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Boxing Picks 2021- Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders (May 8th)

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...

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year's Day Football Picks 2015 (January 1st)

Time doesn't stop for anyone, but I can't be the only person that has seen the 2014 calendar year zip right past faster than the click of your fingers.

Just like that, I am writing a small post in preparation for the New Year's Day Premier League games where there is a full round of games ahead of the FA Cup Third Round 'weekend'. I put that in inverted commas simply because the Third Round has been spread from Friday through to Tuesday which takes away something from one of the most popular weekends of the domestic season.

January has four rounds of League fixtures in England, while the top European Leagues return to action too. The rest of the month sees the first domestic Cup Final of the season set up once the two legged League Cup Semi Finals are completed, while the FA Cup will have reached the Fifth Round by the end of the month.

Usually this is the slowest month of the season after the Christmas holidays, but there is plenty of top football to look forward to with the importance of games increasing on a week by week basis.

Stoke City v Manchester United Pick: 2014 ended in a much more positive manner for Manchester United than it started and the confidence in the side has improved markedly in that time. The fans are feeling like 2015 is going to be a much better season now that David Moyes is no longer in charge and they have every chance of getting the New Year off to the perfect start with a victory at Stoke City.

However, it is going to be more than a little test at the Brittania Stadium considering Stoke City's recent form which has seen them only lose against Chelsea over the last month. Back to back wins over Everton and West Brom will have built some confidence and this ground is regularly a tough one to visit.

This season has been a different story though with 4 out of 9 visitors to Stoke leaving with the three points and Manchester United have certainly created enough chances in recent games to think they can do the same. United will need to be much more clinical then they were at Tottenham Hotspur when they could have had as many as three goals by half time with a little more fortune and composure when the chances came their way.

It is hard to imagine Robin Van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney having another off day in front of goal, although the defence is still a concern even with injuries beginning to clear up. While Manchester United should create problems for a Stoke City team that has conceded twice in games against Arsenal and Chelsea at the Brittania Stadium in recent games, I also think Stoke are going to have some joy with balls into the box for the likes of Peter Crouch.

The goals might not have come at White Hart Lane, but Manchester United games have generally seen them going in and I expect that to return to the fore on Thursday. Stoke City have both scored and conceded plenty of goals in recent games at the Brittania Stadium and I wouldn't be surprised if both teams hit the net in this one and neither is likely to sit back and settle for a draw.

Liverpool v Leicester City Pick: The decision to move Raheem Sterling up front and allow the likes of Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho to play behind him has sparked something from Liverpool and they produced their best performance of the season at Anfield on Monday Night Football. Dismissing Swansea as comfortably as they did should give Liverpool some confidence and they are only 5 points off a Champions League place despite a very inconsistent season.

Facing Leicester City at Anfield should give Liverpool a real chance of making it three wins in a row and that kind of momentum that was sparked by the side at the beginning of the 2014 calendar year. With Daniel Sturridge still on the road back to fitness, Brendan Rodgers will believe his side are capable of putting together a string of wins that can lead to another tilt at the Champions League and the manager would expect to win this game.

Leicester City did beat Hull City on Sunday to end a long wait for a win and also end a long losing run away from home, but Liverpool will be a different test than the goal-shy Hull side. Nigel Pearson's men have conceded at least twice in 6 of their last 8 away games and they might find it hard to stay with the clever movement that Liverpool can produce up front.

Any similarities to the performance produced against Swansea should see Liverpool too strong for Leicester in this game, even with one less day of rest between games than their visitors. Over the last few weeks, Liverpool have really begun to create chances in their games and they should have those in this game too against a defence that has conceded plenty of goals on their travels.

If they show the same level of clinical finishing and up-tempo attacking play as they did on Monday night, Liverpool should win this by a couple of goals at least.

Queens Park Rangers v Swansea Pick: It was a disappointing goalless draw that Queens Park Rangers had to settle for in their last game at home against Crystal Palace, but I think they can bounce back in this game if Swansea are as poor defensively as they were in their loss at Liverpool.

Harry Redknapp has got the best out of his QPR side at Loftus Road and games like this, even though Swansea are in the top half of the Premier League table, are very important for Rangers to win if they want to avoid the drop. They have been very good at home all season and have caused problems for many of their visitors over the last couple of months and they have an attacking threat that will give Swansea issues to deal with.

However, I have to have a respect for the likes of Wilfried Bony, Gylfi Sigurdsson and the way Garry Monk has his team earning results this season. On the other hand, Swansea are not as good on their travels as they have been at the Liberty Stadium and they don't look the right favourite in this game.

Swansea have lost 5 of their 9 away games in the Premier League and I think QPR are a big price to put another notch in the loss column for them in this game. I'll keep stakes small though after Rangers lost some momentum at home with the draw against Palace on Sunday, but the home price is still too hard to ignore.

Southampton v Arsenal Pick: This is a big game for both Ronald Koeman and Arsene Wenger as they look to get their sides in a position to challenge for the top four in the second half of the season. Arsenal have been there, done that regularly over the last twenty years and that experience is likely to prove critical down the stretch, especially if Southampton continue to struggle against the best teams in the Premier League.

Southampton have failed to beat Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea at St Mary's this season and even the draw with the current leaders of the Premier League was a touch fortunate. The players had to put in a huge effort in that game, especially in the second half, and I do wonder if Southampton will have enough time to be fully ready for this game on New Year's Day.

There is pace up front that will cause Arsenal some problems, but Southampton have to find a way to be a little more clinical against the best teams and also to try and dictate the tempo in these games. To be fair to Koeman, Southampton have played well against teams outside of the top two and were unfortunate to lose at the Emirates Stadium as well as the home game against Manchester United.

A similar performance to the one they produced against Manchester United will give Southampton a real chance of earning a surprise win in this one, although they will also have trouble coping with the strength of the Arsenal attack. Laurent Koscielny's return to the Arsenal defence will help their cause, but this looks another game that should produce goals at both ends.

The last 4 Arsenal away games have all produced at least three goals, while Southampton had seen 3 in a row also do the same before the 1-1 draw with Chelsea which had enough chances for another goal. The over 2.5 goals option is at odds against and I do think that looks a little big in this game.

West Ham United v West Brom Pick: I don't think there was any surprise when West Brom announced that they had parted ways with Alan Irvine as the side continues to slide down the Premier League table. Most seem to suggest that Irvine is a really nice man and a decent Coach, but that isn't enough to become a strong manager in a tough environment like the Premier League, although he could have learned from his experiences.

For now, West Brom will head to Upton Park without a leader at the helm and it will say a lot about these players as to how much desire they show in the face of things going wrong. West Brom have struggled for goals and this looks a very tough game for them to pick themselves up after losing 3 of their last 4 away games in the Premier League.

While the side did cause some problems for Stoke City, it was the lack of composure up front that cost West Brom the chance to get anything from that game and they might be under more pressure here.

West Ham United might have had their confidence dented by their two League defeats to Chelsea and Arsenal, but they had enough chances in the latter game against the Gunners to believe they can get back to winning ways. The side have played some attractive football and can put a lot of pressure on a team like West Brom that might not be up for the battle in a tough venue.

If West Ham can put recent defeats to the back of their mind, they should prove to be too strong for West Brom and can score the goals to grab the three points. If the home side score twice, I think it will be too much for West Brom to get a result in this one and I will back West Ham to win the game.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea Pick: If you had hit the pause button just before some of the chances that were going to be created at White Hart Lane on Sunday, I am pretty sure most would have expected to see the net bulge soon after the shot/header had been taken. There must have been some huge forcefield in front of both goals during the Tottenham Hotspur game with Manchester United that prevented that ending up being a high-scoring game, but the chances were there for that to happen.

When Chelsea visit Spurs on New Year's Day, they will also bring some forwards that are capable of finishing the opportunities that come their way and I can see the away side posing some real problems. The pace of Eden Hazard and the passing of Cesc Fabregas creates space for Diego Costa and it would be something of a surprise if Tottenham Hotspur continue to get away with some shoddy defending they have produced.

On the other hand, I don't believe Chelsea are worthy of being such a short favourite to win considering recent results on their travels. There is plenty of quality in the Chelsea team, but their defence doesn't seem to be as strong when away from Stamford Bridge and Harry Kane has been in the kind of form where he only needs half a sight of goal to put the ball into the back of the net.

Tottenham Hotspur also have a decent home record against Chelsea in recent seasons, but I wouldn't be confident in backing them to take something from this game. My reasons are that they seem to have been getting a lot of luck for some of their results in recent weeks and even losing a bit of that will give the edge to Chelsea, who certainly have the players to take advantage.

Both teams should have their chances and I won't be surprised if both score with 1-1 being the predominant score in recent games at White Hart Lane between these two teams. In fact, 3 of the last 4 Premier League games at this ground between Spurs and Chelsea have ended 1-1, but I think the chances that are likely to be created will separate the teams and find a winner.

Therefore, I am backing over 2.5 goals in this game without the confidence of really knowing which team will win- Chelsea are more likely, but Spurs could ride their luck yet again and instead I will simply stick with the belief that there will be goals in the late kick off.

MY PICKS: Stoke City-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.20 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers @ 3.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Southampton-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
West Ham United to Win @ 1.90 Stan James (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur- Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December Final25-19-1, + 18.70 Units (81 Units Staked, + 23.09% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1570-98-1, - 18.88 Units (289 Units Staked, - 6.53% 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)

Sunday, 28 December 2014

NFL Week 17 Picks 2014 (December 28th)

The majority of the Play Off places have been taken, but there are still some elements to clear up including Seeding in both Conferences as we reach the final week of the regular season. Last season saw Week 17 have a whole bunch of games that had Play Off implications, but that isn't the case this time around.

With the way that Christmas has landed this season, it does mean that the picks for the final week of the regular season are the only thing I have concentrated on, although there will be a few more minimum stake ones with a lot of meaningless games on offer.

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins Pick: Any team that is going to be playing in the Wild Card Weekend of the Play Offs next week need to be second guessed as to whether they will give their starters enough time to win games this week. Week 17 doesn't really matter to either the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Redskins in the grand scheme of things, but Jason Garrett seems determined to make sure the Cowboys keep winning going into the Play Offs and practice has seen the starters playing this week at their usual rep level.

It will be interesting to see how much Washington have left considering the effort they put into ruining the Philadelphia Eagles season and the likes of DeSean Jackson put in a huge emotional effort into that game. RG3 hasn't been consistent either this season and I wonder if he can back up a relatively good game that he produced last week.

Prior to that win over the Eagles, Washington had been a mess on both sides of the ball and while I do think they can have success against this Dallas Cowboys Defense, I also think Tony Romo, if given a full game or close to a full game, can really carve up the Secondary of the Redskins.

DeMarco Murray is unlikely to receive his usual level of carries out of the backfield, but Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle can establish the run and that should only mean Romo can make the plays downfield. Washington's Secondary is banged up and the Offensive Line hasn't had the best season protecting the Quarter Back which makes me believe Dallas can go into the Play Offs with another win behind them.

Dallas haven't been the greatest favourite to back, but they have an impressive 6-1 record against the spread on the road and they have been a team that has excelled at revenging a loss under Jason Garrett. When you consider Washington are just 2-5 against the spread at home this season and are coming off a hugely emotional win, I think the Cowboys can record an impressive win to take some confidence in their first Play Off appearance for a few seasons.

Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans Pick: This is a meaningless game for both teams, but I do think there is still something for the Indianapolis Colts to achieve by putting together a strong performance here and definitely more than the Tennessee Titans can achieve. The Colts are looking for some momentum to take into the Play Offs next weekend after being embarrassed by the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16, while Tennessee would likely hurt themselves by winning the game and ruining their place in the NFL Draft.

However, this is a Divisional game and players will have some pride to try and end their 9 game losing run and give the Tennessee fans something to enjoy. Unfortunately for the Titans, I just don't think they are a very good team and Charlie Whitehurst doesn't inspire at Quarter Back for them. He might make some plays against the Indianapolis Defense which has struggled at times this season, although mainly against the better teams in the NFL, but it is a big ask for the third string Quarter Back to win the game.

Without an effective running game, Whitehurst will be under immense pressure behind an Offensive Line that has been porous and it may be tough for Tennessee to do much Offensively having scored 31 points in their last three games combined.

Indianapolis' Offense was completely out of sync in their loss at Dallas, but the return of TY Hilton and facing this Tennessee Secondary should give Andrew Luck a real chance to get on the same page as his Receivers. Hilton's ability to stretch the field should open up the passing lanes for some of the other Receivers Indianapolis have and Luck should be able to carve up Tennessee in this game.

A concern would be how long Chuck Pegano decides to play his starters, but all the noise coming out of Indianapolis suggests he wants to put in a momentum earning performance. The Colts have been a decent favourite to back all season and they have continued to dominate their Divisional rivals who they own a 13-2 against the spread record since Andrew Luck arrived in Indianapolis.

The Titans have had additional time to prepare for this game but they are 3-9 against the spread as the underdog this season and they have dropped to 2-13 against the spread against Divisional rivals over the last three seasons. That includes a 0-5 against the spread record against them this season under Ken Whisenhunt and I like Indianapolis to cover.

San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: Since the Alex Smith injury was revealed and it was stated that he would miss this game against the San Diego Chargers, the layers have chopped down the amount of points given to the road team although Kansas City remain a small favourite. That could be down to the fact that the Chiefs will put in a huge effort to ruin the San Diego season as well as the injury that Philip Rivers is dealing with, but I think the public underdog looks the right team to back.

Chase Daniel has 200 passing yards and 1 Touchdown in his Week 17 appearance against the San Diego Chargers last season and he will be fortunate to have both Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis at Running Back who could have some real success against this Defense.

Rivers will also need to deal with the very impressive Kansas City pass rush that should cause him some problems, but he has shown he is willing to take a hit and make the throws downfield. Like Daniel, Rivers will also be able to hand the ball to Brandon Oliver who should make some plays running the ball and this looks like a chance for Rivers to cement his place as one of the better Quarter Backs in the NFL.

The Chargers have won twice in a row at Arrowhead Stadium so this San Diego team should not be intimidated by having to come here and win to make the Play Offs and they are 3-1 against the spread as a road underdog of 3 points or fewer this season.

Over the last three seasons, Kansas City are a poor 1-4 against the spread as the home favourite of a Field Goal or less and San Diego have so much motivation behind them to win this game. While the Chiefs would love to spoil their Divisional rivals season, I can see Brandon Flowers making a huge play against his former team and giving the Chargers the sixth spot in the AFC Play Offs.

New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins Pick: After putting in a huge effort to try and derail the New England Patriots season and with a loved Head Coach already clearing his office in anticipation of being fired, the New York Jets might have too much to deal with from an emotional level to be able to compete in this final game of the season.

There is no doubt that the players in New York love playing for Ryan, so they might want to raise their game to give him a fitting farewell present, but the Jets really had to dig deep within themselves a week ago and I am not sure how much is left in the tank.

However, the Jets showed when they met the Miami Dolphins at home that their Offensive Line is capable of opening holes for the Running Backs to take advantage and I think Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson can continue doing that for them. It will make it easier for Geno Smith to make some plays too and prove he is capable of becoming the franchise Quarter Back that the Jets have been craving for a long time, although the Jets have to finish drives with Touchdowns and not Field Goals as they did against the Patriots and in the first game with Miami.

The Secondary of the Jets has been a problem, but that is not really where the Offense of the Miami Dolphins concentrate on attacking, unless down big as they were against the Vikings last week. Ryan Tannehill had some big numbers in that game, but this Jets Defensive Line will give him some issues and the short passes will be music to the ears of Ryan who can devise another strong game for his team.

New York have been good against the spread when trying to revenge a loss and the Dolphins are not a good favourite to back. I am restricting stakes because of the effort the Jets put in last week, but I will take the points.

Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots Pick: No one can really second guess Bill Belichick and what he wants to do as the Head Coach of the New England Patriots, but it would be something of a surprise if he decides to rest his starters and perhaps risk the team losing their rhythm ahead of the Play Offs. The bye and home field have been secured, but the Patriots weren't quite on the same page against the New York Jets last week and that could be a risk to go into the Play Offs without the Offense at least trying to put some points up.

This is a meaningless game against the Buffalo Bills who were knocked out of Play Off contention by losing at the Oakland Raiders last week. There has to be some real disappointment that the Bills couldn't give themselves a chance going into the final week of the season as the longest Play Off drought in the NFL continues for another year.

Marcel Dareus could be missing on the Defensive Line which may at least give Tom Brady a little more time to make his plays from the Quarter Back position and New England have dominated the Bills with 13 straight home wins against them.

Kyle Orton will get the chance for the Buffalo Bills despite some people calling for Doug Marrone to check what EJ Manuel has learned on the bench over the last couple of months. Orton is a limited Quarter Back and might not have much help on the ground in this one which means he is throwing against a Secondary that has been playing better and better as the season wore on.

The Bills have been a strong underdog to back this season, but New England will be looking for more momentum and I like the Patriots to cover. With the season already over for Buffalo, they might not have a full effort in the game and the Patriots could run away with this one as long as they keep the starters in for at least three quarters.

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: The NFC South will be won by a team with a losing record and that winner will be decided on Sunday afternoon with the Carolina Panthers visiting the Atlanta Falcons.

Both teams have actually been playing with some momentum in recent weeks and may feel they will have a 'winnable' Play Off game as they could potentially be hosting the Arizona Cardinals next week which makes this a very important game.

The Panthers have won 3 in a row and Atlanta have won all 5 Divisional games they have played, and they do have Julio Jones back fully healthy for this game.

I like Carolina with the points in this game because I do think they are about as healthy as they have been all season and Cam Newton showed no discomfort from the automobile accident he had a couple of weeks ago when playing last week. The Panthers have also found something of a pass rush in the absence of Greg Hardy and may put some pressure on Matt Ryan who isn't backed by a deep rushing Offense and is also missing Steven Jackson.

Ryan should still be able to hit the likes of Jones and Roddy White downfield, but I think the Panthers can control the clock with their power running game and keep the Falcons Offense on the sidelines. Running the ball effectively will also open things up for Newton to hit Greg Olson and Kelvin Benjamin up the field and the Panthers did win here outright last season.

It would have been a lot more fun getting the points from the start of the week, but even the three points being offered look like they could be productive and I will back Carolina in this game.

Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers Pick: The Green Bay Packers have been incredible at home this season and haven't lost to the Detroit Lions here for over two decades and the expectation is that they prove too good again while winning the NFC North and earning a bye in the Play Offs next week.

While Detroit have struggled to run the ball this season, their Defensive Line has been very stout and the key for the Lions is getting Matt Stafford to play one of his better games on the road. Stafford hasn't been as effective on the road and it could be cold for a team that plays in the Dome, although Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are two Receivers that can win their battles.

However, Stafford has to be given time by the Offensive Line which is dealing with a Green Bay team that have changed where they line up the likes of Clay Matthews, which in turn has improved their ability to get to the Quarter Back.

Aaron Rodgers is likely to be under pressure too from the Detroit Defensive Line, particularly if his calf is still bothering him from last week. However, Rodgers has been very good at home and has the ability to move around in the pocket and allow his Receivers to get free and earn some big gains.

However, this is a Defense that has seen Rodgers often enough to know some of his tendencies and have given him some trouble in the past, although mainly back at Ford Field rather than at Lambeau. I can see the the Lions slow down Rodgers to keep him below the 41 points he is helping the Packers average at home this season, although I do think Green Bay still win the game.

That might only be by a Touchdown because Stafford should have success throwing the ball to his own Offensive weapons and I will take the points in this one.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: The AFC North is up for grabs on Sunday Night Football and both the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have to feel they would have a better chance of progressing in the Play Offs by hosting a game next week rather than visiting the Indianapolis Colts.

That makes this an important game for both teams with the winner becoming the Number 3 Seed in the AFC and the loser getting ready to go on the road and I do think the Pittsburgh Steelers have a slight edge.

I'd always favour Ben Roethlisberger over Andy Dalton in a big game, even if that didn't work so well for me last week when picking Peyton Manning to beat Dalton in a primetime game. However, the Cincinnati Bengals had a huge game Defensively which was an exception to their general performance this season and I actually think the Steelers Offense is in a better place than Denver right now.

Big Ben should be able to hurt Cincinnati downfield if Le'Veon Bell tramples all over the Bengals as he did when the teams met in Cincinnati and Roethlisberger has a number of Offensive weapons that are capable of plenty of yards after a catch.

Jeremy Hill should have a solid game for the Bengals too as long as they don't get away from the run too early, although he will need AJ Green's presence just to keep the Steelers honest. However, I don't think I am ready to trust Dalton to make the big throws under pressure with so much on the line and that is where the Steelers could force a turnover that allows them to win this game.

One concern is the very good 6-1 record against the spread that Cincinnati have as the underdog this season, although they haven't been that good at trying to avenge a loss. The Steelers are notoriously one of the worst favourites to back too, especially as a fairly big home favourite, but this Pittsburgh team is playing with some momentum and I will back them to win this one by a Touchdown at least.

MY PICKS: Dallas Cowboys - 3.5 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)
Indianapolis Colts - 7 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
San Diego Chargers + 1.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
New York Jets + 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
New England Patriots - 5.5 Points @ 1.92 Coral (2 Units)
Carolina Panthers + 3 Points @ 1.92 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Detroit Lions + 7.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Pittsburgh Steelers - 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Week 16: 5-6, - 3.55 Units
Week 155-4, + 1.56 Units
Week 142-10, - 14 Units
Week 134-7, - 6.36 Units
Week 123-6, - 4.36 Units
Week 115-4, + 1.20 Units
Week 104-2, + 3.90 Units
Week 94-3, + 1.42 Units
Week 81-8, - 13 Units
Week 78-1, + 11.20 Units
Week 62-3-1, - 2.46 Units
Week 53-4-1, + 0.84 Units
Week 44-4, + 0.02 Units
Week 38-2, + 9.82 Units
Week 25-3, + 1.50 Units
Week 13-6, - 3.18 Units

Season 201465-73-2, - 15.45 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (December 28-29)

This is the final round of games from the English Leagues in the 2014 calendar year as the Championship spreads out a few games until Tuesday 30th December and the final Premier League game is played on Monday 29th December.

In the last twelve months, so much in football changes so dramatically and that can be seen with the optimism that Manchester United fans go into 2015 after a less than stellar beginning to the year under David Moyes.

On the other hand, Liverpool were just about beginning a long run of winning games that was seemingly going to take them to their first top flight title since 1990, but slipped in the final furlong and allowed Manchester City to steal the title from under their noses. Since that fateful day in April, Liverpool have been on a downward spiral that sees them going into 2015 with plenty of questions about Brendan Rodgers and whether this team can somehow fight their way back into Champions League contention via their League position.

