Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (September 30-October 2)

The Champions League and Europa League take centre stage this week before the final round of domestic League football ahead of the next international break of the season. Match Day 2 doesn't decide which teams will qualify for the Last 16, but this is certainly the time where teams can put themselves in a big hole as the likes of Manchester City and Atletico Madrid search for their first points in the Group Stage.

Neither has an easy game against top Italian opposition, but both are at home and will be expecting to win their games. We will also see the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal try to win their first game in the competition, while other teams like Real Madrid and Liverpool will feel a win for them this week will put both clubs on the brink of reaching the Second Round.

Manchester City v Roma Pick: When the draw for the Champions League Group Stage was made, a lot of people suggested that Roma could be a threat to either Manchester City or Bayern Munich in this Group, but the 5-1 win over CSKA Moscow would have gotten the attention of many more.

That win coupled with Bayern Munich's 1-0 win over Manchester City means the latter can't afford to drop points in this home game if they are to avoid another Group Stage exit in the competition. The Champions League is where Manchester City really want to make an impact this season and so the pressure is on them to win this game and put themselves in a strong position heading into the double-header with CSKA Moscow next month.

It won't be easy against a confident Roma side that have been playing very well in Italy, but I don't think it is far fetched to say that Serie A is not quite the level of competition that Manchester City compete in. Roma were also beaten in away games at Napoli (twice) and Juventus last season, two teams that have had a decent impact in the Champions League, which will give Manchester City confidence they can do the same.

The counter attack will make Roma dangerous in this one, but they could be forced to do a lot of defending by this Manchester City team that have begun to score goals again and I like the home team to win by more than a goal.

Sporting Lisbon v Chelsea Pick: Sporting Lisbon have won their last 3 home games against English opposition, but all of those games have come in the UEFA Cup/Europa League and their one home game in the Champions League resulted in a 0-1 loss to Manchester United.

It won't be easy for Chelsea to replicate that success that United had here, even if the layers are expecting a fairly routine win for the English side, especially as Sporting Lisbon have a long unbeaten run in European competition in front of their own fans. Add the fact that Sporting Lisbon have only lost 1 of their last 26 home games in all competitions and you have to think that there will be enough confidence in the home side to make this a very awkward evening for Jose Mourinho.

In saying that, Chelsea have been in strong form to open this season and they did crush Steaua Bucharest and Schalke in their first two away games in the Champions League Group Stage last season. There have been plenty of goals in the Chelsea team and they have enough days to prepare for the League game against Arsenal next Sunday which has led Mourinho to admit he is only thinking of this game.

That also means Diego Costa being given the start up front and the Spaniard has made the kind of beginning to the season which suggests he can make the difference in tight games. It might be a Diego Costa goal that makes the difference in this one and Chelsea might win this game, although it may also be by the slimmest of margins.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea to Win by One Goal @ 3.60 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)

September Update11-17, - 2.88 Units (38 Units Staked, - 7.58% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/158-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Monday, 29 September 2014

Tennis Picks 2014 (September 30th)

There are still a couple of big tournaments to be won in the remaining month of the regular season on the ATP Tour, but the main focus at this time is which eight players will qualify for the World Tour Finals in London in the second week of November. The updated Race standings show that Stan Wawrinka is very close to being the fourth player to book his place at the O2 Arena in six weeks time, although confirmation will only come about if he manages to reach the Final in Tokyo.

He is very close though, while both Kei Nishikori and Andy Murray picked up important points last week in their own bids. One player who hasn't been showing much form and looks ripe for falling out of the top eight positions is David Ferrer who was beaten in the First Round in Tokyo on Monday and the Spaniard has admitted his recent results have been disappointing.

Ferrer is currently 7th in the Race to London, but his early exit could mean the likes of Milos Raonic, Murray and Grigor Dimitrov move above him with solid runs ahead of the tournament in Shanghai. I think Ferrer is definitely very vulnerable to qualify as he hasn't shown much positive momentum since the French Open and I would be surprised if he did make it into the final eight positions.

The tournaments this week are full of quality names and that means the First Round matches have a number of intriguing contests, none more so than Rafa Nadal's return to the court against Richard Gasquet. That match is one of a number scheduled in Beijing where the WTA are also hosting a tournament, while Tokyo have also scheduled a number of First Round matches on Tuesday to really get their tournament going.

On another day, all three picks made on Monday would have come in as winners with Marin Cilic missing the chance to break serve on three occasions despite having 15-40 leads in those games. He did enough to secure a comfortable 63, 64 win over Yan Bai, but that match could have easily ended as wide as 62, 62 with a little more composure at break point for the US Open Champion.

Both Vasek Pospisil and Grigor Dimitrov did come through their First Round matches with the cover though so it made it a decent start to the week, but it would have been really nice to start with three straight winning picks.

Julien Benneteau - 3.5 games v Pablo Andujar: A big concern in backing Julien Benneteau in this First Round match from Beijing is that he is coming off a long week in Kuala Lumper where he fell just short in finally winning a title. It was the tenth time Benneteau has reached the Final of an ATP event, but he has finished Runner Up every time and has to pick himself for another tough week on the Tour.

