Week 3 Spar

Ed Reed playing his first game as a Texans in Baltimore (Photo Cred: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports)

Ed Reed playing his first game as a Texans in Baltimore (Photo Cred: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports)

Greg to Joe

Week 3 brought a weird set of games. A lot of things did not go as expected, there were some dominant performances that I did not expect. The Ravens stomped on the Texans and spoiled Ed Reed‘s first game as a Texan. I really don’t think the Texans are that good (I have the Colts winning that division), but I did not expect the debacle that happened yesterday. I think the 49ers are in trouble. Colin Kaepernick might be as good as everyone says he is if he has good receivers. He is no Brady, or Flacco all things considering, when it comes to making his receivers productive. If the 49ers lose Boldin or Vernon Davis for an extended period of time, they must run the ball more or they will lose like they did to the Colts. It was frustrating to watch because the Colts could have been dominated at the line of scrimmage if the 49ers made a commitment to running the ball. Now the 49ers are in trouble going into St. Louis without Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and maybe Vernon Davis. Giants’ and Steelers’ offensive lines are so bad that those teams might be horrendous all year. The Giants got dominated by a Panthers defense, while good, should have never dominated a game like that. Eli is on his back too much and unable to throw the ball to his talented receivers.

Finally, I get to go to Seattle this week, and I am excited to see if there is a lot of Seahawk pride out there. That team is the class of the NFL. I know they played the Jaguars this week, but there starters came out of the game in the 4th quarter. Now that the 49ers lost to the Colts, I am not sure that win in Week 2 was as impressive, but it was still a dominant win. I wish the Seahawks had the Thursday night game and it was at home. I bet I would be able to hear that stadium from my hotel room it is so loud.

Anything you notice from Week 3 and how are you looking going into MNF for fantasy?

Joe to Greg

You’re right when you say that things did not go as expected. There were some dominant performances (Ravens over Texans, Colts over 49ers, Panthers over Giants) and some competitive games (Dolphins-Falcons, Browns-Vikings, Bengals-Packers). Quickly going over some of the dominant performances, I think people tend to forget that Colin Kaepernick’s sixteenth game of his NFL career, or one full complete 16-game season, came last week. He’s still learning and developing but it seems like defenses are starting to figure out ways to slow him down. Defenses started covering using man to man, forcing Kaepernick to make reads in the pocket and make him a little less mobile. Once again I’ll say it, watch out for the Miami Dolphins. They came back against Matty Ice and the Falcons and have a huge game against the New Orleans Saints coming up on Monday Night. The Colts also look poised to become a contender but even Andrew Luck said after the game they aren’t going out to make statements. The Giants are having all sorts of issues, whether that is in on the defensive side or offensive side. They managed just 150 yards of total offense. The Ravens got a big win against a confusing Texans team that always seems to have trouble with injuries or sub-par player performances when they start playing well.

draftstreetWeek 3 was a tough week with the spreads in my opinion. Let me tell you, Green Bay owes a lot of people some money because they blew the lead in Cincy and it hurt. Really, really bad. Which reminds me that I won our head-to-head matchup on DraftStreet and I also won in another 10 team league paying out 1st-5th. Thank you, Drew Brees…who I started for both of my teams. In Yahoo Fantasy, I registered my first win regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game and in ESPN I’m winning by 18, but my opponent has Darren McFadden left so it could be close.

Joe’s Fantasy Seasons Through Week 3:

ESPN: What Would Breesus Do — 3-0

Yahoo: Daaa Brady’s — 1-2

Monday Night Pick:

Denver 34 – Oakland 17

Any thoughts on tonight’s game and who your top performers for Week 3 were?

Greg to Joe

You won this week on DraftStreet so its 1 and 1. Carson Palmer really screwed me. He is also going to screw me in Yahoo if Welker scores another TD in this MNF game and Demaryius Thomas doesn’t.  I should easily be 3-0, but there is a small chance that I lose to Gerdes this week. We’ll see what happens as this game goes on. Dan is going to beat me this week in Chris’s ESPN league. It is REALLY depressing when something like that happens. It just really hurts.

