Monthly Archives: November 2013

NFL’s Thanksgiving Feast Returns

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Man, I wish I was American. That food looks good. Source: pittsburghurbanmedia.com

Even though I’m not an American, I do love Thanksgiving. It’s not the great food, the great prices the day after or the family getting together (which is mainly because I’m English) it’s because we get some NFL Football.

Much like the Premier League’s Christmas Period or a Magic Weekend in the Rugby League, Thanksgiving Football is a feast of three games back-to-back that usually bring all the spectacle a holiday would need.

Megatron is this year's Thanksgiving Cranberry sauce, he'll make everything good.   Source: wikipedia.org

Megatron is this year’s Thanksgiving Cranberry sauce, he’ll make everything good. Source: wikipedia.org

This year, like always, the Detroit Lions play first at home against the Green Bay Packers. It’s a game that could see who will finish first in the NFC North (although Chicago could still stake a claim) as well as being a divisional game between two sides going in opposite directions.

Packers have been hit by the injury of arguably the league’s best player in Aaron Rodgers, whilst the Lions have been riding on the back of one of the other greats in the league, “Megatron” Calvin Johnson to first place. It’ll be a tough game for Green Bay, who will really need a win to stay in the hunt and I can only really see Detroit coming out with a win.

Romo is the key in this one, he throws picks and Dallas will lose.  Source: bleacherreport.com

Romo is the key in this one, he throws picks and Dallas will lose. Source: bleacherreport.com

In the second game, the tradition of the Dallas Cowboys playing at home continues as they square up against the Oakland Raiders. The Cowboys are looking to strengthen their position at the top of the NFC East whilst the Raiders are still in the hunt for the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs.

Dallas haven’t been outstanding at all this season and Oakland have proven to be no pushovers, so expect a tough-tackling, hard-nosed game of football that is more likely to see the Cowboys leave with their bellies full than the Silver and Black.

Now this is what I call afters.  Source: prlog.com

Now this is what I call afters. Source: prlog.com

And to finish off, for dessert we are treated to one of the biggest rivalries in American Football when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Baltimore Ravens. Always a fierce and well-fought duel, this battle may see the winner knock the loser out of playoff contention, which adds extra spice to a boiling hot game.

With the Cincinnati Bengals pretty much tying up the division, it looks as though these two heavyweights will duke it out to see who will go on to try and make the sixth seed and who will end up out of sorts. It’s too close to call this one, I may give the edge to the reigning Superbowl champs on home advantage alone.

And whilst these games are important in their own right, there’s that added incentive that everyone wants to win on Thanksgiving. These games will be that extra special so wherever you are from, there’s a reason to always be thankful on the fourth Thursday of the month of November and that’s because you are treated to some added NFL Football.

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Chicago Bull’s Derrick Rose out for the season, Brooklyn Nets struggling early

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D-Rose on crutches, a sight no-one wanted to see. Source: bleacherreport.com

It’s the news that every Chicago Bulls fan, and NBA purist, was fearing when he limped out of the third quarter against Portland this week.

Derrick Rose is out for the season again after surgery to his right knee to repair a torn medial meniscus. He missed all of last year with a torn ACL, but luckily it was in the opposite knee or there would be serious worries about his overall athletic health.

The 2011 MVP winner has played just 11 games in two years and it’s a huge blow to a franchise that desperately need his star quality to make a real challenge against Miami Heat’s Western Conference dominance. Without him, they took a pummelling from the Clippers and they don’t have the contingency plan they had in place last season, when they expected him to miss the year.

Bulls will have to rely on All-Stars Joakim Noah and Luol Deng to hold the team together.  Source: Chicago Tribune

Bulls will have to rely on All-Stars Joakim Noah and Luol Deng to hold the team together. Source: Chicago Tribune

Chicago will have to resort back to being a very solid defensive team, which they are with or without Rose, and will still get a decent ranking in a poor Western Conference, but it pretty much kills their chance at a finals birth.

