Surging and stumbling toward NFL playoffs

Updated 21 December 2012
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Surging and stumbling toward NFL playoffs

NEW YORK: Some teams surge toward the NFL playoffs. Look at the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers.
Others struggle to stay in the mix: Try the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants and Chicago Bears.
This penultimate weekend of the regular schedule could propel a few of them and eliminate others.
Chief among the clubs that could go either way: Defending champion New York, who have lost their last three road games and conceded 82 to fall to an 8-6 win-loss record. Not even coach Tom Coughlin is sure what he has as they head to the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow.
“It would be easy for me to say I do, but the reality of it is we haven’t been able to play to substantiate what I would say is the personality of this team,” said Coughlin, whose club gets a wild card, for sure, by winning its last two games. “So I’m definitely counting on the veterans to go ahead and prove this and do it with consistency.
“Last year we did it over a six-game run and, exactly, we’re in that situation again.” Even though the Ravens have already sewed up a playoff spot, it’s a critical game for Baltimore (9-5) to get back on track after three straight defeats — two at home and one a bit down the road in Washington.
“We dug this hole we’re in,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We can’t blame anybody but ourselves. We don’t like losing three straight games. Nobody does. It’s at the point right now where we have to get back at it, man. We dug the hole, now we’ve got to find a way to get out of it.” The action begins on Saturday, when Atlanta could clinch home-field advantage through the NFC with a win at slumping Detroit. There are no more Monday night games this season.
Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh in what amounts to an AFC playoff elimination game.




The Steelers (7-7) need two wins to play into January while the Bengals (8-6) need at least one more victory to assure themselves of a rare second straight playoff berth.
Cincinnati hasn’t made consecutive postseason appearances since 1981-82, or before all but five players on the current squad were even born.
Reeling and injury-ravaged, Chicago heads to Arizona having dropped three straight games and five of its last six. There’s some discord in the locker room, coach Lovie Smith’s job security has become shakier, and they no longer can win the NFC North division.
Still, a wild-card spot is available if Chicago wins its last two games, and even though the Cardinals routed Detroit last week, it was Arizona’s first win in 10 games.
The last game of the round, between Seattle and San Francisco, is the spotlight matchup, even though it won’t decide the NFC West. San Francisco can take the division for the second successive season by beating Arizona in its finale even if it falls at what will be a rocking CenturyLink Field. The 49ers earned at least a wild card with their 41-34 victory at New England last weekend.
“Given my first four years, around this time, we probably wouldn’t be playing for much, maybe a chance to win a game and maybe get in or waiting on three other teams to lose,” star linebacker Patrick Willis said. “It feels good to know that you’re playing for something. We have a playoff berth, but we want the division. And we also want to have that first-week bye, and we know we have to win this week first.” The Seahawks are 6-0 at home, have won five of their last six overall, and scored 58 and 50 points the last two weeks. They aren’t likely to come close to that against the NFL’s stingiest defense; The Niners have allowed 218 points, one fewer than Seattle.
Also tomorrow, it’s Washington at Philadelphia; New Orleans at Dallas; Minnesota at Houston; Indianapolis at Kansas City; Cleveland at Denver; Tennessee at Green Bay; New England at Jacksonville; St. Louis at Tampa Bay; Buffalo at Miami; San Diego at New York Jets; and Oakland at Carolina.


Saudi Arabia set to face Mario Balotelli after striker earns Italy recall

Updated 32 min 34 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia set to face Mario Balotelli after striker earns Italy recall

  • Saudi Arabia play Italy on May 28
  • Balotelli set to play for the Azzurri for the first time in four years

TURIN: New Italy coach Roberto Mancini on Saturday recalled Nice striker Mario Balotelli to the Azzurri fold for three upcoming friendlies as he begins the job of reviving Italian fortunes.
Mancini was appointed last Monday, six months after Gian Piero Ventura was sacked following the four-time world champions’ failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
The 53-year-old, who left Zenit Saint Petersburg to take the job, unveiled his first 30-man squad for matches against Saudi Arabia, France and the Netherlands.
Mancini takes charge of his first game against the Green Falcons in St. Gallen, Switzerland on May 28.
As expected, the 27-year-old Balotelli was included for the first time in nearly four years.
Balotelli has scored 13 goals in 33 appearances for the Azzurri but has not played international football since Italy’s humiliating group-stage exit from the 2014 World Cup.
Balotelli was last called up by coach Antonio Conte in November 2014 but did not play because of injury.
He has now been given another chance by Mancini, who coached him at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.
Balotelli has resurrected his career since joining Nice in 2016 after less successful spells with AC Milan and Liverpool, scoring 26 goals in all competitions this season, without any of the bad-boy behavior that previously dogged his career.
Italy are not spoilt for choice with forward so Balotelli’s success with Nice could not be overlooked by Mancini.
As a youngster, Balotelli was part of the Inter side coached by Jose Mourinho that won the Champions League in 2010.
He also won three Serie A titles with Inter before switching to Manchester City and helping them claim the Premier League crown in 2012.
Meanwhile, Mancini’s squad was without goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon who this week confirmed he would not play again for the national side.
The presence of Buffon — who holds the record for Italy caps with 176 — proved controversial during friendlies in March with his critics wanting him to move over for a younger generation.
In his absence, Mancini has recalled Salvatore Sirigu, who has had a successful season since joining Torino, alongside AC Milan teenager Gianluigi Donnarumma and Genoa’s Mattia Perin.
Among the veterans there was no call-up for Roma captain Daniele De Rossi, with Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini absent through injury.
The captain’s armband is expected to go to AC Milan center-back Leonardo Bonucci.
Five players have been given a first call-up — Chelsea left-back Emerson Palmieri, Torino midfielder Daniele Baselli, Crotone midfielder Rolando Mandragora, Sassuolo striker Domenico Berardi and Atalanta defender Mattia Caldara.
Along with defenders Alessio Romagnoli and Daniele Rugani, midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini and strikers Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi are among the promising youngsters who are expected to put Italy back on the road to victory.
The squad will meet for the first time at the Italian national team’s training camp at Coverciano near Florence on May 23.

Italy squad
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino);
Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci (AC Milan), Mattia Caldara (Atalanta), Domenico Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg/RUS), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter Milan), Mattia De Sciglio (Juventus), Emerson Palmieri Dos Santos (Chelsea/ENG), Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Davide Zappacosta (Chelsea/ENG)
Midfielders: Daniele Baselli (Torino), Giacomo Bonaventura (Milan), Bryan Cristante (Atalanta), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Jorginho (Napoli), Rolando Mandragora (Crotone), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma)
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Nice/FRA), Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Matteo Politano (Sassuolo), Simone Verdi (Bologna), Simone Zaza (Valencia/ESP)