NFL – Week 2 Preview

The NFL season is upon us and week 1 threw up some surprise results and interesting snippets.  Chief among them is the impressive Brady-Moss combination for the New England Patriots, and a key defeat for the Kansas City Chiefs, who look weaker than we expected this year.

Denver Broncos had a very good summer but very nearly became one of the biggest stories of week 1 until John Elam hit a winning field goal with the clock running to edge his team past a spirited Buffalo outfit.  Elsewhere, the Chargers started off with an expected win, the Colts hammered the Saints in an impressive start to their Superbowl defence, and the Packers surprisingly edged past the Eagles – thanks mainly to an incredible TWO muffed punts!

The biggest match this week is without doubt the matchup between the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers.  The Chargers, who finished the regular season last year with the best record (14-2) will be eager for revenge against the team that knocked them out of the play-offs.  But it won’t be that easy.  New England had possibly the best summer out of any NFL franchise and their new-look offense should put up monster numbers this year.

The recent spying scandal surrounding New England adds extra spice to the encounter.  The Patriots might well lose a round 1 draft pick next season, not a disaster as they’ll have two, but definitely a strict punishement for videoing the Jets’ coaching signals.

Unusually for a big matchup, there is plenty of betting value in this game.

While we think that the Patriots will win, we’re surprised that the Chargers – whose defense looked good last week – are available at 2/1.  We’ve snapped that up, although partially hedged it with a small bet on the Patriots winning by 7-12 points at the tempting price of 4/1.

Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady has a huge arsenal of top-quality receivers this year and none started better by former Vikings icon Randy Moss.  In fact, his nine-catch performance last week will almost certainly lead him to be double-teamed by the defense, opening opportunities for pacey Donte Stallworth, a summer addition from Philadelphia.  We therefore think that the odds on Stallworth scoring a TD during the game offer real value at 5/2.

The Denver Broncos are playing the Oakland Raiders this weekend and the result shoult be a formality.  Denver have strengthened an already-strong team over the summer and won their first match this season, while Oakland had the worst record in the NFL last year and lost their opener to the low-rated Detroit Lions.  Yet we feel the match will be closer than people think.  Daunte Culpepper showed in the pre-season that he can still throw a football and is likely to start this match under center for the Raiders in the absence of regular starter Luke McCown.

In addition, Oakland’s defense was strong last season and may fare better than most in shutting down stud rusher Travis Henry.  We do think Denver will emerge victorious but are attracted to the odds of 11/2 on them winning by only 1-6 points.  In a match which is likely to be a defensive battle, a low points total is also likely. 

The Atlanta Falcons, reeling from the loss of Michael Vick, were as poor as we expected against Minnesota in week 1.  We see no reason for them to improve against Jacksonville, who must win after a disappointing loss to Tennessee.  With Atlanta’s confidence flagging, and real weaknesses in their secondary, new QB David Garrard should have a confidence-boosting game for the Jaguars and we like the odds on top wide receiver Dennis Northcutt scoring a touchdown this weekend (3.3/1).

Finally, we really rate the Panthers this year and Steve Smith showed against the Rams last week how important he is to their chances.  But the Houston Texans are on a three-game winning streak (counting the end of last season) and have playmakers on either side of the ball in Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Mario Williams.  They are available at 2.6/1 to win the match and you might want to think about that one.  The result is likely to be closer than many anticipate.

Recommended bets:

  • Chargers to beat Patriots (2/1 value bet)
  • Donte Stallworth to score a touchdown (5/2)
  • Dennis Northcutt to score a touchdown in the Jaguars-Falcons game (3.3/1)
  • Broncos to beat Raiders by 1-6 points (11/2)
  • Fewer than 39 total points in Broncos-Raiders game (11/2)
  • Bills to beat Steelers (9/2 looks a little long for an underrated Buffalo side)

PS On Monday, Philadelphia play Washington in a key NFC East matchup.  Neither team impressed in week 1 and we’re looking for the Redskins to pull out a shock result to give their season some real momentum.

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Rugby World Cup – Update

The second round of matches is underway in the Rugby World Cup and Sportinvestor’s main comment is that the lesser nations are acquitting themselves very well in France.  Georgia, Portugal, Namibia and Romania have all put in very good performances and we hope that they have the stamina to maintain their level of performance through to the end of the group stages.

