(11:30pm, Sunday, Feb 1)

Britain’s No.1 American Football handicapper and Lindy’s Sports columnist Simon Milham ties down the trends, stares at the stats and offers some cool, calculated analysis for Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX, which takes place at the University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona.

Green Bay Packers v Seattle SeahawksTOP TRENDS

Underdogs have been a great Super Bowl bet in the last 13 seasons, going 13-3 Against The Handicap/Spread (ATS). Underdogs have won outright in the past three Super Bowls and in five of the last seven. Seattle was a 1.5-point dog last year and defeated Denver 43-8.

Seattle has won five straight postseason games and is seeking to become the ninth team to repeat as Super Bowl champion.

Teams that allowed fewer points in the regular season are 30-17 in the Super Bowl (in 2004 the Patriots and Eagles allowed the same number of points). The Seattle Seahawks conceded 254 points to New England’s 313.

Since 1995, the higher-seeded team has covered the handicap just twice in the last 17 Super Bowls. This is only the third time in 21 seasons that the number one seed from each Conference will meet in the final.

The team whose metropolitan area boasts the lower jobless rate has won 22 of the past 27 Super Bowls. Through November 2014, the unemployment rate for the Seattle metropolitan area was 5.3 percent, compared to 5.4 percent for the Boston metropolitan area.

The New England Patriots have covered the handicap just once in their previous seven Super Bowl appearances (1-5-1 ATS).

Ben Kerns PhotographyThe NFC owns a 26-22 edge over the AFC in the first 48 Super Bowl matchups. Seattle represent the NFC, Denver the AFC.

New England is 5-10 ATS in the last 15 playoff appearances, although they easily covered the spread in a 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game.

The Patriots are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games against NFC West opponents.

Seattle is 4-2-1 ATS in the last seven playoff games, but failed to cover the handicap in a 28-22 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.

Backing the Underdog on the handicap and backing Over on the points total was a successful formula in the last two Super Bowls. However, that combination has never been successful in three straight season finales.

Favourites have a 33-15 record in the Super Bowl but are just 26-18-2 against the handicap. There have only been six instances where the favourite won the game but failed to cover the handicap. Those outcomes occurred in 1976, 1989, 1996, 2004, 2005 and 2009. So if you fancy the favourite, the trends favour also backing them to beat the handicap.

New Orleans Saints v New England PatriotsThe Seahawks hold a 6-2 edge ATS in their last eight games with the Patriots and they are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games against teams from the AFC East division.

The NFC Champion Seahawks hope to extend a 6-1 ATS run for NFC teams in the Super Bowl.

The Points Total has gone Over the Vegas line in the last three games between the Seahawks and the Patriots.

The points total went Over the Vegas line five times in New England’s last six games against teams from the NFC West division.

Favourites have lost the last three straight Super Bowls and five of the last seven overall. If the line stays as it is (with New England +1.5 points), it will be the just the third time since 1980 that the Super Bowl spread was that small. It was Denver -2 vs. Seattle last year, and New England -2.5 vs. the New York Giants three years ago. The underdogs won both those games.

The points total has gone under the Vegas line in six of the last eight Super Bowls when the line was set at 47 points or higher.

In Super Bowl history, the points total has gone over the Vegas line 24 times, and gone under 24 times 

The Seahawks have lost by more than a touchdown just once since the middle of the 2011 season – a 30-21 defeat at San Diego in Week 2 this season.

Since 1978, seven defending champions have returned to the Super Bowl the following year. Those teams went 5-2 straight-up and 4-3 against-the-spread

vince lombardi trophy
Vince Lombardi Trophy

Teams playing in consecutive Super Bowls as an underdog are 0-5 SU & ATS.

Patriots are 1-4 ATS against Top 10 run defences and 1-6 ATS versus Top 10 run offenses this season.

Seattle’s defence ranked first in the NFL in fewest points allowed (254) and their offense was tied at first in rushing yards (2,762).

Favourites of 3 or fewer points are just 3-8 ATS in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots are 1-9 ATS in their last 10 games on natural grass. The Seahawks are 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games on the real stuff.

Overall, the best team (as measured by regular season record) has won 25 and lost 15 Super Bowls. The other eight games involved teams with identical regular season records. Both Seattle and New England boast identical 12-4 records.

New England’s Tom Brady already owns a number of postseason records and can join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories. Brady has thrown a record 49 scoring passes in the postseason and is two shy of tying Montana (11) for the most Super Bowl TD passes.

In the last 19 Super Bowls, on only three occasions has the favoured team won and the points total gone over the Vegas line (Denver 1999, Baltimore 2000 and Green Bay 2012).

Designated away teams have won 28 of 48 Super Bowls to date. White-shirted teams have won 30 of 48 Super Bowls to date. New England is the designated ‘away’ team this time and they will also wear white jerseys.

Since 2000, the Patriots are 11-4 in season openers and 11-4 off a bye week in the regular season. They are 10-3 after a week’s rest in the playoffs.

Sleepless in Seattle? Rest is not so beneficial to the Seahawks. Since 1990, Seattle is 11-14 in season openers and 10-21 coming off their bye week in the regular season or after a week’s rest in the playoffs.


New England’s attack begins and ends on the arm of 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who is 3-2 in five Super Bowl appearances.

He has completed 127 of 197 passes for 1,277 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has a 93.8 quarterback rating and hasn’t had lower than a 86.2 quarterback rating in five Super Bowl starts.

TOP TIP: New England Win Race to 10 Points @ 1.91

Seattle ended the 2014 regular season with six consecutive victories, all coming by at least 10 points, and they topped the Carolina Panthers by 14 points in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The 22 points scored by Green Bay in the NFC Championship game were the most Seattle allowed in a game since Week 11. They have not conceded more than 30 points in any game this season.

Led by the “Legion of Boom,” the Seahawks’ defence has been the most dominant unit in all of football. They surrendered the fewest total points in the regular season.

However they have a few injury concerns, in particular to cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) and safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated a shoulder against the Packers. That is a serious issue when faced with one of the purest passers in history.

TOP TIP: Gronkowski to Score a Touchdown @ 1.76

The key for Seattle is to take away the short and intermediate underneath passing routes and force Brady to air the ball out, because if Julian Edelman gets on a roll, that opens up the seams for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Take a look at the MVP markets, because if Kam Chancellor has a big night shackling Gronk, Seattle will win.

Edge: Seahawks

Marshawn lynch2NEW ENGLAND DEFENCE v

Seattle’s top-ranked ground attack, spearheaded by ‘Beast Mode’ Marshawn Lynch, takes on a New England defence that ranked 13th overall (344.1 yards per game) and ninth against the run (104.3 yards per game) during the regular season.

In nine career postseason games, Lynch has gained 100 or more yards five times and scored eight touchdowns.

TOP TIP: Marshawn Lynch to Score a Touchdown @ 1.63

Finding a way of bottling him up is the Patriots’ biggest key to slowing Seattle’s attack, because he actually leads the team with four touchdown receptions. Nine other Seahawks have caught a touchdown this season, but leading receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse combined for just 1,362 yards and four touchdowns. Their attack is hardly prolific.

And the Patriots’ defence is better than advertised. They’ve allowed 17 points and 327.4 yards in the last nine games, winning all but two. They also have the best man coverage in football and that is a massive problem for the Seahawks, who rely heavily on wheel routes, which the Patriots are very capable of nullifying.

TOP TIP: Seattle Under 2.5 Touchdowns @ 1.91

Patriots will attack Seattle’s right tackle with their pass rush. Alvin Bailey or Justin Britt, neither of whom are great pass defenders when in isolation, will be faced with plenty of twists and stunts which worked effectively in the AFC Championship game.

TOP TIP: New England to record Most QB sacks @ 2.26

The Patriots’ defence forced just 25 turnovers in the regular season (including eight forced fumbles and nine interceptions) and another five in playoff games against Baltimore and Indianapolis.

Seattle’s offensive line is not that brilliant. Russell Wilson has a great awareness and instinctiveness, an uncanny ability to know where his receivers are. The Seahawks were third in the NFL with 17 plays of 20 or more yards this season, and Wilson led all quarterbacks with 849 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

TOP TIP: New England to record First QB Sack @ 1.75

Yet he may well be scrambling for his life, even against a tepid New England pass rush. Wilson is more aggressive with his legs when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter or in overtime, and with the Patriots generally utilising a four-man pass-rush, you can be siure Bill Belichick worries about a running lane for the quarterback.

New England’s linebacking corps of Rob Ninkovic, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower could have a big say in the outcome.

Even so, if there is a bet for multiple sacks on Wilson, take a good look.

Edge: Patriots


New England’s Stephen Gostkowski (35-of-37 FG attempts) almost never misses, while Julian Edelman is a superb punt returner. Seattle recovered an onside kick and won in overtime against the Packers.

