Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tanner’s Easy to Follow World Cup/NFL Preview for Football (and Football) Fans

The World Cup is awesome. It’s way better than the Olympics. For one, sports only count when points are scored; anything judged or timed or measured is just a contest. For another, soccer conjures the kind of atmosphere, excitement, vitriol, and passion that is rarely reached in an Olympic event. Spectators watch the Olympics for human interest stories, pushing the human body to its limits, and vague bragging rights between countries. Spectators watch the World Cup because they desperately want their teams to win by almost any means necessary. The World Cup is almost the perfect global athletic event, and it probably would be if FIFA wasn’t a bunch of corrupt assholes.

I try to follow European professional soccer but it’s something I am intimidated by because I don’t have a sound knowledge base for any of the history or the transactional rules. I know the names and faces and skills of a lot of the top players but admittedly I have a lot of work to do. In order to help me make comparisons and predictions, I have broken the World Cup down by group and compared the 32 teams to the NFL (something I have an almost unhealthy amount of knowledge on). I know these comparisons aren’t perfect, but they help me maintain a rooting interest in all 32 teams. I thought I could share these comparisons with you lovely readers.

*NOTE: To make the comparisons fit just a little better, I put Oakland in the NFC West and St. Louis in the AFC West.


The Favorite:

Brazil / New England Patriots
Brazil and New England are perennial powers with high fan expectations and a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. They are well coached and attack relentlessly on offense while fielding an underrated defense. Brazil is younger and less experienced than New England, but also more talented.
Comparisons: Neymer = Rob Gronkowski; Luis Felipe Scolari = Bill Belichick

Contenders to Advance:

Mexico / New York Jets
Both teams are recent contenders that have kind of fallen apart due to a combination of age and front office turmoil. The teams have gone through major reconstruction in the last year. There is still a lot of talent there, so they are kind of wild cards. It wouldn’t be surprising to see either team advance to the playoffs or completely fall apart. Plus Mark Sanchez is Mexican-American so there’s a nice bit of symmetry there.
Comparisons: Hector Herrera = Muhammad Wilkerson, Oribe Peralta = Chris Johnson

Croatia / Miami Dolphins
Two teams that are solid if unspectacular, Croatia and Miami have a lot of promise but also a lot of holes. While Miami struggles at offensive line and skill players, they excel at pass defense. Croatia is very strong in the midfield, but has mediocre talent on defense and on the outside.
Comparisons: Luka Modric = Dannell Ellerbe; Ivan Rakitic = Ryan Tannehill

Long Shot:

Cameroon / Buffalo Bills
Two teams with a pretty good history but are small markets and have recently been under achieving. They still have a lot of talent but will likely be too inexperienced to compete. Strong on defense but lack firepower on offense.
Comparisons: Samuel Eto’o = CJ Spiller; Nicolas NKoulou = Kiko Alonso


The Favorites:

Spain / Seattle Seahawks
These are two teams that have revolutionized their respective sports in recent years by giving multiple looks and utilizing insane depth to keep their opponents guessing. Both Spain and Seattle have been extremely successful by implementing systems that get the most out of their well-rounded talent. They are smart and savvy with a good mixture of veterans and young talent. Very stout defensively. The defending champs.
Comparisons: Sergio Ramos = Earl Thomas; Xavi = Marshawn Lynch; Diego Costa = Russell Wilson

The Netherlands / San Francisco 49ers
The Dutch and the Niners are both teams that have had a lot of recent success but are starting to show some question marks. While the Dutch have been an offensive juggernaut theynow are looking to rely more on the defense; similarly, the Niners look like they are going to put more emphasis on their offense this season due to some age and injury concerns on D. The Kevin Strootman/Navarro Bowman injuries are underrated and could be devastating.
Comparisons: Arjen Robben = Colin Kaepernick; Kevin Strootman = Navarro Bowman

The Sleeper:

Chile / Arizona Cardinals
Two teams that play with a lot of confidence and surprising effectiveness despite relatively  unremarkable histories, I see the Cardinals and Chile as teams that are going to make some noise this season. New coaches have instilled energy and dare I say, swagger, into these clubs.
Comparisons: Jorge Sampaoli = Bruce Arians; Alexis Sanchez = Andre Ellington; Arturo Vidal = Larry Fitzgerald; Jorge Valdivia = Darnell Dockett

The Doormat:

Australia / *Oakland Raiders
Most likely, these are the two worst teams in the field. There’s just not a lot of talent at either place.
Comparison: Mile Jedinak = Khalil Mack


The Muddled Middle:

