All posts by Matthew Dixon

AFC Midseason Report Card

After 8 Weeks in the NFL, here are my grades for each team in the AFC. Enjoy and feel free to comment!

AFC East

1. New England Patriots (6-2) – B+. The Patriots have been successful despite the offense struggling through the first half of the season. The defense has played well, but injuries to Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Aqib Talib might hurt them in the 2nd half. I expect the Offense to get better and the defense to continue playing at the same level.

2. New York Jets (4-4) – C+. The Jets have exceeded my expectations from the start of the season, but they are lacking consistency. They have alternated wins and losses to start the season and only have one good win (vs. New England). Geno Smith has played well for a rookie and if the Jets can find some consistency they will be tough going forward.

3. Miami Dolphins (3-4) – C. The Dolphins started out 3-0 after some hype in the offseason but have now lost four games in a row and are sputtering. Ryan Tannehill has played well at times this season, but he has 9 interceptions and 32 sacks already. They need more offensive consistency to push for a possible wild card spot.

4. Buffalo Bills (3-5) – C. I think the Bills have played respectably on defense to start the year, but need to find more on offense. The injury to E.J. Manuel hurts them, but Thad Lewis has done well in replace of Manuel. They need more output from their running backs if they want to finish above .500.

AFC North

1. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) – B+. The Bengals are really starting to become a top team with how both the offense and defense are playing. They have beaten some good teams (New England and Green Bay), but also lost a head-scratcher at Cleveland. Overall, there is a lot to like about this team going forward and they are a deep team.

2. Baltimore Ravens (3-4) – C-. The Ravens’ start was not unexpected to me, but as defending Super Bowl Champions they need to show a lot more. They are not doing enough offensively and the pass protection needs to get better. The bye week should help Ray Rice and the run game, which in turn will help the passing offense. Still a lot left to do in the 2nd half of the year if they want to make the playoffs.

3. Cleveland Browns (3-5) – C. I give the Browns a C because they have played well despite several issues. For one, there has been a QB carousel between Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, and now Jason Campbell. Campbell appears to be the starter going forward and that should help solidify the offense as the season wares on. Secondly, the Browns traded their 1st Round pick from 2012 in Trent Richardson which does not appear to have had any effect (good or bad) on the offense. The defense has played well this year and will continue to keep them in games.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5) – D. The Steelers have played horrendously on offense and have virtually no running game. For a proud franchise like the Steelers, this is completely unacceptable. The defense has played well for the most part, but how long can they keep that up in a season considering they are an older group?

AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts (5-2) – B+. Andrew Luck continues to shine as the Colts won some big games at San Francisco and beat Denver and Seattle in Indy. The trade for Richardson has not worked out well thus far from a production standpoint, but there is still time to fix that. The defense has played well, but needs to work on stopping the run. Some big games in December at Cincinnati (Week 14) and at Kansas City (Week 16) should determine how many home games Indianapolis plays in the postseason.

2. Tennessee Titans (3-4) – C+. This was a tough team for me to grade because they have lost to three really good teams (Kansas City, Seattle, and San Francisco), but have beaten decent teams (San Diego and New York Jets). For the most part, the Titans are playing good defense and Jake Locker is coming back from the injury to his hip. The Titans are a decent team and a little more offensive consistency will help them in the 2nd half.

3. Houston Texans (2-5) – F. Given the expectations and the lackluster start, the first half of the season has been a failure for the Texans. They barely beat San Diego and Tennessee to start the season and then Matt Schaub started playing poorly and the Texans lost five in a row to go into their bye week. The loss of Brian Cushing will hurt the defense and the injury to Foster will slow the offense down. Things are not looking good for the Texans after some high hopes at the start of the campaign.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8) – F. The grade might be harsh as everyone expected the Jaguars to play poorly, but the Jagaurs have been completely inept. The offensive line has blocked poorly, Blaine Gabbert looked completely lost when he was playing, and the defense is on the field way too long due to the offense. There is a long way to go for this team to be competitive this season.

AFC West

1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-0) – A+. This was probably the easiest grade to give. A team that goes from 2-14 to 8-0 the next season is a shoo-in for an A+. The defense is playing great and the players are adapting well to the offensive system. The only caveat with this team is they play some close games against opponents that are clearly inferior (Tennessee and Cleveland come to mind). Nevertheless, look out for this team in December and January.

2. Denver Broncos (7-1) – B. What? Only a “B”? Yes because everyone expected the Broncos to be good, and they have been, but their defense is not very good. The have had suspension and injuries to start the year, but that is no excuse for giving up 48 points to the Cowboys or 190 yards to Justin Blackmon (who is Jacksonville’s only receiving threat). You cannot keep falling behind and expect to win every game, especially when it is to a good team (see Indianapolis).

