Jack Nevill graduated in history from the University of Nottingham before going on to complete the International Sports Journalism masters degree program at the University of St Marys. A passionate sports fan since he was young playing football, rugby and cricket for many years Jack has taken a serious interest in the NFL in recent years - translating this passion into hosting and producing an NFL podcast since 2017 - as well as becoming a fan of sports such as boxing and MMA. Read on for Jack's event previews for SportonSpec.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL: 2019 NFL London at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Wembley Stadium.
American Football first graced our shores with the ill-fated sojourn of NFL Europe in the 1980’s. An entertaining but doomed project, it sparked the fire of interest in the sport in this country and set the table for the international series in 2007.
12 years, and 24 games later, with mostly sellout crowds, we arrive in 2019 with a sparkling new stadium to call home for NFL London; with 4 more games split between 2 venues.
Tottenham Hotspur’s majestic new crucible of sporting theatre will play host to the “other” type of football, hosting the first 2 games of the NFL international series of 2019.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Match 1 of NFL London – Sunday 6 October at 6pm
First up the Oakland Raiders face the Chicago Bears. Following a disappointing but not entirely surprising 4-12 last term, the first under returning head coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders looked to spark their revival by trading for volatile superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown paired with the battery of young rookies acquired with the assets from the trade of their own superstar Khalil Mack a year previous, to their opponents in this game no less, will be thinking playoffs or bust in 2019. Despite being on the end of a hiding from the Seahawks in London last year, the experience should put them in good stead this time around.
Fortunes could not have been much different for their opponents Chicago, with the exact reverse of Oakland’s record at 12-4, winning their division and making the playoffs. If not for a heartbreaking missed field goal, the Bears would have advanced beyond the wild card round of the playoffs under rookie head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears will certainly be expecting improvement from their young Quarterback Mitchell Trusbisky, with the hope being this will raise them to even higher levels than last year.
So often in the London fixtures, the team that has been exposed to it in the past holds the advantage, so despite the fairly sizeable talent gap between the two sides, a Raiders win might not be a crazy thought.
Players to watch:
Raiders: With a roster full of young players, only one name truly stands out. The mercurial superstar Antonio Brown is the most reliably box office player the Raiders possess. Supreme talent and an eccentric personality blend naturally to make Brown immeasurably watchable.
Bears: Ignoring the advice of countless pundits that trading away your best player is not a good idea, the Raiders did just that when they sent transcendent pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears before the start of last season. Predictably, the Raiders struggled mightily to generate pressure, while Mack dominated whenever he played for Chicago. He will no doubt be licking his lips at the prospect of terrorising the team that deemed him surplus to requirements.
Match 2 of NFL London – Sunday 13 October at 2.30pm
The second contest at Spurs new stadium is a cracking divisional matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After a season largely affected by the lingering injury issues of quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers will be looking to recapture the form of 2015 that saw them storm to the Super Bowl on the back of a 15-1 record. Making their first trip to London, they will be hoping to avoid failing in their maiden trip.
While the Buccaneers have been to London before, it was back in 2011, so for all intents and purposes, this should be an even contest. Carolina brings with them a hugely talented roster spearheaded by Newton and star linebacker Luke Kuechly, along with an infusion of new and exciting offensive players like Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel and D.J Moore.
The innovation of veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner breathed new life into the Panthers offense in 2018, which had long been Newton’s one-man show. The defense should be as stout as ever under the stewardship of head coach Ron Rivera, and the exciting addition of British defensive end Efe Obada, who exploded onto the scene in 2018. Tampa Bay have endured significant disappoint in the years since Jameis Winston was drafted to be the savior of the franchise and the herald of success in the future. The next iteration of this sees 2 time coach of the year Bruce Arians taking the reins and attempting to steer the ship towards the playoffs. A win in London over their division rivals would be a great help to their cause.
