Posted by Barrie on Monday, 28 December 2009

Wayne Rooney Shows the Right Attitude

Since he began playing professional football, Wayne Rooney's attitude has come into question. Some previous foul tempers, continuous arguments with referees and the odd nasty challenge.

Yesterday, his attitude was perfect in Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Hull City that moved the defending champions within 2 points of leaders Chelsea.

Rooney scored the opening goal in first half stoppage time to give Manchester United the lead against relegation-placed Hull City. But 15 minutes into the second half a Steven Gerrard-like backpass was intercepted by Craig Fagan who's cross ended with Rafael giving Jozy Altidore a slight nudge in the back to which referee Alan Wiley awarded Hull a penalty. Craig Fagan tucked it in as Tomasz Kuszczak dived the wrong way.

Watching on TV, it was clear to see Rooney's disappointment with himself. Rooney admitted after the game he felt he'd let the team down and didn't want to be on the end of Sir Alex Ferguson's wrath. So he went about a changed it. Helped by Andy Dawson keeping him onside from a through ball, Rooney sent the ball across goal in the path of Park Ji-Sung only for Dawson to slide home and restore United's lead. And in the final 10 minutes, Rooney played a perfect pass into the path of Dimitar Berbatov who tucked the ball into an unguarded goal and give Manchester United a 3-1 victory.

This was the attitude and leadership Wayne Rooney is capable of showing. Steven Gerrard has a reputation of dragging results out for Liverpool, and Wayne Rooney provides the same for Manchester United. People doubt his world class status, but he is up there in my books. That's 13 goals in 18 league games for him this season. He does need to put in similar performance against the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool when they meet again this season. He was ineffectual against Liverpool in their 2-0 defeat earlier this season, and similar in Manchester United's 1-0 loss to Chelsea. Though there is one thing you can't question about Rooney is his desire to win.

It wasn't a vintage performance from Manchester United yesterday, but you'd have to question if they would have won the game without Wayne Rooney. Defensively they were much stronger with the returning pair of Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown.

Chelsea face a tough Fulham side today as they try to extend their lead to 5 points before Manchester United host Wigan Athletic on Wednesday. Arsenal travel to Portsmouth that same evening before a home game against Bolton the following Wednesday as they catchup the number of games over the 2 teams above them.

With the number of dropped points this month in particular from the top teams, it has made for a very exciting season so far with the order of the top 4 hard to predict. Make sure to check out our regular Premier League Tips to keep on top of all the action.

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Posted by Barrie on Friday, 25 December 2009

San Diego Set to Spoil Tennessee's Christmas Party

The Tennessee Titans entertain the San Diego Chargers with kickoff only a few hours away. After seeing our NFL Tipster's Picks for this week's games, I couldn't resist elaborating on this matchup, being a keen admirer of the Titans myself.

I'm surprised the Titans are favourites for this match, albeit just by 3 points. Perhaps a long journey on Christmas day for the visitors had something to do with the bookmakers odds, because I am one of many backing the underdog tonight.

Preparation could be a key I have not taken too seriously. Jeff Fisher's side are always well-prepared, but I remember them losing 37-16 at home to the Denver Broncos on Christmas Day 5 years ago.

The San Diego Chargers are one of the best teams in the NFL right now and a genuine contender for the Superbowl. A 9-game winning streak has seen them take the AFC West after a gloomy 2-3 start that saw them far behind the 6-0 Denver Broncos. Both teams have gone in different directions since Broncos won the first battle in week 6. The San Diego Chargers were confirmed as division champions last weekend when the Oakland Raiders beat the Denver Broncos. If the Chargers win tonight they will wrap up a bye week as the number 2 team.

A dreadful 0-6 start to the season for the Tennessee Titans seemed to eliminate any post season opportunity in the opening weeks of the season. Only 2 of those sides they lost to are sitting in a playoff position currently. Since then they've been on a long recovery, winning 7 of their last 8 matches. Only one of those victories came against a playoff-bound team and that was thanks to a magical drive and final play touchdown pass from Vince Young against the Arizona Cardinals. Truth be told, they're beating the teams they can be expected to beat. But they're not beating the good teams. And the Chargers are a good team.

If San Diego can give Philip Rivers time in the pocket he will have a big game tonight. The Titans defence has already allowed 300+ yard passing games from 7 quarterbacks this season, including 349 yards by Chad Henne last weekend in their overtime victory over the Miami Dolphins after letting slip of a big 4th quarter lead.

Keith Bulluck, one of the best all-around linebackers in the league is gone for the season now and his loss may well be exposed tonight. He can play both the pass and running games very well and Tennessee can't replace him. Antonio Gates is already over 1,000 yards on the season and will benefit from Tennessee's loss. LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles will also benefit in the running game.

As for Tennessee's offence. Chris Johnson needs another 270 yards in his final 2 games to reach the 2,000 yard mark. He will find it tough against the Chargers defence that will load the box. Johnson is always one missed tackle away from a big gain, so the Chargers will need to play it perfectly. Johnson is looking for his 10th straight 100+ rushing yard game this evening although his numbers have come down in the past 3 weeks. This defence are setup to bring that run to an end.

That leaves work for Vince Young to do. A mobile quarterback, he may have a hard time finding room to run when nothing's opened downfield against this defence. He has shown good touch on deep passes and limited the number of bad decisions this season. He will need Nate Washington to catch the deep passes this week as they may look to stretch the Chargers defence if the running game is taken away. Justin Gage has been a reliable receiver for Young, and dumping the ball off to Chris Johnson has always been a good option.

This match pits two of the in-form teams going face-to-face. As optimistic as I have been in recent weeks, I think this is the game that ends any final hopes of a playoff spot for the Tennessee Titans. I can't look past the San Diego Chargers and am taking them at 13/10. You can also take them at 10/11 with +3 on the points spread, with Tennessee very unlikely to win by more than 3 points in anyone's optimistic mind.

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Posted by Barrie on Thursday, 24 December 2009

Premier League Boxing Day Special

As 2009 draws to a close, the Premier League season is cram packed with a few additional games in what is meant to make the Christmas period even more exciting.

