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Midweek Football Picks 2016 (October 18-20)

I continue to make moves to get October back into the positive and took another step towards that this past weekend. I am looking for that t...

Sunday, 23 October 2016

WTA Finals Picks 2016 (October 23rd)

The WTA season officially doesn't end until the week after next when the Elite Trophy tournament is completed, but for all intents and purposes it is going to end with the WTA Finals played in Singapore this week. I have no idea why the organisers of the Tour have decided their season should not be concluded by the WTA Finals like the ATP does with their own World Tour Finals and this is surely going to change in the coming years.

It wasn't until Saturday that the final eight players were officially decided as Svetlana Kuznetsova defended her title in Moscow to finish above Johanna Konta and take her place in Group B. There were some critics of the way Kuznetsova has earned the points over the last three weeks of the season, but I would love to ask those people why they feel the need to act so idiotic? The Tour is not over until every tournament is concluded so it is well within the rules for players to take their place in draws with the aim of getting into the WTA Finals and I have no idea why that would bother people?

We will see the same thing on the ATP Tour over the next three weeks as players chase the remaining spots in London. Rafael Nadal withdrew from the rest of the season to make sure he is ready to go in the 2017 season and that means there are a number of players who are chasing the remaining three berths in London. The tournaments this week have some big Ranking points attached and we still have one more Master event to come so there is room for a surprise face or two to reach the World Tour Finals.

The picks have had solid performances the last two weeks and I am looking to use that momentum to push forward into the remainder of this season. I will begin this week on Sunday when the WTA Finals get underway from Singapore, while we also will see the Finals of the three ATP events played on the same day.

Simona Halep - 2.5 games v Madison Keys: This will be the fourth time Simona Halep and Madison Keys will have played since Wimbledon and the last three times has seen the Romanian come through by just being a little better at the big moments. Halep has found a way to get into the Madison Keys service games and take away the big weapon that the American has which has allowed Halep to out-rally her and eventually wear down her opponent.

We haven't seen Halep since Beijing while Keys took in an extra tournament to make sure of her place in Singapore. The manner in which Halep was beaten in her last appearance in Beijing might have had an influence on her price, but I do think she is capable of getting off to a winning start in the Group.

The return game has been good enough to force Keys to earn her points and the Halep movement has made it difficult for her opponent to play her favoured serve to heavy forehand for easy points on the court. The power Keys has still makes her dangerous and she can hit purple patches where no player will be able to live with her, but those don't really last long enough to affect the Halep game.

You would think Keys would have more success in the return games, but I think she is guilty of overplaying on the return when I have watched her play. Too often Keys goes for too much and that leads to mistakes or being in awkward positions on the court when trying to hit winners and I like Halep to win this match in a very similar fashion as she has when these players have met in the last few months.

I will just look for Halep to be a little more solid at the big moments of this match and that can see her come through with a 64, 64 win.

Angelique Kerber - 3.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: It was Dominika Cibulkova who won the first four matches when her and Angelique Kerber, but the World Number 1 has turned that around by winning the last four in a row. This is still a fascinating match as Kerber had just struggled for consistency down the stretch, while Cibulkova won the title in Linz which allowed her to finish in the Number 7 spot for a place in the WTA Finals.

This does look a very difficult Group to predict, but I think Cibulkova might be the player that ultimately comes up short. I think she will in the opener against Kerber who should be mentally fresh for this tournament and who has admitted her shoulder injury was part of the reason for her issues in the last Asian swing of 2016.

Kerber has come to Singapore and spoken about being in much stronger shape and looking to make up for her Group Stage exit at the WTA Finals in 2015. Her record against Cibulkova will certainly inspire confidence in her own game as she has been able to use her movement and solid defensive skills to force mistakes from the Cibulkova game.

I am a big fan of Cibulkova and think she can be very dangerous when she is in the kind of form she showed in winning the title in Linz. Reaching the WTA Finals for the first time is a big achievement for Cibulkova and one she would love to extend as long as possible, but I feel she will be playing from behind in the Group against an opponent she has found difficult to read.

I expect to see a few breaks of serve for both players, but eventually Kerber can come through with a 75, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Simona Halep - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Angelique Kerber - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Friday, 21 October 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (October 22-23)

It looked like another week when I would be taking a chunk out of the October losses, but a truly dreadful time picking the Europa League games on Thursday has sent me hurtling backwards.

That has made it increasingly unlikely that I will be able to turn October into a positive month, but the remaining week of the month is now geared towards putting some wins together to take some momentum into the November fixtures.

Once again we will be having an early international break in November before a clear run heading into a really busy Christmas period which has frustrated at least one manager. Jurgen Klopp was spitting feathers just moments after learning the festive fixtures for Liverpool and there will be a few other managers already considering how they will get their squads through that period.

From December 4th to January 7th, Manchester United will play at least nine games in all competitions and you could potentially add another game if they reach the English Football League Cup Quarter Final. That is a lot of games for any squad to deal with and I won't be surprised if injuries are the outcome.

However, I love Christmas and being able to watch football so what could really be done? Well I think it might have been smart to move the Monday 2nd January fixtures to either Tuesday or Wednesday which would have made all the difference when it comes to recovery time. I know that is a little unfair on the fans with Monday being a Bank Holiday, but outside of a 'Winter Break' or reducing international commitments through the year I am not sure how you can tally the desire to watch football over Christmas with the avoiding of a congested list.

Thinking about Christmas already is crazy, but this whole 2016 calendar year has flown by and at least by thinking about it I might avoid the headache of rushing out a few days before to get my shopping done. I have promised myself that I will have it all done by early December (no, I am not going to cheap out by waiting for the Black Friday sales first), but let's see if that comes true in six weeks time.

