Stan Hey: 6-5 Against

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The Independent Online

Two codes of oval ball games are starting up again and both have ground to make up in terms of credibility and morality.

Rugby Union was already looking a bit queasy after drug cases, the violent antics of South Africa against the Lions and then Bloodgate with its amateurish but sinister details. Over in America the new NFL season is clouded by the return of the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who was jailed for organising a dog-fighting ring.

Does this matter to punters? Well, yes – if they fear a sport is bent, or don't like the behaviour of players, they will walk away. I'm sticking with rugby because the game may have been brought to its senses. And as for the Premiership, I'm backing Northampton to top the regular season, £10 at 10-1 generally.

In the NFL, reigning champions the Pittsburgh Steelers are my annual bet, and could be even stronger if they find a heavy-weight running back – £20 win, 11-1 Stan James. The Patriots are worth a saver now Tom Brady is fit again (£10, 5-1 sportingbet). The likely challengers from the NFC are the New York Giants (14-1 Boylesports), and the Chicago Bears (22-1 Betfred).

The biggest noise is in Minnesota where the Vikings persuaded Brett Favre out of his second retirement. The Vikings are stronger than the quarterback's last team, the Jets, but Favre now throws more interceptions than touchdowns, so swerve. Best outsiders could be Washington (50-1 totesport).

*Warrington landed the Challenge Trophy, recouping losses but Elena Dementieva is already out of the US Open and Manchester's rain easily won the Twenty20.