Winners and Losers of World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying has come to an end and 32 teams have proven their worth to participate in Russia 2018. Like always, there are teams who qualified at the top of their group and showed amazing growth and potential leading to the World Cup Finals. To contrast, there are also teams who failed to qualify that shocked the world. We will be taking a look at the winners and losers of this year’s qualifying leading up to the World Cup this summer.

Winner: Brazil

After a disappointing 2014 World Cup performance and 2016 Copa America campaign, Brazilians looked to the board of directors and demanded change. Eight-time Copa America champions aren’t supposed to get eliminated in the group stages, but that’s exactly what happened. Brazilians sitting in Gillette Stadium on a windy June night were stunned as the Canaries were eliminated at the hands of Peru by a score of 1-0. In the following days, to every Brazilian’s relief, Dunga was fired, and a new manager was appointed. Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, better known as Tite was selected. Coaching Brazil is difficult because the fans demand perfection, but Tite was up to the task. The 56-year old has a history of success as in managing Corinthians to Copa Libertadores glory in 2012 and beating Chelsea in the Club World Cup final in December that same year. In 2015, Tite guided Corinthians to a Brasileiro championship by racking up a tournament-best 81 points out of a possible 114. Tite is a manager of the people and of the media, which is rare for a coach of Brazil. They say that when the coach has the same starting eleven as the people on the street, that Brazil will win again, Tite has been doing exactly that in World Cup Qualifying. He has been experimenting with young talents such as Gabriel Jesus, Luan, Alex Sandro, Ederson and Marquinhos, while also taking chances on veterans like Renato Augusto and Paulinho, which has seemed to pay off. The media loves him, the fans love him, the players love him and it shows on the field.

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Brazil finished on top of CONMEBOL qualifying with 41 points (10 points clear of second place Uruguay), scoring the most goals (41), and giving up the least amount of goals (11). The Brazilian samba way of playing is back, and the team is playing more fluidly than they ever did under Dunga. Brazil has also earned the number two ranking in the world according to FIFA. If Brazil can translate the performances from this past year to the World Cup, the spectators are truly in for some magic.

Loser: Chile

For the past three years, Chile has been on top of the soccer world. They won two straight Copa America finals (2015, 2016), beating Argentina on penalties both times, and advanced to the Confederation Cup Final this past summer (losing to Germany 1-0). They were in good shape to be in Russia next year, until the second half of qualifying. Chile finished their last five games with one win, one draw, three losses and overall poor performances. To be in the last three major tournament finals and not qualify for the World Cup is a disgrace.

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You can blame it on a lack of leadership, bad coaching, or whatever you want, but nonetheless, Chile will miss out on its first World Cup since 2006. This outcome caused confusion and heartbreak to several Chileans including Arturo Vidal, who retired, then unretired from international play stating, “This is not the end. Realistically, though, it is – Chile’s golden age is over. For Chile’s big three: Alexis (28), Vidal (30), and Vargas (27), this is the end. This was supposed to be the end of a great run. The Word Cup in Russia was going to be their finish line and whether they ran across the line in first place or not, fans would still applaud. Their efforts over the past four years will stick with fans forever, but they will unfortunately not have the sendoff they would have liked.

Winner: Germany

As of now, Germany is the best team in the world. Going 10-0-0 in Group C while scoring 43 goals and only conceding four has been impressive to say the least. Although their qualifying group wasn’t extremely challenging, the Germans put on a clinic in almost every match. This past summer, Germany defeated Chile 1-0 to lift its first Confederation Cup. Numerous awards were handed out to the Germans. Julian Draxler won the golden ball, Leon Goretzka won the bronze ball, Timo Werner won the golden boot, and Lars Stindl won the silver boot. Most of these players that Joachim Low brought to the Confederation Cup were very young, and this team was considered to be Germany’s B-squad. This only means that Germany’s future is bright – possibly brighter than the present.

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Germany was very convincing in World Cup Qualifying, thus being named the number one team in the world by FIFA a couple of weeks ago. Toni Kroos, who came off of two excellent seasons with Real Madrid in winning the Champions League and La Liga this past year, will be Germany’s number one man in the midfield. His vision and tempo have proved to help Los Blancos be successful. Hopefully, he can replicate his stellar club play to the international stage when he hooks up with Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil in their upcoming friendlies.

