Monthly Archives: December 2015

Is NFL kicking going backwards?

The Jaguars, in particular, have been poor on extra point attempts.  Source: Yahoo Sports

The Jaguars, in particular, have been poor on extra point attempts. Source: Yahoo Sports

With the extra point moved back to the 15-yard line at the start of the season to add some excitement to something that was practically a certainty, it’s a good time to look at how kickers have stacked up this year.

Just eight extra points were missed in the entire 2014 season, with just six teams in the NFL failing to convert. However, this season, 69 attempts have been denied or missed and only five teams have remained perfect on the year.

That proves that moving it backwards has helped it from just being an afterthought, it’s caused some teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars to try more two-point attempts and has shown how crucial it can be to have an accurate kicker.

San Diego Chargers chose Josh Lambo because he had a stronger leg than Nick Novak.  Source: MLS Soccer

San Diego Chargers chose Josh Lambo because he had a stronger leg than Nick Novak. Source: MLS Soccer

In terms of field goals, despite it feeling like an odd year, there have been more teams with a 90% or better success rate than last season. There are three teams below 72%, which is abysmal, but the rest of the 22 teams are somewhere in the 80s, which doesn’t look that bad on paper.

2014 had more in the 70s (six to this year’s one, although there are two teams below that number) but overall there are pretty similar stats across the board.

There was an emphasis on kickers with big legs this off-season, with many teams choosing someone who could kick it out of the endzone on kickoffs rather than a solid place-kicker. However, that isn’t shown in the number of attempts beyond 50 yards (153 in 2014, 161 in 2015), which may be a sign that those who do have a strong leg may not have the accuracy needed.

Gostkowski has been sensational, as per usual.  Source: Press Herald

Gostkowski has been sensational, as per usual. Source: Press Herald

Stephen Gostkowski again shows that he is one of the best in the game and for good reason, he has missed just two kicks all year and is perfect in 51 extra point attempts. The two he has missed have come from over 40 yards (he’s 16-18, which is still pretty great) and is one of very few reliable kickers in the league.

While not a significant change, it is becoming more evident than ever who the real quality kickers are and how valuable they can be. Some teams have gone through so many different kickers to find a solution and there is likely to be a stronger focus than ever in the draft and during pre-season to make sure more get it right.

Overall, the standard only seems to have slipped because it’s the missed extra points that stick in the mind. They’ve cost some teams games and that stings a hell of a lot more than a missed field goal, what will be interesting is the comparison with next year and see how things go after a full year’s experience.

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Who should win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year?

Watt deserved it last year, who's getting it this year?  Source: Houston Chronicle

Watt deserved it last year, who’s getting it this year? Source: Houston Chronicle

In one of the more difficult to predict awards that will take place just before the Super Bowl, usually the Defensive Player of the Year is more obvious by now. Realistically, there are at least five players that could arguably win the accolade so here’s a look at the contenders.

Special mentions to two players that would have been close, Charles Woodson has had a fantastic year but hasn’t maintained the success and Josh Norman might have courted too much controversy to be chosen.

 

JJ Watt

Watt has been great again but has his previous amazingness shadowed this season?  Source: NFL

Watt has been great again but has his previous amazingness shadowed this season? Source: NFL

Last year’s winner is unsurprisingly a front-runner again, as he was before the season even started. A real once-in-a-generation kind of player, JJ Watt is someone you have to gameplan for and then gameplan again when he ruins it.

This year, he has 66 tackles, 13.5 sacks, five pass defences and a forced fumble, which is a little down from last year. They are still pretty damn good numbers but the knock will be that it’s not Watt numbers, maybe we expect a little too much from the genetic freak.

The face of the franchise, the spiritual leader of the team and the fans, Watt is an example every young player should follow. Dedicated, humble and someone who puts everything into every game, it’s very hard not to admire his ability on the field.

Even a cast can’t stop this monster, who will finally help his side potentially sneak into the playoffs. If he does, it will be difficult not to back him again this season.

 

Aaron Donald

Donald has been an absolute machine for the St Louis Rams.  Source: helmet2helmet.com

Donald has been an absolute machine for the St Louis Rams. Source: helmet2helmet.com

After winning the Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, everyone would take notice of Aaron Donald in his second year. A defensive tackle that can cut right through offensive linemen, he’s a dangerous man indeed.

The St Louis Ram has 64 tackles this season, 11 sacks and a fumble recovery. His numbers don’t really jump off the page like some others, but when you watch him play, it’s easy to see just how big of an impact he has on the game.

In the first game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks, he wrecked their running game. He had nine tackles, two sacks and two stuffs and essentially won the game when he denied Marshawn Lynch stone dead on fourth down in mid-field.

