Weekly NFL Pick’Em – The Waffle League Week 12

DUBLIN, IRELAND - I think we’ve established after 11 weeks of NFL Pick’Ems that I’m not exactly to be trusted when it comes to putting your life savings on NFL results each week. Last week, like pretty much every other week, was a complete disaster with only a 50% success rate. In my defense, their was some surprises with Denver losing to St. Louis and Tampa Bay winning in Washington but it’s still no excuse. This brings my season score to 87-73. At this rate, I would be happy finishing the season with a 60% correct score.

There's been a 'bit' of snow in Buffalo this week

There’s been a ‘bit’ of snow in Buffalo this week

Week 12, unsurprisingly, has started in a similar vein for me. Under pressure this week time-wise I tweeted out my prediction for Thursday Nights Raiders v Chiefs game. As you can see below, it did not go well. Expect similar levels of expertise as you read through my Sunday and Monday predictions below!

Thursday 20th November 2014

Sunday 23rd November 2014

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings – The 7-3 Packers visit the Vikings this week and it’s difficult to not see Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson having a big day in this one Verdict: Packers

Tennessee Titans at Philadelphia Eagles - The Titans were beaten in a close game with the Steelers on Monday Night and it doesn’t get any easier for them with a trip to Philly to face the Eagles. Philadelphia were blown out of the park by Green Bay last week but I’m betting they turn it around this week. Verdict: Eagles

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts - The Colts got a bit of a hammering vs the Patriots last week but you’d expect them to bounce back against the struggling Jaguars this week. Trent Richardson might have a big game here and yes, I already hate myself for even suggesting that. Verdict: Colts

Detroit Lions at New England Patriots - The Patriots are in a good run of form and I just don’t trust the Lions week to week to deliver. I’m going with New England. Verdict: Patriots

Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons  - The Browns were beaten by the Texans last time out while the Falcons edged past the Panthers. You could probably toss a coin on this one. If I did, I’d still pick the wrong one. So, eh, apologies people of Cleveland. Verdict: Browns

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears - I serially pick the Buccs to lose and the Bears to win. As we’ve learned I’m almost always wrong! Why change now Verdict: Bears

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans - Picking the Bengals is bad for your health. You just don’t know which version of Andy Dalton will show up. I love big J.J. Watt of the Texans on both sides of the ball. I think he leads the home team to victory in this one Verdict: Texans

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks - 12 months ago, you’d have been labelled a mad man and sent off to solidarity confinement if you suggested the Seahawks would lose at home. The men in white coats are waiting for me as I’m rolling with the 9-1 Cardinals this week Verdict: Cardinals

St. Louis Rams at San Diego Chargers - This could be a very good game as the Rams come into it in great confidence following their win over the Broncos last week. The Chargers need to win to stay alive in the AFC West. I think the home team will take it Verdict: Chargers

Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos - This is a big one in my family. My Broncos vs. my brother’s Dolphins. There can only be one winner. It has to be, for the love of God, Denver Verdict: Broncos

Washington Redskins at San Francisco 49ers - I just don’t like anything I see from the Redskins these days. I think the 49ers stone-wash them at Levi’s Stadium Verdict: 49ers

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants - Two great and iconic NFL franchises go head-to-head in New Jersey. The health of Tony Romo could once again be the biggest issue here. If he’s fit, the Cowboys win Verdict: Cowboys

Monday 3rd November 2014

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills - There’s been a ‘bit’ of snow in Buffalo this week. So much so that this game has been moved from Buffalo to Detroit and to Monday Night. The Bills have already won on the road in Detroit this year and I think they’ll manage to beat the Jets there too Verdict: Bills

Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints - Is it finally time for me to stop thinking Drew Brees will lead the Saints to victory every week. It is. I’m going with the Ravens to win on the road in New Orleans Verdict: Ravens

And that’s my lot for Week 12. Get involved with The Waffle League too right now on NFL.com at http://weeklypickem.fantasy.nfl.com/group/92810

As always, please do pick responsibly!

K.

Weekly NFL Pick’Em – The Waffle League Week 11

DUBLIN, IRELAND - I’m under a little time pressure this week so there’s an absence of my usual extended waffle as to why I’m selecting each team to win or not this week. I apologise wholeheartedly and recognise the huge void in your life as a result! You can though still view all of my picks below, minus waffle,  for Thursday and Sunday of this week.