The worry now again is if Rose can return to the sparkling form he’s shown previously, especially now he’s had problems in both knees. With jumping obviously a key need in basketball, with many older players having knee troubles, it’s concerning that he repeatedly gets injured there and we might not see him at his best again. Obviously, we all wish him the best and hope that he can be that superstar point guard again.

Two HOF-elect players, but they haven't brought anything new to the Nets.  Source: lifeandtimes.com

Two HOF-elect players, but they haven’t brought anything new to the Nets. Source: lifeandtimes.com

Elsewhere, the Brooklyn Nets’ gambles in the off-season so far have seemed to have fallen flat. They went all out for this year bringing in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, alongside first-time coach Jason Kidd, and they are currently 3-10.

It’s a huge blow for a side that expected to challenge the Heat this year, but they took on a little too much. Garnett and Pierce, in all honesty, have seen their best years in Boston and their powers are diminishing on the court. Kidd was a big gamble and so far he can’t inspire his side to close games, as they are shooting poor in the second half of games.

And the losses are bad losses. Being blown away by teams like Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings is not something the fan base would have been expecting and rightfully so. The loss against Portland hurt too, they were appalling to the point of embarrassment to allow a good side back in to it in the third quarter.

Net's big man Lopez is a big loss.  Source: whitecovermag.com

Net’s big man Lopez is a big loss. Source: whitecovermag.com

Deron Williams and Brook Lopez’s injuries do not help the team, especially Lopez who brings so much to the offence and defence of this team. Williams just hasn’t hit top form since he’s resigned with the Nets, backing him has not paid off yet but he’s a good enough player to turn it around.

As I’ve said before, it’s a very poor Western Conference this year. Only the Heat and the Pacers seem like teams who could really get to the finals, so I expect the Nets to get in. If they don’t, Kidd won’t last in the job and their might be a serious overhaul come the summer.

Aren’t you sick of Xbox One vs PS4 arguments already?

Well, at least Major Nelson isn't as irritating...  Source: Xbox

Well, at least Major Nelson isn’t as irritating… Source: Xbox

This past two weeks have been full of reviews for both the PS4 and Xbox One that are about to hit shelves in the UK. With the PS4 already out in the US and the Xbox One out this Friday, the comment section of every site has already turned into a flame-war, even before both consoles are actually on sale.

I come from a relatively fair point of view having played both consoles pre-launch to say that, more than other generations; you are really splitting hairs between the two rival systems. Whilst the PS4 statistically is better, there isn’t a great degree in graphical difference between the two (I’ve played FIFA on both and it’s marginally better on the PS4, but only just) and the previous one-up for the Xbox of the better controller has been dulled by the much-improved design of the Dualshock 4 over its predecessor.

Other benefits have gone too, with PS4 making you pay for online now but adding party chat that was missing for the PS3. The free games is a little more balanced now, with the Xbox offering Games with Gold but we may not see it for either console until 2014, but this generation seems to be everyone doing the same things and you paying for which you prefer.

"It up-scales from 720p!" Source: Edge Media

“It up-scales from 720p!” Source: Edge Media

So then it comes down to a few categories, first would be the price point which would obviously go to the PS4 but that’s not a sticking point for everyone. The second, what is everyone else in your group of friends getting? This is probably the biggest pull, with people I know picking one simply on the basis that everyone else is. And that’s not a bad thing either, you’re likely to buy online for your new console so you wouldn’t want to be left alone.

The last reason to choose one over the other is exclusives, which is slowly thinning to the point where there isn’t too much difference. If you want an FPS, there’s Killzone on one and Halo on the other. Racing? Well there’s Forza on Xbox and Gran Turismo on PS4. You could argue that Xbox One has the better launch titles, which I also think it does, but PS4 has the better launch window games.

"Look at all the terrible Knack reviews!" Source: rudebagette.com

“Look at all the terrible Knack reviews!” Source: rudebagette.com

In the end, more than any other generation, you can’t really go wrong, which is why some fanboyisms are beginning to irk me. There just isn’t much difference anymore, the reviews for the games that are out won’t matter in three months when both will have great games and both will have poor games.

