Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Bowl XLV RB Head-to-Head

Rashard Mendenhall
James Starks
In the 2010 regular season, Steelers halfback Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 1273 yards and 13 touchdowns. It was the best of his first three seasons since being drafted 23rd overall in the 2008 NFL Draft out of Illinois. He is a physical runner that is so useful in short yardage situations. Not only can he run people over but he can also ran around them with his quick burst of pace. In two games in this year's postseason, he has rushed for 167 yards, the third most in this year's playoffs, and three touchdowns, the most rushing touchdowns in this year's playoffs.


Mewelde Moore
He is complimented by Mewelde Moore who has thrived as third down back. Moore has made a name for himself in the passing game where he has been among the best in catching passing out of backfield. He had 205 receiving yards in the regular season.


Brandon Jackson
The Packers running game suffered a blow when starter Ryan Grant suffered a season-ending in the 2010 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. The injury meant Brandon Jackson would be the starter and he was surprisingly successful, rushing for 703 yards and 3 touchdowns in addition to 342 receiving yards in the regular season. However, he faded away in the playoffs, he only ran the ball six times, gaining 28 yards on those carries.


In his place stepped up an unheralded rookie from Buffalo by the name of James Starks. In this postseason, Starks has led all players in rushing yards with 263 yards. Those 263 yards are more than he had in the whole regular season in which he rushed for just 101 yards. It must be said, however, that the first time he saw the field was on the 5th December after spending a lot of time on the PUP(Physically Unable to Perform) list. He has been a key factor in Packers success thus far in the playoffs. He became the first NFL rookie to rush for over 100 yards in a postseason game, that came against the Eagles, and then, he scored his first touchdown in the NFL, an important TD against the Bears.


John Kuhn
I did not talk about the Steelers fullbacks because quite frankly they don't really have one. Big halfback Issac Redmond is the Steelers primary goal-line back and tight end David Johnson has had a number of snaps playing fullback but I cant really add any more than that. The Packers, though, do have a full time fullback and what a great player he is. That man is John Kuhn. The 6 foot, 250 pound back from a small college called Shippensburg has become a fan favourite in Green Bay because of his work ethic and ability to pick up first downs in short yardage situations either through the air or on the ground. In the regular season, he was 2nd in rushing for the Packers with 281 rushing yards. He also had four rushing touchdowns, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most on the Packers roster. Make sure to listen out for chants of "KUHN" that can sometimes sound similar to booing.


This is another difficult decision. Both teams have a number of contributors to their rushing game. They also have two quarterbacks with the ability to scramble but this post is about running backs so its not just about the rushing game. I think I'm going to have to go with the Steelers mainly because of their tried and tested weapon, Rashard Mendenhall.


I think the Pittsburgh Steelers have the edge at Running Back




Sunday, January 30, 2011

Super Bowl XLV QB Head-to-Head

Ben Roethlisberger vs Aaron Rodgers


Quarterback is one of the most demanding positions in all of sports. A quarterback must not only have a good arm but he also has to make quick decisions and be a good leader. Every offensive play involves the quarterback, apart from some trick plays out of formations like the Wildcat. The pressure a QB is under is intense. He alone can win or lose any game. In Super Bowl XLV, two of the NFL's best quarterbacks will go head-to-head.

Big Ben has been the Steelers starting quarterback even since drafted 11th overall out of Miami University(OH) in 2004. In those seven seasons, Roethlisberger has played in and won two Super Bowls(XL and XLIII) and will be playing in his third next Sunday. He ranks 8th all-time in NFL passer rating (92.5), 5th in yards per attempt (8.04), and 12th in completion percentage (63.07%) among quarterbacks with a minimum of 1500 career attempts. Among quarterbacks with a minimum of 90 starts he has the 4th highest career winning percentage (.704) as a starter in the regular season. Ben has also made headlines for what he has done off the field. He was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in 2006. He has also had sexual assault allegations directed at him, in 2009 and then again in 2010 which resulted in him being suspended for four games at the start of the 2010 regular season. In the 12 games Big Ben did start, he was very effective, throwing for 3,200 yards, 17 TDs and only 5 INTS. His passer rating of 97.0 was fifth in the NFL.


