Top 5 NFL rookies to watch this season

NFL rookie Melvin GordonMelvin Gordon San Diego Chargers – Running back

Melvin Gordan has suffered a slow start to winning over San Diego fans – especially after a subdued debut – and none more so than his own mum, who declared she won’t be pulling on the Chargers’ jersey until Gordon’s earned it. The 2014 Heisman runner-up proved impressive enough during his college days to receive her approval and there is no doubt she’ll be donning the blue, white and gold soon. While other recent Wisconsin graduates may have struggled in previous seasons, this tightly-coiled ball of speed and nimble touch is set to excite from the off. Rapid over short distances and a quick learner, this downhill running back is seen as Ryan Matthews’ replacement starter.

Jameis Winston Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Quarterback

Doubts have crept in during pre-season over Jameis Winston’s ability to slot instantly into the demanding rigours of the NFL following a disappointing first fixture against Minnesota Vikings. Yet hidden among the match stats were signs indicating why the former Florida State quarterback was Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ No.1 draft pick. His roaring eight-yard rushing touchdown, including a dive over Jabari Price, capped off a splendid 76-yard drive, showing the power and dexterity that encouraged admirers to rate him so highly in college football. Coupled with his long-arm capabilities and on-field intelligence and there is every expectation that, much like his time with the Seminoles where he grew into the role, he will form a formidable partnership with wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans this season.

Amari Cooper Oakland Raiders – wide receiver

A record-breaking Alabama alumna, Amari Cooper is predicted to quickly provide large returns for Oakland Raiders’ eye-watering investment in him. Enjoying electric footwork and explosive running, the Biletnikoff award-winner has swiftly gone about embracing the requirements put down by coach Jack Del Rio. Cooper got a high workload early on against St Louis Rams in their preseason encounter, touching half of the Raiders’ opening eight snaps for a 25-yard total, as quarterback Derek Carr looks to form a promising partnership. If Carr can delivery the killer pass, then expect Cooper to improve Raiders’ fortunes, with 1,000 yards not beyond his maiden season prospects.

Leonard Williams New York Jets – Defensive end

There didn’t look to be an immediate route into the New York Jets side for Leonard Williams when the draft was first made, however, with team-mate Sheldon Richardson’s off-field indiscretions seeing him banned for the first four games of the regular-season, an opening has arisen. The No.6 overall pick is adamant he can impress, and has already spoken on his desire to be a playmaker. While substituting for Richardson might not suit Williams’ play entirely, under the stewardship of coach Todd Bowles there is hope that the 6-foot-5, two-time All-American will thrive performing the forceful defensive duties Bowles will likely enforce.

Maxx Williams Baltimore Ravens – tight end

Maxx Williams is well known for his hurdling ability having jumped numerous tackles in college football, but while his astounding 54-yard effort for Minnesota Gophers ended in a remarkable touchdown, it is the deft leap versus a New Orleans Saints cornerback in their preseason match that could prove the most crucial for his career. Required to make 20-yards, his innovative manoeuvre ensured the Ravens reached 22. An athletic, determined individual, Williams has wowed team-mates in practice with his safe catching and inventive style of play. Although opportunities might not come straightaway – Crockett Gilmore is predicted to be ahead currently – back Williams to take any chance he gets.


FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter

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NFL set for its elite eight!

NFL Divisional Playoffs this weekend!

Tom Brady is looking to lead the Patriots a step closer to Super Bowl glory!

The race to Super Bowl XLIX continues to pick up momentum as we head into the Divisional Playoff round of games this weekend. The top four teams from the regular season are back after their weekend off and are the bookies’ picks to continue their quest towards the biggest single game in US sport on February 1st.

Wild Card weekend saw the Carolina Panthers take down the ailing Arizona Cardinals to be “rewarded” with a trip to face defending Super Bowl champions Seattle. The Seahawks, who started the season looking anything other than potential “repeaters”, are now the team of the moment in the league. They are almost unbeatable in front of their own boisterous crowd at CenturyLink Field and even the most loyal of Carolina fans will admit to them having little chance of causing an upset.

The same cannot be said of the other three weekend matchups. Whilst the Packers, Patriots and Broncos all start their home games as warm favourites, the Cowboys, Ravens and Colts have the qualities to get the job done on the road. Baltimore, especially, looked good when defeating AFC North rivals Pittsburgh in their Wild Card encounter last week and Men In Purple have won two of three postseason encounters at Foxboro since 2000.