As you can see from the graphic below, I have already one win under my belt this week having correctly selected the Miami Dolphins to beat the Buffalo Bills on Thursday. All of my selected picks are indicated by the slider between the two team names and the highlighted blue names of the winning team.

Currently my record stands at 81-65 with a 55% success rate. Yeah, I know. Let not say too much about it. Anyway, here’s what I’m hanging my hat on in Week 11.

 

As always, please do pick responsibly!

K.

Love/Hate NFL: International Series vs London Franchise (Part II)

Part II – Hate

Showing my Broncos pride at the Raiders game at Wembley

DUBLIN, IRELAND – A study published by Deloitte Sports Business Group at the end of October 2014 stated that a NFL Franchise based in London could be worth over £100 million to the city per annum. It also stated that the UK has 13 million NFL fans with 2.8 million fans considering themselves ‘avid followers’. If you were unsure of why London lies top of the agenda for the NFL, there’s a few reasons right there, in fact there’s 100 million reasons for you. Sometimes though in this sponsor driven, media rights world that we live in, you have got to take a step back and think about what’s right for the sport. Speaking purely as a fan, I have some deep reservations.

it seems like an easy stretch to say “well you’re playing three games a season at Wembley, why not make it eight and have a Franchise there?”. If only it were that simple. The first stumbling block is that any London Franchise will have to be placed into a four team NFL division. In essence, that means forcing three other teams to play in London every season. And that’s where the problems begin. In the current situation, teams who travel to play in London have their bye week i.e. official rest week, directly following a London game, allowing them significant time to recover (13 days) from the excursion. With eight regular season games at Wembley, this will no longer be possible and while I believe the NFL may trial this over the coming years by moving bye weeks to monitor effects, I just don’t seeing it being practical. This might be acceptable from a sporting perspective if every team in the NFL had the same schedule like the Premier League but the NFL operates a rotational schedule which sees divisional games the staple of the calendar with in and out of conference games changing each year. The most worrying thought from a sporting perspective is that your team misses out on a playoff spot due to the fatigue effects of a London game while your divisional rival avoids it all by playing them at home. It’s not a problem I’m convinced can be overcome and it creates a sporting problem that no true fan of the game would want to see.

TV as you’d expect in modern sport is a potential issue here too. The recent Atlanta Falcons v Detroit Lions at Wembley had a 9:30 am kick off time in New York and 6:30 am in Los Angeles. Anecdotally on social media, it seemed to be received well by fans enjoying the once off novelty factor of early morning football. It was less well received by the various TV presenters I follow on social media who had game day schedules thrown off-balance and even created issues for Fantasy Football (now a billion dollar industry) analysis and game play. Playing the games at the traditional 1pm eastern kick off time (6pm GMT) provides more problems for the travelling fans than it does for TV executives. It makes it almost essential to stay overnight when travelling to a London NFL game. This one factor which may very well be worth millions to the local hotel industry may affect the ability of some fans to attend multiple games. In other words, it’s something you might put up with once in a while but eight hotel rooms for eight home games racks up the dollars, pounds or euros very quickly. There’s also the issue of marquee ‘national’ games such as Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football respectively. There is no way Wembley could feature in either of these, requiring kick-off times of  close to 1am in London. I bet the Metropolitan Police might have something to say on that one!

Team logistics are also a potential problem, more so around the prospect of the London Franchise actually reaching a post season play-off game. Planning and preparation for the London trips take months of work for the teams involved and while scheduled regular season games would follow a similar planning pattern a playoff game however in London might only have six days notice. That seems at best difficult if not impossible.

There are further potential issues for the NFL to hurdle too in relation to player contracts. The NFL works under a collective bargaining agreement with the players, which is effectively a revenue sharing situation and is one that the restricts players contractually. This may very well contravene european employment law and a number of sources have already reported that the NFL have held talks with the European Union to seek potential exemptions for not only London but potentially other locations like Germany and Ireland. It will be interesting to watch developments around this matter in future years too.

