Thursday, 18 December 2014

NFL Week 16 Picks 2014 (December 18-22)

Week 15 Thoughts
A clear picture of Head Coaches about to be out of a job has developed: Some changes that are likely to be made are perhaps unfortunate, for example the horrible situation that is way beyond Rex Ryan's control at the New York Jets, but so many other Head Coaches are just about done with their current teams in the NFL.

Jim Harbaugh has overseen a poor season, relative to recent years at least, for the San Francisco 49ers and it now seems a given that he will be leaving this team.

Mike Smith will likely only be retained by the Atlanta Falcons if that team wins the NFC South and they can do that by winning out.

Marc Trestman is reportedly out of Chicago, but the Bears have so many issues which start with what they can do about Jay Cutler at Quarter Back and the huge contract they gave him before this season.

Joe Philbin is unlikely to be kept as the Miami Dolphins Head Coach thanks to a second successive season when the team has missed their chance to get to the Play Offs in December.

Should Denver be concerned with Terrance Knighton's comments regarding a Super Bowl win? Knighton himself has said that every player on a Play Off team should be thinking the same way and Tom Brady made it clear that none of the New England players will be looking ahead nor talking about things, but will let their play on the field dictate matters.

So should Denver be concerned they have offered the Patriots, as well as other potential Play Off opponents, some bulletin board material after 'Pot Roast's' comments? Personally I don't think so.

Most outside of the Broncos locker room saw this team as a potential Super Bowl Champion and it doesn't surprise me that the players believe they are capable of doing that too.

What would be a concern is some of the issues around Peyton Manning in recent weeks as this team is not going anywhere without their star Quarter Back behind Center. Manning has not been throwing the ball well and some are suggesting fatigue has gotten to him considering Denver had a very early 'Bye' week, while even some of the throws being completed have looked ugly coming out of his hands.

Getting a First Round bye in the Play Offs could be a huge benefit for Manning, but he just hasn't looked himself over the last month and I do have some concern for the Broncos that Manning has perhaps hit the wall this season.

So how does Johnny Football time feel for fans of the Cleveland Browns? There were a few Play Off places decided in Week 15, but seemingly most people were interested in seeing how Johnny Manziel would do in his first NFL start.

It was about as horrific a performance as anyone could have imagined!

I have not been sold about Manziel's potential as a long-term starter in the NFL and I thought the Cleveland Browns made a big mistake not taking Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr ahead of him in the Draft, a mistake that could set the franchise back a few more years.

The Browns are desperate for success and were right to give Manziel a chance to see what he has in the final three games of the season with the Play Offs already a reach. They will be desperate for much improved performances in the next two weeks to show the fans that there is some potential in what Manziel will do for this team, but another couple of performances like the one he produced against Cincinnati will really put the team in a tough spot.

Wasting a First Round pick on Manziel is going to be tough to overcome immediately and Cleveland may want to give the Quarter Back another full off-season before making any long-term rash judgements. But I am not going to be surprised at all if there isn't a couple of veteran Quarter Backs brought in to challenge Manziel for the starting spot in the 2015 season barring two huge performances for him over the last two weeks of the season.

The NFC South has been terrible, but the next two weeks are full of drama: The winner of the NFC South is not going to have a winning record, although the New Orleans Saints are still in a position to finish the season 8-8, and it has been a poor year for teams in the Division.

However, the last two weeks should produce some fascinating viewing with New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina all in a position to win the Division and the schedule makers have made sure that these teams are facing one another.

The Saints host the Atlanta Falcons this week and then the Carolina Panthers will visit Atlanta in Week 17 and it could be all to play for for any of those teams by next week. Even if the Saints beat Atlanta this week, Carolina can still win out and take the Division as long as New Orleans lose in Tampa Bay next week.

Nothing has been easy for teams in the NFC South this season so it would be something of a surprise if New Orleans clinch this week without the drama the Division has provided all season, but it will be up to Carolina to make sure the South title goes one more week by beating Cleveland at home.

Aaron Rodgers is still the MVP and Green Bay Packers will make the Play Offs: Aaron Rodgers was bamboozled by the Buffalo Bills in Week 15 and admitted he played a 'stinker', but it shouldn't take away from what has been an MVP season for the Quarter Back.

With games against Tampa Bay and Detroit left, I still expect the Green Bay Packers to make the Play Offs, although the biggest issue for them may be the fact that they have likely lost home field advantage through the Play Offs.

Seattle are closing in on the Number 1 Seed in the NFC which will make them the favourites to win that Conference and it is going to be a big ask for the Green Bay Packers to go back to Seattle and win after their Week 1 loss there.

At Lambeau Field, the Packers have been dominant so losing out on the Number 1 Seed would be a real disappointment, although Green Bay won't give up fighting for it. If the Packers win out, they need Arizona and Seattle to drop a game each and that looks has a chance with those teams facing one another this week.

Play Off Prediction: AFC- New England, Denver, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Cincinnati

NFC- Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas, New Orleans, Arizona, Detroit

Top Ten
1) Seattle Seahawks (10-4): Defense is playing to the level of last season and they are in pole position to finish with the Number 1 Seed in the NFC.

2) Green Bay Packers (10-4): The loss in Seattle means Green Bay are likely to finish with the Number 2 Seed in the NFC after failing to win out.

3) New England Patriots (11-3): The Patriots can clinch the Number 1 Seed in the AFC by beating the New York Jets and hoping the Cincinnati Bengals beat Denver on Monday Night Football.

4) Denver Broncos (11-3): I was tempted to drop Denver at least one place more because I just don't think Peyton Manning is all there.

5) Detroit Lions (10-4): The Detroit Lions can really prove how much of a Super Bowl contender they are if they win at Lambeau Field in Week 17, but for now that Defense is legitimate enough to pose a threat to win it all.

6) Dallas Cowboys (10-4): Huge win in Philadelphia, but Dallas have to win out to take the NFC East title.

7) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5): The game in Atlanta is one that Pittsburgh could have blown in recent years, but they remain in control of their own destiny in the AFC North.

8) Indianapolis Colts (10-4): Clinched the AFC South, but unlikely to finish better than the Number 3 Seed in the AFC and may already be looking ahead to the Play Offs.

9) Baltimore Ravens (9-5): They did lose to Cincinnati twice in the regular season, but I think the Ravens are the better team and remain the race for the AFC North Division title.

10) Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1): Cincinnati are leading the AFC North, but face Denver and Pittsburgh over the last two weeks and might need help to win the Division.

Bottom Five
32) Tennessee Titans (2-12): Lost a vital game against the New York Jets that keeps them in pole position to 'win' the Number 1 pick in the Draft... However, another 'big' game against Jacksonville on Thursday Night Football may determine if Tennessee can secure that.

31) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12): Lovie Smith has a big job to turn this Tampa Bay franchise around, but getting one of the top two Quarter Backs likely coming out of College Football could be a start.

30) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12): Jacksonville used a number of trick plays, got some help from Baltimore's Field Goal kicker missing twice and a bad call resulting in a turnover for them... Yet they still lost by 8 and Blake Bortles may be done for the season.

29) Oakland Raiders (2-12): Derek Carr looks like a potential franchise Quarter Back, but Reggie McKenzie still has some work to do to make Oakland relevant again.

28) Washington Redskins (3-10): Dysfunctional times in Washington show no sign of ending and now the Quarter Back carousel has come back around for Robert Griffin to start.

Week 16 Picks
Week 15 produced a slight winning record, which makes a change after three terrible weeks in a row, and I hope I can at least finish the regular season with two more winning weeks.

Games in Week 16 take place on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday with the festive period meaning the television cameras will be going to a few more games for national coverage than in a normal week.

More Play Off situations will be resolved in the coming days, while other teams will be looking to improve Seeding in what should be another fascinating week in the National Football League.