Most fans wouldn't have predicted that Liverpool would be out of that competition before the turn of the year after waiting so long to get back to the top table of European football and all the negatives that Manchester United fans had twelve months have shifted down the M62.

It's not just in the top half of the table- Crystal Palace fans are looking for the second coming of the Messiah to lead them out of the mess that Neil Warnock has left them in. Twelve months ago they appointed Tony Pulis at around this time which sparked a huge upturn in fortunes and, short of going back to Pulis who fell out with upper management about season targets in August, there doesn't seem to be the same inspirational management appointment out this time around following Warnock's unsurprising sacking.

Everton fans must be wondering if they weren't too quick to write off what David Moyes achieved for them as Roberto Martinez struggles in his second season in charge at Goodison Park, while the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have not changed their goals despite new signings and management changes in the summer.

The January transfer window will open in a few days time and that is going to be a vital period for clubs, mainly at the bottom of the Premier League, as they look to make the signings to keep them in the top flight. The top teams generally don't do big business at this time as transfer targets are not really released at this point, but there could be a couple of very big name players moving into the Premier League, especially if Louis Van Gaal gets his wish with Kevin Strootman and Wesley Sneijder heavily linked with Manchester United.

These are just a few predictions of what we are going to see in 2015 to conclude this season, although things can change quickly in football as the plight of Liverpool and the surge of Manchester United have proven. It's just for fun and based on what we have seen so far this season.

Champions: Manchester City- I still think they win the title if they can get Sergio Aguero fit and potentially being knocked out of the Champions League at least one and possibly two Rounds before Chelsea.

Champions League Places: Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal

Europa League Places: Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur

Relegation: Leicester City, Burnley, West Brom

Championship Promotion: Derby County, Norwich City, Bournemouth

League Cup: Chelsea

FA Cup: Manchester United

Player of the Year: Sergio Aguero

Champions League: Bayern Munich

Europa League: Villarreal

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United Pick: Manchester United have begun to play much better at Old Trafford in recent weeks with more confidence going forward and dictating play, but they have yet to really do that on their travels and this trip to White Hart Lane is potentially a very difficult one.

However, Tottenham Hotspur have not been as effective at home as they would have liked and I think that will give Manchester United a chance to win their third away game from their last four on their travels.

There is no doubt in my mind that Manchester United have a forward line that doesn't need a host of chances to score goals and the likes of Robin Van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Wayne Rooney provide a real goal threat for them. Juan Mata is another from midfield that is always good for a goal and the fact of the matter is that Tottenham Hotspur have kept just 2 clean sheets from their last 8 home games in the Premier League.

The Spurs defence is not the best and I do think United have their chances when they go forward, but by the same token, I expect Spurs to have their chances when they attack. Harry Kane has been in fine goal-scoring form, while the likes of Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli have been providing ammunition for the English striker.

Manchester United have yet to really convince they are in complete control because of the chances the defence have given up, especially away from home, and they have still only managed the one clean sheet on their travels in all competitions.

When Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United play one another, you know both teams will look to attack and score goals and both can pass the ball effectively. 5 of the last 6 games between the teams have produced at least three goals and 3 of the last 5 at White Hart Lane have also seen that number met.

10 of the last 11 Tottenham Hotspur games in the Premier League have seen at least three goals shared this season and 6 of the last 7 Manchester United games have done the same. The layers might not be taking any chances, but I still think there is something in taking this game to have at least three goals shared and it won't be a big surprise if this game ends 2-1 either way.

Southampton v Chelsea Pick: With just one day of rest between the Boxing Day games and this round of Premier League fixtures, both Southampton and Chelsea will have been pleased with their comfortable wins on Friday. That should mean players are rested enough for another game in a short period of time and this live game figures to be one of the more interesting ones of the round of games.

Six weeks ago, Southampton knew they had a lot to prove despite flying high in the Premier League table, but defeats to the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal have perhaps given them a more realistic expectation. Ronald Koeman, however, felt his side were only really outplayed by Manchester City in those three games, even though they were all losses, and I think the concern has to be that Chelsea are closer to that team rather than Arsenal or Manchester United.

The two wins over Everton and Crystal Palace would have restored some confidence for Southampton, but Chelsea are playing with a different sort of freedom. Eden Hazard continues to improve day after day and is a real threat every time he decides to pick the ball up and run at defenders, while Diego Costa is back amongst the goals.

Defensively, Chelsea have played very well all season and they have only conceded 4 goals in their last 10 games in all competitions. As well as Southampton have done for most of the season from a defensive standpoint, they didn't look that great in the big games they have played in recent weeks and I think Chelsea take advantage of that.

Chelsea have a strong recent record when visiting Southampton and they won here comfortably last season. While I expect this to be a tighter game, I think the away side have a little more quality that can make the difference and perhaps a moment of magic from someone like Hazard, or a defence-splitting pass from Cesc Fabregas separates the teams and leads to a Chelsea win.

Manchester City v Burnley Pick: It does feel like most people are expecting Manchester City to run rampant over Burnley in this game at the Etihad Stadium and it is understandable for people to believe that. Manchester City didn't have to put down too much energy to dismiss West Brom on Boxing Day and have scored 6 goals in their last two games despite playing with a false nine figure.

On the other hand, Burnley really took the game to Liverpool at Turf Moor a couple of days ago but couldn't come up with the quality required to breach a vulnerable defence and eventually fell away in the 0-1 loss. That much energy being placed into a game, and coming up short at the end of it, can make it tough with just one day to recover, especially as Burnley have a small squad that is unlikely to have too much rotation in it.

The layers are asking Manchester City to cover two goals on the Asian Handicap but the odds are unappealing and I think I will instead have a small interest in Yaya Toure continuing his fine recent form and opening the scoring.

With Burnley defending deep and doing their best to try and keep Manchester City from creating chances, there will be the chance for fouls to be committed in and around the area and Toure will be amongst the leading contenders to take direct free-kicks. He is also the designated penalty taker in Sergio Aguero's absence and Toure can easily extend his run of scoring in 5 of the last 7 Premier League games Manchester City have played.

Toure has only opened the scoring in two of those games, but he seems to be operating much higher up the pitch and is likely to have chances in this one and has to be worth a small interest. I have been impressed with the determination that Burnley have played with in recent games, but Manchester City are playing with too much confidence and should win this game fairly comfortably too.

Queens Park Rangers v Crystal Palace Pick: It can be difficult to know how the players are going to respond when a manager is sacked, but you can't imagine too many Crystal Palace fans are unhappy that Neil Warnock has been fired. I have never been a fan of Warnock and always found him miserable and quick to point the finger of blame at everyone else rather than see his own failings and definitely believe the Premier League is not for a manager that is completely out of his depth at that level.

The loss of Tony Pulis just before the season began looks to be an even worse move by Crystal Palace and you do have to wonder if they are going to go back to their former manager and see if they can iron out their differences. Under Warnock, Palace have lost what helped them avoid the drop last season and the board clearly could see that this team were not going to have much success under that manager.

The timing isn't the best as the Premier League have scheduled matches just two days after Boxing Day and I think Queens Park Rangers can take advantage of some of the uncertainty in the away dressing room.

Loftus Road has proved to be something of a fortress for Queens Park Rangers for much of the season and they have been performing admirably in front of their own fans. Harry Redknapp's men seem more comfortable in their familiar surroundings and 3 wins in a row and 4 wins from their last 5 games should give them the confidence to win this game.

Charlie Austin is in very good form for the home team and the difference between these teams could be the fact that QPR have Austin's goals and Crystal Palace have struggled to get the ball in the net.

While I do believe Queens Park Rangers win the game, I am still not convinced about their defence and that worry leads me to go back to a familiar pick in recent weeks. QPR continue to score freely at home and have extended their run to 7 straight home games where they have scored at least twice and backing them to do so remains a big price.

I feel more comfortable with that pick rather than picking Queens Park Rangers to win because they have conceded twice in 3 of their last 4 home games. While Crystal Palace don't have a lot of goals in the side, they have conceded at least twice in 6 of their 9 away games in the Premier League this season and this pick at least avoids being concerned about another poor start by the home team as they had against West Brom last week.

Stoke City v West Brom Pick: It has been a strange few seasons that have seen Stoke City winning games regularly at the Hawthornes but struggle to beat West Brom at the Brittania Stadium, although they might not have had a better opportunity than they will have on Sunday.

Stoke City have not been getting too many wins at home in recent games, but they should really have beaten West Ham United to improve that record and the loss to Burnley is probably the most disappointing result. This is a team that has found goals at the Brittania Stadium and they had scored at least twice in 4 of 5 games here before the 0-2 defeat by Chelsea, although Stoke had their chances in that game.

They are also facing a West Brom team that has some uncertainty surrounding their manager and I do think the Baggies are one of the poorer teams in the Premier League. West Brom did score twice at Queens Park Rangers last week, but they have struggled for goals away from the Hawthornes all season in the Premier League and that will be a problem for them in this game.

Of course, the last two games between these teams at the Brittania Stadium have finished goalless and that might be the best way West Brom can get something from this game. However, I do think Stoke City will create chances and their 0-1 win at Everton on Boxing Day should give Mark Hughes' side a shot in the arm and a bit of momentum to carry into this game.

With Alan Irvine under immense pressure as manager of the club, another loss might mean he is no longer under that burden going into the New Year and I do think Stoke City prove too strong at a little under odds against.

West Ham United v Arsenal Pick: Arsene Wenger looked disgusted with Olivier Giroud after the sending off on Boxing Day, especially as it meant his Arsenal side were very nervous as they hung on to a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers. To make matters worse, Arsenal would have expended a lot more energy than the manager would have wanted from a squad that has been stretched by injuries and it is going to be interesting to see what kind of toll that takes in this game.

They are also facing a West Ham United team that have had a few hours more to recover from the Boxing Day game they played and a team that has been flying at Upton Park with 6 wins from their last 7 games here. With wins over Liverpool and Manchester City at home, Sam Allardyce will believe his team can bounce back from their loss at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea by really giving Arsenal a lot of problems and I do think this can be an entertaining game.

There is pace and power in the West Ham team and they have played very good football for much of the season. It is very likely that the Hammers will look to get on the front foot and that may also open up spaces for the likes of Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez on the break considering the pace that both of those players have to carry a counter-attacking threat.

Defensively, Arsenal look a team that is still vulnerable and the three first half goals conceded at Stoke City was not that long ago. Add their terrible performance in the first half against Liverpool and something similar will certainly lead to goals in this one.

However, I also believe Arsenal are capable of giving West Ham something to think about with Welbeck and Sanchez leading the way and both teams have produced high-scoring games this season.

When West Ham United and Arsenal have met one another, goals haven't usually been a problem as both teams look to attack and it could be more of the same on Sunday. The last 5 games overall have seen at least three goals shared by the teams, while the last 5 at Upton Park have done the same.

Arsenal have dominated this fixture in recent seasons, but their energy expended on Boxing Day makes them look a little short to me in the market and I do like the chances of a 2-1 scoreline or a high-scoring draw to come out of this one.

Liverpool v Swansea Pick: The final Monday Night Football game of the 2014 year comes from Anfield as Liverpool look to build on a fortunate win at Burnley and try and turn around what has been a terrible season to this point.

Exiting the Champions League is a disappointment, but the bigger concern will be the 7 point gap between themselves and the top four in the Premier League, a gap that could have widened by the time this game kicks off.