Aaron Rodgers spent his first three seasons in the NFL as Brett Favre's backup. He learned from one the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game and it has shown in the three seasons he has been under center for the Packers. He has the highest career passer rating in the regular season(98.4) in NFL history and the lowest career interception rate, only 1.99% of his throws are picked off. The QB from the University of California, Berkerly has had a strong season this year with 3,992 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions to go along with an impressive 356 yards gained on the ground and 4 rushing touchdowns. His passer rating of 101.2 in this year's regular season ranked third in the league.

Both quarterbacks have a lot in common. Both players can make plays on the ground with their feet. They also have to ability to extend plays using their mobility. Roethlisberger has called his style of making plays outside the pocket, "Backyard Football". Finally, they have a love of the long ball and you often see them converting big passes downfield. Ultimately, experience means so much and while I do think Aaron Rodgers is the better quarterback(barely), I would rather have Ben Roethlisberger leading my team in the big game.

I think the Pittsburgh Steelers have the edge at Quarterback

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Background

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Green Bay Packers



Green Bay Packers
Regular Season - The Green Bay Packers, a team many people predicted to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl prior to the start of the season, almost didn't even make it into the playoffs. Despite having an injury plagued regular season, Green Bay were able to finish 10-6 and with 10-3 win at home over their rivals the Chicago Bears in Week 17, they managed to sneak into the postseason as the 5th seed in the NFC.


Playoffs:
  • Wild Card round - Green Bay headed to Philadelphia to face the Eagles. In the hostile environment, the Packers kept their composure and showed grit in a 21-16 win. Running back James Starks stepped up for the Pack with 123 yards which was more than his entire regular season total. Aaron Rodgers had a good performance as well with 180 yards passing and three touchdowns.
  • Divisional round - Green Bay were on the road again. This time there were in Atlanta to take on the soaring number one seed Atlanta Falcons. What ensued shocked the NFL world. The Pack blew out the Falcons 48-21 in a near flawless performance in all aspects, offensive,defensive and special teams. Green Bay racked up 442 total yards, 28 first downs and a franchise record 48 points. Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of his 36 pass attempts for 366 yards and three TDs. In Rodgers' first three playoff games, he had thrown for 10 touchdowns, an NFL record. The most amazing statistic in my humble opinion was that the Packers never punted the ball. On offense, receivers Greg Jennings, 8 catches for 101 yards, and Jordy Nelson, 8 receptions for 79 yards and a TD. Defensively, cornerback Tramon Williams played exceptionally well. He recorded two interceptions, one of which he returned 70 yards for a touchdown. Linebacker Clay Matthews did what he had done all season long. That is he dominated, with 3 tackles and 2 sacks. Falcons running back Michael 'The Burner' Turner, who had rushed for 1300+ yards in the regular season, was shut down. The Pack limited him to 39 yards on 10 carries. On special teams, Eric Weems had 195 yards on 6 kickoff returns including a 102 yard return for a touchdown.
  • NFC Championship - Last weekend the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 21-14 in the NFC Championship game at Soldier Field, Chicago to advance to next weekend's Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. Unlike their previous postseason games in 2011, it was the Packers defense that won the game. They recorded 3 interceptions, two by rookie cornerback Sam Shields and a crucial pick six by BJ Raji in the 4th quarter. Wideout Greg Jennings had a big day with 8 catches for 130 yards receiving. Rookie RB James Starks was also key in the victory. He picked up 74 yards and a TD on the ground. Aaron Rodgers didn't play as well as he had done in weeks past. He was 17-for-30 throwing for 244 yards but with no TDs and 2 INTS. He did redeem himself with a potential game saving tackle on Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to prevent his interception returning going to the house. Rodgers also ran for 39 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. The Packers are now only the fourth team to win three road games in the postseason. Two of the other three to accomplish this feat went on to win the Super Bowl, the 2007 Giants and the 2005 Steelers, with the 1985 Patriots falling short in the big one. Their three game winning road streak matches their win total away from Lambeau Field in the regular season. The win also makes Green Bay the first number 6 seed to advance through the NFC playoffs to the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Regular Season - The Pittsburgh Steelers surprised a lot of people by jumping out to a 3-1 start to the season without the suspended Ben Roethlisberger. They didn't slow after that and with Big Ben onboard, they cruised to a 12-4 finish with an impressive 7-1 record on the road. Their 5-1 record against divisional opponents was slightly better than the Ravens' 4-2 record and give Pittsburgh the AFC North crown. That also meant that the Steelers would have the number 2 seed in the AFC an would have a bye in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.