Colombia / Green Bay Packers
Colombia and Green Bay seem to struggle with injuries but are always fun to watch with aggressive, attacking offenses. Colombia relies on distribution from James Rodriguez while Green Bay relies on the same from Aaron Rodgers. Both squads enjoy rapid fan bases, with solid home advantage.
Comparisons: James Rodriguez = Aaron Rodgers; Falcao = Randall Cobb; Juan Cuadrado = Eddie Lacy

Ivory Coast / Detroit Lions
The Ivorians and Lions both share an “underachiever” tag, mostly because of their exciting ability to score but propensity to give up scores on mental errors. The talent is there for both squads, but for whatever reason (coaching?) they don’t seem to win games.
Comparisons: Didier Drogba = Ndamukong Suh; Yaya Toure = Calvin Johnson

Greece / Chicago Bears
These two teams are relatively average because they have some very significant strengths but also some glaring weaknesses. Their offenses hinge on inconsistent leaders and their defenses have to overachieve to be competitive. However, the Greeks as well as the Bears are well coached and get a lot out of their talent.
Comparisons: Kostas Mitroglou = Jay Cutler; Fernando Santos = Mark Trestman

Japan / Minnesota Vikings
Because of a lack of offensive firepower, the Samurai and Vikings have to manufacture scoring (from the midfield and running game respectively). There are things to like on both squads, but they probably don’t have enough talent to compete past the group stage, even if they overachieve.
Comparison: Keisuke Honda = Adrian Peterson


The Underrated Contender:

Uruguay / Cincinnati Bengals
Both teams can win with offense or defense, but are somewhat inconsistent. They are loaded talent-wise, however, and don’t really have glaring weaknesses. They pride themselves on toughness. Luis Suarez and Vontaze Burfict are intense intimidators who will likely lead all players in penalties but are the keys to their respective teams. These teams have the talent to compete with anyone but haven’t proven that they are smart and strategic enough yet.
Comparisons: Luis Suarez = Vontaze Burfict; Edinson Cavani = AJ Green

Battle to Advance:

Italy / Baltimore Ravens
Well coached teams that always seem to advance/make the playoffs despite age and talent concerns, the Italians and Ravens are solid if unheralded. Strong history and organization make them dangerous squads that you can’t count out.
Comparison: Andrea Pirlo = Terrell Suggs; Mario Balotelli = Torrey Smith

England / Pittsburgh Steelers
Two storied franchises that are perennially overrated, but annually have a good shot to get past the group stage. Expectations are down for this season which will likely help their chances. Their most important offensive players (Rooney/Roethlisberger) are kind of assholes but blue collar fans love their toughness.
Comparisons: Wayne Rooney = Ben Roethlisberger; Daniel Sturridge = Antonio Brown

Not Ready Yet:

Costa Rica / Cleveland Browns
Talented squads that are up and coming, Costa Rica and Cleveland are going to have a tough time overcoming some adversity (C.R. with injuries, the Browns with a pending suspension) in order to topple the other teams in their groups. Still, they may surprise.
Comparison: Yeltsin Tejada = Joe Haden; Alavaro Saborio (injured) = Josh Gordon (suspended?)


Best of a Mediocre Lot:

Switzerland / Philadelphia Eagles
The Swiss and Eagles have fun to watch offensive systems that emphasize timing and controlled passes. They are always attacking opposing defenses. The system tends to cover up for a lack of talent, though there are some good playmakers for both squads. Their up-tempo styles tend to put hefty strain on their defenses, giving the opponents lots of opportunities to score.
Comparisons: Xherdan Shaqiri = Nick Foles; JosipDrmic = LeSean McCoy

Semi-contenders by Default:

France / Dallas Cowboys
Heavily criticized by the media for being poorly run franchises with strong recent histories, France and Dallas could win zero games despite some intriguing talent. There is a lot of discord among the players and management. Likely to implode but it will be fun to watch the flames.
Comparisons: Paul Pogba = Dez Bryant; Franck Ribery (injured) = Tony Romo (injury prone)

Ecuador / Washington D.C. Professional Football Team
Both teams will attack the outside relentlessly but are soft on defense. Their hopes hinge on an inconsistent young player that has as much talent as anyone but is still learning the game.
Comparison: Jefferson Montero = Robert Griffin III

Honduras / New York Giants
Teams that are better when conservative because they avoid costly mistakes, their respective playing styles can be frustrating. Honduras and the Giants just don’t have enough to compete in the playoffs, but they can get their due to a weak group/division.
Comparison: Jerry Bengston = Eli Manning