I do have Jordan Cameron EVERYWHERE. I love it. I also have Gronk in the Yahoo league. My team is just straight up stacked. It’s shocking I haven’t scored the most points in the whole league one week.

I was positive betting this week again. After going below .500 in my picks, I been good the past two weeks and this week would be thanks to the Ravens and the Bears.

I agree with you on the Dolphins. I called a late game win for them in my weekly BucStop.com fantasy corner article. I was wrong about my disappointing dud, but who’s counting. I still agree with the process of picking my selections. My surprise selection wasn’t as good as I expected, but the Cardinals’ running backs were the only players to put up points for them this week.

I am going to change it up with a baseball thing. First, the Pirates are in the postseason. First winning season in 21 years. Incredible. Andrew McCutchen is my favorite not named Mike Trout or Manny Machado so I’m happy for him.

Manny Machado screaming after his knee buckled (MASN Screenshot)

Manny Machado screaming after his knee buckled (MASN Screenshot)

It was really hard to watch the Machado injury. The Orioles were out of the playoffs, barring a miracle. He was giving all is effort to beat out a grounder after he saw Tim Beckham bobble it. His left knee just gave out. I doubt he plays until 2015. His left knee is the knee that must withstand all the torque he creates from his swing, and he can’t risk reinjuring by coming back early next year. The only excuse would be if the Orioles really need him to make a final playoff push and the doctors give him a 100% go ahead. However, I can see a Derrick Rose-esque situation happening. We’ll see, but I want to hear what exactly is wrong tomorrow after the MRI.

Back to the NFL, early look to Week 4, who ya got ATS?

Joe to Greg

I’m glad to hear that the Machado injury wasn’t too serious. Hopefully it’s a speedy recovery. In Week 4 there are some interesting games. I’m intrigued by the Colts -9 in Jacksonville. High off their win in San Francisco and a little more chemistry among the offense and Trent Richardson, It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Colts cover here. Also, Seattle -3 at Houston makes me think. Houston just came off a terrible loss to the Ravens. Seattle just pounced on the Jaguars and their starters did play in the 3rd quarter. I think Seattle’s D wants another challenge or rather the challenge of preparing for the Texans sometimes potent offense. Any last notes on the upcoming week ahead? Should we expect a good showing from the Ravens traveling up to Buffalo?

Greg to Joe

I was happy about the Machado injury. He will most likely not need surgery and he will be just fine for the upcoming season. I doubt that he breaks out offensively like many people are hoping, but that should come in 2015, the year he returns to shortstop (I hope).

My opinion on the Vegas lines this week is this… If there was ever a week to try to hit on a full slate teaser, this would be that week. I feel there are a lot of favorable lines right now. The Bears as an underdog is absolutely foolish. The fact that the Ravens are only 3 point favorites is also pretty easy bet. The Bills have an injury depleted roster, and the Ravens just took the Texans to town last week. With Ray Rice coming back, I see no problems for them. The hardest game for me this week would be the 49ers @ Rams. The 49ers have serious problems on offense if they don’t get Vernon Davis back. They could just go with the running game and hope Frank Gore gives a DeMarco Murray type day against the Rams. The 49ers are also going to be in trouble without Patrick Willis. He is the Ray Lewis presence in the middle of that defense and he makes everyone in that defense around him better. I can see this being an extremely high scoring game or low scoring game. I can also see a Rams blowout, a 49ers blowout, or a close game where the team who has less turnovers wins. I am lost on that game, which will make it more interesting for me to watch.

Larry Johnson when he was playing with the Kansas City Chiefs

Larry Johnson when he was playing with the Kansas City Chiefs

The last thing I want to say before I hear your thoughts on the Pats and just Week 4 in general is Arian Foster is not the same running back. His yards per carry continue to drop and Ben Tate‘s have been about double Foster’s. I would be starting to shy away from calling him an elite player. I could be wrong, but I think we are about to see a fall of the table decline much like Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson, etc.