Raheem Sterling up front has proved to be a decent move from Brendan Rodgers, but this is a team that is desperate for Daniel Sturridge to return having missed the majority of the season, while the January transfer window could be very important to the side. Rodgers has spoken about the feeling that Liverpool have finally got some positive momentum behind them, but a visit from his former club is anything but an easy game at the moment.

Swansea have a lot of pace up front and have won back to back games in the Premier League which means they are three points better off than Liverpool. They also showed their capabilities in a League Cup loss here at Anfield, a game they were leading until the final five minutes, and Swansea have already scored goals at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium this season.

Coming to Anfield won't hold any fears for Garry Monk's side and they will know they can create chances but, unlike Burnley, they are less likely to be wasteful in front of goal with the likes of Wilfried Bony leading the line. I also think Liverpool have been more creative going forward and it hard to see them not creating some chances of their own in this one with players like Philipp Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Steven Gerrard behind Sterling.

Both teams to score in this one looks a big price and last season the game ended 4-3 to Liverpool here, while both hit the net in the League Cup game at Anfield a couple of months ago. I think this final Premier League game of 2014 will see both teams net in what could be an entertaining game as both teams push for the three points.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.70 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea to Win @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Yaya Toure First Goalscorer @ 6.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Queens Park Rangers Over 1.5 Team Goals @ 2.50 Coral (2 Units)
Stoke City to Win @ 1.93 Bet Victor (2 Units)
West Ham United-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Liverpool-Swansea Both Teams to Score @ 1.87 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

December Update22-16-1, + 19.64 Units (69 Units Staked, + 28.46% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% 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)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Boxing Day Football Picks 2014 (December 26th)

After enjoying a short break around Christmas Day, players from the English Leagues will be getting set for a run of three games in seven days (those in the Premier League at least), while there is also the matter of FA Cup Third Round matches which will take place just nine days after the Boxing Day fixtures.

A full round of games on Boxing Day is a great time for football fans and I don't know whether this period would be as much fun if teams decided to take a 'Winter Break' like many of the other top European Leagues.

Hopefully Christmas has been a fun time for whatever readers get up to and a strong December showing continues in the same trend ahead of the final two rounds of games of 2014.

Chelsea v West Ham United Pick: When the fixture list was released in June, I think most would have picked this as a routine win for Chelsea on Boxing Day as they host West Ham United.

However, Sam Allardyce has got the best out of the Hammers this season and they are going to give Jose Mourinho's Chelsea a lot to think about in this game, especially if Eden Hazard is unavailable for the home team.

Chelsea have won all eight home games they have played in the Premier League and the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have even failed to score here. They have only conceded 3 goals at home in the League, but they now face a West Ham United team that have looked very good going forward and they are the fifth highest scorers in the League. In fact, West Ham have only scored fewer than Chelsea and Manchester City in their away games this season and they have managed at least one in every away game they have played.

Last season, Mourinho accused West Ham of playing '19th Century football' in a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge, but I would expect a more proactive effort from West Ham this time around. I don't think they will be nervous ahead of the game and have played well enough to cause problems for Chelsea, although unlikely to actually get something from the game.

These next two games against Chelsea and Arsenal will show West Ham United fans whether they are a real challenger for a Champions League place that they currently occupy, but I am expecting them to come up short in this one. However, it won't surprise me if they become just the third League team to score at Stamford Bridge and I will back Chelsea to win a game where both teams score.

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: The performances have been full of hard work and determination, but Leicester City have been lacking something in the final third and that has sparked some discontent at the KP Stadium. Nigel Pearson could handle things far better than he has, but I think that just highlights the pressure he is under to turn things around for the Foxes who are big favourites to return to the Championship in May.

Goals have been a real problem for Leicester City and that looks to be where any investment will be going in the January transfer window, but whether Pearson gets to spend it is another thing. Another loss could mean 2014 ends in the worst manner for the manager and Tottenham Hotspur have been playing well enough away from home to think they can win here.

Tottenham have won games at Hull City and Aston Villa thanks to a huge slice of luck of seeing the home teams reduced to ten men while leading those games, while they didn't deserve the 1-2 win they secured at Swansea. While the performances haven't always been the best, Spurs have goals in the side and that could prove to be a critical difference in this game.

Harry Kane might not be everyone's cup of tea, but the forward has found the net regularly for Spurs and gives them something of a target in the box. He has done enough to bring in the likes of Christian Eriksen in and around the box and the Dane can create chances and score goals which could prove to be a problem for Leicester City to deal with.

I am not convinced about Spurs because they have gotten away with too many performances that haven't always deserved the three points they have got in recent away games. However, I do think they are a team that has goals in the side and that may be enough to make the odds against quotes count in this game at Leicester City.

Manchester United v Newcastle United Pick: Louis Van Gaal is still not satisfied with the way that Manchester United have played this season and he was unhappy with the first half performance against Aston Villa, even if he did decide to compliment the performance of the home team.

I am sure Van Gaal is happy that Radamel Falcao was on the scoresheet considering some of the media reports that had come out in recent weeks about their relationship, while the Dutchman will be happier to have returned to Old Trafford.

Results at home have been a lot more consistent for Manchester United and they are getting healthier every day with less players needing the treatment room. Of course, the festive period means there could be changes with big away games at Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City in mind, but I expect an attacking Manchester United line up to take the field and one that can expose any confidence issues Newcastle United have.

Losing heavily at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur would have been a disappointment for the fans, but the home loss to Sunderland is unforgivable. The fact remains that it is the third time that Sunderland have won at St James' Park in a row and Newcastle United have looked a little fragile at the back with injuries, while losing Cheick Tiote for this game means a big shield in front of the back four is out.

That should leave Newcastle a little exposed for this game and Manchester United have been clinical with the chances that have come their way. I would expect United to have the majority of the play and Newcastle to focus on the counter-attack with the pace they have up front.

While Newcastle will trouble a Manchester United defence that is still not playing to the level the fans would like to see, but I think Manchester United will have their chances to record another comfortable home win. Recent games against Newcastle United have been highly competitive games at Old Trafford, but I like Manchester United to win this one by a couple of goals at least.

Swansea v Aston Villa Pick: The festive period can prove to be a great time to build momentum for teams and Swansea will be hoping they can back up their 0-1 win at Hull City last weekend with another at home on Boxing Day. Swansea have played very well at home with their passing game mixed with some pace in the forward positions that can cause problems for defences throughout the Premier League and they will expect to do the same against Aston Villa.

Wilfried Bony was given a rest last weekend, but he should be restored to the starting eleven and Swansea should be ready to get back to winning ways at home after their loss to Tottenham Hotspur in their last outing at the Liberty Stadium.

They have also defended well at home and might need to be aware of the threat that Aston Villa will pose on the counter-attack. Gabby Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke all have pace to really worry defences that might not have the same protection at home and Benteke is certainly looking more dangerous with match fitness improving after each game.

However, goals remain a problem for Aston Villa on their travels and Swansea can take advantage with their ability to create chances in front of their own fans. Swansea have scored at least twice in 6 of their 9 home games in all competitions this season and they should have had got to that number against Tottenham in their latest home game with a little bit more composure in front of goal.

If they can show that composure in this game, I would expect Swansea to be too strong for Aston Villa and record a vital three points in this one.

West Brom v Manchester City Pick: There is no doubt that any team that loses the likes of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic is going to be short up front, but David Silva showed why his return to the Manchester City team could be so important for them in this time. Without those three strikers, Manchester City need more from their midfield, but Silva provided that with 2 goals last weekend against Crystal Palace.

Silva is also capable of unlocking defences with the clever passing and turn of pace he possesses and that should give West Brom a lot of problems considering how short of confidence the home team has to be.

This is a West Brom team that has conceded at least two goals in 7 of their 11 home games this season and one that still has to be a little shell-shocked with the way they lost at Queens Park Rangers last weekend. It won't make them feel a lot better when considering how many goals Manchester City have been scoring away from home in recent games although someone was leading the line in the majority of those games.

Manchester City are on the other end of the scale when it comes to confidence and momentum compared with West Brom and they have to be looking at this time of the season as a real chance to close the gap on Chelsea. With Burnley and Sunderland visiting the Etihad Stadium after this game and Chelsea visiting Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City know they have to keep the pressure up on the League leaders.

They have won 8 in a row including their last 4 in a row away from home and Manchester City have been playing well enough to see off West Brom here too. I'd be more confident backing Manchester City if they had at least one of their strikers available to them, but I think the likes of Samir Nasri, David Silva, Frank Lampard and Yaya Toure have enough about them to create chances and score goals here and I think Manchester City win by more than a single strike.

Arsenal v Queens Park Rangers Pick: The biggest disappointment from the Arsenal game at Liverpool last weekend has to be the lack of real penetration the trio of Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez managed to get for much of the game. However, I expect that to be a different story for them in this game against a Queens Park Rangers that have conceded 20 goals in 8 away Premier League games this season.

I expect Arsenal will dominate possession and I do think they will create chances if they produce anything like the level of performance they had in their last home game against Newcastle United. These are the kinds of games where the quality that Arsenal have, despite a rash of injuries, should prove to be the difference on a normal day, but there is another element I am interested in.

Harry Redknapp and Queens Park Rangers may have had a few days of rest and recovery after their stunning 3-2 win over West Brom last weekend, but will the manager be tempted to look ahead to the games ahead. This game is played on Boxing Day, but Queens Park Rangers have two home games which are very winnable in the six days following this one and the players could be more interested in those games.

Two days after this one, QPR face Crystal Palace at home, a real relegation six pointer, and Redknapp may well focus the energies on that game rather than this one. Queens Park Rangers could play an excellent game full of endeavour and guts, but that might leave them short for the game against Palace and even that might not be enough to earn something from this game.

If Arsenal get ahead in the game, I wouldn't be surprised if Queens Park Rangers rest some of their key players and it wouldn't be that out of left field if a 'weaker' starting eleven begins this game.

Either way, I do think Arsenal's attacking power at home will be too much in this London derby and I like the home team to win by a couple of goals at least.

MY PICKS: Both Teams to Score and Chelsea to Win @ 3.10 Coral (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur to Win @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Swansea to Win @ 1.80 Coral (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.74 888sport (2 Units)

December Update18-14-1, + 14.74 Units (58 Units Staked, + 25.41% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% 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)

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Weekend Football Picks 2014 (December 20-22)

This is the start of a run of four games in less than two weeks for the teams in the English top flight, while the rest of Europe is getting ready to enjoy a 'Winter break'. I know some managers in England have spoken of syncing up with the rest of Europe, but I love this time of year where teams can build a lot of momentum.

When the fixture list is released in June, my first instinct is check the opening six and final six games of the season before finding out when Manchester United are playing Liverpool. The Christmas run of games is the next point of call and I love this time of the season.

Six straight wins would have given most fans more confidence that Manchester United can really kick on going into the 2015 calendar year, but Louis Van Gaal is spot on in suggesting that the performances have to improve markedly. Games against Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City are not as straight-forward as people could perhaps think, although I would expect Manchester United to earn at least 8 points from that run of games.

Anything more would be a very strong achievement and definitely put Manchester United into the 'title challengers' box going into the New Year, while anything less would mean a top four berth would be the maximum of what they can put together.

I have to say one more thing about Louis Van Gaal- I love the way he is seemingly getting shorter and shorter with the media and some of the ridiculously poor questions that are being sent his way. The Dutchman has always had the reputation of being someone who doesn't tolerate fools gladly and it is becoming more and more clear from his press conferences that he has little to no time for those that insist on creating stories for the media.