Loser: Netherlands

The Netherlands were rejuvenated after their World Cup run in 2010. With the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, they were a fun team to watch. After finishing fourth in group play and missing out on Euro 2016 action, soccer fans were starting to doubt the Dutch, as their core golden age players were getting old. The Dutch had a strong start to World Cup Qualifying, but dropped crucial points including an embarrassing 4-0 loss to France and a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria and would ultimately lead to their exclusion from Russia 2018. This is the end of an era for the Oranje and definitely a disappointment for the veteran players.

Winner: Peru

After knocking off Brazil in the group stages of 2016 Copa America competition, Peru’s future was looking bright. The Peruvian team finished in fifth place in CONMEBOL Qualifying with 26 points, barely edging out Chile on goal differential. Led by Sao Paulo FC midfielder Christian Cueva, Peru’s attack and chemistry has been convincing. Striker Paolo Guerrero has been another standout for Peru. The 33-year old plays for Flamengo in Brazil and is a highly rated striker amongst viewers of the Brasileiro Serie A. Failing a doping test in early November ruled him out for 30 days, thus missing the qualifying leg against New Zealand. Although the drug he used was undisclosed, a close source of ESPN Brazil said that it was a social drug. With all of this chaos going on and Peru missing their number one striker, they somehow pulled through and will be in Russia 2018. Their fans are one of a kind and I’m sure that they can pull off some surprises next summer.

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Loser: USA

Not much needs to be said about this one. The USA puts millions of dollars into their program and still didn’t qualify for the World Cup. As if the entire planet doesn’t have enough to poke fun at when it comes to the United States, they had to add getting knocked out of Russia 2018 by Trinidad to it. US Soccer took back their old coach in begging fashion, and he did a mediocre job and made a fool of himself on international television by stating, “I would love to see one of these hotshot teams from Europe come here and play in our CONCACAF qualifying and really get a taste of this and see what that’s about.”

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The only thing he did was put more pressure on his team and made the United States the laughing stock of the soccer world after they failed to qualify. After defeating Panama and putting on an excellent performance in Orlando, everyone expected them to bring the same energy to Trinidad, but that wasn’t the case at all. Everyone watching expected them to qualify in “USA fashion” in the last game at the last possible moment, but that didn’t happen either. The team simply didn’t show up and got exactly what they deserved, so now they will be watching the World Cup with the rest of us this summer – at home. The team was lead by Christian Pulisic, who is a kid. He’s 19 years old and hands down the best player on the squad. Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who are supposed to lead by example, were ghosts for most of qualifying and especially in the last game. Some serious soul searching needs to be done within the program if the United States wants to be taken seriously by the rest of the world and by those “European hotshots”.

Loser: Italy

Italy is a four-time World Cup champion and has been a European powerhouse for generations. In the past few years, Italy has been known for their great defense, especially under Antonio Conte. The shape of the midfield and defense is what got them to the quarterfinal of the European Championships last summer. Key results against big teams like Belgium and Spain gave life to the Italians, but they would eventually be eliminated by Germany in penalty kicks. Italy finished second to Spain in a very weak qualifying group. They were matched up against Sweden in a two-leg playoff. Losing the first game in Sweden 1-0 (even though they dominated ball possession along with the game), Italy desperately needed a result in the second leg. Unfortunately for the Italians, they couldn’t get a goal and would ultimately miss out on their first World Cup since 1958.

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Head coach Gian Piero Ventura received much criticism on his tactics as well as for his lack of charisma. He was often compared to the previous manager, Antonio Conte, and it was never going to end well. Italy desperately needed a playmaker and Napoli midfielder Jorginho was waiting patiently. He failed to get a call up from Brazil so he and his agent waited on Italy. Ventura would eventually call up Jorginho for the qualifying playoff against New Zealand and after seeing his performance it was obvious that Ventura could have used him earlier. Anyone who watched the game saw how he controlled the midfield and looked so comfortable along with his Italian counterparts. Italy was missing a playmaker, but it was too late. Players like Buffon, De Rossi, and Chiellini have most likely played their last game for the Azzurri.

 

Defending Champs Watch: Pats Win Comfortably vs Struggling Broncos

Positives

Special Teams

It’s hard to take much away from great special teams play because it only really shows against bad teams. Isaiah McKenzie’s muffed punt against the Pats to begin the game was his fifth punt return fumble of the season. I don’t put too much into Bill Belichick’s left-footed punter philosophy (Belichick favors lefty punters because the ball spins a different way, confusing some returners), but the Broncos’ special teams coach should have benched McKenzie against a lefty punter when he clearly can’t even catch righties. A win on special teams speaks to the overall ineptitude of the opponent, and the consistency and preparation of Coach Belichick.

