New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is winning his battle to be fit for this Sunday’s Super Bowl showdown with New York Giants (Super Bowl XLVI Game Line – Patriots 5/7, Giants 6/5 with bet365).
The 22-year-old suffered an ankle injury in the Pats’ AFC Championship victory over the Baltimore Ravens and was considered a doubt for the Indianapolis NFL showpiece.
But Gronkowski (4/9 Touchdown Anytime with bet365) practised for the first time on Friday and hopes are high that he will be able to take his place in the New England offence.
Head coach Bill Belichick insists it was too early to say following Friday’s practice, whether he would be fit to face the Giants.
Belichick revealed: “He did some things. He didn’t do everything. We’ll see how he is. I think that will be the big key – how he responds to this session.”
Gronkowski is a key player for the Patriots, setting the National Football League records for a tight end, with 1,327 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns this season.
Meanwhile, the Giants are waiting for news on the fitness of running back Ahmad Bradshaw, after he sat out Friday’s practice session.
Bradshaw (10/11 Rush Attempts – Over 14.5 with bet365) has an injured right foot, which Giants coach Tom Coughlin revealing that is was ‘a little sore’ but is confident ‘he will be ready’.
New York Giants (25/1 with bet365 to win Super Bowl XLVI) cornerback Terrell Thomas could miss the whole of the NFL season, after suffering a serious knee injury.
The 26-year-old picked up the problem during his team’s pre-season clash with Chicago Bears (4/1 to win NFC North), when he collided with team-mate Jason Pierre-Paul.
Thomas left the field during the first half and medical scans have revealed that the Californian suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament
The absence of the cornerback will be a big blow for the NFC East outfit, with Thomas making the highest number of tackles of any Giants player last season and was tied for 12th in the NFL for interceptions.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Steelers (13/2 to win AFC Championship) have announced that they have agreed a new six-year contract with linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
Simmons, who was 15th overall pick in the 2007 draft, has started 30 games in four seasons, recording 196 tackles, 15 sacks and two interceptions.
The Packers were not the best team in the NFL this season. Judging by their 10-6 record, which was just enough to edge out the Giants and the Buccaneers for the final NFC playoff spot, they are better than average but nothing more. But that record isn’t everything.
Green Bay had the second-highest points differential in the regular season, behind New England and just ahead of Pittsburgh. They are on a five-game winning streak. They are the first sixth seed in the NFC to reach the Super Bowl. And the NFL betting now makes them favourites to win.
Most recently they have been at their ferocious best, winning what were effectively elimination games at the end of the regular season against the 10-6 Giants and the 11-5 Bears to get that playoff berth, and then taking to the road to destroy the NFC’s top three seeds – Philadelphia, Atlanta and old rivals Chicago again – which made a mockery of their 3-5 regular season road record and upset the NFL odds.
How the Pack can win depends to a large extent on QB Aaron Rodgers. If he turns in another stellar performance – three-plus touchdowns and a 120-plus rating, as he has done in six of his last 10 games – Green Bay should win comfortably. If not, the rest of the team will have to contribute.
The offensive line needs to protect Rodgers; given time to drop back, he can pick out any receiver, but under pressure he may struggle. B.J. Raji, ‘The Freezer’, was the most productive nose tackle in the league. His interception touchdown contributed hugely to the Conference Championship win over the Bears, and he will look to make his 337-pound presence felt again. And defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who quite literally wrote the book on the original 3-4 defensive scheme, is sure to have a trick or two up his sleeve.
Quarterbacks are the key players in American football. But in a tight game, one play can make a difference. The Packers and the Steelers both have players who on their day are more than capable of producing that game-changing play.
After quarterbacks, running backs are the most visible players. Green Bay pass their way to the end zone more often than not, having lost RB Ryan Grant in Week 1, but for Pittsburgh, Rashard Mendenhall needs to have a big game. Not only is Mendenhall quick, but he will be an extra receiving option for Ben Roethlisberger, and although he may get only one or two passes in the game, those plays could be crucial in what the Super Bowl odds suggest will be a tight game.
Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews have led their respective defences to the Super Bowl, and it was no surprise that they finished one and two in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year. B.J. Raji became the heaviest player to score a touchdown with a big interception for Green Bay against Chicago. Interceptions are huge, but sacks can build psychological pressure, particularly on a less experienced quarterback like Aaron Rodgers.
But to sack Rodgers, Pittsburgh will have to get to him before he can hit his wide receivers. Greg Jennings will be more than reliable. James Jones has two post-season touchdowns and James Starks too can make a big contribution both rushing and returning. Anyone looking to bet on Super Bowl action should bear all these factors in mind.
If it all comes down to those extra points, or an OT field goal, Green Bay’s Mason Crosby is in good form, although with the conversion rate of the Packers’ offence he is rarely needed. On the opposite bench, and after seemingly changing teams every month or two for the last little while, Shaun Suisham has a real chance to make a name for himself – and help the Steelers to victory.
Ben Roethlisberger is looking to finish the season on the ultimate high with victory in Super Bowl XLV (Steelers 13/10, Packers 4/6 – bet365 Match Betting) following a controversial start to the campaign.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was suspended for four games earlier in the season after being accused of sexual assault although no criminal charges were filed.
Roethlisberger has bounced back with some outstanding performances, which has ultimately led the Steelers (20/21 First Team To Score) to Sunday?s NFL showpiece in Dallas.
The 28-year-old is looking to win his third Super Bowl ring, when Pittsburgh face the Green Bay Packers, and the quarterback says he needs “no extra motivation” ahead of the big showdown.
Roethlisberger (11/4 to be 2011 MVP) said: “It is about how you come back from mistakes. It is like a football game. You throw an interception and you bounce back from your mistake.”
The former Miami University star is yet to win the MVP award in the season finale and that will also be in his sights this weekend.
Roethlisberger (4/9 to complete his first pass of the game) threw the winning touchdown as the Steelers claimed a record sixth Super Bowl title by beating the Arizona Cardinals in 2009, but wide receiver Santonio Holmes was named Most Valuable Player.
New Orleans Saints (10/3 with bet365 to win NFC Championship) are sweating on the fitness of Reggie Bush, who could face a spell on the sidelines with a right leg injury.
The defender Super Bowl champions picked up their second win of the new season with a last-gasp success over San Francisco 49ers on Monday evening.
A Garrett Hartley 37-yard field goal proved to be the last play of the game, as the Saints (2/5 to win NFC South) snatched a 25-22 victory to make it two wins out of two.
But an injury to running back Bush is major concern, after the 25-year-old was taken off on a cart during the fourth quarter.
The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner suffered the injury on a punt return and will be sent for X-rays on Tuesday.
The Saints are yet to confirm how serious the injury is to Bush, but early reports suggest he could be sidelined for six weeks.
The player himself admitted after the match: “It hurt like hell. When I got back up and tried to walk on it, it felt terrible. That’s all I can say.”
Bush seems likely to miss the Saints next clash, when they face Atlanta Falcons at home on Sunday September 26.