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

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Mark Sanchez to be the deciding factor in Cowboys v Eagles Thanksgiving match-up

Does Sanchez have a big performance in him this Thanksgiving?

Does Sanchez have a big performance in him this Thanksgiving?

The NFL fixture list has served up an absolute Thanksgiving cracker! The Philadelphia Eagles take on the Dallas Cowboys in one of the most fascinating games this season. Both teams are on 8-3, both teams have a bitter hatred of each other, and only one team can win the NFC East. You’d be a fool to predict the outcome of this one…. So here’s my attempt to help the fool!

 

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys Betting Odds:

Eagles +3: -105

Cowboys -3: -115

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The Eagles are a curious case this season. Pundits (and even yours truly after week 3) have been waiting to write them off from the start. The wolf has been knocking on the door for sometime howling, “You don’t have a quarterback!” But some scintillating performances from Nick Foles over 9 weeks have kept them quiet. Even when Foles broke his collarbone, New York Jets cast-off Mark Sanchez silenced his doubters with a series of positive displays, and consequently there is a lot to be positive about in the Eagles camp. Their offense keeps churning out game-winning performances, and their go-to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is looking on top of his game.

However, one of the most proficient offensive outfits in the NFL is not backed up by a good defense. They have allowed the third most passing yards in the entire NFL, and the way they were opened up in week 10 by Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers provides concern that this defense simply can’t handle a top NFL quarterback. The only saving grace is the Eagles’ defensive line isn’t so leaky, and this may be enough to nullify the main Cowboys rushing threat, DeMarco Murray. Tony Romo is not in the same league as Aaron Rogers either, so the Eagles defense may have enough to keep the Cowboys down to a beatable offensive total. The main question mark is which Mark Sanchez will turn up? If Sanchez performs to his full capability, the Eagles have a really good chance of winning this game and taking control of the NFC East.

Anybody associated with the Cowboys probably still has nightmares about that Kyle Orton intercepted pass that handed the Eagles the 2013 NFC East title on a silver platter last time these teams met. It was the moment that crushed hopes of the Cowboys ending their 3-season playoff qualification drought, and the moment America resumed their laughter at the demise of their most famous franchise. Presently though, that interception feels like years ago, and the next Cowboys team to run-out on the field to face the Eagles will be very different one. It is a team with a balanced and productive offense, a potential MVP running back, a solid performing defense, and an impressive ability to produce big plays at big moments.

The offensive production from wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten has provided the cornerstone of their solid passing game, whilst pundits continue to run out of superlatives for the rushing production of DeMarco Murray. This is the first Cowboys team with no obvious weakness in recent memory, but as Arizona proved in week 9, they are certainly beatable. Their defense has a habit of allowing a fair few passing yards, and Philadelphia pose arguably the most potent aerial threat they have faced all season. Also, whilst Tony Romo has looked calm and collected this season, there are still question marks over his big-game presence. If the Cowboys want to take command of the NFC East and banish last year’s memories, they will have to produce their finest form on Thanksgiving.

This is a huge game, and like any big game, there is likely to be a season-defining moment that clinches it for one of these teams in the fourth quarter. Last season, a back-up quarterback threw an interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and this season, one team has a back-up quarterback who has a penchant for throwing such interceptions! You can just see it, Mark Sanchez throwing the game away on the final Eagles drive just like he did so many times in his Jets days. The home advantage and dynamic offensive threat will be enough for the Cowboys to expose the Eagles’ defensive frailties, and the Thanksgiving turkey will taste especially good in Dallas.

Intertops Sportsbook is offering a generous stake-back deal on the Cowboys-Eagles game this Thanksgiving. If a team leads at half-time but fails to win the match, a stake-back of up to $100 will be available for losing bets on the ‘1st half spread’ market.

