WHAT WE LEARNED: Writing was on the wall for Mike McCarthy, watch out for Texans and magic Patrick Mahomes

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McCarthy led the Packers to much success but ultimately the pair had come to the end of the line. (AFP)
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Updated 05 December 2018

WHAT WE LEARNED: Writing was on the wall for Mike McCarthy, watch out for Texans and magic Patrick Mahomes

  • Packers boss had run out of ideas after a success-filled time at Lambeau Field.
  • Patrick Mahomes has the star quality and skill for MVP award.

LONDON: Week 13 has been and gone and so it is time to see who can start preparing for the playoffs and who can plan for a January vacation.

END OF AN ERA AT THE PACKERS

It was the best of times at Lambeau Field under Mike McCarthy. In 12 years at the Green Bay Packers, he led many people’s favorite “second team” to the playoffs nine times, won six NFC North divisional titles, two NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl in 2010. It helped that he had one of the greatest quarterbacks in history in Aaron Rodgers, but McCarthy was an astute coach who bought into the Packers philosophy from day one.
But the 55-year-old’s reign in Wisconsin had started to sour in recent seasons. And many are now questioning whether a different coach might have achieved more than one championship with the the Packers’ plethora of talent.
McCarthy cost Green Bay dear over the past few years by not updating his offensive strategy, by sticking to the same formula that brought success but one that every other team soon worked out how to counter. The complete overhaul of attacking strategy is something that has worked so well for the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams this season, but McCarthy rested on his laurels.
There is talk of him going to the Cleveland Browns, and teaming up with their “diamond in the rough” quarterback Baker Mayfield. If he is to bring success to that franchise, he will need a radically different approach.

This week's 20-17 defeat was to be the last match McCarthy was to lead the Packers having led them to Super Bowl glory in 2010. 

MVP RACE OPENS UP AGAIN

Just as it looked like Drew Brees would be a shoe-in for the Most Valuable Player award at the end of the season, Week 13 happened and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes moved back into the prime position. An uncharacteristically poor performance from Brees in the Saints’ 13-10 defeat to the Cowboys — in which he threw an intercepted pass at a crucial point in the game — saw him finish the game with a 71.6 pass rating. This was almost unheard of for the Saints playmaker.
In the previous two weeks, Brees was virtually the unanimous pick, while Mahomes was second across the board. But after the Chiefs’ wonder-kid peppered the Oakland Raiders defense on the way to a 40-33 victory, Mahomes has edged ahead in the MVP ballot once again.
They are the two stand-out candidates for the award. Few come close to the duo, but with just four rounds of the regular season left, I cannot wait to see which of these highly talented quarterbacks comes out on top.

Week in, week out Mahomes is proving that he is Gridiron's best quarterback and a more than worthy MVP. 

BAD WEEK IN THE NORTH

It was a bleak weekend for the NFC North teams. The Lions and Packers can kiss any hope of a post-season run goodbye, but the previously solid Bears reverted to 2016 (when they notched a woeful 3-13 record) and showed a frailty unseen so far this season in defeat to the Giants. With games against the Rams, 49ers and divisional rivals Green Bay and Minnesota, the Bears could sneak into the playoffs with a 9-7 record — hardly inspiring for a shot at the Big Game.
As for the Vikings, their season now hangs by a thread, and the clash against the Bears in the final week will be crucial if they hope to top the division. Their result against the Seahawks next week could make or break their season.

The Bears have it all to do after defeat to the Giants this week. 

TEXANS ON THE RAMPAGE

The AFC should watch out — the Houston Texans are making a monumental charge for the post-season. Having started the season 0-3, they have now won nine straight games to storm to the top of the AFC South, and will give even the very best teams a tough test in the playoffs. 
It was an emotional week for the franchise with their owner Bob McNair passing away and the recent death of their most famous fan, former US president George H.W. Bush. 
Teams will definitely have to take this very talented offense and mean defense seriously as we move into the business end of the season.

It is a case of don't mess with the Texans at the moment as they make an impressive charge for the playoffs. 


Neymar limps off as Brazil draw with Nigeria

Updated 14 October 2019

Neymar limps off as Brazil draw with Nigeria

  • The 27-year-old’s return to Champions League action may now be delayed

SINGAPORE: Neymar limped off injured early on as Brazil played out a 1-1 friendly draw against a spirited Nigeria at the Singapore National Stadium on Sunday.

The five-time world champions fell behind in the first half, but Casemiro's equalizer early in the second period prevented a loss but then  Brazil were unable to leave Southeast Asia with a victory by wasting chances, after also being held by Senegal on Thursday.

Brazil started well, with Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino firing just wide in the third minute after a smart turn near the penalty spot.

However, Brazil were dealt a major blow when Neymar limped off in the 12th minute with what appeared to be a left thigh problem — the Paris Saint-Germain striker replaced by Bayern Munich’s Philippe Coutinho to bring a premature end to his 101st international appearance.

Neymar's return to Champions League action may now be delayed, with PSG facing Club Brugge on Oct. 22 after the world’s most expensive player missed the first two games through suspension.

“During the match he felt a muscle injury, so I took him off as a precaution,” Brazil coach Tite said.

“Neymar did not have a muscle issue before the match. I would never start a player if they had a hint of a problem like this, I would never pay that price,” Tite added of the 27-year-old, who has suffered a string of injuries since his move from Barcelona to PSG in 2017.

“My career has taught me that I would never use a player if he was not in condition to play. It would be irresponsible of me to risk a player carrying an injury.”

Neymar will be disappointed he was unable to draw level with Brazil legend Ronaldo, who sits second in the country’s all-time scoring list behind Pele, on 62 international goals this week. But Nigeria provided resolute opposition by working hard to prevent the South Americans from forging many clear openings.

Gabriel Jesus, Firmino and Coutinho all went close for Brazil, but it was Nigeria who took the lead in the 35th minute when Joe Aribo burst through a gap in the South Americans' defence and skipped around Marquinhos before firing low past goalkeeper Ederson from close range.

The smart strike was the English-born player's second goal in two appearance for Nigeria after the Rangers midfielder scored on his debut against Ukraine last month.

A more determined Brazil needed just three minutes after the interval to draw level, however, as Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro slotted home after a Marquinhos header had rattled the crossbar following a well-worked corner.

Brazil ramped up the pressure as the match progressed, stretching the Nigeria defence with sharp passing and clever movement as Casemiro, Jesus and half-time substitute Richarlison all came close to giving their side the lead.

Tite's men poured forward in search of a winner with Coutinho guilty of wasting a glorious opportunity with five minutes remaining when the unmarked midfielder's weak effort was cleared off the line by Semi Ajayi.

"I thought it was a good match for us and we created plenty of chances but just could not get that second goal," Tite added. "We definitely missed Neymar's creativity after he went off."