Thursday, December 30, 2010

National Friday League, Week 17

Vikings-Lions Preview
Who this game matters most for:

Leslie Frazier. A win Sunday, and it would be wildly unfair if Leslie Frazier is not hired as the Viking head coach for 2011.

Joe Webb. Another strong performance, and he might convince the Vikings he's the QB they can develop, starting soon (compete for the job in training camp?). A poor performance, and he looks more like a long-term project, and the Vikings try fill the position elsewhere next year.

Jim Schwartz. I'm afraid the Lions are building something. They do have a dominant 25 year old on offense and a dominant 23 year old on defense. They've had seven losses this season by eight points or fewer. And a win Sunday would mean finishing the year with four straight wins, including two division wins.

My dream: an NFL pregame show with no former players or coaches.
Why would I prefer an NFL pregame show without former players and former coaches?

They have friends in the league. Some of these guys make efforts to defend their friends, won't criticize their friends, and quite obviously have their commentary influenced by their friendships.

They have their own legacies to protect. This comes out subtly in some of their evaluations, but it's there.

They often don't bring much insight. My guess is that most of these former players and coaches made their millions, and for them this is a comfortable job. They're not spending hours studying film, not spending hours studying stats, and not spending hours chasing down sources for meaningful inside knowledge. Quite frequently the things these guys say are no more meaningful than what any other observer of the sport could provide.

Obviously a former player or coach can be very good on TV: Ron Jaworski, Chris Collinsworth, and John Madden come to mind. But a lot of the former players and coaches are either irritating or dull.

My other dream: no more "production meetings" with broadcasters and players
I think the broadcasters, after having friendly conversations with players, are less likely to harshly criticize those players. It's not always a conscious decision: in fact I think it's usually an unconscious, human feeling not to be critically harsh--even when justified--to people they have had personal conversations with, and who have generally been nice to them. But it's there: the friendly conversation they had influences their objectivity and willingness to honestly critique. Furthermore I'm not sure how much meaningful insight they get from these meetings that they couldn't get from other sources (some, I'm sure, but I'm not sure it's enough to counterbalance the soft treatment they give the subjects).

Leslie Frazier has earned this job.
When a team is hiring a new coach, there are all sorts of things to consider in the prospect's resume and personality to evaluate whether he will be an effective coach for the team's particular situation. When a coach is given a chance to audition for the job on an interim basis, it is usually under difficult circumstances, but it is a chance to actually prove what he can do "on the field."

Since Leslie Frazier became head coach, the Vikings have won their first two road games of the season (both outdoors, one against a 10 win team). The Vikings have won three games with three different QBs (Favre against Washington, Jackson against Buffalo [Favre went out on the first series], Webb against Philadelphia). The team has endured some pretty unique circumstances, and even though the Vikes are eliminated from playoff contention, the team has still been playing extremely hard. The game plans have been good (the coaching job against the Eagles was masterly), and on multiple occasions they've made difficult adjustments to new situations (Peterson getting hurt against Washington, Favre getting hurt against Buffalo, preparing a third-string, rookie sixth round pick QB).

What else can Leslie Frazier do to prove he deserves, in fact has earned with his performance, the chance to prepare a team through an offseason and coach a team through a season? In my mind he's already proven it: a win against Detroit to finish the year 4-2--including three road victories--should absolutely convince Zygi Wilf that Leslie Frazier is the man to run this football team.

I wasn't convinced when Frazier took over on an interim basis that he should be the head coach next year. I am now. I don't know who the Vikings can find that they could know will do a better job than Frazier, and I think Frazier has proven what he can do.

The Timberwolves
Basketball is an extraordinarily fun sport to watch live, if you're watching a well played, competitive game. I went to the Wolves' game against the Hornets Monday, and it was a treat. Wesley Johnson hit six three pointers from what I'm pretty sure was the exact same spot on the court (New Orleans would have had a better defensive strategy just to make a center stand there with his arms up, no matter what else was happening), and Michael Beasley was scoring every which way he could. Really a delightful game to watch. I'm really hoping they can bring in some better talent to support Beasley and Kevin Love, who are a good core of players that could take the Wolves to the playoffs with a little better guard play (and a lot better center play).

Other Week 17 Games

Bears-Packers. FINISH THEM!


Rams-Seahawks. Either another 8-8 team wins a division and goes to the playoffs (while teams with winning records in the same conference don't), and we go on with life as before, or a 7-9 team wins a division and the league either reforms or busts up the current system. Which would you prefer?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


No matter if the Vikings aren't making it to the playoffs, it is really, really fun to watch your favorite team go on the road to play against a playoff team and beat them smoothly. That was the most fun watching the Vikings I've had all season. The Vikes showed they do have the talent, that they do have a core of players to keep together, that they have something to build on.

Great credit goes to the entire defense for this effort. Michael Vick is incredible: if I was choosing a QB for my team, I'd quibble between the Manning/Brady/Brees triumvirate, but few QBs right now are more terrifying to go against than Vick. He is a game plan destroyer with his elusiveness. But the Viking coaching staff put together an aggressive game plan: they played a team with tremendous speed and big play ability, and they didn't play afraid. They blitzed a lot. The defensive line got good penetration, and the front seven made an admirable effort chasing down and trying to contain Vick. The secondary, despite several dropped interceptions, played an outstanding game: the DBs stuck with their receivers well, they deflected passes, they tackled well.

Antoine Winfield blessed us with another Antoine Winfield special: sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, touchdown return all on one beautiful play that turned the game right before halftime.

Joe Webb gave us something to hope for, playing a game with poise, intelligence, mobility, and accuracy. Kudos to the coaching staff for both giving him plays that allowed him to be successful, and for not sitting on their hands avoiding using him at all.

Adrian Peterson quite frequently looked like the best player on the field, and Percy Harvin played better than any other WR tonight.

Leslie Frazier made his best audition to keep the Viking head coaching job. The road win against Washington and the blowout win against the Bills was very good. But after two blowout losses, after weather forced them into a Monday Night "home" game in Detroit, then a Monday night home game at TCF Stadium, and then a Tuesday Night game at NFC powerhouse Philadelphia, after the team was down to its third QB, a rookie sixth round pick, this team could have easily given up. But the team did not: this team has played hard for Frazier, and tonight they had a great game plan that they utilized almost to perfection.

That was joyous. I can't recall ever watching the Vikings beat the Eagles (I probably have watched it, but it's been a long time, and I don't remember it). I've seen the Vikings lose to the Eagles at home, in the playoffs, and live (once all of those things at once). Today they did it. It was a well-played game, featuring great effort, great game planning, and great performances from some great players. Football is still fun.

Skol, everybody.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

National Festivus League, Week 16

Happy Festivus everybody.

This is a game I would say will be the biggest blowout the Vikings endure this season: they've got no answer for Michael Vick or DeSean Jackson, and they'll be starting their third or fourth quarterback of the season. But considering the Vikings have already lost games this year by scores like 31-3 and 40-14, really, where is the blowout range going to be worse than what we've already seen?

This Viking season feels like 2001: a disappointing season with a lot of dreadful losses, an offense that suddenly goes from explosive to inept, the coach is eventually ousted in rather ugly fashion, and by the end of the year the team is on a third quarterback and it seems almost hopeless that they can even score a touchdown. I barely had the stomach to watch those games (OK, I often didn't). Watching games this season feels like a burdensome chore, like it's something I have to do when I'd rather be doing something else, and I'm just hoping the team does something in the offseason to give some hope (at quarterback, at coach, somewhere important) so that games next year can be fun to watch again. I haven't had fun watching a Viking game in a really long time.

Other Interesting Games

Panthers-Steelers. Can Carolina pull off a Festivus miracle?

Jets-Bears. There's not an NFC playoff team that I can't see beating the Bears, and there's not an NFC playoff team that I can't see the Bears beating. They're playing for a bloody two seed.

Colts-Raiders. Peyton Manning has a reason to play through all 16 games for the first time in a very long time.

Giants-Packers. Finish those suckers off now.

Saints-Falcons. All season long, I sort of rooted for the Falcons because they seemed like one of the better contenders to stop the Packers from getting to the Super Bowl (they're killer at home). Now that fear of the Packers in the Super Bowl is significantly weakened (but not dead), I still kinda sorta root for this Falcon team anyway.

I was in a waiting room the other day, waiting, when somebody started chatting with me. This fellow asked me if I played "fantasy football."

"What's that?" I said. "Does that have something to do with those football games on TV?"

"Well, yeah, sort of."

"Hmm. I've seen those football games. What is 'fantasy' football?"

"Well, you pick your own team of players, like a quarterback, running backs, etc., and then your team does well when those players do well."

"So you make up a team?"

