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

 


Virat Kohli makes history with clean sweep of ICC awards

Updated 11 min 9 sec ago
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Virat Kohli makes history with clean sweep of ICC awards

  • India skipper win cricketer of the year, Test cricketer of the year and ODI cricketer of the year.
  • Kohli led India to their first ever series win in Australia earlier this year.

SYDNEY: India captain Virat Kohli said he was “very very happy” after becoming the first-ever player to clinch all three top honors, including cricketer of the year, in the International Cricket Council awards.
Kohli, who recently led India to their maiden Test and one-day series triumph in Australia, was also voted the Test and ODI men’s player of the year as the cricket’s world governing body announced its annual honors, chosen by former players and veteran journalists.
“It feels amazing. It’s a reward for all the hard work that you do throughout the calendar year. I feel really grateful and very, very happy with the team doing well at the same time myself performing,” Kohli said.
“Having recognition at the global level from the ICC is something you feel proud of as a cricketer because you understand that there are many players playing the game.”
The 30-year-old Kohli, who is married to Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma, has reached superstar status in cricket-mad India, after first coming into the limelight when he led the South Asian nation to victory in the 2008 Under-19 World Cup.
He was the top Test and ODI batsman in 2018, scoring 1,322 Test runs at an average of 55.08 — including five centuries — and 1,202 runs at 133.55 in ODIs, with six centuries.
He also scored 211 runs in 10 Twenty20 matches.
Kohli was picked to skipper the ICC Test and ODI teams of the year for the second year running.

PONTING’S FOOTSTEPS

Kohli became only the second player after Australian great Ricky Ponting to retain the prestigious Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy — given to the cricketer of the year.
He was the unanimous choice for the award, with South African fast bowler Kagiso Rabada coming second in both the cricketer of the year category and the Test player of the year.
“This is well deserved recognition for an extraordinary talent,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said of Kohli.
“His regard for the game and particularly for Test cricket is also recognized and appreciated. He is passionate in his support of the longest form of the game and its continued importance.”
Australia opener Aaron Finch won the T20 performance of the year award for the second time for his 172 — the highest-ever individual T20 score — against Zimbabwe in Harare last July.
India’s Rishabh Pant was named emerging player of the year, while Scotland batsman Callum MacLeod took home the associate cricketer of the year trophy.
The 21-year-old Pant became the first Indian wicketkeeper to score a Test century in England, and equalled the record for the most catches taken in a Test, with 11 in Adelaide in December.