Friday, 25 September 2015

Underwood Stakes preview

The momentum is building towards the heights of spring, and the Underwood Stakes really means the good Cup horses should be well on their way in their prep.

Taking the reins with the preview are the shrewd analysts from Premium Racing Services. You can find out more about their services via their site or by following @PremiumRacingS

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Underwood Stakes
G1 WFA 1800 METRES
1605 local, 0705 BST
$400,000


Interesting Historical Factors

INTO THE RACE:
- No mare has won since 1985 (and was run at 2000m back then). No mares running this year.
- 3/4 winners been 2nd up after resuming in a 1400m G1 three weeks earlier. Foreteller last year broke that hat-trick being third up.

OUT OF THE RACE:
- 6/30 Melbourne Cup winner participated in this race, with last one being Viewed (2008).
- 13/30 Caulfield Cup winners participated in the race, with the last one also being Viewed (2009).

PRS Speed Map



There is no doubt who the leader will be, with The Cleaner to dig up and take up and running and take them at a settling speed well above benchmark. First up here he went too slowly in early stages which may have cost him the win, doubt jockey Callow will be making that mistake again. Expect Mongolian Khan & Mourinho to be the chasing pair. Unsure what Hi World & Dibayani will do early, will be interesting to see in particular with Hi World if they choose to cross the other two on pace runners inside of him and be the lone chaser in the second line which is potentially dangerous.

Our Market:
This market is of our systems ‘raw’ prices which is set to 100% with every runner rated >$21 eliminated. PRS clients get a market <100% on a wagering sheet which also blends in the public price of each runner to find a wagering edge.



As you can see, our raw market is reasonably similar to the early public markets.

Only current overlays:

VOLKSTOK’N’BARRELL – Ignoring that he rated down second up after being unlucky in the Makybe. Doubt they expected to be leading early and then once third the rail he got knocked down after straightening. Is undefeated third up over in NZ, both at a shorter trip than this. Two runs this campaign are the only two runs in career he hasn’t placed. Will be much fitter like a lot of these into this and expect he will find his desired position just off the speed which is the settling position he ran well in the two Sydney Derbies in autumn.

HI WORLD – Two performance ratings this campaign been identical. Led the Makybe field at a slow speed form the 1000m and was quickly headed. Is capable of springboarding 3rd up, the run he won his low rating G3 in autumn. The map the query, not entirely sure what they will do. Do have advancing.

Recommended Bets:
At this stage the public market is a bit too similar for us to wager in the race, but am hopeful late in betting that some of the markets which will have a tighter book percentage will provide some more overlays, in particular Fawkner, to back.

AFL Preliminary Finals preview

It's all going nuts in Perth as both teams advancing into the 2015 AFL Grand Final will be decided in WA. If you're not familiar with life in the isolated state, take a look at this slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to Perth from the master of satire, Titus O'Reily.

As always, it's over to the smart blokes at @AFLRatings for their previews of the world's finest code of football.

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AFL Prelim Finals preview from AFLRatings.com.au, @AFLRatings

Not since 2006 has a team advanced to an AFL Grand Final without having a week off going in to a Preliminary Final, Hawthorn & Nth Melbourne are looking to break that streak this weekend. Additionally, no team has made a Preliminary Final from 8th position on the AFL Ladder let alone made a Grand Final under the current Finals system introduced back in 2000. Finally, no Preliminary Final winner in the last two years had defeated their opponent during the H&A Season. All that said; get ready for an intense week of AFL as the two winners will progress through to the 2015 Grand Final.

Fremantle 1st v Hawthorn 3rd
Venue: Domain Stadium, Perth
2015 Head to Head record: Fremantle 0-1 Hawthorn 1-0
Weather Forecast: Mostly Sunny, Min 13 Max 24


Hawthorn are strong favourites to defeat Fremantle on Friday Night and advance to their fourth consecutive Grand Final, the Hawks were outstanding last week disposing of the Crows at the MCG keeping alive their chances of a third straight Premiership. Fremantle are well rested with the majority of their talented playing group hitting the field only once in the last three weeks, against popular opinion the Dockers are well placed to make their second Grand Final in three years. Hawthorn finished the H&A season Ranked No.1 in both Points scored & conceded, but the Dockers will be tough to defeat in front of an adoring crowd in Perth. This game appears to be set for a defensive struggle for the most part, Hawthorn only has a 10-15 (40%) record when scoring fewer than 100pts since the start of the 2013 Season and that plays right in to the hands of the Dockers. This is going to be a cracking game, it is not a bad option to be the contrarian punter in this game.

West Coast 2nd v Nth Melbourne 8th
Venue: Domain Stadium, Perth
2015 Head to Head record: West Coast 0-1 Nth Melbourne 1-0
Weather Forecast: Mostly Sunny, Min 10 Max 26


West Coast were not even considered a Premiership threat heading in to the start of the 2015 H&A Season, yet here they sit as an overwhelming favourite just one game away from making the Grand Final with a home Preliminary Final in Perth. Despite the heavy underdog tag this week, Nth Melbourne has been in the process of building this team for several years with several different game styles but in 2015 they seem to be quite well balanced in attacking & defending. West Coast were ranked second in scoring & fourth in points conceded for the 2015 H&A Season, the Eagles scored 100pts or more in 12 of 22 games this year which was 2nd only to Hawthorn. Nth Melbourne are going to have to be at their defensive best this week, the Kangaroos have conceded just 76.4pts from their last 11 games conceding 100pts only once during the same period. Only one travelling team to Perth has got within five goals of West Coast this year (R19 Loss to Hawthorn), all the big money will be for the Eagles which is likely to be proven correct.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Juvenile Transition Horses To Follow 2016

Not the usual type of article for the blog but one I'm more than happy to post. As the Flat season winds down for this year, regular contributor Darren Goodbody, @DarrenPGoodbody is looking ahead to the three year old campaigns of these promising juveniles. Put them in your horse trackers now, and remember where they came from!

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Juvenile Transition Horses To Follow 2016

LUMIERE : Shamardal – Screen Star (Tobougg)

A very exciting filly from Mark Johnston’s Middleham set up. The daughter of Dewhurst Stakes winning juvenile sire Shamardal was very smart on her debut when hacking up by six lengths at Newbury when beating Listed Julia Graves Rose Stakes winner Shadow Hunter. The maiden is working out well at present with the runner up Sharja Queen winning comfortably next time out.

Her Group 2 Lowther Stakes run saw her still on the baby side when pulling too hard in the early stages of the race which made her come off a true line in the closing stages when behind the smart Besharah who is looking a solid yardstick for any transition juvenile for next season.

She has a few entries left this season which includes the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes and the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes, she is entered in next year's first classic the 1000 Guineas where she gets a quote at present of 16/1 with Bet365.

EARRING : Dansili – Together (Galileo)

Beautifully bred unraced filly by Dansili, her strong bloodline through her dam who won the Queen Elizabeth 11 Challenge Cup Stakes as a three year old on her last career start. Together was a well-raced mare as a juvenile landing the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes with going on to be placed in the Group 1 Meon Valley Stud Stakes and the £300,000 Tattersall's Millions Two Year Old Fillies' Trophy.

Earring looks a filly that will need soft to heavy conditions with both her father and mother having their best career runs on the surface. The dam-sire needs no introduction being Galileo who was a very versatile stallion on any ground. There is much to like about her and even she though she is entered at Newmarket on Champions Weekend her strong contention could come once she makes her forward transition if going the Irish 1000 Guineas route, nevertheless a promising filly.

EMOTIONLESS : Shamardal – Unbridled Elaine (Unbridled’s Song)

She blasted on the scene when landing her maiden at headquarters beating a field that has included three winners already and could well work out as a hot maiden. She impressed me even further when landing the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at the St Leger meeting winning readily by three and a half lengths fending off Vintage Stakes runner-up Ibn Malik.

She is another well-bred daughter of Shamardal out of Breeders Cup Oaks and Breeders Cup Distaff winning mare Unbridled Elaine. Her index looks like she will be made for the guineas next season for trainer Charlie Appleby and the boys in blue with her powerful cruising speed and amazing turn of foot she is one of my most exciting prospects for next season.

EBEDIYIN : Raven’s Pass – Ebadiyla (Sadler’s Wells)

The daughter of Solario Stakes winning juvenile sire Raven’s Pass caught my eye at Galway when taking the scalp of the well thought of Cole Porter and with the latter having big plans this year with top entries the win could be open to much more improvement. Lets talk about her sire a bit more, his transition run came in the 2000 Guineas when only managing fourth and went on to finish runner up in three more Group 1s as a three year old and did not taste success until later in his three year old career when winning a QE11 Stakes and the Breeders Cup Classic.

The dam Ebadiyla was a smart three year old when landing the Irish Oaks and went on to became a smart stayer in her career when winning the Prix Royal-Oak before going on to finish placed in the Coronation Cup holding a rating of 123. As we can see from both parents, Ebediyin should be stretching between 1m – 1m 4f with ease and is an exciting prospect for Dermot Weld.

ACAPULCO : Scat Daddy – Global Finance (End Sweep)

Probably one of the most exciting sprinters for next year that Wesley Ward has on his books, the question is how long will the trainer be able to hold on to the horse. The lightly-raced juvenile blew me away when attempting to give age away in the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes. He set a serious strong gallop and at one stage nothing was getting to him, but it took the Prix de Saint-Georges winner Mecca Angel a while to cut into the lead to win.

That Nunthorpe form has already taken shape with the fourth placed Sole Power coming out in Ireland to land the Group 2 Flying Five Stakes. Acapulco is sired by the American bred Scat Daddy who had successes in the Champagne Stakes, Fountain of Youth Stakes and ended his career when winning the Florida Derby with a solid average index of 9f Acapulco has the ability to improve above her sprint status if this is the route all concern decide to go.

ENTSAR : Fastnet Rock – Starfish (Galileo)

With speed and middle distance pedigree on her side she could be a nice prospect for next year. Trained by William Haggas with connections through owners Al Shaqab Racing she is another interesting prospect waiting in the wings. This daughter of sprinting sensation Fastnet Rock who has produced seven Group 1 winners in 2015 which have included Oaks winner Qualify, Pretty Polly Stakes winner Diamondandrubies and May Hill Stakes winner Turrett Rocks. The dam Starfish was un-raced, but her pedigree line through the mighty Gallieo opens up many possibilities of Entsar getting index distances between 6f all the way up to 10f. She is entered in both Tattersails Millions on Champions weekend at Newmarket and will be having her first look at a race course, she is likely to be green on debut as most Fastnet Rock juvenile fillies are, but I would expect her to come on a lot from her first outing where ever she runs.

