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Monday, 3 September 2012

The UK Inter-Blog Prediction Competition and Games of the Week: Week 1

There's a buzz of excitement in the air - and why shouldn't there be? In just two days, the 2012 NFL season kicks off in New Jersey as the reigning champion New York Giants take on "America's Team" (allegedly), the Dallas Cowboys; and that means it's time for TPL to start publishing our weekly predictions.

But this year, we're doing something a little different. In 2011, we had an internal competition as to who predicted the most games correctly. In 2012, we're going bigger; we are delighted to announce the first ever UK Inter-Blog Prediction Competition! Each week, alongside our own predictions, we'll have predictions from three excellent British blogs, as well as those of an equally excellent British sports podcast: Until Kickoff, v2journal, Second City Fanatics, and TomTomSports. Only one blog can be crowned King of NFL Predictions. We might even get a trophy made. (We probably won't.)

We're also bringing back our "Games of the Week", where each of us argue which game is the must-see matchup of the weekend; but this year, you'll have four different cases made, as each week, one of the four blog in the competition will give their opinion too.

Games of the Week, and the first set of predictions for the 2012 season, after the jump...

 Toby's Game of the Week: Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) @ Denver Broncos (0-0) - Sunday 8:30pm EST

The others can yack about Bountygate Vs. RG3 or the could-have-been from last year but there's one game that everyone has been talking about allllll summer, and that's the return of Peyton Manning.

As crazy as it seems, Peyton hasn't faced off against the steel curtain since week 10 in 2008, where he won 24-20. He's only faced them 4 times, including one play-off game, so there isn't exactly much history here to work with. But then again, what do you do with the history of a Quarterback who has, potentially, changed so much over the last 12 months?

Toby: Can #18 still be the
Peyton of old?
We all know Peyton Manning to be an incredibly good player, bouncing in the pocket and firing the ball around the field with pinpoint accuracy. Whether or not he can still do that is very questionable. It's been a bit of a rough pre-season for Manning, he's struggled at times to get the ball out to the right side and down the field. Some of the old zip seems to be gone. And then there's all the new teammates to get used to. He could have used a nice, easy week 1 game. But instead, he gets James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and the great mind of Dick LeBeau.

The Steelers will have revenge on their minds. Sure, it's not the same guy under centre, but the wildcard loss was difficult to swallow for the Steelers and they'll be seeking pay back.

Big Ben is healthy (almost) but the loss of 1st round pick David DeCastro to a nasty knee injury is a brutal blow to what was a shaky O-Line at the best of times last year. They could well find themselves vulnerable to the Broncos pass rush, and without Mendenhall the run game is going to be weaker too.

But, Mike Wallace has finally rocked into camp and signed his Restricted Free Agent tag which will increase the threat of the passing game. Antonio Brown had a great 2nd half to 2011 and looks set to continue that good work this year. And as for the D? Well despite the cuts made to the veterans in the front 7 there is plenty of talent there waiting in the wings so I expect it to be something of a brutal fight in the trenches.

I honestly have no idea how this is going to play out. I was going to flip a coin to predict this one, when I remembered an old betting rule: Never go against Peyton during a night game. He seems to find an extra gear in prime time clashes. And for now, I'm going to stick with that rule until I see with my own eyes that it no longer holds.

Phil's Game of the Week: San Francisco 49ers (0-0) @ Green Bay Packers (0-0) - Sunday 4:25pm EST

This could well be a bookend fixture. It's starting the season for these two teams in week 1, and it could well be almost the very end of the season too if both perform as well as many expect and reach the NFC Championship game. This really is an intriguing game; not just because these are two powerhouses of NFC football, but because they compliment and contradict each other all at the same time. Aaron Rodgers and his WRs are arguably the most dynamic offensive unit in the league, whilst the 49ers had one of the best overall defences in the NFL in 2011. The 9ers D strength is really in the run game however, so can Rodgers and co pick their way through this team like they done to so many others over the past few seasons.