The Premier League weekend does not have a Monday Night Football game lined up this weekend so will take place over Saturday and Sunday. There are some big games on slate domestically so let's just get on with the picks from this Weekend's Football.

Bournemouth v Tottenham Hotspur PickThe Premier League weekend will open with an intriguing game between two sides who will feel they have some form behind them. Bournemouth are coming in off a hugely successful day against Hull City, while Tottenham Hotspur protect a 7 game unbeaten run in all competitions.

The concern for Tottenham Hotspur fans has to be the amount of chances they have wasted in the last couple of games which have both ended in draws. Mauricio Pochettino has to feel that they won't keep missing those opportunities, but it does make me wonder if the absence of Harry Kane is a much bigger issue than the media have made out.

You have to think Kane would have taken at least one of the chances that have been created in the last couple of games which would have produced a win. Tottenham Hotspur can't afford to be as wasteful this weekend against a Bournemouth team that have scored in every home game this season and who will have been encouraged by the fact that the away team will be without Toby Alderweireld this weekend.

Alderweireld's absence has meant there are a few more gaps to exploit in Tottenham Hotspur's defence and players like Callum Wilson and Junior Stanislas have shown they have goals at this level.

I think the attacking players on display in this game will help produce an exciting game as Eddie Howe won't want his Bournemouth players to sit back and contain Tottenham Hotspur. That style does mean there will be chances for Tottenham Hotspur too and it might be the third League meeting in a row between these teams that can produce at least three goals.

I have to feel Tottenham Hotspur deserve their favouritism because I can't see them continue to be as wasteful in front of goal as they have been in the last couple of games. Bournemouth can play their part in this one too having scored in every game played at The Vitality Stadium this season, and my feeling is the first game of the Premier League weekend will produce a 2-1 scoreline, most likely to Tottenham Hotspur, and I will back goals with that in mind.

Arsenal v Middlesbrough PickNo one knows whether Arsenal are going to show the character in the squad to sustain a title challenge this time around, but you can't doubt how well they are playing at the moment. They have won plenty of games in a row which will be swelling the confidence of the players, while Arsenal are incredibly dangerous at The Emirates Stadium where they have scored at least twice in every home game this season.

Arsenal have won 5 in a row at home and the goals conceded at Swansea City are an exception to how well the side have been defending.

They are facing a Middlesbrough team who have struggled for goals during this Premier League season and who have lost 4 of their last 5 League games. While they have shown toughness away from home, the games against Sunderland, West Brom and West Ham United are not comparable to visiting Arsenal.

Middlesbrough have played at Everton too and were dismissed 3-1 at Goodison Park and I would expect Arsenal to win with a level of comfort on Saturday. They have a number of forward players in very strong form and I can't see Middlesbrough containing Arsenal nor threaten them as much as Swansea City did last weekend.

Not many would have picked Arsenal to be leading the table before the end of October when they took a single point from their first couple of League games this season. However I think Arsenal win by a couple of goals at least and can move to the summit of the Premier League for at least a few hours before Manchester City take to the field on Sunday.

Leicester City v Crystal Palace Pick: I am not buying all this nonsense about Leicester City being more focused on the Champions League than the defence of their Premier League title. I think the reality is that The Foxes have played Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in the Premier League and the likes of Porto, Copenhagen and Club Brugge in the Champions League and their level has seen them fail to match the top sides in England.

Let's face it, Leicester City overachieved massively last season and most would have tipped them up as a mid-table side at best this time around. Maybe they finish inside the top ten, but ultimately no one was expecting huge things from them.

The easy suggestion they are focused on the Champions League has to come from the points they have earned- but aside from the win over Club Brugge, Leicester City may easily have dropped points to both Porto and Copenhagen with better finishing from their visitors to the King Power Stadium.

No doubt you will hear the 'Champions League being prioritised' suggestions again if Leicester City fail to beat Crystal Palace this weekend, but this far from an easy game. Alan Pardew's men have had a week to prepare for this game and they have plenty of attacking threats to make them a dangerous team for Leicester City to face, particularly from set pieces where Claudio Ranieri's men have struggled.

The Leicester City games have not been as entertaining this season, for the most part, as they were last season because they have looked better defensively at home. The same can't be said for The Foxes away from home though and again I think the fixture list and some luck has perhaps played a part in their clean sheets at home. I expect Crystal Palace to really test out the backline in this one and Christian Benteke owes the manager a performance having missed a penalty in the 0-1 home loss to West Ham United last Saturday.

Games between these clubs have resulted in low-scoring matches in recent times, but I think they can buck that trend this weekend. I do think Crystal Palace can play their part, but defensively they have looked vulnerable and Leicester City have enough about them to create chances and score goals too. At odds against I am going to back at least three goals to be shared out in what could easily end up being a 2-1 scoreline either way.

Liverpool v West Brom PickIt is easy to point the finger at Jose Mourinho and blame his 'negativity' for the way the game at Anfield developed on Monday Night Football, but Liverpool have to be disappointed with their own performance. Everyone expected them to come out with some fire, but Jurgen Klopp can be blamed for starting Daniel Sturridge up front which took away the fluidity of the Liverpool attack.

It is the interchanging front three that have caused so many problems for Liverpool's opponents at the start of this season, but Sturridge is not able to really play in that way. It made it easy for Manchester United to defend and Liverpool only improved when Sturridge was replaced in the second half.

I expect Liverpool to return to the formation which has worked well for them through this season and that could mean big problems for West Brom who have yet to take on one of the big clubs in the Division on their travels.

Last week they did face Tottenham Hotspur, but West Brom cannot afford to give Liverpool the kind of chances they gave to Spurs because they can't expect Ben Foster to have the special day he did two weeks in a row. Make no mistake that Foster saved West Brom, but it is going to be difficult to contain Liverpool with the room they allowed Tottenham Hotspur who dominated possession but also created plenty.

