Monday, January 28, 2013

Saints making huge turnaround before 2013 season

The New Orleans’ Saints have already taken big steps towards improving their 2013 season by firing two coaches just one day into Sean Payton’s new regime.

Payton, back in the New Orleans fold after a one-season ban following the bounty scandal, is determined to make swift changes in order to boost the Saints’ on-field performances that have dipped so low in recent years.

Having been back in the job just one day he has already fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, while the NFL betting odds suggest secondary coach Ken Flajole will also walk.

The move comes at an important time for the Saints, who must start rebuilding their tactical approaches to games after a 7-9 season that saw them record the second-worst defence in the NFL. Under Spagnuolo they conceded a 28.4 points a game and averaged the worst yards-per-play score of 6.5.

Having admitted on Wednesday that the team’s defensive problems “keep him up at night”, Payton explained his decision to dismiss Spagnuolo in a brief statement:

“Philosophically we are changing our defence to a 3-4 alignment, and right now is the best time to accomplish this transition.”

Indeed, things must change if the Saints are ever going to pose a threat in the NFC South, where they only finished third in 2012 because Tampa Bay are so disastrous at defending themselves.

Going forward New Orleans aren’t that bad. At 34 Drew Brees is still an accomplished quarterback – throwing 43 touchdowns this season, a career second-best total, while running back Marcus Colston made 10 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards yet again this season. The Saints ranked second for yardage over the regular season (410.9 per game) and first in passing yards (312.3) although their rush game leaves much to be desired.

With a new defence strategy next season and possibly a strengthened rush game from the draft, punters in betting NFL markets feel New Orleans under Payton have a great chance to make the playoffs again and maybe even challenge for a Conference championship.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Injuries again halt Serena

Serena Williams’ injury concerns flared up again this week at the worst possible time as the American, en route to the final of the Australian Open, crashed in the quarters to Sloane Stephens after complaining of back spasms.

Williams, clear favourite at the start of the tournament between punters on Betfair, had breezed through the opening rounds in Melbourne and looked set to take a straight-set victory over compatriot Stephens and charge into the semi-finals. She had taken the first set 6-3 with ease and even broke her opponent in the second before her trainer was called.

Her hurt was treated but still visibly affected the world number three as she let Stephens back into the set and when her opponent took the second 7-5, it became increasingly clear there was only going to be one outcome.

Williams crashed out 3-6 7-5 6-4 in the end to a young opponent making only her first Grand Slam quarter-final. Stephens looked composed heading into the last set at 4-4 and confident enough to power through a weakened opponent.

Give credit the Stephens, for this tennis odds defying victory may send her into the top 10 on the WTA circuit by the end of the season, but also spare a thought for Williams, who now must be wondering if her body can keep up with the strain of the tour.

For Williams has suffered injury setbacks before – most notably in the mid-2000s - but has always come back to again dominate the circuit. The 31-year-old won Wimbledon, the US Open and an Olympic gold medal at the second-half of last season and took the WTA Championship title in Istanbul.

Yet a toe injury in the winter hampered her preparations for Melbourne and she rolled her ankle in week one. If injuries persist over the coming months expect the American to tighten her calendar and play less tournaments – the solution to her problems in 2006 and the reason she’s won so may Grand Slams.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Are five-set matches ruining Grand Slam competition?

The debate over whether five-set matches are in fact hampering the competition of men’s Grand Slam tennis has arisen once against after world number three Andy Murray suggested the format favours only the very best in the world.

Murray answered questions ahead of his semi-final clash with Roger Federer at the Australian Open this week: the season’s first Slam in the calendar and a good measure of how the ATP’s top players will perform throughout the year.

On the hard Melbourne surface, the balls skid off at such a pace it takes great concentration to play even one game, let alone five sets. Indeed, over such a long period of time – many matches exceeding two hours in the blistering heat this year – only the very fittest can survive.

Only two men outside the top four seeds have defied the Tennis odds and reached a Grand Slam semi-final last year: Jo-Wilfired Tsonga at Wimbledon and Tomas Berdych in New York, something Murray himself feels is down to the five-set format.

“There are way more upsets in tournaments that are best-of-three sets in the men’s [game] just because you get off to a bad start and guys can get a quick win over you,” Murray told reporters.
“Whereas over best-of-five it often takes five hours sometimes to beat the top players in the world. It’s not easy.”

Indeed, physicality is beginning to dominate over technique and shot selection as Novak Djokovic, Murray and Rafael Nadal power through opponents over five sets. Although Roger Federer is slightly less ‘built’ as his three main rivals, the Swiss can pull out a strong performance when required in Grand Slams.