Phil: SF @ GB will be a game of
strength vs. strength, weakness
vs. weakness
When you flip the battle on it's head, the Packers pass D was pretty woeful last year, relying solely on turnovers to stay alive, whilst the 9ers O was a dink and dunk offense lead by Alex Smith that failed to consistently challenge opposition secondaries despite sucking safeties into the box with their punishing run game. It sounds from these two matchups that GB are better placed to win both, and are therefore going to walk away with this one... Something tells me the 9ers will have something to say about that.

Gur's Game of the Week: Washington Redskins (0-0) @ New Orleans Saints (0-0) - Sunday 1:00pm EST

It may not be the most obvious choice for “game of the week” from a talent perspective, but for my money, there is no game on opening weekend which features better storylines than the the two teams in this contest.

The sports headlines this offseason have been utterly dominated by the Bayou Bounty Scandal; we are unlikely to ever see an offseason news story grip hold of the media with such total abundance again. Even Tebowmania took a back seat to Bountygate, a remarkable feat in and of itself. The fallout from the scandal has been massive. Though the loss of Jonathan Vilma has been incredibly overstated (the quality of his play has dropped, his salary in 2012 would have outweighed his value to the team, and, in the wake of signing Curtis Lofton, if he had succeeded in his legal efforts to overturn the suspension, I fully believe he would have been cut by the Saints anyway), the team did take a real blow in losing its best lineman, Will Smith, for the first part of the season. The bigger loss, of course, is the suspension of not just HC Sean Payton, who was the offensive genius behind the team, but assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six games. Gregg Williams was gone before the scandal broke, but with both Vitt (who doubled as the team's linebacker coach), Vilma and Smith, the defense will be suffering from a major loss of leadership both on the sideline and on the field. On the other side of the ball, Drew Brees is unquestionably one of the best players in the game right now, but as good as his play is, he was never the active play caller and de facto offensive co-ordinator in the same way Peyton Manning has been for much as his career. As such, people who believe that the loss of Payton has been considerably reduced by having Drew Brees back on board are sorely mistaken; with Brees and OC Peter Carmichael running the offense last season, the team lost to the Rams. The world cannot wait to see just how much of an effect the punishments will truly have on the Saints; we'll find out the answer on the 9th.

Gur: Will the Saints do
their job without Payton?
The Saints' storyline alone would give this matchup enough intrigue to be named my “game of the week”; and yet, you even get a second storyline to really make this game a must-watch. The Redskins gave up an absolute treasure trove of picks to the Rams for the #2 pick in the draft, so that they can draft who they hope will become their quarterback of the future. Robert Griffin III brings an incredible skillset to the NFL, one which, while not being unique or recent, Griffin might have more raw talent at than any quarterback seen for years. Yes, that includes Cam Newton. RG3 possess the kind of speed that even most running backs don't have; yet, of any recent mobile quarterback (Newton, Vince Young or Michael Vick), I would argue RG3 has better traditional quarterback tools as a rookie than any of them – in fact, I'd argue that RG3 has a better combination of mobility and speed, and traditional QB skills, than any passer since Steve Young. The Redskins have invested a lot into Griffin, as I've already explained, and in Washington there is a growing belief that he can resurrect the fortunes of both a once-great coach and a once-great franchise. It's a lot of pressure on a young man's shoulders; September 9th gives us the first real opportunity to see how he copes with it.

I've not even touched on the on-the-field play – the raw athleticism and talent of Griffin and the incredibly underrated Washington defense going up against the high-flying, high-scoring offensive machine that is the New Orleans Saints – but that too should present a highly entertaining game in and of itself; but when you add in the culmination of two major storylines that have been building and building throughout the offseason, coming to a head in this moment in the same game, there's no question that this is the game of the week.

Guest Game of the Week: Dallas Cowboys (0-0) @ New York Giants (0-0) - Wednesday 8:30pm EST

By Jamie MacLachlan, v2journal (@606v2AF)

I’ve chosen this game for a couple of reasons, the biggest one being that it means the NFL is really back, no more of these games largely played by backups. On top of that, we get to witness a classic NFC East rivalry game to kick the season off; since 1980 the Giants lead the Cowboys 31-30 with the latest win on New Year’s Day which took the Giants to 9-7 and into the postseason.

