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There have been some solid cards over the last several months, but the largely absent fans has been a big miss for Boxing as much as other s...

Monday, 30 April 2012

Manchester City v Manchester United (April 30th 2012)

So it is almost time for the biggest Manchester Derby in living memory and one that could go an absolutely long way to deciding the final destiny of the Premier League title this season.

Manchester United will be extremely disappointed they don't have more margin for error coming into the game having dropped points at Wigan Athletic and, more disappointingly, last week at home to Everton.

That has enabled Manchester City to close the gap, but this is the first time they will be playing under any kind of pressure since their 1-0 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium earlier in the month.

Below, I will set out what I feel will be the keys to the outcome of the game, will provide a link for the preview I have of the game and also the final pick of April.

Keys to the Game

The Midfield battle: As with any Manchester United game of real importance, Sir Alex Ferguson has to make the correct choices in the problematic midfield positions to ensure they are not overrun in that area.

The biggest key will be making sure the movement of the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Samir Nasri are accounted for at all times- they dynamic pass and move midfields like Barcelona last year, and Athletic Bilbao this year have made United a little static on that front and they cannot afford to leave the space between midfield and defence that the likes of Silva and Nasri will look to move into.

With Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez up front, they will make the little runs that can be hard to track for defenders, so United must cut off the supply by clogging up the space in front of the defence and not allowing Silva and Nasri to turn and face the defence.

We saw in the Bilbao game how easy it is for teams to get at United if they have men exploiting the spaces they leave behind the midfield and that could be a terminal problem for the title challenge if they do the same today.

I wouldn't be surprised if Sir Alex starts Wayne Rooney on the left to make sure that the likes of Carrick, Scholes and AN Other have enough bodies in the middle of the park where City like to do their best work.

That system will turn into a 4-3-3 on the attack with Rooney and Valencia being able to support Danny Welbeck who should be the furthest player up front.

The Counter Attack: This is going to be where United are likely to find their most success in this game and they have to be smart with their decision making when going forward. City are likely to leave a few spaces at the back and we have seen the likes of Sunderland and Sporting Lisbon really exploit the gaps behind the full backs that will need to push on for space.

IF United can clog up the midfield in the manner described above, that means the most space City will have is in the wider areas, an area in which Micah Richards and Gael Clichy will be expected to move into... That is when the likes of Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valencia will have to be ready to provide a quick outlet for the United team when they win the ball back and look to get in behind the City midfield.

There were occasions that Wolves managed to find themselves in healthy 3 on 4 situations and with both Sunderland and Sporting Lisbon also exploiting these situations, it looks the best way for United to get a foothold in this game.

Being clinical in front of goal: I think it is fair to say that the City front two of Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez are a little more clinical than United's Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, but I think the last of those players is the one that can make or break it for the away side.

Welbeck looked like a real finisher when he first moved up to the senior team and while his overall game play has come on leaps and bounds, he can be a little hit or miss in front of goal at the moment.

United will need him to have his shooting boots on tonight as there is a lot of pressure of being the main forward in games like these- I am expecting Wayne Rooney to have to put in a big shift for United defending and perhaps playing wider when United do go forward, so it will be on Danny Welbeck's shoulders to get in amongst the two centre backs.

The young England striker has scored against City in the Cup this season, while also getting a big goal at Arsenal, so he does have it in him, but he must show full composure tonight and take any kind of chance he gets.

Set Pieces: This is interesting as City do look a real threat from set pieces with the size of Toure, Lescott and Kompany and all three have been amongst the goals in these situations. I expect United to counter that by bringing in Chris Smalling at right back to offer more protection from corners and free kicks that will be put in the box.

On the other side, I think this could be an area where United can enjoy some success too, especially if City go with the smaller side and use the likes of Clichy ahead of Kolarov and Tevez instead of Balotelli.

Chelsea managed to get a goal from a set piece against City in a game here last month, while United have always put in great stock in this part of the game.

Who can handle the pressure better: This is where United will feel they have the edge as they have plenty of players that have been there and done it in the past when it comes to winning the Premier League title and so I do expect a very experienced side to be put out by Sir Alex tonight, one containing the likes of Ferdinand, Evra, Giggs, Scholes, Carrick and Rooney.

City, on the other hand, really crumbled a little under the pressure of having to achieve results last month and in the early part of April, but look back to their best recently.

However, this is the first time they will be under any real pressure again as they know a win is the only result that matters- it will be interesting to see if they have mentally toughened up from a few weeks ago for a game of this magnitude and it could be the absolute key to the game.

It is a cliché, but the first goal is going to be absolutely crucial tonight- if United get it, it will be very interesting to see how City react, while if City get it, will they really start believing?

MY PICK: Score Draw @ 6.50 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

NBA Play Offs First Round Picks

I will use this post for the picks I make in the First Round of the Play Offs and will post a link to the thread whenever new previews are made.

April 28th
New York Knicks @ Miami Heat Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14014-New-York-Knicks-at-Miami-Heat.htm)

April 29th
Utah Jazz @ San Antonio Spurs Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14024-Utah-Jazz-at-San-Antonio-Spurs.htm)

Denver Nuggets @ LA Lakers Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14025-Denver-Nuggets-at-LA-Lakers.htm)

LA Clippers @ Memphis Grizzlies Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14026-LA-Clippers-at-Memphis-Grizzlies.htm)

The lock-out shortened season has seen a number of players go down with injuries during the course of the year, but I think it would be far too easy to blame Derrick Rose's unfortunate injury on that... This is sports, and in sports you get these terrible injuries from time to time- personally I just hope Rose comes back with the same explosiveness that has made him the premier Point Guard in the NBA.

Rose is out for the season and the Olympics, but I hope he can get back in the long-term. In the short-term, I wrote in my preview for the First Round that I don't think the Chicago Bulls can go too far without Rose under Play Off pressure and I am sticking by that.

I think the Bulls are too good for Philadelphia, but a potential series with the Boston Celtics before facing the Miami Heat looks far too much to overcome without Rose. Even though Chicago have won lots of games without Rose this season, the Play Offs bring a different intensity and need for experience and that is where I think the Bulls will be let down.

The Knicks loss to the Heat was embarrassing last night, but that will have been forgotten and thoughts turned to Iman Shumpert, with the rookie suffering an ACL injury like Rose and now ruled out for up to 8 months. Shumpert had a good solid season, but it wasn't the best viewing seeing his left leg in the state it was in and I just hope for all the best for him in his rehabilitation. The Knicks were already going to have a tough series on their hands with Miami, but missing a key defensive player like Shumpert to help Tyson Chandler makes that all the tougher.

April 30th
New York Knicks @ Miami Heat Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14029-New-York-Knicks-at-Miami-Heat.htm)

Orlando Magic @ Indiana Pacers Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14030-Orlando-Magic-at-Indiana-Pacers.htm)

May 1st
Philadelphia 76ers @ Chicago Bulls Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14034-Philadelphia-76ers-at-Chicago-Bulls.htm)

Boston Celtics @ Atlanta Hawks Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14045-Boston-Celtics-at-Atlanta-Hawks.htm)

May 2nd
Utah Jazz @ San Antonio Spurs Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14073-Utah-Jazz-at-San-Antonio-Spurs.htm)

Indiana Pacers @ Orlando Magic Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14077-Indiana-Pacers-at-Orlando-Magic.htm)

May 3rd
Miami Heat @ New York Knicks Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14091-Miami-Heat-at-New-York-Knicks.htm)

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Dallas Mavericks Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14094-Oklahoma-City-at-Dallas-Mavericks.htm)

May 4th
Atlanta Hawks @ Boston Celtics Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14112-Atlanta-Hawks-at-Boston-Celtics.htm)

LA Lakers @ Denver Nuggets Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14113-LA-Lakers-at-Denver-Nuggets.htm)

Chicago Bulls @ Philadelphia 76ers Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14119-Chicago-Bulls-at-Philadelphia-76ers.htm)

May 5th
Indiana Pacers @ Orlando Magic Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14126-Indiana-Pacers-at-Orlando-Magic.htm)

Memphis Grizzlies @ LA Clippers Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14128-Memphis-Grizzlies-at-LA-Clippers.htm)

San Antonio Spurs @ Utah Jazz Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14135-San-Antonio-Spurs-at-Utah-Jazz.htm)

May 9th
I figured to take a few days off from the basketball to recharge the batteries after a terrible Saturday as there are still plenty of days to make a profit. Sometimes it can be wise just to reassess the way you are handicapping games and I used the last couple of days to see whether things have changed.