3. San Diego Chargers (4-3) – C+. Let’s start with the fact that Philip Rivers is playing excellent this year and the offense is clicking even with some injuries. My main issue with the Chargers is they have lost games late to Houston and Tennessee and they threw that clunker in against Oakland. Overall, they have done a decent job in the first half of the season.

4. Oakland Raiders (3-4) – C. The Raiders have looked good on defense this season, but have struggled a bit on offense. Terrelle Pryor is the best fit at QB for the Raiders and as he gets more experience, the offense will find it’s groove. They have lost to top teams (Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis), but have do have a win against San Diego. The Raiders will be a very tough out in the 2nd half.

Grade Letters Distribution

Below is the distribution of each letter grade given out to AFC teams.

A – 1 (Kansas City)

B – 4 (Cincinnati, Denver, Indianapolis, New England)

C – 8 (Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Miami, New York Jets, Oakland, San Diego, Tennessee)

D – 1 (Pittsburgh)

F – 2 (Houston, Jacksonville)

College Football Week 9: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not

Let’s take a look at Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in College Football for Week 9:

Who’s Hot

  • Duke – With their 13-10 upset win over #14 Virginia Tech, Duke is now bowl eligible for the 2nd season in a row. It was Duke’s first win over a ranked opponent since 1994. David Cutcliffe is slowly building this team up, but I doubt anyone will take them lightly after this win.
  • Minnesota –  After opening Big 10 Conference play with two losses it looked like Minnesota would struggle again this year against Big 10 foes. Last week’s win against struggling Northwestern was probably marked with an asterisk by more than a few people. This week’s game against Nebraska was no fluke as they rode a solid defensive performance to a 34-23 win and are now 6-2 overall and 2-2 in Big 10 play.
  • Minnesota Defensive Coordinator Tracy Claeys – In the last two games without Jerry Kill, Tracy Claeys has led Minnesota to two wins. The team has looked very impressive the last two weeks, especially on defense. There is no doubt he will get some looks to take over an FBS program at season’s end.
  • Ball State – Can we get a little love for MACtion? After losing on September 14 at North Texas, the Cardinals have reeled off six straight wins including the road win at Virginia on October 5. They looked destined to be 9-1 going into the Wednesday, November 13 matchup at currently undefeated Northern Illinois.
  • Rice and Tulane – After opening 1-2, Rice has won five straight and are 4-0 in Conference USA. Tulane opened 2-2 and have won four in a row to go to 6-2 overall and 4-0 in C-USA. The November 30 game of Tulane at Rice looks like it will decide which team represents C-USA West division in the conference championship. Not bad for two teams that used to be doormats not so long ago.

 

Who’s Not

  • Northwestern – After starting 4-0, the Wildcats have dropped four games in a row, all in Big 10 play. The road does not get any easier as their remaining games are @ Nebraska, vs. Michigan, vs Michigan State, and @ Illinois. There is a strong possibility that Northwestern will go from 10 wins in 2012 to a losing record this year.
  • Iowa State’s Defense – In the first five games for the Cyclones, they gave up 149 points. In the last two against Baylor and Oklahoma State, they gave up 129 points. Iowa State has given up an average of 316.5 yards over the last two games.
  • Temple’s Defense – The Owls gave up 7 points in the first 29:14 against SMU. In the final 30:46, the Temple defense gave up 52 points and ended up losing 59-49. That is why they are 1-7 overall.
  • Penn State’s Defense – Seeing a trend yet? The Nittany Lions have given up at least 40 points in each of their last three games. 44 to Indiana, 40 to Michigan, and 63 to Ohio State.
  • New Mexico State – Yes, New Mexico State did beat Abilene Christian 34-29, but let’s look at the facts. In 2012, Abilene Christian was competing as a Division II school. In 2013, they are considered a transitional FCS team, which includes a mix of FBS, FCS, and Division II opponents. It bodes well for ACU’s future in the FCS, but the same cannot be said for New Mexico State.

Champions League Match Day 3 Roundup

Another exciting week of UEFA Champions League has action drawn to a close. The theme of the week was big wins. Six teams won by at least two goals (Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, PSG, and Bayern Munich) with the last four happening on Wednesday. Here is a recap of match day 3 and my forecast of how each group will finish.