Joe to Greg

To add to your list, LaDainian Tomlinson towards the end of his career. I think you touched on something important because one of the biggest issues and something that made headlines this summer was the settlement reached between the NFL and the NFLPA. The settlement has agreed to pay out $765 million over 20 years. That is an incredible amount of money. Then you add the fact that the NFL’s annual revenue peaks around $10 BILLION, does that settlement do anything? The reason behind bringing this up is because players are getting bumps and bruises earlier in their career and I don’t think there is a position that gets banged up more than running backs. Arian Foster is on a decline but that doesn’t mean he can’t change that. The only problem is his body may limit the competitive level he can reach. Tate has nine rushing attempts in each of the first 3 games so there is something to say about how much Houston utilizes him.

I’ve been pretty patient on talking about the Patriots and I’m going to remain sealed about my feelings for them. Mainly because I don’t want to judge when all the pieces aren’t there. Also because they have a big game coming up Sunday Night which may be nominated for my “Game of the Week” column later this week.

 Greg Danchik and Joe Meola

(Side Note: This trip to Seattle is awesome, but has very little to do with sports. There is a whole sports biomechanics session tomorrow. Mostly about concussions, but there are some presentations about Ligaments. And that’s why this is up late.)

Texans v. Ravens Review

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles

The Ravens squared off with the Texans in Ed Reed‘s return to Baltimore, and the Ravens returned the beating that was handed to them last year. The Ravens used a defensive touchdown and a special teams’ touchdown to take the lead and never look back. Quick hits from the game.

  • Torrey Smith is a really good football player and is willing the run across the middle to catch a pass.
  • Bernard Pierce did not look great, but he has a shot at redemption against the Bills in Week 4.
  • Joe Flacco is earning his contract so far, no matter how bad you thought it was in the off-season. Flacco has one returning receiver from last year, and is making the most of the crop he has.
  • I still do not like Tandon Doss, but his punt return TD was nice.
  • Daryl Smith is an absolute stud. Luckily, no one knew about him because he used to be a Jaguar so the Ravens were able to get him late when the cap space opened up in June. Much better than Dannell Ellerbe and Ray Lewis last year.
  • The defense is so much better than last year, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
  • Ben Tate is better than Arian Foster right now. Check out the yards per carry numbers. End of Story.
  • DeAndre Hopkins would have looked nice in purple.
  • JJ Watt is not as effective as he was last year because of the constant attention, but he is still a dominant force. That is how good he was last year.
  • Ed Reed might help the Texans’ secondary at some point, but he didn’t help against the Ravens
  • Texans will be a Wild Card team, at best

Greg Danchik

Week 3 Preview

While I may have announced our picks for the best game to watch in Week 3 through our Sparring, here is a better platform for discussion on the predictions for upcoming games and player performances.

Game of the Week

Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins

The Falcons are hurt, and the Dolphins are gaining confidence. The Dolphins have developed a dangerous pass defense. They have knocked down opposing quarterbacks 22 times in two weeks, totaled a league leading 9 sacks (tied with TB, OAK, BUF, KC), and also have 18 batted or deflected balls (second on the NFL). I like the direction the Dolphins team is going. Atlanta always poses threats with Julio Jones  and Tony Gonzalez, but Roddy White, Steven Jackson, Asante Samuel, and Sean Weatherspoon are all hurt and starters in their respective positions. Atlanta has two sacks in two games and it’s also worth noting those two sacks came against Drew Brees in Week 1. The Falcons failed to sack Week 2 foe, Sam Bradford.