While I can’t guarantee this game is going to be quite as exciting as last year’s 34-42 shootout between New Orleans and Green Bay, it should still be an entertaining and tight game as over the last 3 seasons the games between these two teams have been decided on average by 8 points. It’s all set up nicely for a good game, in 2011 the Giants scored the 6th most rushing touchdowns and the Cowboys allowed the 6th least, the Cowboys tied for the second least rushing touchdowns and the Giants allowed the 7th most rushing touchdowns. In the passing game both offenses are better than their opposing defences, on top of this the Giants are going to be missing Amukamara again and while Claiborne could start for the Cowboys he has only taken part in two games, having spent most of preseason with some form of injury so neither of these teams recent 1st round additions at Cornerback will impact greatly on the game.

Jamie: There are plenty of on-the-field reasons that this will be Game of
the Week, but if nothing else, it officially marks the return of football!

Some questions that we get to start getting the answers too from the game: Was it just one good season, or are they really that good? This relates to both Victor Cruz and DeMarco Murray, in the Giants preseason games that I have watched Cruz has continued to look impressive especially with Hakeem Nicks missing, I haven’t been able to catch any Cowboys preseason games but Murray’s stats from the 3 games aren’t overly impressive. What will happen to Dallas’ passing game? Last year Laurent Robinson came from nowhere to became a reliable target for Romo, and he ended up with a team leading 11 touchdowns and 15.9 yards per reception (leading those with over 10 receptions) after moving to Jacksonville via free agency, this leaves them with Witten who has missed most of the preseason through injury, Bryant who yet again has been the focus of media attention and again it’s because of things happening off the field, and Austin whose 2011 season was full of hamstring issues causing him to miss 6 games and post disappointing season totals after two 1,000+ yard seasons.

Did I mention football’s back?

606v2 was created after the BBC announced the closure of their sports forum and aims to be the best 606 replacement. Since then the v2journal was started as a new way to create debate, with most of the UK's big sports having a team of writers. With the NFL being mainly covered by a Browns fan and a Buccaneers fan our articles are better than the teams we chose.


So, here's the main event - the first entries of the year for the inter-blog competition. Make sure to check out our friends at Until Kickoff, v2journal, Second City Fanatics and TomTom Sports - between the five of us, you'll be well covered for all the news and analysis you could possibly want, during the upcoming season and beyond. Enjoy!




Until Kickoff


Second City Fanatics

TomTom Sports
Cowboys @ Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Cowboys
Colts @ Bears Bears Bears Bears Bears Bears Bears Bears
Eagles @ Browns Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles
Patriots @ Titans Patriots Patriots Patriots Patriots Patriots Patriots Patriots
Falcons @ Chiefs Chiefs Falcons Falcons Falcons Chiefs Falcons Chiefs
Jaguars @ Vikings Jaguars Vikings Vikings Vikings Jaguars Jaguars Vikings
Redskins @ Saints Saints Saints Saints Saints Saints Saints Saints
Bills @ Jets Bills Jets Bills Bills Bills Bills Bills
Rams @ Lions Lions Lions Lions Lions Lions Lions Lions
Dolphins @ Texans Texans Texans Texans Texans Texans Texans Texans
49ers @ Packers Packers Packers 49ers 49ers Packers Packers Packers
Seahawks @ Cardinals Seahawks Seahawks Seahawks Seahawks Seahawks Seahawks Seahawks
Panthers @ Buccaneers Panthers Panthers Buccaneers Buccaneers Panthers Buccaneers Panthers
Steelers @ Broncos Broncos Steelers Broncos Broncos Steelers Steelers Steelers
Bengals @ Ravens Ravens Ravens Bengals Bengals Ravens Ravens Ravens
Chargers @ Raiders Chargers Chargers Chargers Chargers Chargers Chargers Chargers

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