Archive for January, 2011

The First UKNFL Podcast!

Yes, the waiting is over, the time has come. Introduce your ears to the first UKNFL podcast.
On the show we discuss championship weekend (with special guest Iain Macintosh), look at NFL in the UK, reflect on the season as a whole in the UKNFL awards and throw out some Superbowl predictions.
So get your ears ON IT.
Download by right clicking and ‘save target as’ on this link here (THE PODCAST LINK), or you can listen to it by clicking through on the link.
Later this week it will be available on iTunes. So listen, enjoy, and tell your friends!

(Massive thanks to Chris at Twofootedtackle for hosting it, and the guys at Midtown Studios in Sutton for their studio)

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Jets/Steelers LiveBlog!

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The AFC Championship Game Preview: Jets @ Steelers

 

We’re almost there. With only three games, and four teams left in the 2011 NFL season (excluding our favourite trip to Hawaii next weekend), we know our AFC representative in the Superbowl will hail from either Pittsburgh or the green side of the city that never sleeps. So, let us present the Any Given Sunday (Night) guide to the AFC Championship Game.

 

New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers

 

An AFC Championship game at Heinz Field. This has become a bit of a staple in the NFL over the last ten years or so, with this being the fifth occasion that the boys in black and gold have dragged an unsuspecting victim back to Steeltown in the last decade. Twice they have won the match-up, going on to win the Superbowl in the process, whilst twice they have lost, both to the hands of a certain Tom Brady and his band of Patriots (with a little help from Drew Bledsoe). But this year, there is no Brady. There is no Manning. Hell, there’s not even Jake Plummer. There’s just one quarterback who no-one can really work out. Mark Sanchez, of the New York Jets.

 

The Jets emerged from one of the more shocking divisional match-ups in recent years last weekend in beating Superbowl-favourites, the New England Patriots, 28-21 in their own backyard. Prior to the game itself, the Jets resorted to the down-and-dirty tactics for which they and their coach Rex Ryan have become famous for, drawing Patriots WR Wes Welker into similar unsportsmanlike/hilarious behaviour in a press conference that earned him a place on the bench instead of on the field at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots, whilst not out-classed, were out-played and, more importantly, out-psyched by Antonio Cromartie, Ryan and friends. So, how do the Jets approach the hard-playing Steelers?

 

With respect, it seems. Well, respect, that is, from the former-Steeler in their ranks. Earlier this week, Santonio Holmes called Steelers safety Troy Polamalu “… the greatest player I’ve ever played with” and admits the Jets will have to stay away from him with the ball to have any hope of leaving Pittsburgh with a win on Sunday evening. With the Patriots, and in particular coach Bill Billichick, appearing too proud and dignified to resort to a battle in the gutter with New York last week, the Jets appear to have recognised the Steelers are a whole different ball-game; a hornet’s nest that, if disturbed, will likely sting you. Whether this stifles the Jets’ sense of self-belief remains to be seen.

 

So what of the Steelers. As we’ve said, they’ve been here before, and recently too. Their Superbowl-winning MVP Holmes may have moved on to their rivals, but the Steelers still have a veritable array of talent at their disposal, even before we consider the afore mentioned “greatest player in football” at safety. These stars shone through just in the nick of time against the Ravens last week after a series of turnovers put them in at 21-7 down at half-time. Two touchdowns from ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger at the start of the third quarter later, the game was tied, and the rest of the game was tied up by a Rashard Mendenhall rushing TD to punch in a 31-24 winning scoreline. This victory also drew some respect from another previously foul-mouthed member of the Jets camp, with Antonio Cromartie (a week after calling Tom Brady ‘an asshole’) saying “I love Ben, man. Ben’s a competitor”. Praise indeed. Are the Jets worried?