Donald has established himself as a big name and someone we will need to keep an eye on in the future. In a Rams unit that looks likely to be a potential juggernaut, he is the real centrepiece.

 

Khalil Mack

Mack is a stud and a young piece Oakland will build around for years.  Source: sportsworldreport.com

Mack is a stud and a young piece Oakland will build around for years. Source: sportsworldreport.com

What a breakout year for Khalil Mack, who was pretty damn good already, now he’s beginning to look special. The Oakland Raiders needed some new names and they certainly have one in the linebacker.

Mack has 60 combined tackles, 14 sacks and two forced fumbles, really impressive numbers as he has taken to Jack Del Rio’s schemes like a duck to water. A nightmare for any tackle, the youngster has been a real difference maker on a team that could barely create any pressure two years ago.

Against the Denver Broncos, Mack took over and dominated unlike anyone else has this season. Seven tackles, five sacks, a stuff and a forced fumble in a game where he created pressure on every play, it was a game that should be watched over and over again.

The fact that Oakland will miss out on the post-season might just hurt him a little, like it will others, but he is just as deserving as the others. The Black Hole will be a team to watch next season and Mack will be the one for teams to fear next year.

 

Tyrann Mathieu

Mathieu would have been so good to watch in the playoffs.  Source: azcental.com

Mathieu would have been so good to watch in the playoffs. Source: azcental.com

A real beast in the secondary and a nightmare for every quarterback in the league, the versatile Tyrann Mathieu has been spectacular on a great defence

In 14 games, he has made 89 tackles, 16 pass defences, five interceptions with one returned for a touchdown and a forced fumble. He has been used in the slot, he has covered tight ends, he has a sack because he can blitz, he’s a real all-rounder.

He’s a key cog in a really impressive secondary with Patrick Paterson, Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson. Mathieu helps glue it all together, he is able to play anywhere they need him and he can really wreck offensive gameplans.

A torn MCL knocks Mathieu out of the rest of the season and the post-season, which is a real shame. That may hurt not just his chances of DPOTY but also the Cardinals’ Super Bowl aspirations.

 

Luke Kuechly

Kuechly is a tackling machine.  Source: Bleacher Report

Kuechly is a tackling machine. Source: Bleacher Report

Not many would deny that Luke Kuechly is the finest inside linebacker of this generation and yet again, the 2014 DPOTY should be under consideration again.

On Sunday, the Carolina Panther recorded 15 tackles, with 10 being individual efforts and it was the fourth time he crossed double digits this season. Kuechly has 101 tackles in 11 games, with him missing some of the early part of the season due to injury.

Because of that, his numbers are down with just one sack but surprisingly, his four interceptions is a joint-career high with two games to go, he’s scored his first touchdown on a return and has forced two fumbles, a career high.

He just keeps getting better and better and is a leader on what can be a very good defence. If he was showing this form without missing any games, he might be ahead of the entire pack.

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A look at Pep Guadriola’s Premier League options

Pep Guardiola, a wanted man.  Source: The Sun

Pep Guardiola, a wanted man. Source: The Sun

On Sunday, Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola revealed that he will be leaving Bayern Munich at the end of his contract, which also happens to be the end of the season. There has been numerous links to the Premier League in the past and with it looking increasingly likely that he is about to move, here’s a look into some of his future options.

Chelsea

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Chelsea could certainly be a real option of Pep, to follow in his rival’s footsteps. Souce: NBC Sport

Starting with the only team that currently has a managerial vacancy, Chelsea would look like the ideal opportunity for Guardiola.

The positives are that it’s a club who have won recently, they have plenty of interesting youth players that he may want to intergrate in to his style and they already have a few of his former players in their ranks. The likes of Cesc Fabregas and Pedro will certainly be pulling him towards London

Their style will not have to change too much and with players like Oscar at the club, it should be relatively simple to implement his ideas. Getting the best out of the likes of Eden Hazard should not be a tricky task, getting the best again out of Diego Costa in his system may be another challenge entirely.

The worry for him might be the perceived ‘player power’ at Chelsea and that despite his incredible tactical nous, his training methods of getting everything out of players could wear thin on some. If it brings plenty of success, then they will be quietened quickly and the hope will be there that he has plenty of allies in that dressing room already.

Although, even that did not save Jose Mourinho. And be prepared for more anger at the medical staff if he hits any injury curses like he has at Bayern.

 

Manchester City

A deal to manage City may already have been agreed.  Source: zeenews.india.com

A deal to manage City may already have been agreed. Source: zeenews.india.com

Manchester City are the club that has the Spaniard has been linked with the most and for good reason, the Citizens clearly see him as their final cornerstone in making them win it all in Europe.