HADDAJAH : Sea The Stars – Ardbrae Lady (Overbury)

Purchased for $340,000 this daughter of multiple Group 1 winning sire Sea The Stars has to yet be assigned a trainer, it will be interesting to see where the connections go with her as their options are open with Richard Fahey, William Haggas and even Richard Hannon waiting in the wings. I would be very interested to see her appear and settle with Yorkshire based trainer Richard Fahey who has climbed to bigger heights in 2015.

The dam Ardbrae Lady won as a juvenile over seven furlongs when trained by Joseph Murphy in Ireland and went on to finish runner-up in the Irish 1000 Guineas before finally winning at pattern level when landing the Group 3 Express Stakes. Both sides of the family have soft pedigrees up to no quicker than good ground, I always thought Sea The Stars was far superior on good ground with a slight edge of cut which saw him land the Arc.

CHIEF WHIP : Giant’s Causeway – Canterbury Lace (Danehill)

A well-bred son of Giant’s Causeway was bought in at the sales for just over $190,000 and could be a bargain buy for when he turns three. He won nicely on debut at Sandown when over turning John Gosden’s Cartago by half a length. The runner-up has come on leaps and bounds winning two races this year at Windsor and Yarmouth and commands a current rating of 89.

The dam Canterbury Lace was un-raced and with her sire Danehill who landed the Group 1 Super Sprint in his career shows there is a possibility we will see him competing over seven furlongs and above. Already a winner over 7f Chief Whip is bound to improve with age, he is currently entered in the Two Year Old Trophy at Redcar next month, and has entries in this year's Dewhurst and Racing Post Trophy. With an opening mark of just 78 there looks more to come from the colt.

ABDON : Cacique – Kinnaird (Dr Devious)

Sir Michael Stoute’s Abdon I thought was very impressive when landing his maiden well on what looked testing ground at Newbury back in August. Sitting off the pace he found a nice turn of foot to come through in the latter part of the race to probably win a shade cosily. He is the son of Manhatten Handicap and Man O’War Stakes winning sire Cacique who was a useful three year old winning four of his seven starts which included the Group 3 Prix Daniel Wildenstein La Rochelle when trained by illustrious French trainer Andre Fabre.

He tasted Group 1 success in America when trained by Robert Frankel and was even runner up in the Arlington millions. The dam won her first two starts as a juvenile when trained by Pat Haslam and only lost once throughout her juvenile career. Her transition saw her struggle managing only placed finishes, but was rewarded when winning the Group 1 Prix de L’Opera.

Abdon’s maiden has seen to date the favorite from the race In The Red win in September after finishing fourth to Abdon, the fifth El Toi has also ran well finishing behind Executor of Roger Charlton’s who could also be one to follow next season.

SHALAA : Invincible Spirit – Ghurra (War Chant)

It’s good news that we are seeing a useful and probably a tidy three year old come to life next season from John Gosden’s stables. Since his what-you-could-probably-call his car crash debut at Newbury, he has won his last four starts impressively which has seen him land the Group 2 July Stakes the Group 2 Richmond Stakes and more recently the Group 1 Prix Morny when beating a useful yardstick in Gutaifan who has franked the form when landing the Group 2 Flying Childers.

He is probably one of my favorite juveniles this year, his sire Invincible Spirit won the Sprint Cup as a five year old, but prior in his early career he won the Listed Yearlings race at Ripon before going on to bigger success as he aged. The dam won only once in her career as a juvenile when trained by Ed Dunlop and finished her career off in America under the guidance of Barry Cecil where she managed third in the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap. I would expect Shalaa to win the Middle Park Stakes this year and with a pencilled Dewhurst booking, he could be a interesting prospect going forward for next year's 2000 Guineas where he gets a quote of 16/1 with firms Bet Victor, Stan James and 888.com.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Football Form Labs weekend preview

If you're betting on sport, you need the right data. With so much information bandied around in the press and social media these days, how much of it is actually useful? How do you filter out the noise? How do you quantify the absence of a key player? How does the absence of a striker, a midfielder or a centre-back translate to goals and results?

Put some stats behind your gut instincts and work out when to lump on and when to steer clear of a sucker bet. One of the very best in the business is Football Form Labs who have shared their wisdom with a preview of some of this week's action. You can also follow Football Form Labs on Twitter, @footballformlab

There's always a deal going, so click Football Form Labs to give them a try now!

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Premier League Week 6

Chelsea v Arsenal, Sat 12:45


Chelsea were about 1.70 for this fixture last season but are 2.40 this time around. Have they really got that much worse or are Arsenal that much better? They have the worst defence in the league at the moment but a midweek stroll past Maccabi Tel Aviv may have given some degree of a confidence boost.

The Blues have won only five of their last 11 home matches as they’ve scored more than once on just three occasions and also kept only three clean sheets. Arsenal, in contrast, have won seven of their last eight away matches. Of course when it comes to these games we can’t ignore the Gunners record away to top-four finishers; they’ve lost 14 of 18 such trips since 2009/10 while conceding 45 goals. However, they did show some improvement last term, picking up a win at Man City and a draw at Utd, while conceding just three times in their three such matches.

To read the rest of this preview plus detailed previews of all the televised Premier League games this weekend and a round-up of the rest of the matches head over to the Oddschecker website.

PREVIEW: Dortmund v Leverkusen, Sunday 16:30

Dortmund’s excellent start under their new manager Thomas Tuchel means that they are likely to return to being Bayern’s main challengers in the Bundesliga, with the likes of Monchengladbach and Leverkusen languishing in the bottom-six. Leverkusen did however pick up a much needed home win against BATE Borisov in the Champions League, whilst Dortmund also won at home against Krasnodar, whilst managing to rest some of their players. Leverkusen won this fixture on the opening day of last season and that defeat set the tone for Dortmund’s season, as they conceded the fastest goal in Bundesliga history and while they rallied to finish seventh after 19 games they were bottom of the table.

Dortmund have now won eight of their last 10 matches and indeed eight of their last 10 at the Westfalenstadion, with seven of those wins by a margin of at least two goals. At home against top-six finishers last season Dortmund’s record was W2-D1-L3, with the defeats coming against Bayern, Augsburg, and Leverkusen. This season, they’ve beaten last season’s third place Monchengladbach at home, though ‘Gladbach have lost all of their matches this season. The outstanding Marco Reus missed the win over Hannover and the Europa League game, but he was back in full training on Friday and could play here, which will be a bonus for Dortmund as their PPG drops 30% in the 17 games he’s missed since the start of last season and they also score 22% fewer goals without him in the starting line-up.

Leverkusen also got off to a disappointing start last season that saw them win only eight of their first 22 games before a seven game winning streak pushed them into the final Champions League position. That run means they’ve won 11 of their last 16 games, though only three of their last seven. Dortmund’s start to this season suggests they look nailed on for a top-six finish this time around, and Leverkusen’s record on the road against such teams last term was W1-D1-L3, with all three defeats against the top three and the win coming over sixth placed Schalke. The departures of Son, Gonzalo Castro, Josip Drmic, and Emir Spahic have weakened the team and though the return of Christoph Kramer from a two year loan has stiffened the midfield, an injury to their main summer signing Charles Aranguiz hasn’t helped.

Though it is still very early in the season, Dortmund look to have returned to being the second best team in Germany while Leverkusen appear to have regressed with the sale of a number of important players and a subsequent slow start to the season. Since Leverkusen have lost without scoring against Bayern already this season and last, as well as losing by three goals at Monchengladbach and Wolfsburg last term, backing Dortmund -1 on the Asian Handicap looks a solid bet here at 2.3, particularly since they’ve won their last six at home and seven of their last eight home wins were by more than one goal. As Dortmund have led at half-time in their last five at home, while Leverkusen have trailed at half-time in five of their last seven away defeats, the Dortmund Win/Win double also appeals at 2.85.

Weekend Team News Analysis

Who is injured and who is suspended? Using Form Lab Black’s player analysis tool we’ve looked around Europe's major leagues to find some important players that are going to be missing this weekend. For more player analysis from our analysts or to do your own player analysis try a Form Lab Black subscription.

Wolfsburg v Hertha Berlin
Roy Beerens, Winger, Hertha

Beerens is one of several injuries for Hertha and since the start of last season they’ve won none of their 12 games when Beerens has failed to start. They’ve scored just five goals in those games with nine defeats and seven of the matches have had fewer than three goals. Hertha will probably play for the nil-nil but Wolfsburg should win and are 2.60 to do so to nil.

Real Madrid v Granada
Gareth Bale, Attacking Midfield, Real Madrid

Bale has missed nine games since the start of last season and Real have won every single one. Furthermore, they’ve scored at least three goals in each match, including a 4-0 win at Granada last term. Real are 1.92 to cover the -3.0 Asian Handicap and they should at the very least get a push.

Marseille v Lyon
Nabil Fekir, Attacking Midfield, Lyon

Lyon drew nil-nil last weekend and they’ve now scored just twice in the last five matches Fekir has missed. Marseille sold several key attackers in the summer – most notably Andre Ayew, Dimitri Payet and Andre-Pierre Gignac – so don’t expect goals here. Another 0-0 is a massive 10.5.

N.B. Appearance stats relate to starting and completing at least 60 minutes

Thursday, 17 September 2015

AFL Finals week 2 preview

Just five matches left for AFL season 2015. It's over to @AFLRatings for the detailed analysis.

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AFL Finals week 2 courtesy of AFLratings.com.au, @AFLratings

Only four teams have gone out in straight sets under the current AFL Finals system introduced in 2000, two of those teams were eliminated in the same year just 12 months ago. Can the Hawks & Swans rebound with a win to stay alive?