Perhaps it is for fans with the usual increase of attendances expected over the next couple of games. But some players don't handle this period too well. Remember the 3 Brazilians at Manchester City last season who wanted to go home for Christmas? Or the Dennis Wise/Robbie Savage, Hayden Foxe and Joey Barton Christmas party incidents to mention a couple.

While we can expect a couple of games to be lacklustre as we occasionally get in the Premier League, I am expecting a number of exciting games once again from your usual weekly Premier League schedule. Hopefully the ones on TV!

And the Premiership Tips team have been working hard again this year to provide you with our weekly tips. Expect to see previews of all the games over the Christmas holidays in time for you to place your bet pre-kickoff for each game.

Our NFL Tipster has also promised me to have his tips up for week 16 of the NFL schedule before the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans kickoff on Christmas Day. He has a fantastic record this season and continues to make a living off NFL bets. I plan to sit him down and interview him for some tips to becoming a professional gambler next year. All for your benefit!

For now, seasons greetings. Enjoy the festive period, whether it be with the football, NFL or whatever you may be up too!

Barrie

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Posted by Barrie on Saturday, 19 December 2009

Where Did It All Go Wrong for Mark Hughes?

Manchester City fans who went to today's game may not have been aware they were seeing Mark Hughes final one in charge of their club. With Roberto Mancini in the stands today and an announcement set to made shortly after the match, it was clear what was about to happen.

Guus Hiddink had been linked with a move to the City of Manchester Stadium but he seemed more keen on staying with Russia. Jose Mourinho wasn't a write off but the big money spenders went with the former Inter Milan manager and not with his replacement.

Mark Hughes had spent over £200,000,000 in a season and a half at Manchester City, finishing in a disappointing 10th position and currently lying in 6th with 2 wins in their last 11. They were performing below expectations with the owners presumably wanting at least a top 4 finish. There were signs of the club moving in the right direction with signings of Shay Given, Craig Bellamy, Nigel de Jong and Carlos Tevez. However, inconsistencies lead to his downfall.

The only consistency Manchester City have had this season was when they tied the Premier League record of 7 straight draws. They looked good in victories over Arsenal and Chelsea this season, but the team in whole have looked disinterested in games against lesser sides. With Liverpool struggling this season and even Manchester United losing 5 already, Manchester City have had the opportunities to be in the top 4 right now and haven't taken it.

Getting the best out of his team had been a problem for Mark Hughes. While it was obvious from his early days that Robinho was interested, with his lacking away performances coming to the media's attention last season, Hughes stuck with him. Whether Robinho had promised him better performances behind closed doors, I haven't heard. Maybe there was pressure on Hughes from the owners to play him. Emmanuel Adebayor was another gamble, on a striker who looked disinterested when he was at Arsenal. Since scoring against his former team against Arsenal, Adebayor has given little effort and was part of the problem at City. Hughes seemingly couldn't motivate Robinho or Adebayor but they were still playing.

Other problems Hughes had at City were defensive. Over £30,000,000 was spent on their centre back pairing of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott. Toure had looked good when the rest of Arsenal's defence was poor and Lescott had an outstanding season with Everton the year before. For a team aiming to compete for the title these were questionable signings. They've proved this season to be bad ones. The sale of Richard Dunne also proved to be another bad decision but how much control Mark Hughes had over that was questionable.

Building a team overnight is just not going to happen in the Premier League. Claudio Ranieri didn't do it with the money he had in one season at Chelsea. Jose Mourinho then had a building block to work on. Tottenham and Aston Villa have been working on their squads for a few years to get in this position of competing for a top 4 spot. Arsene Wenger is continually building a team to challenge for the title again.

Manchester City are taking a gamble on Roberto Mancini. He has won trophies with all 3 Italian teams he has managed. First was the Italian version of the FA Cup with Fiorentina in his first season as a manager. He did lead them to relegation however with a team struggling financially. He also won the same trophy with Lazio in his 3rd season. Lazio finished between 4th and 6th during his tenure and have only done better once since he left. Mancini guided Inter Milan to 3 straight titles helped by the problems at fellow title contenders at Juventus and AC Milan. He was sacked after not getting to the latter stages of the Champions League.

Mancini certainly has a good history in a short spell back home. But what can he do under the pressure of Manchester City having only spent a few weeks in England as Leicester City player 9 years ago?

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What Manchester United Lack This Season

I was hoping/planning to write this before Manchester United lost another game this season and start fading out of the title race, but waiting until midweek proved to be too long. I don't mean to sound like I'm writing United off just yet but they are looking weak right now.

To say Manchester United relied on Cristiano Ronaldo last season would be unfair. Yes he was involved in just about every goal they scored last season. And yes it was impossible for Sir Alex Ferguson to replace him after he left for Madrid in the summer.

Instead Ferguson brought in Antonio Valencia to play on the right wing. Valencia had previously looked very good in an average Wigan side. But the Ecuadorian was never a goalscorer at Wigan. After taking his time to settle into the squad he's looking ok now, but far from a world beater and more importantly he hasn't proven to be a game changer. That's what Manchester United are missing this season.

When things were going for them last season, they looked unstoppable. When things weren't going for them, Ronaldo was able to step up and make things work. And in one game he had already scored twice in but not given Manchester United the lead, Federico Macheda came off the bench and scored the winner.

Wayne Rooney in the past has been a match winner for Manchester United, and continues to do that but the supporting case is lacking this year. Valencia as stated doesn't replace Ronaldo. Dimitar Berbatov doesn't replace the hardworking Carlos Tevez. And while Michael Owen is making the runs, no one is playing him the balls to slide him through on goal and tap in from close range.

Everyone was singing the praises of Michael Owen following his Champions League hattrick earlier this month. He hasn't done anything since. I'm not putting the fault on him, Michael Owen can still be a great striker, fitness permitting. He needs players to give him the chances because when you see him play, he still makes great runs off the ball and gets in space. His teammates aren't getting the ball to him enough when he is open though.