Cakewalking through Stage One:

Argentina / Indianapolis Colts
The beneficiaries of a poor group/division, the blue teams are best when chaos ensues and their best players (Messi and Luck) are allowed to create independently. Frustrating at times but almost always entertaining, they have the capability of scoring in bunches. Rather poor defenses. They should be well set-up for the playoffs after dominating their respective groups.
Comparisons: Lionel Messi = Andrew Luck; Sergio Aguero = TY Hilton

Poop, Fart, and Throw up:

Bosnia-Herzegovina / Houston Texans
Unbalanced teams but with elite skills (BIH = goal scoring, HOU = pass rush) that will help them stay competitive at times but get blown out at others.
Comparison: Miralem Pjanic = JJ Watt

Iran / Jacksonville Jaguars
Perhaps the least talented of all qualifying teams, Iran and Jacksonville nonetheless play hard and may win a defensive struggle or two. The owner of the Jaguars, Shad Khan, is also from a Muslim country in Southwest Asia.
Comparison: Javad Nekounam = Paul Posluszny

Nigeria / Tennessee Titans
The Super Eagles and Titans always seem to be shifting identities and aren’t noted for any particular strength. However, they could surprise and reach the playoff round with some elevated play from their young talent.
Comparison: Victor Moses = Jake Locker


Another Favorite:

Germany / Denver Broncos
Two teams with incredible firepower, a plethora of weapons, and possibly weak defenses, Germany and Denver will likely smash a lot of teams but might not be strong enough to win the title. It is going to be very hard for teams to keep up with their scoring pace, but they are prone to easing off once they get big leads, allowing teams to come back against them.
Comparisons: Mesut Ozil = Peyton Manning; Bastian Schweinsteiger = Demaryius Thomas; Lukas Podolski = Julius Thomas; Thomas Muller = Wes Welker; Phillip Lahm = Vonn Miller

Some More Contenders:

Portugal / San Diego Chargers
The teams’ success relies on unlikeable superstars (Cristiano Ronaldo & Philip Rivers) to generate almost all of the scoring, but more often than not, they come through.
Comparisons: Cristiano Ronaldo = Philip Rivers; Pepe = Eric Weddle

United States / Kansas City Chiefs
After some underachieving seasons, both teams brought in heralded coaches to turn the culture around and it looks like it’s working. There is a lot of talent, but lack of depth and continuity is a concern.
Comparisons: Clint Dempsey = Jamaal Charles; Jozy Altidore = Dwayne Bowe; Michael Bradley = Eric Berry; Graham Zusi = Dontari Poe; Jurgen Klinsmann = Andy Reid

Surprisingly Frisky:

Ghana / *St. Louis Rams
The Black Stars and Rams are stuck in tough groups, but they could make some noise due to intriguing mixes of veteran and young talent. Not title contenders but sort of scary.
Comparisons: Michael Essein = Robert Quinn; Kwadwo Asamoah = Chris Long; Asamoah Gyan = Tavon Austin


Under the Radar:

Belgium / New Orleans Saints
The Belgians and Saints have quietly built really solid clubs that emphasize spreading the football around and ball control to help their defenses. By spreading the field, they give multiple players opportunities to score but sometimes are susceptible to giving the opposition scoring opportunities.
Comparisons: Eden Hazard = Jimmy Graham; Dries Mertens = Marques Colston; Kevin Mirallas = Kenny Stills

Former Whipping Boys:

South Korea / Carolina Panthers
The Taeguk and Panthers have quietly developed decent programs and have some nice young talent in place. There are glaring weaknesses for both squads, but they are using a well set up system to cover their weaknesses and are consistent playoff contenders.
Comparisons: Son Heung Min = Cam Newton; Kim Young-Gwon = Luke Keuchley

Aging and Overrated:

Russia / Atlanta Falcons
Dependant on aging stars and seriously lacking depth, the Ruskies’ and Falcons’ reputations are probably greater than their talent. Will look to be up-tempo but are ironically susceptible to up tempo attacks on the defensive end.
Comparisons: Sergei Ignashevich = Roddy White; Alexander Kokorin = Julio Jones

Young and Underrated:

Algeria / Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Green Stars have used some nationality loopholes to amp up their talent, while the Bucs have used free agency to do the same. Both teams’ futures are looking much brighter after regime changes in the coaching staff.
Comparisons: Sofiane Feghouli = Doug Martin; Yacine Brahimi = Lavonte David

I hope this helps some of NFL Fans make some connections to the World Cup. Enjoy the next few weeks!