Playoffs:
  • Divisional Round - The Steelers hosted their AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens in their first game of the postseason. The teams had split their regular season series, Ravens won 17-14 in week 4 and the Steelers prevailed in Week 13 with a 13-10 win. Anytime, these teams play you get smash mouth, defensive battles and this game was no different. To put this rivalry in historic terms, a Baltimore-Pittsburgh game is like the Battle of Stalingrad, a World War II battle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Both teams dont give an inch to the other. It is a struggle between teams that "hate" each other. The Steelers edged the Ravens 31-24 but dont let the score line fool you, this was your typical Ravens-Steelers bout as both teams combined for only 389 with many points coming off turnovers. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 6 times and Ravens' QB Joe Flacco was sacked 5 times. Pittsburgh's linebacker James Harrison recorded three of those sacks. Baltimore's linebacker Terrell Suggs had three sacks as well and a forced fumble. Baltimore held a 21-7 lead at halftime but Pittsburgh came back and with the game tied in the 4th, Big Ben completed a 58 yard pass to Antonio Brown. Five plays later, Rashard Mendenhall ran the ball in from two yards out to give Pittsburgh the lead with 1:33 remaining. By the end of the game, the Ravens only had 126 yards of offense including a third quarter in which they had -4 yards of offense.
  • AFC Championship - The Steelers faced the New York Jets in their 5th AFC Championship game in 10 years. Pittsburgh got off to a fantastic start and were leading 24-0 in the 2nd quarter. However, Rex Ryan's resilient Jets battled to the very end and the Steelers were just about able to hold off a desperate comeback for a 24-19 win to advance to their 3rd Super Bowl in six years. In a nail biting finish, the Steelers stuffed the Jets four times from inside the two yard line to prevent any points only to concede a safety on the next play to reduce their lead to twelve points with over seven minutes remaining. That safety gave the Jets the ball and they made the most of it as Mark Sanchez drove his offense down the field and completed a 4 yard pass to Jericho Cotchery to further reduce their deficit to five points. The Steelers, however, were able to pick up a few key first downs to hang on for the win. Steelers' halfback Rashard Mendenhall was an important contributer with 121 yards rushing and two touchdowns.



Team Comparison:

Super Bowl XLV(45) next weekend in Dallas will pit the NFL's two most iconic teams against each other. These two teams mean so much to the city they represent. The Packers were founded in 1921 making them the NFL's second oldest team. The team was named after the company, the Indian Packing Company, that sponsored them. They are the only non-profit, community owned franchise in American professional major sports leagues. Despite Green Bay being the smallest city to have an NFL team, with a population of 101,025, the Packers have a season ticket waiting list of 40 years. Their fans, nicknamed Cheeseheads, cheer on their beloved team every Sunday from the historic Lambeau Field, with a capacity of 73,128, as if Packers football is a religion.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the NFL's fifth oldest franchise and the oldest in the AFC. They were founded in 1933. Originally named the Pittsburgh Pirates, they changed their name in 1940 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The name Steelers represented all the working class citizens involved in the steel industry that Pittsburgh was famous for. They play in the state of the art Heinz Field, built in 2001 to replace Three Rivers Stadium. Their fans are just loyal and hardcore as the Packers fans. When they are waving their Terrible Towels, they give the Steelers one of the best home field advantages in the NFL.