It has been a profitable First Round for followers of the picks, so instead of chasing, I figured to take that break after losing all 3 Saturday selections. Now, though, I am ready to get back on the horse with a couple of picks.

New York Knicks @ Miami Heat Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14179-New-York-Knicks-at-Miami-Heat.htm)

LA Clippers @ Memphis Grizzlies Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14181-LA-Clippers-at-Memphis-Grizzlies.htm)

May 10th
Chicago Bulls @ Philadelphia 76ers Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14189-Chicago-Bulls-at-Philadelphia-76ers.htm)

Atlanta Hawks @ Boston Celtics Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14190-Atlanta-Hawks-at-Boston-Celtics.htm)

LA Lakers @ Denver Nuggets Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14191-LA-Lakers-at-Denver-Nuggets.htm)

May 12th
Denver Nuggets @ LA Lakers Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14226-Denver-Nuggets-at-LA-Lakers.htm)

May 13th
LA Clippers @ Memphis Grizzlies Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14241-LA-Clippers-at-Memphis-Grizzlies.htm)

MY PICKS: 28/04 Miami Heat - 8.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
29/04 San Antonio Spurs - 11 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
29/04 LA Lakers - 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)

29/04 Memphis Grizzlies + 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
30/04 Miami Heat - 9.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
30/04 Indiana Pacers - 9.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
01/05 Chicago Bulls - 6.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
01/05 Boston Celtics + 4.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
02/05 San Antonio Spurs - 11.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
02/05 Indiana Pacers - 3 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
03/05 Miami Heat - 5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
03/05 Oklahoma City Thunder + 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
04/05 Boston Celtics - 8 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
04/05 Denver Nuggets - 4 Points @ 1.95 188Bet (2 Units)
04/05 Philadelphia 76ers - 1.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
05/05 Indiana Pacers - 5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
05/05 LA Clippers - 3 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
05/05 Utah Jazz + 6 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
09/05 Miami Heat - 11 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
09/05 LA Clippers + 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
10/05 Philadelphia 76ers - 3 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
10/05 Atlanta Hawks + 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
10/05 Denver Nuggets - 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
12/05 Denver Nuggets + 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
13/05 LA Clippers + 8 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)

NBA First Round Update: 17-8, + 16.68 Units

NBA Play Offs First Round Preview

The regular season is over and we have eliminated, well, errr less than half of the teams in the NBA, but this is when the excitement really kicks in as the Play Offs begin.

This will also mean teams are able to get sufficient rest between games and there will be no back-to back-to back schedules which saps energy and entertainment for the fans.

The Eastern Conference looks a little top heavy to me with the likes of Miami, Chicago and Boston rightly the favourites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. Indiana have a good solid team, but lack the real big time player that could turn a close loss into a win.

Atlanta have routinely failed at this spot, although a healthy Al Horford would make them much more dangerous. However, it seems almost clear that the big man is not going to be ready at this stage.

Then we have the likes of Orlando, New York and Philadelphia- of those three teams, the most dangerous is easily the New York Knicks. However, they have been seeded to face the Miami Heat who I believe they match up the worst against and that looks tough for them.

I rule out Philadelphia as they have struggled when playing the better teams all season, while an Orlando Magic team without Dwight Howard is one that would struggle to get into the Play Offs, let alone cause an upset now they are here.

The Western Conference looks a little more loaded with talent and some real dark horses that could cause a surprise.

Like the East, you have to look at three teams when deciding who will be representing the West in the NBA Finals- the Oklahoma City Thunder, the LA Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs.

All three teams have the squads to go all the way, the latter two with a number of years of experience and the Thunder with the experience of reaching the Western Conference Finals last year and having a very good rotation.

San Antonio are the biggest surprise as many thought the shortened season would be hard on their ageing legs, but they have shown a deep rotation and Gregg Popovich has worked wonders to keep all his players fresh.

When you look a bit deeper, the winner of the Memphis/LA Clippers First Round clash look like they could perhaps cause a surprise and reach the Finals of the Western Conference, but a lack of experience and real big time players could account for both. The LA Clippers just don't have the same depth as the best three teams, while Memphis are a solid team yet don't have someone who can really grab the bull by the horns when needed.

It would be unwise to count out the defending Champions, the Dallas Mavericks, but they have had a transitional season and I think they will be much more of a threat once they sign Deron Williams in the off-season (I am 90% sure they will get this done).

Denver and Utah are both good solid teams, the Jazz being particularly young which bodes well for their future, but I can't see either of them performing well enough to win a best of seven series against the best teams in the First Round, let alone going all the way.

Below I will write a few words about the individual First Round match ups and who I think will progress in the series.

Eastern Conference First Round

Atlanta Hawks (5) v Boston Celtics (4)

The Boston Celtics have been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break as they shot up the Atlantic Division to take that title and ensure they finished with one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference.

Rajon Rondo has really found his mojo, while the injury to Ray Allen as unearthed a real talent for the Celtics in Avery Bradley. With the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett playing great basketball, Boston are an absolute threat in the Eastern Conference.

However, the Atlanta Hawks have players like Josh Smith and Joe Johnson who match up well with this Celtics team.

The key to this entire series in how many games Rajon Rondo can take over- not just in terms of dimes he dishes out, but if he has his shooting up to par. Every time he does that, I will expect the Celtics to win the game and I think they will eventually get this series, but it will be the closest one in the East.

Prediction: Boston Celtics in 6 games

Chicago Bulls (1) v Philadelphia 76ers (8)

The Chicago Bulls wrapped up the Number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and I think they will be very pleased with their First Round match up against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The injury to Derrick Rose has given their second unit players the chance to shine and that experience could really help them in the Play Offs beyond this series, but don't overlook the fact that the Bulls are only going places if Rose is healthy.

Philadelphia don't have the star player in their line up, but they have a solid enough team- however, they have really struggled when playing teams with winning records this season and would absolutely need to play at their maximum, with Chicago a little off their own game, for them to extend this series too far.

Just in case the Bulls were not focused, Chicago native Evan Turner was quoted as saying Philadelphia had drawn the 'easier' team in the East compared with having to face Miami, something that seemed to amuse some of the Bulls players ahead of this one.

Prediction: Can't look beyond the Bulls in 5 or less games

Miami Heat (2) v New York Knicks (7)

The New York Knicks were one of the danger teams in the Eastern Conference, but I have always maintained that they needed to avoid the Miami Heat in the First Round as this team is capable of hurting the Knicks on both sides of the court.

The only real hope for the Knicks is that their three point game heats up (pardon the pun) and can get on a roll for more than one or two games. Defending the three point shot has been one of the Achilles heel for the Heat defence all season and the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire can provide the penetration to leave them open for JR Smith and Steve Novak to knock down threes and keep the Heat off balance.