TOP TIP: Seattle to make Longest Punt @ 1.90

TOP TIP: Seattle to make Most Punts @ 1.96

Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka made just 9-of-13 FG attempts from 40-to-49 yards this season and their return game has slipped a notch from last year.

Edge: Patriots


Betting Market – There has been quite a swing since the opening lines were announced two weeks ago. Seattle were initially as big as 2.5-point favourites, but the money has since come for the Patriots, who are currently one-point favourites. That’s the equivalent of a field-goal swing, which is a significant move, particularly in a game of this magnitude.

The Stadium – It seems a little ridiculous that Wembley can sell over 83,000 tickets for three regular-season NFL games each year, yet for the big game itself, only 63,400 people will be inside the University of Phoenix Stadium. The NFL says it plans to keep the retractable roof open at the stadium, which goes against the grain. The Cardinals, who play their home games in the stadium, did not play a single game with the roof open this season. The Super Bowl host stadium has not only a retractable roof but a movable field – the only one of its kind in the US. The field slides inside and outside on a set of rails, motors and wheels. The natural grass field is frequently voted by players around the league as their favourite playing surface.

deflatedThe Footballs – No advantage for New England, who have faced accusations that they cheated by using deflated footballs in the AFC Championship game. No doubt Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Sami Sosa, Ben Johnson and Mark Maguire will issue a joint statement defending Bill Belichick and Tom Brady shortly.

Turnovers – Out of 48 Super Bowl champions, only four of them lost the turnover battle in the big game. That’s just 8.3% of all Super Bowl winners: The 2005 Steelers lost it by one, the 1988 49ers lost it by one, the 1979 Steelers lost it by two, and the 1970 Baltimore Colts lost it by three.

TOP TIP: Seattle to record First Fumble @ 1.82

Only eight of the 48 Super Bowl winners ended up tying the turnover battle, so overall, 75% of the teams that won the Super Bowl also won the turnover battle. The Patriots are currently +3 in the playoffs, having won the turnover battle in each of their two games. They were +12 in the regular season. The Seahawks are currently 0 in the playoffs, but are +10 in the regular season.


The Patriots’ aggressive run defence, which features linebacker blitzes is a boom-or-bust intangible. There is no guarantee it will work against a zone-blocking team like Seattle, who will patiently stick with the run even if they trail. One cut from Lynch and that run defence could give up a chunk of yards.

Injuries to Sherman and Thomas are significant hits for Seattle to overcome, especially against a well-oiled attack led by arguably the greatest quarterback in history. Still, if they play anywhere near the level they did last year against an equally talented Denver attack, then the Seahawks may repeat.

We will go with the favourite – whoever that may be on the day. We suspect New England.

VERDICT: New England 24 Seattle 20


All odds quoted from SHOREHAM FC’s betting service

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WEEKEND BETTING GUIDE – MCB’s Premier League Preview

After the romance (and the shocks) of the FA Cup, it is back to Premier League reality this weekend. There are some huge games, no more so than a potential title decider between Chelsea and Manchester City.

Last week we managed to find winners of 1.4, 2.12. 2.00, 1.98, 2.12, 2.16 and 1.53. We’ll give ourselves a grade F and a ‘must do better’. See how we do this week with predicting the outcome of the 10 Premier League games.

All odds quoted from Hexham FC’s betting service

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steve bruce
Worried: Steve Bruce

This looks a must-win game for manager Steve Bruce and Hull (odds: 2.58), as they are now in the relegation places after losing their last three matches without scoring a goal.

Newcastle (2.92) have found a modicum of off-field stability since replacing Alan Pardew with John Carver and they are in relative mid-table safety, eight points above the bottom three.

The nightmare scenario of relegation now looks unlikely, but the Geordies have won just one of the last seven meetings with Hull.

However, this fixture has not produced a home win in seven meetings. The draw is available at 3.10.

In terms of goals, the last three matches have produced more than two goals and Hull have scored at least once six times in the last seven fixtures between the sides.

VERDICT: Hull 1 Newcastle 1 @ 5.80

BEST BET: Both teams to score @ 1.97



This is fixture with a recent history of producing goals: seven of the last eight meetings have seen more than two successful strikes.

Everton (odds: 2.62) are on a poor run and Palace (2.78) are a different side under Alan Pardew.

Another defeat for the Blues could see them drop as low as 17th, but they are still a competent outfit and can avoid defeat in London.

Everton have scored at least twice in six of the last eight meetings. Palace have never won three consecutive matches at home against Everton and have won the last two.

However, home advantage has not helped the side recently, as they have won just one of the last meetings with Everton at Selhurst Park.

VERDICT: Crystal Palace 2 Everton 3 @ 36.00

BEST BET: Over 2.5 goals @ 2.26



Gerrard: Hammers’ nemisis

Liverpool (odds: 1.66) have rediscovered some of the swagger of last season, despite the loss of Daniel Sturridge and departure of Luis Suarez.

Any side would miss players of that calibre and Sturridge looks close to returning to the side after a lengthy injury absence.

West Ham (5.30) have become tough to beat and are in the last 16 of the FA Cup.

However, the Hammers have won just three of the last 24 meetings and have not won at Anfield since 1963. Neither have they won back-to-back games with the Reds since 1964. And Steven Gerrard always seems to have his better days when playing against the Hammers, who will be glad to see the back of him when he quits Anfield.

History suggests this could be a regulation home win, but West Ham can score in a fixture in which 10 of the last 12 have seen more than three goals. We reckon Liverpool are banker material.

VERDICT: Liverpool 3 West Ham 1 @ 12.00

BEST BET: Both teams to score @ 1.71



Leicester (9.80) will be on a high after beating Tottenham away from home in the FA Cup.

However, they are still at the bottom of the table after just four wins in 22 matches, two of which were on the road.

United (1.33) have lost two of 11 league fixtures at Old Trafford this season but Leicester are not likely to make that three.

Louis van Gaal’s side have won nine of the last 10 meetings, while Leicester have won only three of the last 26 fixtures between the sides.

Seven of those Man Utd wins have been achieved without conceding a goal and they have not dropped a point against Leicester in the last four meetings in Salford.

VERDICT: Manchester United 2 Leicester 0 @ 6.20

BEST BET: Half-Time Draw @2.64



Relegation game: Redknapp

Stoke (odds: 1.65) host Rangers (5.80) on the back of a great win in the Cup at Rochdale. QPR have famously lost all 10 matches on their travels in the league this season.

Relegation is a distinct possibility for Harry Redknapp’s side, while Stoke are just above half way and currently free of relegation worries.

Over the last 10 fixtures QPR have won five – two more than Stoke – and two of these fixtures have ended as draws.

Stoke have lost four of 10 matches at home in the league this season which suggests some vulnerability.

The QPR losing run away from home can’t continue but while this would appear to be a match in which they can finally avoid defeat away from their own ground, they won’t.

VERDICT: Stoke 2 QPR 0 @ 6.80

BEST BET: Stoke lead at half time @ 2.18



Sunderland (odds: 2.18) boast the worst home record in the Premier League, with just one win and nine points from 11 games at the Stadium of Light-weights.

Burnley (3.55) have the third-worst away record in the division, having won just one of their 10 road games. Something has to give. Or does it?

Given there have been five draws in the last 11 meetings between the two and Sunderland’s penchant for a stalemate (11 of their 22 league games have been drawn), this relegation scrap could end honours even. The draw is on offer at 3.20.

That might be a little too obvious, however. Sunderland have won five of the last eight meetings, with two draws, and one defeat. That is a fairly reasonable trend to put our faith in.

Another historic trend worth noting is that both sides have scored in seven of their last nine meetings.

Sunderland have lost four of their last five and have won one of their last 12 Premier League games. It is high time they gave their fans something to cheer about.

VERDICT: Sunderland 2 Burnley 1 @ 8.40

BEST BET: Sunderland Over 1.5 goals @ 2.30


Saido Berahino
Berahino: Top talent

West Brom (2.86) and manager Tony Pulis may have their eyes on Wembley, following a favourable home draw against West Ham in the FA Cup fifth round.

But their Premier League form is troubling. The Baggies sit just three points off the drop zone, having lost 10 of their 21 games. They have won just three at home and face a Tottenham Side who have lost just two of their last 11 games.

Even with a quality striker in Saido Berahino, West Brom do not hold too many fears for Spurs (2.54), as the Londoners have lost just one of the last 10 meetings.

Given that Albion have not won successive meetings with Tottenham since 1984 and that they have won just two of the last 11 meetings at home, Tony Pulis’s side look to be up against history as well as one of the top six road teams in the league.

Only Aston Villa (11) and Sunderland (19) have scored fewer goals than Albion’s tally of 20 and the first goal could be crucial. The best the Baggies can hope for is a draw.

VERDICT: West Brom 1 Tottenham 2 @ 9.40

BEST BET: Tottenham to Score @ 1.35


Defeat unthinkable: Pellegrini

The odds for both Chelsea and Manchester City to go out of the FA Cup a home to lower-league opposition at last weekend’s fourth-round stage was 285/1. Who saw that coming? Not us.