The club have made sure they have laid out their best plans, with a revolutionary youth setup ready to go and former Barcelona man Txiki Begiristain in there as director of football. Pep would be their centre-piece, where they would finally get the recognition in Europe they feel they deserve.

Implementing his ideas should not be too different either, with so many interesting attacking players that suit how he wants to play. His issue will be shoring up the defence, something that he hasn’t nessasarily had to do before but shouldn’t be put beyond him.

The main issue is there is already a man there but also whether it’s the right fit for him. It certainly looks like it should and everything is in place, with the potential to make yourself a legend of a ever-growing club, but he has so far taken control of teams with a history of longevity.

City have the added factor of they already have a decent manager, who can still win a few things this season. If he manages the league, gets far in the Champions League and possibly wins a domestic trophy, it will be harsh to kick Manuel Pellegrini to the curb.

However, with reports that he has already signed a deal and combine that with Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge stating he already knows his next move, this looks like his most likely destination.

 

Manchester United

Manchester United would be the hardest job for Guardiola, with assembly needed.  Source: The Standard

Manchester United would be the hardest job for Guardiola, with assembly needed. Source: The Standard

A relatively attractive post for any manager in the world, would Guardiola want to oversee a still growing team?

The pluses is he will add to what Louis van Gaal started in a possession and defensive standpoint. Adding his high-pressing and work rate to that should help lift what is still a talented United squad to the next level, along with plenty of young players he can mould.

This would also be reportedly the job he ideally wants, the challenge of being the first to really succeed after Sir Alex Ferguson and even following a high profile manager in Van Gaal. Again, that’s just reported so take with a huge grain of salt and he’s certain to be proud of managing any of the clubs mentioned.

The issue will arise from the fact that this would be the first club he is rebuilding a little rather than advancing or continuing recent success. That’s not to say United are particularly poor squad or that none of their players have won things in the past, it’s more that this may require a little more time than the others to improve.

The other is from the fact that Van Gaal is still there and could likely still be there in the summer. It could even be the case that he’s immediately replaced by Jose Mourinho but given that Pep has already come out to say he is leaving Bayern, United’s movements in the next few weeks should suggest their likelihood in getting him in.

 

Arsenal

Arsenal would be an unlikely yet very intriguing move.  Source: IB Times

Arsenal would be an unlikely yet very intriguing move. Source: IB Times

The most unlikely candidates but potentially the most intriguing, it’s not hard to imagine Pep being incredibly interested in the manager’s job at the Emirates if it became available.

They absolutely fit his style, probably better than any of the other clubs. They have an emphasis on possession, they have some quick, creative players that work well in the final third and that he can get to press the ball.

It’s another that he’s reportedly very interested in, being the successor to a great manager and it’s another club with recent successes (although only in the FA Cup) that he likes to build on as well as an established history within the English game.

The obvious and major issue is that it’s highly unlikely that Arsene Wenger will leave or retire this season. He’s a superb manager that could win a few things this year again and the tiny hope might be that he wants to go out on top should he win the title.

He would also need to find a more suitable defensive midfielder, as he has with Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso/Philip Lahm in the past. He needs someone to hold and to play neatly, along with the potential to split the defence and he won’t even get that from Francis Coquelin, despite his recent quality displays.

 

Overall, Pep is a great manager that will likely improve anyone he goes to. He speaks great English, so communication will not be an issue and he’s likely to bring entertaining football once he gets to grips with things.

My advice to any fans of a club that get him is trust him. He may slightly infuriate, like playing the best full-back in the world in central midfield (even if it works), but he brings a balance and a style that can be altered to create continued success if and once he leaves.

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Just say no to pre-orders, yes to paitence

Please, no more of this. Ew.  Source: Gamespot

Please, no more of this. Ew. Source: Gamespot

It is time that we come to a realisation, a fraud that we have been sold in the past five years that really needs to stop. Pre-ordering a game is rarely good for the customer, it burns when it’s on a game that fails to meet expectations and the tide needs to shift back our way.

I’ll start this off with a personal story that doesn’t affect every customer but shows the ineptitude of the companies we give our money to. I pre-ordered a copy of Fallout 4 two weeks before release from the UK retailer GAME, I had planned to do earlier than this but it was supposed to be a birthday present from my brother, as we always exchange games.

Release day came, I had even gone to store with friends who decided to buy it at midnight and I lived in the knowledge I would get it the next day. Except I didn’t. Or the next day. Or the following day after that. This also was not a copy with a Pip Boy, which had so much trouble during their release, but it got to almost a week when I decided to take my business elsewhere.

