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Thursday, 29 December 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (December 29-January 1)

The last matches in the 2016 calendar year are being spread over a few days from Thursday through to Sunday in the English domestic Leagues.

At this time of the season the matches come thick and fast so I will crack on with the picks from the latest round of games.

Boxing Day proved to be a difficult one for the picks as the December Picks took another step back, but this is the last chance to turn things around for this month. I will include the Premier League games scheduled for Sunday 1st January within this month's totals and the first January Picks will be considered from Monday 2nd January and moving forward.

Rotherham United v Burton Albion Pick: This is a relegation six pointer in the Championship as Rotherham United have just given themselves half a chance of getting back in the mix. They looked to be cut off at the bottom of the table, but wins over Queens Park Rangers and Wigan Athletic have kept the teams above them just about in touch.

The fans will be expecting to beat another one of their relegation rivals at home on Thursday as Rotherham United host Burton Albion, but Nigel Clough's men have been anything but an easy out. It was Burton Albion who beat Rotherham United at home earlier this month to keep clear of the bottom three, but they remain very much on the brink of falling into the relegation zone.

Both teams will feel they can create opportunities to score goals as they have been firing in front of goal and playing an opponent who have struggled defensively. With that in mind, I am surprised that the layers are offering almost odds against on there being at least three goals in this game.

4 of the last 5 Burton Albion games have finished with at least three goals shared out, while 4 of the last 6 Rotherham United games have done the same. The game between them at The Pirelli Stadium finished 2-1 to the home side and I think there is every chance one of these teams will take away the three points by a similar scoreline on Thursday so I will take the overs and look for goals.

Reading v Fulham Pick: The layers don't seem to respect Reading who are a home underdog again this week which is a big surprise considering they have won 5 in a row here in the League. Perhaps the rumours about Jaap Stam and his future are playing a part in the prices, but Reading should not be the underdog in this fixture.

Another factor may be the 5-0 hammering Fulham handed out to them at Craven Cottage at the beginning of the month and the fact that Fulham have been slightly better away from home. However I still think Reading are the more likely winners although I won't be backing them in this one.

Instead I am going to look for this game to feature at least three goals with both Reading and Fulham capable in front of goals and perhaps a little vulnerable to attacking football at the back. 5 of the last 6 Reading home games have featured at least three goals and both teams have scored in their last 3 games here.

Fulham have scored at least twice in 3 of their last 4 away games and they had conceded at least two goals in consecutive away games before the 0-2 win at goal-shy Ipswich Town. Games between these clubs have featured at least three goals in last 7 times they have played one another and I will back at least three goals in this one too.

Huddersfield Town v Blackburn Rovers Pick: It goes to show the different directions that Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers have been heading as clubs that the former are an odds on favourite to win this League game on Saturday. I can't really argue with that on current form either and I do think Huddersfield Town do enough to earn the three points against Blackburn Rovers in this early kick off.

While Huddersfield Town have won 4 in a row including their last 2 at The John Smith's Stadium, Blackburn Rovers have lost 5 of their last 6 on their travels. The latter have to be respected having won at Newcastle United recently and having a decent record at Huddersfield Town, but that isn't enough to make me think they can get a result here.

Blackburn Rovers have conceded too many goals of late and that puts them under immense pressure to do enough in the final third to reverse recent results. Huddersfield Town have been playing well enough to score at least twice in this game and I think that will be enough for them to earn the three points.

It will likely be a close game, but Huddersfield Town are playing with confidence and that can give them the mental edge in this fixture. I will back the home team at odds on to win this game and keep the pressure on the top two who both play on Friday.

Derby County v Wigan Athletic Pick: This has not been a fixture Derby County have enjoyed at home in recent years, but they should be able to do enough to win this one on Saturday. Derby County are scoring goals at home and simply not conceding and I am not sure Wigan Athletic are in the frame of mind to change those factors.

There have been some solid away performances from Wigan Athletic in recent weeks, but the losses to Aston Villa and Rotherham United will have dented that confidence. The loss at The New York Stadium was a particularly worrying one for Wigan Athletic and I think Derby County win this one.

The only concern has to be the fact that The Rams played a day later than Wigan Athletic earlier this week, but I think Derby County have had sufficient time to recover and can use home advantage. It might be tight, but Derby County can secure the three points and I will back them to do so.

Wolves v Queens Park Rangers Pick: The price on the Wolves home win has been shortening over the last couple of days and I am not sure an odds on quote will appeal to many considering how erratic Wolves have been at Molineux. However they have won their last couple of League games to give the players some confidence and are facing a Queens Park Rangers team who have been losing plenty of games.

While I do think some of the confidence in the home team has been restored, Queens Park Rangers have lost 6 in a row and they never seem too far away from making a mistake or two at the back. The away side have failed to score in their last 3 away League games and I think they will find it very difficult to make it a hat-trick of wins in this Stadium.

The poor form of Wolves at home is a concern, but the win over Bristol City in the manner it came should give them the momentum to take into this one. They have had an extra day to prepare and Queens Park Rangers played a long half hour with ten men on Tuesday which could have sapped some of the energy levels.

It's not the best price in the world, but Wolves can take the three points and I will back them to do so.

Brentford v Norwich City Pick: Two clubs in mid-table are looking to build some momentum and start moving up the League standings in what has been a disappointing first half of the season for them. Both Brentford and Norwich City will look at recent form and not exactly be firing with confidence, but they have to also look at their opponents and feel this is a chance to earn a big three points.

Separating these teams is difficult because neither inspires confidence to back them.