Recently their defensive injuries have hit them hard. Darren Fletcher has slotted in at right back this month and Michael Carrick at centre back for 5 games in succession now. While the aforementioned have slotted in well, there has been a big hole in their midfield. Carrick's creativity has been missing, and Fletcher's ability to break up opposition attack's would probably have prevented Danny Murphy scoring today (“probably” means I haven't watched it and am assuming).

I feel embarrassed to have tipped Manchester United on Thursday ahead of today's game. As soon as I saw Nemanja Vidic was missing today I had a feeling they wouldn't win today, but it was too late to change my mind and I apologise (please forgive me with my correct Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester City tips today)!

United will recover from their defensive injuries and will sharpen up at the back in the process. In doing so, Fletcher and Carrick can come back into midfield and improve that. As for creating chances, they haven't proven they are capable of doing that. An example was in their 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in November, where they had lots of possession and didn't create much from it.

The January transfer window is coming up. While Sir Alex Ferguson doesn't usually spend much in this period, he should seriously be looking to add some attacking flair to his side. Franck Ribery has previously been linked to the club and would be a good acquisition in my book. As would his Bayern Munich teammate Arjen Robben who was once linked to Old Trafford, before moving to Chelsea. He is unlikely to move considering he only moved to Germany this summer.

Currently in the midfield, they have Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes whom are both capable of winning a game, but at they don't have the fitness anymore to play week in, week out at a high level. Scholes has been inconsistent for over a year now to add to that. Anderson isn't a creator of goals, neither Darren Fletcher. Michael Carrick hasn't been a regular starter this year but should be in the centre of the park every week in my opinion. Park Ji-Sung doesn't create enough chances and Nani isn't consistent enough to play at this level. Darron Gibson is still young but I feel Ferguson will put pressure on him to step up to become a Frank Lampard-like player in their midfield. It's too early to say whether he will be that or not but he looks to have a bright future ahead of him at least. He is not an immediate answer for the problem however. Manchester United are lacking in that area and I see it preventing them from winning the Premier League right now unless they can raise their levels immediately.

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Portsmouth Add to Liverpool's Worries

Troubles continue at Liverpool after they suffered a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth today.

In today's early kickoff, Liverpool started the brighter team but didn't take advantage by scoring and allowed Portsmouth to grow into the match halway through the first half.

On 34 minutes Liverpool paid the price as Nadir Belhadj struck a sweet shot to give Portsmouth a 1-0 lead. Things got worse for Liverpool on half time as Javier Mascherano was sent off and injured in a bad tackle. A red card may have been harsh but he looked far from comfortable leaving the pitch and may have picked up a long term injury.

Rafael Benitez stuck with him and Lucas, two holding midfielders in the starting lineup against the team bottom of the league and whom they should be attacking. Yossi Benayoun was left on the bench until early in the second half while big summer signing Alberto Aquilani was left out with a reported calf strain.

Liverpool created little throughout the match as their long ball style didn't affect the Portsmouth defence. Portsmouth with Asmir Begovic in goal today kept just their 4th clean sheet of the season and move level on points with West Ham before the 3pm kickoffs and can move up to 19th if West Ham lose at home to Chelsea tomorrow.

Liverpool are 5 points behind Aston Villa in 4th, whom have a winnable game at home to Stoke from 3pm and Arsenal host Hull in the evening kickoff. If both teams win as expected, Liverpool will be 8 points off a Champions League spot after Rafa Benitez guaranteed a top 4 spot earlier this week.

Can things get any worse for Liverpool this season? Now losing to the side bottom in the league, it's 7 defeats in 18 league games for them this season.

Portsmouth, with their transfer embargo have given themselves a massive boost for avoiding relegation with this result. However if they can't sort themselves out financially players may need to be sold in January, wages may not be paid and then the side will surely fall apart.

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Posted by Barrie on Friday, 18 December 2009

Champions League Draw Looks Good for English Sides

The Champions League is heavily favoured to come down between the English and Spanish sides once again as they were all kept apart in today's 2nd round draw.

The 3 remaining English sides and 2 of the 3 remaining Spanish sides make up the 5 favourites, with Barcelona being 3/1 favourites to become the first team to defend the Champions League. They were drawn out with Stuttgart in the second round today.

From the English perspective, 2nd favourites Chelsea have Inter Milan in their first knockout round match which will be one of top two most hyped matches in this round as it sees the current leaders of the Premier League facing the current leaders of Serie A and Jose Mourinho returning to Stamford Bridge for the first time since leaving.

Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan have been knocked out by Liverpool and Manchester United in his two previous Champions League campaigns. He has faced pressure because he hasn't taken them far in this competition and this unfortunate draw is likely to see his side eliminated in round 2 after struggling through the group stage.

While his side possess some world class talents, including Samuel Eto'o, Wesley Sneijder, Julio Cesar, Lucio and Esteban Cambiasso, they still have weaknesses in their first team and aren't up to the pace of the likes of Chelsea. The Italian league is behind in that sense and that goes some way to explaining why they haven't been competitive in the latter stages of the competition recently. Patrick Vieira was too slow to keep up with Manchester United last season, suggesting Arsene Wenger sold him at the right time.

Jose Mourinho's management skills should make this a competitive two legged affair, but I don't see Inter being able to eliminate his former team. This match may also see someone falling to the ground easier than Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge, if Mario Balotelli plays.

To continue the Anglo-Italian affair, the teams currently positioned second in their respective leagues also meet head-to-head in this year's Champions League as Manchester United take on AC Milan. With David Beckham set to move back on loan to Milan, he is likely to play at Old Trafford once again. His Milan team weren't impressive in the group stage but for a comeback win against Real Madrid. While they too have some talent, they don't match up too well 11 on 11 on paper against any of the 5 favourites. Manchester United will need to improve their attack by then. They have 2 months to do that. Whether it's getting Michael Owen back into shape, a youngster breaking through or a surprise January signing, something needs to improve. Other than that they should be comfortable winners in this match against a what I call overrated AC Milan side, from the few times I've see them this season at least.