Prediction– Dolphins 24 – Falcons 20

Fantasy Predictions (Based on ESPN PPR scoring)

Calvin Johnson reflecting off Patrick Peterson's face mask

Calvin Johnson reflecting off Patrick Peterson‘s face mask

Fantasy StudCalvin Johnson @ Washington — (Projected Fantasy Points: 24)

As much as I feel like I took everything from our sparring and put it in this, my stud is Megatron. After a dull Week 1, Johnson went off for 6 Receptions, 116 Yards, and 2 TDS. Good for 29 fantasy points. Going against a Redskins D that has given up six touchdowns in two games, I like my chances for Megatron to have a great day.

Fantasy Bust– Stevan Ridley vs. Tampa Bay — (Projected Fantasy Points: 8)

I gave myself a whole hour to not put his name down, but I couldn’t think of someone else. Ridley has 86 yards on 25 carries… in two games. He loves to mess with my fantasy team and overall positive hope for the Patriots this season. His name is here mainly because he hasn’t shown many owners a reason to believe he’s turning things around. Wait, he doubled his point total from Week 1 (2) to Week 2 (4) so maybe he is picking it up!

Joe Meola

NFL Week 2 Spar

Greg to Joe

I know that we haven’t seen the Monday Night Football game, but I wanted to get your thoughts on Week 2 after some crazy games on Sunday. Let me digress for a second, I am going to finish second in fantasy football points again in our Yahoo league, and your brother is going to beat me, unless Dalton gets hurt. However, starting off 2-0 is always good. I also crushed Chris in our ESPN league because of RGIII and Garcon‘s garbage time. I also did fairly well in predictions this week. The Bills saved me in the end with a ridiculous comeback, and the Packers dominated as expected.

I do think Vegas gave gamblers two easy games this week with the lines of the Patriots and Seahawks games. A depleted Patriots team should not have been given 13 points against a good defense in crappy weather (I know the odds makers didn’t know this when making the line, but it helped making the decision of taking the Jets with the points). I personally thought the Seahawks line was low because that stadium is ridiculous. It was so loud yesterday that it even screwed up the Seahawks.

What’d you like about all the games yesterday? And how did you fantasy teams do?

Joe to Greg

Calvin Johnson reflecting off Patrick Peterson's face mask

Calvin Johnson reflecting off Patrick Peterson‘s face mask

Well, I’m looking like the 8th place team in our Yahoo league, my guys simply can’t perform or pump out crazy numbers. In ESPN, my team won handily with major help from Calvin Johnson, Julian Edelman, and Greg Olsen all scoring over 20 points. There were so many games that came down to the wire which drastically changed betting results at the end of the day. The Saints eeked out a win but couldn’t cover, Dallas lot but still managed to cover, Detroit shot itself in the foot when it was up 10 in the second half and of course, didn’t cover, and I agree the Patriots should not have been given 13 points. I was straight up impressed with the Seahawks last night.

Colin Kaepernick‘s stat line Week 1: (Home versus GB)

27/39, 412 Yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INTs, 22 Rushing Yards, 89.8 QBR, 129.4 RTG

-Colin Kaepernick’s stat line Week 2: (Away versus SEA)

13/28, 127 Yards, 0 TD’s, 3 INTs,  87 Rushing Yards, 14.0 OBR, 20.1 RTG

If that doesn’t tell you how dominant Seattle’s D was, I don’t know what does.

Also, congrats to EJ Manuel on his first NFL win. Much deserved for a great player and team in the Buffalo Bills. With two games under our belts, do you see any early trends to look for as the season carries on into Week 3?

Greg to Joe

Colin Kaepernick being tackled Week 2 versus Seattle (Photo Cred: Elaine Thompson/AP)

Colin Kaepernick being tackled Week 2 versus Seattle (Photo Cred: Elaine Thompson/AP)

Kaepernick just has this thing where he can’t beat Seattle. I think it is going to turn into the ManningBrady deal. Kaepernick is going to struggle against Seattle (especially in Seattle) for a majority of his career. He will then have his one breakthrough game when he knocks them out of the postseason and goes on the win the Superbowl. I think the Kaepernick-Wilson rivalry will be compared to the Manning-Brady rivalry very soon.