Miami won't be too concerned with the match up having swept the Knicks in the regular season, and they have the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade who will cause New York all kinds of problems.

As a Knicks fan, I didn't want this First Round match up, although the players, like Tyson Chandler, have been vocal in bigging up their own chances- just can't see beyond a relatively easy Heat progression.

Prediction: Miami in 5 games

Indiana Pacers (3) v Orlando Magic (6)

This could have been a really interesting series if not for one major problem for the Orlando Magic- no Dwight Howard... Superman has caused Indiana so many problems in the past, particularly for Roy Hibbert, but his absence is going to be huge for Orlando and I really don't think this is a Play Off team without Howard playing most of the season.

Other issues are surrounding Stan Van Gundy who is likely to be fired even if they get out of this First Round series and all is not well in this part of Florida.

Indiana have a strong team ethic and will be very pleased with this First Round meeting and a chance to feel their way into the Play Offs after pushing Chicago at the same stage last season. There is a strong rotation here and I think they are going to dominate this series with Hibbert and David West dominating inside.

The Pacers actually lost the season series 3-1, but that was an Orlando team that had Howard in the line up- the Magic have always lived and died by the three pointer too, so there is every chance they take a game and maybe two if they get hot from beyond the arc, but the Pacers are likely to be far too strong.

Prediction: Indiana Pacers in 5/6 games

Western Conference First Round

San Antonio Spurs (1) v Utah Jazz (8)

The San Antonio Spurs have to erase some painful memories from a year ago when they were beaten as the Number 1 seed in the Western Conference by the Memphis Grizzlies, but I don't think the Utah Jazz have the same kind of dangerous talent as the Grizzlies and I expect the Spurs to progress.

They had been ruled out as a genuine contender in this shortened season due to some of the ageing legs of their better players, but Gregg Popovich has found the right balance in giving the likes of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker enough rest, while they have also shown off some of the depth they have in their rotation, making their second unit pretty dangerous too.

All the experience the Spurs have could make a real difference in this series as they are facing a Utah Jazz team that is very young and most of the players are in their first Play Off series. This all bodes well for the future of the Jazz who are just one year removed from trading away Deron Williams.

The likes of Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors gives them size, but they struggled against the Spurs in the regular season, particularly in San Antonio, and I think they will do well to extend this beyond 5 games.

Prediction: San Antonio Spurs in 5 games

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) v Dallas Mavericks (7)

This is an interesting series as it is between the young, up and coming power in the West and the old, jaded Champions who are perhaps looking forward to a new season already.

Dallas were always under pressure when they allowed Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea to leave in the off-season having won the Championship last year and it could a lot worse for them when Lamar Odom did not play anything like the 'sixth man of the year' he was last season.

The Mavericks were clearing space in anticipation of a big off-season this year so this was considered a transitional season for them- they are sure to get Deron Williams, in my mind at least, in the Free Agency market and I expect Dallas to be a real threat again next year.

Oklahoma City can gain revenge for losing in the Western Conference Finals last year and they have two bright stars in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant that can take games away from opponents when they are on form. With Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and James Harden (as long as there is no long-term effect from the elbow he took from Metta World Peace), but they can blow a little hot and cold.

That shouldn't effect them in this series, but it is something to consider down the line, especially with the potential Semi Final against the LA Lakers on deck.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder in 6 games

LA Lakers (3) v Denver Nuggets (6)

Metta World Peace is going to be suspended for the next six games and the cynic in me thinks the LA Lakers will deliberately extend this series to at least that amount of game with full confidence that they can beat the Denver Nuggets in either a Game 6 or a Game 7 in this series.

At lot of what the LA Lakers are about starts and finishes with Kobe Bryant, but it is Andrew Bynum who has dominated the Nuggets this season, while the Lakers size is a huge advantage for them in this match up.

The signing of Ramon Sessions has also given them a new look at the Point Guard position and all around I think this is a tough series for the Denver Nuggets.

Denver don't rely on one start any more since trading Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks last season, and they will cause the Lakers problems with the speed they can play at- I just don't think they will be able to dictate the tempo in more than a couple of games and I think the Lakers will be happy to see this go to 6 games before getting the job done.

Prediction: LA Lakers in 6 games

Memphis Grizzlies (4) v LA Clippers (5)

This is perhaps the best series of the First Round in either Conference as both teams are ridiculously closely matched.

The Memphis Grizzlies are a tough, hard nosed team that has the Play Off experience after last season when they surprised the San Antonio Spurs in this Round before pushing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Semi Finals- the issue for Memphis is that they will always hang around in games, but conversely will allow teams to stay close which can be tough to deal with mentally in a long series, something this has the potential of being.

Chris Paul will try and help out his supporting cast at the Clippers as this franchise has not been in this spot for some time, while Blake Griffin, Randy Foye and DeAndre Jordan have not been in this position in their careers.

However, they do match up well with the Grizzlies and I am not sure how much home court advantage will mean in this series considering all three regular season games was won by the road team.

The whole key to the series could be how the Clippers handle their free throws- they are in the lower regions of the NBA, particularly Blake Griffin who is under 60% from the line. Griffin is likely to be fouled every time he tries to posterize an opponent, and even when he doesn't, and that could cost the Clippers the entire series if they don't fix those issues.

Prediction: Toughest series by far, but Memphis in 7 perhaps

That's my thoughts for the First Round of the Play Offs for both Conferences... I will also be making picks for the Play Off series so check those out too.

English Football Weekend Picks (April 28-29)

I will post up all the picks from the slate of games on offer this weekend, and I will also create, while I will break down the keys to the big one on Monday night which will most likely be posted on Sunday night while I watch the NBA Play Offs.

Everton v West Brom Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-13980-Everton-v-Fulham.htm)

West Brom v Aston Villa Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-13979-West-Brom-v-Aston-Villa.htm)

Stoke City v Arsenal Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-14004-Stoke-City-v-Arsenal.htm)

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-14003-Sunderland-v-Bolton-Wanderers.htm)

Norwich City v Liverpool Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-14005-Norwich-City-v-Liverpool.htm)

MY PICKS: Everton @ 1.85 Pinnacle (2 Units)
West Brom @ 2.15 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Stoke City + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bolton Wanderers @ 4.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Norwich City @ 4.33 Pinnacle ( 1 Unit)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Tennis Picks April 27th

David Ferrer - 5.5 games v Feliciano Lopez: This is a slightly risky pick as Feliciano Lopez has a decent head to head record against David Ferrer, but I just don't think he has what it takes on the slower surfaces to hurt his compatriot.

Ferrer is one of the top clay court players in the World and the surface just aids his game further and makes him even harder to beat than on other surfaces. Lopez, on the other hand, needs a quicker surface for his serve and volley game, while his inconsistency on the back hand wing can be exposed on the slower surface where rallies are extended and developed.

With Lopez' serve not being as effective, I would think Ferrer will have plenty of opportunities to break serve so will take him to clear the handicap.

It has to be also noted that Ferrer is 3-0 against Lopez on clay courts as professionals and he has not lost more than 6 games in any of those 3 wins.

Fernando Verdasco - 2 games v Kei Nishikori: Fernando Verdasco has won his first two matches here fairly comfortably and I think he is still the better clay court player of the two involved in this match, although his lack of consistency is hurting him far more these days than it has since 2009.

