Superbowl week

In seven days the biggest sporting event in America, perhaps the world, will kick off. One game to decide who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara in the 50th Superbowl. Before the game, however, there will be a media frenzy all over Santa Clara as writers, tv hosts and ex-players turned experts will all be talking about one thing. The Superbowl. Both teams, AFC Champion Denver Bronocs and the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, will be grilled in a gruelling media day where the aforementioned media will get the chance to spend time with players from both teams and asking them questions about the game. As we learned last year some players aren’t too happy about media day, missing it results in a fine, and will turn up with the intention of answering no questions.

Marshawn Lynch, in his attempts to answer no questions, became the focus on media day his now famous interview (See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1kvwXsZtU8) showed that players can use media day to make a statement. Marshawn Lynch disagrees with many mandatory media appearances and the punishment that comes with them and use the biggest mandatory media appearance to make that known. In a similar interview for Superbowl 48 ‘I’m just about that action, boss’ Unlike many NFL players he allows his game to speak for him and was ‘only here so I don’t get fined’.

The Broncos are used to media day, having appeared in Superbowl 48, with many of the veteran players still playing for them. The biggest interview/attraction for media day will be the future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning. One of the best Quarterbacks of all time he is playing in his fifth Super Bowl in the search for his second Super Bowl victory. His second Super Bowl with the Broncos he will be hoping that it goes better than his last Super Bowl appearance which ended with a 43-8 smacking by the Seattle Seahawks. It won’t be the most charismatic interview or one with grand statements because that is not who Peyton is. He will most likely be asked about his future as he approaches his 40th birthday just a month and a half after the Super Bowl. Especially having been overheard in the AFC Championship telling opposing head coach, Bill Bellichick (Who have great mutual respect for each other) that is probably his last rodeo.

The Panthers, making their first Super Bowl appearance in 12 years, will be new to the new age media day. A team who have become the team to be in the NFL after about a decade of struggles. The likely MVP Cam Newton, much like his counterpart Manning, will be the biggest attraction on Media Day. Cam has had to deal with a lot since being drafted number 1 overall in the 2011 draft. Even in College he had question marks but the main focus on media day will be about how he feels going into his first Super Bowl. Having won a National Championship in college he knows the big stage. The Panthers will also have to deal with the pressure of being favourites heading into the big game. An unusual position for recent years but they have dealt with for almost the whole season.

This is the first of a week of posts leading up to and including the Super Bowl. Media Day is Monday 1st Feb 2016 and I will posts some thoughts on Media Day after the day is over.

The January Transfer Window Conumdrum

The January transfer window can turn the tide in a season or continue the tide. The January Transfer Window offers teams a second chance at signing players but the cost of doing business in January is much greater. Teams are less likely to sell and the teams looking to buy in the market and going to have to pay a premium on top of a normal selling price to even get teams interested.

With 1 week left in the transfer window there has been no major transfers involving the big teams with the money to spend. In the Football League there are moves all the time as the teams pushing for promotion look for players to help them over the line. Most of these are short term deals or players who’s contracts are up in the summer and loan deals are pretty common too but in the Football League teams have until March to bring in loans.

The Premier League has been unusually quiet in midseason recruitment. The top 5/6 teams have stood firm with what they have with no real major acquisitions to help them towards the title. The top teams won’t need much in order to win the title but some of them may need re-enforcements to get them over the line. They all understand the risks of bringing in a player midseason but teams will continue to do it anyway. When Transfer Deadline day comes and Sky Sports camp outside their training grounds and put on a big show teams, particularly at the top end of tables, will do well to stay with what they have unless there is someone who becomes available that will instantly improve them.

Ups and Down – PL and FL Predictions

The January Transfer Window is a make or break time at both ends of the tables in the Premier League and The Football League. New Signings can get you over the line, whether its promotion, into the playoffs or away from the drop. People like to make predictions at the start of the season but where do we stand right now? Who will go on to a title? Who will face the dreaded reality of the drop? These are my predictions for the Ups and Downs in the English League System.