Seattle opened up as a 19.5 point favorite against the Jaguars. I would not touch this game, but I honestly think that they could win by over 20. Side note- Everyone who bet on the Bengals to win by 6.5 should thank Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley for poor offensive coaching as the game should have been much closer if the play calling had been better.

So are there any trends I see continuing… I see the Texans playing in a 3rd nail-biter to start the season as Ed Reed returns to Baltimore. I think the Redskins will keep losing because their defense is oh so bad and RGIII is playing on one leg. I also think that Ron Rivera is coaching his way to a firing. The Panthers are playing really bad right now and cannot close out games. If I am Rivera, I need to get my team back into form for the upcoming week because if they don’t look good, I might be at home watching games on TV on Sunday the 29th.

With three games that have double-digit point spreads (Jax@Sea, Ind@SF and Oak@Den), do you see any of the underdogs pulling out victories? I would assume that would be a bold prediction and if you don’t have an underdog winning one of those games, any bold predictions for this week?

Joe to Greg

I think you’re spot on with the QB rivalry comparison. Even better, they play at least twice a year unlike Manning and Brady who only had that occasion if they met in the playoffs. If any underdog can pull off a win between those three teams, I’d pick Indianapolis. Unfortunately I don’t think they’re going to win but it’s an interesting line. I wouldn’t say its like the Titans and Texans last week (which was +/-9), but the Titans are a tough out and ended up covering on the road. I think the Colts will be in a similar situation this week. Other than that, I like the Chargers +3 against the Titans but I don’t like the Chargers with the lead sometimes. Regardless, I think Philip Rivers is quietly having a good start to the season despite starting 1-1 (614 Yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 82.5 QBR, 115.8 RTG…yet he’s not even owned in more than 50% of fantasy leagues in ESPN). What is your game of the week to watch in Week 3?

Greg to Joe

He isn’t owned in many leagues because no one believes in his talent. His talent has diminished, and it is incredible that Mike McCoy has been able to get so much out of him this year. McCoy is on the precipice of being called an offensive genius considering the lack of talent in the Chargers offense and the amount of points they are scoring.

Game of the week for me would have to be Ed Reed returning to Baltimore. Houston and Baltimore have both been shaky to start the year so I really think this game is a toss up. I am hoping Reed doesn’t play because he improves the Texans secondary, but I do want to see how Flacco handles him. Since picking that as the game of the week may seem a tad bias, I would go with Atlanta at Miami. Miami is looking to start of the season 3-0 and gets to face a depleted Atlanta roster who lost their top linebackers along with Steven Jackson. Matt Ryan should have himself a day, but I just don’t know how the Falcons win this game with a one-dimensional offense.

Now for some big news… Trent Richardson has been traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round pick in 2014. I love this trade as a fantasy owner. He goes to a much better offense that is committed to the power running game to try and help their young star quarterback. Overall, it was a good move for the Colts. I do think that they gave up a little too much for Trent, but he should still be very valuable to them for years to come. The Browns also made out well because they now have the ammunition to trade up a couple of spots for the #1 pick in the NFL Draft (Yes, I am assuming they finish in the bottom 5 teams). They better hope that Teddy Bridgewater falls to them; otherwise, I believe they will continue to be in a constant rebuilding mode.

Thoughts on the trade, game of the week and another other Week 3 thoughts moving forward.

Joe to Greg

I was shocked by the Richardson trade honestly. I think it’s great from a fantasy perspective because now defenses have to respect Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne, while worrying about Trent gashing through the lines. It will be interesting and makes it even more compelling to think about what would of happened had the Colts gone after RGIII. Like would the Colts have been better off with RGIII and Trent or Luck and Trent? Or would RGIII never have gotten hurt because he wasn’t playing on Washington’s horrific field? Man, I love the “what ifs” of draft day. I think the Browns continue their trend of rebuilding (obviously) but there doesn’t seem like many happy days coming up this season.