Kei Nishikori is actually ranked higher than Verdasco these days, but I still am not completely sold on his game, particularly on the clay courts. Over the last twelve months, he has been beaten by the likes of Jeremy Chardy, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Pere Riba and Ryan Sweeting on this surface and I would favour his opponent today against any of those players.

As long as Verdasco can keep his emotions in check, he should be too good for the Japanese Number 1 and be able to record his second victory against him following a straight sets win at the Australian Open in 2011.

Maria Sharapova - 1.5 games v Samantha Stosur: Where to begin with this match but mentally as Samantha Stosur has lost 9 of the 10 meetings between herself and Maria Sharapova, even though that win did come in their last match at the end of last season- that was in the end of season Championships, but it was also a tournament when Sharapova was forced to pull out through injury.

Sharapova had won their 3 other meetings in 2011 and hadn't given up more than 6 games in any of those wins, including one on the clay courts of Rome.

The Russian has not played much recently, but I still consider her in the top 3 players on form and I think her overall game will be too strong for Stosur.

Stosur is very adept at playing on the clay courts, which is surprising as you think her serve would be less effective on the slower courts, and she has proven that by going 41-9 on the clay since the beginning of 2010.

However, the head to head favours Sharapova and I do think that she is the better player and will find a way to win this match.

MY PICKS: David Ferrer - 5.5 games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units) Playing in Barcelona
Fernando Verdasco - 2 games @ 1.90 Pinnacle (2 Units) Playing in Barcelona
Maria Sharapova - 1.5 games @ 1.92 Pinnacle (2 Units) Playing in Stuttgart

Weekly Update: 4-2, + 2.85 Units (11 Units Staked)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

NFL Pre-Draft and my Mock Draft Picks 2012

The bulk of Free Agency has been completed and now the Draft is almost here- I have been working on this post for a couple of weeks, but work means I have been on a time constraint, along with making my picks, to get this completed.

I had it in mind to make sure it was out before the Draft so I could put down a few thoughts on how teams have done via Free Agency and also put down the players I think each will land where in the First Round.

AFC East
Miami Dolphins: Where else could I start but with the team I follow in the NFL? It has been a pretty tragic couple of months as a Dolphin fan as they missed out on Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn and Alex Smith to leave them with Matt Moore and David Garrard as the two Quarter Backs in competition for the starting job.

The trade of Brandon Marshall just hours before Free Agency began looks like a move Miami were going to make regardless of finding a trade partner, so getting a Third Round pick for him looks decent.

Yeremiah Bell was also let go, but it looks like another move that had to be made while the trade for Richard Marshall from Arizona is another smart piece of business.

Obviously there is a serious lack of play-makers on the Offensive side of the ball, while the Line also needs bolstering. Another pass-rusher to play opposite Cameron Wake will also help the team, but it does look like it will be another losing season next year.

However, I am optimistic of the future with new Head Coach Joe Philbin and I like his method of building through the Draft and this one will be important to get the team going the right way.

Mock Draft Number 8: I think the Dolphins will take Ryan Tannehill here although I was hoping Cleveland may take him at 4, but it sounds like the team are pretty high on Tannehill, even outside of Mike Sherman's presence as Offensive Co-Ordinator.

New England Patriots: The AFC representatives in the SuperBowl last season look set to be at least getting back into the Play Offs as they have been afforded one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, while I think they have made a couple of improvements already.

The signing of Brandon Lloyd will give them the deep threat that they didn't have last year, while it should also open things up a little more for the two Tight Ends that were so successful last season.

Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis was not re-signed and I can see Bill Belichick using Aaron Hernandez out of the backfield at time as he did during the Play Offs. Matt Light has also retired, while Mark Anderson signed with the Buffalo Bills.

Light has already had his replacement come in last year in Nate Solder, while they have a number of high picks again to plug some gaps.

Mock Draft Number 27: Shea McClellin looks like he may be picked up to provide pressure from the Linebacker spot
Mock Draft Number 31: Not sure what the Patriots will do with this pick, whether they keep it or trade it... If they keep it, maybe they pick Kendall Reyes

Buffalo Bills: One of the major moves in Free Agency was impressively made by the Bills when they signed Mario Williams and that looks to give them the ability to put pressure on the likes of Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez, while the Defense was also bolstered with the signing of Mark Anderson  from Divisional rivals New England.

A lot of how they do will depend on whether Ryan Fitzpatrick performs as he did in the first eight games and not the Fitzpatrick that turned up after his contract extension was signed.

There were a lot of positives about the Bills last season and I think they are likely the biggest threat to the Patriots in the East.

Mock Draft Number 10: Will Buffalo go for a Wide Receiver and give Fitzpatrick another threat along with Steve Johnson or bolster a Defense that already looks pretty good? I think they may go the way of the latter and take Luke Kuechly to give them a dominant front seven.

New York Jets: The big move made by the New York Jets was signing Mark Sanchez to a big extension, but they then brought in Tim Tebow to be his back up, although the reaction the latter received at a recent New York Yankees game suggests there won't be a demand for Tebow to play unless Sanchez sucks terribly.

There were plenty of players unrest last season which culminated with Santonio Holmes quitting on his team in the final game of the season at Miami. Rex Ryan has gone all in with Sanchez as his Quarter Back, and this could easily make or break him as the Head Coach of the club.

The signing of LaRon Landry looks a good one as long as they can keep him healthy, but Plaxico Burress has not been re-signed and they look like they may need to bring in a couple more threats for the passing game.

Mock Draft Number 16: It is clear that the Jets want a pass rusher to help their Defense out and force QBs to throw quicker at a talented duo at the Corner Back positions. While they will likely want a receiver too, I think they wait until at least the Second Round.
I think the Jets may be the fortunate team to pick up Melvin Ingram at this spot, although there are teams ahead of them that need a pass rusher so he could be off the board depending on what they do.

AFC North
Cleveland Browns: This is one team that has a number of high picks in the Draft this year thanks to the trade they made with the Atlanta Falcons before last years Draft that allowed the latter to take Julio Jones.

The Browns have a lot of holes in the team, have lost Peyton Hillis and seem to have serious reservations about Colt McCoy at the Quarter Back position while lacking serious playmakers throughout.

It looks like being another long season for the Browns unless they hit the jackpot in the Draft.

Mock Draft Number 4: You have to think that the Browns will take Trent Richardson in a clear position where they need help- usually this is way too high for a Running Back, but he is a unique back that can seriously help Colt McCoy.
Mock Draft Number 22: Looks like the Browns will pick someone to help bolster the Offensive Line and provide more help for McCoy and I think this is where Mike Adams can come in and then they can take a Wide Receiver at the top of the Second Round.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the success stories from the Draft last season as they brought in Andy Dalton and AJ Green to give their Offense a real boost. They also picked up a number of picks from the Oakland Raiders when they traded for Carson Palmer and they could really take another major stride if they use the picks they have as effectively as last season.

The Bengals have let Jerome Simpson go as his off-field issues became too much for Cincinnati to deal with, while Cedric Benson has been replaced by Ben-Jarvus Green Ellis at Running Back.

It is a young team, but they are in a tough Division and they will do well to get back into the Play Offs this season.

Mock Draft Number 17: I think the Bengals may get a big boost to their Secondary by picking Dre Kirkpatrick whose stock has fallen due to off-field character issues. Kirkpatrick would likely come in as a starter at Corner Back.
Mock Draft Number 21: Here I think the Bengals may take Quinton Coples who could drop down after being projected a lot higher a couple of months ago.

Baltimore Ravens: How different would it have been for the Ravens if Lee Evans had just held the ball for a second longer in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots last season? Or if Billy Cundiff had not sliced the game-tying field goal wide of the post?