England play South Africa tonight, and the Springboks are clear favourites against an English side that has stuttered badly since winning the trophy four years ago.  It could be a crucial match for England, with Samoa likely to put up a strong fight later in the group stages.  We think South Africa will ease to victory here and don’t see much betting value, although the odds on England are almost generous enough to tempt a flutter at 6/1.

We’ve also been studying the draw carefully to see if there is any value in bets on the two finalists.  And the result is that we’ve made a couple of medium-sized wagers.  The Argentine victory over France threw Group D wide open and any one of Argentina, France or Ireland could now finish in top spot.  It is now far less likely that France will be able to avoid the mighty New Zealand up until the final, as we would previously have expected, and the odds of a New Zealand-South Africa final have shortened considerably as a result.

We think that NZ and SA are most likely to contest the final but we think that the odds of 2/1 are too tight to offer any value.  And it is not inconceivable that Ireland will find some form.  If they win their group, the draw opens up for Eddie O’Sullivan’s men and they would most likely play South Africa for a place in the final two.  We think that 14/1 just about offers some value in the wake of Argentina’s shock win over France, although it’s still a borderline call.

Elsewhere, Australia looked strong in their match against Japan (albeit Japan’s second string) and this weekend’s match against Wales in Cardiff will be a very interesting gauge of their form.  If results go as expected (a very big if!) then Australia will meet New Zealand in the semi-finals and I think that they’d present a stern test for the All Blacks.  NZ would rightfully be favourites but they have been known to choke in the biggest matches – albeit mainly against France – and it’s not inconceivable that Australia, led by the evergreen Stephen Larkham, make the final.

With that in mind, we very much like the 16/1 odds of Australia meeting South Africa in the final.  Australia are a strong side and we find it surprising that there is such a gap between these odds and the 2/1 that you can get on New Zealand meeting South Africa.

This is a very good value bet indeed. 

All in all, the early games have done nothing to dispel pre-tournament speculation that the southern hemisphere would dominate the World Cup this time round.  And New Zealand, while worthy favourites, might not be as far ahead of their closest rivals as some might think.

Recommended bets:

  • Australia to meet South Africa in final (16/1)
  • New Zealand to meet Ireland in final (smallish bet at 14/1)

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Twenty20 – England vs Australia

Today England get the chance to knock Australia out at the group stages of a cricket competition.  It doesn’t happen often and it would be delightful to see Collingwood’s men rise to the challenge.  They’re batting first and should go through to the next stage unless absolutely thrashed, thanks to the big victory over Zimbabwe yesterday.

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Twenty20 – Is there an advantage in batting second?

As promised yesterday, this post is a considered analysis of AB de Villiers’ comments that South Africa would look to capitalise on the perceived advantage of batting second during the ongoing Twenty20 World Cup.

The theory behind de Villiers’ comments is compelling.  Twenty20 is a short slog game, which is entertaining to watch but offers the batsmen no time to assess the pitch while playing themselves in.  The suggestion that this would be an advantage to the team batting second is logical insofar as that team would be able to assess the pitch while bowling, both from the ball’s behaviour and from the batting side’s performance.

 A quick glance at recent statistics would seem to confirm the case.  On this year’s domestic Twenty20 Finals day, all three matches were won by the team batting second – Gloucestershire, Kent and Kent. 

In addition, four of the first five matches in the Twenty20 World Cup (including the two involving the West Indies, who were sensationally eliminated by a spirited Bangladesh side today) have been won by the team batting second.  This has included surprises from Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, while the only match to have been won by the side batting first was the mismatch between Pakistan and Scotland.

However, while the World Cup does raise certain questions about trends in international cricket, English domestic Twenty20 results refute the argument of a systemic bias.  Out of 200 results in the last three years (exclusing ties and washouts), 104 matches have been won by the team batting first and 96 by the team batting second – practically a 50-50 split.  Moreover, if we just concentrate on the important matches – ie finals day – five have been won by the team batting first and four by the team batting second (showing that this year’s results were in fact a departure from the earlier trend).  Indeed, the finals day this year was a microcosm of the entire Twenty20 season: this was the first year out of three that the team batting second won more matches that the team batting first.  It is not inconceivable that this is a result of the wet English summer, which has produced slower wickets which might benefit the chasing side.  But there is clearly no evidence to suggest an overall bias.