My game of the week is the Atlanta Falcons-Miami Dolphins game. The Dolphins could start the season 3-0 and send the Falcons into an early season 1-2 hole. Injuries have amounted for the Falcons, who lost Steven Jackson and Asante Samuel in last weeks game against the Rams. Combined with the already injured Roddy White, the Falcons are missing some key pieces.

Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace during training camp (Photo Cred: Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace during training camp (Photo Cred: Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel)

On the flip side, I hate to admit that the Dolphins look somewhat competent. They are a team that as Ron Jaworski says, “Get better than the week before”. Mike Wallace had 1 catch for 15 yards in Week 1, yet in week two he caught 9 passes for 115 Yards and a TD. Lamar Miller rushed for 3 Yards on 10 attempts in Week 1, yet in week two he rushed for 69 yards on 14 attempts and added a TD. If I were to pick who would take out the Patriots in the coming years atop the division, it’s the Dolphins, followed closely by the Bills, followed by Bernard Pollard, and followed not so closely by the Jets (In that order). Week 3, I say RGIII goes 0-3 mainly because of the Redskins poor excuse for a pass defense. They’ve already managed to let up 1023 yards in two games and with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson coming to town for a visit, it could spell trouble.

Editor Note:

Check out the Game of the Week column posted on Friday by Joe and I again.

Greg Danchik and Joe Meola

Champions League Preview

Group A:

Manchester United

Shaktar Donetsk

Bayer Leverkusen

Real Sociedad

English teams had a poor showing in the Champions League last year. Manchester United are first glance favorites but the Red Devils have started slow in England. David Moyes will have to improve his squad or risk dropping early points in a talented group stage. Despite the loss of Illarramendi, Real Sociedad are a threatening club. They demolished Lyon in the qualifiers with stunning goals from Seferovic and Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann, the young Frenchman is a very under appreciated talent. He will be called up to the French national side after the World Cup. Bayer Leverkusen is another talented side who have jumped to a great start in Bundesliga. Expect Leverkusen to steal a game or two at home. Shaktar Donetsk enters their fourth straight Champions League where they have advanced in two out of the last three. Many teams find difficulty playing in Ukraine. This advantage will push Shaktar through the group stage.

Group Projections:

1. Shaktar Donetsk

2. Manchester United

3. Real Sociedad

4. Bayer Leverkusen

Group B:

Real Madrid

Galatasaray

Juventus

Copenhagen

This group has three teams who advanced to the quarterfinals last year (Real, Galatasaray, and Juvenus). Still reeling from the loss of Ozil, Real Madrid needs to balance their La Liga campaign with the Champions League. The offseason acquisition of Gareth Bale will provide a deadly attack which Isco will have to manage. Despite his youth, Isco has earned the starting job from manager Carlo Ancelotti. Juventus was active in the transfer market as well, acquiring striker Fernando Llorente from Atletico Bilbao and Carlos Tevez from Manchester City. This has had a wonderfully motivating effect on Arturo Vidal who has established himself early, as the team goalscorer. Galatasaray will have a rematch with Real Madrid who beat them handedly last year. Burak Yilmaz was the hero for Galatasaray last year as he held the golden boot for much of the season before finally losing it to Ronaldo. The last team of the group is FC Copenhagen who find themselves in the Champions League after winning their 10th Danish Super League. Despite advancing from the group stage in 2010-11, I can’t see Copenhagen winning many matches this campaign.