Pablo Andujar also had a decent week as he reached the Quarter Final at the same event as Benneteau, but the latter is definitely the more comfortable on the hard courts. That is almost highlighted from their 2-2 head to head record with Benneteau's two victories coming on a hard court, while Andujar's two wins came on clay courts.

Neither player had a great Asian swing last season, nor did the final month of their season go to plan, while another alarm would be the fact that Benneteau reached the Final in Kuala Lumper in 2013 and was then beaten in the First Round here.

However, I think the Frenchman is the better player of the two competing in this match, especially on the faster surfaces, and I will back him to come through while covering this spread 64, 64.

Ernests Gulbis - 3.5 games v Fabio Fognini: Two players who could be described as 'mad as a brush' could provide some real entertainment to the fans in this late evening match in Beijing.

It is a bit of a risky play backing Ernests Gulbis, a player that has struggled to really get up to form after his exploits at the French Open, especially against someone like Fabio Fognini who can be as brilliant one day as he is poor the next.

Gulbis has found a way to control his emotions better than the Italian in their recent meetings, and his extra power behind the serve may just be the reason that he is able to do that. Those cheaper points can be all important as it relieves the frustration, something Fognini can't really rely upon.

The most reliable aspect of this match may be that it needs three sets to separate them, but I will back Gulbis to move through with a 62, 46, 75 win.

Flavia Pennetta v Carla Suarez Navarro: Flavia Pennetta hasn't played a lot of tennis since reaching the US Open Quarter Final with her early defeat in Wuhan last week, but she has won a match here in Beijing and I think she can back that up.

Carla Suarez Navarro has played some solid tennis over the last few months and is comfortable on the hard courts despite some of the preconceptions of Spanish players.

There should be a few breaks of serve, but Pennetta has the heavier shots that should help prove the difference in this match. The Italian can outlast Suarez Navarro in this one and I can understand why she leads the head to head 3-1.

This is another match that could easily go three sets before a winner is decided, but I will back Flavia Pennetta to be that player.

MY PICKS: Julien Benneteau - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Ernests Gulbis - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Flavia Pennetta @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 2-1, + 1.66 Units (6 Units Staked, + 27.67% Yield)

Season 2014+ 28.52 Units (1433.5 Units Staked, + 1.99% Yield)

Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

Tennis Picks 2014 (September 29th)

Petra Kvitova booked her place at the end of season tournament on the WTA side by winning the tournament in Wuhan with another convincing display against Eugenie Bouchard. Both Kei Nishikori and Andy Murray won their respective events as most expected them to do and picked up some vital points towards their goals of reaching the World Tour Finals to be played in London in November.

The next month is going to be vital in those regards for the likes of Nishikori and Murray and this week is one of those where some big points are available. Both players are in action again this week, but the tournaments are definitely moving up a level on the road to Shanghai with the top names in action, bar Roger Federer.

That includes a return for Rafa Nadal, a player I thought could very easily decide to call it a season after missing a couple of months with a wrist injury, especially on the hard and indoor hard court events to come. The Spaniard could have begun preparing for the 2015 season, but has decided to take on the remaining big events on his schedule, including Shanghai and Paris on the way to the World Tour Finals, although I am personally not expecting him to add to his titles.

Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Grigor Dimitrov are other players that return after a few weeks off and this is one of those weeks can start separating those who will be playing in London and those who will not.

The WTA event in Beijing is a big one too with most of the top names involved this week- that tournament actually has begun already with some of the events in Asia beginning ahead of the traditional Monday start. Last week saw Seeds getting knocked out left, right and centre during the course of the week and there would be the hope, for the organisers at least, that this is a more consistent week for the top players.

Marin Cilic - 6.5 games v Yan Bai: How will the latest surprise Grand Slam Champion on the ATP Tour deal with a new found target on his back? The likes of Juan Martin Del Potro and Stan Wawrinka haven't always been able to focus completely on their next appearances on the Tour so it will be interesting to see how Marin Cilic handles the pressure as he begins his week in Beijing.

Cilic was focused to the point of helping Croatia beat the Netherlands in the Davis Cup since winning the US Open, and he looks to have a clear match up advantage against Yan Bai in the First Round in Beijing.

Bai has not played a lot of tennis over the last twelve months and he doesn't compete at the highest level of tennis which could make him a decent opponent for Cilic to start against. The aggressive return of serve may surprise Bai and this could be a really tough match for someone with little experience of dealing with players of this capability.

Any mistakes may make it impossible for Cilic to cover a large number of games, but I think he comes through this one 64, 61.

Vasek Pospisil - 2.5 games v Lukas Rosol: I don't particularly trust either one of these players to perform to the level I expect, but I still believe Vasek Pospisil can get the better of Lukas Rosol and cover this spread.