Hawthorn 3rd v Adelaide 6th

Venue: MCG, Melbourne
2015 Head to Head record: Hawthorn 1-0 Adelaide 0-1
Weather Forecast: Shower or two clearing, Min 10 Max 15


The Hawks put in their worst performance for the year last week against West Coast in Perth, the hard road ahead will not be easy if they are to succeed in winning their third consecutive Premiership. The Crows were fantastic in what was arguably the game of the year in defeating the Bulldogs at the MCG, Adelaide return to Melbourne this week but the same open style footy may not be available against one of the best defences in the AFL this season. Hawthorn has held opponents to fewer than 80pts in 16 games this season, seven of those opponents have been Final 8 teams. The Total Match Points line of O/U188.5 must be a consideration to fall short, cool conditions with a possible slippery surface at the MCG adding to a cut throat Final against the No.1 defensive team just looks and feels like an under investment. Adelaide are likely to maintain their all-out attacking style against the Hawks in an attempt to advance in to a Preliminary Final in Perth next week, the Crows average 100.5pts per game this year and 111.7pts in their past nine games but against Final 8 teams that average drops to only 92.1pts. It will be very interesting to see how this game is played, Hawthorn are only 10-15 (40%) when scoring fewer than 100pts & 48-0 (100%) when scoring over 100pts since the beginning of the 2013 season. The big money will be for the Hawks, but Adelaide are not without a chance.

Sydney 4th v Nth Melbourne 8th

Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
2015 Head to Head record: Sydney 1-0 Nth Melbourne 0-1
Weather Forecast: Shower or two, Min 12 Max 20


The weather forecast for this game looks bleak, currently up to 15mm of rain is expected to fall in Sydney on Saturday which at a minimum will create slippery conditions at ANZ Stadium. Sydney were terrific last week in a narrow loss to Fremantle, their spirit in the game was huge despite missing some of their better key players. Nth Melbourne ground out a solid win against a panicked Richmond last week to create an opportunity for redemption after a demoralising Preliminary Final loss at this same venue 12 months ago, the Kangaroos forward line may require a different set-up if inclement conditions do impact this game. Sydney has lost only three games to teams that finished outside the Top 4 this season, Nth Melbourne’s six of nine losses have come against Final 8 teams. Historically no 8th placed team has made a Preliminary Final under the current Finals system, but with some clear leaders still missing from the Swans team this may be the ideal time for the Kangaroos to create a little history. If Sydney are able to replicate their effort and intensity for the contest similar to last week then it could be a long night for Nth Melbourne, defensively they can shut down the Kangaroos scoring power. Not willing to give up on the Swans just yet, last week was a great reminder they are still one of the better teams in the AFL this year.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

NFL Player Props market preview

With so much data and so much competition for betting on the NFL, there is far more than just the team trophies to bet on. Player markets offer plenty of opportunity to find a juicy bit of value. Over to Ian Steven, @deevo82, for his analysis of the player markets.

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Defensive Rookie of the Year
If you study the previous winners of this award – two things stick out. 1) It is either a defensive lineman or a linebacker than wins the award. 2) Each player who has won the award going back into the 90s has had a very long and productive career – they are basically a stud and not a one game, one season wonder. You can’t say the same with the offensive award. Some names that jump out are Charles Woodson, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Terrell Suggs, Patrick Willis, Brian Cushing, Ndamukong Suh, Von Miller and Luke Keuchly.

Two of the favourites are Stephone Anthony and Eric Kendricks, both inside linebackers. Both players are scheduled to start for their teams but I don’t see anything blue chip about them.

Landon Collins was the top safety taken out of Alabama but it is rare for a secondary player to get the award.

Dante Fowler looked like he could have been a contender were it not for the bad knee injury he suffered in mini-camp so it leaves just one option in my mind.

Leonard Williams was the best football player coming out of the draft from USC. Picked by the Jets, who already had Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, it seemed like an odd choice before Richardson got himself suspended. Williams played like a veteran in pre-season, swatting aside offensive lineman like they were toddlers making him my favourite to take the award.

3 pts on Leonard Williams to win Defensive Rookie of the Year at 8.00 with Ladbrokes/Coral.

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Offensive Rookie of the Year
It is tougher to project the offensive standouts in their rookie season than it is on defense. Amari Cooper is the favourite for the award but his production depends very much on the play of his quarterback, and indirectly on the play of his offensive line to protect Derek Carr.

Running backs have a good chance of having a productive rookie season with Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman and Todd Gurley all capable of achieving 1,000 yards rushing.

The one consistent factor is that in the NFL, the QB is king. The last time that two franchise QBs were picked one and two was in 2013 when RG3 won the award despite Andrew Luck having arguably a better season. The same situation should play out. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston should both play well for their franchises. Mariota has a worse supporting cast but is flashier than Winston with his great scrambling ability. Winston on the other hand has a greater chance of victories under his belt. But who said you can only bet on one of them?

0.5pt Jameis Winston to win Offensive Rookie of the year @ 9.00 with Ladbrokes.
0.5pt Marcus Mariota to win Offensive Rookie of the year @ 11.00 with Ladbrokes/Coral/Will Hill.

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Most Passing Yards
Let’s be logical about this. Every yard counts as the fact that both Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger both had 4,952 yards last season illustrates. There are a couple of teams who I think will seal their divisions early and potentially rest players near the end of the season so we can exclude Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford.

Roethlisberger has two good running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Le’Veon Bell so his numbers will drop from last year. Aaron Rodgers has lost Jordy Nelson to a season ending knee injury whilst San Diego have upgraded their running game but are without Antonio Gates for four games.

The Saints do not have a great running game and will be pushed hard for most of the season. The Saints also play in a dome so don’t have the inconsistency caused by bad weather. They also have a poor defense so some games could turn into shoot outs.

Detroit are in almost the same boat. They do have the best wideout in the league in Megaton and will be vying for a wildcard spot.

1 e/w point on Matt Stafford with most regular season passing yards @ 15.00 with Ladbrokes/Betfred.
1 e/w point on Drew Brees with most regular season passing yards @ 9.5 with Paddy Power.

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Most Regular Season Rushing Yards
We can apply logic with this selection as well. Last season’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, also had the most amount of carries in the league. That won’t happen this year as he will be spelled by Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles.

Marshawn Lynch will definitely be in the top five for yards and could be worth an e/w punt but he is 29 and getting close to the time runners fall off the cliff. (Not literally)

LeSean McCoy will struggle in Buffalo as he will be expected to be a tough runner when he is a dancer whilst LeVeon Bell is suspended initially and will have to split carries with DeAngelo Williams.

Adrian Peterson is the favourite for the rushing crown and I can’t see anyone beating him unless he picks up an injury. Peterson is the featured back, has a young quarterback and plays for Norv Turner, a coordinator who had Emmitt Smith and Ladainian Tomlinson and loves to pound the rock. (possibly literally)

An outsider who I like a lot is Jamaal Charles. KC will lean on him heavily, especially in December and he has he breakaway speed to boost his numbers.

3 pts on Adrian Peterson gaining the most regular season rushing yards @ 6.00 with Will Hill/Bet365.
1 pt e/w on Jamaal Charles gaining the most regular season rushing yards @ 11.00 with Paddy Power.

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Regular Season MVP
Not sure I need to waffle too much for this one. It will be Andrew Luck. He’ll throw for over 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. He’ll stick his shoulder down and rumble over a defender on national TV. He’ll lead the Colts deep into the playoffs – they will probably have a first round bye. It just will be him.

One outsider who does intrigue me however is Sam Bradford. The Eagles will run more plays than anyone else in the league which should give him more opportunity to shine. Remember that Nick Foles posted a 119.0 passer rating and is the guy Chip Kelly traded to St Louis to get Bradford. The only players to get a higher rating were Peyton Manning in 2004 and Aaron Rodgers in 2011 – and you guessed it – they both won the MVP award in those years.

1 pt on Andrew Luck to win MVP @ 6.00 with bet 365.
0.5 pts on Sam Bradford to win NFL MVP @67.00 with Bet365.

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Comeback Player
The previous picks were just appetisers, this is the main course. If I was Jimmy the Greek – these would be my locks.

There is nothing that America loves more than a feel good story – other than eating lots of calories and spelling the word “whisky” incorrectly.

It is for this purpose the Comeback Player of the Year award was created, to honour those who came back from adversity to excel once again. In my mind there are three locks for this award and no one else will win it.

The favourite is Eric Berry who contracted Hodgkin's Lymphoma in November 2014. He battled against the cancer and returned to the field for the Chiefs in the pre-season. This story will be told again and again. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when he picks this award up.
Sam Bradford suffered two torn ACLs and was then traded to Philly. The quarterback will get his redemption under Chip Kelly, posting phenomenal stats, and remember America loves a quarterback.

Linebacker Navarro Bowman suffered one of the most horrendous moments when his body went one way and his leg went the other. It was caught one camera. People recoiled in horror whilst Australians told him to get up as “it was just a scratch”. He tore both his ACL and MCL. Bowman has been lighting it up in pre-season and will be the visible leader of the 49ers in 2015.

The other favourite is Adrian Peterson. He sat out 2014 as he whipped a child with a stick. Yes, that is right; he beat up a child, and is in line to get an award for it. I think “FFS” is the abbreviation the kids use nowadays. Trust me; he is not getting that award.

2 pts Eric Berry to win Comeback Player @ 4.00 with Ladbrokes/Paddy Power/888.
1 pt Sam Bradford to win Comeback Player @ 6.5 with Paddy Power.
1 pt Navarro Bowman to win Comeback Player @ 17.00 with Paddy Power/ 888/Ladbrokes.

Take a look at the previous posts log to read Ian's tips in all the NFL divisional previews.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

NFC West

Completing the set of divisional previews from the astute, resolute and not so hirsute Ian Steven, @deevo82. Catch the rest of his previews via the previous posts list down the bottom right of the page...

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NFC West

Seattle Seahawks


After the amount of work put into the draft, offseason workouts, free agency, mini camps, training camps, pre-season, a 16 game regular season and the playoffs, it all came down to one play in Super Bowl.49. One play between despair and back-to-back titles. The Seahawks chose despair.

Marshawn Lynch is the most physical running back in the league and was the odds-on favourite to bull his way over the goal line to gift Pete Carroll’s men the Lombardi Trophy. The Seahawks outthought themselves, elected to call a slant to Ricardo Lockette. Darius Butler read the route and the rest is history. Russell Wilson picked off at the one yard line.

The Seahawks have had seven months to stew in their own juices. It will be interesting to see how they react.