The Packers have won twelve league championships, that is more than any other team in the NFL. Nine of those were NFL Championships which came prior to the Super Bowl era. They won the most NFL Championships with the Bears just behind with eight. They have also won three Super Bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers, didn't win a single NFL Championship but they have won a league high six Super Bowls. Both teams have also lost one Super Bowl game each.

Last Meeting :
How can we forget the last time these two sides meet. It was back in Week 15 in the 2009 regular season. The Steelers entered the game riding a five game losing streak. They left 7-7 thanks to a last second game-winning 19 yard Mike Wallace touchdown. The throw not only won the game but it also gave Big Ben 503 passing yards in the game which made him the first quarterback in Steelers franchise history to have 500-yard game.

The Game:
The game will be played in Cowboys Stadium,Dallas on Sunday 6th February with coverage starting at 11:30 GMT on Sky Sports and BBC. In the US, FOX will be bringing you the game with kickoff scheduled for 6:30 ET.






This article does what it says on the tin, or the title in this case, and that is to give you background information on the game. But it doesn't stop here. Every day in the run up to the big game I will be looking at a different aspect of the game. Here is a schedule of what is to come:
Sunday - Quarterback Head-to-Head
Monday - Running Back Head-to-Head
Tuesday - Receivers and Tight Ends Head-to-Head
Wednesday - O-Line Head-to-Head
Friday - D-Line Head-to-Head 
Saturday - Linebacker Head-to-Head
Sunday - Defensive Back Head-to-Head + Prediction

Thursday, January 27, 2011

2011 Six Nations Predictions

The 2011 Six Nations Championship begins next weekend so I thought I would take the time to give you my tournament predictions.


1. Ireland - Ok, this decision may have been influenced by the fact that I am Irish but I just have that feeling. Despite all the injuries and a poor performance Autumn internationals, I am so encouraged by Leinster's play of late. Yes thats right I said Leinster. I wouldn't go quite as far as George Hook, who had 13 Leinster players starting in his ideal lineup but I do think an Irish team made up primarily of Leinstermen could go all the way to Grand Slam glory, a feat only accomplished by Ireland twice(1948 and 2009). In a full strength Irish squad, the non-Leinster players I would start are Sean Cronin(Connacht), Paul O'Connell, Keith Earls(both Munster), Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble(Ulster) and Tommy Bowe(Ulster). That means 9 Leinster players starting which hopefully results in Ireland playing with the attacking flair that is on display week in week out at the D4tress. Plus they play England and France at home.
Player to watch - Sean O'Brien(flanker)


2. England - The English media always overhype their teams. They give themselves unnecessary pressure and more often than not they fail to live up to expectations. While I don't believe they will win the Six Nations, I do predict they will be a much better team than in previous years. They play a fast paced brand of rugby similar to that played by southern hemisphere teams. English fans probably won't be celebrating on the 19th March but in the meantime, they can enjoy the most entertaining rugby in the 6 Nations. This team will continue to get better and multiple titles are on the horizon.
Player to watch - Chris Ashton(winger)





3. France - I really don't know what to expect from the French this year. Then again, they're rarely out of contention. After their debacle against Australia in November, they lost 59-16, I just can't put them any higher on this list. Coach Marc Lièvremont needs to have a more consistent starting lineup ahead of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand later this year and I believe that this 6 Nations is key to building chemistry among the team.
Player to watch - Fulgence Ouedraogo(flanker)