Both player have big serves that will give them the chance to pick up some easy points, but I feel Pospisil's serve is the more reliable weapon and Rosol is always to follow his own up with a number of rash errors.

The Canadian has won their two previous matches including a resounding win on the hards courts of North America, and I think he is capable of winning the battle of the big servers with a 76, 64 win.

Grigor Dimitrov - 3.5 games v Fernando Verdasco: It must still hurt Grigor Dimitrov in the manner a couple of his Grand Slams ended in 2014, but getting into the World Tour Finals would underline the impressive season he has had.

This is his first appearance since the US Open and there are valuable points to be won, but Dimitrov may well have been hoping for a more comfortable First Round match than against Fernando Verdasco.

The latter has won the two previous matches against Dimitrov and is still capable of producing some big time tennis. That can be unplayable and makes Verdasco a dangerous proposition, although he can also be very erratic.

Dimitrov has shown some maturity in the way he has approached matches this season and I think his level-headedness will be a key to this one as he breaks Verdasco late in each set to record a 64, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Marin Cilic - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Vasek Pospisil - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Tennis Picks 2014 (September 27th)

The WTA tournament in Wuhan was clearly one of the more important events left on the women's Tour this year and it would be fitting if another play could book their place at the end of year Finals in Singapore this week by winning that event.

While the majority of the big names took part in Wuhan, the ATP Tour had a quiet week which seems to have been taken advantage of by Kei Nishikori and Andy Murray. Both players are chasing a place at the ATP World Tour Finals in London and will be looking to win their respective events at Kuala Lumper and Shenzhen to add a few more points into the pot in the search for that goal.

It does surprise me that more of the players towards the bottom of the eight places chasing a place in London didn't decide to at least compete this week and add 'easy' points when you consider some of the fields that were seen.

There is the possibility that a long week will affect both Nishikori and Murray next week when there are more points to offer, but the latter is in the more difficult position of needing to make up a number of points and I think Murray's fitness can't really be questioned to that extent. Of course he would be keen to avoid a tough start to the draw, but the theory that players don't really push themselves to reach the World Tour Finals has been blown up for good.

Petra Kvitova - 3.5 games v Eugenie Bouchard: The Final in Wuhan is a repeat of the Wimbledon Final from earlier this season and I think we will have the same result, albeit not as easily as Petra Kvitova doubled her Grand Slam titles.

It was a crushing win for Kvitova who showed little nerves in that Final and she can win this tournament and book her place at Singapore. The big-serving Czech player can surpass the power that Eugenie Bouchard brings to the court and I think that makes it very tough for the younger player to win this match.

At the moment Bouchard, who has had a very strong 2014, relies on being able to out-hit her opponents and I don't think she has got the defensive side of the game up to that level. If she is unab;e to keep herself in rallies with little belief in her slice shots, the movement isn't really good enough to keep her in extended rallies against Kvitova.

The latter has been timing the ball so well this week and she has beaten Bouchard comfortably in the two previous matches between these players. Kvitova will have to serve well, but I can see her power worry Bouchard who may look to play first strike tennis, which could lead to more mistakes from the Canadian side of the court.

Like I siad earlier, I don't believe it will be as easy as the Wimbledon Final ended up being, but a 64, 64 win for Kvitova wouldn't surprise me.

Andy Murray - 5.5 games v Juan Monaco: Andy Murray is a strong favourite to win the tournament in Shenzhen, but he was not overly happy about his straight sets win in the Quarter Final and I would expect him to kick on over the last couple of days of the event.

Murray feels he gave away the chance to really stamp his authority on the Quarter Final win over Lukas Lacko and I don't think he will be as generous with Juan Monaco. The Argentinian player doesn't have a serve that will offer too many cheap points and that is where Murray will believe his superior hard court pedigree will really shine through.

The conditions should suit Murray better than Monaco, although he will be looking for a better serving day than he produced on Friday, and I can see him being too good when this match is all said and done.

2014 has shown that Monaco is on the way down in his career and he doesn't play much hard court tennis these days so I would fancy Murray to come through 63, 63.

MY PICKS: Petra Kvitova - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Andy Murray - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Sky Bet (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 6-6, - 1.86 Units (22 Units Staked, - 8.45% Yield)

College Football Week 5 Picks 2014 (September 27)

We are starting to get a real picture of what teams are going to potentially make up the final four in the first ever National Championship Play Off, but there are still plenty of twists and turns to come you would feel.

College Football is never straight-forward, but the Florida State Seminoles, the Oklahoma Sooners, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers and the Oregon Ducks all came through tough games last week to remain unbeaten.

Three of the teams did that on the road against other teams rom the Power 5 Conferences which can only improve their standing in the eye of the voters, but all will have much bigger challenges to face in the remaining weeks of the season.

The reigning Champion Seminoles had to overcome the suspension to starting Quarter Back Jameis Winston and then the battling Clemson Tigers in overtime before securing an important win that likely sees them win the ACC Atlantic Division.

