There's nothing like a "Nothing to Worry About" post to send everything crashing down to earth. Following a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City, Newcastle find themselves three points away from the relegation zone with 7 matches to play. I've added a couple of columns to our table this week, both of which are pretty simple to understand.
LW stands for "last week." PrFin is "projected finish." Projected finish is simply PrPts put in order. With as many teams as we have on the table, it can be easy to lose track of who fits in where. If you're trying to be an #optimist about this whole thing, the size of the table should assuage your fears somewhat. Three points away from the drop is undeniably bad, but half the league is within six. One good result could mean a four place bump for Newcastle, though that's admittedly unlikely. Almost as unlikely is being caught by all three of Wigan, Aston Villa, and Sunderland - but it's still likely. My plan for this week was to look at each team's remaining schedule, but there are far too many to say anything meaningful about each one. So, I'm leaving QPR and Reading out - they're not going to catch up this week, anyway - and I'm also ignoring all of the teams ahead of Newcastle. It would be nice to catch as many teams as possible and grab a bigger share of the sweet, sweet television money, but the point here is escaping the worst possible outcome. So, let's examine the three aforementioned teams.
Why They Could Succeed: Four of their remaining seven matches are against teams featured in this article.
Why They Could Fail: Two are against Chelsea and Manchester United. Three of the four against relegation candidates are on the road. Villa have actually been okay away from home, but when they lose, they lose badly (-17 in 15 matches). The last one won't take place until the last day of the season, a match that could be a "losers walk" scenario.
Key Matches: Sunderland (home, 29 April), Wigan (away, 19 May)
Why They Could Succeed: With only 30 matches played, they have a game in hand.
Why They Could Fail: Wigan are 9th in the league on the road (4-2-8) and have 5 away matches left. That stat is actually very misleading. They're 19th at home, but 4-4-8 is actually a bit better than their road record. That road mark may very well be the result of having played so few games away from DW. They still have to travel to Manchester City and Arsenal. Their three remaining home matches aren't easy, either. Their best shot is probably keeping Aston Villa within range and then stealing a result on the last day in front of a friendly crowd.
Key Matches: Queens Park Rangers (away, 7 April), Aston Villa (home, 19 May)
Why They Could Succeed: The mackems have kept 9 clean sheets this season and have grabbed 10 draws so far. At this point, a point is huge, and they appear to have the tools to steal enough points down the stretch. If new manager Paolo Di Canio's track record is any indication, Sunderland will continue playing conservative football. They also play teams in the bottom half four more times.
Why They Could Fail: They dumped Martin O'Neill for Di Canio. Never mind his political views; bringing in a new guy in the middle of a relegation battle is a huge no-no, as we well know. There's also the issue of their poor form, which got O'Neill the axe in the first place. The SMBs haven't won a match since January 19.
Key Matches: Newcastle (away, 14 April), Aston Villa (away, 29 April)
Why They Could Succeed: They have a two point head start on the other teams here and have won 8 matches at home. They will host four more teams at St James this year.
Why They Could Fail: Three matches left on the road, where they are an embarrassing 1-5-10. They also have a European schedule to contend with.
Key Matches: Sunderland (home, 14 April), Queens Park Rangers (12 May)
In my heart of hearts I still believe Newcastle will escape the drop. On paper, the team that appears to be in the most danger is Wigan Athletic, but we've already seen that the luck dragons are on their side. How each team fares in the matches listed above will do more to determine the final standings than anything else. Newcastle have three matches to play before they host Sunderland, but it feels like derby week already.
This Week's Six-Pointers: Reading vs. Southampton, Stoke City vs. Aston Villa, QPR vs. Wigan