4. Wales - The Welsh didn't win a single game in the Autumn Internationals. Granted, the games in which they lost were tough games(vs Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) but the 16-16 draw vs Fiji has to be worrying for Welsh coach Warren Gatland. Their last win was all the way back on the 20th March against Italy. The make/break game of their campaign will be next Friday's clash with England. It will mark the first time in 6 Nations history that the tournament opens with a Friday night game. A loss in the big game will make back to back fourth place finishes in the tournament quite likely.
Player to watch - James Hook(will be playing outside centre for the first time)


5. Scotland - They won 2/3 Autumn Internationals games, stunning South Africa and scraping past Samoa. They swept Argentina on their 2 game Summer tour and how can you forget their exhilarating win against Ireland in last year's 6 Nations. 2010 really was a great year for the Scots and they should be optimistic in this new decade but I predict another 5th place finish on the cards. There is something about this squad. They are inconsistent and have difficulty crossing the line for 5.
Player to watch - Johnnie Beattie


6. Italy - Yet another last place finish for Italy in my view. They, just like Scotland, have better times ahead. I mean how can it get worse. Joking aside, the inclusion of two Italian sides in the Magners League will greatly benefit Italian rugby and we will see that in the coming years.
Player to watch - Luke McLean


Whether my predictions are right or wrong, I dont mind as I,along with every other rugby fan in Europe, is rejoicing as the Six Nations returns. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Allez les Bleus!!!

Leinster 36-11 Racing Metro

Another great win for Leinster capping off perfect start to the New Year as they went 4-0 in January. The 36-11 win at Stade Olympique Yves du Manoir in Colombes, just outside Paris, secured a home quarterfinal for Leinster who finished leaders in Pool 2, the so-called "Group of Death", with 24 points. The only team that in all six pools that had more points then Leinster, were Northampton.

The win was typical of Leinster of late, the score line flattered them. They were dominant throughout and never looked in danger of losing but they didn't really turn it up a notch. It was certainly not a flawless performance with a number of mistakes by the Leinster men.

However, they were clinical with the ball and looked dangerous every time they were going forward. They ran in 5 tries against the team currently 2nd in the Top 14. Jonathan Sexton provided 21 points including two tries in a performance for which a award him man of the match honours. Sean O'Brien, who was the official man of the match, also accounted for a try as did Brian O'Driscoll and Isa Nacewa. For those keeping score, Racing Metro's lone try was scored by Verini Vakatawa attracted attention by kissing the ball prior to touching down.

The win further cements Leinsters place among the elite in Europe. Personally, I don't support Leinster so there is no bias in my reports but I do think that Leinster are the favourites or joined favourites alongside Toulouse to be celebrating a Heineken Cup win on 21st May 2011.

In other Leinster news:
  • The Aviva Stadium has been confirmed as the venue for Leinsters quarterfinal clash with the Leicester Tigers. The match will take place on Saturday 9th April at 6pm
  • Sean Cronin has made it official. Earlier today, Leinster signed the Connacht hooker to a two year deal. He will join the province at the end of the season
What is coming up:
  • Well, thats my last Leinster report for a couple weeks. Their next game is on Thursday 10th February when the take on Aironi at the RDS. The game starts at 7:05 and will be broadcast on RTE.
  • In the meantime, next Friday the 5th February, the 2011 Six Nations tournament will begin with Wales hosting England(kickoff-7:45).
  • Ireland's campaign will get going the following day as they travel to Italy(kickoff-2:30)
  • The opening weekend ends in Paris with France going head to head with Scotland(kickoff-5:00).
All times given are GMT. If you are in Ireland, you can watch all the games on RTE or BBC.

One last word to all you rugger buggers, i.e. rugby fans, try and check out Super Bowl XLV(45) between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, as I correctly predicted by the way. The game will be played in Cowboys Stadium on Sunday 6th February with coverage starting at 11:30 GMT on Sky Sports and BBC. In the US, FOX will be bringing you the game with kickoff scheduled for 6:30 ET.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A 7th Vince Lombardi trophy coming to Pittsburgh?