Quarterback Wilson is back at the helm once more. There is some contract speculation over the amount of money he is worth but it is doubtful that will bother him. Fast, smart and accurate, Wilson is utilised well in Darrell Bevell’s offense, running a lot of bootlegs to instigate misdirection, allowing the quarterback space and time to find targets.

One new toy for Wilson is tight end Jimmy Graham who was traded for from New Orleans with center Max Unger heading the other way. Graham is a very dynamic player and will benefit from space in the intermediate zones if line backers cheat up to defend the run.

Running the ball is something that the Seahawks excel at, leading the league with 2,762 yards in 2014. Passing is a different story as they were only 27th in the NFL last season, which is partly why Graham was brought in. Wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse would be depth players on other rosters rather than starters.

It is on defense that Seattle really sets the tone. The “Legion of Boom” were the best ranked outfit in the NFL last season. Cornerback Byron Maxwell left in free agency for Philadelphia whilst strong safety Kam Chancellor is holding out for a new contract. Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are still part of that awesome secondary unit so there should be little drop off in their play.

Arizona Cardinals

On November 7, 2014, Palmer agreed to a $50 million, three-year contract extension with the Cardinals. Two days later he tore his ACL for the second time in his career in a game against the St Louis Rams.

Palmer was enjoying a renaissance in 2014, playing solid football with a supporting cast that looked capable of knocking the Seahawks off their perch before disaster struck. Especially with quarterbacks, one injury and the team’s season is over.

The good news for Palmer is that he still has Larry Fitzgerald and Malcolm Floyd to toss the rock to. Fitzgerald missed two games last season due to injury and as a result posted the lowest amount of receiving yards in his career with 722. Floyd may miss the start of the season due to dislocating three fingers in training camp. Free agent pick up Jermaine Gresham should see a lot more targets at tight end if Floyd is not ready to go.

The Cards have a big and beefy offensive line with Jonathan Cooper, Mike Iupati, Earl Walford and Jared Veldheer but still don’t have a premier running back to take advantage. Andre Ellington should be the first number called with former 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson used in reserve. The defense has been rocked by the news inside line backer Daryl Washington will be suspended for the second straight year for substance abuse. Sean Weatherspoon and Kevin Minter will start until the Horned Frog can get his act straight.

The secondary for Arizona is particularly impressive. Patrick Peterson is a shut down corner. Honey Badger Tyriann Mathieu will move from safety to cornerback due to a lack of bodies at the position with Rashad Johnson and Deonne Buchanan operating at safety.

Bruce Arians’ men will have to get off to a fast start as their last three games are against the Eagles, Packers and Seahawks – which could ultimately decide their fate.

St Louis Rams

The big move of the offseason for the Rams was the trade for Nick Foles from the Eagles, shipping Sam Bradford in the opposite direction. Bradford was injured one time too often and the front office cut their ties with the former first overall pick. Foles had his issues in Philly, regressing with his footwork and getting skittish in the pocket so St Louis need to protect him well. What every Rams fan wants to see this season is Todd Gurley lining up at tailback for the first time. Gurley badly injured his knee playing for Georgia last season and is still working his way back to fitness but we was one of the most dynamic players in college football and had superstar written all over him. I would compare his running style to that of Steven Jackson – the former Rams running back.

Gurley aside, the Rams are not loaded at the skill positions with Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin slotted in as primary receivers so do not expect Foles to post MVP-like numbers.

It is the defensive unit that really makes this team tick. Their front seven are devastating – built partly through the blockbuster trade with Washington that allowed the Redskins to select RG3. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2014 and he is joined by Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn. Line backers Alec Ogletree, Akeem Ayers and James Lauranitis are thumpers and set the tone.

The secondary is not as elite but if the front four can consistently get pressure then they elevate the play of the other seven players on defense.

San Francisco 49ers

How the mighty have fallen. Playing in the Super Bowl in 2013 and now favourites to finish bottom of the NFC West just two years later.

A glut of retirements is what has sparked the dire predictions with Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Fred Davis hanging up their cleats. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has also moved on to take the head coaching job at Michigan, his alma mater. Former Scottish Claymores defensive line coach Jim Tomsula steps into the void to take over as head coach.

The 49ers still have quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a duo of reasonable receivers in Anquan Bolden, who is starting to show his age, and Torrey Smith. Vernon Smith can still perform well at tight end and is a consistent match up night mare.

It is strange, however, to look into the backfield and not see Frank Gore lining up. It looked like the former Miami running back was heading to Philadelphia before Indianapolis stepped in to snatch him away in free agency. Carlos Hyde will be the new plough horse in the backfield, backed up by speedster Reggie Bush.

It is not only retirement that has decimated the defense. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith was jettisoned by the team for one misdemeanour too many and has signed with Oakland.

One morsel of good news is that middle line backer Navarro Bowman has returned after suffering a horrendous knee injury in 2014 and has looked sharp in pre-season.

San Francisco should be solid against the run but they do not have much in the way of pass rushers and with Kenneth Acker and Tramaine Brock at cornerback, they look very susceptible to being picked apart by savvy quarterbacks.

Verdict

Seattle should have enough in their tank to still hold on to the division title but Arizona should run them close. Odds of 1.30 are not tempting however. A much better wager would be with Arizona making the playoffs as a wild card. They should have a much superior record to most other teams in the NFC.

3pts on Arizona to make the playoffs @ 2.5 with Bet365.

NFC South preview

Just hours away now from the first Sunday of the season and we're just about done with the divisional previews. The penultimate one is for the NFC South, and naturally, it's from Ian Steven, @deevo82, again.

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NFC South

New Orleans Saints


This was the division that nobody wanted to win in 2014. The Carolina Panthers eventually ended up as the champions with a 7-8-1 record. The New Orleans Saints were just behind with a 7-9 record. I had felt that the Saints were the favourites for that division in 2014 but a very porous defence proved to be their undoing.

It looked like defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was for the chopping block after his defence were ranked the second worst in the NFL, with only the Atlanta Falcons with a worse record. Ryan comes back for another year as coordinator. Junior Galette was jettisoned after multiple run-ins with law-enforcement. Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams was a free agent signing from Seattle and should help to boost the defensive line alongside the massive John Jenkins. Cameron Jordan remains the best pass rushing option on the defensive line.

The secondary in effect welcomes two new players as Jairus Byrd returns from injury to take his place at free safety alongside Kenny Vaccaro. Brandon Browner joined from New England at cornerback and will be used aggressively in coverage.

The good news for New Orleans is the offense still incredibly potent. Drew Brees remains one of the marquee quarterbacks in the league. He has lost his primary target in Jimmy Graham who was traded to Seattle. In return, New Orleans picked up centre Max Unger who will become the anchor point to a very talented line. Jahri Evans has gone to the last six pro Bowls and is a brute force at right guard.

Having a road-grading offensive line seems to be a priority for Sean Payton as he carries six running backs on his 53 man squad which is a an indicator to the Saint’s philosophy. Mark Ingram will be the primary ball carrier. CJ Spiller was brought in to inject a change of pace. Spiller has missed the entire pre-season with a knee injury and will take some time to get back into action.

The downside of carrying six running backs on the roster is that the New Orleans Saints only have four wide receivers which is an oddity when you take into consideration how prolific Drew Brees is through the air and how much Sean Payton likes to pass the ball. Two of his receivers are exceptional in Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks. Cooks look like he would become the Rookie of the Year in 2014 before being injured in his rookie season.

The Saints should be very entertaining to watch this year and if they can shore up their defense to mid-table respectability then they should be the favourites to win the division.

Carolina Panthers

With 53 players on the active roster and you would think that one injury would not make a world of difference to the team but losing Kelvin Benjamin for the season has severely impacted the chances of Carolina repeating as champions in the NFC South for the third time in a row. Carolina are the only team in the division's history to have won the title two years in a row. Although last year they stumbled over the finish line, winning the division with a losing record.

Quarterback Cam Newton is the driving force behind Carolina and he quickly struck up a rapport with the rookie Benjamin. Without the Florida State graduate, the only real target for Newton to aim at is tight end Greg Olson. As a result, the Panthers will have to rely on a heavy dose of the running game. Long-time star player DeAngelo Williams is now a Pittsburgh Steeler so the focus shifts to Jonathan Stewart to become the primary ball carrier. He needs to stay clear of injuries that have blighted his career. Mike Tolbert returns at full-back and he is a bowling ball of a man and regularly receives plenty of touches much to the chagrin of the defense trying to stop him.

The bright side for Carolina is how talented the defense is. Luke Kuechly is by far the best inside linebacker in football at the moment. It was not for JJ Watt then some people could be heralding him as the best defensive player in the league, period, not just the best linebacker. Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, two mountains of men at defensive tackle that keep opposing linemen off of Luke Kuechly allowing him to play sideline the sideline.

Thomas Davis, the man with multiple ACL surgeries, also returns to partner Luke Kuechly. Keep an eye on Shaq Thomson, the rookie linebacker from Washington, who displays exceptional speed and the Panthers will find a way to get him into the mix, primarily on nickel and dime downs.

Charles Tillman, affectionately known as Peanut, was a free agent signing from Chicago. Tillman was regularly one of the top turnover merchants in the league, specialising in ripping the ball out of wide receivers’ hands. There is concern that the starting free safety is Kurt Coleman as he failed to cut the mustard in Philadelphia and also struggled at Kansas City.

Atlanta Falcons

Let’s start with the obvious – the Falcons were atrocious on defense last year, dead last in the NFL. Head coach Mike Smith got his jotters as a result and Dan Quinn was brought in to try to right the ship.

Falcons fans must be frustrated as they have got a top ten quarterback in Matt Ryan with two big play receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White, I saw a lot of Jones coming out of college and thought he was one of the most accomplished receivers making the jump to the NFL. The Dirty Birds have just handed Jones a $71,000,000 contract which he has more than earned.

Jake Matthews lines up at left tackle after a solid rookie season so the key offensive trinity is in place but the rest of the offensive line leaves a lot to be desired – so much so that the Falcs traded for Andre LeVitre, a high priced free agent guard that flopped in Tennessee. Ryan is a classic pocket passer so if you can push the pocket you can throw him out of rhythm.