NFL fans in London (pic credit: CNN)

One of the biggest conundrums facing the NFL though is whether there is actually a fan base for a London Franchise. You may note I said fan base for a ‘franchise’ as opposed to the game itself. The NFL have seen without question there’s a huge desire to watch NFL games in the UK but converting existing fans into fans of a new franchise will be difficult. UK and Irish fans are well aware of the unwritten laws around sports fan allegiance due to deep traditions of soccer culture. Most fans, simply won’t give up the teams they already support for a new franchise. I certainly wouldn’t be dropping the Broncos in favour of a closer to home team and while I my make an extra effort to follow their fortunes, I’d absolutely be cheering against them once the orange crush rolled into town. I couldn’t see at this moment in a time, a way that I’d adopt the team or purchase a season ticket for example. I’d certainly visit games as I did this season to see the Dolphins v Raiders but I might be as likely to skip four years of action, just like I did from 2010 to 2014 with the International Series if my Broncos or friends’ teams were not in action.

As I mentioned in Part I, I do love the Wembley experience but there’s no getting away from it being an expensive one and with so many fans travelling from all parts of UK & Europe (84% of all those attending Wembley games live outside of London according to Deloitte), it’s difficult to gauge how many fans would actually be willing to be bi-weekly visitors to Wembley for a team they mightn’t support. It’s a little bit of ‘finger in the air’ stuff but my concern would lie in the ability to attract a crowd consistently for a franchise that many didn’t hold close to their hearts particularly if the team was under performing. The reality for NFL fans in the UK is  that a London Franchise playing eight games a season at Wembley would allow fans the opportunity to see nine NFL teams a season (eight visitors and the home team). By extending the current format of the NFL International Series to four games, NFL fans could see eight teams in London a season without a lot of the associated hassle a London franchise brings . Of course, it’s four games less and with each game that drops off the schedule the value to the city diminishes but do fans really care about such corporate activities.

In closing, it’s not exactly that I hate the idea of a franchise in London, it’s more that I love the current situation. We currently have the best of both worlds – there’s easy access to high quality regular season games which don’t appear to affect the sporting chances of the teams that play in them at this moment in time. My big fear is that the failure of a London franchise (assuming it failed of course) would put pay to the long-term access to NFL games at Wembley. I’d hate to think that the potential of £100 million for a franchise vs £60 million for four games could have such a devastating effect on the sport and the fan base.

Maybe a UK Franchise is inevitable. Maybe we’ll all fall in love and adopt as our second team a Super Bowl winning team in North London. Maybe, just maybe we’re seeing a blueprint for truly world leagues in other sports too. Only time will tell but for now, I’m happy loving what we got and pessimistically perhaps,  hating the sporting mismatches of the future!

K.

Note: If you missed Part I of this blog post – click here

Love/Hate NFL: International Series vs London Franchise (Part I)

Part I – Love

NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium

NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium

DUBLIN, IRELAND - Walking down Wembley Way in London, England is one of my favourite things to do in sport. There’s a sense of anticipation, a nervous anxiety and a feeling of boyish excitement.

The first time I did it at the new Wembley Stadium was for the 2009 FA Cup Semi Final between Arsenal and Chelsea. I was greeted by a sea of red and blue and like most London derbies, tension filled the air. It’s a moment few who walked that path for the first time forget. There’s just something special about Wembley.

Fast forward six years and I’m again walking up Wembley Way but this time for the NFL International Series Game between the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. On an unseasonably warm September day, I’m dressed in shorts and my Peyton Manning Denver Broncos Jersey. I don’t stand out from the crowd though as say someone in a Spurs jersey would have done six years ago at the FA Cup Semi-Final. I’m just one of an 83,000+ strong crowd of multi-coloured  NFL jerseys on display.

If you somehow landed out at Wembley on 28th September 2014 by accident, you’d have struggled to identify what two teams were actually playing that day. Only the most eccentric outfits such as the Miami Dolphins Storm Troopers gave a strong hint. The International Series at Wembley is a truly unique event and one NFL fans around Europe have embraced since it began in 2007 when the New York Giants played the Miami Dolphins kick starting a season that saw the Giants going on to win the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots a few months later.

Since then, London has seen 10 live regular season NFL games with the 11th game taking place tomorrow afternoon between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys. With three more games announced last week for next season, the UK will have hosted 14 regular season games in 8 years. The burning question on everyone lips right now, including the NFL itself, is could London ultimately host 8 home games a season as part of a UK based franchise? I’ll touch more on this in part two of this blog post but first, let me tell you about the things that make the London NFL experience so special.