However it does look a game that will produce at least three goals as Brentford have been conceding goals at an alarming rate at home and Norwich City have been doing the same on their travels. Both teams are better going forward than they are defending and that suggests there will be chances at both ends of the field in the final Championship game of the 2016 calendar year.

The last three fixtures between the clubs have produced at least three goals and I will be looking for goals in this one.

Hull City v Everton Pick: The first Premier League game of the weekend begins on Friday Night Football as Hull City look to end 2016 with a flourish and off the bottom of the Premier League table. They face an Everton team who have been inconsistent but coming in off an impressive 0-2 win at Leicester City and I do think both Mike Phelan and Ronald Koeman will believe their team is capable of winning this game.

The problem for Hull City is the goals they have been conceding even when they have battled well for long periods. Once they concede once they do look like a team that will concede again very quickly and Everton are capable of taking advantage.

However I also think Everton are a team that have struggled for consistency and Hull City will note that Bournemouth, Burnley and Watford have all beaten Everton at home. Now Hull City are not quite as strong as those teams or in great form, but it does give them a chance and I expect them to create some problems for Everton in this fixture.

Both teams should have some chances and goals have tended to flow in their recent fixtures in the Premier League. Hull City versus Everton has not always been the most entertaining of games, but these current squads can make it a decent game for the neutrals to enjoy and I think we may see at least three goals in this one.

Chelsea v Stoke City Pick: The return of Diego Costa is a positive for Chelsea this weekend but they barely missed him as they recorded a 12th successive Premier League win on Boxing Day. It was another League game at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea have kept a clean sheet, but also prevented a team hanging around by scoring at least twice and they look to be running into Stoke City at the right time.

The concern for Mark Hughes has to be the goals Stoke City have conceded in away losses at Arsenal and Liverpool in their last couple of games on their travels. In both games Stoke City scored first before capitulating, but getting in front or even scoring a goal against Chelsea won't be easy.

This time of the season can be difficult to read as teams simply don't have a lot of rest between games and Chelsea have had a day more to prepare for the game. That can play a part when you think they also had an 'easier' game last time out when beating Bournemouth 3-0 at Stamford Bridge compared with Stoke City who were chasing shadows in their 4-1 defeat at Liverpool.

It feels like it could be another difficult day for Stoke City and Chelsea can move into 2017 with 13 consecutive Premier League wins behind them. I will back the home side to win by a couple of goals in this one and cover the Asian Handicap.

Leicester City v West Ham United Pick: You have to think there is enough in the bank for Claudio Ranieri that he should not be fearing being sacked as manager of Leicester City, but the Italian manager needs some results going his way sooner rather than later. The Foxes continue slipping back towards the bottom three and the 0-2 defeat to Everton at The King Power Stadium on Boxing Day saw the home fans boo some of the decisions made by the manager who took them to the title in May.

That season is looking more and more special in each passing week as Leicester City have struggled, but they might be catching a break in the fixture list. While it has to be accepted that West Ham United have been much improved of late, The Hammers continue to concede goals at an alarming rate away from home which has to give Leicester City some encouragement.

West Ham United haven't had a clean sheet in their last 6 away games in all competitions, but they have also scored in 5 straight games on their travels and have scored at least twice in 3 of those games. That will give Slaven Bilic's men confidence they can exploit some of the nervousness that will be in The King Power Stadium which may filter down towards the players.

With Leicester City conceding at least two goals in each of their last 4 home Premier League games, West Ham United might feel they can earn another big three points here. However Leicester City have shown they can create chances and score goals here too and I think this could be one of the entertaining games of the weekend in the Premier League.

It looks a good fixture list for the fans in the final games of the 2016 season and I think both Leicester City and West Ham United play their part in a game that will feature at least three goals. 8 of the last 9 games between these clubs have reached that total and I will back this one to do the same on Saturday.

Manchester United v Middlesbrough Pick: The performances have been very positive for Manchester United for a couple of months but now the results have been matching those. Goals have been flowing and Manchester United look to be rounding into nice form to take into the 2017 calendar year as they look to get back to the kind of level they had set under Sir Alex Ferguson up to 2013.

Jose Mourinho is certainly getting the best out of some of the players at his disposal and Manchester United seem to be playing with a little more tempo in their play. They will look to build some tempo in this one and wear down a Middlesbrough team who have had some confidence sapped from the 1-0 loss at Burnley which is part of a 3 game run of losses in their last 4 games.

Middlesbrough have made life difficult for Manchester City and Arsenal away from home because they don't concede a lot of goals, but the focus may easily be on the home game with Leicester City on Monday which could be a huge one in terms of relegation come May. I expect Aitor Karanka will look to keep a solid shape for his team and defend in numbers, but Mourinho will be aware of his former Number 2 and what he brings to the table.

I expect both Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to start this one to give Manchester United pace in the wide areas as well as players who can score and create plenty of chances. That should help them move this Middlesbrough team around and eventually wear them down and I expect Manchester United to break them down in a win by at least a couple of goals.

Swansea City v Bournemouth Pick: The Bob Bradley era came to an end at Swansea City earlier in the week and I am not sure the American really was given a fair crack of the whip. He was employed mid-season and didn't get a transfer window to improve this club, while the criticism of the terms used by Bradley were overly-criticised by the media who should be embarrassed with the way they treated him.

A good point has been made by Richard Keys as to how people would have responded if Bradley had been of an ethnic background and had been seeing his speech and terms used being mocked.

The Swansea City decision makers who employed Bradley should also be embarrassed as they didn't really back the manager they believed was the best candidate for the job literally a couple of months ago. Those same decision makers likely get a chance to pick the next manager, but why should they be trusted when they clearly didn't have the courage of their convictions with the last manager?