Week 15: 5-4, + 1.56 Units
Week 142-10, - 14 Units
Week 134-7, - 6.36 Units
Week 123-6, - 4.36 Units
Week 115-4, + 1.20 Units
Week 104-2, + 3.90 Units
Week 94-3, + 1.42 Units
Week 81-8, - 13 Units
Week 78-1, + 11.20 Units
Week 62-3-1, - 2.46 Units
Week 53-4-1, + 0.84 Units
Week 44-4, + 0.02 Units
Week 38-2, + 9.82 Units
Week 25-3, + 1.50 Units
Week 13-6, - 3.18 Units

Season 201460-67-2, - 11.90 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

NBA Picks December 2014

I took a few weeks off from the NBA Picks because I was busy with work and haven't been able to devote the time to look through the picks, although continued to watch as a fan of the sport. Unfortunately, being a New York Knicks has not been much fun of late to the point of thinking it isn't fair to those going to the O2 Arena in London to watch them play next month at big prices.

But people will pay to watch a one off regular season NBA game in London and the tourists keep flocking to Madison Square Garden to see probably the second worst team in the League in front of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Carmelo Anthony looks hurt and people are already questioning whether he should be shut down and sent for surgery on his knee and the Knicks should begin putting themselves in a strong position for the NBA lottery. To be absolutely honest, they are trying to win games at the moment and look set to have one of the worst records in the NBA so I don't even think they need to start 'tanking' to get a decent Draft pick.

That is a shame for Knicks fans everywhere, but I always felt things were going to get worse before they got better as Phil Jackson will need time to turn the roster around. Mismanagement over the years has left the Knicks in this position and the trade for Carmelo Anthony, as much as I love the player, saw New York give up too much.

Gotham still has a chance to send the Brooklyn Nets to the Play Offs in the weak Eastern Conference, although the rumours suggest the likes of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are all available for trade. If they are to move on, the Nets look to be a team that could rebuild for the rest of the season and might be another team that underachieves.

The Western Conference again looks to be the stronger of the two and many of the teams look to have made very good starts to the season. However, all of this is so early in the season and many players don't believe the NBA really starts going until after the All-Star Game and definitely not before the Super Bowl. That is also the time when fans will really turn their eyes to the NBA once football season is over, but this is a key time for teams to get the kinks out of their system.

Tuesday 16 December
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Sacramento Kings Pick: The Oklahoma City Thunder are back to full health and that has seen them get back into the Western Conference Play Off mix, although none of the players are getting ahead of themselves. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back, the Thunder have won 8 of their last 9 games and 6 in a row heading into Sacramento to take on the disillusioned Kings.

DeMarcus Cousins has gone down with a viral infection which has kept him out of the team as Sacramento have dropped 3 in a row ahead of this game. The bigger news was the firing of Mike Malone which seemingly came out of left field amidst rumours that the owners want a 'unique' brand of basketball including using just 4 players on Defensive plays.

The Thunder are confident at the moment and should have too much scoring for Sacramento and 5 of their last 6 wins have come by 9 points or more. Oklahoma City are 3-1 against the spread in their last 4 road games here and I like them to cover the spread in this one.

Wednesday 17 December
I might be a New York Knicks fan, but the game in London is becoming less and less appealing as the weeks go on- that game is scheduled for next month, but the Knicks look worse than advertised and the Milwaukee Bucks were expected to be another lottery team.

I have been keeping an eye on Carmelo Anthony's status with suggestions he may need to go in for surgery, while the unfortunate injury to Jabari Parker means one of the more exciting prospects in the game will be missing for the Bucks. If Anthony also misses out, this game really won't be one that would appeal to me, especially not since I've seen the Knicks at Madison Square Garden back in April.

Atlanta Hawks @ Cleveland Cavaliers Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers have been playing much better at home than on the road and I think they can have a statement win over an in-form Atlanta Hawks team.

There is no doubt that the Hawks are not as good on the road and LeBron James has dominated them for the most part in his career. Atlanta have a strong recent run based on beating teams with losing records and Cleveland are definitely a step up in terms of competition.

The Cavaliers have won their last 6 home games by an average of over 14 points per game and I will back them to cover this spread.

Houston Rockets @ Denver Nuggets Pick: Going to play the Denver Nuggets on the road is a tough test for any team as shown by their 5-2 record against the spread versus teams with winning records at home.

However, the Nuggets are going to be short-handed again against the Houston Rockets and the Rockets won't have a better chance to snap their recent poor run here. Houston beat the Nuggets at home on Saturday and have Dwight Howard in the line up again and I expect them to have too much Offense for the Nuggets to deal with.

The Rockets are 8-2 on the road this season and they have won 6 of their last 7- I would expect the shorthanded Nuggets to challenge them for a while, but tiredness in the altitude may help Houston overcome them.

MY PICKS: 16/12 Oklahoma City Thunder - 7 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
17/12 Cleveland Cavaliers - 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
17/12 Houston Rockets - 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

December Update: 1-0, + 0.92 Units

November Final14-11, + 1.70 Units
October Final2-4, - 2 Units
Season 201516-15, - 0.30 Units

Season 201458-72-1, - 16.86 Units
Final Season 2013105-93-3, + 10.49 Units
Final Season 201279-53-1, + 27.48 Units

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (December 16-17)

The League Cup, otherwise known as the Capital One Cup, takes centre stage this week as we have reached the Quarter Final stage of that competition, but it was the Champions League and Europa League draws that will be making the headlines after those were completed on Monday morning.

All three ties involving the English clubs in the Champions League are intriguing, although the one between Arsenal and Monaco is more to do with the links that Arsene Wenger has with both clubs. On paper, Arsenal should finally return to the Quarter Final of the Champions League having exited at the Last 16 stage four years in a row.

The ties between Chelsea/Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City/Barcelona are rematches from last season, a factor of the Champions League draw thanks to the rules forbidding clubs from the same association meeting before the Quarter Finals. Will we see the same winners as last season from those ties? I would guess 'yes' at the moment, but injuries and form will have to be factored in when the tournament returns in February.

With the Europa League winner now getting a place in the Champions League, the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton may all feel their best chance of getting into that competition is by winning the Europa League.

Everton have been given a decent Last 32 draw against Young Boys of Switzerland, but both Liverpool and Spurs have a couple of tough teams to overcome in Besiktas and Fiorentina respectively. The other factor is that the winner of the Europa League has to still play 9 games to win that event and the English teams might not be ready to throw all their eggs in that basket until their Premier League top four credentials have completely extinguished.

In saying that, both Liverpool and Everton may be in that position by February/March, although Tottenham Hotspur could be challenging for a top four place as long as they can improve their form at White Hart Lane.

Another game that might be getting a few more interested people tuning in is the FA Cup Second Round Replay between Yeovil Town and Accrington Stanley which takes place on Tuesday. With the winner of that having a huge financial boost by hosting Manchester United in the FA Cup Third Round early next month, expect a lot of interest from the fans of both clubs as well as the media, although it was a surprise to me that the game wasn't picked as one of the two for live viewing.

The World Club Championship also gets going with both Real Madrid and San Lorenzo entering at the Semi Final stage of that tournament and the expectation is that Real Madrid will add a title that they have yet to win to an ever-growing trophy cabinet.

Cruz Azul v Real Madrid Pick: At this moment in time, Real Madrid don't have too many peers in European football and it does seem a big ask for Cruz Azul to be the team to upset them in this World Club Championship Semi Final. It has been made clear all season that Real Madrid see this as a vital tournament to win and so desire can't be questioned, while they also have a proud 20 game winning run to protect so any hopes that Cruz Azul have might be fleeting at best.

Cruz Azul were struggling to see off the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Quarter Final and the CONCACAF representative has seen this tournament a tough one to deal with. Some of that will have to do with the travelling as Dubai and Morocco have hosted recent editions of the World Club Championship, but I also think the best players from those nations tend to ply their trade in either South America or Europe.

The European representative has been comfortable in the Semi Final of the competition and they have won the last 9 of those by a 29-5 scoreline. Real Madrid obviously have a lot of power in forward positions and have been scoring so many goals in recent games that it might end with another big win for the UEFA team in the Semi Final.

I don't think Cruz Azul will give up, but these players will know all about the big names that Real Madrid have and that can be tough to deal with with some more interested in whose shirt they will be able to swap at the end of the game. Real Madrid won't want to embarrass any team, but they have scored so many goals and have so many attacking options that it is hard to see how Cruz Azul will contain them.