Arsenal got FC Porto in their match and are clear favourites to progress. Porto are an experienced side in this competition but have looked weaker season on season since Jose Mourinho lead them to glory in 2004. They took 6 points off both Atletico Madrid and APOEL Nicosia in the group stages but didn't score a single goal in their two defeats to Chelsea. As long as Arsene Wenger doesn't take them too likely or his side aren't going through one of poor runs and William Gallas throwing tantrums, they will qualify with ease for the quarter finals.

All-in-all, injuries permitting, as of now our 3 remaining English sides look set to qualify for the quarter finals of the Champions League. This treble is currently 3.30 at bet365. Check out our Betting Blog for all of the Champions League odds following today's draw.

One final thing. If you're like myself and are relatively sure it's between the Spanish and English sides once again in this year's competition, there's a nice little arb currently available with any English side winning the Champions League at 13/8 with bet365 and any Spanish side winning the Champions League at 7/5 with Sportingbet.

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Posted by Barrie on Thursday, 17 December 2009

Taking Advantage of Live Betting

I had little interest in the Austria Vienna-Celtic match at kickoff this evening, in their final Europa League game each, with nothing more than pride at stake themselves.

I had caught the Austrians earlier this season when they eliminated Aston Villa on away goals. They didn't look like much more than an average team then. And after taking an early 3-0 lead against a lackadaisical Celtic side they reverted to their little-more-than-average ways.

Fortune pulled one back halfway through the first half as Celtic maintained most of the possession with the home side creating very little. It took a couple of minutes into the second half and another Celtic threat before I decided to log into my online gambling account and back Celtic double chance win or draw at a handsome 8/1.

There was no looking back after that as Marc-Antoine Fortune pulled another back with 20+ minutes remaining and with all the momentum. Austria Vienna didn't have another chance, although that could have been different if Nikica Jelavic had have shot first time instead of controlling the ball as Celtic's keeper Artur Boruc dived at his feet.

I thought Tony Mowbay made a bad decision going into stoppage time by substituting hattrick-searching Marc-Antoine Fortune, but it mattered little in the end as youngster Paul McGowan struck home a stoppage time equaliser and puts me in a position to buy more than the first round this weekend.

It was only last Saturday I mentioned how backing Manchester City double chance in-play at Bolton turned a losing bet into a winning one. I cannot advise in-play betting enough in games like these. Of course they don't always turn out the way you want them too, but some odds you can't turn down.

We have a live betting strategies page amongst our betting guides on our main website if you want to read more and start taking advantage of these opportunities. Now to watch Everton's backups against BATE Borisov in their final Europa League group game...

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Posted by Barrie on Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Chelsea Avoid Scare on Avram Grant's Return

Chelsea were thrown a lifeline after Marc Wilson's lunge on Branislav Ivanovic inside the penalty box gifted the Blues a winning penalty to maintain their 3 point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Nicolas Anelka had given Chelsea an early lead, but they were pegged back at the start of the second half by Frederic Piquionne and were made to work for their victory in the second half. This put similes on the faces of several gamblers worldwide I'm sure as their odds to win went up to evens with 15 minutes remaining. Less than 5 minutes later Frank Lampard's penalty sealed the deal. Avram Grant had made 7 changes to his Portsmouth side from their game at the weekend but they didn't rollover.

Yesterday, Manchester United had temporarily levelled Chelsea's points tally with a 3-0 victory over Wolves. This victory for Chelsea may get their momentum started ahead of their trip to Upton Park on Sunday. Potentially a tricky task on boxing day as they travel to Birmingham, but their defence will be up against it when they face Didier Drogba in particular. Other than that, there is potential for a few comfortable wins between now and they end of January.

Aston Villa's move up into 3rd place following their 2-0 victory at Sunderland yesterday was only temporarily, but they are in a better position than when they week started after Arsenal were held 1-1 at Burnley. Cesc Fabregas gave Arsenal an early lead but failed to take several chances to double their lead shortly after and were made to pay when Thomas Vermaelen gave away a penalty from which Graham Alexander equalised. After Fabregas departed before half time, Arsenal failed to create any real threat to Brian Jensen's goal.

Liverpool returned to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Wigan that saw goals from David N'Gog and Fernando Torres. This moves Liverpool up to 6th in the league after Manchester City were stuffed 3-0 at Tottenham. Mark Hughes' decision to start Robinho backfired and we apologise for a poor tip on that match, although we did warn Hughes not to play the Brazilian! This is only City's second Premier League defeat of the season. Birmingham's victory over Blackburn moves them above Manchester City and into 7th; making up part of our 100% record on Tuesday.

Arsenal look to get back to winning ways this weekend when they host Hull, looking for revenge after last season's shock result. Manchester United face a tricky trip to Fulham who will feel warmer at home on Saturday after winning in sub-zero temperatures in Basle, Switzerland this evening to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League. Be sure to check out our Premier League Tips for these games and the full Premier League schedule from tomorrow.

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Mick McCarthy Doesn't Need to Explain Anything

Picture this: Your first season back in the Premier League. You've just escaped the relegation zone at the weekend and have a big home match against fellow relegation contenders on Sunday. In between that, you have a midweek trip to Manchester United. What do you do?

What Mick McCarthy done last night was good man management, good tactical decision, call it what you want. He made a good choice. He knows who his side needs to beat to avoid relegation and he's realistic about it. He knows he has to beat the Bolton's and Wigan's of the Premier League. The long term goal is in mind. A trip to Old Trafford isn't a possibility for picking up a point even in his most optimistic mood.

Giving 10 fringe players the run out last night gave them the opportunity to impress their boss and gain top flight experience and match fitness in the process. In the meantime, the first team got a rest from their hardworking result on Saturday and time to rest any niggles and get back to 100% before a big match with Burnley at Molineux on Saturday. What's the big deal?

I recall West Brom and Liverpool doing similar previously. And how many regulars played for Manchester United at Hull on the final day of last season? I don't recall these teams receiving the same treatment as Wolves who now have to explain to the Premier League his decision to make substantial team changes. What a joke.