Group Projections:

1. Real Madrid

2. Juventus

3. Galatasaray

4. Copenhagen

Group C:

Benfica

Paris St. Germain

Olympiacos

Anderlecht

Should Benfica advance to the final, they will be playing at their home stadium, Estadio da Luz. Benfica failed to advance last year after receiving a tough draw against Celtic and Barcelona. After finishing third in their group, Benfica dropped to the Europa League where they lost in the final to Chelsea. Anything short of advancing from the group stage will be a disappointment for the Portuguese side.This is the only group not to feature a team from the top four leagues, but thats not to say the group is wide open. PSG are the favorites to win this group. The French League champions strengthen their side every transfer window and this summer they spent big on Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani. Cavani and Ibrahimovic form a powerful duo that will test any back line. PSG lost to Barcelona in the quarterfinals of last years knockout round, but they are even stronger this year. Given favorable draws, PSG could make the semi finals. Olympiacos return to the Champions League as Greek League Champions for the eighth time in nine years. They drew Arsenal and Shalke 04 in last year’s group stage and fell to third by one point to Arsenal. Olympiacos will challenge Benfica for the second place spot out of the group stage. Anderlecht enter their second straight Champions League campaign in a difficult group. They finished last after only managing to win one game in their group last year. The same fate is likely in store this year.

Group Projections:

1. PSG

2. Benfica

3. Olympiacos

4. Anderlecht

Group D:

Bayern Munich

Manchester City

CSKA Moscow

Viktoria Plzen

The defending champions and treble winners Bayern Munich start as the early favorites despite the departure of manager Jupp Heynckes. Heynckes’ retirement has brought Pep Guardiola to the helm. Guardiola, who won a treble of his own with Barcelona’s 2009 team, is one of few coaches capable of fulfilling such expectations. Bayern had two early signings during the transfer season in Mario Gotze, bought from competitive rivals Dortmund, and Thiago Alcantara, who Pep knows from his Barcelona days. Guardiola lost his first major match in the 2013 DFL Supercup to Borussia Dortmund, but managed to defeat rival Jose Mourinho in the UEFA Supercup. A series of early season injuries have plagued Bayern but they have the depth to open up their Champions League run with a statement win at home vs CSKA Moscow. Manchester City will need to make it out of their group this year. Placed into last year’s group of death, City failed to win a single game. This year, manager Manuel Pellegrini brings his European experience to the Sky Blue side. Pellegrini managed Malaga, who won their group and made a run into the quarterfinals of the tournament before Dortmund pulled back in a controversial win. City have dropped early points in the league with a loss to Cardiff and most recently a scoreless draw with Stoke. Road games in Moscow and Czech will be the difference for them. CSKA Moscow won their domestic league for the first time since 2006. Despite a league championship, CSKA failed to win their playoff round to qualify for the Europa League. They will need to look for leadership from remaining members of the 2011-12 squad that advanced from their Champions League group. Finally, Viktoria Plzen have been a dominant force in the Czech league over the last three years. They qualified after winning out from the second round of qualifiers. However, I can’t see Plzen finishing above fourth. Look for them to steal points and disrupt plans for City and Moscow.

Group Projections:

1. Bayern Munich

2. Manchester City

3. CSKA Moscow

4. Viktoria Plzen

Group E:

Chelsea

Basel

Shalke 04

Steaua Bucuresti

Chelsea are clear favorites to win this group. Manager Jose Mourinho has two Champions League titles under his belt but none with this London side. Chelsea were champions of the Europa League last year after beating Benfica in the final. Along the way they beat Steaua Becuresti and Basel, who are also tenants of this group. Shalke 04 were winners of their group last year after besting Arsenal. Shalke is an intimidating ground to play at and they are capable of sweeping at home. Basel will hope to repeat their shocking success of the 2011-12 Champions League where they advanced ahead of Manchester United. I foresee Basel finishing 3rd and making a run in the Europa League. Steaua Bucuresti will struggle with Basel this season. Steaua could finish third ahead of Basel and compete in Europa League.