The latest issue was surrounding the signing of Victor Valdes, but much like Sir Alex Ferguson, a lot of transfer talk gets given short shrift, while Van Gaal's insistence that Manchester United still have plenty of room for improvement sits very well with me.

I don't think there have been many times that United have been dominant in games, especially not away from home, and that search for 'perfection' certainly appeals to me.

Manchester City v Crystal Palace Pick: Losing Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero means half of the Manchester City spine is going to be missing in this game, although Manuel Pellegrini has found the right answers to help the side to 7 straight wins.

I think most people will expect that to be extended to 8 straight wins on Saturday afternoon and I have little doubt that to be the case. However, I think Manchester City have to be aware of the pace that Crystal Palace have in the forward positions and will need to play better than they did in the 0-1 win at Leicester City.

That performance could have been down to the tiredness from their Champions League win in Rome and I think the week preparation works in their favour for this game. Manchester City haven't dominated opponents at home in recent games and I think this is a chance for them to do that against a Crystal Palace team that will likely sit deep and invite City onto them.

Players like Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Frank Lampard are improving their form which makes Manchester City a more dangerous team, while David Silva's return means they have the creativity to unlock teams defending deep.

Manchester City have certainly looked a little vulnerable at the back during the course of the season, but they do have clean sheets in 4 of their last 5 games in all competitions including in their last 3. I do think the home team will wear down Crystal Palace and eventually produce a win in this one by a couple of goals.

Aston Villa v Manchester United Pick: Louis Van Gaal is still not totally satisfied with the performances being produced by Manchester United, but he has to be very happy that the side keep picking up wins even if they don't perhaps deserve to do that.

David De Gea made some big saves against Liverpool when the game was still very much in the balance last weekend and those preserved the three points, while both Arsenal and Southampton will feel very disappointed in losing home games against Manchester United.

The defence still doesn't look completely comfortable and even a team like Aston Villa with the lowest scoring home attack in the Premier League will definitely feel they can create some chances against Manchester United. There is pace in the forward positions that can exploit some of the problems United have been having at the back and I do think Aston Villa will have their opportunities to score goals in this one as long as they show more composure than Arsenal and Southampton did when they got into those positions.

Even though Aston Villa have scored just 6 goals in the Premier League at Villa Park, 5 of those have come in their last three games and Manchester United have only kept 1 clean sheet away from home in the League.

On the other hand, Manchester United have definitely been clinical with the chances that have come their way and managed to score goals despite not having a host of shots on target. With the likes of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Robin Van Persie and a returning Radamel Falcao available to Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United will be able to create chances against an Aston Villa team that has kept no clean sheets in their last 7 at Villa Park in all competitions.

Manchester United do look short in the market considering their unconvincing performances in recent weeks, but Aston Villa have found the best teams a step too far which is shown by their home losses to Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Instead, I think the total goal market has more potential at the prices.

7 of the last 8 games between Aston Villa and Manchester United have seen at least three goals shared by the teams, including 3 of the last 4 at Villa Park. With both defences looking vulnerable through their performances and injuries, I think this game has every chance of continuing that trend at odds against.

Queens Park Rangers v West Brom Pick: With the continuing struggles to get results away from home, Queens Park Rangers will have circled games like this as being critical in their bid to avoid relegation back to the Championship and all the financial problems that will bring this club.

So far, they have performed well enough at Loftus Road to make sure they haven't lost touch with the teams looking to avoid relegation this season and that form at home could lead them to another important three points in this game.

For all of Alan Irvine's naysayers, West Brom have actually been a tough proposition for teams to play when they have come to visit and they defend well enough to pose problems. West Brom have the joint best away defensive record in the Premier League, but they have to be a little more positive in this trip and that may be a problem for them.

West Brom have kept a clean sheet in 4 of their 8 away games played in all competitions this season, but it also has to be noted that they have conceded at least twice in the other half of those games. I have to respect the fact they have won at Leicester City and avoided defeat at Hull City, teams more comparable to what they will face at Queens Park Rangers, but I do also have to respect how comfortable Rangers have been in front of their own fans.

They have now scored at least twice in their last 6 home games which includes visits from the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City and Charlie Austin's return gives QPR their star striker again. Queens Park Rangers are in good form at home and seem to bounce back from their poor away performances and I think I am going to stick with a market that has been productive in recent weeks.

Backing Queens Park Rangers to score at least twice is the same price as backing them to win and I do think they need to score two goals to have a shot at the three points. However, Stoke City, Liverpool, Manchester City and almost Leicester City have allowed QPR to hit that target and still escape with a result and West Brom have played well enough away from home to think they can do that.

Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley Pick: Wednesday night saw Tottenham Hotspur put together an impressive performance to beat Newcastle United, but the away team did have some chances to make it a much more competitive game.

Tottenham have found it more difficult to impose themselves on games at White Hart Lane as they have struggled to break down teams who may be willing to sit much further back. Only West Brom and Crystal Palace have lost the same amount of home games as Spurs so far this season in the Premier League, but there has been signs that they have turned things around recently with 3 wins from their last 4 home games, albeit half of those taking place in the Cup competitions.

Much respect has to be given to Sean Dyche in the way he has got his Burnley team to be competitive in recent weeks and 3 wins from 6 League games is an impressive run of form. However, they have still not found the consistency away from home and that has led to some comfortable losses at West Brom, Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers.

The margin of defeat has come down in each of those games, but they might find it tough to contain Tottenham Hotspur if the home team brings in the confidence that the last week should have given them. Harry Kane is providing a spark up front with some decent performances and I am not convinced Burnley have the personnel to trouble this vulnerable Spurs back four.

Danny Ings has played well, but Burnley have struggled for goals and they have failed to find the net in 5 of their 7 away games in the League. Spurs should be too strong and I think they can cover the Asian Handicap by winning this game by a couple of goals at least.

Newcastle United v Sunderland Pick: The Tyne-Wear Derby comes at a time when both Newcastle United and Sunderland have been having a tough set of results, although the home team are off the back of two heavy defeats and Sunderland haven't won a game since early November.

However, Sunderland have been increasingly difficult to beat this season thanks to a solid enough defensive shape, the 8-0 at Southampton a clear exception, and a lack of goals also means they are settling for a share of the spoils.

The Black Cats have 10 draws from their first 16 Premier League games, including 4 of their 7 away games in the League. Sunderland might not have won since early November, but they have only lost 1 of their last 7 games even if 5 of their last 6 have ended in draws.

It has to be respected that Newcastle United have won 4 straight games at St James' Park in the Premier League, but they have lost the last 2 times they have hosted Sunderland by the same 0-3 scoreline. It is hard to expect Sunderland to do the same again, but a Newcastle United team that have conceded 8 goals in their 2 games played over the last eight days has to be a little short of confidence.

This is going to be a game full of passion and hard work, but these sides may end up cancelling one another out and I think a small interest on the points being shared, a common feature of Sunderland games, could be the right call.

Liverpool v Arsenal Pick: There were definitely some signs that Liverpool were turning a corner in their loss at Manchester United last weekend and they showed better composure in front of goal against Bournemouth during the week. It has been a really tough season for Brendan Rodgers, but beating Arsenal on Sunday will mean Liverpool are very much back in the hunt for the top four places in the Premier League.

However, the other side of the coin suggests a loss would already mean Liverpool have a huge mountain to overcome to get back into the Champions League, through the Premier League at least, and so this is a huge game for them at Anfield.

Raheem Sterling scored twice at Bournemouth in the League Cup, but I don't think he is completely comfortable leading the line and has to show more composure in this big game if Liverpool are to win. Sterling was guilty of missing two gilt-edged chances against Manchester United last week and I do think he will get chances in this game as Arsenal continue to fight through their defensive problems.

And Liverpool will need to take their chances because Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud pose an attacking threat against a defence that has panicked when put under pressure all season. Dejan Lovren might have to sit out with a knock suffered at Bournemouth and Arsenal will definitely feel they can challenge Brad Jones in goal who doesn't look an effective replacement for Simon Mignolet.

Both teams are likely to be more comfortable with the ball in possession and moving forward as neither defence has looked capable of securing too many clean sheets. Liverpool have conceded just one goal in their last 3 at Anfield, but Stoke City, Sunderland and Basel don't have the same attacking threat as Arsenal.

On the other hand, Arsenal have kept just 2 clean sheets in their last 7 away games in all competitions and will be missing Laurent Koscielny in this one. It would be a surprise if both Liverpool and Arsenal don't score in this one and the chances that likely will be created at both ends should lead to at least three goals scored in this one.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Aston Villa- Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers Over 1.5 Team Goals @ 2.50 Coral (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.14 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Sunderland Draw @ 3.50 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Liverpool-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.78 Bet Victor (2 Units)

December Update15-11-1, + 12.28 Units (47 Units Staked, + 26.13% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1545-79, - 37.58 Units (208 Units Staked, - 18.07% 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)

College Football Bowl Game Picks 2014 (December 20-January 12)

The Alabama Crimson Tide, the Oregon Ducks and the Florida State Seminoles were three teams that many would have picked to be involved in the first ever College Football Play Off at the start of the season, although the Florida State team did their best to back their way into the final four.

However, an unbeaten Seminoles were unlikely to be passed by four teams as they are the defending Champions, while the winners of the SEC and the Pac-12, considered the two toughest Conferences in College Football, were going to be involved as long as they didn't have a two-loss Champion.

So the big question going into the Championship Games was whether the Ohio State Buckeyes were going to have enough to pass the TCU Horned Frogs and the Baylor Bears. Ohio State went into the Big Ten Championship Game as an underdog, but a 59-0 whipping of the Wisconsin Badgers with a third string Quarter Back was very impressive.

And, as most predicted, the Big 12 lack of a Championship Game, as well as the failure of the Conference to determine a single winner came back to haunt them as the Buckeyes were promoted to the Number 4 spot in the country.

That means the Semi Final line up will see Oregon take on Florida State first before Alabama meet Ohio State and it is the Ducks and the Crimson Tide who are both big favourites. I do expect both to play for the National Championship on Monday 12th January, but I am very much looking forward to seeing how the Semi Finals and Final work out for the new College Football post-season.

It'll also be interesting to see if the Big 12 change their rules to determine a Conference winner in the off-season to give their teams a better chance of cracking the top four next season.

I also think the NCAA might be contemplating how long it will be before they expand the Play Offs to the Quarter Final stage too as College Football continues to be big business.

Bowl games begin on Saturday 20th December 2014 and they can be a little harder to find legitimate angles to make plays. For example, motivation is very different at this stage of the season than it is in the regular season, while some of the Bowls are played in great locations and may have enough distractions for the players who it has to be remembered are very young and enjoying this time of their life.

Coaching changes and academic suspensions are also rife at this time of the season, while other players may be looking to protect their future by perhaps not over-exerting before the NFL combines and eventually Draft comes along.

It is something to keep in mind if you are making some plays over the next month with games coming throughout the period.

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns v Nevada Wolf Pack Pick: If you like seeing teams pound the ball on the ground, the New Orleans Bowl looks a very good place to start as both the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and Nevada Wolf Pack look to establish the run to get their Offenses going.

Cody Fajardo and Terrance Broadway are dual-threat Quarter Backs that are very happy to run the ball and are joined by a couple of tough Running Backs to run option Offenses.