With the players Liverpool have and the free-scoring they had been doing at Anfield prior to the game with Manchester United I expect this to be a long day for West Brom. Tony Pulis will set them out to defend in numbers and restrict the space as Mourinho did, but Manchester United were thankful to David De Gea in the second half and I am not sure West Brom can match that fitness over ninety minutes.

I do think West Brom can pose problems from set pieces, but they have to show enough ambition to produce corners and free kicks in the Liverpool final third and that is an issue. I can see Liverpool making a much more positive start this weekend than they did against Manchester United and eventually they will wear down and secure an impressive result.

Tottenham Hotspur could have had three or four against West Brom last weekend and I think Liverpool will do enough to win this by a couple of goals in the second live game on Saturday.

Manchester City v Southampton PickThere might have been a few jokes flying around about the scoreline in the Manchester City loss to Barcelona, but I actually was quite impressed with the way they played before being reduced to ten men. Mistakes cost Manchester City against one of the best teams in Europe, but they should be able to get away with a few more against Southampton in this Premier League game.

At the moment Southampton deserve more plaudits for their performances than Manchester City, but I think the home team might be being stung by more criticism than they deserve. With a bit more luck and composure, Manchester City might be coming into this game with two very positive results rather than the ones they have produced and I think there will be a reaction.

Sergio Aguero has to be chomping at the bit to return to the side having been on the substitute bench the last two games and I am not buying rumours that Guardiola doesn't fancy him as a player. He played with a strong centre forward at Bayern Munich and I think Aguero will be a big player for Manchester City and has all the quality to make a scoring return to the side.

Southampton won't be a pushover as they have shown in recent weeks, especially with a strong defensive base that will be similar to what Manchester City faced against Everton last week. Playing a Ronald Koeman side last weekend will have prepared Guardiola for something similar and I think Manchester City created enough to have been able to win that game with some comfort on another day.

There is a feeling that Manchester City are going to come out with something to prove and Southampton have had some long afternoons in this Stadium in recent seasons. I have to credit the defensive performances from The Saints, but they are going to have to be very resilient in this one and I feel the recent fixture list has contributed to their success.

I will back Manchester City to show they are not quite in the crisis some would suggest and have a little more luck on their side to produce a win by a couple of goals this Sunday. For all of the defensive praise, it should be noted that Southampton have not scored in their last 3 away games and failing to do that here should allow Manchester City to cover the Asian Handicap.

Chelsea v Manchester United PickThis is yet another big game for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United and comes just days after a Europa League tie on a Thursday. With Manchester City next up on deck in the English Football League Cup, this could be a critical time of the season for Manchester United.

So far, so good has to be the marks for Manchester United after the draw at Anfield was followed by a big win over Fenerbahce during the week which won't have taxed the legs too much.

Some of the criticism of Mourinho's tactics at Liverpool have been absolutely ridiculous as far as I am concerned as Manchester United stifled their hosts and offered up very little in terms of opportunities. I think Liverpool should be criticised more for coming out so cautious and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should really have given Manchester United the lead in that game.

If United had 0-1, Mourinho would have been praised and I don't remember the last time a point at Anfield was considered such a negative. Manchester United might not have shown a lot in an attacking sense in the second half, but for 60 minutes they had the better of the game and arguably should have had the lead at that time.

I don't think Mourinho will change his tactics too much for this game as he looks to make Manchester United hard to beat, but fans will recognise that Chelsea haven't looked as good as Liverpool in the first three months of the season. With Mourinho's knowledge of this squad, I expect to see Manchester United as more of an attacking threat and I wouldn't be surprised if the right tactics lead to a big three points in West London on Sunday.

Chelsea have to be credited with their performances since the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal which meant they suffered back to back League defeats. Antonio Conte is still settling in as manager, even if some rumours suggested he might be ready to be sacked already, and I think the absence of John Terry is a big blow for the home team.

Both David Luiz and Gary Cahill look like they have a mistake in them and I think Manchester United will have their chances and can win if they can contain Eden Hazard, Willian and Diego Costa in much the way they corralled Liverpool's threat last week. There will be some difficult moments in a tough away venue like this one, but Manchester United are more than solid enough to do a job here even if they have played twice since Chelsea played last Saturday lunchtime.

I was hoping that Chelsea might have been overrated to the extent they were against Liverpool last month when I backed the away side to avoid defeat. It isn't as appealing a price this time around, but Manchester United can do the same and potentially steal the three points in what looks likely to be another tactical encounter on Sunday.

Newcastle United v Ipswich Town PickThe layers haven't really respected Newcastle United's superior squad too many times this season with some decent looking prices on the home team to win their games. However that isn't the case this weekend as they have come in and are now being asked to cover bigger Asian Handicaps to reach a decent price.

There will be many that will stick Newcastle United in their accumulators this weekend and I can't really go against that on their current form and the opponent they are playing. Ipswich Town have struggled for goals, but they can be hard to break down, so I would want more bang for my buck and I think that can come by backing Newcastle United to win with a clean sheet.

With Dwight Gayle in the form he is in, I would be very surprised if Newcastle United didn't score this weekend, so how are they doing on the other side of the field.

The Magpies only have 2 clean sheets in 6 League games and both Norwich City and Brentford have scored at St James' Park in losing efforts recently. Newcastle United only have 1 clean sheet in 4 games here in all competitions, but they are facing a goal-shy Ipswich Town team who have scored just 10 times in the League and only twice away from home.

Before the opening goal against Burton Albion, Ipswich Town had failed to score in 502 minutes in the League and I think they will likely look to stifle Newcastle United rather than show too much ambition going forward. The lack of goals is a real concern for Mick McCarthy and I think Newcastle United winning to nil at odds against is an attractive price and one worth backing.