 Scott AvatarSCOTT SIMPKIN is a young sports journalist from the UK with a growing interest in sports in the US, particularly American football and Baseball. He has previously contributed to publications including Palatinate Online and FourFourTwo

NFL: The Cowboys bring more than just a big name to London

DeMarco Murray has been this season's stand-out performer for the Cowboys

DeMarco Murray has been this season’s stand-out performer for the Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys are coming to London, and this year, they are far more than just a big name. The Cowboys have been the brunt of many jokes over the past few seasons, as the richest team in football suffered disappointment after disappointment from the hands of a seemingly inept Tony Romo, a quarterback who many believe is simply not good enough to be the poster-boy of arguably the NFL’s most famous franchise. This season, the story could not be more different. Eyebrows have been raised everywhere as the Cowboys have stormed to a 6-3 record. Doubters were well and truly silenced in week 6 as the Cowboys put the defending Super Bowl champs to the sword, and it seems like they have the players to have a decent shot at the Super Bowl themselves this season, as long as owner Jerry Jones and his infamous ego avoid throwing a spanner in the well-functioning Cowboys’ works…

 

NFC East Betting Odds: To Win Outright:

Philadelphia Eagles -189

Dallas Cowboys +160

New York Giants +2000

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The key to their dramatic turnaround in fortunes is an offense that poses a far more dynamic threat. Running back DeMarco Murray has rushed for more than 100 yards in seven consecutive games, an NFL record that will put him well in the hunt for the MVP award come the end of the season. Whilst Murray has undoubtedly been the highlight, this is also a team with the incredibly talented Dez Bryant at wide receiver, and rock-solid tight end Jason Witten. It has taken seven weeks for any team to figure out how to stop this offensive machine, and this has coincided an injury to Tony Romo, who may well have a greater effect on the team than his many doubters might like to think. With his return imminent for the Wembley showdown, this game may provide the perfect platform for the Cowboys to showcase their talent and lay a marker down to their NFC East rivals at 7-3.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have raised few eyebrows too, but this has been due to their incredibly poor start rather than Superbowl potential. Every season has a team or two that is already looking to the new season at the halfway mark, and the Jaguars are now in that category. They now sit at 1-8 and have been fairly shambolic throughout this season. Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles and leading receiver Allen Robinson were only drafted last year, so their poor season can probably be attributed to the fact that this team has no proven NFL performers.

 

It could be argued that they have been slightly unlucky not to win a game though, and it’s fair to say they haven’t had the easiest schedule either. The Jaguars also have the added incentive of a will to establish a support in England. They have signed a deal to play one game in England every year until 2016, and will be keen to make an impression in what could be considered their second home. Their season may already be a write-off, but a lot is at stake in this fixture, so don’t totally rule them out.

With the tower of statistical and tactical evidence pointing to a Cowboys rout, it would be foolish to back anything but a Dallas victory here. Simply put, one team is producing the goods, and one team is not. However, with the added incentive for Jacksonville to perform well, and the fact the Cowboys are on a losing streak of two coming into the game, it may not be the rout many will be predicting….

 

Scott AvatarSCOTT SIMPKIN is a young sports journalist from the UK with a growing interest in sports in the US, particularly American football and Baseball. He has previously contributed to publications including Palatinate Online and FourFourTwo

Cowboys to Benefit From Home Advantage Against Packers

Cowboys_Stadium_field

Packers @ Cowboys

This is a game of so many uncertainties that even most bookmakers haven’t made their mind up.

The Packers offense is banged up but three key parts are all maybes, if Aaron Rogers were to play and one of Lacy and Cobb I fancy GB every time, but with Flynn most likely under centre and Lacy struggling I give it to Dallas. The Cowboys are in disarray but are desperate, and at home, like a cornered rat.

The thing people seem to be ignoring is that the Packers simply aren’t that good. There may not be another team in football, hell any sport in the world, that is so reliant on one player. Since Rogers got hurt the Packers have lost four and drawn one of their games, with a one point win over the 3-10 Falcons on Sunday finally breaking the ignominious record and landing them at 6-6-1 going in to this week.

The Cowboys simply have to win, in fact they have to win their next three games to make the playoffs. The problem now, following a wild weekend in the NFC wildacrd race, means the four spots are wide open.

Dallas are expected to be favoured by a touchdown, and in what I see as a shootout I wouldn’t back against that.

Betting Instinct Tip – Dallas -6.5 is 1.91 with AllYouBet.ag

Bengals @ Steelers

The 9-4 Bengals put together an impressive performance against the maddeningly inconsistent Colts last week, with the dual threat running attack of Gio Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (a.k.a the Law Firm) dicing up a butter soft Colts. Andy Dalton also looked brilliant. No I mean it. Dalton threw with touch and was accurate throwing down field. Yeah we all think we could do a job throwing to AJ Green on that Colts secondary, but seriously Dalton was impressive, ending with a passer rating of 120.5 and three TD tosses and no interceptions.

