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

 


Green triple-double fuels Warriors’ comeback win

Updated 19 May 2019
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Green triple-double fuels Warriors’ comeback win

  • The Golden State Warriors rallied for a 110-99 victory over the Trail Blazers in Portland
  • The two-time defending champion Warriors trailed by as many as 18 in the second quarter

LOS ANGELES: Draymond Green exploded for a seventh career playoff triple-double Saturday as the Golden State Warriors rallied for a 110-99 victory over the Trail Blazers in Portland and a 3-0 lead in the NBA Western Conference finals.
The two-time defending champion Warriors trailed by as many as 18 in the second quarter, but with Green driving them they produced another dominant third period to seize control of the contest and the series.
No team has come back from an 0-3 deficit to win an NBA playoff series. The Trail Blazers will try to fend off elimination when they host game four on Monday.
Green scored 20 points with 13 rebounds and 12 assists, keeping the Warriors afloat in the first half before superstar Stephen Curry came alive with 21 of his 36 points after the interval.
“There aren’t many guys in the game that can (affect both ends of the floor),” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Green beforehand. “Draymond can do both.”
His intensity was on display on both ends of the court, and on the sidelines as he exhorted teammates to keep pushing.
Klay Thompson added 19 points for the Warriors, who were again without injured star Kevin Durant.
“All my teammates, my coaches have been telling me, ‘Draymond, get to the hole, be aggressive,’” Green said of his mindset.
“We’ve got guys out there, Steph, Klay and those guys who draw a lot of attention, so it’s on me to do my job and come through for those guys.”
CJ McCollum led Portland with 23 points. Damian Lillard, relentlessly double-teamed by the Warriors, added 19 points.
Center Meyers Leonard, making just his third start of the season, finished with 16 points.
Leonard made the most of his opportunity early, connecting on five of seven shots from the field in the first half on the way to 13 points.
The Trail Blazers, energized in front of a rowdy home crowd at the Moda Center, quickly built a 10-point lead before the Warriors trimmed it to two — 29-27 — at the end of the first quarter.
But the Blazers kept the pressure on, stretching the lead to 18 in the second quarter.
A steal by Lillard produced a thunderous dunk from Leonard, then Portland’s Seth Curry stole the ball from his superstar brother Stephen and raced for a three-pointer that made it 60-42 with 2:28 remaining in the first half.
Portland took a 66-53 lead into the locker room, but the Warriors responded with a monster third quarter, using a 22-6 scoring run to take their first lead of the game, 77-76 on a layup by Kevin Looney — assisted by Green.
Golden State out-scored Portland 29-13 in the quarter to lead by three heading into the final frame.
The Warriors pushed the lead to 11 with 4:51 remaining and the Trail Blazers wouldn’t get the deficit below eight from there.