Norwich City v Preston North End PickThe 2-2 draw at Fulham on Tuesday was a big disappointment for Norwich City from the position they had been in, but they remain in a strong position in the League table. Being back home is going to be a confidence boost for a team that have been winning plenty of games at home and scoring plenty of goals.

Norwich City have scored at least twice in their last 5 home games in all competitions and they have won all of those games. The one concern has to be that they have conceded in all of those games and a side like Preston North End can cause problems as they have shown by scoring at least twice in each of their last 3 away games in all competitions.

That run includes an impressive point at Brighton last weekend although Preston North End needed an injury time equaliser to achieve that. I do think they will play their part in this fixture with the goals they are scoring and meeting a Norwich City team that have struggled for clean sheets of late.

However I do think Norwich City are capable of breaking down the Preston North End defences too and they have been scoring enough goals to feel they can win this one. At some point Norwich City have to be tightening up their backline to stop needing at least two goals to win games, but it might not happen this week.

I expect Norwich City to have a little too much for Preston North End at the end of this one, but having a small interest in them winning the game but both teams scoring looks too big to ignore.

Nottingham Forest v Cardiff City PickYou know Neil Warnock is going to try and make Cardiff City very hard to beat to start moving them up the Championship table and I think he will send out a side to do that against Nottingham Forest. He will respect how well Nottingham Forest have played at The City Ground, but Warnock may also feel that there is a real chance for Cardiff City to win here considering the goals Nottingham Forest have been shipping.

On the other hand, Nottingham Forest have been scoring plenty of goals at home and I can see this live game for the television viewers to be an entertaining one.

Both teams have looked better in the final third than they have in their own defensive third and I think both Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City will be able to create plenty of chances.

They have shown they can take those chances too and 6 of 7 Nottingham Forest home games have featured at least three goals this season. Cardiff City had seen 4 in a row away from home reach that total too before the 2-0 defeat at Burton Albion and I don't think either team will sit back on a 1-1 knowing how important three points are to them in their current positions.

Picking a winner is tougher because the Nottingham Forest players are seemingly upset with their owner and Cardiff City have a new manager who has plenty of experience at this level. However I also cannot ignore how well Nottingham Forest have played at home for the most part and I will simply look for recent trends to continue and this game to feature at least three goals.

The last 4 games at The City Ground between Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City have hit that number too and that is my pick from the live Championship game this weekend.

MY PICKS: Bournemouth-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.76 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Newcastle United Win to Nil @ 2.25 Bet365 (2 Units)
Norwich City and Both Teams to Score @ 3.50 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Nottingham Forest-Cardiff City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)

October Update21-28-1, - 11.97 Units (96 Units Staked, - 12.47% Yield)

September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/1773-66-3, + 26.17 Units (257 Units Staked, + 10.18% Yield)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield

Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2016 (October 21st)

The first few days of this week had been very difficult for the picks, but things have turned around after a very good Thursday which saw they daily picks go 5-2 to put this week back into the black. There are still a couple of days left of the week and I am hoping to build on the momentum from Thursday.

The WTA Finals is fast approaching and the top eight places have almost been completely set, but Svetlana Kuznetsova has reached the Semi Final in Moscow and needs two more wins to finish above Johanna Konta in the Race for Singapore. Kuznetsova has a big Semi Final on Friday to play as she looks to win the tournament in Moscow for a second season in a row, while the ATP tournaments this week have all reached the Quarter Final Round.

Fabio Fognini - 2.5 games v Albert Ramos-Vinolas: There are some matches on the tennis Tour that seem to suit players and you have to think Fabio Fognini is very confident he can get the better of Albert Ramos-Vinolas in this Quarter Final. This is going to be the ninth time they have met on the professional Tour, but it is Fognini who has won the previous eight which includes a straight sets win in Shanghai earlier this month.

The recent form suggest Ramos-Vinolas might be able to make this a more competitive match against Fognini, but the Italian is the better player in the rallies and makes a big difference when neither player possesses a huge serve.

Fognini has a couple of solid wins behind him this week in Moscow and that should give him more confidence to deal with Ramos-Vinolas yet again. You simply cannot escape the fact that Ramos-Vinolas is going to have to overcome some real mental obstacles with the eight match losing run against Fognini and his lefty serve is clearly not an issue for Fognini to work to break point and subsequent breaks.

The Italian has covered this number of games in seven of the previous eight matches with Ramos-Vinolas and Fognini is playing well enough to find a way to do that again.

Juan Martin Del Potro - 2.5 games v Ivo Karlovic: Everyone knows that Ivo Karlovic is capable of bringing some big serving to the court every time he steps up to the line to serve. That makes him dangerous, but Karlovic has not been as strong in this department this season and the hot form of a couple of months ago has definitely cooled down now.

Karlovic will always be dangerous with the serve he possesses, but Juan Martin Del Potro faced John Isner already this week and so should have his eye in for what he will be seeing coming from the other side of the court. Del Potro is not a small man either and his levers should give him a chance to get enough balls back in play and some with considerable speed which will make it difficult for Karlovic to control his volleys.

The Argentinian is moving up the World Rankings and the key for him is to make sure he looks after his own service games and then tries to get involved in Karlovic's. I don't think Del Potro will have a lot of chances, but he showed in the win over Isner that he can take the few chances he does create against a huge server.

The difference between Isner and Karlovic is the need of the latter to get into the net and make volleys, but even that will be difficult after the second or third shot against Del Potro and I think the former US Open Champion wins this one 76, 64.

Richard Gasquet - 3.5 games v Jan-Lennard Struff: The indoor hard courts have seen the best performances from Jan-Lennard Struff through his career and he has reached the Quarter Final in Antwerp. However he has had some trouble along the way and the match with Richard Gasquet is another step up from his previous opponents.