It puts Swansea City in a really difficult position as they try to fight out of a difficult spot in the Premier League table. The positives has to be that The Swans have scored goals and now face a Bournemouth team who have conceded at least three goals in 5 of their last 6 Premier League games including the last 3 away games they have played.

However the poor defensive record can't be ignored and Bournemouth should have their chances having scored twice at Burnley recently and having some opportunities in the 3-0 loss at Chelsea. Both League games between these teams were high-scoring ones last season and I think this one will also feature at least three goals with both Swansea City and Bournemouth playing their part in an entertaining game.

The last 4 Swansea City home games have ended with at least three goals shared out and 5 of the last 7 Bournemouth away games have hit that mark too. It is an odds on quote from the layers, but I do think three goals will be scored at The Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

Liverpool v Manchester City Pick: For the neutral fan of the Premier League, there can't be too many games that could produce a more entertaining end to the 2016 calendar year than pitting Liverpool against Manchester City. Both managers pride themselves on producing attacking football and neither team has shown enough defensively to suggest they are going to be able to shut down the other.

Being at home means Liverpool will look to put a lot of pressure on their visitors by rushing them and attacking with a number of talented players in the final third. The Manchester City defence will offer up some chances and Liverpool have shown they can exploit those, especially under this manager whose attacking instincts won't be curtailed in this one.

On the other hand, Manchester City have plenty of attacking threats of their own which will be boosted by the return of Sergio Aguero from suspension. The Liverpool defence has been far from watertight and you have to think the pace and creativity that Pep Guardiola can call upon is going to cause some problems too.

Games between Liverpool and Manchester City have produced plenty of goals in recent seasons and 11 of the last 12 Premier League games have seen at least three goals shared out including the last 9 in a row. The last 5 at Anfield have produced 19 goals with at least three goals featured each time.

It looks a boring pick from this game but I would be stunned if Liverpool and Manchester City didn't continue that trend and I thought the price would be shorter than the layers are offering. I am expecting both teams to score at least once and trying to keep up with Chelsea means the win is much more important than sharing the points and I am looking for both teams to push for a winner until the end of the ninety minutes.

Picking a winner is tough with both Liverpool and Manchester City in decent recent form, but I will pick this game to feature at least three goals.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace Pick: A late goal helped Arsenal break down the West Brom resistance on Boxing Day and you have to think it is going to be more of the same for the home team on Sunday. This time it is Sam Allardyce who will be heading to town with Crystal Palace and he has had a week to get his team ready to make life difficult for Arsenal by sorting out the defensive organisation.

It will still be difficult for Crystal Palace because it will take time for Allardyce's methods to really take hold at Selhurst Park. They have to try and frustrate the home team and look for the counter attack with the pace of Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon.

However the goals Palace have been conceding is a problem and I expect a much better Arsenal reaction than when they played West Brom. There are goals in the Arsenal side and I expect them to have too much for Crystal Palace in this fixture, especially if Allardyce is focused on the big home game with Swansea City in a couple of days time.

Games between these London clubs have been tight, but I like Arsenal to win by a couple of goals on Sunday.

MY PICKS: Rotherham United-Burton Albion Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Reading-Fulham Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town @ 1.75 Bet365 (2 Units)
Derby County @ 1.61 William Hill (2 Units)
Wolves @ 1.86 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Brentford-Norwich City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Hull City-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Swansea City-Bournemouth Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Liverpool-Manchester City Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.65 William Hill (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

College Football Bowl Game Picks 2016 (December 28-January 2)

I mentioned it in the last College Football thread that I would be splitting the Bowl Game Picks from the 2016 season over two threads and this is the second of those.

I only made six picks from the opening Bowl Games, but the quality of the games should increase in the second half of the post-season which includes the College Football Play Off Semi Finals on New Year's Eve.

Suffice to say that at this time of the season it can be difficult to watch all of the games being played with family time important, but I will try and put out all of the picks for the games I like and look for a better second half in Bowl season than the first half.

Wednesday 28th December
West Virginia Mountaineers vs Miami Hurricanes Pick: Both the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Miami Hurricanes should have plenty of motivation to end their 2016 season with the high of winning this Russell Athletic Bowl. Both teams have had strong seasons, but they are schools who are looking for the momentum to take them into the 2017 season when they will look to kick on and perhaps even challenge for the College Football Play Off spots.

The key for this game might be the battle at the line of scrimmage between the West Virginia Mountaineers Offensive Line and the Miami Hurricanes Defensive Line. While the Hurricanes have prided themselves on being stout against the run for much of the season, the Mountaineers success on that side of the ball has begun by being able to run the ball very effectively.

Justin Crawford has had 1000 rushing yards on the year and the Mountaineers have pumped out 6.4 yards per carry over their last three games. However the Hurricanes will feel they can slow down the Mountaineers on the ground and force Skyler Howard to try and beat them through the air in this one against a solid Secondary who are able to make some big plays.

There have been a few more holes in the Miami Secondary than earlier in the season over their last few games, but with time to get practice in before this Bowl Game, I would expect the Hurricanes to show improvement. The West Virginia Offense doesn't make a lot of mistakes through the air, but Miami can get some pressure on Howard and at least force incompletions and punts, while they also have been very strong in the Red Zone which could mean the Mountaineers settling for Field Goals instead of Touchdowns.