Premier League:

Champions: Arsenal – They have been knocking on the door ever since their unbeaten season. With Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud and a better defence it should be enough to see them over the line and lift their first title in 12 years.

Top 4: Man City, Leicester and Man Utd – The Manchester teams are joined by the surprise package Leicester City in qualifying for The Champions League. Tottenham will just miss out with a 5th place finish. Man Utd have started to win games they were losing earlier in the season and they will ride their new found momentum into Champions League Qualification.

Relegation: Aston Villa, Sunderland and Swansea – The current bottom 3 as of writing and I believe it stays this way. Villa have shown signs of life under new manager Remi Garde but the hole he was left in will prove too much. Having 8 points at Christmas was a death sentence for one of the staples of the Premier League they have been circling the drain for about 4 years and this is the year they finally drop. Sunderland have picked up a little bit and Jermaine Defoe will be key to their hopes but ultimately I believe that they don’t have enough to win the games they need to survive. Swansea, once a model of consistency, are now making people raise eyebrows with strange decisions from the board. Sacking Garry Monk was the correct decision but having Alan Curtis and a new Co-Head Coach come in doesn’t seem like a formula for survival.

 

The Championship:

Promotion: Middlesbrough and Hull – Middlesbrough have been flirting with a return to the Premier League for years and having spent big and well they are now in the best position to return. They kept a clean sheet for 9 games in a row and only missed out on a record 10 by a goal in the 96th minute. Hull have managed to keep the core of their squad from the Premier League and they have responded well in The Championship. They have enough to get over the line and go back to the Premier League.

Play-Offs: Derby, Ipswich, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday (Bold is winner pick)

Relegation: Bolton, Charlton and Rotherham

League One:

Promotion: Burton and Wigan

Play-Offs: Walsall, Gillingham, Coventry and Sheffield United

Relegation: Crewe, Colchester, Blackpool and Oldham

League Two:

Promotion: Plymouth, Northampton and Oxford United

Play-Offs: Portsmouth, Wycombe, AFC Wimbledon and Accrington

Relegation: Yeovil and York

There is no real surprises to my picks but at this stage of the season the league is set in motion and from the point you can usually pick the league much more easily compared to the start of the season. I will revisit this on the final day of the season to see how I did with my predictions.

 

 

 

 

NCAA Division I National Championship

 

Monday January 11th 2016. The night of the National Championship game at the College Football Level. The biggest game on the College Football schedule and the last real game before the NFL Draft buzz begins. Unusually for a College Football Playoff National Championship the two best teams are competing for the ultimate prize.

The number 1 and number 2 ranked teams, Clemson (1) and Alabama (2), also provides us with an intriguing battle of the new and the old. Clemson have won just ONE national championship and until this year they were defined by the phrase ‘Clemsoning’ according to Urban Dictionary that is ‘The act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season.’ They represent the new face of College Football behind the arm (and legs) of Heisman Candidate QB Deshaun Watson. He has the ability to throw and run providing Defensive Co-ordinators with a difficult task of keeping him contained. The Passionate Head Coach of Clemson, Dabo Swinney, has inspired this team with great leadership and getting talented players, which is something they haven’t lacked, to finally believe they are an elite team.

Alabama are one the college football powerhouses. 15 National Championships to their name and one of the most dominant teams in the last half-decade under Legendary Headcoach, Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide are looking to continue their domination of College Football having fallen in the 1st College Football Play-Off Semi Final, to eventual winners Ohio State, last year. In tonight’s game they are seeking their fourth national title since 2009. A feat that only a few elite teams have achieved. The key player for Alabama is Heisman Trophy Winner, Derrick Henry, who ran the ball better than almost everyone before him. The Running Back is an important position with controlling the clock, maintaining possession and tiring out the opposing defence as the game plan. Then using their own dominant defence to win them the game. It is a formula that has worked for Nick Saban and he always finds a way for his teams to get double digit wins. Despite a loss at home to Ole Miss earlier in the year they are the best team in the US right now.

Tonight’s game makes for a good game but what is the key battle?

Can Alabama’s number 3 total Defence contain the explosive Deshaun Watson?