It has never come, I have had a refund and they’ve admitted it probably has been lost in the post. However, it never made it anywhere near me as it never made it to the local sorting office.

So we’ll put that as a marker for the contempt the sellers have for us. Add to that the added DLC packs or skins or exclusive content if pre-ordered to incentivise us, depriving later comers of content or even giving others a significant advantage.

Goddammit GAME, send me my game on time.  Source: cinemablend.com

Goddammit GAME, send me my game on time. Source: cinemablend.com

Look at Star Wars: Battlefront, a game that allowed you access to the best gun in the game from the off if you bought a certain edition on pre-order. For everyone else, it’s the last gun you unlock and you get wrecked by everyone who paid for the privilege.

Then lets look at the developers, that have sold you bas, broken and even unplayable games in recent years. Assassins Creed Unity is a shining example, where it was poor on consoles and PC, with those on the latter having issues over a month down the line.

Batman: Arkham Knight on the PC was virtually unplayable, with the bat cape not working and other game-breaking issues. Things like that are simply not acceptable and when people have paid money on the table early to make sure they get their experience as soon as possible.

I think we need to have a shift in thinking. We need to cool on the hype train a little, something I myself have caught myself riding on in the past and develop more patience before laying down our money for a product.

This game did pre-orders absolutely wrong, but then again it's not a surprise.   Source: gadgets.ndtv.com

This game did pre-orders absolutely wrong, but then again it’s not a surprise. Source: gadgets.ndtv.com

Wait for a few non-spoiler reviews from several outlets we trust, give it a week to see if any significant issues arise and then put down our hard-earned cash. Even better, don’t give in to the ridiculous prices, that are on the consoles themselves as retailers still dictate that they can’t charge lower, and wait for sales.

Hell, wait a month. Fallout 4 is £30 on Amazon right now and that has gone down £15 in just over a month.

When the culture ends, the hope will be that retailers don’t have the power to offer extra content and that could come in the existing product for everyone. Maybe then, they may struggle to buy the copies they hope to sell, which will finally drive video games solely online for most customers at a much more competive prices.

Maybe then developers will wait a little longer before release, making sure it damn well works before shelling out their stuff because they want our money now. It might be a pipe dream, but let us save our wallets and sanity by making slightly more informed decisions.

Oh you can pre-order XCOM 2 right now? Damn, here we go again.

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Has the East finally conquered the West in the NBA?

The Cavaliers lead the charge but the rest of the East has improved.  Source: Bleacher Report

The Cavaliers lead the charge but the rest of the East has improved. Source: Bleacher Report

It has been a running joke for almost the past decade that the Western Conference has held complete dominance over the Eastern equivalent in the NBA. Despite the East winning four of the last 10 NBA Finals, they have been demolished in terms of regular season wins and inter-conference games by those that play a little later here in the UK.

However, the balance of power looks to have shifted this year and in striking fashion.

The Eastern Conference have 10 players over .500 this season, similar to what we saw in the West last season, after just five teams managed that total in 2014/15. Whether that record continues will yet to be seen but adding to that, the team with the best record last season, the Atlanta Hawks, are currently outside of the playoff places despite going 14-12.

So how has this happened? The simple maths tells you that teams that struggled with injuries or chemistry last year have managed to pull it together. Other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were excellent last season too and could get better, most teams have had something that has changed their season.

Going down the confernce standings, the Chicago Bulls have a new coach that emphasises on offence and that’s getting the best out of the likes of Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott. It hasn’t been a rousing success, they are still waiting for Derrick Rose to return to MVP-like form that he may never reach and Jochaim Noah to find himself, but Chicago were pretty good last year too.

Paul George, a certainty for comeback of the year.  Source: Fox Sports

Paul George, a certainty for comeback of the year. Source: Fox Sports

The Indiana Pacers have been dramatically changed by returning All-Star Paul George, who is really playing on an MVP level.  He’s averaging 26.2 points per game, fifth best in the NBA, along with 7.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists. George put the power forward experiment to bed quickly and he’s proving why they should have never considered it in the first place.

Miami have all their pieces they traded for fit and ready to play. They have gelled well, they play some serious defence again and they have enough firepower to deal with any team. Dwayne Wade is ageless, Chris Bosh is still great, Hassan Whiteside is a monster in the making and Goran Dragic is the ideal point guard to add to that great mix.

Toronto haven’t changed too much, with DeMarre Carroll adding some strong defence, but they need to find more offence from somewhere other than DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They are possibly the best backcourt in the league and Jonas Valanciunas was growing into a solid piece until his injury, his return might be the spark they need.