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Sunday night was a win on special teams. By the time the Patriots had jumped out to a 20-6 lead with 8:47 remaining in the second quarter, New England had scored 17 of their points off of special teams. Their first touchdown was a 14-yard pass to running back Rex Burkhead, which capitalized on starting at the Denver 24-yard-line as the result of McKenzie’s muffed punt. After a Denver field goal, Dion Lewis returned the kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown. In the second quarter, Burkhead’s blocked punt at the Denver 30-yard-line set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yard-field goal to take a 20-6 lead. Early special teams highlights helped the Patriots jump out to an early lead, and they didn’t look back.

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Congratulations to tight end Dwayne Allen for making his first catch of the 2016 season. Allen, who was acquired from the Colts for a fourth round draft pick, registered his first reception with a 11-yard touchdown catch.

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Tight Ends and Running Backs

The Patriots have seemed to find a new way to preserve Brady as he continues to age. Tight ends and running backs have been integral to the offensive scheme since Rob Gronkowski was drafted in 2010. This year, Brady has preferred targeting running backs and tight ends over targeting wide receivers. This may be the result of injuries to Malcolm Mitchell and, most notably, Julian Edelman. During Sunday’s game, 16 out of 28 of Brady’s completions were to tight ends, running backs, and fullbacks (57.14%). Competitively, out of Brock Osweiler’s 18 completions, just four were to running backs, tight ends, and fullbacks (22.22%).

Negatives

Malcolm Butler

Sunday night was likely Malcolm Butler’s worst outing this season. So far, Butler has had a subpar season in the last year of his contract, but showed improvement in the three games that Stephon Gilmore missed due to injury. Butler was mostly matched up in one-on-one coverage with Emmanuel Sanders, who is not very easy to cover. Sanders made six catches for 137 yards, including a 38-yard completion on Denver’s first play of the game. Butler was in position to make a play on most of Sanders’ receptions, but he was burnt several times. He must play more consistently in man coverage for the remainder of the season, and if he does improve, maybe the Patriots could resign him (unlikely, though).

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Run Defense

The New England run defense on Sunday night demonstrated the importance of Dont’a Hightower in the middle of the group. Denver rushed for 118 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per attempt. Hightower’s season-ending injury will force the Patriots to piece it together against the run, something that they have been having a difficulties with when he isn’t in the lineup. The Patriots currently rank 26th in the NFL in running yards allowed per game with 121.1 yards, ranking last in yards per attempt with 5.0 yards per attempt. Despite missing Hightower on Sunday, the Patriots held Denver to 16 points. However, like Julian Edelman, Hightower’s absence seemingly impacts the game at the worst possible time. For instance, in Week 15 the Patriots play the Steelers in a game that will likely decide home field advantage in the playoffs. With an aged Ben Roethlisberger and a prolific Le’Veon Bell, the Patriots will probably be forced to stop the run if they want the AFC Championship Game to be at Gillette.

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Challenge Flag

Bill Belichick’s mismanagement of the throwing the challenge flag during a catch by Rob Gronkowski was the worst in-game mistake that he has made in a while. It definitely was not as bad as his mismanagement of Jimmy Garoppolo (who he traded for the 49ers’ second round pick, when Cleveland was likely offering at least a first round pick over the offseason), but Coach Belichick is different than GM Belichick. On the Patriots’ field goal drive following Burkhead’s blocked punt, Rob Gronkowski appeared to make a diving touchdown catch that the officials ruled incomplete. Belichick called a timeout before throwing the challenge flag and have the call stand on replay. On a conference call with reporters Monday, Belichick admitted his mistake saying, “I could have just challenged it in the first place. I didn’t do that, I probably should have,” seeming as though he hadn’t thought about it until that very moment. I can’t remember Belichick admitting fault for a miscue on the football field. His acknowledgement of the blunder speaks to the magnitude of his mistake. That being said, first half timeouts are not as meaningful as second half timeouts, and the game was almost over at that point.