 

Players To Watch

 

The Steelers are favourites to win this game, meaning the Jets may spend a bit of time of the back foot. So this week, we choose Darrelle Revis at cornerback at our player to watch for New York. In recent weeks, Revis outrageous pace and athleticism has taken out some of the most threatening receivers out of the game at key moments. Deion Branch suffered for the Patriots, Reggie Wayne couldn’t get out of the blocks for the Colts, and all this time, the MVP quarterbacks for these respective sides had to resort to a rather shaky plan B. Plan B didn’t work, and the Jets came away with a win. This week, Revis will have his sights set on Mike Wallace, and if he can take away Big Ben’s big play down the field, and his linemen can keep the QB in the pocket, the Jets may just have a shot at the Superbowl.

 

It’s tempting to suggest keeping an eye on the entirety of the Steelers offense and defence, such are the talents they have the potential to burst out with. However, if you saw the Steelers go down 22-17 at Heinz Field to the Jets in Week 15, you may have missed a certain million-dollar haired safety sitting out. Sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole tale, but when Pittsburgh are a quite astonishing 31-8 with Troy Polamalu in the side, and 6-7 without him, the importance of one of the league’s greatest ever defensive players cannot be underestimated. Without Polamalu in Week 15, a sack-shy Steelers side (getting to Sanchez only once) allowed the Jets quarterback to make short, safe passes upon the blitz, leaving the Jets to hold onto the ball for large portions of the game away from home. With Polamalu in the side, that option is gone. If Sanchez wobbles, that balls goes right to the hair, and the Steelers win.

 

Prediction

 

Sorry Jets fans, but it’s the end of the road. Far be it from me to mock a side that has swept aside the Colts and the Patriots in recent weeks, but I think we can all agree that, despite fantastic Jets performances in both, we saw a beaten-up Colts side and a frankly weak Patriots outfit fall victim to Rex Ryan and his merry men. This week, there has been no mention of grudges, no trash-talk, no shouting and balling. The Jets are eerily quiet, and if you listen closely, you can hear that Steel bell tolling. Pittsburgh by 14.

 

David Dickson.

NFC Championship Preview – Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

So here we – championship weekend. And for the first time since 1990, we have a division rivalry game for the NFC championship – the Packers at the Bears. I cant quite believe we’re here already, the season goes far too fast. It does seem to just get better and better the closer you get to the Superbowl though, so strap in this weekend, it’s going to be a screamer. Lets take a look at the NFC side.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

The Green Bay/Chicago rivalry is the longest standing rivalry in the NFL, stretching back to 1921 and after this weekend will stand at 182 games. Honours were even in the regular season, with Chicago winning 20-17 back in September and the Packers getting their revenge (and a ticket to the playoffs) with a scrappy 10-3 win in week 17.

That, of course, will not matter. It is the playoffs after all, whatever we could take from those 2 games about this matchup is ancient history – these are 2 different animals now.

It seems like Green Bay has caught the playoff momentum bug, and they’re looking very tough to stop now. Last week, the Packers brushed aside the Atlanta Falcons (in the Georgia Dome) like they were a fly causing a nuisance. Aaron Rogers was in stunning form, playing what was possibly the best game of his career. Rogers only missed on 5 of his 36 pass attempts and accounted for 4 TDs (3 passing, 1 rushing) in a 48-21 crushing. Rogers definitely seems to have that big game mentality needed for the playoffs. The only thing that kept him from making a longer run in last years post season was being outgunned by the great Kurt Warner.  The big question for the Packers will be if he can maintain that playoff-form going against a Chicago team that knows them very well.

On the Bears side, they must be quite scared as they watch the footage from that Atlanta game, but they will come into this game knowing they have a defence capable of slowing down Rogers & co. What will be vital for Chicago is getting Green Bay’s running game shut down early. Forcing Rogers to pass more doesn’t sound ideal for anyone, but if they can handle the run with their front 4 (defensive line, for those of you still on the jargon learning journey!) and expect the pass, that’ll make life a whole lot easier for them as a defensive unit.

Offensively, the Bears are going to have to be at their absolute best in this game. Jay Cutler has had an up & down year, but the good news is he has got better as the seasons gone on, and last week against the Seahawks he threw for 2 TDs and rushed for 2 more. However, Green Bay, of course, are not the Seahawks. Chicago got the job done last week, but they’re simply going to have to be better this Sunday night.