The Hornets have just found their chemistry in Charlotte, especially after Lance Stephenson left. Nicolas Batum was always a good pickup, Jeremy Lin is actually playing good basketball and Al Jefferson is still a beast, before his silly suspension, then add the surprise form of Jeremy Lamb.

Orlando were a solid team just waiting to grow. They have three great guards, Nikola Vucevic is a really solid player and their coach is pulling them together. Detroit Pistons are another team that just needed to reduce the log jam as Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson look like pieces for their present and future.

The Magic, led by Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, have been a nice surprise.  Source: sircharlesincharge.com

The Magic, led by Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, have been a nice surprise. Source: sircharlesincharge.com

Teams like Atlanta are just outside, Boston have a good solid team that are well coached and New York have finally found some traction despite their poor record. Even the Milwaukee Bucks, who everyone thought could make the leap, have shown in flashes real brilliance and are certainly a team to keep an eye on. That’s also considering that Washington Wizards have a good team but just aren’t competing right now.

Looking into the deficiencies of the other conference and it’s the usual mix, big teams underperforming and players injured. The Los Angeles Clippers look to have finally got out of their early hump and the Houston Rockets are hanging in there despite still being in a funk.

New Orleans have had an abysmal injury crisis and Anthony Davis is not playing at his full level. Phoenix and Utah have not met expectations, the Kings are good but only on their day and Portland are really missing the star power behind Damien Lillard.

So is the East better now? On current evidence it’s hard to deny. Back in early December, the East was 57-55 on games against the West and that just shows you that the gap is not as big as it looks on paper comparing conferences.

It is good to see both conferences be competitive but at the same time, it is weighed against the dramatically poor starts from the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the real question becomes that come playoff time, can anyone knock off the Cavs? I’m not so sure yet.

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Are the Kansas City Chiefs on an unstoppable roll?

Andy Reid has got this team firing on all cylinders.  Source: h4-entertainment.com

Andy Reid has got this team firing on all cylinders. Source: h4-entertainment.com

When they went 1-5 at the start of the season, many said that the Kansas City Chiefs’ season was over before it had even really begun. They looked spent, they just could not get things going and with an injury to star running back Jamaal Charles, there was no hope left.

How wrong everyone was.

Fast forward to December and the Chiefs have won seven straight games, they have been in fantastic form and are a few wins away from the playoffs with three teams under .500 to see out the season. They have a chance to stroll into the playoffs on a roll that is only bettered by the Carolina Panthers, so how have they got there?

For starters, the team have continued to commit to the running game even without Charles in the line-up. Charcandrick West has put in a string of impressive performances in a team that are really built as a run-first kind of team. Their offensive line is stout in both running and pass protection, which means that a solid backup could always pick up some of the slack.

It's a testament to Alex Smith, who has proved his worth and has thrived in Kansas City.  Source: Fox Sports

It’s a testament to Alex Smith, who has proved his worth and has thrived in Kansas City. Source: Fox Sports

The added bonus that Alex Smith is also using his legs a little more has added to their offensive style. He is keeping the pass rush honest, especially in his scrambling display against the Detroit Lions in London, and that’s allowing him to do more in the passing game as well as give defensive co-ordinators something else to gameplan for. It’s strange to think back and know the San Francisco 49ers probably should have stuck with him.

Add that to the fact that he now has weapons to pass to and it’s created a much better offensive output. Tight end Travis Kelce has been a safety blanket, free agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin should top 1,000 yards this season and both have combined for nine touchdowns just a season removed from when no wide receiver could get into the endzone.

Their defence has continued to be incredibly imposing, with the currently ranked four in average points per game allowed with 18.7. They have held the San Diego Chargers to six points in two games, although they are banged up, and that side of the ball has consistently allowed them to outscore other teams.

Tambi Hali and Justin Houston have yet again been difficult for any offensive line to deal with.  Source: CBS Sports

Tambi Hali and Justin Houston have yet again been difficult for any offensive line to deal with. Source: CBS Sports

Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters is having a fantastic year, causing five interceptions and he has added to the likes of Eric Berry and Sean Smith in the secondary. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali continue to be incredible pash rushing threats, with 7.5 and 6.5 sacks respectively, and when you add the running stoppage of Dontari Poe and the slow emergence of Dee Ford last week, they have numerous ways to get to the quarterback.

However, in spite of all of that, the real key statistic that has sparked all of it is their turnover differential. Kansas City are +12, having thrown just four interceptions all season long and just one in their last six games.