"I guess. You draft them."

"'Draft'? Like that thing they do in April?"

"Yeah, just with the members of your league. You draft a team from all the players in the NFL."

"Sounds interesting." I then returned to my magazine and continued waiting, going back to a life with no such thing as fantasy football. It sounds like the sort of thing that will take up way too much of your energy and time and can only leave you feeling miserable.

Airing of Grievances ("I've got a lot of problems with you people!")
If there were a Bizarro Pro Bowl, where players make it by being actively bad, Madieu Williams would be the starting safety. No other defensive back excels so highly in two key areas: being wildly out of position in pass coverage, and being wildly out of position when attempting to tackle. If an opposing wide receiver made a big play this season, look around: #20 was probably somewhere nearby. This year's airing of grievances is reserved for none other than Madieu Williams.

I would watch the Bizarro Pro Bowl, by the way.

Feel free to air your grievances.

Have a good one, suckers.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A bitter sort of peace

As much as I hate seeing Brian Urlacher celebrate anything, it is better than seeing the Packers celebrate anything.

And the Vikings are just two more embarrassing losses from beginning a rebuilding project; we can hope that means that these games will be fun to watch again in 2011.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

National Friday League, Week 15

Outdoor Winter Football in Minnesota
Seeing a Viking home game played in cold December, snow plowed to the sidelines, will make me nostalgic for a time I never even saw. Purple jerseys in the cold!

On not giving a shit (or, Vikings v. Bears)

The 2010 Vikings are either going to finish 5-11, 6-10, 7-9, or 8-8 (assuming no ties, I guess). I can't find myself caring where they actually end up on that spectrum: it just doesn't really matter. If this were a young team, we could hope for a strong finish to build for something next year. But this is an old team that is going to have to make some big changes next year regardless of the next three weeks (the dread rebuilding, but with a solid core of elite-level players to rebuild with so it could turn quickly, with savvy and luck).

Yet on the other side, the Bears are one game in front of the Packers for the division. I have no animosity for the Bears outside of Viking-Bear matchups, and intense animosity for the Packers. And that can, ultimately, matter: seeing the Packers in the Super Bowl would crush my spirit.

Am I saying I'm rooting for the Bears to beat the Vikings? I would never say that. And I would never feel that.

Randall Cunningham and Brett Favre
Randall Cunningham and Brett Favre each quarterbacked the Vikings to a spectacular, memorable season that ended with an overtime defeat in the NFC Championship Game. Here were their comparable numbers during those seasons:

Cunningham '98
3,704 yards, 34 TDs, 10 INTs, 60.9%, 106.0 rating, 13-1 record
(playoffs: 46/75, 502 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT)

Favre '09
4,202 yards, 33 TDs, 7 INTs, 68.4%, 107.2 rating, 12-4 record
(playoffs: 43/70, 544 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs)

Outside of those magical years, neither QB shined. In 2010, the Vikes started 5-7 with Favre as starter, and he threw 18 interceptions and added six fumbles. In 1999, the Vikings started 2-4 with Cunningham as starter, as his rating fell down to 79.1. Cunningham also finished the 1997 season, when he was the starter in a week 17 win to make the playoffs, as well as their first playoff win of the '90s.

Who did more for the Vikings? When I see Randall Cunningham Viking jerseys, I just feel empty. I don't know how I'll feel when I see Favre Viking jerseys in ten years. That depends, I suppose, on whether the Vikings win a Super Bowl before then...and whether the "Minnesota Vikings" exist at all.

Penelope waits
There are different ways to create stories and meaning from sports. Some may view through a Hero Myth, where the story is the heroism of the great individual player or the great team, whose on-field successes and failures are all part of the story of the hero's greatness (and tragedy). Or you can see sports as a Quest Myth, where the team or individual strives and struggles and takes forward and backward steps on the mission to achieve an idealized end, to cross into the Promised Land, to find that Holy Grail, to return home from Troy.

Readers know how I watch the Vikings. And during the latter parts of a season during which the Vikings will not make the playoffs, I feel like I'm stuck on some crazy half-god's island just waiting for a boat to come by so maybe, maybe I can get back on that journey home. At least then, no matter how far I am from Ithaca, I'd at least be on the water moving, quite possibly even in the right direction.

Other Games

A nice slate of games matching up teams with winning records.

Eagles-Giants. How I got my wife to give me a disgusted look Monday night: "You know how I've said if the Vikings relocate I'll become a Bears fan? Well, when Peyton Manning retires I'll need a new favorite non-Viking player. Football is way more fun for me when I have a favorite non-Viking to root for. So I was thinking, when Peyton retires, how about little brother?"




Jaguars-Colts. If the Jaguars win, they win the division and the Colts miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001. If the Colts win, they haven't clinched anything, but they're in very good shape to do so. The Vikings make me shake my head sadly; any football nerves I have now are reserved for Packer games and Colt games.

Remember Spurgeon Wynn?
Horrors. Just remembering.

Fantasy Box
Readers know my antipathy to head-to-head fantasy standings, and the absurd unfairness of fantasy playoffs (why not just pick a week at random and say the highest score from that week wins the championship?).

But I do now see the excitement of a playoff. When you're on the bubble just to get into the playoffs, it's exciting because you still have a shot at winning a fantasy football champion. And then if you get into the playoffs, even as the lowest seed, you need one good week against the top seed and you can still claim that champion. I get it.

Of course the week-to-week, every-game excitement of Cross Country standings overcomes the focused excitement of a playoff matchup. Still, this is fun.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The snow gushed forth from the Thunderdome sky, like the opening call for Ragnarok.

And so the Vikings played a game in pretend Thunderdome. And looked as deflated as the Metrodome.

The Viking offense sure reminded me of 2007. If the opponent is stuffing Adrian Peterson, the Vikings are cooked. When the Vikings are pinned with poor field position, they're cooked. When the Vikings face 3rd and long, they're cooked. If the Vikings get down by a couple of scores, they're cooked.

Let there be no mistaking this now: Tarvaris Jackson cannot be the starting quarterback for the Vikings in 2011. They need to look for a QB answer for the medium term (a veteran that can play with Pro Bowl potential for 3-5 years: think Rich Gannon with the Raiders, Brad Johnson with the Buccaneers, Kurt Warner with the Cardinals) or the long term (the proverbial franchise quarterback). And that's not to blame Jackson for the dud of a game played by the Vikings tonight. But he does continue to show his limitations, and I don't think that next year he'll be one of the 32 best quarterbacks in the NFL (but do I even need to say that? Everybody in Minnesota knows this, right? But I hear enough national commentators talk about Jackson as a possible option next year, as somebody the Vikings need to see play to find out more about him, that it almost terrifies me into thinking he could be back).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Of course this would happen.

Can anybody remember a weirder Viking season than 2010? It was already a kooky season before the Thunderdome roof fell in and snow poured onto the field, requiring the Vikings to play an impromptu Monday night home game in Detroit.

Blizzards always remind and teach an important life lesson: adapt.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

National Friday League, Week 14

Vikings-Giants Preview
The Giants are 4th in offensive yards and 2nd in defensive yards allowed. The rank 5th in Football Outsiders' DVOA. But I have a problem: I can't keep history out of my mind. Here are the four games the Vikings have played against Eli Manning's Giants.

2005: The Vikings win a road game despite scoring three offensive points, a win that was vital to the Vikings' midseason effort to keep the season entertaining. Eli Manning throws four interceptions.

2007: The Vikings go on the road and blow out the Giants, a win that helped the Vikings' midseason effort to keep the season entertaining. Eli Manning throws four interceptions.

2008: In the last game of the season, the clinched Giants rest some major starters; the Vikings are forced to come back (with Tarvaris Jackson!) to clinch the NFC North.

2009: In the last game of the season, the Giants have nothing to play for, while the Vikes need a win and help to clinch the NFC #2 seed. They blew out the Giants.

Tooling around Minnesota, there are a few fans that watch every single Viking game, but watch no other NFL games. These fans have seen Eli Manning play precisely four times. These fans think Eli Manning sucks awful. They're seeing Eli this weekend and thinking "Oh, that loser is still the Giants' QB?"

I think the Vikings have been effective against the Giants because the Vikes stop the run and force Manning into a lot of bad throwing situations. Manning can be turnover-prone, and the Viking pass rush can get to him, I think (and getting turnovers in bunches is a way for this team to beat the Giants) I feel good about this game, but that's from feeling good about a team coming off their first road win then their largest victory of the season. Albeit against lousy teams. After all, even with a new coach, the Vikes are only two games removed from getting puked on by the Bears and Packers. Trends do come to an end (I guess: the Patriots never beat John Elway).

Other Interesting Games

Colts-Titans. Which team has had a worse few weeks?