Players to watch:
Carolina Panthers: The one-man offensive machine Cam Newton has been the talisman for the Panthers since his sensational rookie season. Through ups and downs throughout his career he has remained one of the most exciting players in NFL History and there is no reason he will not continue to be so. The latest in a recent string of English players making their mark across the pond, including Jack Crawford, Menelik Watson and Jay Ajayi, Efe Obada became a valuable member of the Panthers defensive line rotation in 2018. No doubt he will be looking at the London game to showcase his immense talents to a home crowd.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Best known as the sidekick to Johnny Manziel while at college, Mike Evans has transcended that label to become one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. With a combination of his huge 6”5 frame and long striding speed, he has gone about dominating NFL defensive backs since 2014.
Match 1 of NFL London at Wembley – Sunday 27 October at 5pm.
First up the Los Angeles Rams, Super Bowl runners-up with newly minted $100 million quarterback Jared Goff in their line-up, face-off against the Cincinnati Bengals and their brave new world.
Gone is Bengals’ long-time head coach Marvin Lewis, replaced by the young, exciting offensive-minded Zac Taylor, plucked from the staff of his opponent Sean McVay, with the idea to inject new life into veteran starting quarterback Andy Dalton as the Bengals embark on their rebuilding project.
Cincinnati Bengals may may wish to look across the field for some tips to expedite a rebuild; McVay and his staff in just their second year together engineered a scintillating Super Bowl run, the Rams falling at the last hurdle to the New England Patriots. They will be hoping to go one better this year and a win in London is a necessary step on that road. For the Bengals, wins themselves are less important as Taylor tries to build a culture for long term success – nevertheless with their experience of London games, ruling them out would be a fool’s errand. But their job at hand is easier said than done, the Rams bringing with them a host of superstars from across across the pond to start the match as heavy favourites.
Players to watch
Rams: Aaron Donald. The reigning defensive player of the year, and considered by many as the best player on the planet, will bring his usual brand of destruction to London. A truly unstoppable force on the defensive line, if the Bengals hope to have a chance Donald must be contained.
Bengals: John Ross. The fastest man in the NFL had a tough start to his NFL career, but has begun to turn the tide as Zac Taylor seems to have injected rocket fuel into his already lightning induced feet. Blink and you will miss him, he is truly a box office player.
Match 2 of NFL London – Sunday 3 November at 2.30pm.
The final game of NFL London 2019 sees two division rivals face off. Regular expats Jacksonville Jaguars once again sacrifice a home game to play in London, and will hope they are similarly successful this year having purged themselves of incumbent starting quarterback Blake Bortles in favour of Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. With Foles out of the side due to injury dashing rookie Gardner Minshew has excited the Jacksonville crowds, so whoever starts at Wembley will give plenty of reasons for optimism that the Jaguars can scale the heights of two years ago when they came within one play of reaching the Super Bowl.
The issues for Houston Texans can be seen from space, as superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson gets hit and sacked far too much. A new contract for standout center Nick Martin and a blockbuster trade for star left tackle Laremy Tunsil, will give hope that the issue can be fixed so Watson can thrive. The Jaguars still maintain many of the defensive pieces that made them so terrifying two years ago, and have vast experience with making the trip to London to play games. With Watson at the helm, the Texans will believe they can beat anyone at any time in any stadium, just as long as they can keep him standing.
Players to watch
Houston: JJ Watt. After repeated injuries that had pundits worrying for his long term future in the NFL, JJ Watt came storming back last year, looking very close to his old self. So much so that the Texans felt confident enough to trade fellow defensive star Jadeveon Clowney. A threat on every snap he plays, stopping Watt must be the focus for the Jaguars offensive plan.
Jacksonville: Jalen Ramsey. Cornerback has become a glamour position in the modern NFL and there are very few players who exemplify this better than Ramsey. A polarising figure, but undoubtedly an elite player, his battle with Texans wide receiver Deandre Hopkins will be the main event of this contest.
BOXING: Ultimate Boxxer 5 at The O2. September 2019.
Ultimate Boxxer returns to indigo at the O2 after its thrilling 4th edition, with a huge 8-man super-welterweight tournament where the star attraction is undoubtedly Rio 2016 Irish Olympian Steven Donnelly.
As well as providing an excellent spectacle, the Ultimate Boxxer tournament format is a great way for fighters to enhance their reputations and climb the professional rankings. Ultimate Boxxer 4 winner Mikael Lawal climbed to 7th in the UK cruiserweight rankings.