Clemson are ranked sixth in total offense and Alabama ranked number three in total defence. It is the finesse of a great offense versus the hard hitting, dominant defence of Alabama. This is the key battle that will decide the game. If Clemson can get going offensively then Alabama could get left behind but if they can’t then Alabama will take advantage. This game will be won on the Offensive and Defensive lines.

NFC Playoff Preview

Seahawks @ Vikings – TCF Bank Stadium – Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Last years Superbowl losers, The Seattle Seahawks, take on the NFC North Winners, Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings, led by future HOF Running back Adrian Peterson and the steady arm of young QB Teddy Bridgewater, won the NFC North against their arch rivals, The Green Bay Packers in Week 17. The Vikings, after a couple of years struggling have bounced back after an injection of young talent built through the draft since 2012. First rounders from drafts in the 3 years since, 2012 first rounders: Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith. 2013 first rounders Shariff Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarelle Patterson and 2014 first rounders Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater. Have built the core of the Vikings team on Offense, Defense and Special Teams. 2015 first rounder Trae Waynes has struggled but should continue to grow as he gets more experience. This young core surprised many by winning the division and face a tough test against the Seahawks. The Vikings will have to rely on their young QB to win them the game as The Seahawks will be able to contain Adrian Peterson with their great run defence.

The Seattle Seahawks struggled at the start of the season. Their big offseason acquisition was Tight End Jimmy Graham, considered the second best TE in the league behind Rob Gronkowski, Graham was meant to be the piece that sparked the Seahawks, often stagnant offense. The Seahawks have been to back-to-back super bowls, winning one and losing one. Since their early struggles The Seahawks swarming defence has suffocated opposing offences for the majority of the season and Russell Wilson has sparked life into their offense with his continuing development and big play ability. The Seahawks played in Minnesota earlier in the season and won comfortably.

Their is a wildcard in this game. The weather could be a huge factor in determining the winner. It will be ZERO Degrees Fahrenheit and with a windchill that will make it seem anywhere from -15 to -20f it will be cold in Minnesota. However, I am going to go with the team that has established stars rather than young stars who need a couple of more years to be ready. Prediction – Seahawks.

Packers @ Redskins – Fedex Field – Landover, Maryland.

The most surprising division winner, The Washington Redskins. Many thought they would hold the Number One overall pick in the draft after two years of drama, firings and underperformance. Head Coach Jay Gruden  managed to avoid all drama by naming Kirk Cousins and NOT the cause of the drama, Robert Griffin III, as the starter. Cousins has led the Redskins to a division title in a division that was weak. Much like the Texans, it was a division that none of the four teams seemingly wanted to win. The Redskins quietly won the division and cost two headcoaches their jobs, with Chip Kelly (Formerly The Eagles Headcoach) and Legendary Coach Tom Coughlin (Formerly The Giants Headcoach) to be fired and resign respectively. The Redskins have a solid offense with Deep threat DeSean Jackson, Tight End Jordan Reed and two young Running back in Alfred Morris and Matt Jones who have carried this team in the Playoffs. They will need to lean on them to get past the Packers.

Despite making the Play-offs The Packers have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL this season. Last years Most Valuable Player, Aaron Rodgers, has struggled without his number one receiver, Jordy Nelson (out for the season) and no telling contributions from the up and down Eddie Lacy.  Rodgers has been able to carry them past most teams but they have struggled against good teams without Nelson and a reliable defence. With no real star power on offense, beside Aaron Rodgers and a defence that isn’t good enough to carry a struggling offence it is difficult to pick them even with a superstar at QB.

Redskins ‘upset’ The Packers in a low scoring game in which The Redskins rely on not turning the ball over and playing without mistakes. The only division winner to make it through Wildcard Weekend. Prediction – The Redskins. 

NFL/AFC Playoff Preview

In the first American Sports article, I will be looking at the NFL Playoffs. It is the Wildcard weekend of the Play-offs. The play-offs work with 12 teams. Six from each conference making the play-offs. The winners of the four divisions in each conference (AFC East, West, North, South and NFC East, West, North, South). With the best two remaining teams based on record and other tiebreakers if they are required. Seeds 1-4 are the four division wins with the seeding reflecting record. Tiebreakers are head-to-head, conference schedule and strength of schedule.