Group Projections:

1. Chelsea

2. Shalke 04

3. Basel

4. Steaua Bucuresti

Group F:

Arsenal

Dortmund

Napoli

Marseille

This brings us to the group of death. At the publishing of this article, Napoli and Dortmund are winning their respective leagues while Arsenal sits just one point off of first. While it is difficult to name a favorite, last years runners up Dortmund is most likely to win. Their fast counter attacking style will cause problems for Arsenal. Despite the loss of Gotze, Dortmund has one of the best lineups in Europe. Marco Reus is another year older, Dortmund held on to Lewandowski, and the CB pairing of Hummels and Subotic could be the best in Europe. The signing of Mesut Ozil for Arsenal shifted the power of the group. Ozil impressed in his opening game where he registered an assist to the red hot Olivier Giroud. Questions of depth still plague Arsenal but a returning Thomas Vermaelen and a maturing Aaron Ramsey will help the Gunners. One headline of this group is Gonzolo Higuain, who chose Napoli over Arsenal during the transfer window. Napoli sits atop Serie A despite the loss of superstar Edinson Cavani to PSG. CAM Marek Hamsik will have to shoulder some of the weight left to bear by Cavani’s departure. Finally, we come to Marseille. Marseille are the underdogs of the group which is testament to the strength of the group rather than Marseille’s weakness. Group F will have to manage French international Mathieu Valbuena’s creativity and vision. Whoever finishes third in this division should be contenders for the Europa League championship.

Group Projection:

1. Dortmund

2. Arsenal

3. Napoli

4. Marseille

Group G:

Porto

Atletico Madrid

Zenit St. Petersburg

Austria Wien

Atletico Madrid is the betting favorite to top this group. They impressed early against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup despite losing on aggregate. Atletico also sits atop La Liga at a perfect 4-0-0 with Barcelona. Diego Costa and David Villa are combining to fill the void left by Falcao’s transfer. Atletico should top this group over a weakened Porto. Porto lost midfielders James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho to Monaco. However, Porto still have plenty of talent in forward Jackson Martinez. Martinez will be relied upon to carry Porto through the group stage. Zenit St. Petersburg were drawn with Porto in 2011 where Zenit managed to win 3-1 and advance ahead of the Portuguese side. St. Petersburg is another difficult venue to win at. The Russians have surrendered just one loss in two years after an own goal gave Milan a win last year. Austria Wien will struggle in this group. They entered qualifying in the third round before upsetting Dinamo Zagreb to enter the group stage.

Group Projections:

1. Atletico Madrid

2. Zenit St. Petersburg

3. Porto

4. Austria Wien

Group H:

Barcelona

AC Milan

Ajax

Celtic

 

Barcelona are the obvious favorites to win this group. The Catalans have made six straight semi finals winning two titles. Barcelona will look to avenge their embarrassing 7-0 loss at the hands of Bayern Munich last season. Despite a disappointing loss last year, Barca remain one of the most dominant teams in Europe. They have jumped to an early lead in La Liga and signed Brazilian prodigy Neymar. An aging Xavi and lack of depth at CB could prove problematic for Barca. Expect Fabregas to continue to take a larger role on the team. This will be the third pair of games between AC Milan and Barcelona in three years. Milan was bested in the round of 16 by Barcelona last year despite winning 2-0 at the San Siro. Milan are my favorites to finish second in this group. Celtic was also drawn with Barcelona last year. Celtic pulled off the upset of the league last year when they beat Barcelona 2-1 at home. Celtic finished second ahead of Benfica. Finally, Ajax is placed difficult group for the second straight year. Last year, Ajax was drawn with fellow league champions from Spain, England, and Germany. The loss of Christian Eriksen to Tottenham Hotspur will be a loss in Ajax’s midfield. Expect them to put up a fight and finish third.

Group Projections:

1. Barcelona

2. Milan

3. Ajax

4. Celtic

Leading Goal Scorer:

Lionel Messi

Player of the Tournament:

Lionel Messi

European Power Rankings:

1. Bayern Munich

2. Barcelona

3. Dortmund

4. Real Madrid

5. Juventus

6. PSG

7. Chelsea

8. Arsenal

9. Napoli

10. Manchester United

If you put $5.00 straight bets on all of the Dojo’s group winner picks, you’ll win $46.63. Go ahead and have a case of beer on me. Your welcome. – Daniel “Smilin’ Wanderer” Dicce