The Defense is much-vaunted, but the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are a year older, although signs that Joe Flacco can lead this team to a SuperBowl were promising.

There is also a potential issue with Ray Rice who was franchised to avoid Free Agency, but the Running Back wants to get paid and will potentially hold-out in Training Camp.

Still, the Ravens look like a solid team that will be there or thereabouts in the Play Offs again this season and I think are the team to beat in the AFC North.

Mock Draft Number 29: Dont'a Hightower to bring in fresher legs into the Defense, one that can pass rush and who will get to learn all he needs to know from Ray Lewis.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The big news in the off-season was the retirement of Hines Ward, but he was not of the same importance in the passing game for the Steelers last season.

It was a disappointing end to last season in losing in the Play Offs to Denver, while the Defense was beginning to look a little slow. However, the biggest issue for them to address in the Draft has to be fixing an Offensive Line that had Ben Roethlisberger feeling far too much pressure.

The best teams in the NFL realise the importance of getting in pass rushers, so the Steelers O-Line has to be fixed. This is a tough Division and, right now, I would wonder if they are going to be good enough to get into the Play Offs, even though the AFC is not as deep as the NFC.

Mock Draft Number 24: Kevin Zeitler/Cordy Glenn are two prospective Guards that could be picked by the Steelers, although a lot of people are tipping them to take a Defensive player in this spot.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts: It was confirmed that Peyton Manning would be leaving this franchise and it has already been decided that they will take Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the Draft. There is plenty of work to be done after the team went 2-14 last season and there have already been a complete clear-out of the staff including the Head Coach, General Manager and Vice Chairman.

Pierre Garcon has moved on, while Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme have all been released. Jeff Saturday is another that has left, while the rumour was that Dwight Freeney was being shopped around.

Reggie Wayne will help his new young Quarter Back, but there are still so many holes in this team that they will do well to win between 3-6 games next season.

Mock Draft Number 1: Andrew Luck

Houston Texans: I think the Houston Texans were really unlucky when it came to injuries at just the wrong time of the season, so the return of Matt Schaub will be big for the team as well as a healthy Andre Johnson.

Mario Williams has left the team as has Eric Winston, but the Texans feel confident they can still maintain their success, particularly in this weak Division.

DeMeco Ryans was also traded to the Philadelphia Eagles as this young franchise was just not able to keep all the pieces they have accrued in recent seasons.

Like I say, I still think this team is going to dominate the South this season, and with a few nice Draft moves, I think they could be a real deal in the AFC too.

Mock Draft Number 26: It looks set that the Houston Texans will take a Receiver with this position. I think Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd will both be gone, so I think they will pick either Kendall Wright or Stephen Hill.

Jacksonville Jaguars: What can you say about this franchise? They play in front of an empty stadium and I was sure they were one of the teams lined up to go to Los Angeles before they were taken over.

Blaine Gabbert looked horrible at the Quarter Back position last season, almost scared to play at some points, and he could be a in a bit of bother as Chad Henne was brought in to back him up.

The Defense played well last season, while they still have a war horse in Maurice Jones-Drew, but there is serious lack of talent in too many places.

I think it is going to be another long season for the Jaguar fans that do turn up to watch them play as they are still rebuilding their team.

Mock Draft Number 7: The rumour is that Jacksonville were happy to trade out of this position as there is no one that they were really that high on that they couldn't pick up lower down the order, but there are no teams that are that interested so they will take Stephon Gilmore at Corner.

Tennessee Titans: Bud Adams was all-in for Peyton Manning this off-season, so it will be interesting to see how Matt Hasselbeck feels about that. To be honest, I think the Titans are likely to give Jake Locker a chance to impress at Quarter Back considering the way he played last season in his rookie year.

Cortland Finnegan was let go in the Free Agency market, but they did bring in Kamerion Wimbley from the Oakland Raiders to strengthen their Defensive Line.

There are a few issues to address, although the return of Kenny Britt will be important for their Offense and ability to stretch the field. Chris Johnson also began to look like the Running Back that was paid all that money last year.

It could be another middle of the road season for the Titans right now, but a good solid Draft will change their prospects.

Mock Draft Number 20: There are a few areas to address as I mentioned, but they may take Dontari Poe whose stock looks like it has fallen. The other potential player here is Michael Floyd, but I expect the Wide Receiver will be off the board come Number 20.

AFC West
Denver Broncos: Where else can you start in this Division but with the team that signed Peyton Manning? That means the Tim Tebow era is over as he was traded out to the New York Jets and there is a lot of excitement in Denver.

Manning will improve the team as long as he is healthy, but I have to say I was surprised he decided to come here as he needs to 'win now'.

Denver lost Brian Dawkins to retirement and I don't think their Defense is as good as some think, while I don't see a multitude of Receiving talents here- personally I thought San Francisco fit perfectly for a 'win now' mentality, but I think the fact that brother Eli plays in that Conference was factored into Peyton's decision making.

The likes of Andre Caldwell, Brandon Stokely, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen have been signed to add to Demaryius Thomas in the passing game, while Tracy Porter was signed to play Corner from the Saints.

They still look the pick in the West, but I expect both San Diego and Kansas City will be much improved from last year.

Mock Draft Number 25: Denver clearly need help on their Defensive Line at Tackle, and Jerel Worthy is the only one that would be on the board if my mock is anything to go by. However, I have a feeling they may go for Kendall Wright here to give further support to Manning's passing options and then work on their Defensive Line in the following Rounds.

San Diego Chargers: It was another disappointing season for the San Diego Chargers last season and I am wondering if their window has now closed with the players they had.

They also lost Vincent Jackson in the Free Agency market, but replaced him with Robert Meacham. Mike Tolbert also left, but Le'Ron McClain was signed to help out Ryan Mathews running the ball.

The signing of Eddie Royal will also give them a punt and kick returning threat that they lost when Darren Sproles departed, and Royal will also provide some support in the passing game.

There were definite issues when it came to protecting Philip Rivers last year, while the Defense could barely pressure the Quarter Back.

One thing in the Chargers favour in this Division is their 5-1 head to head record against Peyton Manning.

Mock Draft Number 18: With Melvin Ingram gone in my mock, I think the Chargers take Courtney Upshaw.

Kansas City Chiefs: Injuries really hurt this squad last season as they lost Jamaal Charles early and then Matt Cassel later on- Todd Haley was also seen as a divisive Head Coach and was fired with the team suddenly playing a lot better with Romeo Crennel as the Interim and now full Head Coach.

The Defense has a number of play-makers, while the returning Charles will provide a boost at Running Back. Dwayne Bowe is a top Receiver in the NFL so all the pieces are in place for a bounce back year for the Chiefs.

The Quarter Back position is a little weak, and it was no surprise that they showed interest in picking up Peyton Manning.

Signings like Eric Winston and Kevin Boss should have an immediate impact on the passing game, while they will hope to get the best out of Peyton Hillis who had a regression last season.

I think the Chiefs will definitely have a bounce back season after the disappointment of 2011.

Mock Draft Number 11: The Offensive Line struggled a little last season but the signing of Eric Winston is a step in the right direction. They get another big piece by picking up David DeCastro here.

Oakland Raiders: Cap space issues have been hurting the Oakland Raiders this off-season, while they have already made their pick in the Draft when trading for Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals last season.

There are some really good pieces at this football club to think the Raiders can remain relevant, but they have hitched their wagon to Palmer and will need better play from him next season. They should get that with a full off-season to work with the Quarter Back.

Keeping Darren McFadden healthy is key, especially now Michael Bush has moved on, while losing Kamerion Wimbley due to cap space issues.