There are similarities with the way both Offenses operate as the Miami Hurricanes also have a 1000 yard rusher in Mark Walton and a smooth Quarter Back in Brad Kaaya. The difference in this game could be the fact that the line of scrimmage strengths are not the same as on the other side of the ball. The Miami Hurricanes should be able to establish the run in a far more effective manner than the West Virginia Mountaineers and that should open things up for Kaaya in a more convincing way than it could for Howard.

Kaaya should be able to exploit the West Virginia Secondary who have given up some big yards over their last few games although he will have to be careful when it comes to the Interceptions which the Mountaineers have thrived upon.

It should mean the Hurricanes are able to complete drives with Touchdowns more often than the West Virginia Mountaineers and that can give Miami the edge to cover this number. Brad Kaaya can out-duel Skyler Howard with more effective and consistent help from the running game and I like the Hurricanes to win this by around a Touchdown mark.

Indiana Hoosiers vs Utah Utes Pick: It wasn't the best end to the season for the Utah Utes who lost three of their last four games, but they still finished with a superior record to the Indiana Hoosiers. Since the end of the regular season, the Hoosiers have also seen Head Coach Kevin Wilson decide to resign despite taking Indiana to consecutive Bowl Games for the first time in twenty-five years.

Playing in Bowl Games has been important for Utah in recent years and they are 9-1 straight up in these games under Kyle Whittingham. The game is being played in San Francisco and Whittingham has made it clear that he believes his players love playing any of these Bowl Games which has helped them create such a strong record and the current group are 'excited' about heading to California to wrap the 2016 season.

They are facing an Indiana team who should be motivated despite losing Wilson between the end of the regular season and this Bowl Game. The Defensive unit have been much improved which has been a key reason the Indiana Hoosiers have managed to reach 6-6 and get back into the Bowl selections.

That unit is going to be tested by the Utes with the battle at the line of scrimmage likely to be very important to the outcome of this game. That is where the Utah Utes will be looking to run the ball, but the Indiana Defensive Line has stiffened in their most recent games and is likely to be a key component to determine the outcome of this one.

Joe Williams has had the best season from a Running Back in the history of the Utah Utes even though he missed four games, and is so important to becoming established to set up the rest of the Offense. It will ease the Indiana pass rush while also keeping the team in third and manageable spots from which Utah should have some success throwing the ball against this Secondary.

It is going to be much more difficult for the Indiana Hoosiers to run the ball and that is going to shift the pressure onto Richard Lagow to make the plays through the air. However Lagow has had success this season with over 3000 passing yards, although the 16 Interceptions have been an issue and could be a problem in this Bowl Game against a ball-hawking Secondary.

Stopping the run has also allowed the Utah Utes to tee off on the pass rush and they have a good match up to get to Lagow and force a couple of Sacks and rushed passes out of the Quarter Back. That could lead to extra possessions which allows Utah to wear down the Hoosiers Defensive Line and perhaps pull away for the cover in this Bowl Game.

The Utah Utes are 9-1 straight up in Bowl Games, but also 5-1 against the spread in the last six and I like them to cover in this one. The Indiana Hoosiers will give Utah some problems, especially if Lagow is at his best throwing the ball, but I can see a couple of turnovers helping the Utes come through with a win by around ten points.

Thursday 29th December
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs Colorado Buffaloes Pick: This has been a memorable season for the Colorado Buffaloes, but injuries have worn them down towards the end of the regular season. They maintained the performances through that hardship until the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game when being blown out by the Washington Huskies, but the Buffaloes have had time to get refocused on this Bowl Game.

The Valero Alamo Bowl is one that the Oklahoma State Cowboys are used to preparing for and they have to believe they can challenge their former Big 12 rivals despite also losing a big final game. That defeat to the Oklahoma Sooners meant losing out on the Big 12 title and potentially a bigger Bowl bid, but Mike Gundy will have his players well prepared for this one.

With the defeats in their final games, both the Cowboys and Buffaloes should be ready to end their 2016 season on a high and I think this is going to be a good game to watch. Oklahoma State have a powerful Offensive unit which will believe can get the better of the tough Colorado Defense which has been the foundation for their success this season.

There have just been some signs in the the last few weeks of the season that the Buffaloes Defensive Line have been worn down and that could be important in this game. Justice Hill has run the ball very well for the Cowboys which sets up their whole Offense and he will feel he can get himself established and help Oklahoma State set up in third and manageable spots through the evening.

The Colorado Secondary have been very good with some effective pass rush pressure up front helping their cause, but Mason Rudolph is an experienced Quarter Back for Oklahoma State to rely upon. If Hill is running the ball as I imagine he will, Rudolph should be able to make some big plays through the air to keep the chains moving.

Running the ball is going to be important for the Buffaloes too if only to protect Quarter Back Sefo Liufau who had been battling injury problems in the latter half of the regular season. Those injuries meant he was unable to complete the last three games for Colorado so they will lean on Philipp Lindsey to run the ball. However it has been tough sledging for the Buffaloes although they should find more room to impose themselves on the line of scrimmage in this one.

That should set up Liufau to have success throwing the ball against a Secondary that relies on being a 'bend, don't break' type of Defensive unit. The Cowboys have been able to turn the ball over and that has been something of a concern for Colorado as extra possessions will be very costly in this kind of game.

It does feel like it is going to be a close game and so getting the points looks the best way forward in this one. The Cowboys have the scoring power to break down the Colorado Buffaloes Defense, which has been the strength of the team this season, and I think they are worth backing with the points behind them. Getting the full Field Goal worth of points could be critical and I will take the underdog to get the better of Colorado, at least with the points in hand.

