Stan Hey: 6-5 Against

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The Independent Online

Little piles of slush around the pitch; ball bobbling in the icy mud; tattooed postman centre-forward flying through the air to nod the winner; minnows killing giants; potential banana skins. Marvellous! You don't have to be in Ron Manager mood on the first Saturday of the year but even so, it's hard to avoid FA Cup third round fervour.

Yet this weekend the Premier League elite will probably sit star players on the bench, to be called on only if an upset is on the cards. And therein lies the problem for FA Cup punters – finding a team that actually wants to win it. The so-called Big Four have only "allowed" two other winners in the past 15 years, Everton in 1995 and Portsmouth in 2008.

But then you can't just stick your money on Chelsea (4-1 favourites), Manchester United (9-2), Liverpool (13-2) or Arsenal (8-1) and expect to make a profit because you must guess the clubs' priorities – League and Champions' League for all but Liverpool, and probably fourth place rather than FA Cup for them. I'll plump for Arsenal, £10 win, with £5 each-way on Fulham (40-1, Boylesports).

Fielding under-strength teams is catching on in the NFL, and may decide the play-off qualifiers tomorrow, particularly in the AFC where seven teams are chasing two places. Indianapolis withdrew their stars at half-time last week, allowing the Jets to win, and the suspicion is that Cincinnati, already in, may go easy on them too, shafting Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Non-paranoid Steelers' fans could nibble at their 125-1 Super Bowl odds (Betfred), just in case.

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