Next Game in Mexico City vs. Oakland

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The Raiders are too inconsistent to get a read on. After beating the Chiefs 31-30, they have lost 34-14 to the Bills and beaten the Dolphins 27-24. The secondary should have its hands full between covering Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, especially if Derek Carr is on his game. This is a streaky team and this game will really depend on what the Raiders are able to do on offense. Tom Brady could be in for a long day going up against Khalil Mack, unless the offensive line plays as well as they did this week.

Prediction: Patriots 34, Raiders 17

Moving On: USA’s World Cup Qualifying Catastrophe

Whether you think that the United States got unlucky in their 2-1 defeat to Trinidad or whether you think that they simply got outworked and were lazy on the pitch, one thing is certain: it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on from the old way of doing things. The old coaches, the old players, the old tactics – everything old needs to go and it couldn’t be any more obvious. The excuses are aggravating and the fans deserve more from the team. Nobody wants to hear that it’s tough to get points in Trinidad, Costa Rica or Mexico; if the United States wants to be a top international team someday, it shouldn’t matter where they play.

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“Hotshot teams from Europe” (Bruce Arena) like Germany and Spain don’t care where they play, because if they’re truly good enough, they’ll get results no matter what, and if they did play in the CONCACAF division, we all know that they would finish at the top of the group with a sizable goal differential. Millions of dollars go into the program, and the United States was simply not prepared enough and didn’t show up to play in the qualifying round. The United States could only pull out 12 points in 10 matches and at best played at a mediocre level away from home. It was shameful and they let down an entire nation. The younger generation will not be able to watch them this summer and be inspired by the glory and happiness that the World Cup can bring a country.

Bruce Arena coached the national team from 1998 until 2006, when he was fired because the United States’ failure to make it out of the group stage in the World Cup. Hiring him back after letting go of Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t make any sense at that time. It’s the equivalent of taking your ex back after getting cheated on. It didn’t work out the first time, so why would it work now? What kind of epiphany could he possibly have had that convinced US Soccer that he was the man for the job? Sometimes you need to leave the past in the past, and the USMNT simply could not do so.

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One can’t simply point fingers at the coaching staff, though. The players looked like they wished they were somewhere else Tuesday night, the complete opposite to that of the team that was on the field in Orlando just four days prior. In the first half, the United States looked jet-lagged and created minimal opportunities.

A wise man once said, “If your play isn’t entertaining for the fans, then you aren’t playing the game right.” That couldn’t have been any more true Tuesday night. The first half was a bore, and they tried to fix their mistakes too late. The United States didn’t come to play and they got what they deserved, and now it’s time to move forward.

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This all starts with the youth teams. Ever since the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, the game of soccer has expanded exponentially in this country and kids from New York to California want to get involved. The cost, however, if you’re playing for a team outside of high school can get to be a bit expensive depending on what route is taken. MLS academy teams are fully funded, but with other academy and premier teams, that isn’t always the case. To be apart of the Dallas Texans U14 and U18 academy teams, the cost will run you around $2,000. The price is equivalent for many academy and premier teams across the country. Youth coaches also need to teach tactics earlier on that kids will take into the high school level where they truly learn to hone their skills. They need to stop teaching the kids perfection based on endurance and how to act like robots, and start teaching creativity. When the United States go to the World Cup, fans of other countries compliment the team, not necessarily on their skills, but rather on their work ethic. It’s time for that to change, and it all starts with building skills during a player’s youth.

As fans and supporters of the US national team, we all have different perspectives and ideas pertaining to how to improve the team. Whether your philosophy differs from your neighbor, one thing is evident: change needs to be made and it needs to be made now.

Joe Flacco is NOT Elite and the Ravens Should Sign Colin Kaepernick because Who Fucking Cares

The Ravens suck, Joe Flacco sucks, and our season is over. This may not sound very substantial considering they beat the Dolphins 40-0 just three nights ago, but this is not nearly the same team that won the Super Bowl five years ago. 4-4 is not a bad record at this point in the season by any means. We’ll most likely end up going 7-9, barely missing the playoffs, only to repeat the whole process over again in 2018. Our lack of success right now, in my objective opinion, can 100% be placed on Joe Flacco. Luckily for the Ravens, I have devised a way for them to get rid of Flacco, avoid the cap hit, and escape the eternal limbo of being a fringe playoff team. Listen up, Ozzie*:

*Disclaimer: This article contains little to no actual football analysis. I have never played football in my life, but I got a 3 on my Statistics AP exam, so I’m basically qualified to be the GM of an NFL team.