Real Madrid have won 14 of their 20 games in their winning run by at least three goals and I will back them to do that again in this Semi Final and continue the UEFA dominance at this stage of the competition.

Derby County v Chelsea Pick: This is the kind of game that Steve McClaren and the Derby County players want to bring to the fans on a weekly basis by earning promotion to the Premier League and some may be calling for a surprise result if Chelsea make too many changes to their starting eleven.

However, Derby County have not been in the best form in recent weeks with 2 losses from their last 3 games and they were also outplayed by Chelsea in their home loss in the FA Cup last season.

Jose Mourinho also holds the League Cup in pretty high regards and he is likely to put out a Chelsea team that doesn't have a host of changes considering they have six days before the next Premier League game. Chelsea haven't been playing as well away from home in their most recent games, but they are a solid team and should be far too good for lower League opposition.

It should be an entertaining game as Derby County are the kind of team that will come forward and try and make things happen, which should also make it easier for Chelsea to play their football. Even with some of the changes that are likely to be made, I would still think Chelsea prove too good and they might end up with a similar result to the FA Cup win here last season.

Bournemouth v Liverpool Pick: There won't be too many better opportunities for Bournemouth to beat a team of the size of Liverpool as in this League Cup Quarter Final and the confident leaders of the Championship have to be fully motivated to do that. A chance to get into the League Cup Semi Final is one benefit, but the confidence a win over Liverpool could give Bournemouth to take into the rest of the League season could be critical in helping them earn promotion to the top flight for the first time.

Bournemouth have scored at least twice in their last 6 home games in all competitions and that includes a 2-1 win over West Brom in the last Round of the League Cup, while they have won 4 of those games.

However, Liverpool finally showed some creative life in their loss at Manchester United with the 3-0 scoreline flattering to the home team. David De Gea made some top saves, but it was poor finishing from the Liverpool forwards that prevented them scoring at least once, although Brendan Rodgers is happier with the chances that were created.

How much of that is down to the poor defensive performances that Manchester United have put in is hard to say, but I do think Liverpool are more suited to playing away from Anfield at the moment. They are given extra space in these away games as the home team has an onus on them to attack and I don't think Eddie Howe's Bournemouth are going to take a backward step.

One concern for Bournemouth has to be the fact they have conceded at least twice in their last 4 home games and I do think Liverpool have their chances in this one too. Seeing at least three goals looks a pretty big price, but I think there is something in taking there being at least four goals shared in this one.

The last 4 Bournemouth home games have seen that number hit, while Liverpool's 3 away games before the one at Old Trafford also saw that number reached. Add the chances up in the game at Manchester United and that game could easily have seen at least four goals shared by the teams and I think the 3.20 offered for that happening in this game is too big to ignore.

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United Pick: Newcastle United may have had a poor result in North London on Saturday, but they will point to their 1-2 success at Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season as a confidence inspiring result that could see them come through this League Cup Quarter Final.

Both sets of fans will be dreaming that they are capable of reaching the Final if they come through this tie and likely avoid Chelsea in the Semi Final draw. That should inspire a big game from both sets of players and I think this has the elements that could make it a very entertaining game.

Neither manager will want his team pushed into extra time with the games coming thick and fast over the next month and I can see both looking to win this game from the off. Tottenham Hotspur created enough chances in the first game between these teams to have had the game won by half time, but Newcastle United will feel the pace in their forward lines will make them a dangerous proposition throughout the game on the counter-attack.

Neither defence is the most reliable either so I am expecting this Cup Quarter Final to produce goals with both Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United expected to score.

These teams have produced the goods when facing each other in recent seasons and 6 of the last 7 have seen at least three goals shared. At White Hart Lane, 3 of the last 4 have seen at least three goals shared and gaps would certainly open up in this game if one team is chasing the game with the pace and counter-attacking ability of the other.

Both games on Wednesday night in the League Cup look like they could be action filled, although I will take this one to end with at least three goals.

MY PICKS: Real Madrid - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.11 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bournemouth-Liverpool Over 3.5 Goals @ 3.20 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur-Newcastle United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

December Update11-11-1, + 4.76 Units (40 Units Staked, + 11.90% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% 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)

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (December 13-15)

Another round of domestic football takes place over the next three days including what remains the biggest fixture in the Premier League when Manchester United and Liverpool go head to head. This is the time of the season when managers have to be looking over their shoulders and owners perhaps get a little nervous and decide to make the change, especially with the January transfer window coming up.

One such name that looks very much in the firing line is Nigel Pearson who has seen his Leicester City team go on a long run without winning a game and has been asked to explain some of the altercations he has been having of late. The one with the fan during the home game against Liverpool has put Pearson under more pressure and another defeat this weekend will make Leicester favourites to be bottom of the Premier League come Christmas morning, a death knell for teams hoping to avoid the drop for many of the last 22 years since this League was formed.

With a manager like Tony Pulis very available at the moment, perhaps there is an argument to be made that Leicester will be better off appointing him, especially with a very strong CV in recent seasons of keeping unfancied teams in the Premier League.

Burnley v Southampton Pick: Both Burnley and Southampton will be looking for a morale boosting performance this week as they have suffered some setbacks over the last few weeks. Burnley's loss at Queens Park Rangers would be a real disappointment and they won't want to go into a quick run of games with losses building up.

On the other hand, Southampton need to snap their losing run of three games as quickly as possible and they haven't won since early November which is going to be playing on the players minds. Another week without a victory could see the players second guessing their own ability, no matter how good the performances may have been, and really make it difficult for the Saints to turn things around.

The layers seem to really believe in Southampton who look very short at odds on to win at Turf Moor, especially considering that Burnley have been proving to be more difficult to beat in recent games here. However, a lack of goals in the home team has to be a concern especially as only 2/15 games in the Premier League have seen Burnley score more than once.

Then again, Burnley have scored in 5 straight home games and Southampton have only kept 1 clean sheet from their last 4 games on their travels. That should at least give Burnley some belief they can get something from this game, but the defence can't always be trusted to keep the clean sheets that Burnley would likely need and leads me to my actual pick from the game.

Without Morgan Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld, Southampton have looked a little vulnerable and the back and both are doubts for this game. If they can't play, Burnley will have chances to score in this one, but I also think Southampton have the pace and power to create chances of their own. As long as Graziano Pelle and Shane Long are not as wasteful as they have been in the last couple of games, Southampton should find the net in this one.

Both teams scoring is odds against and I do think that is too tempting to ignore considering recent results. The last 6 games between them at Turf Moor has seen both teams score and they also had a 4-3 FA Cup game last season so that will be my pick in another tight game to call.

Leicester City v Manchester City Pick: This is a really tough time for Nigel Pearson who was charged by the FA for telling a Leicester City fan to 'kill themselves' during an altercation in the 1-3 loss to Liverpool. With losses building up behind Leicester and Tony Pulis looking an appealing option, Pearson could easily find himself out of a job before Christmas, especially if they don't show enough fight in this one.

And to be honest, even showing fight might not be enough for Leicester as they face a Manchester City team with 6 wins on the bounce behind them. Sergio Aguero is a big loss for Manuel Pellegrini, but Edin Dzeko returned and David Silva is another big player to restore to the starting line up.

If Vincent Kompany is back too, Manchester City should prove to be far too good for Leicester and I can see the away side running away with a win in this one. Yaya Toure is another influential player to return to the first team and Manchester City have scored 20 goals in their last 8 away games in all competitions which may be too much for Leicester City to really deal with.

The feeling I have is that Leicester will find it tough to contain Manchester City going forward and the pressure under Nigel Pearson is not producing much positive reaction from the crowd. After the last home game and the way the fans seemed to turn on their manager, the atmosphere at the KP Stadium could quickly affect the home players if they were to fall behind in this one.

That will only play into the hands of Manchester City and I like Manuel Pellegrini's men to record a seventh win on the bounce and by more than a single goal.

Arsenal v Newcastle United Pick: This could be a really big game for both Arsenal and Newcastle United to show what they are going to be capable of for the rest of the season as both sets of fans will be expecting a challenge for a top four berth after the way the campaign as begun.