Group A

Manchester United obtained sole possession of the top spot thanks to an own goal from Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez. Manchester United won the game 1-0 and has seven points . Bayer Leverkusen blitzed Shakhtar Donetsk 4-0 to move into 2nd place with six points. Shakhtar dropped to 3rd place after their blowout loss, but remain in striking distance with four points. Real Sociedad remains pointless in the group after three losses.

I see Bayer Leverkusen getting through to the Round of 16 along with Manchester United. It sets up well for both teams to make it through. I see Shakhtar finishing 3rd, though I could be wrong if they can an upset of the top two. Real Sociedad will probably finish last as their defensive performances will not be enough to jump any teams.

Group B

Real Madrid used two goals from Ronaldo on either side of Juventus’ Llorente to win 2-1 and stay atop the group. The win, combined with other results, means Real Madrid can finish no worse than 3rd place in the group. Galatasaray crushed Copenhagen 3-1 in the other match as they moved into 2nd with four points. Juventus dropped to 3rd place and have two points and Copenhagen are last with one point.

Real Madrid have a hammerlock on this group and I do not see that changing. The battle for 2nd place is intriguing to say the least. I will call for Galatasaray to finish 2nd because Juventus has disappointed in the CL thus far. The Copenhagen-Juventus game from match day 2 spoke volumes to me. In last, we have Copenhagen who have truly have underwhelmed in both the Danish Superliga and Champions League.

Group C

PSG continued their obliterating ways, this time it was Anderlecht on the receiving end of a 5-0 loss. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had four goals including one wonder volley that made the Anderlecht fans stand and applaud. As with Real Madrid, PSG cannot finish worse than 3rd in the group and have nine points thus far. Olympiacos and Benfica drew 1-1 in Lisbon that maintained their positions in the table. Both teams have four points but Olympiacos is ahead on goal differential at 0 compared to -1 for Benfica. Anderlecht is bottom of the table with zero points and zero goals.

PSG is on cruise control right now and are headed for the Round of 16. I forecast Olympiacos joining them there due to their next match at home against Benfica. That leaves Benfica as the 3rd team in the table and they will get to play on in the Europa League. Lastly, Anderlecht have a lot of work left to do if they want to obtain a point. They have lost by at least two goals in every match in this group.

Group D

Bayern Munich thrashed  Viktoria Plzen 5-0 at home to maintain their perfect record, leaving them atop Group D with nine points. Manchester City went into Russia and won 2-1 over CSKA Moscow to take sole possession of 2nd place with six points. CSKA Moscow falls to 3rd place with three points while Viktoria Plzen have failed to record a point thus far.

The Title Holders of Bayern Munich are on their way to the Round of 16. I see Manchester City finally getting over the hump and making the Round of 16. They should win both of their next two games at home against CSKA Moscow and Plzen which will be enough to get them into the Knockout stages. The real question is can they challenge Bayern Munich? I have CSKA Moscow doing enough to hang onto the 3rd spot and moving them into the Europa League. Plzen will finish last unless they fix their defense which has given up at least three goals in each CL match so far.

Group E

Chelsea used a brace from Fernando Torres, of all players, to cruise past Schalke 3-0. Due to this result, both Chelsea and Schalke are tied on points at six, but Chelsea holds the better goal differential (+6 compared to +1 for Schalke). Meanwhile, Steaua Bucuresti and Basel drew 1-1 thanks to a late goal from Leandro Tatu of Steaua. Basel is 3rd in the group with four points while Steaua Bucuresti is the low team with only one point.

At this point, I would give the nod to Chelsea to make it through to the Round of 16. I am going to go with Basel to take the 2nd spot in this group. I think they go on the road to Schalke on Match day 6 and beat Schalke. That means Schalke as the 3rd team in the group and go into Europa League while Steaua will finish last.

Group F

The Group of Death has lived up to the excitement as Match day 3 proved. Borussia Dortmund went to London, England and used an 82nd minute goal from Robert Lewandowski to win 2-1 and put them in a tie for 1st place with Arsenal. In the other game, Napoli won by the same score of 2-1 and make it a three way tie atop the group. Marseille are languishing in last with zero points.

Due to the three way tie between Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, and Napoli, total points and goal differential between the teams in the matches they have played come into effect. All teams have three points while Arsenal has a +1 goal differential, Dortmund with 0, and Napoli has -1.

This group is tough to call but I will go with Borussia Dortmund to win it at this point. They have the experience in tough groups (see 2012-13 season) and their remaining home games are against Arsenal and Napoli. For 2nd place I see Napoli finishing in that spot. They too have two games remaining at home (Marseille and Arsenal). It’s hard to put Arsenal in the 3rd spot especially considering the way the have started both the Premier League and the Champions League, but I am going to take a chance and say it will happen. They could just as easily finish 1st, but that is why they call it the Group of Death. Marseille appear destined for the bottom spot in this tough group, but I have a feeling they will be the reason one of the other three teams will be in the Europa League. I see Marseille winning at least one game, but it won’t be enough to get them out of the basement.