The Premier League is very much within reach, however. Chelsea (odds 2.06) hold a five-point lead over City (3.65) with 16 games to play. The Blues have won all 10 of their home games in the league.

Given City’s last two performances at home – crashing 2-0 to Arsenal in the league and by the same score to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup – there won’t be too many people rushing to back them to reel in the Londoners.

Yet Chelsea themselves are having a bit of a wobble.

Thumped 4-2 at home by Bradford in the FA Cup, Jose Mourinho’s side were also fortunate that Liverpool failed to convert a host of chances in their two League Cup semi-final clashes.

The Blues were outclassed at times by Liverpool. The Anfield club created a boatload of chances and striker Mario Balotelli did what he does best. He is becoming about as useful in front of goal as Anne Frank’s drum kit.

The match of the weekend could not be harder to fathom, but we can at least rely on City to find the net, as they have done at least once in eight of the last 10 meetings.

City have the best road record in the division and have lost just one of their last five trips to Stamford Bridge. For Manuel Pellegrini’s side, losing is unthinkable and given Chelsea’s midweek exertions, City look the value bet.

VERDICT: Chelsea 1 Man City 1 @ 6.60

BEST BET: Double Chance – Draw or Man City @ 1.77


Cup boost: Wenger

Arsenal are on a roll. They followed up their unexpected 2-0 win at Manchester City with a solid FA Cup win at Brighton and a favourable home draw against Championship side Middlesbrough. Silverware is well within reach.

With five wins and a draw from their last seven league games, the Gunners (odds: 1.26) are just a point behind fourth-placed Manchester United and have winnable games upcoming against Villa, Tottenham, Leicester, Crystal Palace, Everton and QPR. That should see them comfortably in the top four.

The Gunners have lost just three of their last 33 games against Villa (odds: 14.00) and although those three defeats all came on home soil, Arsene Wenger’s side should not have any trouble against a side that have not won in seven and failed to find the net in their last five league games.

Equally, this game has the biggest potential for an upset.

Nine of the last 10 meetings yielded three goals or more and this is a trend that should be a friend.

VERDICT: Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 0 @ 7.20

BEST BET: Arsenal to lead at half-time @ 1.64


Swansea (odds: 6.40) have never won at Southampton (1.60) in five attempts and, having been forced to sell striker Wilfried Bony, they are not about to start doing so any time soon.

Two wins in the last eight league games (including no win in four) has seen Garry Monk’s side slide down the table. They are currently 10 points off the Champions League places and 11 points off the relegation zone.

Southampton, unbeaten in their last six (five wins and a draw), have won the last three meetings with Swansea to nil. They have the third-best home record in the division and only Chelsea (three in 10 games) have conceded fewer goals than the seven (from 11) allowed by the Saints.

Goals have been at a premium in previous clashes, with fewer than three goals scored in each of the last five clashes. This is the final game of the weekend and the best might just be saved until last. Expect the Saints to march on, getting the better of an entertaining clash.

VERDICT: Southampton 2 Swansea 0 @ 6.40

BEST BET: HT Correct Score 1-0 @ 3.35

All odds quoted from Hexham FC’s betting service

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FA CUP Fourth Round – MCB Betting Preview

The grind of the league gives way to the romance of the F.A. Cup this weekend – and we take a look at the big matches and where to put your money.

Last week we managed Premier League winners at odds of 7.40, 2.32, 1.73, 1.86, 1.50. See how we get on with predicting the outcome of this weekend’s FA Cup fixtures.

All odds quoted from

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Louis Van Gaal
Cup class: Van Gaal

Some real FA Cup romance as the lowest team still left in the competition meet arguably the most famous club in the world.

It would be a massive blow to Manchester United (Odds: 1.22) should they lose, even though qualifying for the Champions League is their main objective.

Even if Louis van Gaal plays his second string, they should have enough quality to win cosily.

Cambridge (14.00) are currently 12th in League Two and the gulf in class should be reflected in the score.

VERDICT: Cambridge United 0 Manchester United 3 @ 6.20

BEST BET: Half Time – Manchester United @ 1.53


Swansea City (Odds: 2.28) arrive in Lancashire on the back of their worst performance of the season – a 5-0 Premier League hammering at home by Chelsea.

The Blues are the best side in England, but were handed goals through poor defending and individual errors.

Swansea have won just two of 10 matches played on the road in the league this season.

Blackburn (3.05) have lost three of 13 matches at their own stadium in the Championship and while they may be able to avoid defeat, Swansea may well have enough up front to get them through to the fifth round.

VERDICT: Blackburn Rovers 1 Swansea City 2 @ 8.60

BEST BET: Swansea and Over 2.5 Goals @ 3.50


Tony Pulis
Great record: Pulis

A fascinating Midlands derby brings together Birmingham (Odds: 3.80), who are 17th in the Championship, and West Brom (1.96), who are gradually moving away from the relegation places in the Premier League.

West Brom are now managed by Tony Pulis who has never taken a club down in his career.

The Baggies are unbeaten in three matches and defended well in holding Everton to a goalless draw at Goodison Park on Monday. Another low-scoring draw is anticipated.

VERDICT: Birmingham City 1 West Bromwich Albion 1 @ 6.00

BEST BET: Draw at half time @ 2.02


These two sides that are both in the bottom half of the Championship. Cardiff (Odds: 2.36) are five places and four points ahead of Reading (2.82) and can make home advantage pay and progress to the fifth round.

The Welsh side have the fifth-best home record in the league having won eight of 13 fixtures at their own stadium this season.

Reading have only won twice on the road and have conceded 29 goals in 13 away fixtures. They are unlikely to improve that record at the home of the Bluebirds.

VERDICT: Cardiff City 2 Reading 0 @ 12.0

BEST BET: Under 2.5 goals @ 1.96


Respect: Mourinho

Chelsea (Odds: 1.12) are the shortest-priced team on the FA Cup fixture list this weekend and will beat Bradford (26.00) at Stamford Bridge.

That means the main issue of debate is the margin of victory and it may not be too substantial.

The match comes in the middle of some massive fixtures for Jose Mourinho’s side, including the home match with Manchester City in the league and a League Cup semi-final second leg at home to Liverpool in midweek.

Mourinho respects the Cup competitions, and while he won’t play the reserves, he may rest several key players. Bradford can keep the score down to a respectable margin.

VERDICT: Chelsea 3 Bradford 0 @ 5.80

BEST BET: Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.40


This tie will be huge in Derbyshire as it brings together the two biggest clubs in the county.

Derby (Odds: 1.56) scraped through the last round by beating Conference side Southport with a penalty in injury time.

It took the introduction of their two best players to decide the tie and they have since lost to Nottingham Forest in the league in arguably their biggest match of the season.

Chesterfield (5.80) have won just three of 13 away matches in League One this season and avoiding defeat looks beyond them.

VERDICT: Derby County 2 Chesterfield 1 @ 7.40

BEST BET: Both teams to score @ 1.85


Marksman: Aguero

Manchester City (Odds: 1.27) were stunned by Arsenal in the league last weekend and will want to get their season back on track by winning this clash by several goals.

Sergio Aguero hardly got a kick against Arsenal but, if selected, will be feel he can score at least once.

City are generally hard to beat at the Etihad but have failed to win four of 11 matches at home in the league this season.

Boro (10.50) are genuine title contenders in the Championship and have the second-best away record in the league, but do not have the ability to avoid defeat.

VERDICT: Manchester City 3 Middlesbrough 0 @ 7.40

BEST BET: 2 or 3 goals Scored @ 2.12


How much did Sheffield United’s FA Cup semi-final first-leg against Spurs take out of Nigel Clough’s side? That is an imponderable in what should be a fascinating tie.

Preston (2.10) have won just three of the last 12 meetings at home with the Blades (3.40), with five of their last six clashes yielding under three goals. It is 1.72 for that to occur again.

There have been three draws in the last five meetings and six of the last seven meetings were deadlocked at the interval. Tough call, but the Blades’ recent Cup exploits cannot be ignored.

VERDICT: Preston 0 Sheffield United 0 @ 8.20

BEST BET: Half-Time Draw @ 2.00


Bobby Stokes
Cup hero: Bobby Stokes

Would you take a Champions League spot or a win a Cup? It is a relevant question to teams like Southampton (Odds: 1.59), Liverpool, West Ham and Tottenham.

In Southampton’s case, they are playing with the house money and are not expected to maintain their league position. The FA Cup, which they last won in 1976 when Bobby Stokes netted an 86th-minute winner against Manchester United, should be a priority.

Palace (5.70) are unbeaten in four away games. This is not even a miss-print. The last time they went unbeaten in five on the road was in the Championship in 2012. And that doesn’t count.

Saints won six of the last seven meetings and held Palace goalless in five of those.