That has been the minimum expectation of Arsenal over the last few years and looks to be about the maximum they can achieve this season which is a source of frustration for the home fans. Many thought they would be challenging for the Premier League title, but that already looks beyond Arsenal, although recent games has seen the team begin to put together a decent run of wins.

The loss at Stoke City was a disappointment, especially as Arsenal were 3-0 down by half time, but the side responded in Galatasaray and I think Arsenal can ride that success to a win here.

Newcastle United are not the same side on their travels, even after a decent run of results prior to the loss at West Ham United and I do think the injuries are going to be tough to overcome with a limited squad depth. The win over Chelsea was a very good result, but Newcastle rode their luck at times and being without that might see them struggle to contain the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla who will pull the strings for Arsenal.

Arsenal have a strong home record against Newcastle United and usually win these games with an element of comfort. The attacking side of the Arsenal game could help them do that again as Newcastle could perhaps see their thoughts turned to the League Cup Quarter Final in a few days time and I think Arsenal cover the Asian Handicap offered.

Manchester United v Liverpool Pick: Nine months is a long time in football and the way both Manchester United and Liverpool feel going into the biggest game in the Premier League has changed so much since both entered Old Trafford back in March.

On that day, I was feeling very wary as a Manchester United fan of the threat that Liverpool were going to pose with their pace and momentum going into that game, but those wary feelings are now much more confident going into this weekend. Without Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool just haven't posed the same threat going forward and Manchester United have a lot more confidence coming in.

Neither defence has played very well and some of the performances of both sides have been disappointing to say the least. Gary Neville described it as potentially watching two pub teams playing one another, but I think that underestimates the improved performances that Manchester United have produced at home.

While they have still given teams chances to score goals at Old Trafford, Manchester United have also played well enough to score plenty of goals and even in the draw with Chelsea they were the better team in the first half. A similar level to that performance will give Manchester United the edge in this one, although I can't say I fully trust the defence to not make the mistakes they have in the last few weeks.

New players have to slot in with Chris Smalling now on the sidelines and Liverpool have scored more easily on their travels than at home as they do have more space to try and exploit. This is the kind of game that should inspire Liverpool to put in one of their better performances of the season, but they don't seem to be on the same level as Manchester United right now.

Clean sheets have been a problem for both teams so seeing both score in this one wouldn't be a surprise, but I also believe Manchester United win this game and I will back them to do so in a high-scoring game.

Swansea v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Tottenham Hotspur have not been great coming out of the Europa League and having to play a Premier League game on a Sunday, and they have won 3 games and lost 4 following Europa League games this season.

They travel to Wales on Sunday to face a very tough Swansea team that have proven to be very effective at the Liberty Stadium and this could be an entertaining game with both teams willing to go forward. Swansea have goals in their team and they have the pace in the forward positions to cause Tottenham some real problems, while Spurs themselves have played better away from home and have the ability to test Gerhard Tremmel who deputises in goal.

The last couple of games at the Liberty Stadium between these teams has produced goals and Swansea have scored at least twice in 5 of their last 6 at home. Before the 1-0 loss at Besiktas on Thursday, Tottenham have had 5 straight away games where they have shared at least three goals, but Spurs rested players for the game in Turkey.

Goals should not be in short supply on Sunday afternoon in the second live game of the day and I do think the chance of that happening is perhaps a little under-rated.

MY PICKS: Burnley-Southampton Both Teams to Score @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Manchester United to Win @ 3.70 Coral (1 Unit)
Swansea-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.92 William Hill (2 Units)

December Update9-9, + 3.72 Units (31 Units Staked, + 12% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% 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)

Thursday, 11 December 2014

NFL Week 15 Picks 2014 (December 11-15)

Week 14 Thoughts
Has Mike Pettine left it too late to make the move from Brian Hoyer to Johnny Manziel? On Wednesday, it was officially confirmed that Mike Pettine would make the switch at Quarter Back that many expected at least one week prior.

The Cleveland Browns were beaten by the Indianapolis Colts which leaves them behind their three Divisional rivals in the AFC North and also on the outside of a loaded Wild Card chase in that Conference and I can't help but feel the Head Coach may regret making the move so late.

Brian Hoyer played well early in the season, I won't dispute that, but he has shown himself to be nothing more than a back up in the NFL and the Browns have won a couple of games not because of Hoyer, but because of mistakes made by other teams over the last few weeks.

Overthrown balls, one which even had Manziel being caught on the sidelines saying 'I would have fu**ing hit that' and mistakes from Hoyer kept Indianapolis in the game last week and eventually led to the one point win for the Colts. That loss may haunt Pettine and Cleveland, a team that has been desperate for some consistent success ever since returning to the NFL, but it does feel it may be too late now.

However, the Browns host Cincinnati this week and win that game and they could very much be back in contention- they do need the likes of Pittsburgh and Baltimore to also falter if they are to get into the Play Offs, but Pettine may regret he didn't make the move at Quarter Back sooner if they don't make it.

Jeff Fisher trolls the Washington Redskins: What a great idea from Jeff Fisher to send out the six players that the St Louis Rams picked from the Draft Picks traded to them by the Washington Redskins in the RG3 trade!

It was one of the big talking points of Week 14 and was definitely a very sly dig at Washington that went unnoticed by the Redskins until blowing up on social media and the NFL Network through the rest of the day.

The fact that Fisher is very good friends with Mike Shanahan, the former Washington Head Coach who was fired at the end of last season for falling out with RG3, just adds to the 'trolling level' and makes this more than just a mere point being made by St Louis.

The Jim Harbaugh era at San Francisco is fast coming to a close: All season we have heard that the San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh were going to part ways at the end of this year after the team came close to trading their Head Coach to Cleveland during the off-season before this year.

While the 49ers were winning, this issue remained on the back-burner, but consecutive defeats have left the team on the brink of elimination from the Play Offs, which would be a real disappointment for this franchise.

The 49ers have reached three consecutive Conference Championship Games, although winning just one of those games, but Colin Kaepernick hasn't progressed at the speed expected and San Francisco seem to have moved from the power running Offense that has been such a success for them.

Too many mistakes from Kaepernick has prevented San Francisco moving forwards and it seems the discontent is too much to overcome in the locker room. Who knows where Harbaugh ends up next, but I would be absolutely stunned if he is still in San Francisco for the start of next season.

Give Aaron Rodgers the MVP award, but Defense needs to step up if Green Bay are to win the Super Bowl: It was another imperious display from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers Offense on Monday Night Football, but he has to be concerned with how the Defense played in the second half if the Packers are going to win the Super Bowl.

Rodgers is undoubtedly going to win the MVP award this season, especially if he finishes the season by guiding Green Bay to the Number 1 Seed in the NFC. The Packers have played very well at Lambeau Field and will be tough to beat there, but it all boils down to how well Rodgers has played ever since he told Packer nation to 'R-E-L-A-X'.

However, that Defensive effort was not good enough in allowing the Atlanta Falcons to produce a stirring comeback that was only a few points short of actually turning into a win. There wasn't enough pressure on Matt Ryan in the second half, while the Secondary couldn't get close to Julio Jones and I think it does raise some questions about the Green Bay chances to win it all.

They did play a lot better against New England so perhaps it was more complacency than a general trend, but the Packers won't get away with that against the Detroit Lions in Week 17 and certainly won't get away with it in the Play Offs unless they bring a better effort.

Play Off Predictions: AFC- New England, Denver, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Kansas City.

NFC- Green Bay, Seattle, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Detroit and Dallas.

Top Ten
1) Green Bay Packers (10-3): Still deserve to be Number 1, but Defensive effort has to be better going forward than what they showed on Monday Night Football.

2) New England Patriots (10-3): Impressive road win at San Diego and all roads to the Super Bowl go through New England in the AFC.

3) Denver Broncos (10-3): Denver can clinch a Play Off place by winning in San Diego this week and keeping the pressure on New England for the Number 1 Seed in the Conference.

4) Seattle Seahawks (9-4): Impressive win on the road at Philadelphia and the Defense is playing to the level that won Seattle the Super Bowl last season.