Establishing the run to help Louisiana and Nevada open the passing lanes against Secondaries that have both allowed at least 270 passing yards per game so there could be a fair bit of scoring in this one.

One aspect that could be edged by Nevada is the turnover margin as they have been very good at forcing Interceptions and Fumbles through the season. The Wolf Pack are tied for 11th in turnover margin this season and earning extra possessions could be key to their chances.

Broadway has thrown 12 Touchdown passes for Louisiana, but also has 9 Interceptions and the Quarter Back must look after the ball if the Ragin' Cajuns are to secure the upset.

I say upset, but they are only dogged by 1 point in this one, although the game takes place in the Superdome of New Orleans and so is essentially a home game for Louisiana. They will know what to expect considering they have been invited into the New Orleans Bowl for the fourth season in success and Louisiana have taken advantage by winning the last three Bowls here.

An upset is never too far away from this Bowl with 4 of the last 6 won by the underdog and 2 of the 3 Louisiana wins have come when they have been dogged. The Nevada Wolf Pack will be excited about returning to a Bowl, but they have lost 4 of their last 5 Bowl games and they are travelling to an exciting place like New Orleans so I wonder if they will be caught out here.

Louisiana are 14-6 against the spread in their last 20 games as the underdog and they are 3-0 against the spread in the last three years in the New Orleans Bowl.

The Ragin' Cajuns Defense may have a little more success stopping the run in this game and, if they can do that, I expect Louisiana to pound the ball successfully and win this game. I will take the point being offered on the spread because you just never know how important that might be to at least offer a push in a game where both Offenses move the ball effectively for much of the afternoon.

UTEP Miners v Utah State Aggies Pick: There isn't much to say about the New Mexico Bowl except this game is going to be decided by which of the teams has the most success running the ball. Both the Utah State Aggies and the UTEP Miners have been very good at doing that this season, but the key difference may be how the Defenses have played against the run.

While the UTEP Miners have given up 170 rushing yards at 5.1 yards per clip, the Utah State Aggies have a very strong Defensive Line and Linebacker corps that have restricted teams to 129 rushing yards per game at 3.3 yards per carry.

If Utah State can dominate the trenches, the Aggies should be able to make school history by winning their third Bowl game in a row. Jameill Showers has played effectively for UTEP this season, but asking him to win this game with his arm is not going to be the way the Miners want to play the game and Utah State could create turnovers to pull away.

Kent Myers has played well for Utah State as the Freshman Quarter Back taking over from three injured players and I don't believe he will be asked to do too much in this one. The Aggies should be able to run the ball effectively which will set Myers up in short yardage situations and the Quarter Back can make the plays to keep Utah State in front of the chains.

Utah State are 3-1 against the spread in their last 4 games as the favourite and UTEP have failed to cover in 5 straight Bowl games. The New Mexico Bowl had been won by the favourite in three straight seasons before last season, covering in each of those wins, and I like Utah State to restore that trend in this year's edition.

Colorado State Rams v Utah Utes Pick: One of the biggest questions surrounding the Las Vegas Bowl is how have the Colorado State Rams players responded to Jim McElwain deciding to leave as Head Coach and take over the Florida Gators programme. There is still some consistency with Dave Baldwin taking over as Interim Head Coach, but it will still be a blow to the Rams players that McElwain has moved on considering the success he has enjoyed over the last two seasons here.

Dee Hart has played well for Colorado State, but the Utah Utes have a very strong Defense that will likely be able to slow him down to keep the team in third and long situations. Garrett Grayson has also had a very special season at Quarter Back, but he will now be faced with a pass rush that has produced the most sacks in the nation and have two Defensive Ends that should be able to feast on this Offensive Line.

The Utah Utes also have a healthier Travis Wilson starting at Quarter Back and he has been efficient with the ball as he has thrown just 4 Interceptions this season. With Devontae Booker running the ball so well and likely finding gaps in this Colorado State Defense, Wilson should have the time to make his plays from Quarter Back which should give Utah the edge in this game.

There should also be some excitement in the Utah camp that they have returned to the Bowl game series and I do think the loss of McElwain as Head Coach could have a negative effect on the Colorado State players.

Utah go off as the favourite and will know the favourite has won the last four games at the Las Vegas Bowl and covered 3 times. The Utah Defensive Line could make enough plays to slow down this Colorado State Offense and eventually see them win this game and cover the three points.

Memphis Tigers v BYU Cougars Pick: The Miami Beach Bowl is a great setting for the kids at Memphis and BYU to be facing one another as they have the whole attention of College Football in the sole game to be played on Monday evening.

Both teams have been successful thanks to their strong Defensive play and there is every chance that this is going to be a low-scoring battle.

The Cougars may have expected to be playing in a bigger Bowl game than this one, but the injury to Taysom Hill ended those chances, even if Christian Stewart played well down the stretch. This is going to be a big game for Stewart as he might not have much run support against the Tigers Defense giving up just 3.6 yards per carry and that may lead to pressure on the Quarter Back in third and long situations.

On the other hand, Paxton Lynch is capable of running the ball from the Quarter Back position for Memphis and might give the Tigers a chance to establish an element of a running game. However, like Memphis, the BYU Cougars have one of the stronger Defensive Lines that is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry and they might also need to rely on Lynch's arm.

I would expect him to have a little more success as he won't be targeting any one Receiver and is happy spreading the ball around. Lynch has been very efficient with the ball as he didn't throw an Interception during the Memphis six game winning run to end the season, and BYU haven't had the same pressure up front as the Tigers have generated.

With the time that Lynch may find, he should have success throwing against a Secondary that has allowed 266 passing yards per game and that could prove to be the difference in this game. Memphis can also set a school record for 10 wins and that has to be a real motivation factor for a team returning to a Bowl game for the first time in six years, while the Cougars have finished with 8 wins in the last two years.

The Cougars are just 2-7 against the spread in their last 9 games and they are 2-4 against the spread in their last 6 games as the underdog. Memphis are 5-1-1 against the spread in their last 7 games against a team with a winning record and I like the Tigers to win their first Bowl game since 2005.

Northern Illinois Huskies v Marshall Thundering Herd Pick: You can understand the excitement in both the Northern Illinois Huskies and Marshall Thundering Herd camps ahead of this game between two teams that have combined for 23 wins this season and just 3 losses.

Both are also Conference Champions so the Boca Raton Bowl should feature two teams highly motivated to end their seasons with an exclamation point.

There are other similarities with both teams looking to run the ball against the strength of the other's Defenses and the team that has most success doing that is likely to win this game. Northern Illinois have not missed a beat despite Jordan Lynch completing his time here last season and Drew Hare can have another big game for them with Cameron Stingily very capable of helping the team run the ball.

Rakeem Cato will be hoping Devon Johnson is healthy enough to take his place at Running Back, but Steward Butler did fill in admirably for Johnson and the Thundering Herd should have success establishing the run too.

Out of the two teams, Marshall have the slightly better run Defense, although facing a dual-threat like Hare makes it more difficult, while Rakeem Cato is more likely to make a mistake throwing the ball than Drew Hare.

Extra possessions can be an issue in this one if Marshall make some mistakes, but I do think the Thundering Herd are a better team of the two. However, in saying that, 9.5 points is a lot to cover if Northern Illinois are running the ball effectively and the Thundering Herd are just 2-4 against the spread in their last 6 games, including going 0-3 in their last three.

The Huskies are 6-3 against the spread as the underdog over the last three seasons and I think they can keep this one close.

San Diego State Aztecs v Navy Midshipmen Pick: The San Diego State Aztecs have a couple of big factors going in their favour ahead of the Poinsettia Bowl- the first of those is that they have the benefit of playing the game in their home stadium where they have won all 6 games played this season.

The second is that the Navy Midshipmen had to come through a battle with the Army Black Knights just last weekend and now have to travel across the country to battle San Diego State.

Both teams are going to be looking to dominate on the ground and it would be something of a surprise if both don't have success doing that. The difference between the teams could be the run Defenses where the San Diego State team seem to have an edge too and forcing Keenan Reynolds to make more plays throwing the ball could be the key to the Aztecs winning this one.

San Diego State beat Navy at this same Bowl Game in 2010 and the favourite has won at the Poinsettia Bowl in the last four years, covering three times. I do like the Aztecs to find enough success slowing down the Navy Midshipmen rushing Offense and finding a way to cover the field goal spread.

Rice Owls v Fresno State Bulldogs Pick: This could be a fun game at the Hawaii Bowl, although the game is being played in surroundings that can certainly be a distraction to players with their families there for Christmas Day. The game actually is played on Christmas Eve, but the Hawaii Bowl has seen a number of blow out games in recent seasons with one team perhaps not as focused as they could be.

The favourite has not played that well here in recent years with the last season being the first that they have covered in five seasons.

Both the Rice Owls and the Fresno State Bulldogs should have some fun moving the chains with their Offenses in this one, and both should have the edge over the Defensive units they are seeing.

So what has swayed me in the Hawaii Bowl? The underdog's success here was one factor, another is that the Fresno State Bulldogs have beaten the Rice Owls every time and were unfortunate in the Mountain West Championship Game against the Boise State Broncos which could have seen them arrive here as a Conference Champion.

I have to respect the Rice Owls record of 7-1 against the spread when favoured this season, but I think the Bulldogs are a team used to playing at a higher level and I will take the points in this one.

Illinois Fighting Illini v Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Pick: The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and Illinois Fighting Illini will both want to end their season with a positive in this Heart of Dallas Bowl Game, although the latter will also have revenge on their mind after an embarrassing home loss to this school back in 2012.

To be honest, Illinois have already had to dig deep to get themselves Bowl eligible with upset wins in their last two games taking them to the six win mark for the season. After increasing wins from 2 to 4 and now to 6, Tim Beckman has seen his time as Head Coach extended at Illinois and winning a Bowl Game will just underline how much he has improved things at the school.

However, Beckman will know that his Fighting Illini Defense has had their troubles against the run this season and now face Kenneth Dixon who has been huge for Louisiana Tech. Dixon should be able to power the Bulldogs on the ground and that should only make life easier for Cody Sokol when it comes to throwing the ball.

I do expect Dixon to have success despite the fact that two of the Offensive Line are not cleared to play in this game, and that should give the Bulldogs Defense a chance to make big plays.

Illinois have not had a lot of success running the ball all season, while their starting Quarter Back still looks a battle to be won by three players. All may get their chance, but they have to hope the Offensive Line deals with Houston Bates and the Louisiana Tech Defensive Line from third and long if the Fighting Illini are unable to establish the run effectively.

Bates will have extra motivation being a former Illinois Fighting Illini player and he could have a huge game creating havoc in the backfield and may give the Bulldogs an edge they need.

Louisiana Tech have been strong in non-Conference games in recent seasons and they have covered the majority of those games. They have also been a decent favourite this season and I think they can control the clock with Kenneth Dixon and will eventually win this game by a Touchdown thanks to a late big Defensive play from Houston Bates.

Duke Blue Devils v Arizona State Sun Devils Pick: This could have been a game reserved for a bigger Bowl Game if both teams had ended the season in the fashion that they begun it, but both the Arizona State Sun Devils and Duke Blue Devils will have to settle for the Sun Bowl.

Both Defenses may feel they can get the better of the battle in this one, but the Arizona State team do have the edge in terms of talent level, although Duke have been so well Coached the last couple of seasons.

Jamison Crowder and Jaelen Strong both should have big games for their respective teams, but I do think the Arizona State Sun Devils will have an edge in the way their Defense can make big plays. They are one of the leading teams in terms of takeaways and that could prove to be the difference in the game between these two teams.

