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Welcome back to another edition of Nuclear Wessel!
Plenty of soccer to supplement your March Madness viewing this weekend. It may be the first weekend of spring, but it is going to be cold. Might be your last great chance to not feel bad for logging serious hours on the couch while watching men in much better shape than you compete while you have buffalo sauce all over your shirt! America!
The season is over two months from this weekend. If this was a Rocky movie, the fighters would be entering the arena now for the final fight.
No. 1: Newcastle vs Arsenal at St James Park
When: Saturday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Arsenal beat Newcastle at St James Park last year in a rather non-descript match. Olivier Giroud had the match’s only goal in the 55th minute to secure all three for the Gunners.
Just like that, Arsenal are just a point away from City for second place! How did this happen? Have Arsenal been that good or have City been that bad? A combo platter, for sure. But Arsenal must be given credit. A few more results go their way and against Chelsea and they could be in the title picture. What is happening?
Congrats to Arsenal on winning a trophy this week. For the fifth straight year they won their ‘We Made it to the Round of 16 of Champions League and were Knocked Out But We Battled Hard and Everybody Wrote Nice Things About How Hard We Battled So We Are Happy’ trophy. Nice!
Arsenal complained about the away goals rule (give up fewer!) and feel bad about themselves over the tough draws they’ve gotten the last few years (win your group instead of finishing runner up) but all they have to blame is themselves.
But their continued European ineptitude just gives them more time to ensure they finish top four since they can continue the vicious cycle next year. It would take an epic collapse for them to finish worse than fourth. They will keep winning in the league — especially this week against a Newcastle team that’s packed it in — and hope that Chelsea drop enough points to give them a license to dream.
No. 2: Liverpool vs Manchester United at Anfield
When: Sunday at 8:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Daniel Sturridge scored the opening and only goal in this fixture last year in the 4th minute. Liverpool won 1-0.
Imagine saying this next sentence five years ago: Liverpool host Manchester United on Sunday and the winner will be have a leg-up on their rival for the fourth and final Champions League spot.
A sentence like that five years ago would have been considered science fiction. But it is 2015 and it’s a new world. And it is great! For some of us at least!
Given the date and number of matches remaining, it may be tempting to say screw it and do a cannonball into a pool full of hot take sauce about the significance of this match. Don’t get me wrong, this is match is massive. Enough ramifications to kill a man. But Liverpool still play at Arsenal (next week) and home to Chelsea. United still play City and Arsenal and at Chelsea. So there will still be plenty of points out there to drop and plenty more HUGE MATCHUPS to smother in hot take sauce.
But again, don’t let that harsh your mellow for this Sunday morning. You’re gonna wanna get up for this one. It is huge. The fact Liverpool are even in this position is nothing short of amazing. Just think if Brendan Rodgers is ever able to string together a full season? They could go level with Blackburn on number of Premier League titles won. Think about that!
Liverpool have been by far the class of the Premier League since January 1 but unfortunately for them the season started in August. They haven’t lost a league match this calendar year and their only draw came in a Merseyside derby. United are feeling pretty good about themselves after patting Spurs on the head last week and saying “time for the big boys to play for the top four. Enjoy Europa.”
Two teams who don’t like each other. Record books out the window. All of that. All of it. Brits Pub in Minneapolis will be opening up at 8:00AM for the 8:30 kick. You will wanna get there early for a prime spot. It will be packed.
No. 3: Hull City vs Chelsea at The KC Stadium
When: Sunday at 11:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: 2-0 win for the Blues at Hull last January. Hazard opened the scoring before Fernando Torres scored his second-to-last Premier League goal for Chelsea to ice the match.
Chelsea head into this match against the No. 15 Hull City Tigers with a six-point lead at the top of the table and a match in-hand.
Sounds like a pretty great position to be in, huh? But from the way people have been talking about them this week you’d think they are facing relegation. Sure, they had a chance to go eight points clear of City this weekend had they gotten a full three points against Southampton. But guess what? Southampton is good! A draw against the sixth place Saints is not a bad thing! Heading into last weekend, with City playing at Burnley, it appeared, if anything, City would gain points on Chelsea. But they didn’t. Chelsea picked up another point on them. These are all good things for the Blues with less than 10 matches remaining in the league.
But people trying to knock Chelsea down a peg or two is nothing new or unexpected. They definitely had chances to win against Southampton. The look on John Terry’s face when he pushed that ball wide of the net in the 87th said it all. And getting knocked out of Champions League after a 2-2 draw at home against PSG was certainly unexpected. But draws at home against a top-8 team in Europe and a top-6 team in England are not bad results. Hardly a team in crisis.
That being said, if they get anything less than three points Sunday against Hull, you can print that last paragraph out, ball it up, stick it in a Roman Candle, dip it in gas and fire it through the sky.
Hull sit 15th in the league and their three-point lead over No. 18 Burnley means their noses are just barely above the relegation waters. They are coming off a pair of draws against fellow bottom-feeders Sunderland and Leicester City. They did manage a 1-1 draw at the Etihad against Manchester City in February but, given City’s recent form, that is a result that looks better on paper than it really is.
Chelsea need three on Sunday. Well, they need three from every match from now until May, but Sunday is especially important with back-to-back matches against Man United and at Arsenal looming in a month.