5) Detroit Lions (9-4): Defense is legit, and Detroit are not shooting themselves in the foot as they would normally do.

6) Philadelphia Eagles (9-4): Not quite good enough against the best teams, but can virtually clinch the NFC East Division title by beating the Cowboys again this week.

7) Dallas Cowboys (9-4): Dallas allowed Chicago to rally on Thursday Night Football, but they held them off for a vital win in the race for a Play Off spot.

8) Indianapolis Colts (9-4): Indianapolis can win the AFC South this weekend, but they don't have all the tools for a deep Play Off run in my opinion.

9) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5): Have control of their own destiny to win the AFC North, but can't afford to have a let down at the Atlanta Falcons this week.

10) Baltimore Ravens (8-5): A vital win at the Miami Dolphins gives Baltimore an inside track for one of the Wild Card spots in the AFC.

Bottom Five
32) Tennessee Titans (2-11): They were blown out by the New York Giants at home and this is a team that looks bad on both sides of the ball.

31) New York Jets (2-11): Something of a reverse Super Bowl this week as the Jets will travel to Tennessee to determine the 'worst team in the NFL' spot for next week.

30) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11): Lovie Smith must be looking to the Draft as this season has lurched from worse to worse for Tampa Bay.

29) Washington Redskins (3-10): Awful team, awful franchise and Jay Gruden might be the next ex Head Coach.

28) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11): There are some pieces set for the future of Jacksonville, but Oakland deserved to come out of the bottom five with an improved Derek Carr and two wins from their last three games.

Week 15 Picks
So where to begin with Week 14? I have never seen a day go down the pan so quickly and rapidly with seemingly every bit of bad luck that could happen show itself.

There were some bad picks in there that never looked like winning, I will accept that, but some of the others just hurt because of the manner in which they went down.

Indianapolis didn't deserve to cover, but they did have the chance for a two point conversion which would have at least earned a push.

Tampa Bay got down to the Detroit 15 and had four clear shots to get into the endzone which would have at least seen them cover, but Josh McCown can't hit any of his big Receivers to do that.

Oh, but Buffalo can convert a 4th and 16 inside their own redzone to then march up the field and secure a Touchdown, with another 4th down converted, which allows them to finish within 7 of Denver.

San Diego played a close game with New England and were down 9 points with the ball at midfield and 4th down and 4 to go... So what do they do? Of course, they punt the ball away and get it back with almost no time remaining and deep in their own territory.

And just in case my week could not have been any worse, Green Bay blow a 31-7 half time lead and then were up big in the second half but allow Matt Ryan to pull the game to within 6 points... Yet James Starks produces a huge run and is only just pulled down on the Atlanta 10 yard line which would have been another push at the least!

If those five games go the other way, it is actually a winning week, but instead big losses thanks to some ridiculous plays that can't be justified.

Arizona Cardinals @ St Louis Rams Pick: I have made a point of saying that I don't believe the Arizona Cardinals will make the Play Offs this season since Carson Palmer went down with an injury, but they can effectively prove me wrong by winning this game. A few weeks ago, Arizona would likely have come into St Louis and been favoured to beat the Rams, but recent performances from the latter have made them a pretty strong favourite in this one.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the public money is going on the 10-3 Cardinals as the underdog, but I think the St Louis Rams are the better team at this moment and might have enough to cover a pretty large spread.

Since reinserting Shaun Hill into the line up, St Louis have played better Offensively and giving Tre Mason more carries and not wasting time with Zak Stacy is another good example of good coaching. Hill is more than a game manager, but it is avoiding mistakes that is his biggest complement and the Quarter Back could have a decent game with Antonio Cromartie likely out of the Arizona Secondary.

Of course, Mason may just get a chunk of yardage on the ground as Arizona have begun to struggle a little in that regards and that should just make life easier for Hill.

The Quarter Back also has felt a little less pressure in the last four games considering how well the St Louis Rams Defense has begun to perform. The Defensive Line was considered one of the best in the NFL before the season began and they have really shown up of late and could give Drew Stanton more problems after his struggles in relief of Carson Palmer.

Stanton might not have the benefit of Kerwynn Williams picking up large amounts of yards on the ground either as this is where St Louis have begun to excel. If they can keep Arizona in third and long, St Louis should be able to tee off on Drew Stanton and pick up sacks and force incompletions and possible turnovers to take control of the game.

Arizona haven't been good playing on Thursday Night Football over the last three seasons, failing to cover twice in their two opportunities in that time. The Cardinals have been out-gained in three straight games since Stanton took over as the full time starter and St Louis are a decent favourite to back. It all points to St Louis covering a big number and putting more doubt on Arizona's Play Off credentials.

Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots Pick: This is the game that New England would love to secure another AFC East Division title and continue on the road to picking up the Number 1 Seed in the Conference as they look for revenge against the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins have won the last 2 games in the series, but those were in the warmth of home and it is a big ask for them to pick themselves up from a demoralising loss last week and win in Foxboro in the cold. Baltimore's win in Miami means the Dolphins already look out of the Play Off picture, but another defeat this week will ensure that and likely mean big changes in the Coaching staff in the off-season.

It is hard to see how Miami win this game as their Offensive game plan is unlikely to have the same success as when they met New England earlier this season. The read-option is a huge play for the Dolphins, but Lamar Miller is unlikely to establish the run to the same extent Knowshon Moreno did as New England have clamped down on that with their run Defense over the last three games.

That will mean forcing Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball and he has only been comfortable doing that in short to intermediate routes. Against this New England Secondary, that is unlikely to be a productive method of Offense and Miami might be playing catch up if New England can produce a strong Offensive game.

LaGarrette Blount has given New England a new punch in the running game and Miami have allowed 5.7 yards per carry over their last three games which could be exposed here. Bill Belichick showed he is willing to pound the ball against susceptible Defenses in the win over the Indianapolis Colts and that will only open the passing lanes for Tom Brady to connect with Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

The Miami Defense has looked a little tired in the last few games and both Denver and Baltimore scored comfortably against them as the game wore on. Even the New York Jets were moving the ball with ease through the game, but lost it through missed Field Goals and New England are unlikely to make those mistakes.

New England have covered in 3 of their last 4 home games against Miami and they should be fully focused with revenge in mind. The cold weather likely won't help and I think the Patriots beat the big spread.

Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts Pick: The Houston Texans have given themselves a small chance of making the Play Offs with consecutive victories, but now they take on Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts who have dominated this Divisional series. The Colts have the added motivation of securing a place in the Play Offs with a win on Sunday and Luck has been very good in Division games since taking over from Peyton Manning as the Indianapolis Quarter Back.

It was another strong drive led by Luck that helped the Colts win their third game in a row last week and this game is likely to be driven by what he can do. Luck has enough scrambling ability to avoid the pass rush that Houston send for the most part, but he also has to eliminate some of the strip sacks and Interceptions he has had.

I would expect Houston to have some success throwing the ball themselves, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is due a couple of back breaking turnovers that have blighted him through his career. If Andre Johnson is out, there aren't a lot of options for Fitzpatrick in the passing game and that could lead to him forcing balls into tight windows that sees the Colts pick up short fields, much as they did in the first game.

Indianapolis have won 12 in a row at home against Houston in this series and 4 in a row overall. Andrew Luck has led the Colts to a 13-2 record against the spread against Divisional rivals since coming into Indianapolis, while they are 18-6 against the spread in home games.

As well as Houston have played on the road, they are just 2-4 against the spread as the underdog this season and I will look for Indianapolis to cover for the fifth time in a row at home against them.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: This is a huge line for the Baltimore Ravens to cover, but it might be a good enough spot to back them to do so considering the Jacksonville Jaguars are playing out the string and perhaps are looking ahead to being in the spotlight on Thursday Night Football in an AFC South game against the Tennessee Titans.

The problem for the Jaguars is that their Offense is going to have a really hard time moving the chains against a Baltimore Defense that is giving up just 14.5 points per game at home this season. Granted they allowed 34 points in their last home game against the San Diego Chargers, but the Ravens had given up just 24 points in their three prior home games and have a pass rush that could have Blake Bortles consistently under pressure.