VERDICT: Southampton 1 Crystal Palace 0 @ 5.60

BEST BET: Half Time Draw @ 2.12


Staying up and going up are the respective priorities for Sunderland (Odds: 1.62) and Fulham (5.10). In reality, neither may happen.

Sunderland have won one of their last 12 in the Premier League, while Championship Fulham are mid-table mediocre, with only bottom-of-the-table Blackpool having lost more games.

The Black Cats have won just two of the last 10 meetings with the Cottagers, who are unbeaten in their last five trips to the Stadium of Light-weights. A draw would not be a shock.

VERDICT: Sunderland 2 Fulham 2 @ 15.00

BEST BET: Both teams to Score @ 1.85


On course: Pochettino

Already well on course for one trip to Wembley, holding a 1-0 League Cup semi-final first-leg lead over Sheffield United, and unbeaten in their last six league games at home, Tottenham (Odds: 1.65) appear to have a relatively straightforward task to reach the Fifth round.

Leicester (5.00) have shown signs of life recently, winning three and drawing one of their last five league and Cup games, but have conceded a combined nine goals in their last three trips to White Hart Lane.

Draws are rare when these two meet (just one in the last 12). We expect goals and a home win.

VERDICT: Tottenham 4 Leicester 2 @ 6.00 (Any Unquoted)

BEST BET: 4 goals or more @ 2.70


The return of former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey, 37, who made 223 appearances and scored 60 goals for the Reds, is something of an FA Cup fairytale.

But the cold, hard facts are these: Liverpool (Odds: 1.30) have managed to lose just once in their last 15 games in all competitions and have beaten Bolton on their last 10 meetings at Anfield.

Bolton (9.80) are on a run of one defeat in 12, despite languishing 11 points behind those currently in the Championship playoff positions.

Yet given their soaring confidence, betting against Liverpool is like replacing Terry Wogan with Chris Evans on BBC Radio2. Incomprehensible.

VERDICT: Liverpool 3 Bolton 0 @ 7.80

BEST BET: Bolton not to score @ 1.98


Steve Cotterill
Going up: Steve Cotterill

Bristol City (Odds: 3.65) look certainties for promotion to the Championship. Steve Cotterill’s young side have lost just three times in League One this season.

The Hammers (1.97) won a titanic Third round replay with nemesis Everton, but needed penalties to progress and now face another bogey side – West Ham have managed to beat the Robins just once in six attempts and have never at Ashton Gate.

Most Hammers’ fans will not thank co-owner David Sullivan for saying he thinks West Ham could win the Premier League and the Champions League within five years. Still, it is good to know optimism is still legal in some parts of East London. We think it is justified, despite conceding in all 11 League and Cup games on the road this season.

VERDICT: Bristol City 0 West Ham 2 @ 8.80

BEST BET: Half-Time Draw @ 2.12


Aston Villa (Odds: 2.34) have had more trouble scoring than a eunuch at a nuns’ convention. More vanilla than thriller, their strikeforce has a habit of doing just enough to tease not please.

It has been over seven hours since they netted. It is rumoured you can receive a satisfactory outcome from Vodafone’s customer service department in less time.

Okay, we are stretching a point, but Championship Bournemouth (2.96) have already faced Premier League opposition in Liverpool this season. While knowing what is required after giving the Reds a real test, a draw is probably the best the Cherries can hope for.

VERDICT: Aston Villa 1 Bournemouth 1 @ 6.00

BEST BET: HT/FT Bournemouth-Draw @ 14.00


Arsenal (Odds: 1.53) have won four of their last six matches in the Premier League and three from six away from home.  The Gunners can win this with a bit to spare.

Despite Champions League qualification being a priority, the Cup is still an important competition for the manager and club.

Brighton (6.00) will see staying in the division as their main objective for the season but will not want a decisive defeat to effect confidence. This match is unlikely to provide the shock of the fourth round.

VERDICT: Brighton 0 Arsenal 3 @ 9.60

BEST BET: Arsenal @ 1.53

MULTIPLE CHOICE: Arsenal 1.53, Liverpool 1.30, Cardiff 2.36 – a successful £20 accumulator would return £73.88

All odds quoted from are correct at the time of going to print and are subject to change.

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Who will reach the Super Bowl? We take an in-depth look at the last of the two ‘semi-finals’ and try to pinpoint the best bets…


Sunday, 11:40pm at Gilette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Sky Sports: TV Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

Tom Brady
Making history: Tom Brady

An old AFC East rivalry is rekindled as the Colts aim to break a span of five successive defeats to the Patriots, who have won 12 of the last 17 meetings dating back to 2001.

The last time the Colts won in Foxboro was on November 5, 2006. They have lost all four subsequent trips to face the Tom Brady-led Patriots.

New England have already had the measure of the Colts once this term inflicting a 42-20 defeat upon them in their own house in Week 11.

The Patriots have outscored the Colts 144-66 in their last three clashes and odds-makers have the Patriots as 6.5-point favourites. You can back them giving up those points at odds of 1.94.

Bill Belichick’s team are considered 1.38 favourites, with the Colts 3.25 underdogs.

You can back the Colts in receipt of 6.5-points at 1.94.

New England survived two 14-point deficits to run out 35-31 winners over Baltimore last week, but their running game, which has mashed the Colts in their last two encounters, was given the night off after 1:13 of the second quarter, as they ran into a wall of purple.

It meant heavy reliance on Brady, who threw for 367 yards, tossed three touchdown passes and he ran in another himself.

Brandon Lafell
Big threat: Brandon LaFell

The go-ahead touchdown, a deft, lofted pass over Baltimore cornerback Rashaan Melvin, fell into the arms of Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell with just over five minutes left. It was Brady’s 46th post-season scoring pass – breaking the record set by Joe Montana. And it was a thing of beauty.

Brady is 37 and in the autumn of his glittering career. This could be his last shot at collecting a Super Bowl ring to add to those he won before the Spygate era. He is playing in his 28th playoff game, looking to become the first player to win 20 post-season tilts.

While his deep ball is not what it was, he can still pick apart the tightest defence and the Colts front four know that if they can’t stop the run, the passing lanes will be opened up frequently.

Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck represents the future. The former No.1 pick has shown expected progression since entering the league in 2012 and has led the Colts to three playoff appearances and two division titles.

Andrew Luck2
Time is money: Andrew Luck

The knock on Luck, if there is one, is that he does not release the ball as quickly as many quarterbacks. But the New England pass rush is not noted for its ferociousness and Luck, who has thrown six touchdowns and eight interceptions in the last three games with the Patriots, is making much better decisions this season.

Patriots are very relaxed group, more so than in past seasons. The biggest test they would face in the playoffs would come from Baltimore (whom they beat) or Seattle (in the finale).

This Colts team did not really impress against a wounded Denver outfit and the worry is they acted like they had won the Super Bowl afterwards. They were just happy to be in the Conference Championship.

The Colts have run-stuffing defensive lineman Art Jones back in the line-up and they are a much more confident group than when they last met the Patriots. They have allowed cornerbacks Vontae Davis and unsung Greg Toler to man receivers one-on-one on the outside, allowing linebackers Jerrell Freeman and D’Quell Jackson to offer more support against the run.

But Brady has some great weapons. Few teams have had an answer on how to defend tight end Rob Gronkowski and LaFell is developing as an elite NFL receiver.

Coby Fleener
Exploiting weakness: Coby Fleener

On the other side of the ball, the Colts may look to take advantage of a knee injury to Patriots’ starting cornerback Brandon Browner, who didn’t finish the game against the Ravens. The depth in the secondary will be tested with slot receiver T. Y. Hilton – who had his worst game of the season against the Pats with three catches for 24 yards – Reggie Wayne and emerging rookie Donte Moncrief.

And then there is a player who has struck at the heart of the Patriots’ defence before. Receiver Hakeem Nicks has 444 yards and four touchdowns during the 2011 playoffs with the New York Giants – and had 10 catches for 109 yards when the Giants upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He could be the X-factor.

Patriots are 16-4 all-time at home in the post-season and have the look of Super Bowl contenders.

They also appear to have the Colts’ number. In their last five meetings they have averaged 41.2 points per game.

So plenty points to a home win and hopefully a clash against Seattle in two weeks.

KEY MATCH-UP: The focus will be on Rob Gronkowski vs. the Colts’ defence, but the Patriots have had issues with tight-ends themselves. They gave up the third-most receiving yards to tight ends this season and this stems directly from their lack of depth at the linebacker position. If Luck can hit a deep ball early, then expect the middle to open up for Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The points total – currently set at 53.5 – went over the line in the last six meetings between the two and the last four meetings in New England. The underdog is 14-5-2 against the handicap in the last 21 meetings, but the Patriots have covered the handicap in eight of the last nine meetings against a team with a winning record.

KEY HOODOO:  All of the Patriots’ eight post-season losses under Bill Belichick were a rematch from that regular season.