Speaking of Winston, can someone become any more of a bonehead? He has everything set up for his future if he can keep his nose clean, but was suspended after standing on a table in the Student Union to shout vulgarities. Add that to the allegations of sexual assault, which were dismissed, and the taking of crab legs without paying and Winston, who was considered a hot chance to become the first pick in the NFL Draft, is now considered a huge-risk for teams.

Some draft experts, Mel Kiper Jr for instance, has dropped Winston down to 25 on his Big Board, while Tony Dungy said he wouldn't draft Winston as the face of a franchise with all the off-field issues that need to be resolved.

It is maddening that Winston could throw away his big chance to make it in the NFL because he has little self-control and the suggestion from his father that he could return to school for another year after this one isn't as outrageous as it seemed two months ago.

There are people out there suggesting Winston should show his maturity by going through another College season without getting into any trouble to prove himself to the NFL teams, but the feeling is that Florida State may also have had enough of him. I still think some team will take a chance on Winston who is desperate for a Quarter Back to turn things around, but the guy really needs to get his head straight if he is to fulfil the potential he clearly has.

Week 4 produced a winning week, although it could have been so much better if the evening games had gone the way I wanted them to. This has been a mixed start to the season, but the last two seasons have produced much more positive results after the fourth week of the seasons. Hopefully that trend will continue this time around, but I need to be a little better with the picks for that to happen.

Wyoming Cowboys @ Michigan State Spartans Pick: The Michigan State Spartans are desperate to get into the final four Play Off this season and they have to use games like this as a chance to impress the voters, especially as Oregon have recorded a 34 point win over the Wyoming Cowboys already this season.

The Spartans have every chance of matching that kind of score even if Mark Dantonio has said that he doesn't like 'running up the score' on opponents, especially if Michigan State want to keep the defeat to the Ducks as their one poor result this season.

Michigan State should have their way with the Cowboys when they have the ball in their hands, but the key is whether they can make enough stops. I would expect the Spartans to shut down the ground game that Wyoming will want to establish and that could leave Colin Kirkegaard pushing too much to make plays for his team, which invariably can lead to Interceptions and turnovers.

With Jeremy Langford back at Running Back, Michigan State shouldn't have the problem of establishing their own rushing Offense and that should give Connor Cook the chance to thrown enough passes to keep the team moving in the right direction.

My one big concern in this game is that Michigan State allow a backdoor cover late with their attention turned to the game against Nebraska next week, but I think they can cover this big spread.

Tulane Green Wave @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights Pick: In my opinion, the biggest question from this game is whether Gary Nova is going to avoid the mistakes at Quarter Back which sometimes puts Rutgers in a difficult position.

If Nova can avoid the Interceptions that have blighted him at times, Rutgers should prove too good for the Tulane Green Wave.

Nova will have his chance to make plays against this Secondary, although Tulane have gotten a fairly effective pass rush early in the season and the Rutgers Offensive Line is far from the best. They can have a hard time protecting Nova, but I expect the Scarlet Knights to have a decent ground game established that should open things up for Nova.

It won't be easy for Tulane to run the ball against Rutgers which means Tanner Lee is asked to make plays from Quarter Back the week after being handled by the Duke Blue Devils. Lee has been a mixed bag but he is more likely to make a couple of errant throws that Rutgers can pick off which could help them move clear of the Green Wave.

Rutgers do have Michigan on deck to cause a distraction, but they will want to have some momentum behind them and I like them to come through this one by a couple of Touchdowns.

Northwestern Wildcats @ Penn State Nittany Lions Pick: There are some similarities with these teams as both the Penn State Nittany Lions and Northwestern Wildcats will feel their Defensive Line can set the tone of the game by shutting down the opposition rushing ability, while also being able to get to the Quarter Back.

While I do think that could be the case, Penn State may have the edge at the Quarter Back position in the form of Christian Hackenberg over Trevor Siemian and that edge may be enough for them to move to 2-0 in the Big Ten.

Both Hackenberg and Siemian have made their mistakes by throwing too many Interceptions, but I think it is the former that will be given a little more time in the pocket to make his plays. Hackenberg has carved up a few Defenses already this season and this Northwestern Secondary has sometimes struggled to get off the field.

Penn State should use Hackenberg's arm to win their seventh in a row in this series and they have won the previous six games by 15 points per game. James Franklin has this team believing in themselves and the Nittany Lions can go into a bye week in great heart, while Northwestern may find themselves looking ahead to the big Division game against Wisconsin which is next on deck.

Franklin has also seen his teams improve to 11-3 against the spread as the home favourite over the last three and a bit seasons, while Northwestern were just 1-7 against the spread against Conference teams last season. I like the Nittany Lions to come up with another home win that will send them into their bye with plenty of momentum.

TCU Horned Frogs @ SMU Mustangs Pick: It can be difficult for a team to keep the focus against an overmatched foe when Conference play is about to kick off against the favourite to win the Conference, but I still like the TCU Horned Frogs to give the SMU Mustangs another long day in the office.