Their success in 2012 will really depend on what kind of Quarter Back play they get from Palmer, but I think they are going to be the weakest team in this Division right now.

Mock Draft Number N/A

NFC East
Washington Redskins: Mike Shanahan has not turned around the franchise as much as the fans would have expected, but the Redskins made one of the big moves in the off-season by trading up to the Number 2 spot in the Draft and pick up a franchise Quarter Back.

The Skins have invested a lot of their future on Robert Griffin III being the star that he is expected to be, but they have also made some smart moves in the off-season to aid themselves.

Pierre Garcon looks a very good signing to help the young Quarter Back, while other signings like Brandon Meriweather and Cedric Griffin improve areas of the team.

It is a ridiculously tough Division, but I see the Skins making some real steps, especially if Robert Griffin pans out as expected.

Mock Draft Number 2: Robert Griffin III

Dallas Cowboys: The Dallas Cowboys were a game away from knocking out the eventual SuperBowl Champions, the New York Giants, before the Play Offs even began and this is another year when you look at their team and know they will be challenging in the Division.

However, the Defense has a few holes, although Brandon Carr was signed as a top quality Corner Back. The Offensive Line needs a little work, while the depth at the Receiving position is shallow after Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

I think the Cowboys would also like to bring another player that can rush the Quarter Back to play opposite DeMarcus Ware, while the players they do have will need to get used to the exotic plays that Rob Ryan will be dialling up.

The problem for the Cowboys looks to be the lack of depth at some of the skilled positions and that could be a problem in the Division if injuries hit the Wide Receivers as it did last season. There also have to be a concern with the Offensive Line and the protection they can offer Tony Romo, particularly with a team like the Giants in the Division.

Mock Draft Number 14: Mark Barron who will bring much needed help at Safety.

Philadelphia Eagles: Towards the end of last season, the Philadelphia Eagles began to gel as a team and looked like the one that everyone had been expecting coming into the season after some big off-season moves.

The trade for DeMeco Ryans looks a very very smart move to me and fixes a big issue they had at Linebacker last season- I only think the Texans moved Ryans because of the change in Defensive scheme under Wade Phillips had made Ryans less effective.

DeSean Jackson was also re-signed and I think there was obvious excitement that the team was finding their feet towards the end of last season while they are quietly going about their business.

If Michael Vick can stay healthy, which is never guaranteed, I think the Eagles are going to be a real threat in the NFC, although the Division makes it tough. The NFC East is also facing the tough AFC North this season which makes the schedule that much tougher for them.

Mock Draft Number 15: Not sure if the Eagles trade up to grab someone like Fletcher Cox, so I think I will place Michael Brockers in this spot to help improve their Defensive Line.

New York Giants: The SuperBowl Champions have lost Mario Manningham in the off-season, while Brandon Jacobs and Aaron Ross are two other members of that team that are no longer with the team.

The Giants are used to making such moves, while the emergence of Victor Cruz means they could afford to let Manningham go and that catch in the SuperBowl will always let the Receiver being linked with New York.

I expect New York are going to be a real tough team to beat this year, but the target on their back as SuperBowl Champions will be a big one to overcome. The Division, as I have said, is ridiculously competitive, while they have a very tough looking schedule.

Mock Draft Number 32: Chandler Jones but it is tough to know what the Giants will do as there is always the possibility that a real surprise faller ends here, while Jones himself may already be gone.

NFC North
Green Bay Packers: The Packers just cooled off at the wrong time last season, but there can't be too many big concerns for a team that looked capable of blowing out everyone they played.

The biggest issues are definitely on the Defensive side of the ball and they will look to address that in the Draft as they are not the kind of franchise that will spend lavishly in the Free Agency market.

Jeff Saturday has been brought in, but Nick Collins and Chad Clifton have been cut due to injury concerns.

Mock Draft Number 28: It does sound like the Packers want to take Jerel Worthy here to help the Defensive Line.

Chicago Bears: Now they traded for Brandon Marshall of the Miami Dolphins and will be hoping he can replicate the chemistry he had with Jay Cutler in their time as Denver team-mates, giving the Bears a threat at Receiver that they did not have all of last season.

The Defense is a year older, but have shown they still match up well with the Packers who are their biggest rivals for the Divisional title.

Last season, the Bears would have almost certainly reached the Play Offs, in my opinion, if they had not had the injuries that decimated their Offense. Matt Forte's absence was huge, but they were finished once Caleb Hanie had to take over from Jay Cutler at Quarter Back.

The signings of Jason Campbell and Michael Bush give them some real depth at the skill positions that hurt them so much last season and I think the Bears are ready for a big season.

Mock Draft Number 19: This is an interesting spot for the Bears and they have options at Receiver, but I think they would have liked what they saw in the Play Offs and the way the Giants took on the Packers. Therefore I think they select Whitney Mercilus to play opposite Julius Peppers.

Detroit Lions: The Detroit Lions are finally back as a relevant force in the NFL and they will be again this season if they can keep Matt Stafford healthy and the 'Madden Curse' does to affect Calvin Johnson.

They have a very good front seven, but the Secondary needs some reworking, while the Offensive Line was a little too porous in obvious throwing situations.

Detroit will be a tough ask for anyone as they can put up a lot of points, but they will need to protect Stafford better when he drops back and also look to get more out of Nick Fairley who had an injury riddled season.

Mock Draft Number 23: This is the one team that I see could take Jonathan Martin and stop his drop down the order to provide more protection for Matt Stafford.

Minnesota Vikings: The Brett Favre experiment almost reaped rewards back in 2009, but they are a far cry from those days.

Adrian Peterson is still on course to return to the team in September in time for the opening game, but they have major holes at Receiver, and the Secondary.

The Offensive Line also needs to protect the young Quarter Back better than they did last season and I think it is going to be another tough season for the Vikings, especially considering they have to face the Bears, Lions and Packers in 6 of their 16 games.

Mock Draft Number 3: The Vikings have looked to trade out of this spot but are not getting the interest that the St Louis Rams did to trade away the Number 2 Pick. They are putting out rumours that they are interested in Morris Claiborne, but I only see them picking Matt Kalil unless managing to get out of this pick.

NFC South
New Orleans Saints: This team looks in a lot of trouble after Bounty-Gate has seen them lose their Head Coach for the season, while the Interim Head Coach will also be sidelined for six games.

The NFL have yet to come down on the Defensive players that were involved in the scandal and it is hard to tell where this team will be once all the suspensions have been handed out.

The Offense should still tick along with Drew Brees, although they did lose Robert Meachem. Ben Grubbs was signed to replace the departed Carl Nicks on the Offensive Line, but the biggest issue will be what happens to the Defense.

Mock Draft Number N/A

Atlanta Falcons: The Atlanta Falcons are giving Mike Smith one more opportunity to lead their team into the season with a deep Play Off run the only requirement having been beaten in their first Play Off game in the past two seasons.

Last season they gave up their First Round pick to the Cleveland Browns so they could sign Julio Jones, and they have also made a couple of decent moves by signing Lofa Tatupa to play Linebacker and Asante Samuel in a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Matt Ryan has a decent receiving corps at his disposal as well as Michael Turner coming out of the backfield and I think they should be the favourites to win the Division right now.

Mock Draft Number N/A

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Any Manchester United fans reading this will be surprised to hear that Tampa Bay were one of the biggest spenders in the Free Agency market as they look to recover from a terrible 2011 season.

