NFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Patriots, Chiefs, Saints and Rams one game away from glory

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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) looks to pass against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first quarter in an AFC Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) runs off the field after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won 20-14. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
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Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes against Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) in the first quarter in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)
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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass against Indianapolis Colts defensive end Margus Hunt (92) during the second quarter in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 19 January 2019
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NFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Patriots, Chiefs, Saints and Rams one game away from glory

LONDON: And then there were just four.

The NFL’s conference championship games kick off on Sunday, with the Patriots and Chiefs contesting the AFC side of the draw, the Saints and Rams facing off in the NFC. With just one game standing between the four sides and a shot at Super Bowl glory, Arab News examines why each team can make it to Atlanta for the Feb. 3 showdown.

AFC: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS vs NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Put simply, the Chiefs can win their match-up with the Patriots — and probably the whole thing — because of Patrick Mahomes. If he performs at the scintillating levels he has produced since the very first week, New England will find him too hot to handle.

Mahomes’ first season as a starter has been nothing short of miraculous, it was the second-best single season by a quarterback in NFL history. In a full 16-game season, he managed to complete 66 percent of his passes for 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns, with a 113.8 passer rating. He is just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards in a single season, after Peyton Manning’s heroics in 2013.

And Mahomes’ efforts were needed for this Chiefs outfit who managed a 12-4 record in the regular season, despite their defense allowing a whopping 26.3 points per game. The defensive line could be the Chiefs’ downfall, but given the brilliance of Mahomes this season, fans at the Arrowhead could well be celebrating a first Super Bowl appearance since 1970.

Meanwhile, there will come a time when preview pieces such as these will have to stop featuring Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s Patriots. But, despite not being at their metronomic best, that time is not now. The New England juggernaut just keeps rolling on. A win next month in the Big Game would be the Patriots’ sixth title since 2001, and the secret to their success in winning the previous five has been coach Belichick and quarterback Brady’s ability to outsmart any opponent. If the legendary duo can come up with a way to do the same to Andy Reid’s Chiefs, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who thought the Patriots would not go all the way.

In the final weeks of the regular season and first rounds of the playoffs, the Patriots also improved their running game immeasurably. It all clicked into place against the Chargers in the divisional game where Sony Michel looked unstoppable. Couple this with the traditionally blistering pass game of Brady-Gronkowski-Edelman, and that air of invincibility so associated with the Patriots will once again shroud the greatest team of the 21st century.

NFC: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS vs LOS ANGELES RAMS


Outside of Missouri, Boston and California, New Orleans are most people’s pick for Super Bowl glory this year. And aside from the emotional attachment many NFL fans have to the Saints, their performances on the field this year would warrant a second title in a decade. They will need to come out of blocks early, though, as their slow starts in the regular season threatened to lose them games they should have won easily. The Rams have a fantastic offensive line, and if the Saints are asleep in the opening stages, they could find themselves two scores behind in the blink of an eye.

Coach Sean Payton is renowned for taking risks — think the fake punt against Philadelphia in the division game last week — and always seems more comfortable calling plays when ahead. And while usually ruthless at killing games off, it was the Rams who almost pulled off a remarkable comeback in the Superdome earlier this year. The Saints will need that ruthless streak if they are to win it all.

It has been a breathtaking turnaround for the Rams since they appointed head coach Sean McVay— the youngest coach in modern NFL history — in 2017. After years of mediocrity in St. Louis and a poor start after returning to LA, McVay has revolutionized this franchise, which now find themselves one game away from the Super Bowl.

In Jared Goff, too, they have a superstar quarterback — protecting him from the workmanlike defense of the Saints will be key if the Rams are to upset the apple cart and overcome New Orleans. If Goff stays safe in the pocket and the Rams utilize a mixed offensive game, the Rams faithful could be traipsing east for the big one next month, knowing their team has beaten one of the best on the way to a fairytale ending to the season.


Tazkarti ticketing platform draws criticism in Egypt ahead of Africa Cup of Nations

Updated 18 June 2019
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Tazkarti ticketing platform draws criticism in Egypt ahead of Africa Cup of Nations

  • Tazkarti will be the sole source of tickets for the tournament

CAIRO: Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) host country Egypt has launched an online ticketing platform called Tazkarti, which will be the sole source of tickets for the tournament, which begins June 22.

Its aim is to combat ticket touts and black market sales for the continent’s biggest football tournament, and to ensure that ticket prices remain fixed at the price decided by the AFCON organizing committee. It is also a measure of the steps Egypt is taking to ensure that the tournament passes peacefully. 

Football stadiums have been almost entirely empty since 2011 because of security issues after long-time President Hosni Mubarak stepped down following national protests in which football fans played a major role, resulting in violent, often lethal, clashes with police and between rival fans.

In 2012, Port Said stadium witnessed a riot that left 72 Al-Ahly supporters dead after a pitch invasion by Masri supporters at the end of a Premier League game. In 2015, 19 Zamalek fans were killed and 20 injured when police attempted to disperse large crowds making their way into a Cairo stadium to attend a Premier League game. 

Those were just two of several incidents that meant authorities imposed a ban on people attending football matches or severely restricted the number of people that could do so.

Every AFCON ticket purchased via Tazkarti will be scanned at the stadium to ensure it matches the holder’s “Fan ID.” If it does not, the holder will not be allowed into the ground.

Tickets for matches featuring the Egyptian national team range from 200 to 2,500 Egyptian pounds ($12-$150), while other matches range from 100 to 500 Egyptian pounds ($6 to $30).

While those prices might sound affordable to outsiders, in a country where a doctor earns around $90 to $179 per month, many have found themselves priced out of the tournament already.

“I am a married dentist with three kids. If I want to attend a match with my family, I would have to pay 1,000 pounds ($60), (not including) transportation and snacks,” Dr. M. Sheta, who lives in Damietta, told Arab News.

“To book a cinema ticket nowadays ranges between 70 and 100 pounds and a good meal costs 100 pounds minimum. If I can afford that, then I can afford AFCON tickets,” said a housewife in Mansoura, who asked to remain anonymous.

Plenty of young Egyptians took to social media to express their displeasure with the ticket prices.

“This is a clear message that middle-class Egyptians are not welcome,” said Ahmed Zahran.

“I would rather pay a total of 10 pounds at any coffee shop and watch the matches there,” said Ahmed El-Tlabanty.

Some fans believe that the prices have been set high to discourage Ultras (the most passionate football fans) from attending.

An administrator of the “Ultras Ahlawy” Facebook group, while stressing that he hoped supporters “have fun watching AFCON,” asked Arab News: “Why would I pay 200 pounds to watch a match? I do not (make hundreds of pounds).”

Aside from issues with the high prices, people have also been widely critical of the technical performance of the new ticketing platform, which has been under pressure from high demand for Fan IDs.

“You guys are so disrespectful and unprofessional. I’ve been trying to reach out for more than two weeks and no one is answering — not on messenger nor the hotline. You made the whole championship experience the worst,” wrote Fatma El-Dardiry. “I called your customer service at least five times, placed three complaints and texted you on Facebook more than once. Now, the tickets of cat 1 and 2 for the opening match have already sold out.”