AFC Championship Game - Jets vs Steelers - Prediction
Steelers fans and their Terrible Towels
Sorry Mark, I got the Steelers in this one

Big Ben
Playing at home in front of their amazing fans, I'm picking the Steelers in this one. The Jets proved me wrong last week but I cant see a repeat performance. The last time these teams met, in week 15, the Jets prevailed 22-17 but Mark Sanchez is a liability and as much as I would like to see a Jets-Packers Superbowl, I just don't see Sanchez doing enough to win in the biggest game of his life. In just his 2nd season in the NFL, this is is 2nd AFC Championship Game but last year they were building up to this moment. This season really is Super Bowl or bust for Rex Ryan's team. Unfortunately, I'm going with Ben Roethlisberger and the stingy Pittsburgh defense


Prediction - Jets 13-17 Steelers

Chapter 182

NFC Championship Game - Packers vs Bears - Prediction


Today, a new chapter will be unfolded in the NFL's oldest rivalry as the Bears host the Packers in the NFC Championship. It is the 182nd meeting between the two sides. Chicago currently leads the all-time series, 92-83-6 but I don't see them winning this one. After, their blowout 48-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons, the NFC's number 1 seed, I find it hard to believe they can be stopped. I have been a big fan of this team all season and I knew that they could be lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy if they could stay healthy when it mattered, in the playoffs. Sure, they just about got into the playoffs as the number 6 seed but they have more momentum than any other team right now. They own a 4 game winning streak, that included a week 17 10-3 win over the opponents today.

Expect more of the same
Both teams quarterbacks had great games last week, the Packers' Aaron Rodgers threw for 366 yards and 3 TD's but most importantly he only had 5 incompletions in his 36 attempts. Meanwhile, "Da Bears" trigger man Jay Cutler passed for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns and had a career day running the ball, 43 yards and 2 touchdowns, in his first postseason game.

Both teams also have a stout defense. The Packers finished the regular season 5th in total defense(yards per game), 5th in passing defense and a modest 18th in rush defense. The team is led by 2009 Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Charles Woodson and hard nosed linebacker Clay Matthews who finished 4th on the NFL's sack leader board with 13.5 sacks in his 2nd year. The Monsters of the Midway(Chicago Bears) were 9th in total defense, 2nd in rush defense but were 20th in pass defense which worries me as the face the league's 5th best passing team, in terms of yards, the Green Bay Packers.
I am much more confident with this pick than with my AFC Championship game prediction. The residents of "Titletown,USA" should book their flights to Dallas because I think the Green Bay Packers are going to win the NFC Championship to advance to the Super Bowl.

Prediction - Packers 28-13 Bears
On his way to Dallas?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dominance