Vincent Jackson was signed from the San Diego Chargers as a deep threat for Josh Freeman who had a regression from his rookie season. Carl Nicks was signed from their Divisional rivals, the New Orleans Saints, to help an Offensive Line in protecting their Quarter Back and Eric Wright will provide more depth at the Corner position.

These moves look like they will help the Buccaneers that really struggled down the stretch, but I do feel that had a lot to do with them giving up on Raheem Morris as the Head Coach. They should be better than last season, but this Division is very competitive and they could find themselves in a hole early in the season with the way the schedule has been made.

Mock Draft Number 5: I honestly think this is the team that the Vikings are trying to tempt to move up to Number 3 and take Morris Claiborne, but I don't think the Buccaneers feel they need to, while they will also be happy taking Trent Richardson if he somehow is still on the board.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton worked out as being a very good Number 1 pick from the 2011 Draft, but the Panthers will be hoping he doesn't have a regression year as a second year starter.

However, Newton is a workaholic and is unlikely to be sitting on his laurels, while the opportunity to work with his coaches much earlier than last season will really help him.

The Panthers signed Mike Tolbert in the Free Agency market and look set to have three very good backs, but they are still a little off from the two main teams in this Division.

Ron Rivera is getting the team going in the right direction and will use this Draft to add more effective pieces to the team.

Mock Draft Number 9: This is where Fletcher Cox is likely to land to give help to the Defensive Line.

NFC West
San Francisco 49ers: The biggest story in the off-season was the chase for Peyton Manning, which San Francisco were leading along with Denver and Tennessee, something which put Alex Smith's nose a little out of joint.

However, Smith re-signed with the team and he has been given a lot more help this year as the 49ers signed both Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to aid a passing game and an Offense that really struggled in the Red Zone last year.

Brandon Jacobs was signed to help Frank Gore carry the load in the backfield, while the team are pretty high on what Josh Johnson can do from a Wildcat perspective.

The Defense is young and stout and, while I don't think they will have as strong a season as 2011, I still think the 48ers are the team to beat in the NFC West.

Mock Draft Number 30: Coby Fleener could have his name called here as Jim Harbaugh coached him at College and I think other options like Stephen Hill will likely be off the board.

Seattle Seahawks: This is the team that is likely to be the biggest threat to San Francisco in the West as they were showing real signs of improvement last season.

They have a couple of big, tall Corner Backs that can shut down Receivers, while the running game really took off towards the end of the season.

However, their entire hopes could rest on whether Matt Flynn, the big off-season signing from the Green Bay Packers, is as good as they think. Flynn would have been the most coveted Quarter Back in Free Agency if it wasn't for Peyton Manning and he has some legitimate targets in Sidney Rice and Mike Williams.

Re-signing Red Bryant, who was heavily linked with the New England Patriots, is just another sign that this team is going places and could be a real dark horse in the NFC next season.

Mock Draft Number 12: A lot of the Mock Drafts I have read have tipped the Seahawks to take a pass rusher in this spot, but I have a feeling they may opt for Michael Floyd to give Matt Flynn another weapon in the passing game, particularly with the injury concerns that destroyed much of Sidney Rice's season last year.

Arizona Cardinals: Yet another team that wanted Peyton Manning- however, they will go into the season with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as their two Quarter Backs and I imagine an open competition to decide who wins the job in training camp.

They still have Larry Fitzgerald, easily in the top three Receivers in the NFL, but the Offensive Line needs more work.

The Defense also began to play better last season, especially when Patrick Peterson started getting up to speed with the NFL as one of the Corner Backs.

Arizona are a solid team, but they need better play from the Quarter Back position.

Mock Draft Number 13: I think they take Riley Reiff at this position as they won't let him fall too far down the board. The big question mark surrounding Reiff is the length of his arms for a Tackle, but he will be a good addition to an Offensive Line that needs reconstructing,

St Louis Rams: The St Louis Rams have a franchise Quarter Back in the form of Sam Bradford so they were able to rinse the Washington Redskins for picks over the next few years to trade out of the Number 2 spot in the Draft and so this is a team to look out for in the future with a couple of good Drafts.

The problem for Bradford last season was the lack of protection, while the team also allowed Brandon Lloyd to leave in Free Agency.

The Defense showed some signs of life last season, especially when it came to rushing the Quarter Back, but there is still some work to be done to turn around a franchise that has barely had much to cheer for in the last few seasons.

The arrival of Jeff Fisher as Head Coach was another good move to get this team going the right way.

Mock Draft Number 6: The whole Draft could change depending on what Cleveland, Tampa Bay and St Louis do, but in my mock I have them taking Justin Blackmon to give Sam Bradford a real Receiver to throw to.
The rumour is that they would take Trent Richardson if he somehow falls to this spot, but I expect the Running Back will be gone ahead of them.

1) Indianapolis Colts- Andrew Luck
2) Washington Redskins- RGIII
3) Minnesota Vikings- Matt Kalil
4) Cleveland Browns- Trent Richardson
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Morris Claiborne
6) St Louis Rams- Justin Blackmon
7) Jacksonville Jaguars- Stephon Gilmore
8) Miami Dolphins- Ryan Tannehill
9) Carolina Panthers- Fletcher Cox
10) Buffalo Bills- Luke Kuechly
11) Kansas City Chiefs- David DeCastro
12) Seattle Seahawks- Michael Floyd
13) Arizona Cardinals- Riley Reiff
14) Dallas Cowboys- Mark Barron
15) Philadelphia Eagles- Michael Brockers
16) New York Jets- Melvin Ingram
17) Cincinnati Bengals- Dre Kirkpatrick
18) San Diego Chargers- Courtney Upshaw
19) Chicago Bears- Whitney Mercilus
20) Tennessee Titans- Dontari Poe
21) Cincinnati Bengals- Quinton Coples
22) Cleveland Browns- Mike Adams
23) Detroit Lions- Jonathan Martin
24) Pittsburgh Steelers- Cordy Glenn
25) Denver Broncos- Kendall Wright
26) Houston Texans- Stephen Hill
27) New England Patriots- Shea McClellan
28) Green Bay Packers- Jerel Worthy
29) Baltimore Ravens- Dont'a Hightower
30) San Francisco 49ers- Coby Fleener
31) New England Patriots- Kendall Reyes
32) New York Giants- Chandler Jones

All of these picks are subject to change as teams simply look to trade up and down during the Draft... These are all made with the idea that there will be no more trades up, down, in or out in the Draft on April 26.

Tennis Picks April 26th

I have been working on finishing my pre-Draft NFL post and a mock draft for the First Round and so I have not had time to post this earlier.

The NFL post will likely be ready in the next 9-12 hours, so plenty of time before the Draft actually begins.

Anyway, on to the tennis picks from Thursday 26th April after the ones I made yesterday finished 1-1, with Victor Troicki's match postponed until today due to inclement weather in Bucharest.

Feliciano Lopez - 2.5 games v Jarkko Nieminen: This is a risky pick in some ways as Feliciano Lopez is just 1-6 against Jarkko Nieminen in the past and the Spaniard has to be one of the weaker players on a clay court from his country on the Professional tour.

However, I like his chances as his only win against Nieminen actually came at this event three years ago with Lopez winning for the loss of just 3 games- that match was also the last time the two players met.

Nieminen is a really tough competitor that will make life tough for Lopez, but the latter seems to enjoy playing here as he reached the Quarter Final last year, while he also has had a couple of solid years on the slower surfaces.

This one looks like a tough match for Lopez, but I think he will be a little too good for Nieminen.