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Step 1: Addressing the Issue

In 2017, Joe Flacco is not an elite quarterback. Watch him lob a screen pass to Mike Wallace on 3rd and 12 for the 8437th time and you’ll understand. Flacco has only played one season in which he accumulated more than 4,000 passing yards, Our defense carried him to a Superbowl, and he hasn’t been able to bring the Ravens to the playoffs since 2014. Pretty impressive, right? Couple all of that information with the fact that he has one of the worst contracts in the NFL, and you get a player that has stunted the Ravens’ growth for the past five years. Realistically, a 32-year old Joe Flacco is not getting any better. And let’s be honest, the Ravens’ real best weapon on offense right now is the GOAT Justin Tucker. Might as well accept that our best case scenario as a team right now is an early-round playoff exit with him at the helm.

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After watching this dirty hit made by Kiko Alonso a few nights ago, I think it’s safe to say that Flacco joins the old Taylor and Gordon Hayward on the list of celebrities who have died in 2017. Our defense may be one of the best in the league (scoring 20 points yesterday off of turnovers is no joke), but Ryan Mallett is not going to win us any football games. Which leads me to step 2:

Step 2: Signing Colin Kaepernick

I don’t give a shit about Colin Kaepernick, but not in a, “how dare Colin Kaepernick kneel for the national anthem #alllivesmatter” kind of way. It’s absolute horseshit that he hasn’t been signed yet. He’s no Tom Brady, but he is definitely one of the 32 best quarterbacks in the NFL and would be a great replacement for Flacco for at the least the next few weeks.

The Ravens are no strangers to controversy; just look at Ray Rice and Ray Lewis. One of them was a face of the franchise when he beat his fiancee in an elevator, and the latter pled guilty to obstruction of justice in a DOUBLE HOMICIDE. That’s some Aaron Hernandez shit. Regardless, Ray Lewis is still regarded as one of the greatest Ravens of all time. This goes to show that people have no issue forgetting about controversy when it’s convenient, A.K.A. when the perpetrator can really play.

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Obviously, Colin Kaepernick has the potential to be a PR nightmare. However, if he leads the Ravens to the playoffs, he would be regarded as a hero. Considering the fact that half of the team knelt for the week three game against Jacksonville, I am sure that he would be welcomed to the Ravens organization with open arms, by the players at least. You and I both know that whoever the Ravens sign would be signed to eventually replace Flacco, but for the time being, Ozzie can just say that he is on a tryout until Flacco gets healthy.

If he plays well, then we can keep him and let him play for the starting spot. If not, we can cut him after a week or two and everyone will understand. But for the sake of this article, let’s just say he plays well.

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Step 3: Trading Flacco

Joe Flacco’s contract sucks. But why pay him $20 million a year when we can let someone else pay him their entire salary cap? If the Texans can get rid of Brock Osweiler, we can definitely find suitors for a quarterback with a Super Bowl under his belt. Unfortunately, I doubt that the Browns would bite, but another team like that would be perfect. Once we trade Flacco away, we will have all of that cap room to sign some big name free agents. Guys like Alshon Jeffery, LeVeon Bell, and Larry Fitzgerald are all Unrestricted Free Agents in 2018 and could propel the Ravens offense to where it needs to be. We will never be an offense-first type of team, but if we can put a few offensive touchdowns on the board each game, then our defense should put us in a position to win football games.

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Alshon Jeffery (pictured) would figure to be the perfect signing for the Ravens in the 2018 offseason.

So there you have it. It’s not a perfect plan, but I would rather watch the Ravens make an actual attempt at solving their problems than wait until 2020 to try and win football games. Best case scenario, we can be a Super Bowl contender in a few years. Worst case scenario, we gave it a shot. Trust the process, baby.

 

Defending Champs Watch: Pats Win the Super Bowl Rematch

Sunday night’s fog-filled Super Bowl rematch doubled as the Patriots’ best win of the season. Most importantly, the defense was able to shut down the Falcons, a team with a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. That being said, this was far from a statement win. The 3-2 Falcons have been sputtering after winning three in a row to begin the season. In week five, Atlanta blew a 17-0 halftime lead at home to the Miami Dolphins, who outscored them 20-0 in the second half. Given the way that the Falcons played on Sunday, I have a hard time giving the Patriots too much credit. It was a good win because the Falcons are a good team on paper, and the Patriots defense has struggled greatly up to this point, but they will have to play just as well against far better competition if the Patriots have true Super Bowl aspirations.