The Premier League, fans and journalists alike who are claiming McCarthy has “cheated football” don't know what they're talking about. The 10 outfield players selected by Wolves were under full time contract. They weren't trialists or the kitman. They were players like Ronald Zubar who was returning from injury, Chelsea loanee Michael Mancienne making his 10th start of the season, former Everton loanee Segundo Castillo and Stefen Maierhofer, an ideal fit for a big target solo striker, making his first start after several substitute appearances. Would the likes of Richard Stearman, Karl Henry and Kevin Doyle really have made a big difference for them on Tuesday?

Extra pressure will be on Mick McCarthy and Wolves to get a result against Burnley on Sunday now. Be sure to check out our Premier League previews for this game and the 9 other Premier League games this weekend when they go up from Thursday.

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Posted by Barrie on Tuesday, 15 December 2009

That Man Klasnic Scores Again

Ivan Klasnic scored the second goal as Bolton Wanderers picked up a valuable victory over West Ham this evening to move them out of the relegation zone.

It was less than a week ago I was talking to a friend and saying Bolton looked like strong relegation contenders and value at (then) 4/1. I described them as a team looking very poor at the back and not scoring too many. There were 2 players I suggested could be their lifeline.

The first was the obvious choice of Jussi Jaaskelainen – one of the most reliable Premier League goalkeepers of the last decade. He's still got it, even if he doesn't get the best help from his defence.

The other was Ivan Klasnic. Although I haven't seen a great deal from home, what I have seen looks to be a shining light for Bolton. While Kevin Davies can win Bolton free kicks, score the occasional goal and hold the ball up, and Elmander can hold the ball up too and create chances, he is struggling to score in the Premier League. Klasnic offers a different threat. He's scoring goals. 3 in his last 2 now.

Klasnic doesn't have an outstanding scoring record in Germany or France at Werder Bremen or Nantes respectively, but if he can get into double figures for Bolton this season it will be a good return.

The Croatian striker, who some may remember scored Croatia's only goal in their final group game against Poland at Euro 2008, has great technique as demonstrated with his first goal for Bolton, against Fulham where he got infront of the ball before Brede Hangeland and spun 180 degrees to smash home. His instinct was shown in his first goal against Manchester City at the weekend, but don't mention that infront of Mr. Hughes ;)

This evening's goal is described as a howler from Robert Green in the West Ham goal, but I haven't seen it yet, so cannot comment. Either way, he has scored in 3 of his last 4 games in which Bolton have picked up 5 points in those fixtures and moved out of the relegation zone.

Where would Bolton be right now without Ivan Klasnic? I admire the start he has made to his Bolton career and I believe he is more capable of keeping this team up than Gary Cahill, Tamir Cohen and Kevin Davies who are doing well for Bolton.

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Posted by Barrie on Monday, 14 December 2009

Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints Remain Perfect

The Indianapolis Colts made it 13-0 for the season after seeing off a resilient Denver Broncos at the Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday; 28-16.

The game saw a number of landmarks broken, most notably becoming the first team in NFL history to win 22 straight regular seasons; 1 more than their biggest rivals of this millennium, the New England Patriots. This record was started last season under head coach Tony Dungy who has been the cornerstone of the franchises success over the past half-dozen years or so. Last season was the only season the Indianapolis Colts have not won the AFC South since the league spilt into 8 divisions following the arrival of the Houston Texans in 2002. This season the Colts reclaimed the division as early as week 12.

Sunday's victory was the Indianapolis Colts' 114th win this decade; the most by any one franchise in a decade, eclipsing the San Francisco 49ers team of the 1990's that were 113-47. The 49ers won 2 Superbowl's during that decade, the Colts have one during this decade.

The success of the Indianapolis Colts can be put on the shoulders of Peyton Manning who has arguably been the best quarterback this decade, but there's a lot more to it than that. Starting with Tony Dungy and Tom Moore, there has been some top coaches working on the sidelines and scouting crew bringing in top rookies. Look at their cornerbacks who were low draft picks but capable of playing with the best receivers in the league. That wasn't the case yesterday however, as Brandon Marshall set an NFL record 21 catches in 1 game (200 yards, 2 touchdowns); 1 more than the previous record set by Terrell Owens, set as a 49er back in December 2000 against the Chicago Bears. While the New England Patriots are the team of the decade, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have added another 2 Superbowl reigns during it, the Indianapolis Colts have been a model franchise amongst a number of elite teams this millennium.

Before yesterday, only 5 teams in the history of the NFL had started the season 13-0. While the Colts looked comfortable in victory, the New Orleans Saints made hard work of theirs over the Atlanta Falcons to maintain their unbeaten record. Closing in on homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, the Saints are the team to beat in the NFC despite others ranking the Minnesota Vikings as the number 1 team in the NFC and even NFL.

The Saints secondary has been beat up in recent weeks which even allowed Chris Redman over 300 yards on Sunday. But as has been the case in many games recently, they just do enough to win. And winning the close games is key. Losing them was why they finished bottom of the NFC South last season. If you want a shootout with the Saints, you're going against one of the best offences in the league. Built around Drew Brees, who completed 31 of 40 passes for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has a number of great receivers he has trust in, including Reggie Bush who caught a personal best 2 touchdowns in their 13th victory of the season.

While there is some excitement about the thought of the Indianapolis Colts facing the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship game, much more excitement has been built around the New Orleans Saints facing the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship. It's been a mouth-watering thought for some time now, but there's a long way to go and the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals are still to have their say as they top their respective divisions.

Be sure to check out our regular NFL Tipster for the remainder of the regular season and post season after another impressive performance this week.

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Posted by Barrie on Saturday, 12 December 2009

Chelsea Extend Lead in Unpredictable Premier League Weekend

Aston Villa won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1983 moving them into 3rd in the Premier League and leaving Manchester United 3 points behind Chelsea.

Gabriel Agbonlahor scored the only of the game, early in the first half, when Ashley Young was able to get a cross in on his right foot from the left wing.