VERDICT: Indianapolis 24 New England 37

BEST BET: New England -6.5 @ 1.94


All odds quoted from

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Who will reach the Super Bowl? We take an in-depth look at the first of the two ‘semi-finals’ and try to pinpoint the best bets…


Sunday, 8:05pm at CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Sky Sports: TV Announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman

Russell Wilson
Champs: Russell Wilson

The Seattle Seahawks may never have looked more like a defending Super Bowl champion this season than when the defeated Green Bay 36-16 on opening night, way back on September 4.

Now they have to face the Packers again as they attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the New England Patriots in 2005.

The Packers have improved in the ground game since mid-season. After the first eight games they averaged 90 yards per game. Over the last eight weeks of the campaign, they averaged more than 150 yards per game.

They will probably have to get more than the 90 rushing yards they managed in their first tilt against the Seahawks to have a chance of winning.

The Packers have improved defensively. Over the last eight games, the Packers ranked sixth in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed, conceding 691. That upped their average to 23rd against the run over the entire season. They also allowed a paltry 3.6 yards per carry compared with 5.2 for the season.

That initial meeting had a significant bearing on the NFC Championship game, as both teams finished 12-4. Had Green Bay won it, they would be hosting the game in frigid Wisconsin.

CenturyLink Field seattle
Loud: CenturyLink Field

Instead they have to go to the loudest NFL stadium where the Seahawks have won 25 of their 27 regular-season and playoff games by an average of 15.4 points per game.

Green Bay were 4-4 on the road this season and 0-3 against teams with a winning record – they went 12-12 away from Lambeau Field in the last three regular-seasons, with another road loss in the playoffs at San Francisco. They are 0-5 on the road against a team with a winning record dating back to 2012.

And if they do follow convention, they will lose by more than the handicap. The Packers are 3-7 against the handicap in the last 10 road games against a team with a winning record.

It is worth noting that Aaron Rodgers, who has the highest quarterback rating of any passer since 2012, has thrown 11 interceptions in the last two seasons. All 11 of them have come on the road.

Rodgers is also nursing a strained calf muscle, which limited his mobility in the first half of their somewhat fortunate and certainly unconvincing divisional playoff victory over Dallas last weekend.

It was noticeable he was struggling with a slight tear in the muscle and some of his passes were off target as a result.

Aaron Rodgers 2
Injury concern: Aaron Rodgers

There will be a lot of pressure heaped on the running game and Eddie Lacy as a result, but when Rodgers does take to the air, expect him to abuse cornerback Byron Maxwell or back-up Tharold Simon. Do not expect him to target receivers near Richard Sherman too often.

That said, Rodgers cannot afford to let the Packers get too one-dimensional as they did in their first meeting. They will take the opportunity to challenge Sherman when the opportunity arises. He is good, but far from invincible – and in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, they have the weapons to open the game up and keep the Seahawks linebackers honest.

Both teams have lost one game since November but the Seahawks (Odds: 1.33) have been far more convincing than the Packers, who are considered 3.65 to win in the Emerald City.

They have a fearsome front four, who have the ability to clog up running lanes and the defence as a whole gave up just 6.5 points per game during the final six weeks of the year.

Marshawn Lynch
Beast: Marshawn Lynch

They also have a balanced attack, which starts with running back Marshawn Lynch. ‘Beast Mode’ had 110 yards on 20 carries against the Packers in Week 1 and the Packers’ biggest weakness is against the run. They conceded 138 yards on 27 carries in defeat of Dallas last week. And numbers like that won’t be good enough against this efficient attack.

Yet they don’t miss many tackles and throughout the season they gave up just five runs of 20 yards or more, which was the second-lowest in the league.

The Seahawks have won four of the six previous meetings at home and are seeking three back-to-back wins over the Packers for the first time since 1990.

The Packers are considered 7-point underdogs and if you fancy them to remain within that converted touchdown margin on the handicap, they are available at 1.99.

The Seahawks, who are 2.02 Super Bowl favourites, can be backed to beat Green Bay on the handicap (-7 points) at 1.89.

KEY MATCH-UP: All eyes will be on Rodgers vs. the Seattle secondary, but Packers aging pass rush specialist Julius Peppers could be a major factor against a less-than-solid right tackle Justin Britt, who is also struggling with a knee injury.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The points total – currently set at 46.5 – went over the line in four of the last six meetings, dipping under the line once and falling on the line one. The home team is 4-1-2 against the handicap in the last seven meetings.

KEY HOODOO:  Each of the last four times that both conference title games featured touchdown or more favourites, dating back to 1998, one of the favourites lost outright.

VERDICT: Green Bay 17 Seattle 27

BEST BET: Under 46.5 points @ 1.94

All odds quoted from

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WEEKEND BETTING GUIDE – MCB’s Premier League Preview

The race for fourth place and automatic qualification for the Champions League is hotting up, with Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham, Southampton and Manchester United all in contention. All look to have winnable games this weekend, but you can bet one or two will drop points.

Last week we managed winners of 10.50, 8.20, 1.58, 1.71, 1.30 and 1.71. Let’s see how we get on with predicting the outcome of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures.

All odds quoted from

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Christain Benteke
Wanted: Christian Benteke

It has been over seven hours since Aston Villa (Odds: 4.60) scored a Premier League goal and so it is little wonder that Paul Lambert is among the favourites for the sack.

Their 11 goals are the fewest of any side in the top five divisions of English football and they have failed to score in 12 of their 21 league games. Villa are without a win in six Premier League games – scoring just one goal in that period – and are three points clear of the bottom three.

The vultures are starting to circle the talent they do have, such as Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph. Ironically, it is Liverpool (3.40) who have been linked with the duo most often.

Liverpool have lost one of their last nine league games and won three of their last four on the road, albeit against sides currently in the bottom five.

Historically, there has been no home win recorded by either side in the last seven meetings and while Liverpool have won their last three visits, they have never won four consecutive trips to Villa Park. The draw is available at 3.40.

The weight of money will come for Liverpool, but gut instinct (or was it the curry we had for dinner?) tells us to go against the grain and we trust that Villa can raise their game, as they have done against the likes of Manchester United and Southampton in recent weeks. It might not be enough for victory, but a score draw could be on the cards.

VERDICT: Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 1 @ 6.20

BEST BET: Aston Villa & Draw @ 1.95


Alan Pardew2
Good start: Alan Pardew

Alan Pardew got his Crystal Palace managerial reign off to the ideal start with victory over Tottenham, but his side will face a difficult examination when they travel to Turf Moor.

One of the most refreshing sights in the Premier League this season has been the Palace faithful, who have been loud and proud – a stark contrast to fans of their lofty London neighbours Arsenal and Chelsea, whose vocal limitations have been criticised by their respective managers.

Palace (Odds: 3.10) could well continue the Selhurst Park love-fest for Pardew when they win at Burnley (2.44).

Fellow relegation strugglers Burnley have lost just one of their last six at home and they are unbeaten in the last seven meetings with Palace on home soil. They have also found goals easier to come by in recent weeks, notching seven times in three games. Like Burnley, Palace are unbeaten in their last three league games but that win over Spurs was their first in nine league outings and they have won once away from home in 11 attempts.

There have been 12 draws in the last 19 meetings – the draw is available at 3.10 – and 12 of the last 16 meetings yielded less than three goals (it is 1.62 that this occurs again). While Palace’s pace down the flanks will hurt the hosts, we are going with the trend, as plenty points to a stalemate.

VERDICT: Burnley 2 Crystal Palace 2 @ 16.0

BEST BET: 3 or more goals @ 1.73


Mark hughes
Abject display: Mark Hughes

Any Stoke fan expecting a bounce-back performance from Mark Hughes’ side following an abject display at Arsenal last weekend might want to play the role of husband for a while – no use two people remembering past mistakes.

The Potters (Odds: 2.88) have managed just one win in their 20 trips to Leicester (a 3-2 win in the Championship in August 1995). It is a forgettable record.

Bottom-of-the-table Leicester (2.56) are unbeaten in their last three league games but have managed just two wins at home this term, while Stoke have won just three of their 11 road games and are nearer to the relegation places than they are to the top six.

Between them, the pair have managed a combined 42 goals from 42 games. They are the Premier League leftover Christmas gifts of shower gel and a diary – useful for spotty teenagers going on a first date, but unappealing to right-minded folk.

Yet this is a fixture that traditionally produces a few goals. Six of the last nine meetings yielded three goals or more and while a tough call, history says the Foxes may be worth at least a point. The draw is 3.15.

VERDICT: Leicester 1 Stoke 1 @ 6.0

BEST BET: Leicester Draw No Bet @ 1.80


Pressure: Harry Redknapp

Queens Park Rangers (5.80) have now lost all 10 away league matches this season which means their home form is vital as they strive to avoid immediate relegation to the Championship.

Here’s one stat that Harry Redknapp will cling on to as he defends his role as manager: Despite being 19th in the league, QPR have the eighth-best home record this season.

The question is whether they are not good enough to avoid defeat against United (1.61)?