Packers-Lions. Detroit: this is your destiny. Do it!

Patriots-Bears. Chicago: this is your destiny. Do it!

Bizarro MVP
In Bizarro World1, where Bizarro PV gets a vote for the Bizarro MVP, Bizarro PV casts his vote for Bizarro Tom Brady.2

1. 37.9% of my knowledge of Superman mythology comes from Jerry Seinfeld.
2. Even in Bizarro World, only QBs and RBs on playoff teams are eligible for MVP.

Fantasy Box
In the Hazelweird League, we have a "trophy" for last place: the loser of the league is forced to keep in possession a DVD featuring college highlights of the Vikings' 2005 draft picks. I'm serious. At the last draft weekend there was some discussion of opening the box up and watching it, which led to some threats to quit the league and go start a splinter league.

This awful trophy is largely symbolic: there is a real desire among, well, yes, us, at the bottom of the standings to not finish in last place. I've never finished in last place: one year I tanked it for the #1 pick and I still didn't get last place (even when I try to lose, Abe still loses better--zing!). I'm still fighting and clawing to be respectable enough not to be last.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Clouds of Heaven

Some bullet-point reactions.
  • When you're watching a December football game between two teams that aren't making the playoffs, you want it to be entertaining: lots of points, lots of big plays, lots of turnovers, lots of stuff happening. If you're a Viking fan, that game was entertaining.
  • Sidney Rice showed he's still got it: he was making spectacular downfield catches in tight coverage, and making them look nearly effortless. He reminds me of the old Randy Moss in some ways: when covered downfield, he can still make a play without it looking like an extraordinary effort. He's smooth timing and leaping for the ball. He's really a key player to keep on the team going forward: he can make a QB look good.
  • Tarvaris Jackson made me feel like old times. He is what he is: capable of some really exciting, spectacular plays, but also capable of frequent inaccuracy and terrible decision making. The inaccurate passes and bad decisions are, I think most of us are convinced, too frequent with Jackson for him to be a successful regular starting QB.
  • Adrian freaking Peterson!
  • Defensively, this was like old times: ferocious pass rush forcing turnovers, stifling run defense, big plays from the likes of Antoine Winfield and Jared Allen. The Bills aren't good, but it's still fun to watch a defense be disruptive at every level of the game.
  • Our 0-4 Super Bowl soul-cousins do have a couple of AFL championships from back in 1964 and 1965. Bills fans, you have that over us.

(note for non-weekend readers who missed it to check out "Brett Favre as King Lear" below, if you'd be interested in that sort of thing).

Friday, December 03, 2010

Brett Favre as King Lear

Numerous pundits have compared Brett Favre to Hamlet, because of Favre's indecision over retirement and Hamlet's apparent indecision over what to do about his father's murder. But I think that comparison is too easy, not quite accurate, and not terribly insightful. But a comparison to another Shakespeare hero, King Lear, actually offers some real insight, or at least a consistent, developed interpretation, of Brett Favre the man and football player.

It's not indecision: it's a full embrace of the current emotion.
In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom argues that Lear the man "is all feeling," suggesting, I think, that whatever emotion Lear currently feels, he embraces with the totality of his person.

Might this explain Favre's frequent candor with the media, his long-time musings on possible retirements, and especially his displays of sincere, authentic tears? When Favre announced his retirement from the Packers and cried, that was real emotion: he seemed to fully feel it. But the emotion changed, and when it did, Favre fully embraced that new emotion.

And after all, King Lear begins with Lear announcing his retirement, a decision he will very quickly regret.

Love me, love me, say that you love me!
Lear is a man who, in old age, gathers all the important people of the country together, tells his daughters that he is handing them the kingdom...and then insists that they make public displays telling him how much they love him.

Does Brett Favre manipulate the media to stay in constant public attention? Maybe, maybe not. But some have suggested that when Brett Favre made his first retirement announcement, he hoped that the Green Bay Packers would express a deep desire for him to come back, and was irked at the way he perceived they pushed him out when he did want to come back (as Lear was irked when Cordelia wouldn't make a showy display like her sisters: is going to play for the Packers' rival the emotional equivalent of banishing Cordelia?). And it does seem in 2010 that he sent text messages to teammates pointing to retirement, perhaps in an effort to get them to express their love and longing for him. And he did only come back for 2010 when teammates showed up at his home to beg him to come back. He felt loved and needed, in the way Lear badly needed to feel loved and needed.

Aye, every inch a king.
Lear has a king's conviction that he can do whatever he wants, his way. That might give us some insight into Brett Favre, whether he is throwing a terrible pass into coverage and forcing an awful turnover, avoiding training camp, or calling Jenn Sterger.

Monumental Greatness, and Monumental Stupidity.
There is no question that King Lear has the capacity for greatness, that he has been a great and respected king. But as Kent warns him and as the Fool never tires of reminding him, Lear also has the capacity for utterly stupid foolishness.

With all the all-time cumulative records, with a plethora of 30+ TD pass seasons, with two and a half MVPs, there's no question Brett Favre is one of the greatest QBs that ever played. But with the all-time interception record, with a plethora of 20+ INT seasons, with a number of playoff games with multiple interceptions or game-altering end-of-the game interceptions, Favre too has the capacity for failure.

Hamlet? Nah.
In Hamlet, Hamlet is in an awful situation: his dad has died and his mother quickly marries his uncle who takes the throne, he discovers that his uncle probably murdered his father (he's not quite sure), but he doesn't know the extent of other peoples' (including his own mother's!) involvement in the crime or coverup, he has all sorts of conflicting desires, is surrounded by untrustworthy people that he has every reason to distrust, seems to be getting betrayed by everybody he knows, he's constantly being spied on, and the one thing he wanted to do (leave!) he was explicitly forbidden to do. If Hamlet is indecisive, he can hardly be blamed for that. What is the right decision? What is he supposed to do? And how is he supposed to pull it off when his enemy is the guy in charge of the whole damn country, with all sorts of power, and perhaps all sorts of allies who are aiding him? What advice would you give to Hamlet given his situation?

Hamlet's indecision is overrated, and I don't think it offers us much insight into Brett Favre. King Lear, the emotional king, longing to be loved, with his capacity for both brilliance and foolishness? There, I think, is an insightful comparison.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

National Friday League, Week 13

Ah, another game against our "0-4 in the Super Bowl" spirit-cousins. Hello Buffalo: I feel like I know you.

Look at the Bills' last five games and tell me whether you are confident for this game: OT loss at Ravens, OT loss at Chiefs, 3 point loss to Bears, 2 point win against Lions, 18 point win at Bengals, OT loss to Steelers. Since their bye week, the Bills have played everybody competitively. They do have a bad run defense (32nd in yardage allowed, 29th in yards per attempt allowed) and a lousy defense overall (29th in points allowed), but the Vikings are 30th in points scored.

2010 Viking Defense: Impressive or Disappointing?
This year, the Vikings rank 9th in yardage allowed and the team ranks 16th in points allowed. The points allowed make the Vikings seem pretty average, but considering the Vikes have 25 lost turnovers, the defense has been forced into some lousy positions to play out of (plus they once again have given up a fair number of non-offensive touchdowns). They've had some games when they needed to get stops late in the game for a chance to win, and they did it (Miami, at Green Bay, Arizona). They've also had games when they needed late game stops and couldn't at all (at New England), and games when the pass defense looked just...just...awful (at Chicago, Green Bay). The run defense is not what it once was, but still ranks #5 in yardage and yardage per attempt allowed. But the pass rush has often been invisible. By Football Outsiders' metric they are very average (17th).

Interesting Week 13 games
Jaguars-Titans: The last time the 6-5 division leading Jags played the Titans, they lost 30-3. I know this because that was early enough in the academic semester when I still watched every Monday Night game, and early enough in the season when I had fantasy hopes. Now I'm buried in research papers (I shouldn't even be writing this!) and mired in a lost fantasy season (I could list off my very concrete, easily identifiable mistakes, but why bother).

Falcons-Buccaneers. I like Matt Ryan. I like Brent Grimes (or "Grimey," as he liked to be called).

Cowboys-Colts. Indianapolis's incredibly impressive streak of seven straight 12+ win seasons will not be stretched to eight, but they are still tied for a division lead with a favorable schedule.

Chicago and whoever they play, Green Bay and whoever they play. I'm not ashamed to be at the "anybody but the Packers" stage of the season.

Steelers-Ravens, Jets-Patriots. Late in the season, it's wonderful to have extraordinary night games between division-rival Super Bowl contenders. Thanks again, DVR.

Really fascinating post at about QB "comebacks," with some special focus on John Elway, Dan Marino, and Brett Favre (Favre does not come out so well when you see what he's done with comeback opportunities).