Saracens 20-43 Leinster

Saturday 15th January - Joe Schmidt’s men annihilated Saracens 43-20 at the RDS, also known as the D4tress. If you were unable to see this thrilling game, dont be fooled by the score line and think that the visitors, as they had no chance of advancing in the Heineken Cup prior to game, didn’t come out to play. Saracens had no intentions of coming over just to make up the numbers but they were no match for the on form Leinster who unloaded 6 tries on the the team currently 2nd in the Aviva Premiership.
Dominic Ryan scored two tries for the boys in blue and Sean O’Brien, Fergus McFadden, Isa Nacewa and Eoin O’Malley also touched down in the win that has clinched a quarterfinal berth for Leinster.
Schmidt has finally installed his coaching philosophy in this team. At the start of the season, there were some growing pains but right now, Leinster are playing with fluidity and confidence with ball in hand. I honestly believe that they are the most dangerous team in Europe right now.
In the NFL, there is an old saying that ‘defence wins championships’ and its true, you only have to look at the previous Super Bowl champions to realise that. I believe that this relates to most sports especially rugby. Back in 2009 when Leinster won the Heineken Cup, their defense was very hard to penetrate. Ever since the departure of defensive coach Kurt McQuilkin, Leinster’s defence hasn’t been the same. I’m not saying that it has been bad but it is quite as good as it used to be. At the weekend Saracens were able to expose some poor tackling by Leinster and score three tries with James Short, Kelly Brown and Nils Mordt touching down.
Ever since my first game covering the team which was in December against the Scarlets, Leinster have been on a roll. Sure, they lost in the 2nd game I reported about but even in that 20-13 loss to Clermont, they played good rugby. They also had a dodgy win against the Ospreys a couple weeks ago but how can you forget the Fever in the Aviva or the demolition of Ulster or even the bonus point win over Connacht. The high point of it all was on Saturday as I watched and enjoyed elegant rugby but as I look back to that first game I watched from a journalistic point of view and its easy to remember what sparked the great form Leinster are in. With 10 minutes remaining, Leinster were down 17-5 until a Sean O’Brien inspired comeback brought the game level at 17-17 and the rest was history.
Tuesday 18th January - More fantastic news for Leinster fans as Leinster announced that the back-row duo of Sean O’Brien and Shane Jennings had both agreed to three year deals with the team. Devin Toner, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath also signed new contracts to keep them with the Irish province for two more years.
Leinster have a “new generation” of players coming into the side and making a difference and some of the guys mentioned are prime examples of that.
Coach Joe Schmidt recognised the importance of these deals,
“All five players have come through the Leinster Academy system and it is vital for the future growth of both Leinster and Irish rugby that we retain our leading indigenous talent. It is a timely boost that all five have decided to sign contract extensions at this stage in their careers.”
Wednesday 19th January - It keeps getting better and better. Today, the Irish 2010 RBS Six Nations 32 man squad was announced and it featured 13 Leinster players. The squad list is given below(Leinster players written in blue):


BACKS:
Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)
Gordon D'Arcy (Landowne - Leinster)
Gavin Duffy (Galwegians - Connacht)
Keith Earls (Thomond - Munster)

Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock - Leinster)
Shane Horgan (Boyne - Leinster)

Ronan O'Gara (Cork Constitution - Munster)
Brian O'Driscoll (UCD - Leinster)
Eoin Reddan (Landowne - Leinster)
Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary's College - Leinster)

Peter Stringer (Shannon - Munster)
Andrew Trimble (Ballymena - Ulster)
Paddy Wallace (Ballymena - Ulster)
FORWARDS:
Rory Best (Banbridge - Ulster)
Tom Court (Malone - Ulster)
Sean Cronin (Buccaneers - Connacht)

Leo Cullen (Blackrock - Leinster)
Stephen Ferris (Dungannon - Ulster)
Jerry Flannery (Shannon - Munster)
John Hayes (Bruff - Munster)

Cian Healy (Clontarf - Leinster)
Jamie Heaslip (Naas - Leinster)
Shane Jennings (St. Mary's College - Leinster)

Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution - Munster)
Mike McCarthy (Buccaneers - Connacht)
Donncha O'Callaghan (Cork Constitution - Munster)
Paul O'Connell (Young Munster - Munster)

Sean O'Brien (Clontarf - Leinster)
Mick O'Driscoll (Cork Constitution - Munster)
Mike Ross (Clontarf - Leinster)
Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary's College - Leinster)

David Wallace (Garryowen - Munster)
An O2 Irish Wolfhounds panel was also announced. Further players will be supplemented following the provincial games at the weekend. The Wolfhounds will be playing Scotland A in Netherdale next Friday and will be selected from the group below(Leinster players written in blue):


BACKS:
Isaac Boss (Terenure College - Leinster)
Ian Humphreys (Ballymena - Ulster)
Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution - Munster)
Keith Matthews (Buccaneers - Connacht)

Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere - Leinster)
Johne Murphy (Young Munster - Munster)
Niall O'Connor (Belfast Harlequins - Ulster)
Tomas O'Leary (Dolphin - Munster)