It is debatable whether Redknapp will survive beyond the next couple of weeks, however. Should they lose to United, Rangers have a tricky trip to Stoke, followed by high-flying Southampton. It is hard to see Rangers getting much out of that trio of games.

United’s surge up the table masks the fact that Louis van Gaal has achieved the same amount of points at this stage of the season that the unfortunate David Moyes did last season, having taken over from Sir Alex Ferguson.

A run of draws on the road and a loss at home to Southampton has not helped United’s cause in and trying to achieve the minimum requirement of Champions League football next season. And the draw is on offer at 4.00 this weekend.

Worryingly, they again failed to work out how to get a shot on target against Southampton, having registered just three shots at goal against them in the return fixture at St Mary’s (which they won 2-1). We are not buying the fact that, at this juncture, United are good enough to challenge for the title. They may well struggle to remain in the top four, as well.

Yet class should prevail and United can send Redknapp on his way.

VERDICT: QPR 0 Manchester United 3 @ 10.50

BEST BET: Manchester United to win Second Half @ 1.86


Bafétimbi Gomis
Target: Bafétimbi Gomis

What now for Swansea (Odds: 6.40)? They have lost their prize asset in Wilfried Bony, who was tempted by the chance of playing Champions League football next season.

His move to Manchester City was no great surprise but will Garry Monk be given the bulk of the transfer money to buy a quality striker or two to replace Bony?

Bafétimbi Gomis could well be on the way out of the Liberty Stadium, too, as Arsenal and at least two German clubs are thought to be interested in the French striker.

Either way, without Bony to contend with, more attention will accorded to Gomis by the opposition.

Swansea will do well to finish in mid table but will be safe from a relegation scrap.

Chelsea (1.57) top the table with two points in hand of Manchester City and they have lost just once to Swansea in their last nine meetings. Indeed, the Blues have won the last four meetings and should make it five. So we can rule out the draw at 4.00.

It is perhaps worth noting that seven of the last nine meetings yielded under three goals.

VERDICT: Swansea 0 Chelsea 1 @ 5.90

BEST BET: Chelsea and Under 2.5 goals @ 3.25


Gus Poyet
Struggling: Gus Poyet

Tottenham (Odds: 1.59) have often struggled against Crystal Palace and it was no great shock to see them overturned on Alan Pardew’s Selhurst Park homecoming.

Spurs took the lead and ended up losing 2-1, but it was the other way round in their F.A. Cup third-round replay, as they came from behind to beat Burnley 4-2 on Wednesday.

That will have set them up nicely for the visit of Sunderland (5.90), who were booed off the pitch following their 1-0 home defeat by Liverpool last weekend. The Black Cats were very poor, offering little, and they were fortunate to only go down by the odd goal.

The Black Cats have won just two of 10 away matches in the league this season while Spurs have lost four home league matches, but Tottenham’s record against the Black Cats is a good one – they have not lost in their last nine clashes.

Spurs won four of the last five meetings at White Hart Lane and given that four of the last five meetings saw three goals or more, that may be a trend worth following.

However, they have been relatively frugal at the back and while Spurs get the vote, they will do well to notch three times and we may see Sunderland respond to their highly-capable manager, Gus Poyet.

VERDICT: Tottenham 2 Sunderland 1 @ 7.40

BEST BET: Half-time draw @ 2.32


Toby Alderweireld
Blow: Toby Alderweireld

Southampton (odds: 2.28) have their tails up. How could they not after winning at Old Trafford in the Premier League, then winning their F.A. Cup third round replay at Ipswich in midweek?

Southampton may not be everyone’s idea of genuine contenders to qualify for the Champions League, but they are solid at the back and have enough firepower to worry any side.

Yet that defensive wall has lost a big foundation as Toby Alderweireld will be absent through injury for up to four weeks. That is a blow that should not be underestimated.

The Saints make another long journey this weekend, knowing they have won three of the last five meetings with Newcastle (3.30), who are still searching for a new manager.

The Magpies have won one of their last six league games but have managed to notch three times in their last two fixtures at St James’ Park.

Southampton have not managed three consecutive victories over Newcastle January 1994 and while they have won the last two clashes, we think the hosts might be worth at least a point. The draw is on offer at 3.20.

VERDICT: Newcastle 1 Southampton 1 @ 6.00

BEST BET: Newcastle or Draw @ 1.60


Through: Rocky Cup win

West Ham (Odds: 1.72) may be flying high in the Premier League but their defensive capabilities need a little scrutiny.

There is little question that, should Hammers fans vote for their player of the season at this juncture, goalkeeper Adrian would win by a landslide.

It is all well and good to say that only Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton have conceded fewer goals than the 25 allowed by the Hammers.

For despite his heroics, West Ham have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight league games (they also conceded in two F.A. Cup games against Everton). But thanks to Adrian, they deservedly got through.

They have also won just one of their last six league games and have slipped to seventh in the table, four points off of the Champions League places.

Perhaps expectations are a little too high. It was imperative they kept their top-flight status with the Olympic Stadium move just over a year away.

Given their form this season, a top eight finish is within their compass, but a top-six spot may remain a pipedream.

Hull (5.30) should provide we welcome tonic. The Tigers have never won at Upton Park – West Ham winning every one of the last four meetings at the Boleyn Ground – and while their away form isn’t bad, with just three defeats from 11, the Tigers lack a cutting edge.

Hero: Adrian

Last season the Hammers beat Hull 2-1 and were booed off by their own fans, fed up with manager Sam Allardyce’s penchant for the long-ball game.

Little has changed and you can be sure of their aerial prowess, as they have scored the most headed goals in the division with 14.

Hull have struggled in their return to the top flight and are currently in the bottom three, with just four wins to their name, but they have a defensive steel about them, having been beaten just three times on the road in 11 outings.

Games between these two have often proved feisty affairs, with three red cards awarded in the last seven meetings, and given referee Martin Atkinson’s habit of pulling out his little black book – he has issued 29 yellow and three red cards in his last six Premier League games – he is the right man is in charge.

Five of the last seven meetings have produced three goals or more and while Hull’s attack is blunted through injury, that epic F.A. Cup third-round replay may well have taken the edge off West Ham, and they may do well to earn a point. This has upset potential.

VERDICT: West Ham 1 Hull City 2 @ 16.5

BEST BET: Last Goal West Ham @ 1.50


Threat: Olivier Giroud

Blockbuster matches can often be tight, low-scoring affairs but four the last five meetings yielded three or more goals and it is 1.57 that three or more are scored in the big Sunday clash.

Both sides are stronger in the final third than defence and are not suited to closing down a match and managing the outcome.

City (Odds: 1.77) have won four of last 11 competitive meetings with the Gunners (4.40) and there have been five draws in those fixtures.

One or other failed to net in 11 of last 16 meetings but City have conceded nine goals in 10 home matches this season which suggests Arsenal can score at the Etihad, with Olivier Giroud a likely candidate.

City are three places and 11 points ahead of their opponents and can confirm that gap by winning this fixture.

VERDICT: Manchester City 2 Arsenal 1 @ 7.60

BEST BET: Both teams to score @ 1.57


University Callenge
University Challenge: Tough choice

The Great British Garden Revival is on BBC2. Followed by University Challenge. You can watch grass growing and then clever chaps might tell you why. Then follows Only Connect, where it is Linguists v Oxonions – a last-16 clash, apparently.

Or you can watch the grass growing, uninterrupted, at whichever goalmouth you choose to look at, as Everton (Odds: 1.82) take on West Brom (4.60) on Sky Sports.

One or other has failed to score in seven of the last 11 meetings, Everton have won one of their last nine league games and Albion have managed a solitary victory in their last 16 trips to Goodison Park.

Only QPR and Leicester have lost more times than Albion, while Everton have shipped more goals than anyone in the top flight.

After netting at least twice in seven of their opening nine games, the goals have dried up for Roberto Martinez’s side. They have failed to register in four of their last six league outings, but did win four of the last seven meetings with the Baggies.

Grass growing
Watch Grass growing?

So, the Toffeemen, despite conceding in their last 11 league games, might edge it. Or they might not. And we might even watch. But with those cunning Linguists doing battle, it might be a close-run thing.

VERDICT: Everton 1 West Brom 0 @ 6.20

BEST BET: Everton and Under 2.5 goals @ 3.70

All odds quoted from and odds quoted may be subject to change.

Get your club, however large or small, its own tailor-made betting service. It is completely free and your club will not only receive 20% of the bookmakers’ net profit, it will also receive free kit and equipment. See for details.

Please gamble responsibly. You must be 18 years or over to bet.


Who will be the last team to reach the final four in the NFL playoffs? We take a look at the last of the four ‘quarter-finals’ and try to pinpoint the best bets…


Sunday, 9:40 p.m. at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver

Sky Sports: TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

Manning walks off a winner
Unfinished business: Manning

Sunday’s matchups are more enticing to the casual viewer and the final game of the weekend is perhaps the most intriguing.

