Bengals and Colts claim playoff berths

Updated 25 December 2012
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Bengals and Colts claim playoff berths

SEATTLE, Washington: The Cincinnati Bengals edged the Pittsburgh Steelers to reach the NFL playoffs, and the Indianapolis Colts joined the postseason party by capping their remarkable turnaround in pressure-packed action on Sunday.
The advancement of Cincinnati (9-6), 13-10 winners over their bitter AFC North rivals, and Indianapolis (10-5), who beat the Kansas City Chiefs 20-13, completed the playoff list in the American Football Conference, though seeding issues remained.
The Houston Texans (12-3) failed to capitalize on a chance to clinch top seeding in the AFC by losing 23-6 to the Minnesota Vikings (9-6), who stayed alive for an NFC playoff berth.
AFC North title honors went to the Baltimore Ravens (10-5), who ended a three-game losing streak by dominating the New York Giants 33-14.
Playoff hopes for the Super Bowl champion Giants (8-7) hung by a thread after losing their last two games by an aggregate score of 67-14.
Playoff berths remain up for grabs in the NFC, with the East Division title and a wildcard spot still at stake.
The Seattle Seahawks grabbed one of the NFC wildcard berths with a crushing 42-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers as quarterback Russell Wilson threw a career-high four touchdowns.
The Washington Redskins (9-6) maintained the upper hand in their quest for the NFC East title by hanging on for a 27-20 win against the Philadelphia Eagles (4-11), while the Dallas Cowboys (8-7) suffered a 34-31 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Next week the Redskins, riding a six-game winning streak, host the Cowboys with the winner capturing the division title.
In Pittsburgh, it was a doubly satisfying result for the Bengals whose three-point victory on Josh Brown’s 43-yard field goal with four seconds left to play not only put them in the playoffs but also knocked the Steelers (7-8) out of contention.
It was the first victory for the visiting Bengals over their bitter AFC North rivals in six meetings.
For the Colts, victory over the Chiefs gave them their 10th playoff trip in 11 years but first in that span without Peyton Manning as quarterback.
This postseason berth came one season after a woeful 2-14 record that put them in position to take quarterback Andrew Luck from Stanford with the first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Luck led the Colts to victory over the Chiefs (2-13) by hitting a leaping Reggie Wayne in the back of the end zone for the winning touchdown with 4:08 left in the game.
That connection capped a 73-yard drive that marked their NFL record-tying seventh fourth-quarter comeback victory.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this team, to be associated with a playoff team. What a great win for us,” Luck told reporters.
Luck set the league record for passing yards in a season for a rookie, finishing the game with 4,183 yards to eclipse the mark of 4,051 yards last season by Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers with one regular season game still to play.
Houston slowed down league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson, but the Minnesota Vikings held the Texans to just a pair of field goals in their road victory.
Peterson was held to 86 yards, but quarterback Christian Ponder threw a touchdown pass, Toby Gerhart rushed for a score and Blair Walsh kicked three field goals to lift the Vikings.
Peterson, who had a streak of eight 100-yard games snapped, finished the game with 1,898 yards this season and still needs 208 yards to break the NFL single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.
Washington, who welcomed rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III back to the lineup after being sidelined a week with a knee injury, escaped a scare when Philadelphia had a first-and-goal at the five-yard line with 11 seconds left but failed to score a touchdown that would have sent the game to overtime.
“Winning always cures all ills. It was just good to be back out there with the guys,” said Griffin.
“We’re playing the best ball we’ve played all year at the right time. We’re rolling. We know that we can win any kind of game we have to, whether it’s a high-scoring game or a low-scoring game or a gut-wrencher at the end.”
Dallas rallied with 14 points in the last four minutes to send their game against the Saints into overtime, but they failed to mount a threat with their first possession in extra time and New Orleans (7-8) won on a 20-yard field goal.
The Chicago Bears (9-6) stayed in playoff contention with a 28-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-10).
NFC North champion Green Bay Packers (11-4) maintained their strong form with a 55-7 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans as Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and 342 yards.
Tom Brady threw a pair of interceptions in the first quarter but recovered to lead the AFC East champion New England Patriots (11-4) to a 23-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13).