The win over Gilles Simon was impressive, but I am not sure how much Simon had left in the tank after a long and gruelling week in Shanghai which had ended just a few days ago. Travelling all the way back to Europe and playing in this tournament doesn't sound the most appealing of schedules but Simon still had enough chances to win that match with Struff.

Gasquet should be the best server that Struff has faced this week and that has to be a concern when you think he has given up 28 break points in just two matches. Struff should be full of confidence having won a Challenger event on this circuit recently but he is scheduled to be at the Vienna Qualifying this weekend and I wonder if he will have the fight to dig in if he does get behind by a set.

It hasn't been the most productive few weeks for Gasquet, but he was an easy winner in the Second Round and has plenty of indoor hard court experience too. If he can use that effectively I think the Frenchman can come through with a 64, 64 win and a place in the Semi Final to come on Saturday.

Pablo Cuevas - 1.5 games v Diego Sebastian Schwartzman: There is no doubting that Pablo Cuevas as a Seed in a hard court event is very vulnerable and his best tennis is restricted to the clay courts. He has been very good on the clay this season which has seen him move up to Number 22 in the World Rankings and likely a Seed for the Australian Open, but that means I tend to stick away from him when it comes to being a favourite on the hard courts.

Cuevas hasn't shown a lot of positive form since the Tour moved onto the last quarter of the season which is predominantly a hard court time of the year. I think it is also telling that he has not won back to back matches on this surface in the last twelve months and so it might come as a surprise that I am going to back him to win this Quarter Final.

That has much to do with the opponent he is facing as he meets fellow South American Diego Sebastian Schwartzman, another player who doesn't have a lot of hard court form behind him and who is much more comfortable on the slower surfaces. Schwartzman should be credited for winning two matches in Antwerp already, but he too had been struggling with the move back to the hard courts.

The match up should be one that Cuevas enjoys much more as it should be one that develops into the kind of rallies you would see on the slower surfaces. I do think Cuevas has the bigger serve, which could be key, although the doubt remains with his lack of results on the hard courts in the past. However, I think Cuevas won't have too many better chances to reach a Semi Final of an indoor hard court event and I think he battles through with a 64, 57, 64 win.

Julia Goerges + 2.5 games v Daria Gavrilova: A couple of years ago Julia Goerges might have been considered a player that would be making the next step in her career to challenge some of the better players on the Tour. That hasn't really happened for her on the Singles Tour, but she has performed better on the Doubles Tour which should see her competing at the WTA Finals next week.

For now she can concentrate on finishing her Singles season on a high as she gets set for this tough Semi Final with Daria Gavrilova. Both players have shown good form this week and I imagine Gavrilova will be going to Doubles partner Daria Kasatkina for tips having seen Goerges beat her handily in the Quarter Final.

I think Gavrilova has a little more power off the ground than Kasatkina at this stage of their careers though and that should give Goerges a few more things to think about. However Goerges has been setting up her play very well this week behind her serve and it should be able to keep her in this match and potentially win outright.

I really don't think there is as much between the players as the layers clearly believe. Both should have their moments and, unless Goerges is thinking about heading to Singapore for the Doubles event at the WTA Finals, I think both realise how much is on the line in terms of vital Ranking points they can earn this week.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if we need three sets to separate these players, but Goerges is the kind of streaky player that can be hard to stop when she is putting her tennis together like she has this week. Backing her with the games should be enough for the cover if this does go deep into a third set like I am anticipating, while I can't rule out Goerges winning this one straight up and at odds against I will back her with the start.

Kiki Bertens - 2.5 games v Monica Niculescu: It has been a miserable couple of months for Kiki Bertens, but 2016 has been a strong season for her and something to build upon in 2017. She is looking to end the season on a high having returned to winning ways in Luxembourg and Bertens has been good for my picks over the last couple of Rounds.

I am going to try and make it a hat-trick backing the in form Dutchwoman in this Semi Final although I think Monica Niculescu deserves a healthy respect with her ability to bamboozle opponents with her variation. She is not the kind of player you will see very often on the Tour and Bertens has to remain concentrated or this match could quickly slip away from her.

The power off the ground and from the serve is all with Bertens and she certainly has the tools to break down the Niculescu game. However it is the Romanian's movement around the court which forces players to hit closer and closer to the lines which extracts errors and can wear players down mentally which is a concern as Bertens has been doing a lot of losing before this week in Luxembourg.

The one benefit for Bertens is she has faced Niculescu before and even in a losing effort she should have learned something. If she concentrates on her own service games the pressure should build on Niculescu who doesn't have the same sort of power as Bertens and I think that can lead to a 63, 46, 64 win for the Number 3 Seed.

MY PICKS: Fabio Fognini - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Juan Martin Del Potro - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Richard Gasquet - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Pablo Cuevas - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Julia Goerges + 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kiki Bertens - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 8-6, + 3.16 Units (28 Units Staked, + 11.29% Yield)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

NFL Week 7 Picks 2016 (October 20-24)

The NFL season has produced some up and down results for me and Week 6 was no different as my picks went 3-3.

There was less bad luck this week than there has been and I simply made some bad picks while the three winners I had were all fairly comfortable including an underdog winning outright. I perhaps could have got more out of the Cincinnati Bengals pick at New England because that game was very, very close going into the Fourth Quarter and having more than a Touchdown start looked a big number at that point.

The Panthers also came very close to a big comeback against the New Orleans Saints although that defeat might have ended any hopes the Carolina Panthers have of making the Play Offs. Some teams are in that tough position already, while this week we also have the second of the three games set to be played in London.

Hopefully Week 7 can produce a winning record which can get this season turned back into a positive position as we get close to the half way mark in the 2016 season.