The underdog had covered in four years in a row at this Bowl Game before last season and I think the Arizona State Sun Devils can make it two in a row for the favourite.

South Carolina Gamecocks v Miami Hurricanes Pick: The South Carolina Gamecocks have been participating in some of the bigger Bowl games in recent seasons which does raise questions about participating in their first December Bowl Game since 2010. They have won their last 3 Bowl Games, but this is not one on the same level as the Outback Bowl or the Capital One Bowl and motivation has to be a question mark against them.

In saying that, the Miami Hurricanes are a storied College and that should at least bring a challenge in for South Carolina and could see a big effort from the Gamecocks.

Both Offenses will look at this game as a chance to put up some big numbers against Defenses that have perhaps worn down through the season. The Gamecocks have struggled against the run all season and now have to deal with Duke Johnson pounding them, while the Miami Hurricanes have had some of their poorer performances against the run in the final three weeks of the season and now take on a SEC Offensive Line who have a Running Back like Mike Davis pounding the ball.

That should mean Brad Kaaya and Dylan Thompson can add to some impressive passing statistics from the regular season and both Miami and South Carolina should have success moving the ball up and down the field.

However, I do think the Miami Defense is going to be well rested and have played well for much of the season and could get back to one of their better performance levels of the 2014 campaign. They have also been slightly better at forcing turnovers and Al Golden may 'want' this game more than Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks.

The public are very much on the side of the SEC underdog in this one, but I like the Hurricanes to find a way to create a couple of extra possessions and win this game by a Touchdown.

Penn State Nittany Lions v Boston College Eagles Pick: The Penn State Nittany Lions may only have missed a season of Bowl eligibility after the Jerry Sandusky scandal that saw them banned by the NCAA, but that was overturned during the course of this season and these players have to be excited about their chance to play in a Bowl Game.

Getting to play that game at the famous Yankee Stadium is another huge boost, and both Penn State and Boston College are likely to be well represented in the stands.

The game looks like it will be a close one with both Defenses looking like they have a real chance to restrict what the opposite Offense can do on the field. The fact that Boston College are so reliant on the run makes the battle with the Penn State Defensive Line look to be the key to this entire game and the Nittany Lions will believe they can slow down Tyler Murphy and John Hilliman to the point of giving them the edge in the game.

Christian Hackenberg has to avoid the mistakes that have blighted him through the season with an almost 1-2 Touchdown-Interception ratio for the season. He may be happier if Akeel Lynch can produce some of the big runs that has seen him secure almost half of his season yardage in the last three games, although Boston College's Defensive Line has also been stout against the run.

There might not be a lot of points in the game with both teams likely to want to at least stick with the run and the Defenses likely to be on top for the majority of the game. However, I can see the excitement of the Penn State players to be able to play in a Bowl Game perhaps providing a difference and helping the underdog perhaps even win the game outright.

Penn State have also thrived in non-Conference games with 9-3 record against the spread over the last three seasons.

The underdog have covered in the last four Pinstripe Bowl games and three of those saw them win outright.

USC Trojans v Nebraska Cornhuskers Pick: The USC Trojans and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are two of the big name College schools in the nation and that alone makes the Holiday Bowl one of interest enough to be placed as the big game on Saturday.

Both teams will believe in their own chances to win the game, but the loss of Bo Pelini as Head Coach in Nebraska seems to have had a huge effect on the Cornhuskers. There seems to be some real uncertainty as to where the programme will go with Mike Riley taking over and it also seems that some players and staff don't really know what the future will hold for them.

That uncertainty can make a big difference in this game, even if Nebraska's Offensive Line can give them a chance to really establish the run. However, Cody Kessler is also capable of having a big game for the USC Trojans if the Nebraska team haven't quite got themselves fully motivated for this one.

Steve Sarkisian also has experience getting his team up for a Holiday Bowl after helping the Washington Huskies win this game back in 2010. He will want the Trojans to end his first season as Head Coach here with a victory in the Bowl Game and I expect a full effort from the USC team.

I do think Nebraska have struggled against the better teams they have played this season and I think the USC Trojans win and cover in this one.

Texas Longhorns v Arkansas Razorbacks Pick: The Texas Bowl brings together a big name school from the Big 12 and a school that has the misfortune of sitting in the loaded SEC West. The fact that the Arkansas Razorbacks have become Bowl eligible shows their toughness and they come into the game as a big favourite despite the Texas Longhorns likely to have the majority of fans in the stadium.

Personally I am looking at the over/under for the game which has been set at 43 points and it could be a game where points come at a premium, although the sharps have pounded the number down from the 46.5 points the game opened up with.

I would have loved to get that number, but this one still has a chance of coming in under the total with both teams looking to grind down the other and both Defenses capable of at least keeping the points contained. The Razorbacks are predominantly a team that likes to use a power Offense and the Longhorns have only allowed 3.9 yards per carry so drives could be long and time consuming, while not always ending with points scored.

On the other hand, the Texas Offense is still a work in progress at the end of Charlie Strong's first year as Head Coach and has been inconsistent at best. As long as Tyrone Swoopes doesn't make mistakes at Quarter Back, Texas may also need some long drives to score points and it is all pointing to a game that might see both teams fail to reach the 20 point mark.

However, everyone should remember the College Football rules of Overtime where both teams will get a chance to score and these games can end in double and triple overtime, especially when teams are matched up pretty well.

Stanford Cardinal v Maryland Terrapins Pick: This is considered the biggest mismatch in the Vegas sportsbook and I have to agree with the layers as I am expecting the Stanford Cardinal to win the game comfortably.

Much of the reason for that is the Cardinal Defense which has played at a high level despite the problems on the other side of the ball. They have been stout against the run and they should be able to deal with CJ Brown despite the ability the Quarter Back in using the read-option to earn big games.

Brown does have Stefon Biggs back at Receiver, but he has to deal with the immense pressure Stanford get up front, particularly if they are unable to establish the run.

The biggest reason I am backing Stanford to cover a huge number is because Kevin Hogan and the Offense found something of a groove over the last couple of weeks of the regular season and they should be able to score enough points against this Maryland Defense. The Cardinal should be able to run the ball effectively and that should open things up for Hogan to make plays against this Secondary and allow Stanford to dictate the play and eventually overrun the Terrapins.

Maryland have not been a great team off a bye, going 1-5 against the spread in that position over the last three seasons so preparation may not be up to par for a game against a team like Stanford. The Cardinal have been a decent when favoured by big points this season and I think Stanford can win this one going away.

TCU Horned Frogs v Ole Miss Rebels Pick: This looks a great Bowl Game for the fans to look forward to as two teams look to put an exclamation point on decent seasons.

The Ole Miss Rebels may be disappointed they are not playing in the National Championship Play Off games after beating the Alabama Crimson Tide, but they couldn't get through the loaded SEC West. They have also had time to deal with their fate and would have enjoyed spoiling Mississippi State's chances of reaching the final four and Bo Wallace should have a decent game as long as 'Good Bo' and not 'Bad Bo' takes the field.

On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how the TCU Horned Frogs are going to deal with falling out of the top four after being in that position heading into the final week of the season. However, the Big 12 was left out of the Play Offs, but the Horned Frogs seemed to have taken that in a much more 'matter of fact' way than the Baylor Bears.

It will be interesting to see how their Offense can perform against a top SEC Defense in this one, especially if Trevone Boykin cannot rely on the rushing game as much as he has this season. Establishing the run will open up the passing lanes for Boykin, but the Rebels Secondary is one of the best in College Football and might just slow down the Horned Frogs enough for Wallace to lead a game winning drive.

Wallace has to avoid the mistakes that have blighted his career, but Ole Miss have thrived as the underdog in recent seasons by going 11-4 against the spread in that spot. TCU have been a great favourite to back this season, but this is an SEC West team they face this week and I think getting more than a Field Goal, and going against the public, looks too big to pass up.

Arizona Wildcats v Boise State Broncos Pick: The Boise State Broncos are riding the momentum of a long winning run that culminated with the Mountain West Championship, but they have failed to cover in their last 2 Bowl Games and now face a healthy Arizona Wildcats team.

Not many would have picked the Wildcats to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game, but they couldn't pull the upset thanks to some nagging injuries, but those may have cleared up in time for this game.

Anu Solomon played really well at Quarter Back for much of the season and he should have more success in this game with Arizona likely to have established the run to negate the Boise State pass rush.

The Wildcats Defense did give up a lot of yards through the course of the season and that is an area where Boise State will expect to have some real success, although they might have to throw from third and long more often than they would like. The Arizona Defensive Line has held teams to 4 yards per cary and might have some joy slowing down Boise State and that could force mistakes from Grant Hedrick at Quarter Back and give Arizona the edge in the game.

One concern is that Arizona haven't been that good as a favourite this season when it comes to covering the spread, but I think they have the better team of the two in this Bowl Game and will look for them to win by more than a Field Goal.

Wisconsin Badgers v Auburn Tigers Pick: The Big Ten and the SEC regularly compete with one another in Bowl Games, but it is the SEC who has dominated the recent games with 4 wins in the last 5 seasons. The Wisconsin Badgers have already been defeated by one SEC team this season, the LSU Tigers in the opening week of the season, and they need to bounce back from a couple of negative feelings going into the game.

Gary Andersen's departure as Head Coach came as a surprise, but Barry Alvarez is a legendary figure in Wisconsin and should get the best out of his squad of players. A bigger blow to recover from is the 59-0 defeat at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes Big Ten Championship Game and I do wonder how much that has taken away from the team.

Fortunately there has been time to get over that loss and they are facing the Auburn Tigers who lost 3 of their last 4 games to end the season, although they almost spoiled Alabama's season in the Iron Bowl. The big question is how much effort is Melvin Gordon going to put into the game knowing what is at stake in the NFL Draft and he will want to avoid an injury.

However, Gordon should have some solid gains for the Badgers and try and keep the pressure off of Joel Stave at Quarter Back. The Wisconsin Defense also has to play to a much higher level than they did in the loss to the Buckeyes and Nick Marshall's dual-threat ability at Quarter Back is going to cause some real problems for them.

Auburn are probably the second best Offense the Wisconsin Badgers have faced this season, although some would say they are arguably even better than the Ohio State Buckeyes who had a third string Quarter Back running the Offense. The Tigers should be able to score enough points to put the pressure on Stave to lead Wisconsin back in the game and that should give this ball-hawking Auburn Secondary the chance for some big turnovers.

The Badgers have failed to cover in their last 2 Bowl Games and also in their last 2 games against SEC teams and I think they fail to do that in this game too.

Baylor Bears v Michigan State Spartans Pick: So how will the Baylor Bears come out and play in the Cotton Bowl having been overlooked for the first ever College Football Play Off? If Bryce Petty is to be believed, and I see no reason why the leader of the Bears should not be, Baylor are going to be 'pi**ed off' for being ignored.

They don't have a much better chance to prove that they deserved to be in the final four than by beating the Michigan State Spartans who were defeated by two of the teams that have made the Play Offs, including the Ohio State Buckeyes who leaped Baylor into that final four.

Petty should be healthier than how he ended the regular season, but this is also one of the top Defenses that the Baylor team would have seen this season. However, the Bears have enough talent to make plays against the Spartans who have also come up short in their two big games this season, including as a pretty big favourite to beat Ohio State at home.