Personally, I’m going for the PS4 simply out of price. My friends are split between the two and luckily for me my brother is getting the Xbox One so the choice was almost made for me. I’m planning on getting both eventually, but the other thing is that the consoles aren’t anywhere near their peak yet. Within a few years, both will be a reasonable price with great games that really begin to push the consoles to a new standard of console gaming.

Would an NFL franchise work in the UK?

Gus Bradley's Jaguars could be one possible team to move to London.  Source: London24

Gus Bradley’s Jaguars could be one possible team to move to London. Source: London24

A franchise in the UK has been talked about in the past but with three regular season games coming to these shores next season, the chatter has got louder and more serious.

It’s not hard to see why the NFL are at least considering the idea. Even with the extra game this year, both sold out in quick succession and with other teams struggling to pull in that kind of attendances it makes sense for them to explore different opportunities.

Teams like Jacksonville, Tampa and San Diego regularly struggle to sell enough to lift the blackout rules and with games in high demand at Wembley, it’s a viable idea to the NFL to set up a team here. But there is many hurdles to be jumped before the idea could even be possible and even then, does the UK really want an NFL franchise

We had an excellent Vikings/Steelers game, fans might be satisfied by that.  Source: Zimbio

We had an excellent Vikings/Steelers game, fans might be satisfied by that. Source: Zimbio

One of the main arguments against from America’s standpoint is that flights to and from London will be the biggest burden. It’s not so bad for a team to come to them once a year, but eight transatlantic flights a season at least would be unfair both to the players and the competitiveness of the team.

Expecting rookies, who would have graduated from American universities, to make the move to another country is also a big ask, having not only to adjust to the NFL but a completely new culture away from their families.

Then there’s the issue of actually filling the stadium eight times a year, because it’s probably not as simple as the NFL think. Many fans of all teams make the trip as a special occasion, to expect sell-outs at every game might be a stretch and even if they did, there would be a big expectation that the away side would have as much support as the home team.

Which leads into another issue; most UK-based NFL fans already have a team. Why would some switch to a likely bad team, at least for the first few years, just because they are from the same place as them? More to the point, would it be expected for some who have supported their team for years to just change?

I think most NFL fans here would either like to keep things as they are or look to expanding Gridiron football in the country to improve our own league. It might be small, but with added NFL help it could slowly grow into something bigger, which overall would be good for everyone.

It comes to the argument of whether you’d like a Premier League club to move stateside. It’s a bit of a logistics nightmare and whilst fans over there would enjoy it, it takes something away from over here. It may come true in the future, but if it does it might be a detriment to the game both here and back in the US

Portland, Minnesota surprise teams so far in the NBA

We are just over ten games in to a new NBA season and already there has been a few surprises. Some good teams have started poorly (Knicks, Nets, Grizzlies), some up-and-comers have fallen flat (Cavaliers, Wizards, Pistons) but some have shown early that they could be in the play-offs this year. Here’s three teams that have upset the apple cart so far:

Portland Trail Blazers (9-2)

Lillard has continued in the same form from last season.  Source: thebrooklynnews

Lillard has continued in the same form from last season. Source: thebrooklynnews

The Blazers have been on a 7-game winning streak recently and they have really been on fire to start the season. They are making almost 45% of three-point shots, which has led to impressive wins against San Antonio and away against Brooklyn.

Last year’s Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard has continued his fantastic form, whilst LaMarcus Aldridge has also put his feelings of moving away aside to help this team to the best record in the Northwest Conference, even above Oklahoma City.

Even an injury to first round draft pick McCollum hasn’t slowed the team down, with Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez coming up big. The problem will be depth, with only Mo Williams really contributing from the bench, the team might struggle later on in the season, which makes this fast start all the more important.