Manchester United dominated the possession but barely tested Brad Friedel in the Aston Villa goal. Dimitar Berbatov the only player forcing a good save from the experienced American.

It was arguably Aston Villa's best performance this season as they defended well as a team. This game last season infamously saw Federico Macheda score a vital stoppage time equaliser in their successful title run. But it was not to be this evening as neither Wayne Rooney or substitutes Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov failed to register a goal for Manchester United.

This has been the most unpredictable weekend in the Premier League this season, ourselves only getting 2 tips correct today. Chelsea were held by Everton, Manchester City were held at Bolton while Tottenham suffered a home defeat to Wolverhampton.

Arsenal can move back into 3rd position with a point at Liverpool tomorrow, while they can move into 2nd by winning their 2 games in hand on Manchester United.

Both Chelsea and Manchester United have great opportunities to get back to winning ways during the week as they host Portsmouth and Wolves respectively. Be sure to check out our Premier League Tips for those games and the other half dozen games midweek.

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Manchester City and Chelsea Prove to be Bad Bankers

Manchester City were suppose to be the bet of the day today. Back-to-back victories against Arsenal and Chelsea last week done them a world of good and a fixture with out-of-form and dire looking Bolton Wanderers looked to give them a great opportunity to string back-to-back victories in the Premier League as they maintain their push for a Champions League finish. While the argument not for backing City coming into this match was their poor form against sides outside the top 4, I really felt the Bolton defence wouldn't be able to cope with City's attack after the way they'd been playing lately. I didn't see their attacking being able to keep up, but I was proven wrong. I was talking to a friend last night about Ivan Klasnic being Bolton's hope of a bright spark and someone who may be able to keep them up. He scored 2 goals today that helped them get an unexpected point. While I bit on City's odds of 4/5 to win prior to kickoff, I did take them at evens and later 12/5 (after Craig Bellamy's red card) on a double chance to make a profit from this match.

A Champions League finish is going to take a lot of work after they drew 3-3 at Bolton today. While proving they can score, Manchester City failed to defend adequately as they conceded 3 goals to the relegation-threatened side. Selling Richard Dunne has proven to be a big mistake so far for Mark Hughes as he has got his form back at Aston Villa. Carlos Tevez scored a brace today as he

Further up the table, Chelsea were held 3-3. It could have been seen as one to spoil accumulators, but with Tottenham's shock home loss to Wolves, it was a bad day for the short-odds accumulators today. The Blues were made to pay from bad set piece defending once again, and bad, unorganised defending in general as they handed Everton 3 goals. I took Chelsea at 4/6 when 1-0 down after a Petr Cech goal and later at 6/4 when at 3-3 but this turned out to be a loser. After Chelsea looked like Champions a few weeks ago, it's now 4 games without a win in all competition and Manchester United can go level on points later this evening if they beat Aston Villa.

Not only has Chelsea's draw with Everton opened the door for Manchester United, but Arsenal could get right back into the chase, now 9 points behind the leaders with 2 games in hand. Arsenal play at Liverpool tomorrow, with a good record recently at Anfield and playing a side in dire form and pressure on their manager that Arsenal could increase with a victory.

At the bottom of the table, it was a bad day for West Ham who lost 1-0 at Birmingham, while Younes Kaboul rescued a late point for Portsmouth at Sunderland, Hull drew 0-0 at home to Blackburn, and Wigan took a point back home from the Britannia Stadium in the early kickoff today. Wolves' victory at Spurs moves them out of the relegation zone at West Ham's expense. Birmingham's victory moves them level on points with Liverpool. Burnley and Fulham drew in the other Premier League 3 o'clock kickoff.

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Posted by Barrie on Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Arsenal's Kids Fail to Score

Arsene Wenger fielded a lot of youngsters in his starting lineup for their trip to Olympiakos in the Champions League this evening, where they put on a good performance in terms of confidence and possession, but came away 1-0 losers.

They had already won the group before tonight, and Wenger, as he does fielded a very young side to give them experience on the big stage. When he done this last season, he came under criticism after a 2-0 defeat in Porto where they were overawed and the result saw them finish 2nd in the group. It hurt even more the following weekend when they drew at Middlesbrough in the Premier League.

But little criticism will head the way of the manager after this result. His side showed no fear as they passed the ball around freely and weren't intimidated by the Greek atmosphere. However they were made to pay for not creating many efforts, and not putting any away. Within 2 minutes of the restart, Olympiakos caught Arsenal's defence out as Leonardo raced past Kerrea Gilbert to roll the ball under Lukasz Fabianski for the only goal of the game. Gilbert was caught out on more than one occasion this evening. At the other end, Carlos Vela wasn't 2 one-on-one's as Arsenal failed to test Antonis Nikopolidis in the Olympiakos goal.

Theo Walcott, Mikael Silvestre and Alex Song were the most well-known players in the Arsenal starting lineup (is now the right moment to mention their left back, Tom Cruise?). Song won many a tackle for the Gunners as he does week in, week out. Theo Walcott wasn't as influential as Wenger may have been hoping. He miscontrolled a ball over the top that would have put him through one-on-one, while he didn't create enough goalscoring opportunities as Arsenal struggled in the final third of the field. It was similar to Manchester United when they lost 1-0 to Besiktas two weeks ago. Both Arsenal's and Manchester United's youngsters would have benefited from the experience of this and with the defeats being respectable scorelines it shouldn't have any negative impact on their confidence.

Liverpool were beat 2-1 at home to Fiorentina in this evening's Champions League, finishing 3rd in their group. They are now 7/1 favourites for the Europa League.

Last night Chelsea were held 2-2 at home to APOEL Nicosia in their final Champions League game, finishing as group winners. Manchester United were also group winners as Michael Owen stole the headlines in their 3-1 victory at Wolfsburg. The England international has been the talk of today with his performance, receiving endless praise and perhaps starting to payback those who doubted him at the end of the season. However, bookmakers aren't convinced by this one game performance. Michael Owen is 3/1 to make the England World Cup Squad.