Quarterback Peyton Manning, who brought Super Bowl glory to Indianapolis, is attempting to do the same for Denver in what could arguably be his farewell.

Andrew Luck, who is the 38-year-old Manning’s successor in Indy, has already one verdict over the old man. Manning lost his homecoming in 2013 when his emotions got the better of him and Denver lost 39-33.

Manning defeated his successor in this season’s opener, tossing a trio of TD passes to Julius Thomas in a 31-24 win at Mile High, a win that really was not as close as it sounds.

Since going to Denver, Manning is 40-12, including 2-2 in the playoffs. Luck is 35-17 and also 2-2 in the playoffs, including a 26-10 win over Cincinnati in the wild-card round last week.

Luck led the league with 40 TD passes this season, one more than Manning, who threw just three TD passes last month and who led the Broncos to the Super Bowl last season, only to see his dreams of second ring vanish amid a ferocious Seattle Seahawks pass rush.

A lot will come down to whether Luck and the Colts’ offense can score more points than a Broncos’ offense that averages 30.1 per game. Denver’s defense is not push-over, either – they were the third-best in the league this season.

Andrew Luck
New era: Andrew Luck

Luck did not turn the ball over last week, showing plenty of maturity in taking what the Cincinnati defense gave him and not forcing the issue. But the Broncos will, unlike the Bengals, provide much more of a pass-rushing threat.

But unless the Colts (Odds: 3.35) find a pass-rush themselves, they could be in trouble. The fact remains they have faced top-tier QBs in Manning, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, New England’s Tom Brady and Dallas’s Tony Romo this season – and have failed to beat any of them.

Manning has struggled in the cold in the past and it could come down to which defense makes a stand at the crucial time. Denver (1.36) have failed to cover the handicap in each of the last seven meetings and they are asked to give up 6.5 points (1.89) to the Colts (+6, 1.99).

The points total is set at 54 and it is worth noting that the Over has cashed in on eight of the last nine meetings. We look for that trend to be reversed on this occasion.

We look for the Broncos to head to New England for perhaps the last meetings between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. That prospect is real show-business.

VERDICT: Indianapolis 13 Denver 31

BEST BET: Under 54 points @ 1.92

All odds quoted from

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Now it gets serious. We are down to the last eight in the NFL playoffs and the ‘quarter-finals’ take place over Saturday and Sunday. We try to pinpoint the best bets for Sunday’s early game, which you can watch live on Sky Sports…


Sunday, 6:05 p.m. at Lambeau Field, Green Bay

Sky Sports: TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews

aaron rodgers
Top gun: Aaron Rodgers

Even President Barak Obama chimed in on the pass interference call that was not given – when clearly it should have been – in the fourth quarter of the Lions-Cowboys NFC Wild Card game last Sunday.

The Lions were leading 20-17, when Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens clearly impeded Lions receiver Brandon Pettigrew, but officials picked up the penalty flag, reversed the call and the Lions were forced to punt. You know the rest: Dallas came back to win 24-20.

Obama, a Chicago Bears fan, said at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant: “Even a Bears fan as to admit that that was a little suspect. I had never seen anything like that before. I would have been pretty irritated.”

Of course he is right. Yet is a President wise to upset those in Dallas?

Conspiracy theorists will be quick to tell us that what we are missing here is that big-time sports is no longer sport – it is show-business. One that is a cash cow for the owners of the 32 NFL teams or ‘franchises’.

The primary reason TV networks are so willing to lavish billions of dollars to buy rights to the big leagues is because they know they can make that money back and more through TV advertising.

Barak Obama
Bears fan: President Barak Obama

Popularity is bought and sold. Is it so fanciful that Leagues script the outcomes of their own games? Not every game, just key games. At certain critical junctures, storylines become more important than the purity of the contest.

Certain matchups undoubtedly offer more built-in intrigue across than others. The leagues may see substantial profit in extending one particular team’s run over and beyond its actual, and natural, existence.

The randomness, or parity, that stipulates any team can win on any given Sunday, does not guarantee an increase in audience size. Wise businessmen minimise risk, especially where millions of dollars are at stake.

So it makes sense that the leagues and owners do what they can to minimise the effect of the randomness factor while increasing the fans’ emotional connection, thus wringing out as much audience perpetuation as possible. Hence a non-call against Detroit.

Detroit vs. Green Bay, a division rivalry, is not a marquee matchup. The Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers, pits two NFL cornerstone franchises against each other. Let the selling commence and the advertising dollars pour in.

What you really want to know is who will win the repeat of the Ice Bowl?

This is the first playoff game pitting an 8-0 home team (Green Bay) against a team that went 8-0 on the road (Dallas).

Dallas have lost the last three meetings and nine of the last 13 trips to Lambeau Field.

Cowboys QB Tony Romo was sacked a season-high six times by the Lions last week and the offensive line, which has previously looked impenetrable, suddenly looked suspect.

Tony Romo
Hit for six: Tony Romo

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers is struggling with a calf injury which saw him miss 10 days’ practice time, but he is set to play and that is not good news for the Cowboys, who are struggling at the cornerback position.

Look for the Packers to expose a soft zone scheme, which the Cowboys will try to employ to stop Rodgers going over the top to receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

The key to victory will be utilising running back Eddie Lacey out of the backfield and slot receiver Cobb. Keep tabs on rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, who is an emerging threat in the receiving game.

We like the Packers (Odds: 1.41) to roll in a relatively low-scoring contest. The home team has covered the handicap (set at -6.5 points in favour of Green Bay) in nine of the last 11 meetings and the favourite is 8-3 against the spread in the last 11 meetings.

Yet Dallas might be a bit of value with a 6-point start (1.91).

The points total line is set at 52.5. That looks plenty high enough, despite two of the most potent attacks in the NFL going head to head. We will take the Under (1.92).

VERDICT: Dallas 23 Green Bay 27

BEST BET: Under 52.5 points @ 1.92

All odds quoted from

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WEEKEND BETTING GUIDE – MCB’s Premier League Preview

There are a few crunch matches at the top and bottom of the Premier League this weekend. Manchester City and Chelsea both appear to have winnable games and the race for fourth place is really hotting up, with Tottenham, Arsenal and Southampton all in contention.

We nailed winners at odds of 13.00, 9.60, 1.93, 1.86, 1.69 and 1.82 on our last attempt. Let’s see how we get on this time round as we preview of this weekend’s big games…

All odds quoted from

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Brendan Rodgers
Building: Brendan Rodgers

Liverpool are gradually climbing the table but qualifying for the Champions League looks beyond them. It may be beyond them for an indefinite period, too.

The impact of Steven Gerrard’s departure will be immense.

Yes, there was a club before the Gerrard era – and they did quite nicely, thank you.

But this a new era, one in which money talks and, at the moment, Liverpool cannot compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

Gerrard is off to the MLS. While he has done the classy thing in saying the club would have won more trophies had Brendan Rodgers been there 10 years earlier, he is doing well to hide the disappointment of being treated appallingly by the club he has served so well.

Liverpool should have offered a contract in the summer. When they didn’t, his hand was forced and while he is doing his best to leave on good terms, the Liverpool faithful are not stupid.

The F.A. Cup will now be the priority and if a few more points are dropped, it is conceivable that the Reds could end up in the bottom half of the table at season’s end.

Sunderland (Odds: 4.10), are six places and nine points behind eighth-placed Liverpool. The Black Cats used all of their lives to survive last season, but while things are easier this time round, safety is far from guaranteed.

This is a fixture in which Liverpool generally excel, as they have lost just two of last 17 meetings. Sunderland have drawn no fewer than 11 of their 20 games, winning just three times. The draw (3.50) may appear to be the best option as neither side are at their best, and there have been three draws in the last seven meetings. Yet Liverpool (1.93), know they cannot afford to slip up and they should be able to edge this, heaping more pressure on manager Gus Poyet.

Three of last four meetings yielded at least three goals and in both cases defences are not solid, so we should follow that trend once more.

VERDICT: Sunderland 1 Liverpool 2 @ 8.00

BEST BET: Over 2.5 goals @ 1.90


Keira Knightley
Skinny odds: Keira Knightley

Burnley (Odds: 2.16) are pretty much everyone’s second team. You hope they stay in the top flight but your sensible punting head tells you that backing the Clarets to remain among the elite is a bet that is about as likely to kop as you are with Keira Knightley – and even her beau, James Righton, might balk the odds.

Yet despite one win in their last eight, Burnley have held Manchester City and Newcastle, and out-played Rangers for long periods in a 2-0 loss at Loftus Road last month.

That defeat was Burnley’s first in the last 10 meetings with QPR (3.45).

Confidence could not be lower in the Rangers camp following their 3-0 F. A. Cup home defeat by Sheffield United, and even a draw (3.30) – which has occurred in five of the last eight meetings – well be beyond Harry Redknapp’s side, who look increasingly likely to make a quick return to the Championship unless something drastic happens.