In conclusion, it is likely that there are sets of circumstances that benefit batting second, as there are in 50-over cricket and in Test cricket.  In the case of Twenty20, it would require sharp analysis and a steady head not to over-force the pace on a slower wicket.  But there are always occasions when the toss seems to determine the outcome of the match and a sharp captain could quickly eliminate any perceived advantage. 

The statistics do not suggest that Twenty20 cricket is more susceptible to this phenomenon than other forms of the game and we would not advise a betting strategy based on the apparently ill-informed comments from AB de Villiers, although we shall be interested to see if a stronger link between batting second and victory develops at international level than than at domestic level.

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Twenty20 exceeding all expectations

We were excited by the prospect of a Twenty20 World Cup but still have to admit that it has exceeded our wildest expectations after two days.

The opener between South Africa and West Indies was a wonderful exposition of brutal hitting, followed by three much closer, and lower-scoring, matches yesterday.  Scotland gave Pakistan a real fright, and the Asian side were somewhat fortunate to recover to post a total of over 170.  If the final four overs had gone differently – quite possible given that wickets had already tumbled – the Scots could have pulled off a famous upset.

Talking of famous upsets, Zimbabwe’s excellent victory over Australia puts the Aussies at real risk of exiting the tournament and shows the importance of a good start with the bat.  After losing four early wickets, Australia could never quite find their groove and Zimbabwe were never really hurried in chasing a target below 140.

Our decision to lay (bet against) strong favourites Australia for the tournament at 2/1 looks to be paying dividends.  We are not going to back them at longer odds to lock a profit as we feel the bet will come good anyway.  But such a move should be considered.

England play Zimbabwe today and it will be interesting to see if the African side pushes on from yesterday’s victory or whether another match has come too soon for them.  We like England for this one.

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Russia Present Stern Test

England’s 3-0 victory over Israel in Saturday’s Euro 08 qualifier was a welcome result for the country’s fans, who had endured a series of disappointments since the encouraging start to the campign under Steve McLaren.

Tonight’s match is probably the most important in the whole group, as it will go a long way to deciding who qualifies alongside Croatia.  England, with home advantage, are rightfully favourites but it would be absolutely wrong to write off a well-organised Russian team that is coached by Guus Hiddink, a well-regarded manager who has been renowned for getting big results in his recent spells with South Korea, Australia and PSV.  Russia will pose England’s defence far more questions than Israel did and it will be interesting to see if Ashley Cole and John Terry, both struggling for form, and Micah Richards, relatively young and inexperienced, can match them.

What we’re saying is simple.  England have a good squad and should win tonight.  But we were astonished to discover that Russia’s odds on Betfair are as wide at 7/1!  For a well-drilled team with a good coach and a goalscoring threat, the odds offer value, even if a draw is far more likely than a Russia victory.  We’re strongly advocating a small bet on Russia to take advantage of the odds – it’s a value bet.

Above all, tonight’s match should be tight and we would be amazed if you didn’t have an opportunity to lay back some of your stake at some point during the game.

Recommended bet

Small-ish value bet on Russia to beat England (7/1)

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Water Polo – National League kicks off

The water polo national league started at the weekend and defending champions Lancaster surprisingly dropped their first points for over a year after being held to a draw by last year’s runners-up Cheltenham.  Both sides won their remaining two games of the weekend.

With Rotherham and Bristol both winning their opening three games, hopes are high that the divison will be more competitive at the top this year.  Bristol meet Cheltenham on Sunday, in what may be a key marker for the young season, and we’re also looking forward to the Cheltenham-Rotherham game on the following Saturday (22 September).

It looks as though it might be competitive at the bottom too, with several draws meaning the bottom six teams are separated by 2 points after three games.

As you’d expect, newly promoted Otter (from London) struggled on their first weekend, with a good performance from their goalkeeper earning some respectability.  But they’ll be pleased with a point from the match against local rivals Penguin, and it’s Scottish side Portobello who sit in the relegation sport after losing their opening matches.  Otter play Polytechnic and Welsh Wanderers next time out (22-23 September) in what may be key games in determining their ability to avoid the drop this season.

Elsewhere, Newton Abbott and Croydon got off to flying starts in Divisions 3 and 4 respectively, while Division 2 starts this weekend.

If anybody can find a betting market on the water polo, it’s a great sport to follow and watch (matches are high-octane and take place at in clusters at weekends) and we’d love to see if any betting value is available.

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