The 16 qualifiers for the Champions League knockout stages are as follows:

Group winners
Bordeaux
Manchester United
Real Madrid
Chelsea
Fiorentina
Barcelona
Sevilla
Arsenal

Runners up
Bayern Munich
CSKA Moscow
AC Milan
FC Porto
Lyon
Inter Milan
VfB Stuttgart
Olympiakos

Domestic football returns at the weekend, so don't forget to check out our Premier League Tips, with previews going up tomorrow for Saturday's matches.

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Posted by Barrie on Monday, 7 December 2009

The Minnesota Vikings Were Found Out on Sunday Night

Coming into Sunday's game with the Arizona Cardinals, many had the Minnesota Vikings as the best team in the NFL - with a 19 year quarterback playing the best he's ever played, the best running back in the league, one of the best pass rushes in the league and only 1 defeat. Then they got outclassed by the inconsistent Cardinals who got it right on the night.

Brett Favre came into this game with only 3 interceptions all season, but added an extra 2, and it could have been a couple more but for the ball not quite sticking to Adrian Wilson's hands on more than 1 occasion. Favre could not figure out the Cardinals defence that kept Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice in check. Minnesota's own defence couldn't stop the ball getting into the hands of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin who combined for 15 catches, 241 yards and 3 touchdowns. And this came after their offensive line gave Kurt Warner endless time in the pocket to pick his pass, as Minnesota's pass rush didn't get to him all game.

The Vikings other threat is Adrian Peterson. After Chris Johnson put up 154 rushing yards against this defence 1 week ago, many were expecting Peterson to have a good time against this defence. That was not the case as he could only hamper 19 yards on 13 carries.

It must be said, it was a near-perfect performance from the Arizona Cardinals that helped them pull off this result. But it's a lesson for future opponents of the Minnesota Vikings that both Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson can be stopped and they can be beat.

Interestingly, Minnesota are now 10-2 on the season, but only 3-2 against teams with a winning record, of which 2 of those victories are against the Green Bay Packers and the other against the Baltimore Ravens who will drop to .500 with defeat at Lambeau Field tonight. Are they really Superbowl contenders?

As for the Arizona Cardinals and the Superbowl. History is not on their side. While they are close to defending the NFC West, my fact of the day is Kurt Warner has made the Superbowl on each of the 3 seasons he has started all 16 games. Warner missed Arizona's defeat to Tennessee last weekend (yes I know history can change but I find that to be an interesting statistic)...

Make sure to check out our weekly NFL Tipster throughout the remainder of the NFL season, for free expert tips.

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Posted by Barrie on Sunday, 6 December 2009

Chad Ochocinco Changing His Name Again

Chad Ochocinco put in a big performance today as the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Detroit Lions 23-13 to go 9-3, with a big lead at the top of the AFC North.

The wide receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson caught 9 passes for 137 yards and 1 touchdown. Expect him to thank his fans on his Twitter when he next logs in after making his breakfast with the help of fans at 7am Ohio time. Live on Ustream.tv, Ochocinco asked for help boiling eggs for breakfast, along with his oatmeal. The last time he done this was before a game against the Chicago Bears in week 7 where he caught a then-season high 10 catches for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 45-10 victory.

This wasn't the only news Chad broke to his live viewers, as he revealed he is planning to change his name for the second time in his career. After a Japanese film crew turned up in Cincinnati a few weeks ago to record a piece on the Bengals, they made a suggestion to change his surname to “Hachi Go”; 85 in Japanese. Chad says he likes the idea and repeatedly said his future surname on air as he held up a custom made jersey with the name on.

Chad Javon Ochocinco changed his surname from Johnson on October 25th 2006 in honour of Hispanic Heritage Month and is one of the most charismatic players in NFL history. He has also been a leading receiver in the NFL for the past 8 years and is known for his antics on and off the football field. He celebrated his touchdown today with a snuggie. There is no one quite like Chad in the NFL; he is an honour to the league.

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Posted by Barrie on Saturday, 5 December 2009

Manchester City End Draw Sequence with Impressive Victory

Manchester City ended their 7 straight Premier League draws with a 2-1 victory over Chelsea this evening.

Mark Hughes' side had to do it the hard way after Shay Given's save deflected back in off of teammate Emmanuel Adebayor to give the visitors the lead after 8 minutes. Chelsea failed to build on that as Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott in the centre of the City defence held Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka's chances down to a minimum.

Emmanuel Adebayor fired home an equaliser before half time, and for the remainding 10 minutes of the first half and early in the second half they started to take control as their confidence was clearly flowing. And it paid off, in controversial circumstances after Howard Webb awarded the home side a free kick and a yellow card to Ricardo Carvalho after seemingly do nothing but connect with Carlos Tevez after clearing the ball. Tevez drove the ball low and into the net after Petr Cech moved the wrong way on instinct, seeing the ball late.

City created few chances after taking the lead, although Carlos Tevez had a chance on the counter attack and a better pass could have gifted either Shaun Wright-Phillips or Emmanuel Adebayor a one-on-one close to the end, but for playing it straight to the defender.

Chelsea pressed late, and were awarded a penalty when Nedum Onuoha's clumbsy tackle brought down Didier Drogba in the area. Frank Lampard stepped up to take it with less than 10 minutes remaining but a poorly placed penalty was saved by Shay Given. Aruna Dindane and Cesc Fabregas had penalties saved in earlier Premier League games today. 6 goalkeepers kept clean sheets in the Premier League today, not including Peter Kurucz who kept out Manchester United in the final 20 minutes after replacing the ill Rob Green who'd conceded 4.

A vital win for Manchester City that moves them up into 6th, 1 point behind 4th placed Tottenham Hotspur. Expect to hear complaints about referee Howard Webb today who booked all 5 Chelsea defenders in this game and who's strange decision to give Manchester City a free kick for the winner. Importantly for Chelsea, John Terry limped off injured late in the second half.

Manchester United's 4-0 victory at West Ham closes the gap to 2 points on leaders Chelsea. They kept a clean sheet with a patched up defence that saw Michael Carrick drop into central defence alongside Wes Brown after Gary Neville went off injured in the first half, and Darren Fletcher at right back.