The Spartans have an under-rated Offense which begins with Jeremy Langford running the ball effectively, but the Bears can cause problems if their run Defense can hold up as it has for much of the season. Connor Cook is likely to still be able to make plays against the Baylor Secondary though and I do think Michigan State will have their own big plays in a game that could be a lot of fun to watch.

Michigan State do have a tough Defense that loves to play press coverage and they will try and jam Baylor at the line, but I also have seen them come up short against the two best teams they have faced. The Baylor Defense is also somewhat under-rated I think and I can see them making a few big plays to force punts and field goals which could be a difference maker in a game that could feature a fair few points.

I have to respect the Spartans 6-1 record against the spread as the underdog over the last three seasons- they play with a real chip on their shoulder in that situation, but Baylor have a lot to prove too. They will want to be in the same conversation as Oregon and Ohio State and to prove the Committee got their four team selection wrong and I like the Bears to win and cover this Cotton Bowl.

Minnesota Golden Gophers v Missouri Tigers Pick: If you enjoy some old school Football, this could be the Bowl Game for you as both the Missouri Tigers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers will look to pound the ball on the ground against some powerful Defenses.

Out of the two teams, David Cobb might be the more recognisable Running Back, but the Missouri Tigers Offensive and Defensive Lines are likely to win the battle in the trenches. That should set up the Missouri Tigers in a better spot to establish the run which is going to be a key for them to win the Citrus Bowl and end this season on a positive manner after the SEC Championship Game defeat to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Both teams have been effective at turning the ball over too, but Missouri have been the more careful when it comes to giving the ball away. That may also play to their advantage in this game and help the Tigers continue the recent dominance of the SEC over Big Ten teams.

Dave Steckel is leaving the Missouri Tigers as Defensive Co-Ordinator following this game so I expect his players to put in a huge effort to win the game. The Tigers have also been very good against the spread when having time to prepare and they did cover in the Bowl Game last season despite losing the SEC Championship Game.

Respect has to be given to Minnesota for the way they have been performing as the underdog this season, but Missouri are more likely to win those battles in the trenches that can determine who will be able to run the ball more effectively. Forcing Mitch Leidner to throw the ball could see the Tigers also win the turnover battle and that should help them win this game and cover the spread.

Oregon Ducks v Florida State Seminoles Pick: I don't think I am alone in looking forward to the first ever College Football Play Off games and both Semi Finals look excellent games to look forward to. The first of those between the Florida State Seminoles and Oregon Ducks looks very close to call, so I was a little surprised that the defending Champions were being given as many points as they are in the game.

I understand that Florida State have not looked all that good this season and they haven't dominated any game they have played from start to finish, but they keep finding a way to win games and that has to be respected. I also think the Seminoles are going to be mad that they are considered the underdog in this Semi Final and will definitely be playing with a chip on the shoulder which can prove to be invaluable to the team.

Jameis Winston is likely to have a strong game throwing the ball for Florida State now that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been ruled out in the Oregon Secondary, although the biggest thing for Winston to remember is that he can't afford to turn the ball over. However, without their best player in the Secondary, Oregon could have a hard time containing Rashad Greene and I think the Seminoles can score enough points to keep this close.

Going up against Marcos Mariota and this fast paced Oregon Offense is going to be a very difficult task for the Florida State Defense which is struggling to generate an effective pass rush. However, the Defensive Line may feel they can at least make Mariota throw from third and long situations by slowing down the rushing attack at least a little, although shutting down Oregon completely is going to be almost impossible.

However, everything seems to be pointing to a very close game that looks unlikely to be settled by more than a Touchdown. I think the Seminoles can really excel now the pressure is not on them as a favourite expected to blow every team away and the role of an underdog may just fire them up for the best performance of the season.

It wouldn't be a big surprise if the game is won by the team that holds the ball for the final possession in this one, although Florida State have to steer clear of some of the turnovers that have blighted their season. I think the Seminoles definitely have a shot to win this game outright, so getting this many points looks a little hard to ignore.

Alabama Crimson Tide v Ohio State Buckeyes Pick: The second Semi Final in College Football could have been a much more intriguing game if the Ohio State Buckeyes were coming into the game healthier, even if Cardale Jones played so effectively at Quarter Back in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Wisconsin Defensive unit is definitely a very strong one, but facing the Alabama Crimson Tide is a different story altogether for an inexperienced Quarter Back.

Jones may hit some big plays in this one as the Alabama Secondary have been susceptible to the deep ball through the air, but he will be desperate for Ezekiel Elliot to run the ball effectively. If Elliot can get something going on the ground, Jones will be in a better position to make the positive plays, but the Crimson Tide have been very stout against the run and keeping Ohio State in third and long situations would be a win for Alabama more often than not.

The Buckeyes Defensive Line is also going to have to come up strong against a physical Alabama Offensive Line that has opened up plenty of holes for TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry in the Running Back spot. Blake Sims is also capable of scrambling from Quarter Back and Alabama will look to wear down Ohio State and also open up the passing lanes.

I was impressed with the way that Ohio State dealt with Melvin Gordon in the Big Ten Championship Game, but they could sell out against the run in that game and didn't respect Joel Stave's ability to make big plays throwing the ball. That won't be the case in this game as the Sims to Amari Cooper connection has worked wonders through the course of the season and keeping the Buckeyes honest should give Alabama a chance to move the chains fairly consistently.

Alabama have won all three previous games against Ohio State, and I have a lot of respect for Urban Meyer and how he has helped the Buckeyes cover every game they have played as the underdog. However, this Ohio State team is with a third string Quarter Back and I don't think he can be fully prepared for the kind of Defensive team he is going to be facing in this one.

I do think Cardale Jones will make some big plays throwing the ball downfield, but it might not be enough for the Buckeyes and I think Alabama eventually pull away from Ohio State. The Crimson Tide are not always a great favourite to back, as shown by their losing record against the spread as a favourite over the last three years, but I think Alabama has a better talent level in this game than Ohio State. I also believe the Offensive Line wears down the Buckeyes Defensive Line and allows TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry to make some big gains on the ground as the game goes on.

That should only allow Sims to make some big throws to Amari Cooper and I like Alabama to cover the points at the level they have reached now with the public heavily backing the underdog.

Unbelievable set of results on New Year's Day with Baylor blowing a 20 point lead they had taken into the Fourth Quarter, while the Florida State Seminoles had a Third Quarter from hell which began the blow out to Oregon.

Alabama were leading 21-6 against the Ohio State Buckeyes but somehow ended up with an outright loss, weird day for sure.

Pittsburgh Panthers v Houston Cougars Pick: The Armed Forces Bowl is played after the heavy New Year's Day action in College Football so could be flying under the radar somewhat, although the fact that both the Houston Cougars and Pittsburgh Panthers have Interim Head Coaches makes it a more difficult game to predict.

However, I think the Houston Defense is the better unit of the two that will be taking the field and can make the big plays to keep the Cougars in this game and potentially win it outright.

Kenneth Farrow and the Running Back committee can certainly keep Greg Ward in third and short situations which should help the Cougars move the chains effectively, while the Defense will believe in their ability to slow down James Connor.

It is unlikely the Cougars shut down Connor totally, but they will look to limit the damage the Running Back does and force Chad Voytik to throw into a Secondary that has created turnovers and not given up too many big plays through the season.

The Pittsburgh Panthers have not been a great favourite to back in recent seasons and know their Interim Head Coach is leaving to go back to Wisconsin with Paul Chryst after this game so I do worry about their preparation for this game. On the other hand, Houston are 8-4 against the spread as the underdog over the last three seasons and I think the six points in their favour could be crucial by the time this Bowl Game comes to an end.

Oklahoma State Cowboys v Washington Huskies Pick: The Washington Huskies should hold a clear edge in this game over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Cactus Bowl and I think they are the team that can win this game and cover a fairly big spread.

Mason Rudolph had a special game for Oklahoma State in the win over the Oklahoma Sooners which helped the Cowboys become Bowl eligible, but he could be under some immense pressure from a Defense that has already secured 49 Sacks this season. Without much of a running game to help the young Quarter Back and with Tyreek Hill dismissed from the team, the Cowboys could have a tough time putting together consistent drives despite the Washington issues against the pass.

It will also be the Washington ability to establish the run that should set up Cyler Miles in short yardage situations to at least avoid some of the pass rush pressure the Cowboys can produce too. The Secondary also has a few holes that Miles can exploit, although it may take a little time for the rushing Offense can wear down the Oklahoma State team up front.

The Washington Huskies have covered in the last 2 Bowl Games they have played and they have been a team that has thrived when having time to prepare. I believe the Defense makes a couple of big Sacks of Rudolph to set up the win in this game and I think the Huskies win by at least a Touchdown.

MY PICKS: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns + 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Utah State Aggies - 10 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Utah Utes - 2.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Memphis Tigers - 1.5 Points @ 1.92 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Northern Illinois Huskies + 9.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
San Diego State Aztecs - 3 Points @ 1.92 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Fresno State Bulldogs + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs - 6 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Arizona State Sun Devils - 7.5 Points @ 1.95 William Hill (1 Unit)
Miami Hurricanes - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Penn State Nittany Lions + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
USC Trojans - 7 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Texas Longhorns-Arkansas Razorbacks Under 43 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Stanford Cardinal - 14 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
Ole Miss Rebels + 3.5 Points @ 1.92 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Arizona Wildcats - 3 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Auburn Tigers - 6.5 Points @ 1.92 Coral (1 Unit)
Baylor Bears - 2.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Missouri Tigers - 4.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Florida State Seminoles + 8 Points @ 1.92 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 8.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Houston Cougars + 6 Points @ 1.95 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Washington Huskies - 6.5 Points @ 1.92 William Hill (1 Unit)

Bowl Update: 9-10, - 1.60 Units (19 Units Staked, - 8.42% Yield)

Week 15: 6-2, + 3.69 Units (8 Units Staked, + 46.13% Yield)
Week 148-7, + 0.47 Units (15 Units Staked, + 3.13% Yield)
Week 137-6, + 0.37 Units (13 Units Staked, + 2.85% Yield)
Week 127-5, + 1.40 Units (12 Units Staked, + 11.67% Yield)
Week 119-4, + 4.34 Units (13 Units Staked, + 33.38% Yield)
Week 106-7, - 1.51 Units (13 Units Staked, - 11.62% Yield)
Week 94-9-1, - 5.31 Units (14 Units Staked, - 37.93% Yield)
Week 85-7, - 2.26 Units (12 Units Staked, - 18.83% Yield)
Week 73-8, - 5.31 Units (11 Units Staked, - 48.27% Yield)
Week 62-7, - 5.13 Units (9 Units Staked, - 57% Yield)
Week 54-5, - 1.13 Units (9 Units Staked, - 12.56% Yield)
Week 46-5, + 0.58 Units (11 Units Staked, + 5.27% Yield)
Week 33-7-1, - 4.18 Units (11 Units Staked, - 38% Yield)
Week 25-6, - 1.18 Units (11 Units Staked, - 10.72% Yield)
Week 16-4, + 1.77 Units (10 Units Staked, + 11.7% Yield)

Season 201475-82-2, - 13.39 Units (172 Units Staked, - 7.78% Yield)
Season 201365-49-2, + 8.49 Units (124 Units Staked, + 6.85% Yield)
Season 201254-59-1 - 7.11 Units (114 Units Staked, - 6.24% Yield)
Season 201163-36, + 23.25 Units (99 Units Staked, + 23.5% Yield)