GB were always going to be tricky (especially after they had suffered an opening week defeat) they were utterly taken apart in the first half. Second half comebacks are something of familiar territory for the Redskins, but that only works if the lead the other team has isn’t too large! Detroit in week 3 is a game that the Redskins would expect to win all day long; a defeat here and their season could completely unravel.

Carolina in the NFC South have faced a very difficult Seattle whilst giving a good account of themselves before going down to the surprising Bills in a close game. 0-2 isn’t where a team that was looking to improve on last season’s 7-9 would want to be, and they will want to beat the Giants before their bye week, but it could be tough going. In fact, looking at the records thus far the Carolina – New York Giants game could be the match of the week! Tampa are also sitting on 0-2 in the NFC South, and rumours of an unhappy camp won’t help them. Two defeats aren’t a great start, even if they were very close at the Jets and at home to New Orleans, but when combined with apparent discord in the camp (or at least with the Coach) then a team stands on the precipice of a complete collapse. Travelling to New England is not an ideal way to foster unity, and with Arizona in week 4 it is quite possible that Tampa will be 0-4 before their bye week.

The last 0-2 team is the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, the greatest American Football team in existence has been consigned to the bottom of the NFC North (are my allegiances showing?). The defeat at Detroit was bad enough, but the loss to Chicago was painful after being in a winning position. Elements of the team played well throughout, but I am afraid that Ponder is not a franchise QB and without a franchise QB I can’t see the Vikings making a push for the Superbowl. Play offs will be tricky enough, but frankly the play offs are a waste of time unless you are going to win the title. Home to Cleveland will hopefully see a first win, before a home match against Pittsburgh that is a home match in London. Dear God don’t let that be an International Series match between two teams without a win…

Summary

So it would appear that some 2-0 teams aren’t a dominating as the record would suggest, nor are some 0-2 teams as bad as that would indicate (Denver and Jacksonville notwithstanding). The real surprises are in Pittsburgh, and, to an extent, in Tampa which might be worth following for the sheer soap opera aspect! I just wonder how this will all look after each team has 8 games under their belt?

Aviva Premiership Round 2

Although the season is a little longer than that of the NFL, it isn’t by such a great distance that a look back at the first couple of rounds isn’t warranted. And it doesn’t look good at this stage for some.

Saracens undefeated start to the season hasn’t really been a surprise, and most commentators expected Northampton to be up there as well after their summer signings. Nonetheless, their win away at Quins will have convinced some that they are the real deal – this is a team that is looking for a top two finish this season, and if they carry on this way things will get interesting. But the real surprise package in the undefeated category has to be Bath – their defeat of Newcastle may have been expected, but that impressive scoreline was a mere taster for the victory over a heavily fancied Leicester team. Not sure what happened to the Tigers this week, certainly they let Bath run away with a lead and when trying to come back appeared to be at fault for a number of penalties (which can easily happen when chasing a game). I do know that a lot of Bath teams thought that their team was underrated for the season, and if that is the case then they are making their mark now.

The other end of the table makes for very sorry reading though. Many will know why, but for the love of God what on Earth are Gloucester playing at? Granted they apparently put in a better performance against Saracens than that against Sale, but you can’t take on a team of the quality in depth that Saracens possess – at their own place – when in an 80 minute game you decide to play with 14 men for, oh, let’s say 80 minutes shall we! A half-time lead showed some character, but 44-12 final score was what I would expect from a team down by a player against Sarries. I haven’t seen the incident, so I can’t comment on whether it was a stamp or whether Burger headbutted Wood’s boot – only kidding, nobody is saying it was anything other than a red card and the punishment has to reflect that. I have banged on for years about the pathetic wrist slapping that is dished out for serious foul play/cheating/abuse of officials (it still disgusts me to see Hartley on the field when a 12 month ban should have headed his way), and this time it will bite my own team.

All that said, it isn’t panic time yet. Problem do need to be addressed, but I don’t think Gloucester are relegation candidates. Worcester, however, are in a bit of trouble. The defeat at home to London Irish will have shaken them even at this early stage as so many predict a battle between these two for the bottom place. Wasps are also without a win, but only narrowly lost to Quins, and then faced Exeter at Sandy Park where the home team would be looking to get on the board after defeat at the Saints in round one.

So after two rounds Bath would appear to be the team with the most to celebrate about the start of the season, and although Worcester won’t be happy I think that Gloucester will be the most disappointed. A clearer picture will probably be seen after round 4, or more likely after round 5 when the teams are off doing something or other for three weeks. By then we will most likely have identified the teams that will be looking to secure themselves at the top, those fighting for the play-offs, and those looking over their shoulder at the ground facilities of the leading Championship sides. And then we’ll see how bad the pre-season predictions are looking…