That is, frankly, ridiculous numbers in today’s NFL and everyone knows that if you can keep hold of the football and create a few turnovers, you have more chances to score and a better opportunity to win close games.

And that is precisely what the Chiefs have done. They’ve won dominantly, they have won in scrappy fashion but there is one consistent in both those statements, they have won. Will it see them all the way? It is difficult to say as the playoffs can be so hard to predict but there will be no one in the AFC that will want to take them on if they continue their red-hot form.

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Do not sleep on the San Antonio Spurs

LaMarcus Aldridge is a great addition that will only help them improve more, which is scary.  Source: Bleacher Report

LaMarcus Aldridge is a great addition that will only help them improve more, which is scary. Source: Bleacher Report

With the entire NBA’s gaze focused on the magnificent unbeaten start by the Golden State Warriors, and rightly so, but when you look elsewhere in the league, the San Antonio Spurs are quietly playing great basketball yet again.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Gregg Popovic’s men have started in superb form with their 18-5 record, backed up mainly by their league-leading defence. Through 21 games, the Spurs have allowed an average of 88.7 points per game, 4.9 points better than the next-best team in the Miami Heat.

It’s an outstanding stat, weighed slightly by their 119-68 thumping of the Philadelphia 76ers, but that isn’t the only thing that jumps out at you. They have a plus-11.2 points differential in games, meaning they can put up plenty of offence too and their wins aren’t even close.

It does also help when you have one of the greatest coaches of all time in Pop.  Source: sportingnews.com

It does also help when you have one of the greatest coaches of all time in Pop. Source: sportingnews.com

They are second in rebounding differential, averaging 5.6 more boards than their opponents and are owning their defensive glass, with 36.6 rebounds per game which is only bettered by the Chicago Bulls.

The team are sixth in blocks but most impressively, they have allowed the least amount of three-points in the entire league. In fact, they have even faced the least amount of three-pointers full stop.

That’s a glaring stat, given the rise of the shooting teams that go for it from beyond the arc and the fact that they aren’t just defending it well but are actively deterring teams from even attempting it is a feat on it’s own that surely has helped teams score much fewer points against them.

They are third in assists, which isn’t too much of a surprise given the Spurs’ tendency to share the basketball, has always helped keep their offence fresh. This team, especially with others in the Western Conference struggling for consistency in the first quarter of the season, will be a real contender come April again.

Leonard is getting better and better and better.  Source: Rolling Stone

Leonard is getting better and better and better. Source: Rolling Stone

Their real standout, yet again, has been Kawhi Leonard and consider him an MVP candidate. He’s averaging 21 points a game, 4.5 more than his career-best last season and that’s mainly down to improving his length by adding a consistent three-pointer to his game.

He is .500 from beyond the arc so far, nailing 42 three’s in 21 games after scoring 67 all of last season. That’s a vast improvement for a player that’s already good at driving and a solid jumper, it just makes him such a threat on that end of the floor.

We already know how good of a defender he is, with quality blocking and steals numbers again, and there should no longer be any argument on how good he is. Leonard is likely the best two-way player in the league, he is certainly the second best player in the league at this moment in time and at 24, it’s scary to think that he could yet get better.

Combining that with free agent signing LaMarcus Aldridge finding his place with the team and they have one of the best starting fives in the league. That’s even without talking about the veteran leadership they have in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. That’s also not talking about some of the terrific contributors on the bench like Manu, Boris Diaw, David West or the returning Patty Mills.

With the quality and consistency they have in the bench, the Spurs are probably the most likely to stop the Warriors in the West. And for good reason, this is a very good basketball team.

They could just be Golden State’s kryptonite, it’s just a shame that we have to wait until next team before they even meet in the regular season.

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The Game Awards underwhelm and intrigue us again

The Game Awards were, yet again, incredibly meh.  Source: The Independent

The Game Awards were, yet again, incredibly meh. Source: The Independent

Let us be honest for a moment here, not many of us tune into The Game Awards to watch actual arbitrary awards given out to games.

Not to take away the achievements of some developers, especially with the terrific games we’ve had this year across a few different genres, but the audience is not really bothered about who wins or loses these kind of events.

What they do care about, however, is the announcements of brand new games coming in the future.

Ever since it’s creation on its former home of Spike TV in the US, Geoff Keighley’s award show was rife with reveals of creations coming out that we hadn’t heard from or new footage of games we are already excited about in the new year.

Some people used to save announcements for then, there would be a bunch and it would really set a platform for the year ahead. It was the real reason to watch the show.

This was literally the only thing that excited.  Source: Polygon

This was literally the only thing that excited. Source: Polygon

However, this year, there was a real lack of new titles being announced and that was really a big downer for a show that usually specialises in them.