In the no shame department, ProFootballTalk quotes an NFL statement criticizing the players' union which includes the following:

"The union’s request for state and local political leaders to intercede in the negotiations ignores and denigrates the serious and far more substantial problems that those leaders, and that state and local workers across the country face."

Ho ho ho! That's funny stuff. Either somebody writing NFL statements has a rich sense of irony, or the NFL and teams aren't bothering state and local politicians for public money for their stadiums anymore. Or something else.

December: not quite as ass-biting cold as January and February, but almost, but it's OK because there are Christmas lights. I might take a bye from blogging for the next few weeks (combination of end-of-semester workload and football-season-gone-bad exhaustion), but maybe not.

Later suckers. Go Vikings. Go Bears.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Clouds of Heaven

Sure, Washington did its part to lose this game (several dropped passes, one that was deflected and gave the Vikings easy field goal range, an unnecessary block in the back to negate a punt return), but Viking road wins (and on grass, no less!) are hard to come by, and we can appreciate them when they happen. Besides, this was the cleanest and crispest the Vikings have looked all year: no turnovers, few penalties, a team just generally playing smart, quality football.

What kind of coach would Leslie Frazier be with an offseason, a training camp, roster input? Who knows. But in one game we saw a team that was prepared to play, that avoided mistakes, that overcame injury to its best player, and that played hard. Frazier can be given credit for that. And it was good to see the authentic joy he had at the end of the game, and the joy the players seemed to have for him too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

National Thanksgiving League (on a lost season)

That was the last time I was this uninterested in watching the next Viking game. From 2002 on, I only missed Viking games when life (family events, work) pulled me away, even during some pretty lousy, borderline unwatchable seasons and games. I always eagerly anticipated the games, got excited, found enjoyable reasons to watch. But everything that happened in 2001 made it so I could barely stomach it by the end (Spurgeon Wynn!), and I actually found other things to do on Sundays (though I ended up watching more playoff football than I ever had before that year, once I know longer had to think about the Vikings).

Right now, I'm not remotely excited or interested in the next Viking game. I struggle to find reasons to think watching the game will be fun. There's the possibility of Adrian Peterson having an Adrian Peterson game. There's also a chance to see what kind of game coach Leslie Frazier is (it will difficult to assess what kind of coach he'd be if given the chance to coach a team through the entire offseason and season and have some contribution to the roster, but things like clock management, challenges, decisions, etc., maybe).

Les Steckel?
It is an entirely plausible, realistic scenario: the Vikings might not win another game this year. On the field, they are quite obviously playing awful, awful football. And the team is weakest in the areas where you absolutely must be competent in to compete in today's NFL (offensive line and defensive secondary). At the psychological level, players may be losing their motivation, they may be fracturing in their relations with each other, they may hold coaches in disdain, all of which could contribute to a complete flushing of the season (and teams like Buffalo and Detroit are probably better at motivating themselves late in playoffless seasons than the Vikings!). Might they match the record of that legendary of legendary seasons, the Les Steckel year? I really have trouble seeing the Vikes winning another game this year.

It has me wondering what kind of game-changing players are available in the top five of this year's draft. People: I can even see the Vikings ending up with the worst record in the league.

The Bears
There's really little to do now but root for the Bears to win the goddam division.

Brad Childress
The fans turned against Childress quite early in his tenure, and there are some things that are unfair about our appraisal of Childress's performance. Because he came in as an offensive coach and it is unclear exactly who deserves credit for personnel moves, Childress didn't ever get credit for the remarkable defensive turnaround that took place during his tenure, or for the remarkable upgrade in talent the team made all around the roster. And the early criticism of his predictable, conservative offense was unfair, I think: the poor offense was more a result of poor personnel than poor scheme (the skill positions were a pretty bare cupboard when Childress took over--it wasn't a group that you could execute much creativity or downfield passing with).

There's also a part of me that feels for Childress as a human being. As the fans are savaging him and booing him and chanting for him to be fired...well, that can't feel good, even if you are getting paid millions of dollars.

But some of Childress's problems--perplexing in-game decisions, a seeming inability to make positive halftime adjustments (or really any in-game adjustments), reputably terrible people skills, confusing and strange comments and explanations--have caught up with him. Well, that might be a reaching back for explanations after the fact: really a lousy, failing team has caught up with him, and there has to be a large extent to which, in his fifth year, that's on him. The team doesn't look well prepared, doesn't adjust well, and the coaches seem at a loss to find ways to cover for and adjust to the team's personnel weaknesses.

Often when a coach is fired, his exact opposite is hired. In many ways, Brad Childress is the exact opposite of Mike Tice. Where Tice was a player's coach, Childress is a disciplinarian. Where Tice was a motivator, Childress is a tactician. Where Tice knew his limitations and could delegate and learn, Childress seems more authoritarian and confident in his own abilities. Where Tice was talkative and even charismatic toward fans and the media, Childress seems dry and cold. My guess is that Zygi Wilf, experiencing the many problems the team had during his first year of ownership in 2005, was looking for somebody to get things orderly, and found something appealing in Childress as a contrast to Tice. For better or worse, that's who we've had for five years.

But Childress's biggest problem was probably always quarterback. In Childress's tenure, the Vikes failed to fill the quarterback position competently for three years. Because of this, Childress became dependent on an aging legend that could basically do whatever he wanted because the team made it clear how badly it needed/wanted him, and because retirement was always a serious option.

Why Tarvaris Jackson? Joe Webb!
There's nobody running the Vikings that doesn't know the kind of QB Tarvaris Jackson is. Tarvaris Jackson has had game experience and been in the league for five years; I'm not sure it helps the Vikings to give him experience. The season is lost, and if/when the Vikings and/or Favre decide that Favre won't be the starting QB anymore, playing Jackson doesn't really help anybody, does it? Of course, it's debatable whether playing Joe Webb is helpful for Joe Webb (can playing a QB before he's ready be damaging, or is the experience helpful toward getting ready?). But if the Vikings are going to use the season to look toward the future, playing Jackson doesn't really, I think, tell the Vikings much at all about the quarterback position in the future.

Have a good Thanksgiving everybody.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Fire Childress now.

Turn the team over to Joe freaking Webb.

Get a G.M. who is prepared to fully rebuild the defensive secondary and the offensive line: both units badly need it.

Go Bears: may you win the division easily.

Go T-Wolves: may you get a backcourt that can support Beasley and Love.

And now, as the Vikings punt at the end of the third quarter, I take a cue from my dad: when the Vikings suck, there is always yard work. Those Christmas lights aren't going to put themselves up. And the Vikings aren't doing squat.

Later, suckers (and if the Vikings somehow come back from down 21, I'll gladly suck down every word here. Not literally, of course).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Friday League, Week 11

Viking-Packer Preview

Thunderdome! Sure the Metrodome is the biggest reason to have hope that the Vikes can beat the Packers Sunday, but there are others. Namely:
  • The Packers are 21st in the league with 1,028 rush yards allowed and 26th in the league with 4.5 rush yards per attempt allowed. The Vikings should be able to run the ball, and while they need to commit to it, it would be good to see them run the ball in creative spots, too (not primarily on 1st and 10 and 3rd and 1).
  • Aaron Rodgers wilts like a tree weighed down with slushy snow whenever he plays in the Metrodome, faces the Vikings, gets in a close game, or realizes he's a tool (OK, not a "reason" exactly, but c'mon! Aaron Rodgers is a tool!).
  • I just decided to start using the bullet point feature, and I probably shouldn't stop after two. So....THUNDERDOME! In 2001, the 5-11 Vikings beat the 12-4 Packers at home (badly). In 2002, the 6-10 Vikings beat the 12-4 Packers at home. The Metrodome isn't nearly to the Packers what Soldier Field is to the Vikings, I know, but it's still Thunderdome! What do games played in '01 and '02 have to do with a game played in '10 featuring new players and coaches? I don't know. What does any Viking game at Soldier Field have to do with any other Viking game at Soldier Field? Not much, maybe, but they always end up the same way.
Once again, I think we know what we'll get. Each team will have some scoring runs. The game will come down to a few fourth quarter possessions. Probably the home team will win (if, anyway, this time around the refs don't take away an actual touchdown. That would help the Vikes win too. You know, it's easier to win when the touchdowns you actually score get counted as touchdowns).

Other Intriguing Games

Bears-Dolphins. How I root in this game (aside from rooting for Ronnie Brown to have a million yards and a thousand touchdowns, but that's a fantasy problem) will reveal to me what I really expect from the Viking season in the depths of my heart. If I feel I'm rooting against the Bears, it means I'm clinging to some tiny hope that the Vikes can catch some breaks, improve their play, and either win the division or a Wild Card. If I find myself rooting for the Bears, it means I've given up on the Vikings and am rooting for a non-Packer team to win the division. I'm afraid I'll be rooting for Chicago.