Arsenal's 2-0 victory over Stoke City brings them to within 8 points of Chelsea with a game in hand to keep their chances alive, while Liverpool were held 0-0 at Blackburn with big summer signing Alberto Aquilani sitting on the bench for the whole match.

In the early kickoff, Portsmouth's vital 2-0 victory at home to Burnley brings them to 10 points and within 4 points of safety. Another team who picked up a crucial victory was Wolves; 2-1 winners over Bolton as they swap positions in the relegation zone.

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Posted by Barrie on Friday, 4 December 2009

Groups Drawn for 2010 World Cup

England have been drawn against USA, Algeria and Slovenia in Group C of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with a potential match against Germany as early as round 2. England start their campaign with USA on June 12th, then play Algeria on June 18th and finish their group with Slovenia on June 23rd. England beat Slovenia 2-1 in a friendly earlier this year, while Slovenia eliminated Guus Hiddink's Russia in the playoffs on away goals.

Holders Italy will be strong favourites for their group, Group F, alongside Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.

Co-favourites and the only nation to have qualified for every World Cup, Brazil have been drawn in Group G against North Korea, Ivory Coast and Portugal, which could be branded the "group of death".

The other co-favourites, Spain have been drawn in Group H with Switzerland, Honduras and Chile.

Hosts South Africa are actually the lowest ranked team in the tournament but were seeded for being hosts. They hope being the home nation has its advantages as they don't want to be the first host to be eliminated at the group stage. They have a tricky Group A, opening the World Cup against Mexico, with Uruguay and France also in the group.

With 188 days to go, there is plenty of time for more discussion and insight, but for now I will leave you with the group draw (seeded teams in bold)

Group A
South Africa
Mexico
Uruguay
France

Group B
Argentina
Nigeria
South Korea
Greece

Group C
England
USA
Algeria
Slovenia

Group D
Germany
Australia
Serbia
Ghana

Group E
Netherlands
Denmark
Japan
Cameroon

Group F
Italy
Paraguay
New Zealand
Slovakia

Group G
Brazil
North Korea
Ivory Coast
Portugal

Group H
Spain
Switzerland
Honduras
Chile

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Posted by Barrie on Thursday, 3 December 2009

Carling Cup Exit Plays into Chelsea's Hands

I saw disappointed Chelsea fans last night as they were eliminated on penalty kicks by Blackburn from the Carling Cup.

The cup that most teams have had little interest in over recent years, but Chelsea fans were perhaps hoping to win this one in a desperate need for wanting to build a history, one things that they have been taunted for by opposing big 4 fans for having a bare trophy cabinet.

But this competition may play into their hands now that they've been eliminated. Just like our five senses, when one goes another improves. One competition is over for Chelsea, more focus can be paid on the other 3. And being that the second leg of the Carling Cup semi finals are played during the African Cup of Nations, and the first so close to the start of the competition, Chelsea players may already be on their way. These are two fixtures Chelsea wouldn't appreciate, having to make changes to their first team already during their Premier League campaign with the absentees of first team regulars Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel amongst others. Chelsea's Premier League fixtures however are kind during this tournament.

Not only has that been kind to Chelsea, but the semi final draw that sees Manchester United face rivals City. Will Sir Alex Ferguson stick to his reserves in those fixtures against a City first team? It will be a tough decision, with fan pressure for him not to add a few key and experienced first team players to those fixtures, that potentially upsetting his plans for the league in January. The good news for United is these fixtures come either side of games with bottom half and relegation-threatened sides, which may allow him to put stronger sides out in the cup without dropping points in the league. Although a weakened side at home to Sunderland earlier this season dropped 2 points and Ferguson cannot afford to do the same again.

Manchester United have a good run of fixtures between now and their Carling Cup fixtures which is the making of a long running streak for them to put pressure on Chelsea's lead at the top. The current leaders and Premier League favourites have a trip to Manchester City this weekend, before a run of fixtures they will be fancying their chances of maintaining and even extending their lead at the top before the African Cup of Nations in January.

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Posted by Barrie on Tuesday, 1 December 2009

2009: The Season of the Quarterback

Drew Brees produced a perfect quarterback passer rating as he threw for 371 yards and 5 touchdowns in just 23 pass attempts against the New England Patriots last nights, as the New Orleans Saints maintained their unbeaten start, now sitting at 11-0.

Brees narrowly has the highest average passer rating (112.6), and is one of five over the 100 mark, alongwith Brett Favre (112.1), Aaron Rodgers (104.9), Peyton Manning (102.5) and Philip Rivers (101.6). Rivers was the only quarterback to finish the season above 100 last season. Other star quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer haven't got those ratings through 12 weeks, but help make a case for one of the strongest quarterback seasons in NFL history.

Brees and Favre are early suggestions for the NFL MVP this season, with only Chris Johnson the only possible non-quarterback candidate, but playing for a team below .500, it's very unlikely he will get it. Brees and Favre are favourites to face each other in the NFC Championship game this season with their teams looking a level above the rest and putting in consistent performances.

Brett Favre is arguably having the best season of his career, leading the Minnesota Vikings to a 10-1 record so far and on course to set an NFL record for touchdown/interception ratio, having thrown 24 touchdowns to 3 interceptions so far, despite missing training camp.

Peyton Manning is a candidate for the MVP once again this season as he looks to lead his Colts to an undefeated season. Sacked just 10 times so far, only Brees (27) has thrown more touchdowns than Manning (24) so far this season. He is making his receivers look good, while Brees genuinely has a top group of receivers at his disposal.

Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers' performances are going a little unnoticed this season, but both may lead their teams to the playoffs this season. Rodgers rating, and 22 touchdowns have come behind the a poor offensive line that has seen him sacked a league high 44 times this season. Another slow start from Rivers and Chargers has seen them win their last 6 games, and a 1 game lead over the Denver Broncos in the AFC West.

This season, the NFL has a lot of top quarterbacks putting up big ratings and viewer numbers. Which one will lead his franchise to glory this season?

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