Now this is where the gambler in me sees Dalton inevitably having a stinker against the Steelers, and in the past that is the way I would pick it, but this Steelers team don’t fill me with confidence and Cincinnati look like they are hitting stride at the right time. They have lots of weapons and I see them rolling past Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the 25th worst team against the run this season in terms of yardage, if the Bengals dynamic duo can get at it again they should be able to dominate the ball and hit their big time receivers enough to score on the Steelers.

Pittsburgh are 1-3 point underdogs at the time of writing and although that looks tasty against the maddening Bengals, Pittsburgh are all but out of the playoff race. Mike Tomlin’s teams never let off the gas but all a win would do would deflate the Bengals (yay) and help the rival Ravens (boo), a pretty lose lose week for the Steelers really and I would take the Bengals by a score.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Betting Odds

Cincinnati to win – 1.76

Pittsburgh to win – 2.00

(Odds provided by GR88.com are current as of today but subject to change.)

scott avatar SCOTT CAREY is a journalist with a passion for Chelsea football club and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter at @SCarey102

Saints to tame Panthers in the Superdome

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is arguably having the season of his career

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is arguably having the season of his career

Panthers @ Saints

Just over three months ago, before the NFL circus kicked into action, you’d have looked at this weekend and assumed the Seahawks’ visit to San Francisco would be Sunday’s big game – a potential division or even conference-decider. But with Seattle already in the play-offs and three games ahead of the 49ers with four games to go, the focus will instead be on the Superdome, for what looks like the game that will decide who will be the second seeds in the NFC, with the loser forced to play an extra game in the play-offs.

In the Cam Newton era, the Panthers have traditionally ended seasons on a roll, but seldom started them well enough to be a factor. This year, their momentum started earlier. Despite starting 1-3 (yep, they lost to the Bills), they have won their last eight games, including wins over the 49ers and the Patriots. With the Jets, Falcons and another game against the Saints in Charlotte to come, they’re in a good position to make the play-offs for the first time since 2008, a distant time when Jake Delhomme was the quarterback and Steve Smith was a sprightly 28 years young.

The Saints, on the other hand, have been consistently strong all year with intermittent defeats, bouncing back from a disappointing 2012 in the wake of the Bountygate scandal. Of their three losses, two are at least understandable: the late Tom Brady-inspired capitulation in Foxboro, and the crushing defeat in Seattle last weekend. The other was in New York at the hands of Geno Smith and the Jets, which looks even more bizarre in hindsight than it did at the time.

The obvious place to start is to compare the quarterbacks. While there are no doubts about the quality of His Holiness Drew Brees, there remain a few question marks about Cam’s ultimate potential. This is perhaps the biggest test in his career so far: a high-pressure game against a potential Super Bowl contender.

It’s also an enormous test of the Carolina defense, which has been exceptional of late. Four of the eight wins in this run have been by a score, and that is primarily because the Panthers have restricted their opponents to 16 points or fewer in seven of those games, the only exception being the game against New England. They also kept the Giants scoreless in September, and even restricted the Seahawks to just 12 points on the opening day. Second year linebacker Luke Kuechly is a candidate to follow up his Defensive Rookie of the Year Award from last year with the Defensive Player of the Year Award this year.

The Saints defense has allowed more points, but they have the offense to combat it, with Brees having numerous targets to choose from, the most notable being tight end Jimmy Graham. His fourth year in the NFL is proving to be by far his most successful, having already picked up twelve touchdowns and six 100+ yard games, both more than in any previous season. But even if the Panthers cover Graham (somehow), Brees still has the likes of receivers Marques Colston, Lance Moore and rookie Kenny Stills, and running backs Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram to fall back on.

Surely this embarrassment of offensive riches will be too much for the Panthers to handle, especially in the intimidating atmosphere of the Superdome.

Betting Instinct Tip: New Orleans Saints -3 is 1.83 with Intertops Sportsbook

Cowboys @ Bears

Another decisive game for two teams aiming to win their division – and I can’t work out which is more likely, despite differing fortunes in the last two weeks.