Raiders-Steelers. I've moved right past Mad Men's '60s nostalgia and to Oakland-Pittsburgh '70s nostalgia. OK, Mad Men is about a quiet desperation that is hard to be nostalgic for (but in fedoras!), but the Raiders and Steelers really did meet in the playoffs for five straight years in the '70s (72, 73, 74, 75, 76).

Colts-Patriots. Still interesting after all these years.


The 2007 Atlanta Falcons were as big a mess as I can imagine a football team being. Their star quarterback, whom the franchise had been built around for the '00s, was no longer with the team because of a felony. Their big name coach, hired away from college just that season, left the team suddenly and surprisingly. They ranked terribly offensively and defensively. That was a mess.

What did they do? They hired a good coach (Mike Smith). They signed a good free agent (Michael Turner). And they drafted a good quarterback (Matt Ryan, and if I were a Falcon fan I'd be thrilled to get to root for Matt Ryan's team for the next 10+ years). Since then, 11-6, 9-7, 7-2.

Rebuilding a team doesn't have to be a long project. It's important to get a good head coach and a good quarterback.

It's important to draft well so that you can quickly fill starting positions and fill out a quality roster. It takes both smarts and luck, but it can be done quickly.

What do the Vikings do next? They need to get somebody in charge to have a plan. Then they need to look at the roster to find their young core to build around (Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin...) and figure out what aging, expensive, diminishing players they should let go.

Brad Childress v. the Packers
If the Vikings lose this week, Brad Childress will be 3-7 against the Packers, including three home losses.

From '06-'10, the Vikings have been 37-30 against all the non-Packer teams, and the Packers have been 39-28 against all the non-Viking teams (including playoffs). Playing mostly the same schedule, these teams have been very comparable over the course of four and a half years against the rest of the league (a 2 game difference). Yet against each other, Mike McCarthy's team has defeated Brad Childress's team in two out of every three games.

You know who I like? Bears fans.
All of my interactions in life with Bears fans have been enjoyable. The Bears fans I've met have been good-natured, friendly, and good-humored about their team. Everything I know about Bears fans makes me like them.

Good luck, Bears fans. If the Vikings aren't taking the division this year, may you win it by six games over the Packers.

You know who else I like? Mike Mularkey
A lot of Super Bowl winning coaches had head coaching experience with a previous franchise. Some of those coaches had mixed or poor success in their first stints as head coaches. Mularkey has had success as an offensive coordinator, and has experience working with young QBs. And he's a coach that's willing to study and learn offensive ideas with which he's unfamiliar (the converse argument that for all his studying of innovative offenses, his actual offenses haven't been nearly as creative).

I'd like the Vikings to interview Mularkey for the head coaching job this offseason.

Tarvaris Jackson
What happens to Jackson this offseason will be, I think, interesting. If Brad Childress isn't the Vikings' coach (and if he is, heaven help us through the blackouts), does the new coach want to keep Jackson around, if nothing else as an experienced #2 QB (or to compete as a starter in a rebuilding year)? If Jackson leaves, how will other teams view Jackson? Is he one of the better #2 QBs, or would a lot of teams not even want him for that? Or would a team with a really shaky QB situation sign him to compete as a starter?

If you want to talk yourself into something, look at the Vikings' remaining schedule: home, game against a team that just gave up 59, three straight at home, game against the team that just scored 59, then the Lions. A competent football team might be able to finish 6-1 with that schedule. The problem is, the Vikings haven't been a competent football team, and it takes an act of faith to believe they will improve to the level of competence. Is there a logical argument to be had that they could actually improve their on-the-field performance to do so? Have they shown anything to indicate an improvement is possible? Even if they do manage to win all their remaining home games (the Vikes are a good home team: they might), are they really capable of winning two of their remaining three road games? They haven't won a road game all year, and actually lost their last four road games in 2009. The pass rush is noticeably nonexistent on grass. I'm not sure the Vikings can win one road game (at Detroit, maybe), and I'm pretty sure they'll blow at least one home game.

The Commercial Life
Miller Lite ads have often featured gender policing; these ads promote a proper and acceptable way for a man to act, and ridicule some of the unacceptable ways for a man to act. This year's crop features a man doing something in some way different or eccentric, then getting mocked and lectured for it by an attractive female bartender. The lesson is obvious: conform to the norm and act like a "real" man, or you will be humiliated and rejected...and Miller Lite is for "real men."

NFC North Box
Both the Packers and Bears finish the year with pretty brutal schedules. For the Packers, I only see one gimme (49ers at home), and every remaining Bears game is losable. But we're also talking about the #1 and #2 scoring defenses in the whole friggin' league, so I'm not assuming they'll tumble either.

Basketball Box
Kevin Love's 31 point, 31 rebound game in a rare T-Wolves win is kind of a big deal. This Michael Beasley/Kevin Love core looks like it can be something, but the Wolves will have to actually put a quality backcourt together to get near the playoffs.

Blessings on everybody. Even Packer fans, just not from noon to three on Sunday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the Ledge

In this game between the Vikings and Bears at Soldier Field, what, exactly, was surprising?

That the Vikings committed a lot of turnovers?

That the Vikings allowed a lot of return yardage?

That the Vikings allowed Bear pass catchers to get wide open?

The Vikes have been a horrible road team through the Tice and Childress eras. They play notably poorly on grass. And they play particularly awful at Soldier Field.

You've seen this game before.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

National Friday League, Week 10

The next two weeks
The Vikings' next two games are at Chicago and home against Green Bay. If they manage to win both of those games, they'll be one game out of first place in the division, with a 3-1 division record and a win against each other NFC North team. And if the Vikings lose either of these games (especially the Packer game), they might be sunk. If they lose both of these games, they are sunk.

Tough Guy Town Week

From 2001 to 2009, the Vikings won a game at Chicago just one time, and it took a transcendent performance from Adrian Peterson for that one win (and that barely eked out). Want to guess how this game goes? The Vikings move the ball but commit awful, devastating turnovers. The Bears score at least one return touchdown. The Bear QB manages to find wide open WRs most of the day. The game is inexplicably close at the end, and some sort of turnover costs the Vikings the game.

That wouldn't be an awful guess. The Vikings often play above themselves at Lambeau, but they almost always play well below themselves at Soldier Field. And now the Bears have Julius freaking' Peppers, a man who has had some memorably dominant games against the Vikings. Will Brad Childress insist on keeping one blocker on Peppers most of the game? If he hasn't learned from the past, almost certainly.

If you're trying to talk yourself into hope, here we go:

The Bears rank 27th in the NFL with 18.5 points per game.

Jay Cutler has taken more sacks for more lost yardage than any QB in the league; he has been sacked on an incredible 11.7% of his dropbacks.

The Bears are 5-3, with just one win by more than seven points (and the Vikings are 3-5 with one win by more than three points, but this is the section for hope, not despair). Four of their wins are against teams with a combined four wins (and two of the those teams also provided the Vikings two of their wins--oh wait, hope! Hope!).

Adrian Peterson is, in fact, a transcendent player, and if the Vikings manage to avoid turnovers and contain the Bears' special teams, A Peterson takeover of the game might actually not get wasted.

It's games like this that remind me I've aged as a Viking fan. I remember the day of this Monday night game: I wore a Viking shirt and confident smiled as I told people how well the Vikes would do that night. I remember the week before this (don't actually click that link) game: I believe my exact words were "I'm pretty confident I'll be watching the Vikings in the Super Bowl" (the response: "What, do you have some old tapes of Fran Tarkenton you're going to pull out?"). And I remember my feeling before this game, giggling with anticipation at the idea of the Bears giving a rookie QB his first start. So young and naive. It was somewhere around here, here, and here that I realized I should never, ever, ever expect the Vikings to win at Soldier Field. They might, of course...but don't ever expect it or count on it. After they won in 2007, before I could forget that lesson, I got it again here and here. The Vikings suck at Soldier Field. It's that easy.

The Bears
Obviously, I'm rooting for the Vikings this weekend. And obviously, I will root for the Vikings when the teams meet later this season. And obviously, I'm rooting for the Vikings to beat the Bears in the NFC North.

However, if the Bears do win this weekend, I will be rooting for them the rest of the year. I mean openly, on a game-to-game basis, watching the Bears and pulling for them to win. Just to keep the Packers from taking the division. It will get weird.

Other Intriguing Games/Fantasy Box

Titans-Dolphins. Chad Sexington lives!