Friday 30th December
Georgia Bulldogs vs TCU Horned Frogs Pick: Two underachieving schools meet in the Autozone Liberty Bowl on Friday as they look to put a shine on a 2016 season which has fallen below the expectations. The TCU Horned Frogs were perhaps expected to take a step back having lost some big talent to the NFL, but a 6-6 season is a disappointment and they are under pressure to make sure they don't end with a losing record for the year.

It has been no less disappointing for the Georgia Bulldogs in Kirby Smart's first season as Head Coach as they have dropped down to seven wins for the season. There are some positive signs to take into the 2017 season, but the Bulldogs can at least take some momentum out of the 2016 season with a victory in Memphis.

There have been a couple of weeks since Nick Chubb and Sonny Michel both stated they would return to Georgia for another season in 2017 having both been expected to move onto the NFL Draft. It was a surprise for the Bulldogs nation when you think both have been a little critical of some of the play-calling earlier in the season and Smart's decision to move away from the run.

They won't move away from the run in this one if there is anything smart being game planned into this Bowl Game. Both Chubb and Michel will have noted how the TCU Defensive Line had been worn down later in the regular season and the Bulldogs should be able to run the ball in this one and keep their young Quarter Back in third and manageable spots.

Jacob Eason's teething troubles at Quarter Back affected how well Georgia were able to play in the middle of the season which contributed to their 7-5 record. His Interceptions were a concern, but the Bulldogs being able to run the ball will take some of the pressure off Eason's shoulders, while the TCU Secondary have not been turning over the ball as much as they would like in recent games.

Turnovers has been a big part of how the Georgia Bulldogs Defensive unit have thrived this season and they will be looking to slow down a TCU Offense who had just begun to struggle down the stretch with tougher opponents in front of them. The line of scrimmage is going to play a big part in this game as Georgia's Defensive Line have been very strong for much of the season and will feel they can contain Kyle Hicks at least to the point of forcing Kenny Hill to make some big throws from the Quarter Back position.

Hill has been put under some pressure behind his Offensive Line and that has led to too many mistakes from the Quarter Back. That could be an issue in this one with the Bulldogs Secondary thriving on mistakes by the opponent's Quarter Back and I can see extra possessions being a key in this Bowl Game.

The money has come in on the TCU Horned Frogs which has inflated this spread to above a Field Goal in favour of the Big 12 team. However I like the underdog in this one to keep it close by running the ball very well and then creating a couple of turnovers to give them the edge and I will take the points here.

Stanford Cardinal vs North Carolina Tar Heels Pick: The Hyundai Sun Bowl looks like it is going to be a very interesting one between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Stanford Cardinal. Both teams have perhaps fallen slightly short of their goals for the 2016 season but they have had some big wins while the two schools are losing some big talent to the NFL in the coming months prior to the 2017 season.

At least the Tar Heels will be able to call on their projected First Round talent in the Sun Bowl with Mitch Trubisky leading the way at Quarter Back, but Christian McCaffrey has decided he would not take part for the Stanford Cardinal. That has been a controversial decision from the Running Back, but I have to say I can't argue with securing his future instead of playing his last game for his school.

McCaffrey has been banged up at times this season which ended any hopes of winning the Heisman Trophy, but Bryce Love came in and played well in his stead. While there is a drop off at this stage of their careers, Love could be the next big time Running Back coming out of Stanford and I can see him having a very big say in this Bowl Game. The Tar Heels Defensive Line has struggled to stop the run all season and this is going to be a key part of this Game if they are unable to stop Stanford being able to hand the ball off to Love for big gains through this game.

It will be more difficult for Stanford if they are going to rely on Keller Chryst to have to throw the ball from third and long spots, but the young Quarter Back has played well since coming in to replace Ryan Burns. Importantly he has not turned the ball over and this should mean Stanford are able to produce a number of scoring drives in the Sun Bowl.

Running the ball is likely to be the call on most downs for the Stanford Cardinal, but North Carolina have a lot more balance to their Offense which should keep the chains moving. Trubisky is being suggested as the top Quarter Back to be taken off the board in the NFL Draft in April and he has had a strong season for the North Carolina Tar Heels, while he would have looked at the way the Stanford Secondary played at the end of the regular season to suggest he will find holes to throw the ball into.

Trubisky is aided by the fact that Elijah Hood has been able to establish the run and the Stanford Defensive Line is not as strong as previous seasons. Hood should be able to move the chains and at least keep the Offense in third and manageable situations in this Bowl Game which will give the Tar Heels a chance for the upset.

The absence of McCaffrey may not be as big a deal as it seems and I think both teams will have their successes on the Offensive side of the ball. It really may come down to which of the teams win the turnover battle to decide the outcome of this game, but I am leaning towards the Tar Heels with the points with the balance they should have on the Offensive side of the ball.

Stanford do have the momentum with their run at the end of the season, but I think the Tar Heels will load the box and make a couple of stops of their vaunted rushing Offense. That can be a difference maker in a game that could be decided by very little and I will take the points with the Tar Heels.

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs Tennessee Volunteers Pick: The Nebraska Cornhuskers were surprising contenders in the Big Ten for a long time in the 2016 season having recovered from a poor 2015. They fell short in the end, but this is a season of improvement compared with the Tennessee Volunteers who were supposed to be playing in the SEC Championship Game and a dark horse to make the National Championship Play Offs.

The Volunteers failed to win the SEC East though even after beating eventual Division winners Florida in what has to be seen as a season of underachievement. It is important for Tennessee to finish the season on a high at the Music City Bowl else we could see Butch Jones going into the off-season on the hot seat.