The play off field:

AFC Playoff Field – 

Denver Broncos (12-4) (1st Seed/Homefield Advantage)

New England Patriots (12-4)(2nd Seed/First round bye/Reigning Champions)

Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) (3rd Seed/Homefield in Wildcard)

Houston Texans (9-7) (4th Seed/Homefield in Wildcard)

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) (5th Seed, Face 4th Seed)

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) (6th Seed, Face 3rd Seed)

NFC Playoff Field – 

Carolina Panthers (15-1) (1st Seed/Homefield Advantage)

Arizona Cardinals (13-3) (2nd Seed/First Round Bye)

Minnesota Vikings (11-5) (3rd Seed/Homefield in Wildcard)

Washington Redskins (9-7) (4th Seed/Homefield in Wildcard)

Green Bay Packers (10-6) (5th Seed, Face 4th Seed)

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) (6th Seed, Face 3rd Seed).

 

AFC Wilcard Preview and Predictions – 

Steelers @ Bengals – Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Bengals host their division rivals, Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals are hoping to end their playoff drought after 20 seasons without a playoff victory. The Bengals will have to do it without their starting Quarterback, Andy Dalton, who will play in the next round should they win. They will have to rely on the solid backup, AJ McCarron, who has been solid in relief of their injured starter.

The Steelers have two thirds of their dynamic trio of offensive weapons. It is the one thing that has held them back throughout the season. The dynamic trio of ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger, Two time Superbowl Champion, Antonio Brown, a top 3 Wide receiver, and LeVeon Bell, star running back who they continue to be without. They come into the game on a great run behind the arm of Big Ben and the ability of Brown.

The play off woes for the Bengals continue as the red-hot Steelers take down the AFC North winners. Prediction – Steelers.

Chiefs @ Texans -NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas.

The AFC South winners, The Texans, take on the Chiefs. The Texans won the division which no team appeared to want to win. The Colts were considered huge favourites to win the division and the Superbowl. They missed out and the Texans, with 4 different starting QBs, took advantage and won the division in Indianapolis with their first win ever in Indianapolis. The Texans star is, without a doubt, JJ Watt. The Defensive Player of the Year last season. He has broken almost every record in the book and still has plenty of years left. The Texans Offense is a mess. Arian Foster, the starting RB has been out all season, the bright spark on Offense is star Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Who has had to carry the load no matter who is throwing the ball.

The Chiefs are intriguing. They started the season 1-5. A victory at Wembley Stadium against The Lions ended up sparking both teams into gear but the Chiefs, also without their star RB Jamaal Charles, won ten straight games going from favourites for the number 1 overall pick to a trendy pick to win the Superbowl. Over the last 10 weeks no team has been hotter than The Chiefs. With a dominant defence and a steady, no thrills offence they have quietly become one of the better teams in the league.

The Chiefs remain smoking hot and win their 11th straight game in Houston. Both AFC Wildcard teams win on the road. Prediction – Chiefs.

My NFC Predictions will be up tomorrow at 15:00 GMT.

FA Cup Third Round – Preview and Predictions

This weekend is the FA Cup Third Round. The FA Cup is the most prestigious cup tournament in the world and has been a competition since the 1871-72 season. At the third round, Premier League and Championship clubs enter the tournament and face the lower league and non-league teams that have made it this far. Below will be a preview of the round and predictions for each tie. Games are Saturday 9th January 2016 unless stated. I will preview the ties that pique my interest or provide something worthy of writing. Then the rest will be predictions at the bottom of the page.

Exeter City Vs Liverpool – St James Park, Exeter, Friday 8th January.

The first tie of the round is a battle of the minnow versus the giant as League 2 Exeter City face Premier League Liverpool for a place in the fourth round. This is the kind of tie that epitomises the FA Cup, both for the supporters of the teams and for the neutrals. Exeter City are coming into the game after four straight defeats in League 2. Liverpool have been in better form than their opponents with 3 wins in their last 4 games in all competitions. Despite Liverpool making 11 changes in their lineup I still believe they have more than enough to go to Exeter and win comfortably Prediction – Liverpool.