Jets-Browns. Because the Browns are world-beaters that might do anything on any given day. Would you be surprised by any Browns outcome in any game for the rest of this season?

Bengals-Colts. Last week I started Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Donald Brown, and the Colt Kicker: the only way I wasn't getting big fantasy points from the Colts was if they gave rushing TDs to another player. Which they did.

Patriots-Steelers. Where's Wallace!?!?! Where's Wallace!?!?!? While Wallace has been a fantasy obsession of mine for 2010, I have no expectation of this continuing in 2011. Wallace as a very cheap fantasy pick that I was convinced would be a top WR--exciting. Wallace as a mid-range fantasy pick coming off a breakout year but reliant on big plays because he doesn't actually get many touches--not exciting.

Basketball Box
Michael Beasley comes alive with 42 points.

Blessings to everybody. Even Bear fans. Just no football-joy from noon to three Sunday.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Clouds of Heaven: Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)

Box Score (ESPN)

What fun! A wild game featuring plays that could have made for four total return touchdowns, but two of those plays (a magnificent chase-down-strip by Greg Camarillo, a dropped interception in wide open field by Chad Greenway). A game the Vikings might have won something like 19-10 if not for terrible coverage against a kick return and a fumble on a kick return (not that I discount those things: special teams is part of the game). A dramatic fourth quarter comeback. Great performances from all sorts of individual Vikings. Let's assign individual credit.

Greg Camarillo
four catches for 66 yards, seven punt returns for 86 yards, and a forced fumble that absolutely saved the Vikings seven points. Is anything more fun than seeing a player chase down a runner all the way down the field and stripping him right at the end, saving a touchdown? A special day for Camarillo.

Bernard Berrian/Percy Harvin
Both players kept regularly making chain-moving plays. Both players had the slant working. Both players ran with the ball well after the catch.

Jared Allen/Ray Edwards
The pass rush finally came on late in the game, and Allen and Edwards combined for 4.5 sacks. The Dome got loud at late, and the pass rush came on.

Brett Favre
It's not just a career high 446 passing yards. It's that the Vikings kept needing scoring drives in the fourth quarter for any chance to win, and Favre kept giving the Vikings scoring drives to give them a chance to win. The Vikes were down by 14 late in the fourth but won the game. Favre made some mistakes earlier in the game, but he was a brilliant quarterback at the end. A player like Tarvaris Jackson can't bring the Vikings back from 14 down late; I don't think Tarvaris Jackson will ever be able to do that. But sometimes to win a game, you need a QB to do that.

Adrian Peterson
144 yards from scrimmage plus two touchdowns, Peterson made the big catch-and-run on a screen leading the Vikings' game-tying drive, and in overtime he made the big run leading the Vikings' game-winning drive. I love seeing the Vikings throw to Peterson: giving the ball to your best player in space seems like an obviously good idea. Peterson is the team's MVP so far.

With the exception of one bad touchdown drive allowed at the end of the first half, what did the defense do wrong today? Sure, account for the opponent, but that was what I want to see from the Minnesota D.

Fire Childress Now!?!
I was way calmer during a close Viking game than I should have been: I figured either the Vikings get a great comeback win, or they fire Childress, and either way, there's something to smile about.

And going into the game, I thought even if the Vikings win today, they should still fire Childress. Obviously things are crashing all around, and after today's win, let's give Frazier a chance to save it when the team can (probably) afford two more losses, rather than waiting until the next loss when they'll only be able to afford one (and even now, they might only be able to afford one).

But it's hard to fire a coach mid-season after a dramatic, emotional comeback win. It might be necessary anyway, but it's hard. Maybe, just maybe, the Vikings can use this game to turn it around.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

National Friday League, Week 9

Other demands on my time will prevent a good National Friday League post this week (shut up, PV: you've never written a "good" National Friday League post). Just a few quick points, then off to my business. This is essentially my bye week.

Here I am now; entertain me.
As disappointing as the Vikings have been, they have certainly given us a lot to talk about these past few months. It's one crazy story after another, but at least it is stories. At this point, I try to tone down the emotional investment, wave my hands in the air, and try to just watch the show. This show is more farce than tragedy, so at least there will be some laughs.

Vikings-Cardinals Preview
I think what you need to know about the Arizona Cardinals is the scores of their road games:

I know I'm waiting to be entertained, but the only thing that will entertain me if the Vikings lose this game is seeing Leslie Frazier coach for the rest of the year.

Hmm...why might Brad Childress not care about eating a 3rd round draft pick?
Might Childress have a feeling he might not be around to benefit from the use of that 3rd round draft pick?

A stranger in a parking lot complimented my fedora this week. The Vikings and the Timberwolves may suck beyond repair. I may be trapped under a pile of papers and exams that need to be graded. I may have the annual autumn cold that clings for weeks. But nobody is taking that moment from me, baby!

Have a good weekend everybody. Except Cardinal and Packer fans.

Monday, November 01, 2010

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport."

I can see Football-Zeus and all the rest hanging around at Football-Olympus. Football-Zeus says "So, let's brainstorm. I want to come up with historic ways to jerk Viking fans around. Anything, anything, give me your ideas. We've got plenty of time to work all the good ones in."

How else to explain this?

And when that happens, what else is there to do but laugh and watch it happen? We're being taken for a ride: best hang on, but best try enjoy it.

When you put everything into a "Now or never" year, and the answer is "never," there's really nothing else to do but break it all up and start over. Rebuilding periods are fine as long as it is building toward something. And shitty teams end up with early draft picks and the chance to draft QBs like Matt Ryan or Sam Bradford that you can build around.

There was a period when the Vikings seemed to be building: in '07 and '08, they had a defense that showed flashes of dominance and a RB that showed flashes of being the greatest ever. The problem? They didn't have a QB to build around. This led to various stop-gap measures until the team could fall into a 39/40 year old Hall of Famer for a one-year ride. But it didn't work out, and the team was left in the same lousy QB situation, so that they (and we) got convinced that bringing back that QB at 40/41 was a real chance, instead of recognizing that the franchise butchered the QB position and so devoted a potential Super Bowl contender's window to a one-year shot with an old QB, and that one-year shot failed.

Bust it up. Fire Childress now. Start hoarding draft picks. Try not to waste Adrian Peterson's entire prime. Try to build a team. I actually really, really, really enjoyed the 2007 season. I'm not enjoying this at all.

Doesn't 2010 feel a lot like 2005? We go into the season with really high expectations, start out disastrously on and off the field, go 2-5, and everything is an abominable mess and you don't even know where to start piecing it together. I sort of see the rest of the year playing out the same way that year did: schedule eases up, team wins some games to make it interesting, ultimately comes up short of the playoffs...but this time, the current coach was hired by the current owner, and he might make it through it.

Lingering Questions
Do the people who bought #84 jerseys in the last month get their money back?

If you did a poll among Viking fans asking "Childress or Moss: which one goes?" does Moss get 3% of the vote?

These are rhetorical questions, obviously.

This is not at all surprising. And I get sunk costs (I think): if you think a player is detrimental to the team and that you'd be better off without him, you need to get rid of him, regardless of any past costs you've sunk into him. However, the Vikings acquired Moss knowing he has a reputation as an erratic asshole. That they, in a fit of desperation, still acquired him, toying with the emotional memory of Viking fans, then realized a month later they made a mistake, doesn't excuse them on an "Oh well, sunk costs and all" basis. They still made a move that didn't work out, that turned out to be a waste (and perhaps worse). They still look like a team without a plan for development beyond "win now" that is failing to win now.

Another Update
You know how a politician often gets labeled a particular way, whether or not that label is accurate or fair? And then when the politician does or says something that seems to confirm that perceived label, it can be damaging? I see that happening here. There are coaches that could do what Childress has done. However, given that this action, whether or not it is accurate or fair, feeds into an already existing perception of Childress. In other words, he has confirmed the label.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Staying on the Ledge

The day started out with such promise. Last year the T-Wolves won two more games than the Vikings (playoffs included); this year I think they'll win 20 more games than the Vikings, and it's up to you to decide precisely what level of awful that is.

Much of the first half was very fulfilling: the Vikings on the road, controlling the clock, moving the football, avoiding mistakes. They were playing good football. Obviously, it didn't work out; I was happy to have the distraction of trick-or-treating. Let's assign some blame.

Madieu Williams. I think it would be reasonable to claim Williams cost the Vikes 8-14 points today. New England scored their first touchdown after Williams, in perfect position, not only failed to intercept the pass (which would have given the ball back to the Vikings with an early seven point lead), but also failed to knock it down, and somehow allowed the Patriot receiver to catch the ball. Later, it was Williams who should have been in position to make a tackle on Brandon Tate's long touchdown, but instead he got nowhere close to making the tackle. Two big plays for the Patriots were caused directly by Madieu Williams' bad play.

