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

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

 


Tiger Woods cautious about return ahead of Memorial

Updated 15 July 2020

Tiger Woods cautious about return ahead of Memorial

  • PGA Tour officials confirmed that the remainder of the 2019-2020 season would take place without fans

WASHINGTON: Tiger Woods admitted Tuesday that concern over the coronavirus delayed his return to the PGA Tour as he prepares to play his first event since February at this week's Memorial Tournament in Ohio.

The former world No. 1 has not played since appearing in the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles in February but will tee off at Muirfield on Thursday chasing a sixth victory in the Jack Nicklaus-hosted event.

The 44-year-old 15-time major winner said Tuesday he had contemplated returning to the tour earlier but had wanted to see how the first few events of the post-coronavirus shutdown fared before coming back.

"I just felt it was better to stay at home and be safe," Woods said Tuesday.

"I'm used to playing with lots of people around me or having lots of people have a direct line to me, and that puts not only myself in danger but my friends and family, and just been at home practicing and social distancing and being away from a lot of people.

"Coming back and playing the tour, in my case over the 20-some-odd years I've been out here, that's really hard to say, that I'm used to having so many people around me or even touch me, going from green to tee.

"That's something that I looked at and said, well, I'm really not quite comfortable with that, that whole idea."

Memorial organizers had initially planned to allow fans on the course at this week's tournament, but abandoned that idea as COVID-19 cases across the US began to skyrocket.

On Monday, PGA Tour officials confirmed that the remainder of the 2019-2020 season would take place without fans.

It means Woods will tee off on Thursday alongside world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka without the customary horde of spectators that usually follows him around a course.

"It's going to be different, there's no doubt about it," Woods said.

"For most of my career, pretty much almost every competitive playing round that I've been involved in, I've had people around me, spectators yelling, a lot of movement inside the gallery with camera crews and media."

Woods, who is making only his fourth tournament appearance of the season this week, said he has improved his health during the long layoff.

A stiff back hampered his performance at the Genesis in February, but Woods said he had not been troubled since.

"I feel so much better than I did then," Woods said.

"I've been able to train and concentrate on getting back up to speed and back up to tournament speed.

During Woods' layoff, the US was convulsed by nationwide protests against racism following the death of unarmed African-American man George Floyd during his arrest by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

Woods said he applauded efforts of Black Lives Matter activists to bring about change.

"I think change is fantastic as long as we make changes without hurting the innocent, and unfortunately that has happened. 

Hopefully it doesn't happen in the future, but a movement and change is fantastic," Woods said.

"That's how society develops. That's how we grow. That's how we move forward. That's how we have fairness."