General manager Rich McKay drafted running back Tevin Coleman in a running back rich draft and the Indiana half back has quickly installed himself at the number one slot on the depth chart. He reminds me a lot of Fred Taylor with his running style. Coleman could be a worthwhile punt for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The Falcons spent their number one draft pick on Vic Beasley, an undersized defensive end out of Clemson in the hope he could add some pass rush at position that has been an issue for a while.

Other than cornerback Desmond Trufant there is not much else to be excited about on the defensive side of the ball. It will probably be another long and frustrating season for Falcons fans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After years of misery, it is finally time for Bucs fans to be excited once again. After struggling badly in 2014, the number one overall pick fell into the lap of Rich McKay and he must have danced a jig of joy when handing in the draft card, taking Jameis Winston out of Florida State.

Despite worries about his maturity, Winston is one of the most pro ready quarterbacks to come out of college football. He has all the tools a modern signal caller needs and will be an icon in Tampa for many years to come.

To make Winston’s job easier, the quarterback has three massive targets at his disposal. Wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are both 6’5” with excellent leaping ability whilst tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is 6’6” and very athletic for a tight end. The current rookie record for passing yards is 4,374 set by Andrew Luck and Winston could well be in line to break it.

The biggest concern for head coach Lovie Smith is that Winston’s blind side is protected by rookie tackle Donovan Smith. It is a big gamble to take to protect your massive investment in a quarterback with a rookie effectively being his bodyguard. Smith has got no leeway to make any predictable rookie mistakes as the consequences could be devastating.

Tampa’s running back Doug Martin has insisted he does not like being called the Muscle Hamster so we must take care not to call the Muscle Hamster the Muscle Hamster as the Muscle Hamster does not like it. Muscle Hamster.

The Muscle Hamster – sorry, I mean Doug Martin – is a talented player and will help to take some of the pressure off Winston if the Bucs and formulate a ground game.

Tampa are not just loaded on defense – defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David are genuine blue chip players whilst Alterraun Verner and Johnathan Banks are solid corners. Coupled with what could be an explosive offense, we could well see the Bucs giving the Saints a fight for the top spot in the division.

Verdict

I think the decider in settling this division is the combination of Drew Brees and Sean Peyton. Both are incredibly experienced with Brees being comfortable in what he is asked to do. The Saints just need a modicum of improvement from their defense to dominate the division.

Tampa Bay will be fascinating to watch but it is difficult to win a lot of games with rookies at quarterback and at left tackle.

Atlanta will struggle due to a lack of quality on the offensive line and on defense whilst Carolina will struggle to move the ball if they fall behind in a game as Cam Newton basically does not have many options to throw to.

3 points on New Orleans to win the division @ 2.88 with multiple bookies.

Makybe Diva Stakes preview

I call it the day the Melbourne spring starts getting serious. Back to headquarters, group racing galore and some sensational horse flesh in action. Previewing the headline race of the day, the Makybe Diva Stakes, it's the team from Premium Racing Services, @PremiumRacingS.

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Makybe Diva Stakes
Group 1, 1600m
$400,000
1605 local, 0705 BST


Interesting Historical Factors

INTO THE RACE:
- 15/22 winners were second up. 2/10 1st up.
- 17/21 come from barrier 6 or inside.
- 3/15 favourites won.

OUT OF THE RACE:
- 2/15 winners gone on to win another race in spring. They were Northerly & Weekend Hussler, both champions.
- 0/10 winners gone on to win either the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate or Melbourne Cup.

PRS Speed Map



As the speed maps shows there looks to be a lack of speed on paper with Entirely Platinum, who led the Memsie Stakes field, to likely cross and take up the running again. Then expect Magicool to go back to his on pace pattern and park second pair with Mongolian Khan.

With plenty of runners in the race likely wanting to go back and run on, it will leave the outside of those drawn runners to have to shuffle back and be further lengths away from the leader than desired.

Our Market:
This market is of our systems ‘raw’ prices which is set to 100% with every runner rated >$22 eliminated. PRS clients get a market <100% on a wagering sheet which also blends in the public price of each runner to find a wagering edge.



As you can see, our raw market is open and very similar to the early public markets.

FAWKNER - First up. No autumn campaign. Excellent 2014 spring, was very brave in Cox Plate before having enough in Melb Cup. Close 2nd in this race last year to Dissident which produced an elite rating. Has been given slightly inferior rating here but still one good enough to potentially win.

BOBAN - Very brave against bias 1st up to win Memsie along the rail. History is with him here with the majority of recent winners 2nd up and drawing inside barriers, should be able to settle closer here. Generally advances 2nd up. Good winning chance again and is predicted to produce an elite figure.

ENTIRELY PLATINUM – Brave in Memsie although having all favours at the front. Slow time rating on the race. Second up pattern good winning 3/5 and is likely to cross and get good run again from the front. Longer straight a bigger test to attempt to hold them off.

MONGOLIAN KHAN – First up. NZ trial ok at Ruakaka. Has won at trip but in much inferior class when lightly raced in NZ. Multiple G1 winner who won't be fully fit yet but must respect any runner who has won 7/9. Unsure is worthy of having a win ticket on.

VOLKSTOK’N’BARRELL– Went soundly to line in Memsie, only 1.9L off winner. Won both 2nd up runs to date in NZ, advancing significantly on fresh efforts. 2/2 at mile also and loses nothing with Craig Williams now riding. Expected to advance.

HI WORLD – First up effort solid although being well backed in Memsie. Map an issue, hard to see him finding cover unless goes well back. Is a difficult runner to give advancement here and is a likely drifter late in betting.

ALPINE EAGLE – Raced with head in uncommon position but still closed very hard to line first up in Adelaide. Got enormous talent but can struggle to relax in races. Won only 2nd up run by 5.3L last campaign. Has an impressive sprint on him, hopefully can get early and middle part of race right. < br>
RISING ROMANCE – First up went solidly in Memsie when midfield behind slow speed. Second up last prep 0.1L 2nd in very weak NZ G1. Inside draw not ideal but is expected to show natural advancement.

Recommended Bets:
We will likely be advising our clients to back the overlays in the race with the hope that the public markets will become less similar than our raw market closer to the jump.

Friday, 11 September 2015

NFC East preview

The season kicked off last night, at least in the AFC, but there's still plenty of time to get involved before they kick off in the NFC.

Once again, it's over to the astute, resolute but not so hirsute, Ian Steven, @deevo82.

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NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

There was one very simple reason why the Cowboys conquered the NFC East last season – their offensive line. Left tackle Tyron Smith is arguable the best blind side bodyguard in the game whilst center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin are two very inspired recent draft picks by the organisation who decided to focus on the fundamentals of building an offense when everyone thought Jerry Jones would splash out with customary flair on Johnny Manziel.

As a result, running back DeMarco Murray was able to bull his way to 1,845 yards on 392 carries – both league highs last season. Murray has escaped to the rival Philadelphia Eagles leaving the Dallas backfield somewhat weaker. Darren McFadden was constantly injured in Oakland, with many pundits speculating he was hired due to being an Arkansas Razorback alumni, just like Jones. In the last couple of days, Christine Michael was traded for from Seattle which indicates the front office do not have much confidence in their backfield.

The other benefit of having such a good line was the amount of time Tony Romo had in the pocket. Romo is usually an injury or a blunder waiting to happen but he was in fine form in 2014 posting a 113.2 QB rating which was by far the highest of his career.

It does not take a genius to work out where most of Romo’s passes are going. He is either trying to find the gifted but babyish Dez Bryant – who was paid a lot of money in the offseason ($70 million) – or looking for veteran tight end Jason Witten. Other than those two stalwarts, there is not much else talent at receiver for Romo to find.

The biggest issue on defense for the Cowboys is the four game suspensions of inside line backer Rolando McLain and defensive end Greg Hardy, coupled with the season-ending injury to top cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Three key players missing at the start of the season could well tip the balance of power in the NFC East as they Cowboys play the Eagles in week two at the Linc.

Philadelphia Eagles

It was a jumble sale in South Philadelphia in the offseason with Chip Kelly taking over as general manager as top receiver Jeremy Maclin left in free agency, top rusher LeSean McCoy was traded to Buffalo, getting Kiko Alonso in return and quarterback Nick Foles was sent to St Louis in exchange for former Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, and only one starter from the secondary last season remains at the Novacare Complex.

Kelly has repeatedly stated he wants a certain culture in his locker room which was why DeSean Jackson was booted out last year and why McCoy was shopped around this offseason. McCoy frequently clashed with his coach for not taking the easy yards, and for dancing around in the back field looking for a home run. With the money Kelly saved, the former Oregon coach brought in both the league’s leading rusher in DeMarco Murray and also Ryan Matthews from San Diego who should be a capable back up.

Losing Maclin stung the Eagles as he was a much admired figure but the bottom line was Kansas City overpaid in free agency and Maclin joins his old head coach Andy Reid in Missouri. The Eagles filled the spot in the depth chart by drafting for Nelson Agholor out of USC who looks much like a clone of Maclin.

The offensive line returns Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, who are all excellent in their own rights but have Allen Babre stepping in at guard to replace Evan Mathis – who held out as he wanted to be paid more, was released by the Eagles, then signed for less than he was already on at the Broncos. The weak link is Andrew Johnson who replaces Todd Herremans at right guard.

On defense, the Birds have one of the better defensive lines in the league with Fletcher Cox close to having a break out year. Bennie Logan has also impressed in the pre-season at nose tackle.

At line backer, Alonso, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are vying for two spots on the depth chart, but all three have had various injuries so it seem a sensible insurance policy. Trent Cole left for Indy in free agency so Brandon Graham steps forward to fill the void at outside line backer.

The biggest change is in the secondary with Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams and Nate Allen all departing after a poor 2014. Walter Thurmond moves from slot corner to safety whilst Kelly splashed out on former Legion of Boom member Byron Maxwell from Seattle. Nolan Carroll will step into the outside corner slot but will kick inside in nickel, allowing rookie Eric Rowe some time on the field. The Eagles gave up the most big plays in the NFL last season so it is easy to see why the secondary has been overhauled.

Keep an eye on the specials teams unit as they are arguably the best in the league. Darren Sproles was a dangerous punt returner last season whilst Kenjon Barner forced his way onto the roster with a couple of dazzling returns in the pre-season.