Tennessee would have been expecting to play in a much bigger Bowl Game than the one they have been given, but this is a game that is set in Tennessee so the fans will be out in large numbers to support their school.

Injuries should be a big factor in this game with the Cornhuskers hurting badly at the moment. It might actually make up for the fact the Volunteers have been worn down Defensively as Nebraska misses both Tommy Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp, the starting Quarter Back and leading Receiver on the team. That might mean Nebraska are not able to expose the holes in the Secondary of the Volunteers with Ryker Fyfe taking over at Quarter Back.

Instead the Nebraska Cornhuskers may lean on the running game to keep the chains moving against the Tennessee Defensive Line which gave up 6.6 yards per carry in their last three games. Keeping Fyfe in third and manageable spots will at least give the Quarter Back a chance as he won't be feeling the pressure to make the big plays throughout the game and gives the Cornhuskers an opportunity in this one.

The Cornhuskers may also point to their strong Defensive unit to try and limit what Tennessee are able to do on that side of the ball and keep this one closer than anticipated. Joshua Dobbs is finishing his career at Quarter Back for the Volunteers, but he will have a tough test against this Cornhuskers who can get pressure up front which can force Dobbs to try and make plays under pressure.

The big battle is going to be at the line of scrimmage where Nebraska have been able to slow down the run, but face a Volunteers team who had some huge gains on the ground as they closed out the regular season. Dobbs is a threat to move the chains with his legs and Tennessee have shown they can move the chains on the ground even though Jalen Hurd has decided to move on.

However doing that against the Cornhuskers Defensive Line won't be easy and it will be that line of scrimmage that determines the way this game goes. I do think Tennessee will find a way to establish the run though and that will put pressure on the banged up Offense to try and keep up with a Volunteers team who scored at least 34 points in each of their last four regular season games.

It should be a close game for a while, but ultimately I do think Tennessee will pull away with the motivation of playing in front of a majority crowd that will be rooting for them. It's a big number, but the injuries on the Nebraska Offensive unit may make it impossible for them to stay with the Volunteers and I will back Tennessee to cover.

Saturday 31st December
Washington Huskies vs Alabama Crimson Tide Pick: The Peach Bowl hosts the first of the College Football Play Off Semi Finals on New Year's Eve and it is no surprise that future editions of the Play Offs will not be played on this day. The viewers will be there, but plenty more are going to be outside and enjoying the final day of the year which is obviously going to have an affect on the ratings.

On the field this is an interesting game between the Number 1 and Number 4 Seed as the Washington Huskies try to upset the odds against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The latter are not only a big favourite to win this game, but they are a big favourite to win the entire National Championship again.

The big question mark around the game is whether the Washington Huskies Defensive unit can do enough to keep the Crimson Tide from pulling away. There have been injuries on that side of the ball that haven't really been exposed down the stretch, but most fans would have keyed in on the defeat to the USC Trojans as an example of what Alabama can do against the Huskies.

The Washington Defensive Line did at least contain the damage that USC could do on the ground that day and they will feel they can at least limit the Crimson Tide on the ground in Atlanta. It can be tough against this Alabama Offensive Line which prides itself on wearing down opponents over the course of the four quarters while Jalen Hurts is more than capable of offering a dual threat from the Quarter Back position.

It might be wise to get Hurts to throw the ball around a bit at the beginning of this game to open up the running lanes and there will be a feeling that Alabama will have success doing that. The Washington Huskies have been able to turn the ball over, but Hurts has looked after the football more often than not and the Crimson Tide are not afraid of dialling up surprising plays to keep the Huskies off balance and spark the Offense.

The Alabama Defensive unit are also capable of sparking the Offense by turning the ball over and this is the toughest test Jake Browning and the Washington Huskies will have faced since scoring 13 points in the loss to the USC Trojans. Running the ball is going to be a big problem for the Huskies, which is key to their Offense, and that might make life difficult for Browning as it did when the Huskies struggled against the Trojans.

Browning will have time in the pocket because the Crimson Tide have just struggled for a strong pass rush, but they make up for that with one of the best Secondary units in the College Football ranks. It will be tough for the Quarter Back to make plays against this Crimson Tide defence with consistency and the turnovers could be a problem if Alabama get in front and Washington are forced to sit in obvious passing situations to get back into the game.

This does feel like it will be a close game and so the first reaction would be to think about taking Washington with the points. However I think Alabama are considerably stronger than the Huskies and I expect that to show up over the course of the second half as their superiority begins to show in the trenches.

The Crimson Tide haven't just been winning games, but winning dominantly and I think they will prove too good for the Number 4 Seed with a win by a couple of converted Touchdowns in the first Play Off Semi Final.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs Clemson Tigers Pick: These two schools have both played for the National Championship in recent memory with Ohio State becoming the first team to win the Play Offs. Last season the Clemson Tigers came up short when they won their Semi Final but fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship Game and both schools will feel they have the experience to use to their advantage in this huge Semi Final at the Fiesta Bowl.

The season prior to the first Play Offs in College Football, Clemson beat Ohio State in a big Bowl Game, but I don't think that has an affect in this Bowl Game.

It is surprising that the Ohio State Buckeyes head into the Semi Final as the favourite when you think they did not win the Big Ten Conference. Even their mere participation in the Play Offs raised some eyebrows, but I do think the Buckeyes are one of the top four teams in the nation and were more deserving than the Penn State Nittany Lions who ended up winning the Big Ten Conference Championship Game.