Wycombe Wanderers Vs Aston Villa – Adams Park, High Wycombe.

Another battle of League 2 versus Premier League. The teams have had different seasons. Wycombe sit 6th in League 2 after a good first half to their season with Villa propping up the Premier League in 20th and struggling with just 8 points for 20 games with only one victory. Wycombe have been in good form and with Villa losing to fellow relegation candidates, Sunderland, last Saturday. I am predicting an upset with Wycombe continuing Villa’s woes. Prediction – Wycombe.

West Bromwich Albion Vs Bristol City – The Hawthrons, West Bromwich.

Premier League Vs Championship. A game which I will be attending sat in the away with 5300 other Bristol City supporters. City have struggled all season with just 4 wins this season. The FA Cup could provide a suitable distraction from the struggles in the Championship. However with a skeleton of a squad it could be a long afternoon, after 2 heartbreaking injury times goals in back to back games there is reason for concern. West Brom, have been in decent form and are comfortably sat in the middle of the Premier League. With the opportunity to welcome back England International, Ben Foster after 10 months out. I believe that they will be too strong for the Championship Strugglers. Prediction – West Brom.

Chelsea Vs Scunthorpe United – Stamford Bridge, London, Sunday 10th January.

The 2014/15 Premier League champions going up against League One Scunthorpe United. You may think that this is an easy prediction for Chelsea, which is where I am leaning, but Chelsea were humbled by Bradford City, also of League One, at home in the FA Cup last season. The initial struggles under Mourinho are seemingly over and Guus Hiddink has  started to turn things around. Scunthorpe have been in indifferent form with losses, wins and draws in their last few fixtures. They will have to keep Chelsea at bay and I believe their best chance of success will come if they manage to force a replay. However, Chelsea should be too strong for their League One foe. Prediction – Chelsea. 

Eastleigh Vs Bolton Wanderers – Ten Acres, Eastleigh. 

The last tie which will get a preview will see the real minnows of the FA Cup in action. The lowest ranked team remaining in the competition, currently in the National League, it provides a big story that the FA Cup seemingly loves. They face bottom of The Championship, Bolton Wanderers, who are facing financial struggles and will have to sell in order to continue without calling in the administrators. They will be without young starlet, Zach Clough (rumoured to be on his way out), and having to go to Eastleigh where the fans will be right up against the pitch. I am predicting my second upset of the preview. Prediction – Eastleigh.

Rest of the predictions: (Winners in Bold)

 Watford v Newcastle United

West Ham United v Wolverhampton Wanderers

Hartlepool United v Derby County 

Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City

Colchester United v Charlton Athletic 

Peterborough United v Preston North End 

Northampton Town v MK Dons 

Arsenal v Sunderland

Newport County v Blackburn Rovers 

Ipswich Town v Portsmouth

Birmingham City v AFC Bournemouth 

Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham

Oxford United v Swansea City 

Brentford v Walsall

Bury v Bradford City 

Manchester United v Sheffield United

Everton v Dagenham and Redbridge

Southampton v Crystal Palace 

Nottingham Forest v Queens Park Rangers 

Carlisle United v Yeovil Town

Doncaster Rovers v Stoke City 

Leeds United v Rotherham United

Cardiff City v Shrewsbury Town

Huddersfield Town v Reading 

Middlesbrough v Burnley

Norwich City v Manchester City 

Hull City v Brighton & Hove Albion

What is USKSports?

You may be wondering what USKSports is all about? This is a post that will talk you, as the user of this site, through everything that I am trying to achieve.

USKSports is a multimedia, but blog focused, website that will talk about different types of sports from the UK and the US. It will cover Football (Premier League AND Football League), NFL, Cricket, NBA and NCAA College Football Division 1. There will be opportunity for you to contribute as there will be frequent posts and interactions about why you love sports and what you learned from it etc. I will be trying to update around 3 times a week. There will be daily posts during peak times and events, examples of this are Transfer Deadline Day, NFL Draft 2016 and any breaking news that happens to break.