The most recent example of physicality taking over the men’s game was Djokovic’s 6-2 6-2 6-1 demolition of world number five David Ferrer in the Australian Open semis. Ferrer, who had worn down Nicolas Almagro in the pervious round, was defenceless against the sting in Djokovic’s serve and returns, leaving him no chance of even making a set let alone three.

Although it is good TV watching, five-set tennis is starting to become predictable and favours the physically strongest on court. Maybe a three-set Grand Slam would be more competitive, although the proposal would sadly never get through organisers and sponsors.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

49ers ready to prove their place as top dogs

There was little doubt last season’s NFC Championship game defeat left the San Francisco 49ers with a huge point to prove this year. That added motivation was clear as Jim Harbaugh’s team stormed back from 17-0 down against the Falcons to secure their place in this season’s Super Bowl.

The Niners’ Championship game overtime loss to the Giants last season was a really painful pill to swallow for the whole squad, but San Francisco will know that anything less than victory against the Baltimore Ravens would see this year go down as another failure.

Harbaugh has made it clear he is determined to build another dynasty in San Francisco similar to the one from the Joe Montana days that yielded five Super Bowl titles in their time.

San Francisco’s plans won’t mean anything to Baltimore’s own Harbaugh, as John who looks to complete a postseason of shocks by claiming one last big name scalp, and come out on top in the battle of the brothers.

The 49ers felt they had the best team in the NFC last year, and after showing it again over the course of the regular season, they fully deserve their first appearance back in the big game for the first time since 1995.

While reaching this season’s Super Bowl has opened the door for the Niners to draw level with Pittsburgh on six titles, this bunch of players will just be happy to get over last season's disappointment and prove some critics wrong.

On paper, San Francisco will rightly go into the season’s showpiece game as favourites in the Super Bowl 2013 betting. It won’t be as simple as that, however, and nobody in the Niners camp will be underestimating the threat posed by a Ravens team on their own special journey.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chargers Name McCoy as Head Coach

The San Diego Chargers have beaten a number of other NFL teams by securing the services of Mike McCoy as their new head coach, filling the position left by Norv Turner at the end of the regular season.

While some people betting NFL have seen this move as a risk, McCoy has proven himself during his 13 years coaching in the NFL. McCoy will now be tasked with turning around the fortunes of a team that killed any hopes of reaching the postseason when they picked up only one victory in eight games during the all-important mid-point of the year.

Turner and general manager, AJ Smith, paid the price following San Diego’s third straight season without reaching the play-offs, both being shown the door after another disappointing year for the Chargers, and one that saw the fans begin to vocalise their displeasure at what they were seeing.

McCoy arrives in San Diego following three years spent with the Denver Broncos, first as quarterback coach and then offensive coordinator. The 40-year old had been linked with a number of other NFL teams but admitted he was won over by the tradition of the franchise, as well as the prospect of having the Qualcomm Stadium as his new home field.

“The Chargers have great tradition and great people. The great thing is it’s a family run business.  I’m big into family.  There’s an open door policy for everyone to feel welcome and open to come enjoy the environment that we’re all in this together,” McCoy told the NFL betting news.

“It’s a great place to play. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of excitement.  It’s a great atmosphere on game day.”

Rejuvenated Dott falls short in last four

2006 world champion Graeme Dott showed signs of returning back to his best after reaching the semi-final of the 2013 Betfair Masters.
The world number 12 has struggled for form since losing the 2010 World Championship final to Neil Robertson and was not really fancied in the Snooker Masters betting.

However, was just one frame away from reaching the final at the Alexandra Palace but to be denied by the eventual winner.
The Pocket Dynamo was 5-4 up against Mark Selby before the world number one won the final two frames of the match to end Dott’s run in the invitational only tournament for the world’s top 16.
The 35-year old had established a 4-1 lead in the second of the two-semi-finals on Saturday. He then had a chance to go further ahead in the tight sixth frame with a shot on the final black to go 5-1 in front. However, the black stuck in the jaws allowing the Jester from Leicester to take advantage and put himself back into the game.
Dott started the week in a tight battle against fellow compatriot Stephen Maguire in the opening round. The game was decided in the 11th and decisive frame with the former world champion holding his nerve to progress.
In his second game of the competition, the Scot produced one of the performances of the competition to eliminate the Snooker betting  favourite Judd Trump 6-1 in the quarter-final. It was a match of a very few high breaks but the 12th seed used his experience to out-battle his young opponent to move into the last four.
Dott will be next in action in the Snooker Shoot Out at the Circus Arena, Blackpool Tower which gets underway on Friday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Williams wins Welsh battle