Part of the reason the Buckeyes are favoured might be the fact that the Clemson Tigers did have some struggles down the stretch. A loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers and then being pushed all the way in the ACC Championship Game against the Virginia Tech Hokies has raised questions, but the Tigers might have been all about the Play Offs and I think we will see the best of Clemson in this Semi Final.

Both teams have prided themselves on the Defensive side of the ball which has helped them to their 11 or more wins this season. It will come down to whether JT Barrett of Deshaun Watson can make the bigger plays from the Quarter Back position as both do go about things a little differently.

Barrett can pass the ball, but he is also a threat to run and the line of scrimmage is going to be so important as the Clemson Tigers try to lock down the Buckeyes running game. The Tigers Defensive Line have been able to get some penetration into the backfield when Barrett drops back to pass and I do think the Tigers will feel they can match up well with the Ohio State Buckeyes on that side of the ball.

While Watson can also run the ball for the Clemson Tigers from the Quarter Back position, he is better known for the ability to throw the ball downfield. Interceptions have been a problem for Watson at times, and he has to be aware of how good the Buckeyes Secondary have been when it comes to turning the ball over.

The Tigers are also expected to have some problems running the ball and this looks to be a game in which the team who can impose their will at the line of scrimmage will win out. It does feel the Ohio State Buckeyes have the edge there and being able to go against the public feeling is a benefit in this one.

I feel Urban Meyer is the better Head Coach and can make the better adjustments in a close game too and I like the Buckeyes to just be a little better running the ball which helps them come through in a close game.

MY PICKS: Miami Hurricanes - 3 Points @ 1.91 Stan James (1 Unit)
Utah Utes - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Oklahoma State Cowboys + 3 Points @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Georgia Bulldogs + 3.5 Points @ 1.86 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
North Carolina Tar Heels + 2.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Tennessee Volunteers - 7 Points @ 1.95 Coral (1 Unit)
South Alabama Jaguars + 14.5 Points @ 1.83 Bet365 (1 Unit)

Florida State Seminoles + 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 13.5 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Ohio State Buckeyes - 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Boxing Day Football Picks 2016 (December 26-28)

The majority of the next round of domestic football matches will be played on Boxing Day, but the Premier League has shifted a couple of live games across Tuesday and Wednesday too. The Championship has added a couple of live games on the Tuesday.

We then will go into the final games of the 2016 calendar year later in the week as the football comes thick and fast after a 'Winter Break' of a week since the last games were played.

Watford v Crystal Palace Pick: The first game up in the Premier League on Boxing Day comes from Vicarage Road and Crystal Palace will have a new face in the dugout to help them change their fortunes.

It was no surprise that Alan Pardew was let go as manager after struggling throughout the 2016 calendar year, while the arrival of Sam Allardyce will come with some controversy. His ending as England manager would be the source for that, but Allardyce is known for keeping teams well established in the Premier League and looks a good fit for Crystal Palace.

It will take time for him to get his ideas across and I am not sure he has that ahead of this Boxing Day game at Watford. The defensive problems will need to be resolved in the coming weeks, but this game might come too early and backing at least three goals to be scored between these teams looks a big price.

Crystal Palace have conceded at least three times in their last 4 away games and Watford have been better going forward at home which suggests they can expose those vulnerabilities. On the other hand, Watford have had just a single clean sheet at home all season and Crystal Palace have scored at least twice in their last 3 away games.

Games between these clubs have seen 5 of the last 7 finish with at least three goals and I will back that to happen in the opening game in the Premier League on Boxing Day.

Arsenal v West Brom Pick: There have been some excuses made in the last couple of Premier League losses for Arsenal, but they should apportion some of the blame to themselves for not putting their foot down when having Everton and Manchester City under the cosh. Failing to get any points from those couple of League games despite leading 0-1 is on Arsenal and the title challenge is already facing some difficulties.

The side have a chance to at least head into the 2017 calendar year with some momentum as they play their final game in 2016 at The Emirates Stadium. Arsenal won't take West Brom lightly having seen how well the latter played at Stamford Bridge when they faced Chelsea, but Tony Pulis sides tend to struggle here.

A problem they have is sitting back and allowing Arsenal to dictate the play which suits the home team fine. Letting Arsenal have the play gives them the opportunity to record a decent win here and 4 of their last 5 home wins against West Brom have come by a couple of goals.

Arsenal have beaten Bournemouth and Stoke City by a couple of goals in their last 2 Premier League games here and I like the home team to win by at least two goals at odds against.

Leicester City v Everton Pick: This is a big Premier League game for both Leicester City and Everton who are hoping they can start building some positive momentum to take into the 2017 calendar year.

The signs are pointing to an improvement in the Leicester City performances, while they have been much better at home which should inspire some confidence even without Jamie Vardy. That can be coupled with Everton's away struggles and Leicester City could be a favourite to win this one.

However they are missing two of their first choice back four through suspensions and Everton have shown they can score goals away from home. That should help them play a part in this one and 6 of the last 7 fixtures between these clubs have ended with at least three goals shared out.

At odds against, I will back that number to be reached again with both teams playing their part in this one and the edge likely to be given to the home team.

Manchester United v Sunderland Pick: The big story is going to be David Moyes returning to Old Trafford, but I hope the majority of fans don't bother booing someone who was simply out of his depth when managing the club. I don't believe in booing former players or managers, even if some idiots believe booing a current player is the right way to go about things.

On the pitch Manchester United look to have got all of their players available for selection in this one aside from Luke Shaw and they are in better shape than Sunderland. The away squad has been decimated by injuries, especially in midfield, and that should mean Manchester United have the majority of control and create the most chances in this one.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the form he has been in, Manchester United have been threatening to hand out a big victory over someone and I think this could be the game. Sunderland have lost comfortably at Liverpool and Swansea City in their last couple of games, and Manchester United have been playing well enough to make it another solid away loss for The Black Cats.