New York Giants

We have been pretty serious so far – so let’s amuse ourselves by talking about Jason Pierre-Paul. Despite his Haitian roots, JPP is an All-American kind of guy. And as Americans like to do on July 4th, the day the movie Independence Day was first shown, the Yanks like to set off some fireworks. For some reason, Pierre-Paul decided that holding onto the firework through infinity was the best course of action – and promptly decimated his hand to such an extent that his right index finger was amputated four days later. Not as big a deal as you might imagine as Ronnie Lott lost a finger but still made his way into the Hall of Fame. What is astounding is that to this day, JPP has not let the Giants take a look at his hand.

Nine-fingered defensive linemen or not – this will be a long season for the Giants. They have a double Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and a pair of electric receivers as primary targets in Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr who was sensational in his rookie year. But that is where the fun stops.

The Giants look likely to start rookie tackle Ereck Flowers, who not only has a daft way of spelling the name “Eric” but he also has to protect Eli’s blind side which is a tough task for a rookie. And if you can pressure the junior Manning, then you can makehim throw interceptions.

The running game is not much better to take the pressure off Manning, ranking 23rd in the league last season.

On defense, it does not look much better. JPP aside, there isn’t much talent. Jon Beason is a smart inside line backer and cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie got a big pay day the Giants after a good season for the Broncos but DRC showed for the Eagles that he can be very inconsistent if not motivated.

Washington Redskins

One the 17th of August, Robert Griffin stated, “I feel like I am the best quarterback in the league”. A few days later, Griffin is not even the best QB on his team, relegated to third in the depth chart behind Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy.

The fall from grace has been nothing short of spectacular. His rookie year progressed better than many could have imagined. A playoff run, a trip to the Pro Bowl and a QB rating of 102.4. A bad knee injury caused controversy as the Baylor grad kept playing in the playoffs despite tearing a ligament and that is where the deck of cards started to topple.

Benched for the last three games of 2013 and carted off with a dislocated ankle in week 2 of 2014, it seems that RG3 did little to endear himself to the franchise with rumours of a diva-like attitude. Washington splashed out a lot of compensation in draft picks to St Louis to grab the quarterback which must be immensely frustrating to see their former blue chip star and ticket to success languishing as a third stringer on the bench.

Griffen aside – Washington look to be solidifying under second year head coach Jay Gruden. The Skins have got a good ground game led by Alfred Morris and rookie guard from Iowa, Brandon Scherff, should help to open more holes.

Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are two very talented wide receivers and should stretch the field, allowing Kirk Cousins the opportunity to air it out.

On defense, the injury to Junior Gallette came as a big blow as the line backer tore his Achilles tendon that will keep him out for the year. The former New Orleans Saints was brought in to replace the edge rushing skills of free agent Brian Orakpo. Jason Hatcher has also arrived after a career year in Dallas ad should solidify the Redskins defensive line.

Washington were ranked 24th against the pass last season and they hope they have toughened up with the arrival of Chris Culliver from San Francisco in the offseason. Verdict

The four game suspensions of Hardy and McLain for the Cowboys could be enough to settle this division. Sam Bradford has looked like a natural leading the Eagles offense and they have been dominant so far this season. You would favour the Eagles beating the weakened Cowboys in week two. Dallas also have to face Seattle and New England before traveling December to play Green Bay and Buffalo in what will be sub-zero temperatures.

New York will probably be involved in a lot of exciting games and Eli should put up some fantasy numbers but their defense has too many holes whilst Washington will struggle with the RGIII soap opera still continuing throughout the year.

3 pts on Philadelphia to win the division @ 2.5 with Betbright.

NRL Finals preview

September means finals in both Aussie winter codes, and esteemed NRL analyst Chris Ryan, @imdabomb82, returns to the blog with his assessment of the premiership contenders.

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NRL Finals Preview

With 26 rounds done and dusted, we’re lucky enough to not have to watch Beau Falloon captain a first grade side, Mitchell Moses attempt to play football or anything starting with a Jono and ending in a Wright for another six months. On the plus side…it’s finals time!

Now as per usual plenty of experts will talk it up as the ‘most open comp we’ve seen in years’, and ‘anyone can win it’, which for the most part is dribble. There is a clear pecking order, so let’s go through them and assess their chances relative to the market.

Sydney Roosters – Juggernaut anyone? Come in riding a 12 game winning streak, none of which is through luck, throwing in a couple of their best performances in the last two rounds. For three straight years they have been one of the most injury free teams, copped their first couple with Pearce and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves going down in round 24, and haven’t skipped a beat. Have excellent front row depth with Moa, Napa and Evans to offset loss of JWH. The loss of Pearce seemingly had no effect with Hastings slotting in, and in any case Pearce is likely back this week, or the following game. Genuinely have no holes in the side 1 thru 17. Sometimes the Roosters’ biggest problem is themselves, as they can take things a little easy and expect their talent to shine through. Come finals time I don’t expect that to be an issue. They are flexible and can win a high scoring shootout with an in-form superstar backline of Tuivasa-Sheck, Jennings and Ferguson, or can get dirty and win a dogfight as they have the best defence in the competition. They have the highest ceiling in the comp, the best team on paper, and in my view despite being short priced favourites, there is still plenty of fat in their price.

Brisbane – Not quite as good a list of individuals as the Roosters, but not far off, and as far as I’m concerned they play the best as a team in the NRL. Not many weaknesses, though Milford can be exposed in defence, several teams managing to spot him in a 1 on 1 situation and exploit him. They are a bit short on dominant props, with both Sam Thaiday and Adam Blair having been second rowers most of their career, and a weak bench, with not much impact bar Jarrod Wallace. On the plus side, the halves are really clicking together, with Hunt following up last year’s breakout season with another excellent one, and Milford finding his groove in six, after a slow start in Brisbane colours. Coupled with those two, they have a solid outside back core, with Jack Reed having a career-best year and Corey Oates finally getting 80 minutes. Don’t overlook the advantage of Suncorp, guaranteed sellout crowds for the 2 matches they’ll host up there having finished second, it’s key. I think their price is around the mark, they have depth should injuries hit outside backs, but any injuries in their forward pack could be a killer blow.

North Queensland – Their price is too short, plain and simple. Whilst the Roosters have the best list and Brisbane play the best as a team, it is the Cowboys with the best player in Johnathan Thurston. They strung together 11 wins mid-season, but at no point really dominated like Brisbane and the Roosters have. They have a tendency to be slow out of the blocks and chase points, a dangerous strategy at finals time against quality defensive teams. They lack potency in outside backs, which they look to make up for in super speedy spine players, Michael Morgan and Jake Granville. Some question marks on Paul Green’s coaching for mine, went with the pedestrian Ray Thompson as a replacement to Morgan in the last few weeks over the far better offensive player in Robert Lui, and has played Taumalolo in the middle, and Ethan Lowe on an edge this year. Taumalolo has had a good year, but is somewhat wasted in the middle with his bullocking runs - they already have decent props for that. TWo tries from 22 appearances isn’t what I’d be looking for from a runner as dynamic as Taumalolo. We all know Thurston will be very good, but need Matt Scott and James Tamou to step up to the plate in the finals to be a shot, and I’m not sure they consistently will, a lay for mine.

Melbourne – Each time they’ve played a top 4 side this year, they’ve engaged in a slow, knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out style of game. Will they be able to do that for likely 4 straight games? A chance, but not likely. Have two superstars in Smith and Cronk, three on the next tier in Will Chambers, Jesse Bromwich and Marika Korobiete, and a lot more average first graders. And not to be forgotten of course, master tactician Craig Bellamy in the box. But I just can’t foresee them winning without the brilliance of Billy Slater. And I say that having been thoroughly impressed with the efforts of Cameron Munster (my rookie of the year), a fine defensive fullback who more recently has found his way into the attacking game plan. They can win, but in all likelihood I don’t think they have enough points in them to trouble the top teams for several weeks in a row. Price about right.

Canterbury – Unders. As maligned as Trent Hodkinson is, he has a kicking game that neither Josh Reynolds nor Moses Mbye has, and it’s tough to win a comp without your first choice halfback. And we absolutely can’t overlook that they don’t really have a 1st grade quality goal kicker. Seems that Tim Browne (!) is now their no.1, and when a bench prop who plays less than half the game is your best option, you’ve got problems! Tim Lafai or Moses Mbye will take the rest of the kicks. They do have plenty of pace and strike power out wide in Rona and Brett Morris in particular, an excellent bench and nippy halves. But the lack of a kicker worries me and when plan A doesn’t work to overpower teams with their massive forward pack, they can be a little stagnant and lack a plan B. $10 is a short quote to win the comp from fifth, needing to win four straight matches, and I’d be confident in saying you’ll get a better price backing them as an all-up individually to win all four, rather than their outright price.

Cronulla – A team that confounds me and most others, they almost finished fourth despite having a negative for and against! The team with the least ‘star factor’ of the top 8, and I can’t see that getting the job done. An ordinary backline is led by a pedestrian halfback and an overrated rookie in Jack Bird. It’s their job to dish the ball out to the even more pedestrian centres or the safe Michael Gordon at fullback. They have one genuine star in the back seven in Valentine Holmes, but don’t give him near enough ball! They do have an excellent and varied backrow, an enigmatic prop in Fifita (who can be a world beater at time) and are led around the park by Michael Ennis who has had a fantastic year, exceeding most people’s expectations. Bottom line is this team lacks creativity and any X factor. If they win, they’ll be the worst team to win the competition. Probably ever.

Souths – Have absolutely blown in premiership betting. So much so, that I now believe their price to be a little large. They’ve fallen into the finals, with three straight beatings by top five sides. However they have drawn a winnable game in week 1 against the average Sharks, and don’t have to travel. If they were to win, would likely play Nth Qld in Townsville, a game they happened to win comfortably just four weeks ago. They are just one player removed from their premiership backline of last year (Goodwin instead of Tuqiri). But their forwards which were such a strength for them last year, aren’t now. Souths’ price however has much better upside than the similarly priced Sharks. For starters Isaac Luke is due back in week two, and George Burgess week three. And Greg Inglis is back this week (although may be hampered). Their quality of play has a much higher ceiling than Cronulla, with their best games being only just behind the Roosters and Brisbane. Basically it means with recent history on their side and high quality returning players, just one or two wins and their price will crush, Cronulla’s won’t move anywhere near as much. At worst a back-to-lay trading opportunity.