Now there are a few reasons for this. A lot of developers are taking the message in-house and revealing their games in their own time, which is absolutely fine. They then control the message, it’s not lost in the thunder of several announcements

You can argue that it isn’t an event that people need to reveal things at anymore now it’s simply streamed rather than on mainstream TV. It means those only fully invested in games are watching, a recipe that many would think it would be ideal to show off but we also know that it’s not exactly the mindset of those trying to buy the space.

I am half excited about Psychonauts 2, which will get funded, but I’m yet to play the original as it sits in my Steam sale backlog. However, nothing else gauged my interest at all unlike other years.

The real positive coming out of the show was Keighley admitting about Hideo Kojima’s absence and it was a thing of beauty. Silence gripped the audience as Konami got the biggest diss they have had so far and they’ve had quite a few.

As always, fuck Konami.

However, it was great to see Keighley give Konami the finger.  Source: remeshed.com

However, it was great to see Keighley give Konami the finger. Source: remeshed.com

The awards themselves were okay, it was good to see CD Projekt win with Witcher 3 but it was a little pointless to give them developer too. Either one or the other would have been fine and we could have celebrated another high-quality game like Metal Gear or Fallout 4.

As this will obviously continue next year, it will be something I will simply wait for the news after. There was no meat on the bones here and it’s clear there is a big movement back to E3 as the big release announcement day other than publishers doing it when they please, which is kind of a shame.

The best way they can pull it back is rounding up more interesting content from mainly games we know about and a few extras to get up hyped for the year ahead. It will give the show the right mix, unless the lack of reveals might be indicative of the 2016 ahead of us.

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The striking position changed because of wingers, not Drogba

Bellamy made a good point, but the stats here back up the argument that advanced wingers made more of an impact on the frontman.  Source: The Mirror

Bellamy made a good point, but the stats here back up the argument that advanced wingers made more of an impact on the frontman. Source: The Mirror

On Monday Night Football, guest analyst Craig Bellamy correctly pointed out about how Didier Drogba had changed the striker’s position forever.

Everyone tends to play the one up top now, he will tend to be a combination of height, strength and power with a hopeful bonus of speed that crops up in some of the younger players. It works for some teams, it has shifted the quicker players out wide and has dynamically changed how teams play.

However, I would like to argue the point that teams are moving forwards with this model and the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 style because of the changes in how wide men play, rather than how the front man has morphed into a physical behemoth.

Let us start where they did on Monday night, back in the 2004-05 season when Drogba first came to Stamford Bridge. In that season, he scored 10 goals in 26 league appearances with eight coming off the bench as he split time with Eidur Gudjohnsen, who got 12 in 37.

They are by no means measly goal totals, especially for his first season in English football, but once you start seeing where the other goals came from, the picture becomes a little more clear.

Players like Robben, who drift inside rather than run down the wing, have really changed the game.  Source: goal.com

Players like Robben, who drift inside rather than run down the wing, have really changed the game. Source: goal.com

Frank Lampard led all goalscorers with 13 goals. Some may think that because he’s a midfielder that it doesn’t show how wingers influenced the games but taking out some of his individual finishes, the “classic” Lampard goal comes from a cutback as he ghosts into the edge of the box.

A type of ball, usually, played by a wide man getting to the byline and creating the chance.

In that record title-winning season, they essentially rotated three wingers when they were fit, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Damien Duff. They scored seven, eight and six goal respectively, very healthy totals from wingers that were a little different from what we were accustomed to in a 4-4-2.

They enjoyed cutting inside a little more, they enjoyed creating the space in behind from advanced positions rather than taking players on (although they certainly did that too). That was the original role of the second forward but with players doing it on either wing as they were given less defensive responsibility that they would have had in the former in-vogue formation.

The main striker had to be morphed into a target man, much like they discussed on Monday Night Football, to accomodate those buzzing around him in those areas. However, it was still those quick wingers that changed that, Drogba was just the ideal forward man that could perform that role and score goals.

The growth of the defensive midfielder has also helped mould that. A central player willing to stay deep and distribute to those around him that are better in advanced areas allowed wingers to be covered when they ventured forward, sometimes with a box-to-box midfielder who would do all the running or even a second DM in a 4-2-3-1.

These three in particular, who are rather prolific, shows how the forward does not need to be a target man and how wingers as almost extra strikers has changed the game.  Source: itv.com

These three in particular, who are rather prolific, shows how the forward does not need to be a target man and how wingers as almost extra strikers has changed the game. Source: itv.com

It also opened the role of the advanced playmaker, adapted to the number 10 role for some teams, who would get you those vast amount of goals that the second, quicker striker used to pick up.  Lampard scored 20 goals in the 2005-06 season as Chelsea won the title again, with Drogba only beginning to pick up steam as their top scorer the season they finished second.