That pressure could lead to turnovers and short fields for the Baltimore Ravens to work with. As well as the Jacksonville Jaguars Defensive Line has played, Justin Forsett should still be able to earn his hard fought yards on the ground and Joe Flacco could use that to make plays against a Secondary that has given up plenty of yards through the air.

Baltimore have to be looking to make a fast start in this game and they can use a couple of turnovers to make sure they pull away from the Jaguars in the game. They are facing a Jacksonville team that have failed to cover in their two games as a double digit underdog this season and one that doesn't have a lot on the line.

The Ravens have dominated when playing teams with losing records and have the momentum from the win over Miami to cover this big number by beating the Jaguars while going away. The strong pass rush could just lead to the mistakes that help Baltimore do that, even in the absence of Torrey Smith.

Green Bay Packers @ Buffalo Bills Pick: The only concern you would have for the Green Bay Packers is to whether they have peaked too early in their quest to get back to the Super Bowl having won 5 in a row and being fairly dominant in those games. Most of those games were played at Lambeau Field where Aaron Rodgers has been particularly dominant over the last couple of seasons, but going on the road has proved to be a much tougher task for the Green Bay Packers all season.

The Offense is averaging nearly 20 points fewer on the road as they are at home and that has to be a concern if they don't secure the Number 1 Seed in the NFC. Green Bay also come up against a Buffalo Defense that has gotten a lot of pressure up front and has a Secondary that has held up well thanks to that pressure, including picking off Peyton Manning twice last week and snapping his long run of games with a Touchdown pass.

One key to the whole game in this one is how well the improved Offensive Line Green Bay can hold up against the pass rush- if they continue giving Rodgers the time he has had in recent games, the Buffalo Secondary can only hold up so long against speedy and elusive Receivers like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

Neither team is likely to run the ball all that effectively and the question becomes whether Kyle Orton can do enough with the ball in his hands to keep Buffalo in the game. Orton would have been boosted by seeing the Green Bay Secondary torched on Monday Night Football, but he isn't as elusive as Matt Ryan and the Packers pass rush could certainly bring him down a few times.

Turnovers could also be key and Orton is more likely to make those mistakes compared with Rodgers, although the Bills pass rush may force more errant throws from Rodgers than we have come to expect. In saying that, I still expect Green Bay to perhaps come close to matching what New England did here and score 28 plus points and that will be tough for Buffalo to keep up with in my opinion.

Green Bay are just 2-2 against the spread as the road favourite this season and Buffalo have been a strong underdog, but I still believe this spread is too low. Unless Kyle Orton converts another 4th and 16 and then drives Buffalo to a backdoor cover like in Week 14, I like the Packers to win and cover here with too much Offense.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns Pick: Sweeping a Divisional rival is a difficult task, but failure of the Cleveland Browns to do that against the Cincinnati Bengals likely ends Cleveland's Play Off push for another season. On the other hand, another loss for the Cincinnati Bengals puts them in a very difficult spot with the tie against Carolina then working against them rather than for them as it has in recent weeks.

Of course all of the news is about Johnny Manziel making his first start at Quarter Back for Cleveland, the right move that should have perhaps been made a couple of weeks ago. I can't help but feel that Marvin Lewis' comments about not worrying about a 'midget' is going to haunt him in this one, especially with the ability that Manziel has to scramble and make plays.

That scrambling is going to make life tough for a Bengals Defense that has struggled for much of the season and missing some important pieces on that side of the ball. I also think Manziel will prove to be a better passer than Brian Hoyer and Josh Gordon could become a real player in this one having been missed by the previous Quarter Back on some open plays.

While Manziel gives the whole Offense a boost, the Browns Defense has played well and may slow down AJ Green enough to give Cleveland a chance to sweep their in-State rivals. The Browns got a lot of pressure on Andrew Luck last week and could make Andy Dalton very nervous considering his near epic low performance against Cleveland earlier this season.

Cincinnati have not been a great team to back to revenge a loss and I think Manziel can lead Cleveland to the win and keep them in the Play Off hunt.

Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers Pick: This is a vital game for both of these AFC West rivals as the Denver Broncos look to wrap up the Division, as well as staying in contention for the Number 1 Seed in the AFC, and San Diego Chargers look to hold on to a Wild Card place.

The winner will be well on the way to achieving their goals for the season, but the loser, especially if that is the San Diego Chargers, could be in big trouble going forward. Philip Rivers and the Offense should have an easier time moving the chains than they found against the New England Patriots in Week 14 as Denver don't have the same strength in the Secondary, although the Broncos should get a tonne of pressure on Rivers.

San Diego's Offensive Line has struggled with injuries and the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller could have another big day for Denver. Ryan Matthews might not have a lot of success running the ball which will only allow the Broncos pass rush to pin back their ears and get after Rivers and San Diego may have another tough day moving the chains.

The same could be said for Denver who haven't looked right in recent weeks, particularly Peyton Manning. However, I think Manning will enjoy the conditions in San Diego and will especially enjoy the fact that Julius Thomas looks set to return to the Offense.

That is a big body to use in the Red Zone where Denver have begun to struggle to throw the ball and I expect Thomas resolves those issues. The San Diego Defense played so well against New England in Week 14, but the Offense couldn't help them out, and there has to be some tired minds and bodies from that game. It may be a week to recover, but now they face another powerful Offense and I think Denver continues dominance of these Divisional games since Peyton Manning arrived.

Denver are 11-4 against the spread against AFC West rivals since Manning started playing for the Broncos and they have won both visits to San Diego by 8 points or more. The Chargers have failed to cover against a Divisional rival this season and they were outplayed by Denver in the first meeting- this will be closer but I still like the Broncos to win by a Touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks Pick: There has been a lot of sharp money going down on the San Francisco 49ers this week which has seen this spread come down by a point in their favour, but that now has me liking the Seattle Seahawks to cover.

Jim Harbaugh looks about done in San Francisco and the team has begun to collapse with injuries on the Defense coupled with Colin Kaepernick's obvious regression as he has been asked to throw instead of leaning on the power running game.

Now the Seattle Defense has begun to play to the level of 2013, it is hard to imagine how San Francisco can improve on their showing on Thanksgiving Day against them, particularly as this one is on the road. The Seattle home crowd are going to be going crazy and that noise could see Kaepernick self-combust and give the Seahawks the edge in the game.

Both Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch could help the Seahawks dominate on the ground again and I think San Francisco are going to have to go some to keep this close. However, I do have respect for this being the last chance saloon for Harbaugh and the 49ers so could see their absolute best effort.

This is enough points for the 49ers to earn a late backdoor cover, but Seattle have been so good at home and have blown out San Francisco in their last 2 regular season games here. If the Seahawks get ahead, maybe the San Francisco players lose their motivation a little with the season almost certainly over and that could see the Seahawks cover.

Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles Pick: In recent seasons I would have been absolutely convinced that this would the kind of game that the Dallas Cowboys would lose and subsequently find themselves failing to reach the Play Offs.

The loser of this game will certainly be in a difficult spot to get into the post-season considering they will be dropped to 9-5, but the real meaning of the game might only be highlighted by kick off. If Seattle, Green Bay and Detroit win, the losing team would be at least one game back in the Wild Card race with only one place left to battle for.

It would be especially daunting for the Dallas Cowboys as they would have likely lost the NFC East by being swept by Philadelphia and I expect a much better effort than the one they produced on Thanksgiving Day when destroyed at home by the Eagles. The Defense is still a problem and I expect Mark Sanchez to have a bounce back game from the one against Seattle last week.

However, I also think Tony Romo and the Dallas Offense will have a better game- I think the Offensive Line makes enough adjustments to protect him a little more and I expect Romo to have a better passing day thank he did on Thanksgiving. The Philadelphia Secondary isn't as good if Romo can get time to throw against them and I like the Cowboys to make this a much closer game.

The Cowboys are 13-6 against the spread as the underdog in the last three seasons and they have also played well in revenge spots. After the brutal way they were put away on Thanksgiving Day, I think Dallas are more effective in this one and I like getting more than a field goal head start in this one.