Group G

Atletico Madrid’s 3-0 win at Austria Wien has put them in a dominant position heading into the last three CL games. Atletico have obtained all nine of the maximum points possible. Zenit Saint Petersburg went on the road against Porto, got a late goal to win the match 1-0, and took 2nd place with four points. Porto sit in 3rd with three points and Austria Wien are last with one point.

It is difficult to see a scenario in which Atletico Madrid do not make the Round of 16 and they could have that berth sealed by the end of Match day 4. I will call for Zenit to hold on for 2nd due to them having Porto and Atletico Madrid in Russia the next two games. Porto are capable of finishing 2nd, but I see them landing in the 3rd spot and thus into the Europa League. Finally, we come to Austria Wien who are not mathematically eliminated from contetion, but need to show more if they want to contend for even 3rd place and the Europa League slot.

Group H

Milan and Barcelona played to a 1-1 draw after goals from Robinho and Messi. The result left Barcelona top of the table with seven points and Milan stayed 2nd with five points. The group’s other match between Celtic and Ajax ended 2-1 in favor of Celtic. That win gives Celtic three points and they sit 3rd. Ajax are bottom of the group with one point.

This group looked like it would be Barcelona and Milan before the games were played and it still looks that way now. It would take a lot of upsets to see either Celtic or Ajax finish in 2nd place. As for 3rd place, I see Celtic going to the Europa League. If Celtic can win or draw in Amsterdam or pull an upset or draw against Milan, I think they will be all but guaranteed 3rd.

 

The next match day takes place on Tuesday, November 5 (Groups A through D) and Wednesday, November 6 (Groups E through F). Be sure to enjoy the action!

NFL Betting Odds

In this link you will find the betting odds for all the NFL Football games since the start of the 2012 season. The spreadsheet will be updated weekly.

As with the NCAA Football Spreadsheet, let me know if there are any mistakes by commenting below or emailing admin@sportsenthusiasts.net.

UEFA World Cup Play-off Draw Thoughts

Earlier today the play-off draw for UEFA took place in Zurich, Switzerland. The seeded teams were Portugal, Greece, Croatia, and Ukraine. The unseeded teams were France, Sweden, Romania, and Iceland. Here is how the Draw shook out:

Portugal vs Sweden

Ukraine vs France

Greece vs Romania

Iceland vs Croatia

All first leg ties will take place on Friday, November 15, 2013 and the second leg ties will be played on Tuesday, November 19, 2013.

Portugal vs Sweden

I personally see Sweden upsetting Portugal in the first leg match in Portugal. Portugal has had issues at home in this World Cup cycle including draws versus Israel and Northern Ireland. Sweden has played well on the road including a 4-4 draw AT Germany in October 2012.

Ukraine vs France

The Ukraine-France tie is  interesting. Both teams  went unbeaten on the road in this WC Qualifying cycle, while France lost once at home to Spain and Ukraine also lost once at home to Montenegro. Part of me thinks Ukraine will win this tie, but I will go with France because they seem to get it done when it is win or stay home.

Greece vs Romania

I see a couple of typical Greece games. Defensive and counter-attacking with Greece capitalizing on their few chances. I have a difficult time seeing Romania win this tie, but it would be nice to Romania make the World Cup for the first time since 1998.

Iceland vs Croatia

Normally I would call this one for Croatia in a romp, but there are some serious issues with how Croatia finished qualifying in Group A. Croatia obtained 1 point out of a possible 12 in their last four games. In addition, they lost two of those last four games to Scotland. That is not a sign you want to see prior to the two biggest games of the year. Meanwhile, Iceland went unbeaten in their last four games, winning two and drawing the other two. I’m going to pick Croatia to win the tie, but I expect high scoring affairs and would not at all be surprised to see Iceland make their first World Cup.

Betting Odds

Here are the betting odds as of this writing for each team to make the 2014 World Cup. The lines are from 5Dimes.

Portugal: -250

Sweden: +190

Ukraine: +265

France: -355

Greece: -130

Romania: +100

Iceland: +423

Croatia: -600

NCAA Football Odds

In this link you will find the betting odds for all the NCAA Football games so far in 2013. These are for FBS schools only. The spreadsheet will be updated weekly.

Feel free to let me know if you catch any mistakes. Comment below or email admin@sportsenthusiasts.net.