If its true (and I believe it is) that the Packers offence is at their barnstorming playoff best, then theres every chance this turns into a shootout of the kind we saw last year (Arizona Cardinals & Green Bay Packers), and you just cant shake off the niggling thought that Jay Cutler just wont be able to keep up with that kind of firepower.

Players to Watch

He’s one of our favourite players here at UKNFL. He doesn’t see the ball anywhere near as much as some of your household name running backs (Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, etc) but he’s been a key part of a Packers offence that lost their starting RB in week 1. I am of course talking about fullback, John Kuhn. He’s not your typically explosive player, he’s not going to scamper for a 70 yard TD, but he’s such a workhorse in the Packers offensive lineup that none of that matters. As his leading blocker, it was Kuhn that was largely responsible for James Starks 123 rushing yards against Philadelphia. Last week against the Falcons, he touched the ball 4 times (2 carries, 2 catches). 2 of those touches resulted in touchdowns. When the Packers get within 10 yards of the goal line on Sunday, thats when you watch for him. And its likely that not long after you’ll see our Twitter feed loaded with KUUUUUHHHHNNN hash-tags.

I mentioned earlier about the Bears having to stop the run early, preferably using little more than their D-line. A huge part of this will be Julius Peppers. The perennial pro-bowl defensive end is getting on in years a bit now, but he’s still a vicious edge rusher, and plays the run just as well as he can rush the QB. He may have as big a job as anyone this weekend. If Chicago can eliminate whatever rushing game the Packers want to play, Peppers next task is getting after Aaron Rogers, and if he can shake him up a bit that’ll will greatly increase the chances of a Bears win.

Predictions

This is a really difficult one to call. I just can’t tell which Bears team (more specifically, which Jay Cutler) is going to show up. When it comes down to it, I think the Packers will be too much for the Bears in both the offensive & defensive phases of the game.

Green Bay Packers by 10.

 

Andy Stuart

The Playoffs- Divisional Round- Predictions

Remember last week when Jamie and David told you exactly how the playoffs were going to go? Yeah, about that….. Jamie hit 2 out of 4 (Ravens and Packers) whilst David hit just 1(Ravens). Andy was in another country, unaware of even what games were happening so he gets no points. So this week, rather than looking all the way into the future, here are our predictions for this weeks games.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

David: Steelers

Jamie: Steelers

Andy: Ravens

Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons

David: Falcons

Jamie: Packers

Andy: Packers

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears

David: Bears

Jamie: Seahawks (Once bitten….)

Andy: Bears

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

David: Patriots

Jamie: Patriots

Andy: Patriots

So there you have it folks, once again we are ready and prepared to look very foolish come monday morning. Until then be sure to check out our live coverage on twitter (@UKNFL) and stick you predictions for the weekend below.

Divisional Playoffs – NFC Preview (Part Two)

 

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears

 

Sunday. 6pm.

The Seahawks. The Seattle Seahawks. They beat the Saints. The Superbowl-winning, Lombardi-lifting Saints.

 
In case you thought you were completely delirious at around midnight last Saturday, yes, this did actually happen. The Seahawks became the only home team to win on wild-card weekend, and advance with steamroller-esque momentum to a match up with the NFC North-winning Chicago Bears.
The annual debate regarding who-and-who shouldn’t make their way to the playoffs reared its less-than-pretty head once again before the Seahawks’ match-up with the champs, as a lowly 7-9 record was enough to get them to the postseason. This was all forgotten by the time Marshawn Lynch romped, bundled and crotch-grabbed his way to the endzone at the end of a 67-yard touchdown game to win the game and cement Seattle’s status as a real, and dangerous, playoff side. Matt Hasselbeck has been here before (and not just here, to the big one too), Lynch has turned his switch to ‘beast mode’ and Seattle aren’t completely adverse to turning on a decent pass rush too.