Minnesota Timberwolves (7-5)

Kevin Love has pushed his stock up again, which will make Minnesota fans happy and worried at the same time.  Source: minnpost.com

Kevin Love has pushed his stock up again, which will make Minnesota fans happy and worried at the same time. Source: minnpost.com

There’s some exciting basketball being played in Minnesota right now, in part because of the return to fitness and form of both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Love is on a tear, currently second in points scored per game and third in rebounds per game, he’s rightfully in MVP consideration early on.

They also are glad to see Rubio back to form, with the Spaniard currently third in assists per game and leads the league in steals. Both are a big bonus to the Timberwolves but also players like Nikola Pekovic and the addition of Kevin Marin, who could be in the running for the Most Improved award, have helped this team elevate their game to the next level.

Games in the next week against the L.A Clippers, Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets will really test this team’s potential, but if they carry on in this form they could be in the play-offs at the end of the season.

Phoenix Suns (5-5)

Bledsoe was a luxury in L.A, he's an asset now for the Suns.  Source: gannett-cdn.com

Bledsoe was a luxury in L.A, he’s an asset now for the Suns. Source: gannett-cdn.com

It’s been a little while since we’ve really seen a solid Phoenix side, but this young team has upped their game this season, especially when it seemed they would still be in rebuild mode. Whilst they haven’t taken a big scalp yet, they’ve lost close games to contenders like OKC and San Antonio.

The addition of Eric Bledsoe has been inspired, stepping out of the shadow of Chris Paul and finally showing off his talent in a starting role, Bledsoe is averaging 20.4 points per game and 6.4 assists, he’s given that jump start to the Suns and a player they can build a team around.

Players like Goran Dragic and PJ Tucker (who’s third in percentage from the three) are also contributing to a positive start, even when rookie hopeful Alex Len is yet to make a big impact. Whether they’ll sneak into the play-offs in a deep Western conference is still to be seen, but at least they seem to be heading in the right direction.

Joe Hart and the fragility of goalkeepers

Joe Hart needs to get back to top form, but it may take time.  Source: The Guardian

Joe Hart needs to get back to top form, but it may take time. Source: The Guardian

It was once said that you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper. One reason for that is because if you make a mistake, it’s probably going to be highlighted more than in any other position on the field, as it will likely result in a goal. It’s not uncommon for their confidence to be fragile and when hurt, they can collapse. Joe Hart is one who has come under recent criticism for his poor form, but how do we fix him before the World Cup in Brazil?

It’s not like many didn’t see this coming, there were signs of it towards the back-end of last season (Southampton away being the most obvious case that comes to mind) but it was hidden behind the fact that in the end City finished a reasonable amount behind eventual winners Manchester United. Now, after a few high-profile gaffs that have not only led to dropped points but losses has cost Hart his place in the side.

I’m not here to pin all the blame of City’s inconsistent start on the English number one, his defence has also had its problems which mainly involve absences of Vincent Kompany, but his lack of confidence is an alarm bell. He needed to be dropped, he needed the time to reflect on his form but it now needs to be decided when he should be re-introduced.

City should learn lessons from their cross-town rivals dealings with David De Gea.  Source: BBC

City should learn lessons from their cross-town rivals dealings with David De Gea. Source: BBC

There was an issue with a goalkeeper in the other Manchester club not long ago, David De Gea had questions about his form early on in his career and was dropped for a month in favour of Anders Lindegaard. Since then, no one has questioned the Spaniard’s place in the side, his confidence restored and his talent on display for all to see.

This is where Manchester City have to be careful, because if he’s left out for too long it could crush Hart. We’ve seen England keepers in the past make one or two mistakes only to be banished for the rest of their careers so it’s reassuring that Roy Hodgson is sticking by him, underlined by a good performance against Germany, but he still needs that love from his club.

Now they’ve qualified for the knock-out stage of the Champions League, use him there and play him in the occasional league game, allow him to find his feet a little more and he’ll bounce back stronger than ever. There’s no doubting his ability but confidence is an incredibly fragile thing, especially when you’re under the big spotlight between the sticks.