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers Pick: The question is still being asked as to what is wrong with Aaron Rodgers and the vaunted Green Bay Offense as they struggled again in Week 6 and were beaten by the Dallas Cowboys. I am sure Rodgers is telling everyone to 'R-E-L-A-X', but the fans were not very happy last Sunday and there isn't a lot of time for them to prepare for this big Divisional game.

The Chicago Bears come to Lambeau Field knowing they are on the brink of being in a position from which they won't be able to recover. Being 1-5 in the NFC North likely already spells the end for the Bears in terms of the Play Offs, but they have been competitive in recent games and could easily be heading into this one at 3-3 with a little more composure in the Fourth Quarter of games.

Brian Hoyer has been much better than Jay Cutler at Quarter Back and it looks certain that Cutler will be moved on in the off-season. This does look a decent match up for Hoyer to have a big game again for Chicago because the Green Bay Packers are struggling with injuries in the Secondary that Dallas exposed but the New York Giants should of exposed too.

Eli Manning hadn't been helped by much on the ground and Hoyer looks like he will be in a similar position, but I expect him to make enough decent throws to keep the Bears moving the chains. Hoyer has looked after the ball so far and he has been getting rid of it quick enough to avoid Sacks, although he is going to be under pressure in this game from a solid Green Bay pass rush which can get to the Quarter Back.

It won't just be Hoyer who faces some pressure in the pocket as Chicago should be able to get close to Rodgers too as he has been guilty of holding onto the ball while his Receivers try and create separation. Rodgers does look to have a better match up this week as the Chicago Defense is also banged up and I would expect Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery to make enough moves to find separation when Rodgers goes back to throw.

The Bears Defensive Line has at least played the run effectively and Green Bay are missing Eddie Lacy for this game. Knile Davis will get the start having been traded from the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Bears should feel they can keep Green Bay in third and long spots for long enough to try and pressure Rodgers and make the Quarter Back produce the kind of game he hasn't been able to over the last twelve months.

With the way I feel this game is going to go on both sides of the ball, I am surprised the Chicago Bears are being given over a Touchdown worth of points. Despite the public money coming on the Packers, the Chicago spread has come down from the opening 9.5 line, but it remains appealing at 7.5 and I like the Bears in this spot.

They have been competitive in their recent losses and Hoyer can make plays against a banged up Secondary while the road team is 6-1 against the spread in the last seven games of this Division rivalry. We could easily see Chicago covering late on with the amount of points they are being given and I will back the Bears with the points.

Los Angeles Rams v New York Giants Pick: The second of three games to be played in London takes place in Week 7 as the Los Angeles Rams give up a home game to face the New York Giants in Twickenham Stadium. This is a Stadium more accustomed to seeing rugby matches than those from the NFL, but that won't stop the fans packing it in to the rafters as two 3-3 teams meet.

It is a big moment for both the Rams and Giants who are in Divisions where the top teams look significantly stronger than they do so dropping to 3-4 after seven weeks is simply not on the agenda. Both have had previous experiences of playing in London, which should help the preparation, but the 9:30am Eastern Time start has to be an issue for both.

The Rams have at least tried to get accustomed to the time change by heading over to London early in the week compared with the Giants who landed on Friday, but it is incredibly tough for a West Coast team to play an early game in London.

There will be a hope that a change in scenery can help Todd Gurley break out for the first time this season as the LA Rams have been winning games without a lot from their star Running Back. The Rams are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry on the season and they are facing a Giants Defensive Line that have actually been strong against the run all season.

Despite the very strong performance Case Keenum produced against the Detroit Lions, I have little doubt the Giants will try to lock down Gurley and force the Quarter Back to consistently make the big throws to beat them. Keenum's career suggests that will be a tall order for the Rams even though he should have plenty of time in the pocket to attack a banged up Secondary.

Keenum showed last week that he can make plays when asked, but the Interceptions remain a concern and this could be another game that is going to be relying on his arm.

Last week his performance should have been good enough to earn the win, but Keenum's efforts were wasted by another poor Defensive performance from the Rams. This was supposed to be the strength of the team, but the return of Robert Quinn this week might be huge as they look to put some pressure on Eli Manning at Quarter Back who has the rejuvenated Odell Beckham Jr coming off a two Touchdown performance against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Rams Secondary could be missing their top Corner Trumain Johnson and that should make life a little easier for Manning to connect with Beckham Jr. The return of Quinn will at least give the Rams a chance to get a more consistent pass rush but Manning should be able to make some big plays downfield when he is given a little bit of time.

I think the bigger concern for the Rams this season has to be the below average play of the Defensive Line when it comes to stopping the run. Aaron Donald remains a beast, but one player can't make all the difference when a Defensive Line is giving up over 5 yards per carry over their last three games. I don't think the Giants are going to be able to really take advantage of the run Defense though as they have struggled to open gaps for their Running Backs all season so it may come down to Manning to make the plays to keep the chains moving.

We have already seen the Minnesota Vikings shut down this Offense by getting plenty of pressure on Manning, while the Quarter Back has also been guilty of making some big mistakes throwing the ball. Even with Quinn back, the Rams might not be able to match that pressure and I think the Giants will have enough to earn a victory here by forcing Keenum into a couple of mistakes and shutting down Gurley.

It will be a close game, but I like the Giants who beat this team when they were still in St Louis last December. OBJ looks to be in strong form and the Giants have enough threats in the passing game to hurt this Secondary, while I don't trust Keenum to have two really strong weeks in a row. The Giants have covered in their last seven against the Rams and I will back them to win in England this week.

Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals Pick: There is no doubt that the Cincinnati Bengals are under some intense pressure in the AFC North, although a win could start to turn things around with Ben Roethlisberger banged up for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dropping to 2-5 would actually start to raise some questions for Marvin Lewis as Head Coach, especially if they were to lose to the winless Cleveland Browns in Week 7 and at home no less.