Santa's not required for Broncos jerseys anymore. NFL Shop at Wembley Stadium.

NFL Shop at Wembley Stadium.

I’ve been a Denver Broncos fan since 1986 when Santa miraculously delivered an orange jersey emblazoned with the legendary number seven of quarterback John Elway to me. It was a significant moment in the development of my NFL fanaticism and I’ve told the story of this life event in more detail in to the Denver Broncos Yearbook previously in 2012. You can have a read of that Broncos Yearbook story by clicking here but the important take away from this is the length of time I’ve been an NFL fan and more importantly for me,  a loyal citizen of Broncos Country.

Today in 2014, visiting Mile High Stadium in Colorado still sits easily atop my sporting bucket list. Thanks to the International Series at Wembley though, I’ve already managed to see my beloved Broncos in action. Back in 2010 against the San Francisco 49ers it was, a day notable not only as my first Denver Broncos experience but also a day that saw Tim Tebow (remember him!) run a touchdown in at Wembley. A collector’s item nowadays.

That day and my most recent visit to Wembley a few weeks back for the Dolphins game highlighted all that is great about the NFL Fan Experience. If you haven’t been yet, you are missing out. Nobody and I mean nobody does fan experience like the NFL. From tailgating at Wembley to fan activities, live performances, player appearances and fan rallies at Trafalgar Square or Regent Street, the International Series often feels more like of festival of football than prematch entertainment. It is rare in my football (soccer) going life that I’ve been at a match venue 8 hours before kick off but that’s what usually happens for the International Series. Whether it’s shopping for the latest NFL gear, sampling the food on offer or trying your luck at the various fun games the NFL provide for young and old fans alike, there’s always plenty to keep you busy.

NFL Branding at Wembley Stadium

As a sports marketer myself, I also throughly enjoy the branding masterclass the NFL put on in London. You’ll be seeing NFL logos in your sleep on return home trust me. There’s not a bridge or walkway that doesn’t get covered in or around Wembley Stadium. It’s a thing of beauty in many ways.

There’s also the awesome in-stadium fun: the montages of funny NFL moments on the big screen, hype videos such as Atlanta’s ‘Rise Up’ featuring Samuel L. Jackson, cheerleader performances, live bands, moving emotional national anthems and crowd flag displays. No stone is left unturned by the NFL in the effort to provide entertainment.

And then there’s the game itself, the proverbial cherry on top. Games that actually mean something. Head coaches with jobs on the lines. Teams in search of sporting excellence and those looking to turn a corner. The party atmosphere off the field is met with bone shuddering hi-octane hits on it too. Most sports need to be seen live to be fully appreciated. NFL is no different. The intensity and intricacies of the game are all laid out bare for our sporting pleasure and those who witness it undoubtedly leave with a new found appreciation for the skill, concentration levels and indeed speed of these finely tuned athletes.

By the end of 2015, over 1 million people will have walked up Wembley Way like me to see two NFL teams go head-to-head in regular season action. On top of that, thousands of young school kids in the UK will have been introduced to the game as a playable sport through coaching clinics and workshops provided by the visiting NFL teams.

The NFL’s growth in Europe has been hugely impressive and unlikely to subside in the years to come. Does that mean a London NFL Franchise is just around the corner? Does the NFL need to be in London more than Los Angeles for example? Would long term UK & Ireland NFL fans like the Broncos loving one who wrote this blog post support a London Franchise? Could a failed London Franchise put an end to the current sweet deal of live NFL each season in UK? Could Germany or Dublin join the mix in the future? Are the sporting considerations the most damning reason why there shouldn’t be a London Franchise?

I try to answer some of these questions in Part II and while the title, Love/Hate, might give some indication of the direction I’ll be taking with this, I can’t promise that I won’t leave you with more questions than answers.

One thing is for certain though, for the foreseeable future, the NFL is here to stay in some shape or form. As an avid fan of the sport that’s something I love!

K.

Weekly NFL Pick’Em – The Waffle League Week 10

DUBLIN, IRELAND - Well I think the less said about Week 9 of the National Football League the better! A pathetic 54% accuracy rating from yours truly means I move to a shameful 73-59 record for the season. With nothing but pride left to play for (one wonders if there’s any pride left though), here’s my NFL Picks for Week 10. As D-Ream famously sang back in 1993 ‘things can only get better’, right?