It feels like this could be a long day for David Moyes and his team and an early goal should open things up for Manchester United. I will back the home team to win by at least two goals and feel they can go even further in what would be the second most comfortable win at Old Trafford in the Premier League this season.

Hull City v Manchester City Pick: There is a big transfer window coming up for Hull City who are trying desperately to extend their stay in the Premier League and need to bring in some new faces. Going into Christmas Day bottom of the Premier League has proved to be a death knell for some many clubs over the years, but Hull City can at least say they are still in touch with the teams above them.

Anything they can get out of this game will be seen as a bonus as Manchester City head to the North East as big favourites to win the last live Premier League game on Boxing Day. The win over Arsenal would have boosted the Manchester City confidence although their last away game was a 4-2 loss at Leicester City.

I am not sure Hull City have the attacking threat to hurt this Manchester City team like Leicester City had and I think it is going to be tough for the home team to stay with them if Manchester City produce the same level as they did in the second half against Arsenal.

The last 2 visits to The KC Stadium have ended in wins by at least two goals each time for Manchester City and I think the away team can do that again.

Hull City have lost by that margin to Arsenal and Chelsea in the League this season and half of Manchester City's 6 away Premier League wins have been by at least two goals. At just under odds against, I will back Manchester City to win by a couple of goals here.

Aston Villa v Burton Albion Pick: The form of Aston Villa and Burton Albion at home and away respectively is pointing towards the former Premier League club to get the better of a team that were two Divisions below them last season.

Steve Bruce has been inspiring his team to wins at Villa Park and the confidence looks to have been restored to the side who have scored plenty of late goals for wins in recent games. Now they face a Burton Albion team who have conceded too many goals on their travels and who have lost 4 of their last 5 away games while conceding at least two goals in each of those losses.

Aston Villa haven't been free-scoring but they have been defensively sound which has helped them and I will back them to win this League game and keep the chase going for a top six finish.

Barnsley v Blackburn Rovers Pick: Both Barnsley and Blackburn Rovers have been involved in some high-scoring games of late as both have looked decent going forward, but struggling at the back.

The last 5 fixtures between these clubs have also produced at least three goals, while Barnsley head into this one having seen 7 of their 11 home games in the League finish with at least three goals shared out.

Goals have been flowing in the last 3 Blackburn Rovers games which have all ended 3-2 and I will back at least three goals to be shared out in this one.

Newcastle United v Sheffield Wednesday Pick: There is very little doubt that Newcastle United have the best squad in the Championship but the suspension of Jonjo Shelvey will hurt them. I still think they are likely to be too good for Sheffield Wednesday who have not been as strong on their travels as they have been at Hillsborough and I think that shows up in this live game.

Playing at St James' Park has been good for Newcastle United for the most part, although they have produced a couple of terrible results over the course of the season. However they have goals in the side and I think it will be tough for Sheffield Wednesday to match that in this game.

It will be close but Newcastle United can have enough of an edge to come through with the three points and I will back them to earn those.

Brighton v Queens Park Rangers Pick: There has to be a real fear for Queens Park Rangers that they are slipping back towards the third tier of English Football having recently been playing in the Premier League. Ian Holloway was supposed to arrest the slide, but his time in charge has seen Queens Park Rangers slip to 5 consecutive losses.

That doesn't bode well for them in their visit to Brighton who have been very strong at home all season and playing with the confidence that Queens Park Rangers are lacking.

Brighton have won 3 in a row against Queens Park Rangers here and I would be surprised if they don't extend that sequence. A lack of goals for Queens Park Rangers has to be a big concern and I think Brighton are playing well enough to have a fairly comfortable day in the office.

The home side have won a fair few games by at least a couple of goals at home and I will back them to do that here at odds against.

Derby County v Birmingham City Pick: The sacking of Gary Rowett is going to be a big moment in Birmingham City's season and their finish is going to be determined by this moment. If they end up outside of the Play Offs, the Birmingham City owners will be criticised for sacking Rowett, but earning promotion to the Premier League will give them full backing for this decision.

It will take time for Gianfranco Zola's methods to take hold for Birmingham City and his January recruitments are going to be very important to the success or failure of the second half of the season.

This is a tough place to visit for Birmingham City too and The Blues are not blessed with a lot of goals. That is a concern when you think Derby County have 6 clean sheets in a row at home and I do think the home team will find a goal or two to lead them to the victory.

Steve McClaren has improved the fortunes of The Rams and I think he can guide them to another important win over this festive period as they chase a Play Off spot at the least.

MY PICKS: Watford-Crystal Palace Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Leicester City-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365 (2 Units)
Aston Villa @ 1.75 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Barnsley-Blackburn Rovers Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Newcastle United @ 1.70 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Brighton - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.01 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Derby County @ 1.75 Bet365 (2 Units)

December Update27-29, - 4.95 Units (107 Units Staked, - 4.63% Yield)

November Final40-38-3, + 5.76 Units (159 Units Staked, + 3.62% Yield)

October Final29-41-2, - 21.23 Units (139 Units Staked, - 15.27% Yield)
September Final43-28-1, + 35.17 Units (133 Units Staked, + 26.44% Yield)
August Final31-38-2, - 9 Units (124 Units Staked, - 7.26% Yield)
Season 2016/17142-145-8, + 10.70 Units (555 Units Staked, + 1.93% Yield)

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

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