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Strengths

Malcolm Butler

There is no doubt that Butler’s play this season has been impacted by the big offseason acquisition of cornerback Stephon Gilmore. After the undrafted Super Bowl XLIX hero played himself into being one of the top cornerbacks in NFL, it must have shaken his confidence to see $65 million given to a Buffalo Bill. Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels acknowledged this in the broadcast booth during Sunday night’s game as matter of fact, despite being mere speculation up to this point in the season. It comes as no coincidence that Butler has played much better in the two weeks that Gilmore has missed with a concussion. On Sunday, he was very effective in man coverage, breaking up a pass in the end zone on third and goal early on in the fourth quarter, and recording six tackles including a big hit in the backfield to break up a Tevin Coleman rush. Butler’s play has been encouraging for two straight weeks, and hopefully this trend continues as Stephon Gilmore likely makes his return to the lineup this Sunday.

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Third Down Offense

The Patriots offense was extremely effective on third down on Sunday, converting seven of thirteen attempts. Third down efficiency was one of my biggest concerns following the Edelman injury in the preseason. Thus far, Brady and the offense have proven me wrong, converting on 45.65% of their third down attempts, good for third best in the league. While converting on third down has been an issue at times this season (5-15 against the Chiefs in week one and 4-12 against the Buccaneers in week five), they have been effective for most of the season and especially in the last few weeks. Brady and his group of receivers have really stepped it up on third down. Brady’s statistics in situations of third and six or more have been best that they have been in the post-Garoppolo era (since 2014). He currently has a 65.1% completion percentage and a 124.0 quarterback rating on third and long. The offense has truly stepped it up on third down to help mitigate Julian Edelman.

Offensive Line/Running Game/Dion Lewis

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The offensive line has played well for a second straight week, allowing two sacks for just eight yards and giving the Patriots the opportunity to run the ball effectively. On Sunday, New England rushers combined for 162 yards, the most all season, on an average of 4.5 yards per rush. The running game has been indicative of the improvement in offensive line play, as the Patriots have rushed for at least 100 yards in the last three games. This only happened once last year, excluding the four games that Brady missed due to suspension, and it was in the last three games of the season when the Patriots may have been looking to take some heat off of their then-39 year old quarterback. It is also not a coincidence that in the three weeks, Dion Lewis has been given a larger role and has emerged as the lead back, for now. Lewis has the capacity to be electric, and has the ability to jumpstart the offense. Last year’s AFC divisional game against Houston could have been a much different game if it weren’t for Lewis’ kickoff return touchdown. On a team that is so reliant on the passing attack, Lewis should remain the Patriots’ primary back, unless he needs to be preserved to avoid injury.

Negatives

Stephon Gilmore

The defense has shown improvement over the course of the last two weeks, as Gilmore has been sitting out with a concussion. Butler’s aforementioned recent success is almost certainly a product of Gilmore missing time. It is never a good sign when commentators are debating starting Johnson Bademosi over a healthy Stephon Gilmore. However, Gilmore should be in the starting lineup this Sunday, and should be in man coverage against Tyrell Williams, the bigger receiver in the Chargers’ group of wideouts.

Containing Opposing Offenses

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The defense has had some uncharacteristic issues so far this season. They are currently last in yards allowed per game and yards per play. While it is not surprising that the Patriots are giving up a lot of yards, they typically do not allow big plays. Even though New England finished 25th in yards allowed in 2016, they were tied for eighth in yards per play. Similarly to allowing big plays, the Patriots have failed to contain quarterbacks this year, unlike their history of handily being able to do so. On Sunday, Matt Ryan rushed for 37 yards on three attempts. Allowing rushing first downs to Matt Ryan is extremely problematic for a defense that hangs its hat on discipline. The amount of big plays and lack of containing lead me to question the players’ reaction to coaching on the defensive side of the ball. These are not issues of talent, but rather issues of executing defensive schemes coached up by Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. If the defense is unable to do that, there are bigger issues than just Stephon Gilmore and problems in coverage at hand.

