Fear the Falcons?
I haven't watched the 2008 Falcons since week one, and haven't followed their box scores terribly closely, so I wanted to look closely at the stats on pro-football-reference.com to learn about this team. And here's what I think:
The Vikings can destroy this team.
I've heard worries raised that the Falcons are #1 in the league in rushing offense, and they could exploit the Vikings without Pat Williams. But the Falcons rank #15 in rush yards per attempt (in other words, average), and Pat Williams wasn't the entire run defense. Kevin Williams will still line up in the middle, and the linebackers and even defensive backs are good run tacklers. I don't think the Falcons are going to come in and run all over the Vikes in Thunderdome (though there may be room for them to break off some longer runs).
The Vikings can exploit the Falcon defense: they rank #24 in yards allowed, #22 in rushing yards allowed, #22 in rush touchdowns allowed, and (this is key) #29 in rush yards per attempt allowed. And their pass defense is basically average (#15 in net yards per attempt).
The 9-5 Falcons are a surprise story, but they are 3-4 on the road, while the Vikings are 5-1 at home. And the Viking pass rush has been ferocious at home: Matt Ryan could get knocked around.
But here's some snow in your shoes, too. Last week I pointed out the Cardinals bad record outside its own terrible division. It's worth noting, then, that the Falcons are 6-2 outside of their excellent division (inside their division they have a home-and-home split with everybody). The Falcons are a good football team.
I'll trust Thunderdome.
Adrian Peterson: MVP is usually a quarterback's award, but in a season when with no clear QB candidate, a running back can claim it. He leads the league in yards rushing and yards from scrimmage, and his nine 100 yard games have been a major factor pushing the Vikings toward a division title. In the history of the AP MVP, most MVP RBs won the rushing title their MVP year (exceptions: Marshall Faulk, Thurman Thomas, Larry Brown, and Paul Hornung. Thomas, and Brown led the league in yards per scrimmage, Faulk had a record 26 TDs--which looked more impressive at the time; it's now been broken three times--and Paul Hornung is just an overrated running back--he wins MVP with 742 yards from scrimmage because he also kicks, and Jim Brown had 1,867 yards from scrimmage in the same year. Let's be clear on that: Jim Brown had 1,125 more yards from scrimmage than the NFL MVP in 1961. Nobody's ever going to convince me that Paul Hornung lived up to the Golden Boy image. Wikipedia also notes that Hornung "is the only player from a losing team (his University of Notre Dame team finished 2-8 that year) ever to win the [Heisman]trophy." There's a lot of things that don't make sense to me about Hornung's place in football history. But this parenthetical is out of hand even for me, so let's just move on).
Peyton Manning: Manning's numbers are low by his extraordinary standards, and the Colts look shakier than they've looked in years, yet Manning could claim his second-and-a-half MVP (when a player wins co-MVP, I only think we should give credit for half an MVP). I perceive commentators to be giving Manning more credit for the intangible stuff than they have in the past: leadership, willing a limping team to victory, making clutch plays. According to Football Outsiders' stats, he's still one of the top statistical QBs.
DeMarcus Ware: He now has 19 sacks, and it is Dallas' defense that keys the Cowboys now (holding opponents to 10 or less in four of the last seven games). It's an outside possibility.
James Harrison: The stat-filler for a dominant defense and possible #1 seed. I think he'll probably still win Defensive Player of the Year, but the third defensive player to win MVP (after Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor) will probably be a bigger name than Harrison.
Week 16 Games
Games of note:
Colts-Jaguars: only because I've been looking forward to it for weeks. I've been stuck in grim isolation grading end-of-the-semester work. It's to the point I'm talking to the papers while I grade them: my wife overhears me and worries she's now the wife in A Beautiful Mind. And I've known that if I finish all my work, I get to relax and watch Peyton Manning with a peaceful mind.
Cowboys-Ravens: It doesn't seem we get a game like this often: December gives us a lot of intense, important games between playoff contenders, but an AFC-NFC matchup featuring 9-5 Wild Card contenders that could miss the playoffs? That's different.