After their bye week in week 11, the Cowboys were 5-5. Two wins since then against the Giants and the Raiders has left them on course for their first winning season since 2009. All four of their remaining games are winnable: a trip to the Bears, the visit of a Packers team that’s spiralling out of control, a visit to Washington, and the final game at home to divisional rivals the Eagles. That still should leave them with at least 9, if not 10 or 11 wins.

A few weeks ago, you would have thought that would be enough to win the NFC East. However, the Eagles have also begun a good run since Nick Foles suddenly transformed himself into an elite quarterback overnight. Four wins in a row have also lifted them to 7-5. They also have to play the Bears and two of their NFC North rivals, the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings, before the crunch game against the Cowboys on December 29. The Cowboys thus have to win all of their remaining games to be sure.

Meanwhile, the Bears are minding their own business, as they try and claim the NFL’s most wounded division and week Nine win over the Packers seemed to be a turning point. However the Lions promptly beat them the following week, and they have lost two of their three games since, including a shock overtime loss to the Vikings last weekend. This has left them at 6-6, a win behind the Lions and probably too far behind for a wildcard spot.

Chicago haven’t been helped by an unstable quarterback situation, with Jay Cutler fit, then injured, then fit, then injured again. These latest defeats have been overseen by Josh McCown, who has done a credible job filling in. In his four starts, he has thrown seven touchdown passes and has only been intercepted once. He has also thrown over 350 yards in the last two games, and you wouldn’t bet against him making it three in a row against Dallas, whose defense has been very generous to quarterbacks this season.

With Tony Romo having a good season and the Bears defense also leaking points, this will be a game decided by whichever defense will collapse the least. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m calling a shootout. All the weapons are there: McCown has running back Matt Forte and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, all in superb form this season; Romo has a similarly powerful offense include wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten and running back DeMarco Murray.

It’ll be a disappointment if there aren’t at least 60 points on the board after this one, and I’m giving the edge to the in-form Cowboys.

Cowboys @ Bears Betting Odds:

Dallas Cowboys – 2.00

Chicago Bears – 1.83

(Odds, obtained from AllYouBet.ag, are subject to change.)

 

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Sports blogger JamesJAMES BENNETT (James) is a History MPhil/PhD student, who writes about soccer, Formula 1 and the NFL in his spare time to pay for his studies. He is also a Torquay United fan. He publishes articles in his sports blog, and you can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

It’s turkey treats all round for NFL fans this Thanksgiving

Family get-togethers, turkey, mashed potato, pumpkin pie – and of course top-quality American football! For NFL fans across the United States, Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year with excitement on the field guaranteed from midday through to prime-time in the evening. America’s number one sport serves up a three-course menu with plenty of intriguing story lines this Thursday.

For starters it’s NFC North rivals Green Bay and Detroit getting it on from 12:30 Eastern. The Packers (5-5), inked in by many as a hot preseason Super Bowl tip, have struggled in recent weeks without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers, completely opening up the division’s title race. A home win for the Lions (6-5) would take them a big step towards sealing what would their first division triumph since 1993!

This year’s main course sees Dallas host Oakland in another game that could prove important in deciding the destination of a division title. The Cowboys moved into pole position in the NFC East after beating the resurgent Giants on the road last weekend and start a strong favourite to underline their ambitions against a 4-7 Raiders team that no longer harbors hopes of being around in the playoffs.

One team that blew its chances of a division title by losing its first four games is Pittsburgh, but a recent upturn in form has lifted the gloom from the record Super Bowl champion and suddenly put a playoff Wild Card within sight. Thanksgiving’s dessert serves up one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL when Ben Roethlisberger and Co. pay a visit to Baltimore. Both the Steelers and the Ravens have identical 5-6 records and both need to win to bolster their playoff hopes – how about that to wash down a fine football feast?

Intertops Sportsbook adds to the holiday fun with special Stake Back offers on all three Thanksgiving games, allowing you to claim up to a total of $300 in Free Bets.

Packers 3.2                  Lions 1.38

Raiders 4.65                Cowboys 1.21

Steelers 2.3                  Ravens 1.67

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chrisives-50CHRIS I. (tipsterchris) is a European sports blogger who’s hooked on American sports, especially NFL football and NBA basketball.