Next Week: Home vs. Chargers

The Chargers have won three straight after beginning the season 0-4. Three of their four losses have been by three or fewer points, and two were lost on missed last second field goals. On defense, they have the formula to beat the Patriots; they are able to pressure the quarterback without blitzing. The Chargers are currently tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks with 23. Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram both rank in the top six in sacks with 7.5 and 8.5 respectively. This will be a big game for the offensive line, especially for center David Andrews and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. If the Chargers are able to get pressure up front, it will be a long and painful game for Tom Brady.

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Prediction: Patriots 27, Chargers 24

The Favorites to Win the 2017-2018 English Premier League

Manchester United has started out strong in the current EPL season by signing Romelu Lukaku from Everton in July. Lukaku snubbed Chelsea, his former club, and instead signed with United for £75 million. The 24-year old has shown his worth by tallying seven goals and one assist in eight matches in the Premier League, while scoring three goals in two Champions League appearances. Manchester United found a real striker in the Belgian, and he has proven to be lethal in front of goal. His strength and shot power almost reminds us of a young Adriano in his Inter Milan days.

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Manchester United has been a bully to the opposition so far by scoring 24 goals and only conceding four. It seems as though the Red Devils are really starting to shine again, as many of the starting 11 have consistently been featured on team of the week selections. Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford, and to everyone’s surprise, Marouane Fellaini, was featured last week.

Fellaini has been criticized by teammates such as Zlatan Ibrahmovic, and slammed by fans on twitter in the past for horrid mistakes and performances. Recently though, the 6’4” Afro-sporting Belgian has been a huge contributor to United’s recent success. With the injury of Paul Pogba looking to be a long-term concern, Jose Mourinho may have found a steady replacement in Marouane Fellaini this year. Unfortunately for United, Fellaini has been sidelined due to a knee sprain on international duty, which means that United needs immediate backup. A possible solution is to call back Andreas Pereira who is currently on loan with Valencia. Another option may be 19-year old Timothy Fosu-Mensah who was loaned out to Crystal Palace. Despite these choices, Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera would be the most logical solution to be placed alongside Matic.

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Manchester City

Manchester City has arguably been the most fun team to watch this season in the English Premier League. With a goal differential of +25 after eight matches, one could argue that City is the strongest team and favorites to lift the trophy in May. The Citizens have four players on the top-ten scorer sheet (Aguero, Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sané) thus far and their chemistry looks better than it did last season.

Kevin de Bruyne has had a great start that included a world-class finish against Chelsea. He has truly earned his Ballon d’Or nomination in the way that he controls City’s midfield game in and game out. Another key player for City has been the 21-year old German, Leroy Sané. His pace and foot skills have earned the youngster praise from manager Pep Guardiola on numerous occasions.

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Gabriel Jesus is another young player who is constantly proving doubters wrong. The Brazilian won the Brazil Serie A with Palmerias and the Olympics with Brazil in 2016. His accomplishments on the pitch earned him several transfer requests from European giants, but Manchester City would eventually earn his signature. Fans were concerned with how much playing time the 20-year old would get, but he has capitalized on every chance he has gotten, scoring seven goals and assisting four times in just 11 games in the 2016-17 EPL season. This year, he has already done enough to score 6 goals, and tally an assist.

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Experts questioned if the partnership with Sergio Agüero in 2017-2018 would actually help the team. Two major strikers playing at once sometimes causes controversy, and many argued that the two would not be able to compliment each other. The duo proved the nonbelievers wrong once again as the goals kept pouring on for City. With Agüero out injured due to a car accident for a short stint, City will look to the young guns to provide precious points to stay top of the Premier League.

 

The Giants Need to Make a Coaching Change

The New York Football Giants have started their 2017-2018 NFL season, which was supposed to build upon their 11-5 playoff season last year, at a dreadful 0-4. For the second time in two games, the Giants lost on a last-second field goal, something t reminiscent of Tom Coughlin’s last season in charge, in which the Giants lost eight times in one-possession games. For the second time in two games, Ben McAdoo’s play calling and decision making have directly led to the Giants losing. Following the aforementioned 6-10 season, Coughlin was relieved of his duties as the Head Coach. He was replaced by McAdoo, who had contributed a few bright spots to an otherwise bleak season as Offensive Coordinator. However, I believe that most of the problems plaguing the Giants currently have still not been resurrected from that 6-10 season, and I believe that in order to fix those mistakes, McAdoo must either be fired, or at the very least, be relieved of play-calling duties.