St George – Play far too lateral, and as much as they might want to get out of it, they seemingly can’t. In fact if it weren’t for Leeson Ah Mau and Trent Merrin, St George would play every game East-West instead of North-South! To be any shot need Gareth Widdop back, as he has been their star this year, and they struggle in back-up goal kicking. Perhaps like Melbourne in that they would likely need to win some low scoring, ugly games to progress far, but don’t have the intestinal fortitude of Melbourne to keep it up for long periods. Don’t like their chances of winning it all, but they are overpriced this weekend. +10.5 is too big a number, particularly as Canterbury aren’t necessarily into putting teams to the sword and covering a big number. And with both teams without their main kicker and goalkicker, it could turn into an ugly scrap, at which point I’d much rather be on the big plus.

My NRL Premiership market to 100% in bold. (best available bookmaker price in brackets)

Sydney - $2.45 ($2.85)
Brisbane - $4.50 ($4.50)
N Qld - $8 ($5)
Melbourne - $10 ($9)
Canterbury - $15 ($10)
Cronulla - $45 ($34)
Souths - $32 ($38)
St George - $100 ($100)

AFL Finals preview - week 1

Finals time!! After the farce of Round 23, now it gets serious! As always, it's time to call upon the expertise of astute analysts at @AFLRatings.

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AFL Finals Week 1 preview, from AFLRatings.com.au , @aflratings

Now the real AFL season starts, we are playing for keeps now with the Finals beginning this weekend.

Two teams go home this weekend and two teams advance to a Preliminary Final, the last Top 4 team to miss out on a Grand Final berth after winning in week 1 of the AFL Finals was Adelaide back in 2006.

It's going to be brutal!

West Coast 2nd v Hawthorn 3rd
Venue: Domain Stadium, Perth
2015 Head to Head record: West Coast 0-1 Hawthorn 1-0
Weather Forecast: Rain, 11 Deg

The poor weather outlook is likely to make this a low scoring game, West Coast & Hawthorn are the Top 2 scoring teams in the AFL this year and both are ranked in the Top 4 defensively with the Hawks at No.1. These teams are evenly matched as represented in the betting for this game with the Hawks narrow favourite, Hawthorn are the only team to start favourite in all 22 H&A season games with a 16-6 record. The Hawks are a very good travelling team with a 7-2 record this year, West Coast have an equally good record at Domain Stadium in 2015 with a 10-2 record. This is a genuine coin flip, the experience of the Hawks will mean they hold no fears entering a stadium that will be completely one-sided but can the Eagles deal with the lack of Finals exposure in what will be a fierce contest.

Fremantle 1st v Sydney 4th
Venue: Domain Stadium, Perth
2015 Head to Head record: Fremantle 1-0 Sydney 0-1
Weather Forecast: Rain, 18 Deg

The Swans are massively up against it to record a win over the Dockers in what is likely to be another wet game in Perth within 24hrs, Sydney are without arguably three of their top five players in Kieran Jack, Lance Franklin & Luke Parker. Fremantle rested the majority of their players last week on a road trip and will be fully fresh to try and win a spot in to a home Preliminary Final in two weeks, they are the shortest price favourite of any team this week and are extremely good value. This is going to be a defensive type game with both teams capable of shutting games down, Fremantle have conceded fewer than 80pts in 15 games this season & Sydney 16 games this season. It is unlikely the Swans can pull off a shock win, especially without some of their key talent against what should be a ferocious Dockers team that has yet to win an AFL Premiership.

Western Bulldogs 6th v Adelaide 7th
Venue: MCG, Melbourne
2015 Head to Head record: Western Bulldogs 1-0 Adelaide 0-1
Weather Forecast: Cloudy, 14 Deg


Adelaide suffered their heaviest defeat of the season against the Bulldogs in Round 4, the Crows started the season in emphatic style with three straight wins but ran in to a steam train at Etihad Stadium losing by 57pts. The Bulldogs have a 1-1 record and Adelaide a 1-0 record this year at the MCG, both teams are ballistic in their ball movement with the Crows ranked no.2 with 55.6 Ave Inside 50s and the Bulldogs ranked No.5 with 54.4 Ave Inside 50s FOR in 2015. This could be as open a Final as we are going to see over the weekend, both are emerging teams with plenty to play but the team that can settle down the quickest should be able to hit the scoreboard quite often. Most of the late money will be for the Crows, but the Bulldogs have been underestimated all year as represented by their 7-5 record when starting as Underdog in 2015.

Richmond 5th v Nth Melbourne 8th
Venue: MCG, Melbourne
2015 Head to Head record: Richmond 1-1 Nth Melbourne 1-1
Weather Forecast: Partly Cloudy, 24 Deg


This will be the biggest crowd of the weekend with over 80,000 expected at the MCG on Sunday, the expectations of both clubs are enormous with the loser needing to pack their bags for what will be a painful off-season. The pressure on both clubs to succeed could play a part within the game especially for Richmond who have been starved of ultimate success for 35 years, but the Tigers have matured this year in game and with crushing losses in the last two years of finals they should be ready to take the next step. Nth Melbourne are the sleeper of this year’s Finals series, with only two games at the MCG this year they will be confronted with an almighty Richmond fan presence hungry for a win. If the Tigers can control their nerves and remain focused they should be able to advance on to next week, defensively they are one of the better teams in the AFL this year and hold the longest active streak of not conceding 100pts in 15 straight games.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

AFC West preview

We head west for the last of Ian Steven's divisional previews for the AFC. Follow the astute analyst of the pigskin via @deevo82.

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AFC West

Denver Broncos

Could this be the swansong for Peyton Manning? The old gunslinger about to walk into the sunset as his time is drawing nigh.The Bronco’s on-field general has turned 39 and it seems that the effects of Father Time have caught up with the quarterback.

Having already endured a lot of speculation about the power of his grip after extensive neck surgery, the Tennessee grad suffered a thigh injury in 2014 that left him badly hobbled, with the laser-like accuracy of his passing dropping off noticeably towards the end of the season. Manning needs to be protected and left untouched during the game if the Broncos are to have a productive season, and that is a task made all the more difficult with All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady suffering an ACL tear, ruling him out of the 2015 season. Second round pick Ty Sambrailo has been given the job of protecting Manning’s blind side, which sounds like a recipe for disaster as Manning is about as mobile as Susan Boyle in a darkened broom cupboard.

Offensive tackle issues aside, the Broncos have a lot of talent on offense. John Fox’s men picked up free agent Evan Mathis, who left Philly wanting a raise, but bizarrely signed for the Broncos for less than he was making, as he badly misjudged the market. Mathis consistently graded out as one of the best guards in football and he is s steal at this point.

CJ Anderson and Montee Ball should continue to share carries in the backfield whilst Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas form possibly the best receiver partnership in the league.

The defense returns Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware at outside linebacker. The duo combined for 24 sacks last season and are a constant nightmare for opponents to scheme for.

The talented secondary returns three starters from last season in Aqib Talib, Ryan Harris and TJ Ward – although Ward will miss the first game due to being suspended for allegedly throwing a beer mug at a lady in a strip bar – no confirmation as yet if the said beer mug contained beer at the time.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs disappointed last season with a 9-7 record, which perhaps shows you the level of the turnaround since Andy Reid took over the franchise.

KC famously did not have a touchdown reception by a wide receiver last year and the Arrowhead franchise immediately took care of that issue in free agency, splashing out to sign Jeremy Maclin to reunite the Missouri product with his old head coach.

Wearer of the largest smile after free agency was Alex Smith, the Chiefs quarterback, who must be relishing the upgrade at flanker. The only other real target for Smith is Travis Kelce who is tuning into an excellent tight end.

For the passing game to click into action, the running game needs to gain yards early. Jamal Charles is one of the biggest breakaway threats in the league, forcing opposing defences to respect the run and opening up passing lanes in the process for Smith to exploit.

The biggest story of the Chiefs offseason was the return to training camp of Eric Berry after the safety was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in November. Berry was given the all clear to play on July 28th and has contributed in the pre-season. More of Berry later on in the week when I tackle the player props.

An injury doubt for week one is nose tackle Dontari Poe who has had surgery for a herniated disc in his back. For a man as large as Poe, it is unlikely he will immediately be back to his best, which will hurt the run defense.

The undeniable strength of the Chiefs is the linebacking corps with NFL sack leader Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson making up arguably the best personnel grouping at this unit in the league. The pass rushing ability of Houston coupled with the injury to Denver’s Ryan Clay could well be enough to swing the balance of power in the AFC West.

San Diego Chargers

It’s a tumultuous time in Southern California with perpetual rumours that the Chargers are considering a move to Los Angeles, prompting franchise quarterback Philip Rivers to stall over signing a new contract. The veteran eventually agreed to a four-year extension but will the city of San Diego still have an NFL franchise by that time?

Rivers has to be enthused about the immediate future of the Bolts as first round selection Melvin Gordon was added to the backfield. The rookie rushed for 2,587 yards last season for Wisconsin. I’ll type that again in case you think it is a typo – 2,587 yards. That was in 14 games with an average of 7.5 yards per carry. Only one player in the history has rushed for more yards and that was a guy called Barry Sanders – and he was kind of good. Gordon won’t get that type of room to run in the NFL but he is a carbon copy of Jamaal Charles and could push for a 1,000 season in his rookie year.

As much as Gordon will make Rivers giddy for actually having a running game since LaDainian Tomlison left town in 2010, there must be some concern that his perpetual safety blanket in Antonio Gates is suspended for the first four games of the season due to performance enhancers. Gates is the go to man in the redzone and Rivers will miss his presence.

Malcolm Floyd and Keenan Allen return at wide receiver giving Rivers a duo of dependable talents that should see the quarterback eclipse the 4,000 yards passing mark once again.

The Chargers have strengthened their offensive line by signing Orlando Franklin away from Denver. It is just as well that Rivers is 6’5” as left guard Franklin is 6’7” and left tackle King Dunlap is a whopping 6’9”.

Defense is usually a struggle for San Diego but the unit finished ninth overall in total yards last season. Linebacker Melvin Ingram has really impressed in the off season and looks to be the cornerstone player on the defensive side of the ball. Eric Weddle and Brandon Flowers provide experience in the secondary.

