The Longshot: Mr Irrelevant is now centre stage

Our pick of the Chiefs remain on track to pick up another Super Bowl with Mahomes guiding them
The Longshot: Mr Irrelevant is now centre stage

BROCK PARTY: Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers after defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season. The two sides meet in the playoffs this weekend.

THE race for the Super Bowl begins in earnest next weekend with its Wild Card Weekend and the first six playoff games.

Our choice to win it at the beginning of the season were the Kansas City Chiefs at 13/2 and they are now into 3/1 favourites. The side led by Patrick Mahomes at quarterback get a bye this weekend alongside the Philadelphia Eagles (5/1), as both were the best performers during the regular season with 14-3 win records.

It wasn’t all bad news for our favourite team (and many Irish people’s) the woeful Chicago Bears, who managed to end the season as the worst performers across all the divisions.

Since week seven of the season they have managed to record 10 straight losses, including six at home. This does mean however that they will get the first draft pick next season. In other words, they can choose the best player emerging from the college game, something the worst performing team of the previous year get as their wooden spoon.

It’s actually the first time in 76 years the Bears get a first pick and it is all down to their former coach Lovie Smith, now in charge of the Houston Texans, opting to go for two extra points to win their final game rather than draw following a bizarre last-gasp touchdown (through to outstretched arms of a defender) against the Indianapolis Colts. Lovie’s reward for gaining the win and losing the top draft pick? He was sacked.

But back to this season. The Jacksonville Jaguars were the worst team in the past two regular season and thus got to pick the best college player for two years running and it is therefore not a major surprise they have reached the playoffs this time around and for only the fourth time since 2000.

It’s actually the 18th time in the last 20 seasons that at least one NFL team has won its division after finishing last or tied for last the previous year. Those drafts are a big deal.

They added linebacker Travon Walker to their roster this year and the gifted quarterback Trevor Lawrence last time and will face the LA Chargers at home next. The team from Florida can still be backed at 40/1 to win the Super Bowl in a first final appearance, while their opposition are 20/1 for outright success.

And what of the evergreen Tom Brady? His 2020 champs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (25/1 now) were one of the pre-season favourites but after a wobbly year they squeaked into the playoffs and will now face Dallas Cowboys.

Another fan favourite on this side of the pond are the San Francisco 49ers, who face one of their bogey teams in fellow Pacific-siders the Seattle Seahawks.

The 49ers story arc this season has been pretty unbelievable.

They wanted to move on former starting quarterback Jimmy Garrapolo at the end of last year (no other club wanted to take him, so he stayed), but a season-ending ankle injury to their new main man Trey Lance (against the Seahawks in game two) meant ‘Jettisoned’ Jimmy was back in. He was in flying from before being struck down by a season-ending foot injury himself a few weeks back, which meant third-string clutch man and wonderfully named Brock Purdy was called up.

This would be the man who was picked 262nd and last by the 49ers in the 2022 draft pick. The cruel moniker attached to the player picked last each season? Mr Irrelevant. Yet after 10 straight wins for his side they are 11/2 to make him very relevant indeed come the second week in February.

Win sees Rahm looking good for FedEx Cup charge

THE USPGA Tour got back to business last week with a dramatic conclusion to the Sentry tournament in Hawaii on Sunday.

Two-time major winner Colin Morikawa headed into the final day as 1/6 favourite carrying a six-shot lead.

He moved eight shots off John Rahm when the Spaniard bogeyed the first hole. So who won the tournament? Rahm, by two shots.

He made eight birdies from the second hole to the 14th and then caught Morikawa with an eagle at the 15th. That is some golf.

Morikawa began to duff and thin chips and made three bogeys in a row. A birdie on 18 wasn’t enough to close down Rahm, who has now won three of his last five tournaments, including the Spanish Open and the DP World Tour Championship. He is 9/1 to top the FedEx Cup standings at the end of the year (Rory is 7/1 to retain that title).

The PGA action stays in Hawaii this weekend, but neither Rahm, Morikawa, nor a raft of other top-25 players will be taking part.

Hideki Matsuyama (18/1), Jordan Spieth (16/1), Sungjae Im (14/1), and Tom Kim (12/1) are the bigger names, with the Japanese swinger back to defend his title after chasing down Russell Henley in a play-off last year.

Other past winners of this event returning to the field include Henley, Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, Jimmy Walker, Ryan Palmer, and Zach Johnson.

The DP Tour returns this week with a team event that has drawn the ire of the Ballesteros family.

The initial Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi pits Britain and Ireland (Power and Lowry will play) against a European selection in a format the same as the Seve Trophy, which ran from 2000-13. B&I, led by Tommy Fleetwood, are 4-5 favourites, with Europe available at 11-8.

It felt like we knew Paudie

IT was with great sadness that we received word of the passing of Paudie Palmer on Sunday morning.

Although I never met my fellow Echo sports columnist, I have relations from his tiny home place of Blackwater in Kerry and always imagined we would have plenty to talk about if we did cross paths.

It is fair to say that, like many other sports fans across the county, I nearly feel that I did know Paudie, as a long-time reader of his always original pieces for this paper and especially for his voice, which accompanied many a car journey or filled the kitchen on the weekend.

His commentary of the 2002 Munster football final was broadcast loudly by me to an entire internet cafe in the wee hours in Seoul, and I’ll always recall him describing some good play by Fionán Murray that day as “he’s like a cheetah going crazy”.

We’ll miss those unique turns of phrase, the camaraderie he had in gantry with the likes of John Fintan Daly and many others, and his ability to transfer atmosphere across the airwaves the way only the best radio commentators somehow manage.

His tragic passing will be devastating to his family, friends, and colleagues, but I hope his immense contribution to the GAA world and the joy he brought to so many will offer some solace to those who are grieving his sudden loss in the days, months, and years ahead.

Eurovision losing streak

THERE was a time when we couldn’t stop winning the Eurovision. Back in the 1990s, when we won four out of five, there were serious discussions that we should enter a bad song, as RTÉ couldn’t afford to keep hosting it. That all seems long ago now, and we haven’t won since 1996.

Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) could fly the flag for Ireland.
Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) could fly the flag for Ireland.

We are 50/1 with some firms to end that losing streak this year, although some are quoting 20/1. Why so short, considering public voting almost ensures we aren’t in with a twist and shout’? It’s probably because one of the six Irish contenders this year comes from Public Image Limited, a band fronted by ex-Sex Pistol Johnny 'Rotten' Lydon. Their entry will be among those performing on the Late, Late on Friday, February 3, for selection for the May contest. Lydon’s mother is from Cork and the song ‘Hawaii’ is a ballad for his wife Nora, who is living with Alzheimer’s. It could resonate with viewers.

The Bet

WE’VE already advised the Chiefs for the SuperBowl, so instead take Matsuyama at 18/1 to retain the Sony Open.

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