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In that last season in charge, there was a lack of quality decision-making coming from Coughlin, which led to his firing. Yet, not even two full seasons later, the same poor decision making is rearing its head. The Giants have left points on the field time and time again in back-to-back games, and this has directly led to their 0-4 start. Take for example, last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Midway through the first quarter, the Giants started a drive with rather good field position, starting on their own 37, when a third down and short came up. On a third and one, McAdoo dials up a toss play for a loss of four. Not very many coaches in the NFL are going to be calling for a toss play to the side of your offensive line that is subpar on a third and short. Furthermore, this play would bring the Giants back from Philly’s 34 to the 38, effectively knocking them out of field goal range, with McAdoo opting to punt rather than attempting a 55-yard field goal. With the game continuing as a low scoring affair in the first half, the Giants found themselves having their game-tying touchdown reversed and facing a third and one from the Eagles’ one yard line. Eli Manning fails to find his target and the Giants have fourth and one, and once again we have a fatal faux pas from McAdoo. Rather than taking some form of points from the drive and going into the half down 7-3, the decision was made to attempt to go over the top of the pile, and, needless to say, things did not go according to plan.

While a 55-yard field goal with an inexperienced kicker is somewhat understandable to not attempt, not taking three points at the half and giving your offense some semblance of confidence is absolutely inexcusable. This play-calling that has exhibited cases of being passive at the wrong times and uber-aggressive at the wrong times led to at a minimum of six points being left on the field in a game which would be lost by two. An inexperienced Philadelphia kicker, Jake Elliot, kicked the longest field goal in the history of Lincoln Financial Field, a 61-yarder which left Odell Beckham Jr. and all of the Giants faithful watching with nothing that could be done. It is worth noting that one could put nearly as much blame on punter Brad Wing in this loss, as he shanked his final punt of the game, only 28 yards, leaving the Eagles with the time and the field position to eventually win the game.

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By some unbelievable stretch of the imagination, things would pick up right where they left off very early in the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the Buccaneers taking an early 7-0 lead at home, the Giants began their drive downfield, which stalled on fourth and four at the Tampa Bay 30. Now, most, if not all coaches in this situation would gladly take three points and answer back to the opposition taking the lead on the next drive. McAdoo does not think like most coaches. So, naturally, instead of taking the field goal, McAdoo leaves the offense on the field, resulting in a turnover on downs for the Giants offense, and a huge stop for the Bucs’ defense. This would again directly lead to the Giants losing the game, as the Buccaneers kicked a field goal as time expired to win the game, courtesy of ex-Jet Nick Folk.

There was one more decision that I could not fathom near the end of the game, and that one revolved around the use of the Giants’ third and final timeout. Going into Tampa Bay’s final drive, the Giants did not have all of their timeouts, so their only option was to hope for a stop and play off of the two minute warning. A stop never came, and facing a third and one with 90 seconds remaining, Jameis Winston found his man in Cameron Brate for 26 yards, effectively ending the game. The Giants did still have one timeout remaining, and instead of saving it to potentially ice Nick Folk prior to his eventual field goal attempt, McAdoo called a timeout with 34 seconds remaining following a Jameis Winston kneel on first down. It is also worth noting that the Giants finally managed to get a rushing touchdown in this game (their first of the season), a 14-yard scramble from none other than Eli Manning, who, despite his team being 0-4, should not be shouldering anywhere near the blame that he is currently being given. Manning is sporting a near 70% completion rate on the season, which is good for third amongst qualified quarterbacks, while also having attempted the second most passes in the league to date. Needless to say, Eli is doing just fine. However, the extreme lack of a running game, along with injuries and struggles with the offensive line, and the offense managing to not stay on the field and exhausting their stout defense is what is ailing the Giants this season.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

While I personally did not agree with Coughlin being fired after coaching the team to two super bowl victories, I do feel that something needs to change this season, and there are no more second chances for McAdoo. That needs to start in week five with McAdoo being relieved of his play-calling duties, and if it seems that this was not the problem, the Giants should bring in a new offensive coordinator. There are simply no excuses for a team led by Eli Manning, with weapons in the passing game such as Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Brandon Marshall, to be averaging a meager 15 points per game. Had the Giants been 2-2 at this moment, then many people including myself, would not be calling for changes in the coaching hierarchy. However, with the season looking all but over sitting at 0-4 in a year in which 9-7 is more than likely not going to win the division, things are not looking good.