0 Unit Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers - 2.5 Points, New York Giants - 6.5 Points, Oakland Raiders + 10 Points, Carolina Panthers - 3 Points, New York Jets - 2.5 Points, Detroit Lions - 7.5 Points

MY PICKS: St Louis Cardinals - 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Indianapolis Colts - 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Baltimore Ravens - 13.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 4 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Cleveland Browns - 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Denver Broncos - 4.5 Points @ 1.92 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Seattle Seahawks - 9.5 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
Dallas Cowboys + 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)

Week 14: 2-10, - 14 Units
Week 134-7, - 6.36 Units
Week 123-6, - 4.36 Units
Week 115-4, + 1.20 Units
Week 104-2, + 3.90 Units
Week 94-3, + 1.42 Units
Week 81-8, - 13 Units
Week 78-1, + 11.20 Units
Week 62-3-1, - 2.46 Units
Week 53-4-1, + 0.84 Units
Week 44-4, + 0.02 Units
Week 38-2, + 9.82 Units
Week 25-3, + 1.50 Units
Week 13-6, - 3.18 Units

Season 201456-63-2, - 13.46 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Midweek Football Picks 2014 (December 9-11)

This is the final round of fixtures from the Group Stage of both the Champions League and the Europa League are completed this week and the draw for the Last 16 and Last 32 respectively of those competitions is going to be held back until Monday next week for some reason.

There are still some big permutations to be decided over the next couple of days, none bigger than for the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Roma who all would have expected to make the Last 16 at the very least.

It should make more fascinating viewing for the neutrals as the games keep coming for those who enjoy catching the football on television. With a full round of European games this week and then another big domestic weekend in England coming up, as well as the final round of games for those Leagues that close down for their 'Winter Break', there isn't much time for the big clubs to rest players.

Olympiacos v Malmo Pick: My biggest concern in backing Olympiacos in this game is whether they will have a full focus on Malmo and how much the side could potentially be deflated if they hear Juventus are beating Atletico Madrid in the crucial other game in the Group. With Olympiacos needing to win and Juventus needing to lose, the players could definitely feel emotionally flat if Juventus take the lead especially with a Europa League spot already secured.

On the other hand, Malmo have generally found the competition level a little too high as the Champions League run has continued, particularly on their travels and I do wonder if they will be able to hang with Olympiacos.

There is little doubt the loss in Sweden is the game that has cost Olympiacos their chance to move into the Last 16 for the second season in succession so a little revenge could be on the mind. The players should be well rested too and Olympiacos have been very strong at home in the Champions League with 5 straight wins here and winning 7 of their last 8 at home in the competition.

The talent difference between these two teams should eventually prevail and you have to think Olympiacos are going to have enough in the tank to break down Malmo. An early goal will be nice to get the fans behind them and also to provide motivation to win this game no matter what happens in Turin and I think Olympiacos become the 4th team from the last 5 tries to beat Malmo by at least two goals at home.

Real Madrid v Ludogorets Pick: As much as Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that Real Madrid's concentration has not been on setting new records, I very much doubt the Italian could have picked a better opponent to help the team reach 19 wins in a row. You have to respect Ludogorets and how far they have come as a club, but Real Madrid clearly have the talent quality to really give them all they can handle and more.

There are some injury concerns in the home squad, but Cristiano Ronaldo loves his football and has some personal marks to hit in the Champions League and looks to be involved in this one. He should have chances to score in this one and Real Madrid have been scoring so many goals at home that it won't be a surprise if they put Ludogorets to the sword.

It would be easy for Ludogorets to perhaps be overawed by the occasion and the 32 goals in the last 8 home games that Real Madrid have scored has to be intimidating. They will look to make life difficult, but containing the pace and power Real Madrid has looks a huge task.

Real Madrid have won so many games in the last two seasons at home by wide margins in the Champions League and 6 of their last 8 home wins have come by at least three goals. I will look for them to put yet another team away with a lot of comfort at home and back Real Madrid to win this by at least three goals.

Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain Pick: Winning a Champions League Group has proved to be a very important task for teams that truly want to go deep into the competition as the standard of Last 16 opponents have really been wide apart depending whether you finish first or second.

A quick look at the likely winners of the Groups this season seems to highlight that and Barcelona will be very keen to overturn Paris Saint-Germain's one point lead in this section. Getting the chance to do so at the Nou Camp looks to be a huge factor in the game, although PSG are a much improved team with plenty of Champions League experience and won't be daunted by the task in front of them.

With a 25 game unbeaten run to protect, Paris Saint-Germain will be full of confidence as well as the fact they have already beaten Barcelona this season. Two seasons ago, PSG and Barcelona shared two draws in the Quarter Final tie which eventually saw the latter progress on away goals, and I expect this to be another close fought game.

An interesting note is that Paris Saint-Germain have scored in 10 of their last 11 away games in the Champions League since returning to the top table of European football, while Barcelona have kept just 1 clean sheet from their last 6 home games in the competition.

Even with that statistic, Barcelona have continued to win the majority of those games and they have won 10 of 11 games here in all competitions and that is despite conceding in 4 straight home games.

As you might be able to tell, I do think Barcelona will use home advantage to win this game, but it is unlikely to come in a game where they keep a clean sheet. With the pace and power that Paris Saint-Germain have in their side, I would expect them to keep up their record of managing to score in away games in the Champions League, but it might end up in a losing effort.

Roma v Manchester City Pick: This is a massive game for both Roma and Manchester City with so much at stake and it will be interesting to see how both clubs approach the game. With the financial implication of making it through to the Last 16, both clubs could be a little tense, but Rudi Garcia and Manuel Pellegrini are two managers that love to set their teams out to play attacking football.

It is tough to imagine either will decide to take a backward step in this one as a win would likely be enough to send them through to the Last 16 and both teams have scored so many goals in recent games.

Even in the absence of Sergio Aguero, which could be a fatal blow to Manchester City's chances to progress, the return of David Silva would be a huge boost to the team. However, Yaya Toure serving another suspension is another blow and Roma may look to get on the front foot to really put some pressure on Manchester City and take the game to them.

At home, Roma have done that effectively for most of the season with the Bayern Munich 1-7 loss a rare exception for them. They have scored at least twice in every other home game they have played this season and will likely need to do that to win this game.

That is the case with Manchester City scoring at least twice in 6 of their last 7 away games and this does look a game that will feature at least three goals shared by the teams. An early goal could just open up the whole game as the team falling behind will have to go searching for goals and it might be one of the more entertaining games of match day six of the Champions League where so many other games won't have the same prize at stake.

The layers seem to be on the ball for that scenario occurring, but I still think backing over 2.5 goals is the call for this game.

MY PICKS: Olympiacos - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.08 Bet365 (2 Units)
Real Madrid - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet365 (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Barcelona to Win @ 2.88 Coral (1 Unit)
Roma-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December Update6-8, - 0.28 Units (24 Units Staked, - 1.17% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% 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)

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (December 6-8)

This is fun- rather than the two week international breaks which has most wishing they could sleep through, we have another round of Premier League games to look forward to this weekend. This is the time of the season that the football just keeps coming, but I don't think too many fans will be complaining outside of the ridiculous times for some of the games, including Manchester United's trip to the South coast to take on Southampton on Monday Night Football.

There is plenty of live football through the weekend and things are really beginning to shake up in the League table as teams begin to find their place and expectations for the rest of the campaign.

Oh, and it's Third Round FA Cup weekend which I cannot wait for on Monday evening.

Newcastle United v Chelsea Pick: I have mentioned a couple of times that I am not convinced that Chelsea should be anointed Champions Elect already in the Premier League and the improving form of Manchester City has highlighted that. In saying that, Chelsea do have a healthy lead at the top of the table, although I am interested to see how they can perform in a tough away venue like St James' Park.

Chelsea have already earned draws at Manchester City and Manchester United and won at Everton so I don't think they won't have the belief they can win here, but Newcastle United have also been playing very well at home.

Since that loss to Manchester City to open the season, Newcastle United are unbeaten in 5 home game and have won 3 in a row and I have little doubt that they will have a go at Chelsea. It might not be the best idea to over-commit as Chelsea have a very good counter-attacking team, although the absence of Nemanja Matic does see them lose a very effective shield in front of the back five.