Others can moan but forward-thinking Wolves have used Jorge Mendes to great effect

Updated 38 min 43 sec ago
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Others can moan but forward-thinking Wolves have used Jorge Mendes to great effect

  • English club have traded cleverly to reach the Premier League
  • Star player Ruben Neves earns considerably less than John Terry

On July 8, Wolverhampton Wanderers signed Ruben Neves from FC Porto for a club record transfer fee of €16 million ($19.5 million). On July 17, Middlesbrough signed Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest for a club record transfer fee reported as “more than £15 million ($21 million)."
Forty-four Championship matches later Wolves have won the division and promotion to the Premier League with their 21-year-old Portugal midfielder contributing six goals and being elected into the Professional Footballers' Association team of the year. Middlesbrough are scrambling for a playoff place with their 25-year-old DR Congo centre forward contributing 14 goals. Assombalonga just scrapes into the Championship's top ten scorers. He did not make his fellow pros' divisional best XI.
Neves is admired by Manchester United. He is envied by much of the rest of the Championship. Under-pressure owners such as Leeds United's Andrea Radrizzani have publicly complained that Wolves are owned by a company that is also a minority shareholder in the football agency that represents Neves, Gestifute.
Leeds have joined other Championship clubs in requesting that the English Football League investigates whether Fosun's relationship with Gestifute breaks the competition's rules. One of their arguments is that Gestifute principal Jorge Mendes' influence on Wolves' promotion campaign represents unfair competition.
“No club may enter into an agreement which enables any party, other than the club itself, to influence materially the club’s policies or the performance of its teams or players in matches and/or competitions,” read a draft letter to the EFL published last month by an English newspaper. “Given the broad interpretation of ‘agreement’ in the FA’s regulations, which can be any ‘agreement, arrangement, obligation, undertaking or understanding whether oral or written, formal or informal or otherwise’, I would invite the FA and EFL to consider whether Mr Mendes does indeed materially influence Wolves’s policies or the performance of its teams or players in matches and/or competition.”
Mendes advised Fosun on their July 2016 takeover of Wolves. The agent advised on the appointment of coaches, initially moving to secure Julen Lopetegui before the Spaniard was offered his national team's top job, and last summer securing Nuno Espirito Santo. And Mendes has worked on some (by no means all) of the transfers with which Wolves built a promotion-winning squad.
All of this is by no means unusual in the world of football. Mendes is recognised as one of the most successful individuals in his profession. His clients including Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, winners of FIFA's world player and coach of the year awards.
The Portuguese agent works with multiple clubs, and has a history of advising owners on the recruitment of multiple key individuals. He helped Chelsea secure more than one Premier League title by bringing Mourinho to the club and following it up with the transfers of players such as Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Deco, Jose Bosingwa and Diego Costa. His work with Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Monaco led to domestic and European success.
For Mendes, the Wolverhampton project falls into a similar category. The idea is to place a coach and footballers in an environment where they can demonstrate their talent and develop their careers. Having owners that buy into this plan allows someone like Neves, who played just 626 minutes of league football in his final season at Porto and was rejected as a transfer option by a number of Premier League and Championship clubs, the platform to rapidly develop into one of the division's most decisive performers.
The approach is logical, intelligent and long-term. It has benefited both the clubs who sign Gestifute players and the players who ask Gestifute to represent them. And at Wolves it has allowed the club to build a team capable of holding Manchester City to a goalless draw on the Premier League champions' own ground then reaching the top tier itself on a controlled budget.
Neves was paid a net wage of €12,500 a month by Porto. At Wolves his remuneration has been greatly improved yet still falls below the club's top wage of £25,000 a week. According to a study by the Sporting Intelligence website, the average Championship first-team salary stands at an annual £631,000. Top earners like Aston Villa's John Terry are said to be on more than three times Wolves ceiling wage.
One club has got its recruitment right and will start next season in football's most affluent league. Others clubs have not recruited as efficiently and are left complaining about an “unfair playing field."
You'd be forgiven for wondering if their energies (and transfer budgets) would be better spent elsewhere.