This does look a lot of points for the Cincinnati Bengals to cover considering they have lost four of their last five games and are under pressure for a win. Any win would do for the Bengals at this moment, while the Cleveland Browns also have some inside knowledge with Head Coach Hue Jackson the former Cincinnati Offensive Co-Ordinator.

It looks like Cody Kessler will be getting another start at Quarter Back for the hapless Cleveland Browns and Jackson should be able to give him some insight into what to expect from the Bengals Defense. Kessler hasn't played badly for Cleveland but he needs some support to help the Cleveland Browns finish effectively in the Fourth Quarter where they have been let down too often.

This looks a good chance for Cleveland to give Kessler some support with the opportunity to establish the run having struggled to do that in recent games. To be fair to the Browns, they have played two tough teams against the run, but the Cincinnati Bengals have struggled to stop teams on the ground and so Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson should have some success as long as Cleveland are still in the game and not being forced to recover a big deficit.

Getting Crowell and Johnson going should make things a little easier for Kessler at Quarter Back and ease concerns about the number of hits he has been taking. The Bengals certainly have the pass rush to get to the Quarter Back, but Cleveland can have success if they are keeping the team in third and manageable spots by getting the run going. That should also mean Kessler having the time to make plays against a Secondary that have had difficulty stopping teams throwing the ball against them.

I can see Cleveland moving the chains when they have the ball in this one and I think they can be strong at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball that should give them a chance to stay within this number. The Browns Defensive Line have actually been decent against the run and Cincinnati have Jeremy Hill banged up and Giovani Bernard hasn't filled in as effectively as they like.

It has heaped the pressure on Andy Dalton to make plays with his arms in tough spots and behind an Offensive Line that has struggled to protect him effectively. The Cleveland Browns have not really been able to get to the Quarter Back on a consistent basis though and that has meant the Secondary have struggled to contain Receivers which has led to big passing numbers against them.

Dalton already has a big time Receiver in AJ Green, but the passing game could be bolstered by the return of Tyler Eifert who potentially returns in Week 7. The Bengals have been able to move the chains through the air, but Dalton would love to find some balance on the Offense and not have to deal with third and long situations all day.

I think it would be a big surprise if Cincinnati were to be upset, but covering double digits is a big ask when you think the Browns should be able to move the chains too. Cleveland have found special ways to lose games, but they have been competitive more often than not and should be able to stay with Cincinnati through to the Fourth Quarter unless Kessler is knocked out of the game like he was against the New England Patriots.

Cincinnati did blow out Cleveland twice last season, but I expect the Browns to be more competitive this time against a Bengals team that have not been at their best. The underdog has gone 13-4-1 against the spread in the last eighteen games in this series and I will take the points with Cleveland.

Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles Pick: Go back a couple of weeks and you might have been seeing a game between two of the leading teams in the NFC. Things have begun to change for the Philadelphia Eagles though as they have dropped two games in a row which leaves them a couple of games behind the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.

It won't be easy for the Eagles to get back on the winning trail when they host the rested Minnesota Vikings who are the only unbeaten team left in the NFL and who are also coming off that bye. Anyone who thinks the Vikings might not be motivated or focused on this game will have to be told that Minnesota will have seven full days to recover before they play again and that Philadelphia are in the middle of a stretch of games where they play Divisional rivals.

There is also the small matter of Sam Bradford returning to Philadelphia where he was clearly not wanted as soon as the Eagles made moves to bring in Carson Wentz in the Draft. Bradford has landed on his feet by being traded to the Minnesota Vikings days after Teddy Bridgewater went down with a season ending injury and this has not been the mistake that some believed it was with Bradford quickly picking up the play book.

He has been smart too by limiting the mistakes he makes throwing the football and leaning on arguably the best Defensive unit in the NFL. Bradford's knowledge of the Eagles locker room has to be huge in this game and Mike Zimmer admitted he has spoken to Bradford for any insights he can offer. The Eagles have played well when it comes to defending the pass, but Bradford may have his full complement of Receivers back and can make some plays.

Bradford might not need to do too much if the Eagles play the run as badly as they did in their loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 6. Adrian Peterson is another big playmaker for the Vikings who is missing, but Jerick McKinnon has shown some life and I can imagine Zimmer has had his Offensive Line working on creating holes for a fast Running Back.

It might not be consistent, but Minnesota should be able to move the chains and the big challenge for the rookie Quarter Back is being able to do the same. After all the headlines he grabbed in the first three games, Wentz has just struggled the last couple of games and now faces the pressure of facing the Quarter Back he ousted as well as this very strong Defensive unit.

Wentz has not been helped by one of his better Offensive Linemen being suspended as Lane Johnson continues to sit, and that also means he is likely to be under immense pressure from the Minnesota pass rush. While the rookie has avoided the big turnovers for the most part, that pressure up front can lead to mistakes and it is going to be difficult for Wentz to complete a lot of passes in this one.

He will be wise to hand the ball to Ryan Mathews and hope his Running Back can at least ease the pass rush and also keep the Offense on third and manageable. Running the ball hasn't been that easy for teams against the Minnesota Defensive Line either and it just feels like it could be a long day for Philadelphia who have big games against Dallas and New York Giants to come with both of those opponents also off the bye.

I expect Mike Zimmer has put together a solid Defensive plan for Wentz and Bradford's knowledge should help organise a solid Offensive plan too. The Vikings have been solid in the small sample of being a road favourite under Zimmer and I like Minnesota to continue to prove they are a genuine Super Bowl contender with a solid win on the road this week.

New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: The AFC looked like being a Conference that could potentially be decided by a New Englands Patriot and Pittsburgh Steelers Championship Game. Both teams have already had to overcome some adversity this season to produce winning records, but this game could have had a much more exciting feel if not for the injury to Ben Roethlisberger.