The 5th edition of the tournament features 8 fighters, 6 of whom are bringing undefeated records to the ring with the other 2 fighters having only a single loss on their records: promising a set of highly skilful contests.
Donnelly is the most recognisable name on the card. He brings an accomplished amateur background to the tournament with two Commonwealth Games bronze medals and an appearance in the 2016 Olympic Games on his resume.
Highly rated Londoner Kingsley Egnuinike has impressed in his young career. A sparring partner for world champion James DeGale, Egninike has yet to lose a round in his first four fights. The most interesting contestant has to be ‘Hollywood’ Josh Ejakpovi, a personal trainer, model and film actor with a 12-1 pro record. Ejakpovi’s only loss to date has come against fellow UItimate Boxxer 5 contestant, Sean Robinson. The O2 is the perfect arena for what should be a wonderful night of action.
MMA: KSW 50 at The SSE Arena. September 2019.
The big men are taking centre stage at KSW as Sunderland’s Phillip De Fries defends his heavyweight title against Damian Grabowski in London.
Big submission specialist De Fries bring his very healthy 18-6 record, 13 of those wins coming via submission, into his 3rd title defence against the Polish Grabowski, who is no slouch on the mat himself with 11 submission wins to his name.
De Fries had an unsuccessful run in the UFC, losing to 2-time UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and former UFC and current Bellator heavyweight contender Matt Mitrione. De Fries himself won his lone Bellator contest in 2017 and is unbeaten in KSW. Neither man has tasted defeat in 2 years, and it promises to be a skilful and exciting contest.
De Fries v Grabowski headines a stacked card, with 5 fights announced and 3 more to be confirmed. Briton Norman Parke is fighting for the KSW lightweight title, with the welterweight and light-heavyweight titles also being contested on the card too, making for a bumper night of high-level mixed martial arts in London.
CRICKET: Middlesex v Hampshire in the T20 Vitality Blast. August 2019.
After a terrific start to their T20 blast campaign, with 6 wins from their 10 games, and just 1 point off the south group lead, Middlesex host Hampshire at the Home of Cricket.
Middlesex will be buoyed by the news that South African superstar A.B De Villiers will be staying with the team for the remainder of the T20 Blast group stage having previously only been contracted to return for the knockout stages, to complement the signing of veteran Pakistani all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez.
De Villiers and his competition best batting average of 84, combines with World Cup winning England captain Eoin Morgan and England Test centurion Dawid Malan to form a fearsome batting line-up; backed up by an impressive bowling unit led by former England pacemen Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones and supported by Afghani superstar mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
The visitors Hampshire have struggled in the tournament thus far, with just 3 wins from their 9 games. But with 7 points and a game in hand on many of their rivals, hope is not all lost for qualification. Despite a line-up including England stars James Vince, Liam Dawson and Mason Crane, the lack of big performances has been the issue for Hampshire, however with the starpower they possess they can pose a serious threat to their hosts. That said with De Villiers back on board and home advantage, Middlesex should feel very confident about getting their 7th win in the Blast.
Surrey v Essex in the T20 Vitality Blast. August 2019.
After his last minute call-up to England’s Ashes squad as cover for fellow Surrey star Jason Roy, Ollie Pope returns to his county to face Essex hoping to restore some pride to a very disappointing T20 Blast campaign.
Surrey have struggled mightily in the absence of World Cup superstar Jason Roy, but will be hoping to have him and Rory Burns - England’s second leading run scorer in the Ashes - back for this game with a break between Ashes Test matches. With just four wins out of their 12 games and only 10 points on the board - 7 behind south group leaders Sussex - qualification for the final stages is looking increasingly unlikely for Surrey.
The Oval side are not lacking for talent. Lead by Australian World Cup captain Aaron Finch, Surrey can also unlease the likes of the aforementioned Pope and the likes of England stars Sam and Tom Curran, Ben Foakes and Jade Dernbach.
Essex have had a similarly disappointing season - although not all of their own making - with four games being rained off. Dan Lawrence has been extremely impressive with the bat, averaging over 50 with four half centuries, and Pakistani superstar Mohammad Amir has lead the bowling attack since joining the side. With both sides clinging on to their hopes of qualification, this should a fiercely contested game at the Oval.