NFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Gridiron's greatest show gets underway

This season's Chicago Bears have now produced one of the finest defensive runs in a generation (or since the last great Bears defense of 1985.) (AFP)
Updated 02 January 2019
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NFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Gridiron's greatest show gets underway

LONDON: So, it has finally arrived — the business end of any NFL season. As exciting and intriguing as the regular season can be, the playoffs always pique the interest of fans. And they always throw up gridiron of the highest quality and games that live long in the memory. Now that we know the teams that are left gunning for Super Bowl glory, Arab News offers up some predictions for this weekend’s Wild card round.



Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts
We have seen this season that the Texans are perfectly set for the kind of games we see take place in the postseason. The one-score, tight affairs which always hang on a knife-edge until the very last second. The Texans have played in 11 such games during the regular season, so you fancy them to last the distance should this one go down to the wire. Their only worry will be the form of Deshaun Watson in the final few weeks.


As for the Colts, they will be thanking their “Lucky” stars that quarterback Andrew Luck has been back to his very best in 2018. Often a bridesmaid, he has come good this year and has been influential in turning around their 1-5 start. And all of the praise Luck has received has overshadowed the incredible work of the Colts' defense over the same period.

ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: Texans to edge it, based purely on home advantage


Dallas Cowboys vs. Seattle Seahawks

It was not the best end to the season for the Cowboys — they limped over the line in the end, only just pipping the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFC East title. But this Cowboys offense will be confident that they have enough to cause problems for the league’s very best, let alone an off-the-boil Seahawks. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be the aces in the pack for Dallas.


Seattle’s offense has been a shadow of its Super Bowl-winning self in recent years, but 2018 was a particular nadir. Not something that fills the Seahawk faithful with much hope of going deep in the playoffs. But one silver lining is that they entered Week 17 with a chance to tie the NFL record for the lowest total of turnovers (10) over a full season in league history. Russell Wilson and Co. will have to be on top form to win this one.

ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: Cowboys to seal a comfortable win and move onto the Divisional week
 

Baltimore Ravens vs. Los Angeles Chargers
It has been quite a remarkable second half of the season for the Ravens, who appear reinvigorated by one of the NFL’s best defenses this year. Second only to the impenetrable Chicago Bears in the league, it has been a masterclass of restricting and suffocating opposition offenses. Regular readers of this column will know we often advocate the value of defenses if teams want to win the Big Game — a strong defense and solid special teams are a vital and rare commodity in the playoffs.

This Chargers team have finally enmeshed their obvious talent with a mental resilience that was so often missing in recent years. Victories at Seattle, Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs attest to that. But they have so often started games far too slowly, and will need to be on fire from the first kick-off to the final whistle in the playoffs if Philip Rivers is to finally fulfil his potential as a QB and win the Super Bowl. 

ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: Rivers to have the game of his life and kick-start a glorious run to the Super Bowl


Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles
What a difference a year makes. The Bears finished last season second-last in the NFC with a 5-11 record. They have now produced one of the finest defensive runs in a generation (or since the last great Bears defense of 1985) and now find themselves with a genuine chance of Super Bowl glory. This Bears defensive line should be able to keep playoff games low-scoring enough for their offensive line to finish the job.

As for the Eagles, their blistering, Super Bowl-winning offense of last year has petered out and it will be the upset of the season if Philadelphia go to and steal a win. Their only hope is the clear chemistry between coach Doug Pederson and on-off QB Nick Foles, and the latter’s telepathic connection with his offensive linemen.

ARAB NEWS PREDICTS: A valiant effort from the Eagles will not be enough to stop Chicago’s defensive juggernaut rolling on

 


Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

Updated 23 March 2019
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Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

SHARJAH: Aaron Finch's fine century drove Australia to a convincing eight-wicket win over a new-look Pakistan in the first one-day international on Friday.
The Austraian skipper scored 116 off 135 balls for his 12th one-day international century that helped his team overhaul the 281-run target in 49 overs on a flat Sharjah stadium pitch.
The win gives Australia the lead in the five-match series and has come on the back of their 3-2 series win in India earlier this month.
Finch's match-winning knock overshadowed Haris Sohail's maiden one-day hundred (101 not out) which helped Pakistan to 280-5 in their 50 overs.
The 32-year-old smashed Shoaib Malik for a huge six towards deep mid-wicket to complete his century -- his first since June last year against England at Chester-Le-Street -- off 120 balls.
Finch, who knocked four sixes and eight boundaries, added an innings-building 172 runs for the second wicket with Shaun Marsh who scored an unbeaten 91 off 102 balls with four boundaries and two sixes.
With 46 needed Finch became Mohammad Abbas's maiden wicket but Peter Handscomb hit 30 not out to help Marsh cross the line.
Finch and Marsh came together after opener Usman Khawaja fell for 24 to medium pacer Faheem Ashraf, the only other success Pakistan's new-look bowling attack could achieve.
Pakistan rested six of their key players including regular skipper Sarfraz Ahmed in order to keep them fresh for the World Cup starting in UK from May 30.
But the young and inexperienced Pakistan led by Malik proved no match for Australia, who are on a roll after their win in India earlier this month.
Left-hander Sohail, who reached 1,000 runs in his 27th one-day international when on 40, anchored Pakistan's innings, adding 98 for the third wicket with Umar Akmal who made a 50-ball 48 in his first international match for two years.
Sohail took a single to complete his hundred in the last over, finishing with six boundaries and a six.
Pakistan had handed one-day debuts to opener Shan Masood and Abbas -- who have played 15 and 14 Tests respectively.
Masood put on 35 in an opening stand with Imam-ul-Haq (17) before off-spinner Nathan Lyon dismissed Imam in the seventh over, caught and bowled.
Masood, who hit five boundaries in his 62-ball 40, was then bowled by paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile who finished with 1-38 in his 10 overs.
Umar smashed three sixes in one Jhye Richardson over but fell one short of his half century.
Malik fell for 11 and Ashraf and Imad Wasim scored 28 each.
Wasim hit four boundaries and a six during his 13-ball unbeaten knock, helping Pakistan to 55 runs in the last five overs.
Sunday's second ODI is also being played in Sharjah, with the third in Abu Dhabi (March 27) and the last two in Dubai (March 29 and 31).