So instead of Big Ben vs Tom Brady at Quarter Back, Landry Jones will be getting the start after Roethlisberger was ruled out until Week 9 at the earliest. Now it has to be said that Pittsburgh have a really solid record against the spread when Roethlisberger has had to sit out, but Jones didn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in relief in 2015 and I am not sure he is a serviceable back up.

Jones still has some of the best playmakers in the NFL in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell to call upon, but this is a very tough match up for him against the New Englands Patriots Defensive unit who have played very well through the season. They have been able to shut down the run so the best Bell can hope for is maybe catching a few balls out of the backfield rather than any consistent running room on the ground.

That will keep the Quarter Back in third and long spots and it is tough for Jones to make plays with the pressure that is likely to be around him. While he should still make some balls to Brown, it is going to be very tough for the Steelers to find the consistency to move the chains in this one and that could be a problem if Brady is playing anything like the level he has produced the last two weeks.

Any hopes for the rest of the NFL that Brady might have suddenly aged in the off-season or perhaps even been a little rusty have been erased the last couple of weeks. A few years ago you would have said the match up with the Steelers Defensive unit is far tougher than what Cleveland and Cincinnati would have challenged Brady with, but that does not look to be the case this season.

While Pittsburgh have gotten some pressure up front, the Secondary have been guilty of allowing some big plays. I don't think they will have an answer for both Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski, while Brady has also made use of Chris Hogan down the field and New England should be able to get the ball down the field with some regularity.

Even if Brady doesn't want to throw all day, New England are facing a Pittsburgh team who were trampled by Jay Ajayi and the Miami Dolphins in Week 6. LeGarrette Blount can wear down Defensive Lines and James White has the speed which should keep New England in third and manageable spots and allow Brady to make some big plays as he continues torching teams in the NFL.

I have to have some concern with the amount of money that has been pouring in on the New England Patriots by the public. They also could overlook Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger to the big Divisional game in Buffalo next week, but Bill Belichick looks too smart to allow his team to lose focus in this one.

The Patriots look to have big edges on both sides of the ball in this one and I can see Belichick confusing Jones a couple of times for big turnovers which helps New England pull away in the second half. Pittsburgh can then head into the bye week hoping Roethlisberger can return in Week 9 and get the Steelers rolling.

Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals Pick: The Los Angeles Rams might hold wins over both the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks in the 2016 NFL season, but it is these two NFC West teams that are still expected to contest the Division against one another. The Seahawks are currently leading the Division with their 4-1 record and defeating the 3-3 Arizona Cardinals will certainly put the latter in a little bit of a hole.

This is the late Sunday Night Football game and I have to say I was very surprised that the Seahawks have been set as the underdog. The line has come in a little from where it once was, but that has nothing to do with the public money coming on Seattle which the tickets a little over 50% in favour of the Seahawks. Instead it looks like the sharp money is on the team I expected to be favoured and I will take the point being given to the road team.

It will be a competitive game though as the Arizona Defensive unit have been playing at a high level and Russell Wilson is perhaps not as big a threat in the run game as usual after being banged up early in the season. Christine Michael has not really been able to replicate the numbers that Marshawn Lynch had during his time with Seattle and I do think the Seahawks will struggle to establish the run in this one.

That is a bit of an issue for a Seattle team whose Offensive Line has not been playing to a high level. With the addition of Chandler Jones, the Arizona pass rush has come alive, but they did struggle to get to Ryan Fitzpatrick at times on Monday Night Football and even the limited movement of Wilson might be enough to find time and try and make some plays downfield.

It won't be easy for Wilson to do that either as Tyrann Mathieu has returned from a season ending injury in 2015 to help the Arizona Secondary look pretty good over the course of the last couple of months. Even some of the early holes have been covered up by the adjustments made to the starting line up, but Seattle do have players like Jimmy Graham who could be used more than usual this week with their distinct size advantage.

The bigger reason I am going to side with Seattle is I fancy Russell Wilson to find some plays from somewhere rather more than I think Carson Palmer can do the same. Palmer was banged up again in Week 6 with his hamstring issue keeping him out of practice although I think the veteran will go in this one.

It will be down to the Quarter Back to keep the chains moving as Seattle might be able to have enough success bottling up David Johnson despite how well the Running Back has played. The Seattle Defensive Line have simply not given up big plays on the ground and they will look to take away what Johnson is able to do and force Palmer to beat them through the air.

Unfortunately for Arizona, Palmer has either not had the desire to throw the deep ball that is so famed in Bruce Arians' Offensive schemes, or more worryingly Palmer has been unable to make those plays. The Offensive Line has also had some issues in protection and Seattle can take advantage of that and pressure Palmer which could lead to some mistakes which has been something the Quarter Back has been unable to avoid like he did for much of 2015.

The Legion of Boom have been able to turn the ball over with Interceptions and the will feel they can win the battles against the Wide Receivers Arizona have especially with Palmer not quite up to the standards he set in 2016. Being banged up makes him a little harder to trust in pressurised situations while Russell Wilson has shown in his career that he can make the big plays when most under pressure to do so.

Wilson is also 8-3-3 against the spread as the underdog in his career and led Seattle to a huge win here back in January. I like the Seahawks to win outright so I will take the point in this one on Sunday Night Football.

I wanted to see where a couple of the spreads moved to on Sunday afternoon and I have added a couple of picks below without the full breakdown.

MY PICKS: Chicago Bears + 7.5 Points @ 1.86 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
New York Giants - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Cleveland Browns + 10 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Minnesota Vikings - 3 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
New England Patriots - 7 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Seattle Seahawks + 1 Point @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Indianapolis Colts + 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Miami Dolphins + 2.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)