The less said about the Mustangs the better as they have been crushed in all three games they have played this season, have lost June Jones as Head Coach and now face a rested in-State rival.

The Mustangs have lost by a combined 140 points in their first four games and are unlikely to have an easier time scoring points in this one against a solid Defense that the Horned Frogs generally run.  The Offensive Line has struggled in protection and the Horned Frogs Defense shouldn't be spending a long time out on the field.

On the other side of the ball, Trevone Boykin and the Offense should have their way whether they run the ball or pass the ball and the biggest concern would be that the second string players that are likely to come in at some point take their foot off the gas. Still, the Mustangs look a team in a very bad position mentally and TCU should be able to step up and put them away fairly early.

Arkansas Razorbacks v Texas A&M Aggies Pick: This is a very important SEC West game for both the Texas A&M Aggies and the Arkansas Razorbacks which is going to be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Saturday afternoon.

Both teams will feel their Offensive Line can set the tone for the game by being able to set up running the ball and the likes of Alex Collins for Arkansas and Trey Williams for Texas A&M will believe they can put up big numbers for both teams.

However, out of the two teams, it has been the Aggies Defense that has shown they are able to at least slow down the ground and pound a little which could be one of the keys to this entire game.

Kenny Hill looks like a player that can deal with the pressure of having the Offense rely on his arm, but Brandon Allen hasn't really had to do that just yet. That is another factor of slowing down the Razorbacks rushing Offense as they could put a lot of pressure on the young Quarter Back to keep up in an environment where a lot of Aggies should be in the stands.

The Aggies are starting a tough four game stretch in their season while Arkansas are going to go into a bye after this one, but I expect Texas A&M will focus to the point of winning this game by double digits.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs @ Auburn Tigers Pick: They might still be unbeaten, but there was a lot of disappointment with the way the Offense played in the Auburn Tigers win at the Kansas State Wildcats on Thursday night in Week 4. I expect Gus Malzahn would have been working with the Offensive Co-Ordinator Rhett Lashlee to figure out the kinks before the SEC play resumes next week.

This looks a good chance for them to do that against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs who have been beaten comfortably at the Oklahoma Sooners already this season and coming off a surprise loss to Northwestern State. The Bulldogs are going to have a tough time running the ball in this one which means Cody Sokol is going to be under more pressure to make plays at the Quarter Back position which could lead to mistakes.

He won't be helped by the Auburn pass rush which has set the Secondary up with Interceptions and short fields may be a key to overcoming this large spread.

Auburn are also going to run their Offense a little more efficiently you would feel with the Coaches focusing on that aspect of their game and Nick Marshall gives the Bulldogs a dual-threat to deal with behind Center. They would have seen the Sooners beat up on the Bulldogs earlier this season and the Tigers will be looking to surpass the 32 point win Oklahoma had over Louisiana Tech for voters to compare later in the season.

The Tigers have improved to 6-2 against the spread as the home favourite under Gus Malzahn over the last season and a bit, although the biggest concern is the Tigers allowing a backdoor cover with the game firmly in hand.

Duke Blue Devils @ Miami Hurricanes Pick: One of the more under-rated teams in College Football remain the Duke Blue Devils who are still not afforded the respect that would come to a programme that was an ACC Runner Up last season.

It's not as if they have been beaten to open 2014 either, but I will admit I loved them a lot more with a Touchdown spread rather than this one which has come down just slightly.

This is a revenge spot for the Hurricanes after losing to Duke last season, but they are also coming off an emotional defeat to the Nebraska Cornhuskers and they also have a Conference loss already this season. Brad Kaaya has shown why so many are high on the young Miami Quarter Back, but he is also making the mistakes that comes with being a Freshman and he faces a Duke team that can turn the ball over as well as get pressure up front.

To be perfectly honest, the Miami Defense has actually played well for much of the season and this is clearly the biggest test that the Blue Devils Offense will have faced this season. Miami can also get plenty of pressure up front and they have been strong against the run which could pose problems for Duke, but this looks a much more competitive game than the spread would indicate and I think the Blue Devils keep it close at least.

Baylor Bears @ Iowa State Cyclones Pick: I hate making what looks like a really square pick, but I am going to back the Baylor Bears to get their Big 12 season off to a flyer by crushing the Iowa State Cyclones.

Baylor and Iowa State have both had a week to prepare for this game as they come off their bye, but the Bears have been a terrible road favourite to back in recent years as they are just 2-6 against the spread in that spot, while they also have Texas on deck.

This is also a big revenge spot for the Cyclones who were beaten 71-7 on the road last season and they showed against Kansas State and Iowa that they are not going to roll over as a big underdog.

So why am I backing the Bears to cover a spread larger than three Touchdowns? Simply because of the eye test and not based on those statistics I mentioned. Baylor should be able to run all over Iowa State and that will only make life very comfortable for Bryce Petty to make big plays with his arm as any pass rush will be negated by Iowa State concentrating on stopping the ground attack.