Matic's absence may give Newcastle more of a chance to exploit Chelsea through the middle of the park where the Magpies have some power, but injuries to the defence are going to be tough to hide for Alan Pardew. With Diego Costa back up front, Chelsea will feel they will take the chances that come their way and Jose Mourinho doesn't have to worry about the Champions League games that are to come during the week.

It won't be an easy game for Chelsea, but I can see them covering the one goal Asian Handicap with their counter-attack producing a killer goal if Newcastle go in search of an equaliser.

Liverpool v Sunderland Pick: There has been something of a corner turned at Liverpool, and that is not me making a joke about their search for a title over the last twenty-five years, and they will look for a little more momentum to take into the vital Champions League game against Basel on Tuesday evening.

Facing a Sunderland team fresh off a hammering at the hands of Manchester City may seem like a good chance for Liverpool to keep the winning run going, but the Black Cats are a better team than they displayed that night.

There have been times that Sunderland have looked pretty pathetic on their travels this season, none more so than when humiliated 8-0 at Southampton, but I am not completely convinced that Liverpool are completely back on track. However, Rickie Lambert has been a bit of an inspiration up front and Liverpool have scored 6 goals in their last 3 games and that might give them the confidence to put Sunderland to the sword at Anfield.

This is a tough stretch for Sunderland who have only scored 2 goals in their last 4 games and I think they have to be a little fatigued after hosting the two best teams in the Premier League over the last seven days. That might result in Liverpool building some steam behind them to take into the Champions League and winning this game by a couple of goals.

Queens Park Rangers v Burnley Pick: This looks a fascinating game and one where both Harry Redknapp and Sean Dyche will have confidence in Queens Park Rangers and Burnley respectively and their ability to pick up the points. Both teams will look to avoid the ignominy of being bottom of the Premier League table on Christmas morning and a win in this game will give them a great chance of being able to do that.

Queens Park Rangers have been a very different team at home than on their travels and they continue to score plenty of goals at Loftus Road. While I think both teams will have their chances to win this game, I am focusing on QPR and their ability to score a couple of goals in this one at least.

I picked QPR to do that against Leicester City last weekend and that also means the home team have scored at least twice in their last 5 home games in the Premier League. And they are facing a Burnley team that had conceded at least twice in 3 straight away games before somehow restricting Stoke City to just one goal despite being under pressure for much of the second half of that game.

When the teams met last season, Queens Park Rangers scored three times against Burnley and failed to win that game at home and I prefer backing the home team to score at least twice at a bigger price than them winning the game.

Tottenham Hotspur v Crystal Palace Pick: I am probably one of the harsher critics of Tottenham Hotspur out there and I simply don't see them as a threat to finish in the top four this season, although they are only 5 points behind Manchester United in 4th place.

Inconsistent results and performances makes it hard to have belief in Tottenham, while this is a team that seems to drop their heads against the best teams in the Premier League as shown by heavy losses at Manchester City and Chelsea.

Spurs have also lost 4 of their last 6 Premier League games at White Hart Lane, but they will be hoping the come from behind win over Everton last weekend can spark an upturn in fortunes in front of their own fans. Talk that they are not happy playing here won't help and Crystal Palace have the pace up front to cause some real problems for Tottenham if they are given any sort of encouragement here.

However, I am not a fan of Neil Warnock by any stretch of the imagination and there has to be a real disappointment that they were beaten by Aston Villa at home during the week. Crystal Palace did earn a decent draw at Swansea last week, but all the reports suggested the home team should have won comfortably. However, it has to be said that Crystal Palace have been tough to beat on their travels and the first goal is going to be critical in this one.

If Tottenham Hotspur score first, I can see them winning this game fairly comfortably as long as Harry Kane can continue to provide the work rate up front that keeps the fans on board. A goal for Palace may make it very difficult for the home team, but I do like Spurs to win this by a couple of goals.

Manchester City v Everton Pick: On current form, it would be a real surprise if Manchester City don't continue riding the momentum and grab yet another win. However, Everton are a side that have to be respected as they have some pace and power in the forward positions to make life difficult as the likes of Manchester United have found already.

While Everton did perform well at Old Trafford, they did lose that game and needed a late goal to avoid a loss at Liverpool, while the 2-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend has to be a disappointment. Playing well is one thing, but Everton are conceding too many goals and that is tough to overcome.

It was one of my chief complaints about Roberto Martinez as a manager- Wigan Athletic conceded too many goals and Everton this year are making a lot of mistakes at the back, even if they are missing a couple of key personnel.

With Sergio Aguero playing as well as he is at the moment, those mistakes will be magnified in this game and I can only see Manchester City being too strong for Everton.

I wouldn't be surprised if Everton score here having done that in their last 8 away games i the Premier League and also in 7 of their last 8 games at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City have looked suspect defensively at times all season and the injury to Vincent Kompany could mean Everton have success attacking them, but I can't see anything but a Manchester City win.

Therefore, I think there is some interest in backing Manchester City to win a game that has either three or four goals shared by the sides- with the game against Roma coming up, Manuel Pellegrini may 'call off the dogs' if Manchester City are ahead by a couple of goals, but I think Everton may join the party too and that is my pick.

West Ham United v Swansea Pick: Over the last few weeks, the Premier League can't say it has been found wanting when it comes to decent games for the television cameras and this looks like another one that could produce a few goals for the neutrals tuning in on Sunday afternoon.

After all the negative feelings around Upton Park for the last couple of seasons, West Ham United have come flying out of the blocks this season and some fans may even be dreaming of European football next season. Goals haven't been a problem for the Hammers for the most part and they have been winning plenty of games too.

It is something of a surprise that West Ham have actually found it more difficult at home in recent games, but they have some of their attacking players returning for this one and I would expect them to cause Swansea problems.

On the other hand, the pace that the Swans have in the forward positions is likely to be a big source of concern for Sam Allardyce too, especially on the counter-attack. West Ham actually have a few clean sheets from their home games this season, but they are not a watertight unit and Wilfried Bony would expect to have more luck in front of goal than he did in the win over Queens Park Rangers during the week.

With the strong home record that West Ham have against Swansea in recent years, I would perhaps favour them to win the game, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are at least three goals shared by the teams in the game. While the home team are a big price, I do feel more comfortable picking there being goals in this game and odds against.

Southampton v Manchester United Pick: It can be easy to try and read too much into a single game of football at times, but this is a huge game for Southampton and Manchester United in terms of momentum with the sides trending in opposite directions in recent games.

For Ronald Koeman and Southampton, a third consecutive defeat would just underline why the Saints had so many naysayers and it could really see the side spiral out of control over a festive period where there is no time for reflection and change as games come thick and fast.

On the other hand, Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United will look to ride the momentum of four wins on the bounce and prove their top four credentials by beating a team that is higher than them in the League table at this moment in time. A defeat for Manchester United may raise a few doubts for the fans, especially considering the early struggles away from Old Trafford.

It is possible that could lead to a tight game, but Manchester United have looked vulnerable in defence, even while winning games, and Southampton will be expected to attack a lot more than they did for much of the game at Arsenal. That would open things up for the attacking talent that Manchester United undoubtedly possess and could make this a game that has a few goals involved.

I am finding it quite hard to separate the teams in terms of a winner and it may come down to which team has the better composure in front of goal to determine that, while the prices at the layers suggest they don't really know which way this game will go. Manchester United are always going to give opposition chances with the way they have defended this season, but Southampton could be short of confidence and had an inspired Fraser Forster to thank for their team only conceding once at Arsenal.

I wouldn't be surprised to see both teams hitting the back of the net in this one and this is a fixture that had produced five straight games involving at least three goals before last season. At close to odds against, I am expecting this one to return to that trend as both teams look for a vital three points.

MY PICKS: Chelsea - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers Over 1.5 Team Goals @ 2.20 William Hill (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City to Win and 3 or 4 Total Goals in the Match @ 3.20 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
West Ham United-Swansea Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Southampton-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December Update: 3-4, + 0.16 Units (11 Units Staked, + 1.45% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% 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)