Steelers-Titans: That Steeler defense scares me; they're pretty much the best at everything. It's the one thing I can barely work into my walking fantasies--but I still manage (see below).
Bills-Broncos: I always root for a division winner to have at least nine wins so I don't have to feel ridiculous watching them host a home playoff game. Go Broncos.
Cardinals-Patriots: See above.
Panthers-Giants: In many of my walking fantasies, the Vikings pull it off with a two-seed (see below). This game could be relevant to that.
Packers-Bears. In week 17, 2003, the Seahawks played the 49ers on Saturday; if they lost, the Vikings were guaranteed to make the playoffs. I watched the game relatively indifferently: I just badly wanted the Vikings to win Sunday to win the division outright. You may remember the rest (IT HAUNTS MY DREAMS!). In week 17, 2004, the Vikings lost a chance to clinch a playoff spot and were 8-8. I followed the other games relatively indifferently: I've always felt like an 8-8 team doesn't really deserve to make the playoffs and is just lucky if it does, so I somehow didn't care whether tie-breaking scenarios gave the Vikes a playoff game. You may remember what happened the next week after they made the playoffs (IT DAZZLES MY DREAMS!). So I've learned my lesson: I don't care how, I just want the Vikings to make the playoffs.
"Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass/ That I may see my shadow as I pass"Lately, while I'm walking around, I catch myself having deluded fantasies about the Vikings winning the Super Bowl. I try to convince myself to stop, I'm just hurting myself, but my imagination keeps creating wild scenarios in which I'm celebrating a Viking Super Bowl win. I try not to do it, but I start thinking about who to call that night, about which Viking shirt to wear to work the next day, about how big my smile will be. It's brutal.
Bernard Berrian and Anthony Gonzalez have been my regular starting wide receivers for a long time, and I'm in 3rd place in the Hazelweird League, with a (very far) outside chance of winning the thing. This still makes no sense to me.
Viking injuries (PFT).
The Williamses could win this legal dispute (Star Tribune).
Tarvaris Jackson (Pioneer Press).
Some Vikings are good fellows (Pioneer Press).
Cedric Griffin (Star Tribune).
Adrian Peterson for MVP (Vikings.com).
Football Outsiders' Ned Macey look at the Vikings-Cardinals game at ESPN (via The Ragnarok, which is once again in action).
Sammy Baugh died (Sports Illustrated).
MVP contenders (USA Today).
Peyton Manning for MVP (Fox Sports).
The Steeler defense (Cold, Hard Football Facts).
Brett Favre in the Pro Bowl (Advanced NFL Stats).
Methodology for ranking defenses (Pro-football-reference.com).
The commercial life
A while back Moderately Cerebral Bias wrote about the religious imagery and language in Nike's LeBron James ads. The new commercial with the rosin continues that vein, in my opinion. When LeBron claps his hands, a mystical cloud explodes from his hands, a powerful burst of air and energy, and it spreads like a spiritual energy (or the Holy Spirit) to all sorts of people he encounters. I just get a religious feel from the commercial.
Whom would you throw a shoe at?
A reasonable question: what person in the world of sports would you most like to throw a shoe at? Well, I don't think I'd throw a shoe at anybody (pacifism and all). So let me adjust: what sports figure would you most want to see react to getting a shoe thrown at him/her during a press conference?
For me, it's obviously Kevin McHale. The man is a disaster, and can't be disentangled from the Timberwolves soon enough. It would slightly amuse me to see him ducking a flung shoe.
Descartes speculated that all reality was an illusion created by an evil genius; sometimes I think an evil genius has devised ways for me to miss Viking games. On Sunday, I will be spending time with family for Christmas, and I don't know if there will be a TV on during the festivities.
But do you think George Bailey ever fretted missing a football game for family time? And he's the richest man in town! Well, I guess he did spend much of his life fretting missing world travel. Maybe an incompetent angel will visit me and show me what the Christmas party would be like if I went to the Viking game instead. I think it would be exactly the same, except there would be more wine left for others.
Have a pleasant week and weekend, everybody.