By Robert Bode – Upper 90 Soccer Show – 106.7 The Fan-DC
For the past few years, I have put together this fun article to compare America’s favorite sports league, the National Football League (NFL), and the world’s favorite league, the UEFA Champions League (UCL). The original idea for this exercise was to help get my friends who aren’t soccer fans into the sport by giving them an easier way to understand the biggest club competition on the planet. So with each league featuring 32 teams broken up into eight groups of four teams apiece, the following are the comparisons between each NFL Division and Champions League Group. Remember, this is just a fun piece, and does not necessarily reflect any predictions or beliefs about each team.
|Group A||AFC South|
|Porto (POR)||Tennessee Titans|
|Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)||Houston Texans|
|Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)||Indianapolis Colts|
Group A is one of the weakest groups in the UCL, and the AFC South likewise in the NFL. The Houston Texans and PSG are both runaway favorites to finish first, and they both happen to feature one of the best scorers in the world (Arian Foster and Zlatan Ibrahimovic). Also, they both wear red, white and blue jerseys. Meanwhile, it is seems clear that Porto and the Tennessee Titans are the second best teams in these groups, but each of them are not formidable sides of the past few years. As for Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb, they don’t really have a chance to finish in the top two, just like Jackonville and Indianapolis.
|Group B||AFC North|
|Arsenal (ENG)||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Schalke 04 (GER)||Baltimore Ravens|
|Olympiacos (GRE)||Cleveland Browns|
|Montpellier (FRA)||Cincinnati Bengals|
In Group B, it is much like the AFC North, since there are three teams with a chance to finish first, although it appears Arsenal and the Baltimore Ravens are most likely to take the top spot. As for Pittsburgh and Schalke, they both have weapons on offense, but their defenses are what they once were, although still formidable. With Montpellier and Cincinnati, they both came out of nowhere last year to have great seasons, but expect a drop-off this season. Cleveland and Olympiacos play great defense, but they both struggle to score and won’t be a threat to finish top two.
|Group C||AFC West|
|AC Milan (ITA)||Kansas City Chiefs|
|Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS)||Denver Broncos|
|Anderlecht (BEL)||Oakland Raiders|
|Malaga (SPA)||San Diego Chargers|
Group C and the AFC West are incredibly balanced, although both lack an elite team. AC Milan has been very good over the past few years, but like the Chiefs, while they could finish in the top two of their group, this team isn’t talented enough to make a real title challenge. On the other hand, both the Broncos and Zenit have added pieces to make their teams more competitive, and it would be a mild surprise if either team didn’t top their groups. Teams flying under the radar after losing some big pieces are San Diego and Malaga, who not only hope to surprise this season, but also both clubs feature some dashing baby blue uniforms. Anderlecht and Oakland both have no chance.
|Group D||NFC North|
|Real Madrid (SPA)||Green Bay Packers|
|Manchester City (ENG)||Chicago Bears|
|Ajax Amsterdam (NED)||Minnesota Vikings|
|Borussia Dortmund (GER)||Detroit Lions|
The NFC North used to be seen as the “Black and Blue” division, but recently it has been defined by the explosive offenses the division features. In this year’s UCL, Group D is seen as the “Black and Blue” division, aka the “Group of Death,” with Real Madrid and Green Bay leading the way. Both clubs feature explosive, quick-strike offenses and defenses that are very good, but not truly elite. Manchester City and Chicago are incredibly talented and deep, but they seem to be lacking at certain positions, which could cost them a top two finish again this season. Borussia Dortmund and Detroit can score against anybody, but at the end of the day, these teams will only go as far as their defenses, and the stars of those units, Mats Hummels and Ndamukong Suh respectively, can carry them. As for Ajax and Minnesota, you have to feel for them, because it is simply bad luck that they are matched up with these three other teams.
|Group E||NFC South|
|Chelsea (ENG)||Atlanta Falcons|
|Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)||Carolina Panthers|
|Juventus (ITA)||New Orleans Saints|
|Nordjælland (DEN)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
While Group E and the NFC South don’t exactly match up, I couldn’t resist the comparison between Juventus and New Orleans. Both teams were outstanding last season, are expected to have great 2012-13 campaigns, but the reason these two clubs match up so perfectly is because both will be without their head coach for the entire season. So far in Italy’s Serie A, Juventus hasn’t missed their manager Antonio Conte, but the Saints have certainly felt the impact of not having Sean Payton on the sidelines. Will Juve be able to compete with Europe’s elite without their coach? We shall see. Meanwhile, Chelsea and Atanta are amongst the favorites to win it all, but young and exciting squads Shakhtar Donetsk and Carolina look to pull an upset. As for Nordjælland and Tampa Bay, anything better than last should be considered a success.
|Group F||NFC East|
|Bayern Munich (GER)||New York Giants|
|Valencia (SPA)||Dallas Cowboys|
|Lille (FRA)||Philadelphia Eagles|
|BATE Borisov (BEL)||Washington Redskins|
Yes, I know the Giants won the Super Bowl last year, and is was Chelsea who won the UCL, but Bayern Munich are certainly one of the favorites, and to many people, myself included, thought they were the better team in the final last season. Both teams are explosive on the outside, have a streaky points getter, and the defense can be dominating at times, and leaky at other points that can cost them big matches. When it comes to Dallas, they remind me of Valencia because every season it seems like they achieve more than they do, but this year both clubs are flying under the radar, which could help them in the long run. Lille is a very talented group, much like Philadelphia, but I think each team has too many holes to ultimate challenge for the trophy. Meanwhile, Washington and BATE have some nice pieces, but not nearly enough to be contenders.
|Group G||AFC East|
|Barcelona (SPA)||New England Patriots|
|Benfica (POR)||Buffalo Bills|
|Spartak Moscow (RUS)||New York Jets|
|Celtic (SCO)||Miami Dolphins|
Just like New England, Barcelona are the hands down favorite. Both teams have created a dynasty over the past decade, but both came up just short last year. Can they turn it around in 2012-13? Buffalo and Benfica are sleeper picks from many experts, but does either team have enough defense to capitalize on their opportunity? Spartak Moscow doesn’t have a Tim Tebow on their team, but like the Jets their defense is very strong, but the offense is a big question mark. And while I’m a Dolphins fan, just like Celtic it would be a miracle if they finish in the top two.
|Group H||NFC West|
|Manchester United (ENG)||San Francisco 49ers|
|Braga (POR)||Arizona Cardinals|
|Galatasaray (TUR)||Seattle Seahawks|
|CFR Cluj (ROM)||St. Louis Rams|
This is the group/division with the most pronounced favorite, as anything but a first place finish would be a shock to either San Francisco or Manchester United. Perhaps like Benfica last season, Portuguese club Braga can pull off a surprise season, just like many believe Arizona could do this season. Meanwhile, Seattle and Galatasaray are teams with plenty of talent and intimidating home field advantages, but do they have enough talent at their offensive playmaking positions to score enough? And no disrespect to St. Louis or CFR Cluj, but a third place finish would be stunning.