Many neutral fans would love to see yet another instalment of the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning rivalry in the AFC Championship Game, but there is still plenty of work to be done by both the Pats and the Broncos before this showdown can become reality.

NFL Divisional Playoffs Odds

Baltimore Ravens 3.45 New England Patriots 1.34

Carolina Panthers 4.90 Seattle Seahawks 1.19

Dallas Cowboys 3.20 Green Bay Packers 1.38

Indianapolis Colts 3.45 Denver Broncos 1.34

All odds provided by allyoubet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change

CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on football — both NFL American football and European football.  Chris discusses betting tips and trends and includes betting odds in his regular posts at BI

Browns back in business!

Browns could be an NFL force this year!

Will playoff football be back at FirstEnergy Stadium this season?

Being a major league sports fan in Cleveland hasn’t been a bundle of laughs in recent years with the Indians failing to make much of an impression in MLB, the Cavs being NBA also-rans and the Browns being pretty much a laughing stock in the NFL.

But wait a minute, things are certainly looking up as far as the latter two are concerned! LeBron James’ return to the Cavaliers was THE big sports story of the summer in the USA, and with the additional acquisition of Kevin Love Cleveland Cleveland is now the bookies preseason pick to take the NBA title this year.

And what about the Browns? After years of playing fourth fiddle in the AFC North, things are suddenly looking up in a big way at FirstEnergy Stadium. Sunday’s impressive 31-10 thumping of the Steelers has taken coach Mike Pettine’s team to 3-2 for the season – not much to get excited about you might think, but with games against the Jaguars (0-6), the Raiders (0-5) and the Buccaneers (1-5) coming up next, things could soon look very different indeed!

The Browns last made the postseason in 2007 and have failed to post more than five regular season wins in the six seasons since. Pettine has chosen a conservative approach in offense with quarterback Brian Hoyer, a Cleveland native by the way, executing his role without any major mistakes so far – and don’t forget there is still college football wonder-boy Johnny Manziel to fall back on should Hoyer get injured! An average of 26.8 points per game is not bad by anyone’s standards and that number should continue to rise if the Browns can keep their momentum going before entertaining the Bengals in what should be a true test of their potential on November 6th!

NFL Week 7: Cleveland Browns @ Jacksonville Jaguars Betting Odds:

Cleveland Browns 1.42
Jacksonville Jaguars 3.0

To win the AFC North Odds:

Cincinnati Bengals    2.2
Baltimore Ravens     2.75
Cleveland Browns    6.5
Pittsburgh Steelers  7.0

All odds provided by allyoubet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change

CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on football — both NFL American football and European football.  Chris discusses betting tips and trends and includes betting odds in his regular posts at BI

Time For Saints to Show They Can Perform on the Road

Marques Colston is the form player for the Saints, with two touchdowns last week

Marques Colston is the form player for the Saints, with two touchdowns last week

Saints @ Panthers

It’s rare we have the situation of a matchup where the reverse fixture was as recent as two weeks before (it feels rare, it might not be rare). This, in theory, should give us plenty of points of focus where coaches are determined not to make the same mistakes while at the same time reinforcing their existing competitive advantage.

New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers Betting Odds

Saints to win – 2.55

Panthers to win – 1.57

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are correct as of today and subject to change)

The main talking point around the New Orleans Saints this week has been the announcement that their rookie left tackle out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Terron Armstead, will replace 4th year USC alum Charles Brown. The left side of the New Orleans offensive line was undoubtedly tortured by Robert Quinn last week (think Gareth Bale v Maicon in 2010, soccer fans), but even the most competent blockers around the league wouldn’t be able to avoid being trampled by the Rams pass rush right now. Armstead will almost certainly be up against Greg Hardy for most of the afternoon, and while Hardy is no slouch (6th best 4-3 defensive end in the league according to Pro Football Focus), he was well and truly blunted by Brown in Week 14, in what was a pretty ignominious night for the vaunted Panther defensive front.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the New Orleans Saints are famed for Drew Brees and the prolific pass attack he commandeers. They ran riot in the previous fixture at home to Carolina, with Brees throwing for 313 yards and four touchdowns, and stellar wideout Marques Colston having his best game of the season (9 catches, 125 yards, 2 touchdowns). The secondary had been the main concern for this Carolina defence but they have surpassed most expectations, with PFF’s pass coverage metric ranking them a very respectable 8th overall. Regardless of the Saints’ recent stutters, the Panthers defence will need to be on the top of their game if they are to best one of the greatest passing offenses the game has ever seen.