Oakland Raiders

December, 2002 is the last time the Oakland Raiders had a winning record. That is a long time for a franchise used to success, winners of three Super Bowls and general thorn in the side to the establishment figures in the NFL.

That record will likely extend for another season as there are too many holes in the roster for head coach Jack Del Rio to be able to savage but there is a glimmer of hope beginning to emerge in the Bay Area.

Quarterback Derek Carr was the 36th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the fourth quarterback selected but a case could be made for Carr outperforming the three signal callers selected above him. Carr had no real talent surrounding him but he still managed to post 3,270 passing yards with a 21-12 touchdown-interception ratio which is impressive for a rookie.

Reggie McKenzie set about addressing the lack of options in the off-season, signing diva wide receiver free agent Michael Crabtree whilst drafting Amari Cooper from Alabama who looks like he was born to play the receiver position.

It is doubtful that the Raiders will get much out of their running game with Latavius Murray their starter so it looks likely that most of the pressure will be on the arm of Carr in 2015.

Another bright spot for the silver and black is on defense as Khalil Mack has lived up to his hype out of college and is a dominant force at outside linebacker. Mack looks like the sort of player the Raiders can gradually build a defense around and could well get into double digits for sacks this year.

Ultimately, as talented as Carr and Mack are, the rest of the Raiders roster struggles to keep up and it will be another long season in Oakland, but they should do well enough to finally escape always picking in the top five in the draft.

Verdict

Denver are 1.57 to win the division and I think those are pretty short odds considering the issues on the offensive live. Manning is the ultimate professional player and if he can stay healthy – big if – then the Broncos have enough playmakers to win the division. They may even turn into a run first unit in a bid to keep Manning upright.

The real value is with Kansas City. They are priced at 6.00 with Stan James to win the division. They could well pip the Broncos as they are a well-coached outfit but with a price of 3.00 with Skybet to make the playoffs, that is by far the better option. The Chargers are also worth a consideration as well and could push for the second wildcard spot, but the Chiefs are more likely to take a game off the Broncos which could be the difference in the divisional standings.

2 pts on the Chiefs to make the playoffs @ 3.00 with Skybet.

AFC South preview

Only a couple more days until the NFL season fires up for season 2015/16. Next up in his series of divisional previews, it's the AFC South, from the sharp mind of Ian Steven, @deevo82.

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AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and John Elway are always in the conversation for the greatest of all time but do we now add Andrew Luck to that list? He is only in the infancy of his career in relative terms for the quarterback but already the Indianapolis Colts' signal caller is displaying the superb traits that saw him drafted first overall by the Colts out of Stanford after having a stellar college career.

Luck has progressed consistently every season as have Indianapolis, failing spectacularly at the championship game stage last season against the New England Patriots 45-7, the game which instigated the Deflategate scandal. The team from Indiana have tried to address their failings in the off-season, providing Luck with the weapons he needs to bridge that chasm and get to the ultimate game.

Future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne was released by the club afte a legendary career in Indy, eventually signing with the New England Patriot, but the wide receiver was replaced by another future Hall of Famer in Andre Johnson. The courts already had TY Hilton as a speedster on the outside but they doubled their options with the drafting of Philip Dorsett from the University of Miami. It is just as well that Andrew Luck has a powerful arm because there is a severe risk that these two wide receivers could out run the ball for any average quarterback who is throwing it.

Indy continued with the veteran free agents route, ring and signed Todd Herremans from Philadelphia at guard, despite the fact that the majority of Eagles followers felt that the lineman was past his best. Frank Gore, the veteran running back also joins the franchise, after being released by the 49ers. Gore has quite a lot of tread on his tyres but he is an experienced veteran and he's been famed for getting a tough yards when it matters most. The speed of Dorestt and Hilton out side will force defences to respect he deep ball and that should open up holes for Gore to exploit.

Chuck Pagano elected to completely revamp his outfit on the defensive side of the ball. Eric Walden, D’Qwell Jackson, Trent Cole, Greg Toler and Mike Adams all join the franchise as free-agent signings. The Colts already had a solid front three on the defensive line but they have improved their ability to counter the running game, especially with Trent Cole joining, one of the best edge defenders in the game. The Colts were ranked 18th against the run last season and that is an area they have consciously tried to upgrade.

This is a team that is completely geared towards getting very deep into the play-offs. The front office has gambled by bringing in so many experienced free agencts and the question is, will that gamble payoff and can they get to the ultimate game in February?

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have had an increased level of public consciousness this off-season thanks to the documentary Hard Knocks which has been following the Texas franchise during the preseason. The undoubted star of this program was definitely JJ Watt, the defensive tackle, who has displayed outstanding physical traits since entering the NFL out of Wisconsin. Hard Knocks illustrated that his work ethic is second to none and is considered the main man in the franchise. Watt is so talented that some people lobbied for him to be the NFL MVP last season which is almost unthinkable as only two defensive players have ever won the award in Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor.

The biggest question going into training camp and the preseason for Houston was who was going to be the starting quarterback. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, both familiar to head coach Bill O'Brien when he was on the staff at New England, were vying for the starting job. Eventually Brian Hoyer was given the nod. The quarterback started the season well with Cleveland last year before succumbing to injury.

The main problem for the offense of Houston is the departure of two of its most premium blue-chip players. Andre Johnson moved to Indianapolis, removing a future Hall of Famer from the starting lineup. And top running back Adrian Foster succumbed to a groin injury during training camp which will limit his effectiveness during the start of the season. Alfred Blue has had to step up to take the place of Foster. The Texans drafted Jaelen Strong in an effort to replace Johnson but the rookie receiver has not progressed as expected during the pre-season and remains stuck down the depth chart. The good news for Brian Hoyer is that Duan Brown is his starting left tackle. Brown has quietly emerged into one of the premium pass protecers in the league.

On defense, the Texans are stacked. This could well be the best D in the league. We have already spoken about JJ Watt but he is joined on the defensive line by Vince Wilfork, as a free agent from New England. Wilfork is still listed at only weighing 320 lbs which is quite comical as he is clearly closer to the 400 range. But he is a big, stout man and difficult to shift out of the middle. Jadeveon Clowney returns to the starting lineup after having to endure micro-fracture surgery during his rookie season. If he can live up to his hype coming out of South Carolina as the first player selected in the draft in 2014, he could make Houston's pass rush the most explosive in the league.

The big problem for the Texans is the lack of playmakers on offense, especially with Foster out of the lineup. Most of the games will be close because they are so good on the defensive side of the ball, but they just do not have the ability to play catch up if they fall behind.

One point to note – Houston’s kicker is called Randy Bullock. Seriously, a parent actually gave their child that name!

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are showing signs of gradual improvement as “London’s Team” battle to escape the basement of the NFL. After years of struggling to find a signal caller that could perform close to mark Brunell’s heroics when the Jags made the AFC title game under Tom Coughlin, it finally looks like they have their man in Blake Bortals. The UCF grad has had an impressive pre-season after the predictable tough rookie initiation in 2014 and looks to expand in his sophomore year.

The big issues for the Jags is who will Bortles throw too. Justin Blackmon looks like he may have played his last game in the NFL due to repeated issues with substance abuse. This is a shame as Blackmon has the skill set to rival a player like AJ Green and is undoubtedly wasting his talent. Whilst Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee can be expected to turn up to games sober, both fit into the “potential” bracket and have yet to demonstrate their worth as a consistent target.

Head coach Gus Bradley loves physical football and that trait is no more transparent than in the drafting of TJ Yeldon to be the bell cow in the Jags’ backfield. Yeldon is a big bruiser coming out of Alabama and should team up well in a 1-2 punch with the equally physical Toby Gerhardt.

The defense was dealt a massive blow when top draft pick Dante Folwer injured his knee in mini camp. The Florida linebacker was expected to enhance a weak pass rush after testing well coming out of college.

The Jags should be able to beat last season’s total of just three victories but they are still a few key player short of breaking the .500 barrier. The question is whether owner Shahid Khan has the patience to let Gus Bradley gradually improve his investment.

Tennessee Titans

The speculation surrounding the Titans second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft was fascinating – with rumours of mega trades swirling around the NFL like seagulls harrying a discarded haggis supper. Reality was much less exciting than fantasy but importantly; it should prove to be more lucrative as well as Tennessee elected to anoint Marcus Mariota as their new signal caller.

Mariota is a clean cut, All-American type of player who ran the spread offense out of Oregon and has great mobility coupled with an NFL calibre arm. The knock on Mariota was that he was not used to running a pro offense and would take time to adjust. Those worries have been unfounded however as Mariota has played well in the pre-season and appears initially to have been a sensible investment.

Mariota has a good offensive line to player behind with Taylor Lewan, Brian Schwenke and Chance Warmack manning the trenches but it is with the skill positions that the Titans struggle.

Running back Bishop Sankey is never likely to give opposing linebackers nightmares in the same mold as an Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy. And having Kendall Wright as the only consistent target at receiver will not help Mariota boast spectacular passing numbers.

One player to watch out for is Dorial Green-Beckham who is likened to Randy Moss cue to his size and speed but who has had a variety of runs is with the law in college. If the receiver was clean cue, he could well have been a top five selection on ability alone. DGB has been described as “a beast” by cornerback Jason McCourtney but the receiver has been hobbled with niggling injuries in the pre-season so it remains to be seen what impact he could have.

On defense , the Titans were pretty abysmal last season, leaking rushing yards like an incontinent colander. Sammy Hill was brought in at nose tackle from Detroit in an effort to plug some gaps whilst Brian Orapko arrived from Washington to solidify the edge. Whether that is enough off an overhaul remains in the laps of the football gods but Whisenhunt’s men will definitely be more enjoyable to watch with Mariota behind centre in 2015.

Verdict

The Colts are the clear favourites as they tick nearly every box. Chuck Pagano’s men are loaded with talent and looked geared to make a run at a top seeding going into the playoffs. Houston would come closest to knocking the Colts off their perch but they do not have a franchise signal caller and are oft without glass-crotched running back Arian Foster so moving the sticks could be a problem. Tennessee and Jacksonville could claim a couple of unexpected scalps but another season of famine awaits. Best odds are 1.29 for Indy to win the division with Skybet. Not much value here. You can get 3.00 on Houston making the playoffs but the injury to Foster makes me wary, especially with San Diego, Miami and Kansas City looking very potent.