On the other side of the ball, Baylor can shut down the Cyclones rushing Offense which will mean Sam Richardson has to prove he can back up his big throwing day that he had against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Richardson is likely to be under immense pressure from the Baylor pass rush when in obvious passing situations and drives could be stalled which will give this fast Baylor Offense the chance to put up big points.

The spread is a big one and there are factors that suggest it is too big a number, but I will back Baylor to go into the big game at Texas with big momentum behind them.

Syracuse Orange v Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick: This looks to be one of the more fascinating games in Week 5 which doesn't provide a lot of marquee match ups. The Syracuse Orange have been such a mixed bag that it is hard to know which team will turn up on Saturday, but they will need to bring their 'A' game if they are to beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame are dealing with the toughest schedule in College Football, but they have passed their examinations with flying colours, although the next four weeks are tough. They have at least been able to prepare for this game against the option with a bye week and Brian Kelly is 15-5 when coming off a bye as a Head Coach.

Kelly also led his Cincinnati Bearcat team to three straight wins over Syracuse by 20 points per game and he should have the Fighting Irish ready for this game.

It will be down to Everett Golson to make the big plays for Notre Dame after he has really played well to open the season- he is capable of running the ball as well as throwing it from the Quarter Back position and it might be tough for Syracuse to contain him. However, the Orange are likely to get a lot of pressure on Golson if the Offensive Line hasn't made improvements over the last couple of weeks.

The Fighting Irish Defense has played very well to open the season and may force a couple of turnovers that proves to be the key for them in this game. The run Defense will be tested by Terrel Hunt and the Syracuse Running Backs, but eventually the Fighting Irish should be able to pull away.

Syracuse are a strong team in neutral venue games as they are 4-0 against the spread in that spot, but I think Notre Dame end that here and come through with a double digits win.

MY PICKS: Michigan State Spartans - 28.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights - 13 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Penn State Nittany Lions - 11 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
TCU Horned Frogs - 32 Points @ 2.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Texas A&M Aggies - 9.5 Points @ 1.95 BoyleSports (1 Unit)
Auburn Tigers - 32.5 Points @ 1.92 Coral (1 Unit)
Duke Blue Devils + 6.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Baylor Bears - 21.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish - 9 Points @ 1.92 Coral (1 Unit)

Week 4: 6-5, + 0.58 Units (11 Units Staked, + 5.27% Yield)
Week 3: 3-7-1, - 4.18 Units (11 Units Staked, - 38% Yield)
Week 25-6, - 1.18 Units (11 Units Staked, - 10.72% Yield)
Week 16-4, + 1.77 Units (10 Units Staked, + 11.7% Yield)

Season 2014: 20-22-1, - 3.01 Units (43 Units Staked, - 7% Yield)
Season 201365-49-2, + 8.49 Units (124 Units Staked, + 6.85% Yield)
Season 201254-59-1 - 7.11 Units (114 Units Staked, - 6.24% Yield)
Season 201163-36, + 23.25 Units (99 Units Staked, + 23.5% Yield)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (September 27-29)

Last weekend produced a lot of high-scoring games with some stunning results as the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Manchester United all were defeated. Strange refereeing decisions contributed to some of the results and it just shows how tough the Premier League has been with a number of 'strange' results in the first five rounds of fixtures.

The Manchester United game is still not quite fully understood from my part as the team were firmly in control of the game and looked set to record a very big win at the King Power Stadium. Mark Clattenburg certainly changed the momentum with back to back outrageous decisions that led to the Leicester City penalty to halve their deficit, but the defending from that point was embarrassing to say the least.

Wayne Rooney might have got the big-time pictures after the third goal went in as he chased around the defence to bark at them for the goal, but it was his poor clearance that gave Leicester the ball back in a dangerous position.

I was disappointed with a lack of change made by Louis Van Gaal when the momentum was clearly against United, although the two goals came in quick succession, and he should have made some sort of change to the formation at 3-3. Leicester were clearly getting far too much room and I have no idea why Van Gaal decided to play Adnan Januzaj up front?

The Dutchman did say it was going to be a frustrating three months, but the failure to buy a centre-half looks a poor decision and I am not surprised that Michael Carrick is being suggested as someone who will be used there. I actually thought Carrick would be part of a three that play at the back as a player who would be comfortable with the ball at his feet, but am less convinced if the back four system continues to be used.

It also feels United are missing a big chance to set the marker for the season with five points coming from home games against Swansea and Queens Park Rangers and three away games at Sunderland, Burnley and Leicester City. When the fixture list was announced, I would have expected United to be much closer to 13 points and the only saving grace is that the top four haven't gotten away from the side.

However, I agree with Juan Mata that United have to win the next two games before the international break with both taking place at Old Trafford, if only to get some momentum before a run of games where the side take on Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal in the space of a few weeks.

I just can't catch much of a break with the picks at the moment as I just feel things are conspiring against me. It's a bit disappointing to be honest, but I also feel that it will turnaround as long as I don't panic and make radical changes to what has produced two winning seasons in a row.