That’s not to say Drogba didn’t change things with his incredible play but pacey strikers still have a role. Look at the successes of Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann, who do have a decent amount of strength for their size, but also have advanced wingers that support them much like bigger forwards do.

This is never to say that 4-4-2 is dead, it’s not too long ago when it was used regularly by Sir Alex Ferguson when he could and there are always reasons to experiment with what works best with the players at your disposal.

In fact, the 4-3-3’s we see are always adapted from that 4-4-2, shifting some of the faster forwards out wide and giving a playmaker more freedom by adding a shield.

That quicker striker no longer has to face that strong, powerful defender that can occasionally bully him in matches, he gets to face the also pacey full-back but he can cut inside and use the runs in behind. That’s where it has significantly changed, as wingers are much more advanced and look to be played in behind.

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The NFL needs to address poor officiating

Officiating has not been this poor since the lockout three years ago.  Source: CBS Sports

Officiating has not been this poor since the lockout three years ago. Source: CBS Sports

Back in 2012, we could take in when replacement officials got it wrong. They were inexperienced, they were thrust into a role because of a lockout that they were not expecting and while there were some questionable decisions, at least it did not last too long.

That seems like forever away when you see the standard of officiating this season.

It has been pretty bad all year long but just to add to the very poor mistakes, last night the Green Bay Packers were awarded another chance at a late game Hail Mary pass after the officials called for a facemask penalty on the Detroit Lions defence after time expired.

Aaron Rodgers got another play and wouldn’t you know it, they scored. It was a huge win for them but a monumental blow for the Lions as the defender barely brushed the quarterback and it has killed any unlikely late run for the playoffs stone dead.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg on bad officiating calls this season. The Baltimore Ravens lost the game on a similar incident against the Jacksonville Jaguars when this time, the offence had a false start with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.

That usually incurs a 10-second run-off, something that didn’t happen, which led to a facemask penalty on the final play which advanced the Jaguars into field goal range to win the game.

KJ Wright patting the ball out of the endzone was a penalty missed.  Source: deadspin.com

KJ Wright patting the ball out of the endzone was a penalty missed. Source: deadspin.com

On another TV game on Monday night, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Lions thanks to KJ Wright knocking  Calvin Johnson’s  fumble  out of the endzone, which is illegal and should have been a Lions first down.

However, the back judge claimed that he felt it was inadvertent, despite the cameras clearly telling a different story. Wright himself admitted that he did it on purpose after the game and the NFL also revealed that it should have been a penalty.

Another Thursday night game last week had controversy that luckily did not determine the final result of the game. The New England Patriots made a big play to Danny Amendola in the second quarter, he had beaten the corner and only had one man to beat for the touchdown.

Had a referee not inadvertently blown his whistle, killing the play dead. The officials then had to fumble around and award the pass to where the receiver caught it and the drive ended in a field goal.

The excuse was that the line judge had “lost track of the football”, which was absurd as it was in Tom Brady’s hands and visible to everyone as he was throwing it as he whistled. It also, technically, meant that it should have been spotted to where the initial play was, as Amendola hadn’t caught it before the whistle, but the officials needed to do something as they had pretty much prevented a touchdown.

Some might give the quarterback the benefit of the doubt but it certainly was questionable.  Source: sfgate.com

Some might give the quarterback the benefit of the doubt but it certainly was questionable. Source: sfgate.com

But the cornerstone of the whole argument this season came in Sunday night’s fixture between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. In a tight game, there were so many missed calls or ghost calls that it became simply a joke of a game for both sides.

They called a first-and-five for the Cards as a 2nd-and-three for some reason but the real stinger was the roughing the passer call near the end of the game. The officials deemed that they hit the head of the quarterback, which the defender did not, it was just a strong play but with that penalty, the drive continued and Arizona went on to win.

To say that the standard has dropped this season is probably not harsh enough. These bad calls are costing points and in too many occasions, entire games and when one of these coaches loses their jobs because of their poor record, they can look back at things like this.

With the amount of replays available, and the absurd amount that can’t even be reviewed, it’s simply astonishing that the NFL doesn’t do something to fix this. They need to further educate their officials straight away, severely punish the groups that have been found wanting and reward those that have performed up to the high standard.

The issue now is that something needs to be done now. The playoffs start next month and if something similar happens then or, god forbid, the Super Bowl then there will be significant reproductions. Quite simply put, it has been nowhere near good enough.

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