Alright, kids. Enjoy a big soccer Sunday. You can just log hours at a pub and avoid all the basketball madness. Liverpool/Man United — Hull City/Chelsea — Real Madrid/Barcelona — New York Red Bulls/D.C. United. Not a bad little Sunday.
North Dakota used to play all the time in St. Paul back in the old days of the WCHA. Now UND’s hockey team is in Minneapolis this weekend for the NCHC Tournament.
We’re not sure where specifically this picture is from, but Minneapolis is still apparently adapting to the difference between UND and North Dakota State.
Minneapolis is still getting used to hosting the NCHC tournament. pic.twitter.com/3y5rSDDvdS
— Tom Miller (@tommillergf) March 19, 2015
We must be in one of those lulls in the NFL draft speculation calendar — between mock drafts 42 and 43 — so ESPN’s Mel Kiper has a feature on ESPN.com in which he redoes the 2009 draft based on the order players would be selected if we knew then what we know now.
We clicked on the link because we thought, “Oh, 2009. Percy Harvin. The Vikings got a steal with Harvin. He must be higher than the actual draft slot where they picked him at No. 22.”
Wrong. And yes, it’s just Kiper’s opinion. But he has Harvin as the No. 25 pick in the draft, after the Vikings picked. For Minnesota, he picks safety Glover Quinn — who he deems the 22nd-best player/value from that draft now.
Of Harvin, he writes: “Harvin’s name seems to inspire a lot of buzz, which isn’t unfair if you saw him in his prime with the ball in his hands. But the reality is he hasn’t been a big part of an NFL offense since the 2012 season, and he played in only nine games that year. He’s still only 26 years old, but he’ll be with his fourth franchise in 2015. Harvin does have an All-Pro season on his résumé — as a return man in 2009.”
Those of us who watched Harvin when he was engaged and healthy in those four seasons with the Vikings can’t fathom him not being a top-10 player from that draft, but Kiper makes a good point. If anything, it’s a reminder of just how far Harvin’s stock has fallen.
Let’s start with the light-hearted: League owners are going to discuss a whole bunch of rule changes when they meet next week. A lot of the rules are worthwhile considerations, such as amendments to how replay works. In all, the league’s competition committee will present 23 proposed changes for discussion.
One of them, though, is so ridiculous that it seems like satire. Per ESPN.com:
The Indianapolis Colts proposed a scenario that gives teams that successfully convert a 2-point conversion the chance to immediately add another point with a “bonus field goal.” Under the Colts’ proposal, if a team converts a 2-point conversion it would then line up from the 32-yard line to attempt a 50-yard field goal. If the kick is good, the team would receive a total of nine points on that possession — six for the touchdown, two for the 2-point try and a point for the extra field goal.
What? So a nine-point possession would be possible? This is wacky beyond words. The Colts GM is apparently NOT optimistic it will pass. We aren’t optimistic the rest of the owners will make it through the proposal with a straight face.
And now the serious: A neurosurgeon who works for the NFL’s Steelers gave a short interview about brain injuries in the league that, again, feels like satire.
Dr. Joseph Maroon downplayed the safety issues in both youth football and the NFL and said, among other things, that riding a bike or a skateboard is more dangerous than playing youth football.
This is classic NFL, doubling down on its own rhetoric in the face of transition (in this case the Chris Borland retirement) instead of attempting to engage in rational discussion.
This type of defiance and arrogance has served the league well in growing to insane levels of popularity, but this week feels like another drop of poison that will ultimately kill the goose laying the golden eggs.
The ESPN headline indicates that only cheese tops Aaron Rodgers in a public opinion survey of Wisconsin residents. Cheese gets an 80 percent approval rating, while the Packers QB is just below it at 79 percent.
That’s all well and good, but here on this blog, we have been known to cheapen things from time to time. So we’re taking information from the top of the story and the very bottom to cobble together the real headline: Rodgers’ approval rating has dropped 10 percent in the last four years.
Yes, in 2011 — after Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl title — his approval was at 89 percent in the same poll.
Since then, he’s won two MVP awards … but a return trip to the Super Bowl, let alone a victory in the big game, has eluded his grasp. If you delve into the comments section of Packers game stories, you will find fans hyper-critical of Rodgers (which is crazy because he’s thrown 226 career TDs and just 57 INTs).
So whereby it used to be roughly 9 of every 10 Packers fans who approved of their QB, now it’s not even 8 of 10. Tough crowd. He’s barely ahead of Bo Ryan (76 percent) and Barry Alvarez (71 percent). Everyone is crushing Bret Bielema (17 percent) and Gary Andersen (15 percent), recent defectors from Badger-land.
President Obama, who is listed at 6-foot-1 but in fact might be taller, has almost exactly the same approval rating in March of 2015 that he had in March of 2011.
|NY Mets||12:05 PM|
|St. Louis||12:05 PM|
|NY Yankees||12:05 PM|
|Tampa Bay||12:05 PM|
|Chicago WSox||3:05 PM|
|San Francisco||9:05 PM|
|LA Clippers||6:00 PM|
|LA Lakers||6:30 PM|
|Golden State||7:00 PM|
|NC State||6:37 PM|
|Kent State||9:00 PM|
|Michigan State||9:07 PM|
|(15) North Carolina||6:00 PM|
|(3) South Carolina|
|(18) Iowa||6:30 PM|
|(9) Arizona State||8:30 PM|
|(7) Florida State|
|(14) Stanford||9:00 PM|
|(2) Notre Dame|