For the Saints, a win would answer some of the questions starting to bubble up about their credentials, whether they’re just one-trick ponies who can only perform at home (only the Bengals have a greater differential between their home and away records). In fact so dominant are the Saints at home, this surfaced on one of their fansites. And for the Panthers, despite statement wins in San Francisco and against New England on Monday Night Football (although even the flawed Colts beat San Francisco and Seattle), beating the regent Saints would go a big way to proving they are a big time contender. There are some people* who still think their franchise quarterback hasn’t established himself the way Luck, Wilson and even Kaepernick have. A win on Sunday would surely paid to that.

*People? What people? ME

Patriots @ Ravens

If the Baltimore Ravens were a sensitive bunch, they might think they were being disrespected. A norm for the Super Bowl winners is to play the first game of the next season at home, but they had their opening night home game privileges stripped from them, and now NBC, who hold the rights to a primetime Sunday night matchup, decided to “flex out” of airing the Ravens’ final home game in favour of an Eagles-Bears game which could feasibly have the home side resting their key starters depending on a result earlier that day.

Still, after losing (what people considered to be) the lynchpins of their Super Bowl winning side to retirement and free agency in the summer, the supposedly decimated Ravens have got to the penultimate game of the season with their place in the playoffs in their own hands. All they have to do is win both of their games and they’re in. Except, they’re playing the powerhouse New England Patriots who are always in contention for a world championship (yes, I went there) and away to their division rivals the Cincinnati Bengals (who, as you read above, have a pretty considerable home-field advantage).

Trouble, you may think. Alas, the Ravens are 3-2 against New England in their last five encounters. Only the New York Football Giants are able to match such a record – if you only count the five games occurring in this millennium.

Baltimore have won their last 4, while New England are coming off the back of a slap-in-the-face loss in Miami, who incidentally are one of Baltimore’s main challengers for a playoff place. It hasn’t been the first such defeat for the Patriots this season, whose other defeats came away against the New York Jets, the Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Bengals. All four boast outstanding defences, something the Baltimore Ravens pride themselves on.

Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder suffered a concussion last week, and if he’s fit to play he’ll have his hands full with a rampant Elvis Dumervil (ranked 2nd in the league among 3-4 outside linebackers) and a healthy dose of Ball So Hard University alum Terrell Suggs.

New England have spent most of the season without their superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski (I won’t even mention the other one), and after his week 7 return, they tragically lost him to a season ending ACL tear against Cleveland in Week 14. Any offense in history would have a gaping Gronkowski-sized hole in it if he was shorn from it, but it has especially hindered New England considering the deficiencies in their other offensive skill players. Ridley (butterfingers), Thompkins and Dobson (inexperience), Amendola (always injured), Hoomanawanui (not Gronkowski) and Hernandez (homicide charges, ok I mentioned him) have left the imperial Tom Brady with Julian Edelman and not much else all season.

This has shown in their results – six of New England’s wins have come with a three point winning margin or less. Meanwhile Baltimore won on Monday Night Football against the Detroit Lions without scoring a touchdown, and being stalwarts of the AFC North they are more than familiar in the art of grinding out close wins.

The most recent weather forecast suggests there will be thunderstorms during game-time in the Maryland area with a medium strength wind. Rain usually means running the football, and while Ravens tailback Ray Rice has had an appalling season by any measure (PFF have him as by far the worst running back in the league this season), he appeared to be workable in his last two games (4.2 yards per carry).

With the strength of their defence and with kicker Justin Tucker having a career night earlier this week, a slugfest could play right into Baltimore’s hands, setting things up for a Week 17 for the ages with supporters in the stands obligingly having their ears pinned to the wireless. And who doesn’t love those days?

Betting Instinct TipBaltimore Ravens -2.5 is 1.91 with Intertops Sportsbook

saadaab avatarSAADAAB JANAB is a recovering football fan (he doesn’t like to call it soccer) who discovered NFL and MLB in the depth of his crisis. He is back on amicable terms with his original passion, but American football and baseball get as much attention as ever.