MY PICKS: Feliciano Lopez - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units) Playing in Barcelona
Victor Troicki - 3 Games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units) Still Running from Yesterday and Playing in Bucharest

Weekly Update: 3-1, + 3.01 Units (7 Units Staked)

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Tennis Picks April 25th

No complaints from my first venture into the tennis markets this week as both picks came up trumps, including Frederico Gil winning his match as the big underdog.

Hopefully I will continue to enjoy that success today with the following picks. There are a couple of the later matches at Barcelona that did catch my eye, but not all the markets are available so I will post a link to the thread on Twitter if I make any additions in the morning once they are available.

Santiago Giraldo v Robin Haase: I am going to pick Santiago Giraldo as the slight favourite to come through this contest despite Robin Haase's successes at Monte Carlo last week.

Giraldo played well here at Barcelona last season when reaching the Third Round before losing to Rafael Nadal, and recorded a decent win over Denis Istomin in the First Round this year. His best form is reserved for the clay courts in the main, performing well on the Main Tour and in Challenger events.

Haase is adept at playing on the slower surfaces himself, but can be a little hit and miss as highlighted by the fact he won a title on the clay courts in Kitzbuhel, but was also an early loser here in Barcelona as well as at the French Open, Hamburg and Umag.

Giraldo also has won their only head to head in the past and looks a little big at the prices on offer.

Potito Starace - 5.5 games v Attila Balazs: Potito Starace is still more than a little useful on the clay courts and I think he is going to have far too much know-how and experience for Attila Balazs who is very much not used to playing at this level.

Balazs did record a big surprise win over Lukas Lacko in the last Round having qualified, but there is nothing in his results to suggest he will be good enough to keep up with Starace.

Starace was a comfortable winner in the last Round against Jeremy Chardy and it is on the clay courts that he continues to be at his most competitive. I think the Italian still can deal with these kind of matches and should be able to record a couple of breaks in a single set to cover the spread.

Victor Troicki - 3 games Matthias Bachinger: Victor Troicki has dropped out of the top 20 in the World Rankings due to a horrible run of form and so I think people cannot trust him at the moment to put in a good performance, but a lot of his bad results have come against the better players and not the likes of Matthias Bachinger.

Bachinger is ranked outside of the top 100 in the Men's Rankings, and he is just 5-6 on the clay courts since the beginning of the 2011 season.

It is clear that the German barely likes this time of the season, although he did register an impressive looking win over Filippo Volandri, but Victor Troicki should still be too strong for him as long as he has not completely lost it mentally on a tennis court.

Troicki is still managing to beat some of the lesser known players at the moment, including a win over Bachinger in two straight sets at the start of the season.

The Serb is also had a much more successful career, relatively, on the clay courts compared with Bachinger so I will take my chance on him.

MY PICKS: Santiago Giraldo @ 1.80 Stan James (2 Units) Playing in Barcelona
Potito Starace - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units) Playing in Bucharest
Victor Troicki - 3 Games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units) Playing in Bucharest

Weekly Update: 2-0, + 3.41 Units (3 Units Staked)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

English and European Midweek Picks (April 24-26)

The second legs from the two European competitions will be played this week and they have the centre stage all to themselves when it comes to media coverage.

I will post my picks from the games on this thread and will update during the week whenever new picks are made.

Barcelona v Chelsea Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-13951-Barcelona-v-Chelsea.htm)

Aston Villa v Bolton Wanderers Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-13953-Aston-Villa-v-Bolton-Wanderers.htm)

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-13958-Real-Madrid-v-Bayern-Munich.htm)

MY PICKS: Barcelona - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (3 Units)
Bolton Wanderers @ 4.33 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Real Madrid to win and 3 or more goals scored @ 2.40 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Tennis Picks April 24th

We have a few tournaments running in Barcelona, Bucharest and Stuttgart this week, with the event at Barcelona being one of the ATP 500 Events, one that has attracted some big names like Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.

I didn't get involved in the outright markets this week as Rafael Nadal is understandably a short priced favourite in Barcelona and I think there are some real doubts over which players are just going to be using this as a glorified training session.

I will make a few picks where I think I have found some value as there are definitely some bigger events coming up over the next month.

Frederico Gil v Marcel Granollers: I am taking the underdog in this match as I want to oppose Marcel Granollers who has started the season with a 4-7 record and is only 2-2 on a clay court.

Granollers has also never got past the Second Round at the event in Barcelona and he has been beaten in his first match on four occasions.

Frederico Gil hasn't had the best start to the season, but he plays his best stuff usually on a clay court and he also holds a 4-1 head to head record against Granollers, including a 3-0 record on a clay court.

Gil does not have the biggest game, but his consistency could cause problems for Granollers, particularly if his confidence is low and I think this will be worth chancing.

Victor Hanescu - 3 games v Rui Machado: Rui Machado did reach the Final of a Challenger event on the clay courts of Rome last week, but he had lost all 9 matches he had played in the 2012 season before that tournament.

Victor Hanescu didn't have a great 2011 season and his 2012 season has not exactly been stellar so far, but his most favourable results have come on the clay courts in that time and I think he still has too big a game for his Portuguese opponent.

I think Hanescu will have it a little easier on his own service games and that should give him the edge to come through with a little bit of room to spare and cover this spread.

MY PICKS: Frederico Gil @ 2.75 Pinnacle (1 Unit) Playing at Barcelona
Victor Hanescu - 3 Games @ 1.83 Pinnacle (2 Units) Playing in Barcelona

Monday, 23 April 2012

Tennis Weekly Recap (Monte Carlo)

I mentioned at one point last week that the ATP Masters Event at Monte Carlo seemed to lack the feel of one of the bigger events on the calender, feeling more like an ATP 250 tournament than anything else. I truly believe the tournament loses a lot of credibility with it being the only Masters Event which is not compulsory.

Rafael Nadal still the one to beat on a clay court: Rafael Nadal won his 8th consecutive title at Monte Carlo and I think this one will be the most important for a couple of reasons.

The first is the fact that he beat Novak Djokovic in the Final, something he had failed to do since before the 2011 season. That will have finally given the Spaniard some confidence back after losing so many important matches to Djokovic over the last 15 months and will put him in good stead for the rest of the clay court season.

The second reason is the fact that he should now have the confidence in the knee issues that had forced his early retirement at the Masters Event in Miami, an injury Nadal admitted was still concerning him ahead of this one in Monte Carlo. It is clear he is much happier with the state of his body as he gets back on a clay court as it is much less demanding on his knees, and it is no surprise that he is going back to Barcelona in the coming week.

Ivan Ljubicic's retirement: Ivan Ljubicic became another big name tennis player from the last ten years that has called time on his career just a few short weeks after Fernando Gonzalez did the same in Miami.

Ivan Ljubicic was an under-rated player in his time, although his lack of success at Grand Slam level will likely have disappointed him.

Ljubicic did reach a high of World Number 3 in his career, a real achievement on its own, and that year coincided with his best efforts in a Grand Slam tournament as he reached the Quarter Final in Australian and the Semi Final at the French Open, but failure to reach further than the Fourth Round in any other Grand Slam tournament is a surprise considering his all around game.

The Croatian was highly respected by the other players on the Tour and he seems to be well-liked so I only hope he enjoys his post-playing career.

On another note, it was a tough week to be picking the matches considering the lack of consistency in the performances as a lot of the players were playing their first clay court tournament of the season.

Weekly Update: 4-4, + 2.44 Units (13 Units Staked)

Outright Update: 0-1, - 2 Units (2 Units Staked)

Season 2012 Update: + 29.79 Units (313 Units Staked, 9.51% Yield)
Season 2011: + 82.02 Units