Chelsea v Aston Villa Pick: After drawing 1-1 with Schalke and Manchester City in consecutive games, the feeling is that Chelsea will be itching to get back to winning ways this weekend and Aston Villa may have been exposed by Arsenal last weekend in a 0-3 home loss.

However, Aston Villa have looked a more effective away team for a couple of seasons now and I think they will have a chance to counter a Chelsea team that definitely looks more proactive going forward. Jose Mourinho is delivering the attacking football he failed to in his first stint in West London and there are definitely goals in the home side, but they have also looked more vulnerable defensively than they did in that first time as manager.

Aston Villa have shown in their performances at Stoke City and Liverpool that they can cause problems when going forward, but I think the best they can hope for this weekend is getting on the scoreboard.

That won't be easy for a Villa side that doesn't seem to have a lot of goals in the side, but they could grab something late as Chelsea turn their attention to the Champions League game at Sporting Lisbon during the week. However, I think Chelsea win so a small interest on the home side winning a game where both teams score is the call.

Hull City v Manchester City Pick: It has been a rough few weeks for Manchester City who have not started the defence of their title in the manner they would have liked, while some are comparing this season to the one under Roberto Mancini when defending that title in 2012. However, the players seem to be a lot happier under Manuel Pellegrini and you have to say their fixture list has been far from straight-forward, while some bad luck has also been a factor.

In saying that, Pellegrini was also very comfortable with the way the team has been playing and admitted that the win over Sheffield Wednesday will hopefully be a spark for his side in the Premier League. Going to Hull City is a tough test for many teams these days, but Manchester City will feel confident considering the amount of goals the home side have been conceding in recent games.

One factor that could play a part is that this is another Champions League week and Manchester City have a big home game against Roma that they can't afford to lose. Whether that shows in the team line up on Saturday is anyone's guess at the moment, but the squad should be able to cope with those demands.

Steve Bruce doesn't have to worry about European commitments anymore thanks to Hull City's early exit, but he has to pick up a team that conceded twice in the final minutes at West Brom to exit the League Cup too. While Hull have been playing well going forward, the goals being conceded have to be a real worry for Bruce with survival in the Premier League the real goal of the season.

Games like this are not where Hull will lay the foundation for that survival and it is telling that they lost to the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton by more than a single goal at home last season. Add in the fact that Manchester City did that with ten men too and I do think Manuel Pellegrini can pick a team that highlights the goals being conceded by the home team and covers the one goal Asian Handicap.

Manchester United v West Ham United Pick: The Manchester United teams of years gone by would have been chomping at the bit to remove the bad taste of their last defeat out of their mouths and you have to feel this current squad will believe they are going to do the same thing. There is a lot of attacking quality in the side that will make them dangerous, but Manchester United have to be careful of a new found attacking West Ham United against a makeshift back three/four depending on what formation Louis Van Gaal goes with.

Whenever a team can rely on the likes of Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata, Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, there should be goals in the side and I have little doubt that Manchester United will provide those this weekend.

The big question is whether they can perform effectively enough at the back to make this a routine win or whether the vulnerabilities highlighted by Leicester City last weekend are shown up again. West Ham United play with wingers and will put in a lot of crosses into the Manchester United box to try and expose the problems the home side have been having and I do hope Van Gaal has prepared for that.

With the way both teams have played this season, there is a huge potential for a few goals to be scored at Old Trafford and I very much doubt Manchester United games will be lacking entertainment. Sam Allardyce might not be quite ready to allow his team to express themselves in games like this and that might be the downfall for West Ham on Saturday and I expect Manchester United to come through with a win by a couple of goals at least.

Southampton v Queens Park Rangers Pick: Queens Park Rangers have suffered back to back heavy losses at sides that finished in the top half of the Premier League table last season and they may struggle to avoid another loss on Saturday at St Mary's.

As much of a motivator that Harry Redknapp has proven to be, his QPR side seem to lack a bit of quality in the forward areas and they were a little fortunate to earn a home result against Stoke City last weekend.

Defensively they have struggled with the pace of the Premier League attacks as Rio Ferdinand's pace is no longer something they can rely upon. That was exposed time after time by Stoke City, while both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United could have scored whenever they felt like in the two away games that Rangers have played.

Southampton have been in very strong form of late to think they are capable of causing plenty of problems for Queens Park Rangers in this one, especially if they start as they did against Newcastle United in their last home game. Ronald Koeman has the side playing very good attacking football and this could become another long day in the office for the Rangers defenders.

Teams simply don't keep conceding four goals in games so I can't imagine Southampton reach that number as the third team in a row against QPR. However, the forward struggles of the away team as well as Southampton's recent form suggests they can win this by a couple of goals at least.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This is a fascinating North London derby if only because Tottenham Hotspur have looked a far more effective side on their travels than they have at White Hart Lane. There is little doubt that they don't necessarily have the quality to open up teams that are sitting back and defending deep which can happen at White Hart Lane, but they do expose the gaps away from home on the counter attack.