K.

Can A.J. Green inspire the Bengals to victory on Thursday Night Football

Can A.J. Green inspire the Bengals to victory on Thursday Night Football

Thursday 6th November 2014

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals - The Browns beat the Buccaneers last time out while the Bengals overcame the Jaguars as you’d expect. This game will be very different to both of those ones though with two evenly matched sides going head to head.  I’m going for the Bengals to have too much for the Browns at home though with big showings tonight from Jeremy Hill and A.J. Green. Verdict: Bengals

Sunday 9th November 2014

San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints – This is a huge game for both teams as they sit with 4-4 records prior to meeting this Sunday in New Orleans. The 49ers lost to the Rams at home last week while Drew Brees and the Saints won on the road in Carolina last Thursday. I’m going for home field advantage and the extra days rest to play a factor here as New Orleans run out winners Verdict: Saints

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Buccs have been awful all season and come into this game with a 1-7 record. Atlanta haven’t been much better at 2-6 but do certainly have more weapons on offence and are well rested following their London excursion two weeks back now. I’m taking Matt Ryan to lead the Falcons to victory in Tampa. Verdict: Falcons

Dallas Cowboys at Jacksonville Jaguars - The Jaguars are at home this week but it’s that home away from home in London, England. Will the change of scenery help the 1-8 Jaguars to victory over the 6-3 Cowboys? Will Tony Romo’s back injury recover in time? Irrespective of these questions there’s only one winner. I’ll give you a hint, it’s not Jacksonville. Verdict: Cowboys

Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets - The question on everyones lips coming into this game is can Ben Roethlisberger throw for 6 touchdowns in a game for the third week running. That might be a stretch but if you wanted an outside chance of it happening, the Jets would be one of the teams you’d want him to face. The Steelers win this one but the Jets won’t make it easy for them Verdict: Steelers

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens  - I just can’t see the Ravens losing this one at home to the Titans. Short and sweet but hey, i’m nothing if not honest. Ravens win with a big day from running back Justin Forrsett Verdict: Ravens

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills - One of the games of the weekend and an important one at that. The 5-3 Chiefs visit the 5-3 Bills with an important conference win at stake. I’m rolling with the home team on this one particularly if Fred Jackson makes a surprise return to Buffalo’s back field and Sammy Watkins suits up. Verdict: Bills

Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions - Miami provided us with the surprise of Week 9 by demolishing the Chargers 37-0 at home last week. Traveling to Detroit is a different story, particularly with the home team coming off a bye week. I’ve got a sneaky little feeling though that the Dolphins might pull something out of the bag here. Verdict: Dolphins

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders - How many are Denver going to win by? An annoyed Peyton Manning following last weeks loss in New England visiting the 0-8 Raiders points to one thing only and it’s not going to be pretty if you’re a fan of the silver and black. I’m thinking Denver rack up over 40 points in this one Verdict: Broncos

St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals - The Rams won on the road against divisional rivals San Francisco last week. Can they do the same again this week but in Arizona this time? Honestly, no. The Cardinals will be too strong for them at home I fear. 94% of NFL.com users agree with me it seems! Verdict: Cardinals

New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks - It’s never easy going to Seattle to face the Seahawks and while they haven’t yet lived up to the Super Bowl Champions hype it’s hard to see the Giants coming in and taking the win. Seattle would improve to 6-3 on the season. Verdict: Seahawks

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers - The 3-5 Bears need to win this one to keep their feint hopes alive of having a decent season. They’ve got weapons on offence in Cutler, Marshall and Forte but can their defence keep Green Bay’s elite QB Aaron Rodgers quiet? In my shock of the week, I’m picking the Bears to win at Lambeau Field Verdict: Bears

Monday 10th November 2014

Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles - The Eagles will be led by Mark Sanchez this week following the injury to Nick Foles last Sunday. Sanchez has been there and done it all before and is unlikely to miss a beat as he steps into the role. Cam Newton is starting to look more like himself in recent weeks but it’s what is around him that is causing more concern for me. The Eagles win this one at home and move to 7-2 Verdict:  Eagles

And there you have my Week 10 thoughts. You can still get involved in NFL Pick’Ems with The Waffle League right now on NFL.com at http://weeklypickem.fantasy.nfl.com/group/92810

As always, please do pick responsibly!

K.