Brad Childress. That early challenge was one of the most perplexing I've seen: a catch in the middle of the field that came nowhere near touching the ground. The decision to go for it on fourth and goal at the end of the half was questionable (I was 50-50 on the decision, and 50-50 on the call). Normally, going for it on 4th and goal from the one is a good idea: there's a high chance the offense is going to punt quickly and you'll get the ball back with good field position. But at the end of the half, that's not the case: either you get zero, three, or seven points, then it's halftime and that's that. Furthermore, the Vikings looked really good with a conservative game plan: they ran the ball a ton in the first half (and successfully), throwing effectively in spots. If your game plan is conservative, ball control, don't make mistakes, don't you want that 10-7 halftime lead? I think so.

I'm fairly well conditioned to stop swearing at the TV during football games, because my kids are usually around. Still, I struggle not to yell "Idiot!" and "Stupid!" Today Brad Childress caused my three year old to lecture me: we shouldn't say that, daddy. Sure, son. You're right: we shouldn't call things stupid, and it's mean to call people idiots.

Run defense. This goes to the whole defense: BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged 6.6 yards per carry on his way to 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Looking forward
If Brett Favre is out, I'm not distraught about that (I'm distraught about some things, but not that). For one thing, if Favre plays all season and the Vikings don't make the playoffs, the franchise is set back. Tarvaris Jackson needs to show whether he sucks or whether he can be a quality starter (I know, I know: most of us think we know that answer, but he needs to show it finally, for Brad Childress's sake if for nobody else's). If he shows that during 2010 rather than 2011, the franchise can move further that much quicker.

But I'm also not giving up hope yet. In 2007, the Vikes started 3-6 but won five in a row to eke back into playoff contention (they blew a late home game clincher). In 2008, they started 3-4 but finished the regular season 7-2 to win the division. In 2009, they started out the season 10-1. The Brad Childress era Vikings can go on some productive binges, even with lousy QBs: I'm not putting it past the Vikings to finish 7-2 and make the playoffs (I'm also not putting it past them to end up 5-11, which is probably more likely). Tarvaris Jackson might mean a lot more running, a lot more rollouts, a lot more scrambling for first downs, a lot more conservative game-planning.

It's Arizona at home next.

PFT notes Favre is ready to play next week: what looked like it might have been a career-ending broken jaw evidently was a cut requiring stitches. Again: I think this team is capable of finishing 7-2, considering they have five more home games and road games at Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, and Detroit. If they can win their home games, and get two road wins out of the year...probably too much to ask, I know.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

National Friday League, Week Eight

Viking-Patriot Preview
Here are some things that surprised me when reading up on the Patriots.

--they lead the league in scoring, with 29.5 points per game.
--they have not allowed fewer than 336 yards in any game this year, and average 379 yards allowed per game ( games of 428, 336, 374, 400, 377, 363).
--they are averaging 10.4 yards per completion, with no "wide receiver" currently on the roster averaging better than 11.5 yards per reception.
--They rank 31st in the league in first downs allowed.

I feel about this game like I felt about the Steeler game last year: the Vikings are going against a perennial contender at their place, and I don't think they can do it. The Vikes stayed with the Steelers longer than I thought they would, too, but then the Vikings were better last year. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know what's up: I don't think this is going to go our way at all.

Other Intriguing Matchups
Dolphins-Bengals. Some years a particular team intrigues me for reasons I don't understand. I don't root for them or care about them, really, but I end up following them for some reason. So once again, the Dolphins.

Bills-Chiefs. Buffalo has been scoring too many points not to win a game soon. The Chiefs have the shakiest passing game of any team that is probably going to make the playoffs. This game would be fun to watch.

Packers-Jets. Losing to the Packers is like poison, and no matter how average the Packers have looked, I'm always terrified they'll win out and win the Super Bowl. Seeing them lose here would feel good.

Seahawks-Raiders. What does it mean when a bad team scores 59 points? Does it mean that team is really not bad?

Steelers-Saints. Sunday night game featuring a massive number of regular fantasy starters. Also a Sunday night game that will be frequently interrupted by trick-or-treaters. Which is fine: I like trick-or-treaters.

Texans-Colts. The Vikes are 2-4. The Timberwolves will do what they've done for years: stink. You'll have to indulge me to be really, really, really excited to watch the Colts play Monday.

Irrational Viking Fan: On Loyalty
I don't care about Brett Favre's legacy (unless his legacy is the QB that leads the Vikings to a Super Bowl championship). I don't care about Brett Favre's heroics (unless those heroics lead to Viking wins). If Favre stinks this year, I feel no desire to stick by him or defend him. Does that make me disloyal? To Favre, yes. But it's because of loyalty to the Vikings.

Last year, I expressed some confusion over Packer fan hatred of Favre. It's not that I couldn't understand the feeling of betrayal, but Favre led the Packers to a Super Bowl win. What else could those fans want? He brought you the most joyous thing you can have in sports: does it matter so little that you'd turn against the guy that brought you that?

Of course, that was the Irrational Viking Fan talking. I want so badly to see my favorite team win a championship, that I can't imagine ever turning against those that actually allow me to see it. It's why I think the first Viking coach to win a Super Bowl deserves a lifetime contract, that it should only be his choice if/when he wants to leave the team. What else matters? The most important thing to my fandom is for the Vikings to win the Super Bowl, and if they do that, those who lead them to the championship will have my lifelong devotion and love.

Packer fans can turn on Favre because their loyalty isn't to the individual, but to the team (or to the group, or organization, or even the "idea" of the Packers, the concept, principle, what have you). Both loyalty to an individual and loyalty to a team can be problematic. Either type of loyalty can lead you to give up your reason, supporting and defending that which you would not otherwise support or defend. Either type of loyalty can lead you to see other individuals primarily in terms of their usefulness: when they are no longer helpful to the individual/group that has your loyalty, they no longer matter to you. Loyalty is not, in my view, an inherently good virtue, though it can be virtuous (as Kent's loyalty to Lear is virtuous).

So thanks, Brett Favre, for a special 2009 season (even if it ended the way every other special Viking season ended). But if Favre sucks in 2010, if he's inaccurate, or sloppy, or turnover-prone, or injured, or distracted, or fighting with the coach, or finally just too old to play at a high level, or whatever, and he's not capable of leading the Vikings to wins, then I don't care about him, and I'm ready to move on.

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson is currently leading the league with 114 rush yards per game. He's had 170+ yards from scrimmage in three games this season. But two of those magnificent games were in close losses, and we haven't been able to fully bask in his greatness. Even during a disappointing, loss-filled Viking season, let us remember to appreciate how brilliantly Peterson is playing. If we watch sports to find joy, there is joy in watching Adrian Peterson run the football.

The Vikings are a terrible road team
They might finish 7-1 at home and 8-8 overall this season.

NFC North Box
If the Viking season collapses entirely (and it will be a long time before I accept that it has: I like the Vikings' schedule after the Patriot game, and think they could go 8-1 or 7-2 after this week's game, if they keep their heads together), I will be openly rooting for the Bears at some point. Seeing the Packers win games is like poison.

Basketball Box
When Matt Millen shows up on the TV screen, it's obviously hard not to think that the guy that ran the Lions as badly as anybody ever ran any sports franchise is trying to give us insight on football. Tuesday night, I was watching TNT when you do I see telling me about basketball, but Kevin McHale. A Hall of Fame player who knows the game of basketball, sure. But...goodness, why do I need to listen to him? If he knows so much about evaluating talent and assessing the game...what the hell happened?

Fantasy Box
I've been waiting for a year and a half for the emergence of Donald Brown: Fantasy Superstar. I keep believing such a concept exists, and so I keep leaving Brown shelved at the bottom of my roster. And maybe, just maybe, we'll see it this season. This is my fantasy football Great Pumpkin. What's yours?

I like having my perception verified with evidence
Via PFT, the Wall Street Journal shows that the guys on the FOX pregame show really do spend a lot of time laughing (or pretending to laugh) at each other.

Have a good Halloween weekend, everybody. On Sunday the second half of the Viking game coincides with the best time to take two toddlers trick-or-treating: but that's OK, because I know my priorities (and there's always DVR!).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Staying on the ledge

That game was like a bed of nails; I've got no desire to rehash it. Terrible. Terrible.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

National Friday League, Week 7

Chad Henne and Mike Sims-Walker edition

Viking-Packer Preview
I watched the Dolphins beat the Packers last Sunday, and I thought the Packer defense looked pretty helpless. They couldn't really rush the passer, weren't good at stopping the run, and were leaving open receivers all over the place. If Chad Henne weren't regularly throwing passes high, the Dolphins might have been torching the Packers (Brandon Marshall was still like a demigod out there). The Packers have suffered some major injuries this season, so it might just be a depleted team (that could be less depleted this week). But that defense looked imminently beatable, even though the Viking o-line has been pretty lousy.