VERDICT: Burnley 2 QPR 1 @ 8.20

BEST BET: Half-Time Result – Draw @ 2.02


Mike Ashley
RIP respectability: Mike Ashley

Time to pay final respects. The F.A. Cup third round came, Alan Pardew went and the same questions dog Newcastle’s future.

Last weekend wasn’t about Premier League consolidation. It was about putting perfume on a corpse.

The Magpies’ respectability under Pardew had a remarkable run, after all. It lived a full life and it deserves some posthumous appreciation, considering how little it achieved in its existence.

So spoiled for so long, the Newcastle faithful will not adequately treasure its legacy until it is gone. The lesson for today is: Be careful what you wish for. Those fans, baying for Pardew’s head, may soon comprehend the error of their ways and come to understand what respectability meant to the club.

There will be a time for a eulogy and its passing will prove enlightening. We should recognise the legacy it was leaving. The club finished 12th, fifth, 16th and 10th in the four Premier League seasons Pardew completed and was lying 10th in the table on the day he left.

Alan Pardew
Gone: Alan Pardew

Of the 27 players signed by Newcastle (Odds: 16.00) during Pardew’s time at the helm, 13 were French. In October 2013, a sequence of 13 consecutive Gallic goals saw Newcastle establish a new record for the longest run of goals scored by foreign players from one country in the English top flight.

Keeping the Gallic players has proved difficult, but most were sold on at a whacking profit and there are still 13 French-speaking players on Newcastle’s books.

So rather than carving up its achievements, carve them proudly on the tombstone.

The next few years will not be easy for many, especially those believing respectability was immortal. The agonising deterioration will start – and sooner rather than later.

For now, Chelsea (1.21) can welcome those who are struggling with how to grieve and proceed with a proper burial.

Five of the last seven meetings were won to nil and that is a trend to follow.

VERDICT: Chelsea 4 Newcastle 0 – Any Unquoted Score @ 3.45

BEST BET: Chelsea to lead at Half-Time & Full-Time @ 1.58


Romelu Lukaku
Turning point: Lukaku

Everton (Odds: 4.30) may just have kick-started their season thanks to a late Romelu Lukaku goal to earn an F.A. Cup third-round replay at West Ham on Tuesday evening.

And if ever there was a favourable Cup draw for the Toffeemen, it was facing the Hammers, who have now failed to win any of their last 15 matches against Everton.

Bristol Rovers or Doncaster await in the fourth round, so a trip to the fifth round beckons.

Yet Everton’s league nosedive – five defeats in six – is causing concern and Roberto Martinez is under intense pressure.

Perhaps history can offer hope. Manchester City (1.85) have won the last three meetings with Everton, but have not won four consecutive meetings since 1901, and Everton have won four of the last five meetings at home.

Given City’s lack of a fit striking combination, it may be worth following a trend that has seen five of the last seven meetings yielding under three total goals (1.72).

Everton looked very ordinary on Tuesday night against a similarly ineffective West Ham, so it is a stretch to see them taking all three points.

We look for City to march on.

VERDICT: Everton 0 Manchester City 2 @ 9.40

BEST BET: Everton Not To Score @ 2.96


Paul Lambert
Under pressure: Paul Lambert

The Church raffle prize of fixtures brings together a home side at the bottom of the table and visitors who look destined for no more than mid-table safety.

Leicester (Odds: 2.16) have won just one of nine home matches this season and have conceded three more goals than they have scored at their own stadium.

Villa (3.60) have won three of 10 matches on the road this season and there have been seven draws in last 14 meetings between these sides. The draw is 3.15.

Nine of last 12 meetings yielded over 2.5 total goals and both sides scored in 10 of last 14 meetings.

Both sides had narrow home wins in the Cup last weekend and we look for City to gain a much-needed win over Paul Lambert’s side. Forgive us while we yawn.

VERDICT: Leicester 2 Aston Villa 0 @ 9.60

BEST BET: Leicester to win Second Half @ 2.42


Sam Allardyce
My Way: Sam Allardyce

Two sides in the top half of the table clash for the second time this season, with seventh-placed West Ham (Odds: 3.30) two places and three points ahead of the Swans.

Swansea (2.22) have progressed further under Garry Monk, but losing Wilfried Bony to Manchester City for a reported £30-million is going to prove a huge void to fill.

West Ham have overachieved this season. This is typical of Sam Allardyce-coached teams.

Wherever he has gone, he has made his teams difficult to beat, physical and often direct, then added more quality.

There is no big secret to his success. He is a good coach, who offers simple instructions and players relate to him. As a result, the Hammers have played some attractive and effective football.

West Ham also have the head-to-head form edge over Swansea, having won six of last nine meetings.

However, the Hammers, who have won the last two meetings, have never won three consecutive meetings with Swansea.

Discipline has been a factor in recent fixtures as there has been a red card in last two meetings.

Swansea have lost two of 10 matches at home this season, while West Ham have won three from nine on the road, numbers which point to a draw (3.30).

However, West Ham will not relish another away day after cruelly letting slip a fourth-round place in the dying seconds at Everton on Tuesday and they may have their minds on Tuesday’s reply.

They have lost some of their best players to the Africa Cup of Nations and a rare defeat is on the cards for the Hammers.

VERDICT: Swansea 2 West Ham 1 @ 8.20

BEST BET: Both Teams to Score @ 1.71


Tony Pulis
Big task: Tony Pulis

This has the look of a relegation six-pointer, as both sides are in the bottom six with Hull (Odds: 4.00) two places and just a point ahead of West Brom (2.04). There have been three draws in the last five meetings but Hull have won just once in the last five.

However, they have a good scoring record in this fixture having scored at least twice in five of last seven meetings.

The hosts have won just two of 10 matches at home in the league this season and Hull have the same return from the same number of away matches.

It won’t be too long before Tony Pulis puts his stamp on Albion who need to up their average scoring rate of less than two goals a game at home in a hurry if they are to survive the drop.

We reckon both sides are good for a goal, with the hosts shading a must-win encounter.

VERDICT: West Brom 2 Hull City 0 @ 8.40

BEST BET: West Brom to Score @ 1.30


Mauricio Pochettino
Give him time: Pochettino

The average tenure of a manager at Palace (Odds: 3.50) and Spurs (2.14) is just a tad longer than a Britney Spears marriage. Yet if Alan Pardew and Mauricio Potchettino are not given time to exceed expectations, we should all pack up and go home.

Pardew is still learning about his squad, who have won one of their last 14 league games, but have drawn five of their last eight.

Spurs have won four of the last 12 meetings with Palace, who have failed to find the net in the last three.

A draw (3.30) has been the outcome in five of the last 11 clashes but given Tottenham’s run of four wins in five on the road, another win seems the obvious route to go.

It never pays to do the obvious, though. So we hope Palace upset the odds, with no sneaky last-minute winner from Spurs for a change.

VERDICT: Crystal Palace 1 Tottenham 1 @ 6.00

BEST BET: Half-Time/Full-Time – Palace-Draw @ 15.00


Wojciech Szczesny
Puff luck: Wojciech Szczesny

After losing by the odd goal at Liverpool and Manchester United in successive weeks, Stoke (Odds: 7.60) were good value for a 3-2 win over Arsenal (1.45) last month.

That result sparked a run of three wins and two draws in six league games – their sole defeat coming at the hands of Chelsea. Colour them hard to beat.

Arsenal, who have won the last 10 clashes at home against Stoke, may get a welcome boost with the return of record signing Mezut Özil, who has missed the last three months with a knee injury.

Stoke last won three successive meetings with the Gunners in 1950-51 and home keeper Wojciech Szczesny can probably have a crafty drag without too many people noticing.

VERDICT: Arsenal 3 Stoke 0 @ 10.50

BEST BET: Arsenal to Win Second-Half @ 1.71


Louis Van Gaal
No Fergie: Louis van Gaal

United (Odds: 1.79) have drawn just once at home in the league this season while Southampton (4.60) have been involved in one stalemate (3.65) on their travels.

Respective home and away fixtures this season average almost three goals. The numbers also suggest goals at either end as both sides have scored in last six meetings.

The obvious call is a home win as Southampton are not good enough to be just the second team to win at Old Trafford in the league this season.

The ground is now becoming something of the fortress that epitomised Alex Ferguson’s managerial tenure. But make no mistake: Louis van Gaal is no Fergie.

Southampton generally lose away to sides in the upper echelons of the table and that trend can continue in this fixture.

VERDICT: Manchester United 3 Southampton 1 @ 14.50

BEST BET: Manchester United to lead at Half-Time and Full-Time @ 2.70

All odds quoted from

Get your club, however large or small, its own tailor-made betting service. It is completely free and your club will not only receive 20% of the bookmakers’ net profit, it will also receive free kit and equipment. See for details.

Please gamble responsibly. You must be 18 years or over to bet.