 
However, to go any further in this fairytale of a playoff campaign, the Seahawks will have to overcome a Chicago Bears side that few gave any chance of leaving the NFC North last September. But the Packers faltered, the Vikings had to deal with everything that came with employing Brett Favre, and the Lions were, well, the Lions (albeit enjoying a better campaign than usual). All of this gave the Bears a leg-up in topping the division, but Jay Cutler’s side ground out victory after victory to help get the other leg over. The Bears, usually pass-heavy, have become more neutral in the latter weeks of the season, with Matt Forte becoming more prominent in the Chicago offense, whilst Brian Urlacher has enjoyed a superb season in leading the Bears in tackles, and will reveal his true importance in fending off Marshawn Lynch come Sunday.

 
Players To Watch

 
If one moment thrilled NFL-watchers last weekend, it was the afore-mentioned, ridiculously enormous, touchdown run by Seattle Seahawks running-back Marshawn Lynch. The 4th-season rusher has shared such duties throughout the season with Justin Forsett, and in doing so has only gained a modest 573 yards, gaining only 3.5 yards per carry. Lynch, however, has the quick feet and sharp change of direction combined with the strength captured in last week’s game-winning touchdown to trouble the Bears from all sides. Laying such a gauntlet last week has also forced the Bears to take serious notice of the ‘Hawks running game, freeing more time for Hasselbeck to consider his preferred options through the air. If nothing else, a spanner has been thrown in the works of Chicago’s preparation, and this alone may make Lynch compulsive viewing on Sunday evening.

 
Quarterback Jay Cutler is not everybody’s cup of tea. He’s relatively arrogant by trade (his arm is ‘stronger than John Elway’s’, doncha know?) but if he beats Elway for his arm, he doesn’t touch him in terms of PR skills. He also enjoyed what might be called ‘a Cutler’ in October’s defeat to the Seahawks, completing 17 of 39 passes and ended up on the floor six times, once in the endzone for a safety. However, this is a different Jay Cutler. The Cutler of October was concussed from a week of nine sacks against a brutal Giants defense the week previous, and with a clear head in a home game against an underdog team in his first playoff game, the 5th-season QB will look forward to impressing. He doesn’t have a shining receiver to throw to, but more a collection of hard-working WRs in the mould of Johnny Knox who could provide the key to the Bears going to the Championship game next Sunday.

Prediction

 
The Seahawks defeated the Bears during the regular season in a 23-20 victory, but beating an injury-ravaged side in Week 6 means little at this stage of the season. If Cutler can perform without being rattled in his first postseason game, the Bears will eek out a win in the same way they have all season. However, if the Bears don’t grab on to Marshawn Lynch, and somewhat Matt Hasselbeck, they could see their postseason go the same way as the Saints did last weekend. I’ll take the Bears by seven, but with the Seahawks the joker in the pack of the entire season so far, this could go either way.

David Dickson.

Divisional Playoffs – AFC Preview

And so, the AFC Divisional games come down to, quite aptly, 2 big division rivalries. Both for the 3rd time this year, the Jets face the Patriots, while the Ravens head to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers.  Throw out any previous numbers or predictions – its the playoffs, its personal, it’s going to grit-your-teeth tight. Buckle up for what could be another couple of hugely entertaining games.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Saturday 15th, 9:30pm

“I hate playing the Ravens.”

You can’t blame Big Ben Roethlisberger for feeling this way. The Ravens have always been one of those hard nosed defences that QB’s hate to go against. Their defence is dangerous at all 3 levels – D-Line, linebackers & secondary. One ray of hope that Roethlisberger may be clinging to is that there is a chance Ed Reed, the Ravens pick-machine Free Safety, misses this game for personal reasons.

Baltimore arent exactly slouches on the other side of the ball though. While perhaps not explosive, they can certainly put points on the board, and with big time play makers like Ray Rice & Anquan Boldin you can’t simply say they’re a one dimensional team.