In saying that, there is a distinct lack of quality in some of the attacking play that Tottenham have produced this season and I think their defensive problems are going to be hard to disguise against this Arsenal team.

Arsenal may have lost to Southampton in the League Cup, but the performance at Aston Villa last week showed what they are capable of when they begin to click going forward. Danny Welbeck could be a different player with the confidence of a goal behind him, while the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez should be able to create chances against this Spurs back line.

It will be very difficult for Tottenham to contain Arsenal through this North London derby and I think they will struggle to get much change out of the Gunners. Arsenal have won 4 in a row at home against Spurs and also won all 3 games last season without conceding a goal- at the price, I think Arsenal are likely to grab the three points this week.

Stoke City v Newcastle United Pick: I have backed to Stoke City to beat Aston Villa and Leicester City at the Brittania Stadium already this season and I will look for them to get third time lucky to earn their first home win of the season.

They should have enough to take advantage of a Newcastle United team that have conceded plenty of goals in recent weeks, particularly if Stoke play like they did in their away draw at Queens Park Rangers. At least if Stoke City attack in that manner, they should have a real chance of exposing the Newcastle defensive issues, but Mark Hughes will also be expecting his team to perform much better at the back.

Alan Pardew remains an unpopular manager at Newcastle, but his side have shown tremendous heart in the last two games which suggests he is still being backed by his players. They will need all that determination on what has been a difficult trip for Newcastle in recent years and at a ground that is not normally as generous as it has been to Aston Villa and Leicester City already this season.

As long as Stoke City defend a little better than they have at times, they should have a little too much going forward for Newcastle in this one. At odds against, Stoke City are the call for the third time in the hope they can rediscover their home form or bring their away form into these games.

MY PICKS: Both Teams to Score and Chelsea to Win @ 3.50 Coral (1 Unit)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Southampton - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Stoke City @ 2.20 Stan James (2 Units)

September Update9-13, - 1.28 Units (27 Units Staked, - 4.74% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/158-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2014 (September 26th)

There is still a lot of tennis to play this week as the tournaments in Wuhan, Kuala Lumper and Shenzhen are down to the business end of the events. The focus has already begun to shift to the next two weeks when big tournaments take place in Beijing and Tokyo, but don't say that to Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori who are trying to pick up points that could be vital in the 'Race to London'.

Tommy Robredo - 2.5 games v Andreas Seppi: This is an interesting hard court Quarter Final between two players that are much more comfortable on the slower clay courts. However, both Tommy Robredo and Andreas Seppi have shown they are more than capable of winning matches on the hard courts although I think it will be the Spaniard who moves through to the Semi Final.

I can see this match developing more in the manner you would expect on the clay courts with both players likely to have a few chances to break serve. Neither Robredo nor Seppi have a serve that will offer too many cheap points, but both players are happy to extend the rallies and it should be competitive if the 4-3 lead Robredo has in the head to head is anything to go by.

There is every chance this is a match that could go the distance, but I do think the competitive spirit that Robredo has displayed over the last eighteen months may prove to be the difference. After a tight battle, Robredo should have enough to come through with a 46, 63, 64 win.

Santiago Giraldo v Victor Troicki: It has been felt in some quarters that Victor Troicki was unfairly treated by the ATP when serving a year long suspension for failing to give a blood sample despite an illness. Like Marin Cilic, Troicki may have been using that time off the court to evaluate what tennis has meant to him and the Serbian has come back with some impressive results.

Troicki has won a couple of tournaments at the Challenger level, while he did reach the Quarter Final of his first main Tour event on his return. That has been reached again here in Shenzhen and you have to credit some of the results that he has picked up, but Santiago Giraldo looks a big price to beat him in the Quarter Final.

Giraldo didn't have a good summer, but he is set to have his best season on the Tour if he can add a few more wins over the remaining few weeks and his wins this week should have given him confidence. The Colombian has enjoyed playing on the hard courts in the past and has can sometimes play some really big tennis that is hard to overcome.

Mentally Giraldo is not the best which is a concern for me, but I think a small interest is warranted on him being a little too good for Troicki who is still working his way back to this level.

Andy Murray - 5.5 games v Lukas Lacko: Andy Murray can't afford to take this tournament easy as he is looking to get back to the World Tour Finals and I think he is going to prove again that he is too good for Lukas Lacko.

They have met twice before and Lacko is yet to win more than three games in a set having had five chances to do that. Lacko has also lost the last four sets by either a 62 or a 61 scoreline and I think Murray returns well enough to expose errors in the Slovakian's game and the same is likely to happen in this Quarter Final.

I have seen Lacko play some brilliant tennis at times and I do think he can perhaps surpass some of his previous scores against Murray, but the latter is a man on a mission and should be able to come through without too many worries. Murray might need a 64 set to take the first, but he should then run away with the second set and come through 64, 62.

MY PICKS: Tommy Robredo - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Santiago Giraldo @ 2.45 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Andy Murray - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 4-5, - 2.91 Units (17 Units Staked, - 17.12% Yield)