Mark Williams came from 1-4 behind to beat good friend and fellow Welshman Matthew Stevens in their opening round clash of the Betfair snooker Masters at the Alexandra Palace.
The 2003 winner looked to be struggling for form in the early exchanges, allowing Stevens to go into a 3-0 lead. A turning point in the game then came in the fourth frame where the 2005 World Championship runner-up missed the brown when he looked on course to steal the frame on the colours. Williams then stepped in to go into the mid-session interval at 1-3 instead of 0-4.
However, despite losing fourth frame, Stevens came out after the break to extend his lead to 4-1. It could easily have been a bigger advantage if the 35-year old had taken his chance in frame six but he allowed Williams in for turned out to be the start of an incredible comeback.
The former two-time winner of this tournament won five consecutive frames to advance where he will now face Mark Selby in the next round.
The world number one, favourite in the Masters betting, also had to win five frames on the spin to get past Stuart Bingham after trailing 1-5. The Jester from Leicester looked to be heading out in the final opening round game of the draw. However, last month’s UK Championship winner found his best snooker when he needed it the most to keep up his fantastic record in the competition.
At 5-5, both players had chances at the table but Bingham looked to have lost his edge after being sat in his seat for large parts of the previous four frames.
Selby has reached the final on three occasions in the invitational only event, winning the tournament twice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Froch - Kesser re-match confirmed

Carl Froch finally appears to have got his wish with the news that Mikkel Kessler has agreed to fight him for a second time.
Kessler inflicted a first career defeat on Froch when the clashed in Denmark three years ago via a points decision.
Froch has been desperate for a re-match ever since, though a deadline set for Tuesday meant that, had a fight not been agreed, he would have had to have faced mandatory challenger Adonis Stevenson instead.
However, Froch and his promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed that they had reached an agreement for a fight in the UK with Kessler, with a venue to be announced.
“This is one for the ages," said Hearn. "My hat goes off to both men for putting everything on the line here in what can only be an epic battle.
"Too many super fights fall by the wayside so to make Froch v Kessler 2 is a dream come true.
"Froch vs. Kessler 1 was a barnburner but I really feel Carl is a different fighter now, especially in the UK. These are the kinds of fights and nights that can cement the legacy of Carl Froch and no one deserves it more.
"We know what to expect from both men and either way it's going to be brutal."
Froch meanwhile was equally delighted and has promised boxing fans a memorable encounter against two foes who will not give an inch.
The Boxing betting is already struggling to separate the two, who are both equally matched in terms of strengths and career stats.
"First and foremost, I'm really pleased the fight has finally been arranged," said Froch. "Our first fight was pure warfare. We went at each other for every minute of every round and the rematch promises to be even more fiercely contested.
"I seriously wish I was ringside myself for this fight, because I'm gunning for revenge at all costs and the fight fans are in for a real treat.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Brisbane competition wide open after Serena surgery

Brisbane, the first major test on the 2013 WTA calendar, could be the most competitive tournament outside a Grand Slam next year after Serena Williams confirmed she would participate despite undergoing minor surgery this December.

Williams was hot favourite to win the $1,000,000 event in Australia that begins on 31 December and acts as a precursor for the first Grand Slam of the year – in Melbourne – three weeks later. However, the 15-time Grand Slam champion, who is also well fancied in the AustralianOpen 2013 Betting, had to undergo surgery on her big toes recently, sparking rumours that she won’t be fully fit for the tournament.

Indeed, despite Williams insisting she will be “fit and ready” for Brisbane, her surgery has blown the field wide open. World number one Victoria Azarenka, number two Maria Sharapova and home favourite Sam Stosur head the bill for the New Year event, while Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova will all be hoping to start their 2013 campaigns with a title.

It will therefore be a tough ask for Williams to not only make the event but win it amid such fierce competition. Fans in the betting world are already predicting a tight race and whoever claims Brisbane will carry great confidence into the Australian Open (Follow the link fortennis betting previews).

For this is what the Brisbane International is all about. It may boast greater prize money than fellow WTA event Sydney but it is still nowhere near the stature of Melbourne. Wining the Australian Open can propel a career into superstardom and with so few build-up tournaments available to generate much-needed form, whoever wins Brisbane has a major advantage over their rivals.

Kvitova won in 2011 and took Wimbledon six months later, while Kim Clijsters and Azarenka have also benefitted from the tournament in recent years. With Williams’ minor injury her competitors will sense an opportunity