Eoin O'Malley (Old Belvedere - Leinster)
FORWARDS:


Nigel Brady (Dungannon - Ulster)
Tony Buckley (Shannon - Munster)
Willie Faloon (Ballynahinch - Ulster)
Jamie Hagan (Galway Corinthians - Connacht)
Chris Henry (Ballymena - Ulster)
Kevin McLaughlin (St. Mary's College - Leinster)
Dominic Ryan (Lansdowne - Leinster)
Donnacha Ryan (Shannon - Munster)
Devin Toner (Lansdowne - Leinster)
Dan Tuohy (Ballymena - Ulster)
Damien Varley (Garryowen - Munster)
Brett Wilkinson (Galwegians - Connacht)
Finally, according to The University Observer(UCD student paper):
“Speculation has arisen that proposals are under way for a new purpose-built facility between Leinster Rugby and UCD on the college’s grounds, with an annual rent costing €500,000. If the move were to go ahead, the overall operation would be expected to cost somewhere in the region of €2.5m.”
This Friday, Leinster will be in Paris to take on Racing Metro 92 knowing that a win guarantees them a home quarterfinal. In the last meeting between the sides, Leinster won 38-22 to give them an early upper hand in Pool 2, the “Pool of Death”. You can catch the game on Sky Sports 1 with coverage starting at 7:30pm.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Jets soar into the AFC Championship Game

New York Jets 28-21 New England Patriots 
Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes celebrate the win

Mark Sanchez needed to play mistake free. Rex Ryan needed to out coach Bill Belichick. Most importantly, the Jets players needed to play the best game of the lives. All of that was needed for the New York Jets to upset the New England Patriots and all of it came true.
Rex Ryan, who didn’t want a repeat of the Patriots week 13 demolition over his Jets, targeted the start of the game. He stressed how important it was for the Jets to not fall behind early. He said that if they could keep it close, they might be able to scrape a win in the final moments. His wish was granted and the Jets opened the game with a spark that would never leave them. You only have to look at Braylon Edwards’ 15 yard touchdown reception to see who wanted it more. By the end of the game, Mark Sanchez had only completed 16 passes(out of the 25 he threw) but three of those went for touchdowns with no interceptions thrown.
In the regular season, the New England Patriots set a record for fewest turnovers in a  season. They had just 10 turnovers in 2010(5 interceptions and 5 fumbles). Even the 2007 Patriots, who finished the regular season 16-0 before losing in the Super Bowl to the Giants, had more turnovers(15). Tom Brady had an incredible NFL record of 339 throws without a pick. He had thrown 26 touchdown passes since his last interception(vs Baltimore Ravens). Brady finished with a passer rating of 111.0, the NFL’s 5th best single season passer rating. The Patriots finished eighth in NFL history with 65 touchdowns and had a perfect 8-0 record at home. They set a team record with a turnover differential of +28. Until a couple of weeks ago, they had a streak of seven straight games without a turnover, also an NFL record, the previous record was 4 straight games. They came into yesterday’s game having with eight straight games with 30+ points, a record also achieved by the 2007 Patriots and 2000 Rams.
Devastation
Tom Brady after the tough loss
They ended their regular season campaign 14-2 but compared to the 2007 Patriots, they were arguably better. In 2007, New England had a blazing start to the season before encountering difficulties near the end and winning close games. The 2010 team has been quite the opposite in their progression and entered the playoffs as one of the best teams in NFL history.
Unfortunately for sports fans in Boston, their incredible regular season meant nothing yesterday. They were out played and out hustled. Tom Brady was sacked 5 times and ultimately, the Pats were unable to cope with the Jets’ defensive schemes.
In my 1st ever prediction post, I claimed that New England would win comfortably by a score line of  30-17. Well, anything can happen ‘ANY GIVEN SUNDAY’.

Jets Win!!