Pittsburgh are a team made in the same mold. Their defence is mighty. Their offence compliments the D well enough to win games. Lots of games. Like the Ravens, they have some solid playmakers on the attacking side of the ball, Rashard Mendenhall (1273 rush yards) & Mike Wallace (1257 receiving yards) can feasibly score from anywhere on the field, and you cant take anything away from Big Ben either, especially at this point in the season – He’s won 2 superbowls already, don’t forget.

Despite this, both defences are good enough to stop the offences they are facing. As such, this game is undoubtedly going to be won in the trenches. This one could get nasty.

Ones to watch

Ray Lewis. The 15 year veteran linebacker is quite simply the heartbeat of the Ravens. There are few in the league who match his intensity on the field, and he backs up his talk with consistent play. He’s also one to step up his game in the playoffs. If you’re one of those who finds it difficult to get excited by defensive play, keep an eye on #52. It’s hard not to be fired up by his energy, even through the TV.

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, there may not be a player in the leage who polarises his team as much as Troy Polamalu does for the Steelers. He anticipates the game so well, and it’s for that reason that he is so often able to come up with those game-changing plays – picks, forced fumbles, sacks, etc. You can expect him to leave this game with at least one big number on his stat line. Big Ben may hate playing the Ravens, but I cant imagine Joe Flacco enjoys it too much either when he looks up and see’s Troy lurking.

Prediction

It’s not going to be high scoring. Despite 2 decent offences, it will likely be a defence dominated game. Pittsburgh will be fresher, Baltimore have some good momentum. In truth I think the Steelers are the better team, but I’m going with the Ravens on this one. Not by much though. Baltimore by three.

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

Sunday 16th, 9:30pm

If you’ve been paying attention to the media coverage of this game, you’ll have seen some cracking trash talk. Rex Ryan is always good for it, claiming that this game is all about Rex Ryan vs Bill Belichick and calling out Tom Brady for having poor work ethic (comparatively to Peyton Manning). Pretty bold for a man who’s team was beaten 45-3 last time these teams faced off. Still, you have to love it. Even Antonio Cromartie got in on the action: “Tom Brady? He’s an asshole, f*** him.”

Fun though it is, in reality the Jets have a huge task on there hand if they want to make it to the championship game. The Patriots are undoubtedly the favourites for the Superbowl, and they are playing wonderful football. Brady has had a magnificent season – 3900 yards, 36 TD’s and only 4 INTs. Thats about as close to perfection as it gets in the NFL, and he has this very youthful team working with such efficiency it looks like you’re watching veterans.

The Jets are also a very good team. On paper, they’re probably better than the Patriots at most positions (excluding QB), and I wouldn’t expect a repeat of that week 13 thrashing. They’re going to need all they’ve got to win it though, and I expect the deciding factor will be if Mark Sanchez is in the mood to put up points. We’ve seen a few times this season the Jets offence simply not clicking – Only 9 points against Baltimore, none against the Packers and 6 against Miami. That wont fly against New England, and despite having one of the best defences in the league, I think they’re going to need to put 30 points on the board to upset the Patriots.

Ones to Watch

LaDanian Tomlinson is a vastly experienced back, and has enjoyed a solid return to form with the Jets this year, however, it is his backfield partner, Shonn Greene that could be the game changer in this one. He didn’t put up huge numbers in the regular season while sharing carries with LT, but he exploded in the playoffs last year, and I can see him doing the same again.

For the Patriots, I’m going to be a little more obvious. If you can get past the hair, watching Tom Brady play quarterback is like watching a surgeon at work. He’s made so few errors this season and I expect that form to continue here. Like him or not, you have to appreciate he’s one of the best to play the game and a certain future Hall of Famer. Sit back and enjoy him at work.

Prediction

As I mentioned, the Jets are going to have to be faultless to get by the Patriots in this game. I don’t think they will be. I can see this one getting really personal, and though I think it’ll be quite high scoring (relatively to Ravens – Steelers…), but ultimately Tom Brady will play better than Mark Sanchez. Patriots by 10.

Andy Stuart