And offensively the Packers still have two problems: they can't run the ball, and they struggle to protect the passer. Aaron Rodgers' most impressive display of skill is the mobility he is required to show in order not to get sacked 10 times a game. Of course, all he has to do is find Donald Driver or Greg Jennings matched up against Lito Sheppard on one out of three downs, and the Vikings are cooked.

None of these things matter, of course. Whether the Vikings or the Packers might actually be better than the other barely matters. These two teams will likely do what these two teams do against each other: they'll play a streaky game featuring offensive scoring streaks by each team, it will come down to one or two late possessions, and, likely, the home team will win.

But here's a new way to talk myself into optimism about the Vikings: Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss. These are two players whom we know--we know--can absolutely take over a game and dominate, giving the Vikings a chance to win in virtually any situation against any opponent. They don't do it often (few do). But just look at the game logs. Adrian Peterson has had 160+ yards rushing seven times. Randy Moss has had 36 multi-touchdown games. The Vikings now have two explosive, super-talented, dominating players that on occasion take over football games. It's going to happen again this year. Whenever there's a time that things look bleak, we should remember that: we have two players who might, at any surprising moment, take over. And I could see either guy doing that this week.

Other Intriguing Matchups
Both teams seem really average, with the potential to be a lot better. That's probably a fair description for this blog, too: really average, with the potential to be a lot better.

I said last week I'm intrigued by the Dolphins, and that's the truth (I finally traded for Ronnie Brown this week, suckers! Tony Gonzalez, straight-up, and now I'm in a situation where I'm required to start Mike Sims-Walker for one week, which is obviously awful, but when you get a chance to trade for a guy with one TD that's averaging 60 rush yards per game, you have to jump on it). But the Steelers are, in my opinion, the best team in the NFL, maybe by a long way. This will be a test to find out of the Dolphins are a contender or an interesting 7-9 team. If Chad Henne weren't Chad Henne, I'd think the Dolphins have enough offensive weapons to move the ball for a few drives against the Steeler defense, and make a tight game of this. But I have not been impressed with Henne's accuracy, which makes me wonder how many opportunity-plays the Dolphins will blow. "Opportunity-plays" is a concept I'm trying out. It's a big play that's there, that a team can get and that can change the game, but that they can also miss out on. In last week's Viking game, E. J. Henderson made two opportunity-plays, an interception a tipped ball (it was there, and a defender just needed to make the play, but it could have just as easily been dropped by somebody), and an interception on a pass that required a savvy, athletic move. In last week's Packer-Dolphin game, Brandon Marshall got very open a lot, which I'd consider an opportunity-play: the receiver is wide open, and if the line protects, the QB sees him and throws an accurate ball, and the receiver doesn't drop it, a big play is made. In that game, Miami's line protected, Marshall was wide open, and Henne usually threw high. Sometimes Marshall made the play anyway, and sometimes he couldn't. This has gotten pretty rambling, just terrible: I realize the whole point of National Friday League is to be rambling, but I teach freshman composition so I'm still embarrassed by it (and I'm not helping matters, really, by explicitly discussing it, but here I go). My point is, there will be a small number of opportunity-plays for the Miami offense, and they'll have to be precise, hitting on a high number of them. I think they'll miss on too many of them.

The Chiefs are another team that will probably be making me say "How good are they, really?" all the way until Week 17. They should beat this Jaguar team, whose pass coverage fluctuates between ungodly awful and ungodly terrible. Plus, Mike Sims-Walker running patterns while a backup QB drops back into the pocket! This is real football, folks!

Interesting game, because both teams look good, but both teams might be really good.

3-2 NFC West rivals. The Cardinals have been outscored by 50 this season.

I think you should smile if you have fantasy starters going in this game.

Irrational Viking Fan
At this point, Brett Favre has done no more--and possibly less--for the Vikings historically than Randall Cunningham did (it's true: try to dispute it), except in this: he tainted a beloved icon of Packer fans, which is itself something.

NFC North Box
The Bears really might get to 10 wins this year. The Bears also could lose to absolutely any team on their schedule. Even Buffalo. I'm terrified to play them because Julius Peppers has had some monster games against the Childress-era Vikings (it seems in my hazy memory that the Vikes have been content to let a tackle block him one-on-one, which has been like being content to let a bear wander around your living room).

Every scandal is an opportunity for new expressions of meaning
I think "I just got done with practice" should be the new code for "I would like you to have sex with me." I'm told by those that matter that this is a terrible idea.

Again: in praise of DVR
When I was a teenager, I suddenly realized I watch a sickly amount of basketball when, sometime in March, I watched a trailing team foul intentionally for what felt like the thousandth time that season. And last Sunday, I realized I watch a sickly amount of football when I watched a receiver get tackled a yard short on third down, wondered how many receivers I’ve seen get tackled a yard short on third down in the past two months, and realized it was too many.

I have two small children that get a lot of my time. I also have a job that demands a lot of my time, including evenings and weekends to grade papers. How am I watching all this football?

The answer is obvious: DVR. When my kids need or want my attention, I can pause the game whenever I like. When my insane dog needs to go out, I pause. During night games, I generally record/pause the game and then go about doing necessary tasks for an hour or more--usually grading papers--and when I'm done I turn on the game, zipping through and catching up before the game ends. I've paused games to get ready for the next day, to wash dishes, to get laundry, to do any number of necessary tasks. DVR allows me to function as a dad, teacher, and housekeeper while still getting to watch football seemingly constantly.

Announcers during blowouts say the darndest things.
As Monday night's Jaguar-Titan game devolved not only into a blowout, but a boring blowout featuring backup quarterbacks, I started reading The New Yorker (because I like to try fulfill the stereotype of an urbane liberal) while the game was on in the background. I heard Ron Jaworski say this: "You get that first score, then you're in a situation where you're only a couple scores behind." Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Announcers talking quarterbacks say the darndest things.
Let me continue talking about Chad Henne way too much in this blog entry. During the Dolphin-Packer game, Dan Fouts defended Henne based on his inexperience, suggesting he hadn't had that much time and that he's learning and maturing. At one point, Henne threw a ball away. Fouts said what announcers seem to think is a wise thing to say whenever a young QB throws the ball away: that it was a smart move not to try force a pass, that earlier in his career, maybe even earlier this season, Henne might have forced it rather than throw it away. Did Fouts mean earlier this Henne's previous game, when he threw three interceptions? Was it just over the bye week that Henne learned to throw it away? And is throwing the ball away one time, while being chased around by pass rushers, really something special showing the wise maturity of a QB?

Do we really have to hear announcers heap praise on a young QB for knowing not to chuck the ball into coverage? Any time a young QB throws the ball away we hear about it from the announcers like we just watched a baby learn to eat with a spoon for the first time. Throwing the ball away rather than taking a sack or throwing the ball into coverage does not, in fact, make a quarterback a genius: it's not exactly Darwin's insight here. But by all means, praise the QB that you just sat down with in a production meeting and had a friendly, personable discussion with, that you now find yourself wanting to be friendly toward: your job doesn't require objective analysis or anything. Throwing the ball into the sidelines is probably the greatest skill a young QB can have: nothing else really matters, actually. Reading defenses, throwing accurate passes to open receivers, none of that compares to being able to hit an assistant coach's clipboard as you're being chased by defensive ends.

Why did Chris Johnson get carries late?
Leading by 20 points with a few minutes left, the Titans left Chris Johnson in the game to get some late carries. I'll never really understand this: why? When the game is not in doubt and you just need to run out clock, why not use your backup running back, rather than the superstar running back on whom most of your hopes depend? Is it really worthwhile to let your star player get tackled a few extra times, when those carries are no longer necessary to win the game? My theory is that NFL coaches devote so much mental energy to preparation for a single game and have a certain degree of, not anxiety exactly, but let's say edgy intensity, that it takes quite a giant lead with quite little time left before they are actually convinced themselves that the game is in hand.

Fantasy Box
J'Rod gave me the idea to follow my fantasy players on Twitter. It's a good idea, because it is one more way to keep Mike Sims-Walker in my life.

Frank Deford might just not have much to say anymore
In 2010, Frank Deford has the very fresh take on NPR that technology and ticket prices make some fans prefer watching games on television rather than in person, and includes such insightful observations as

"But even more important, younger fans have been raised on TV and other electronic entertainment — these are people who play video games for fun by themselves and who don't communicate so much face-to-face, but text on cell phones."

He so nailed young people!

To be fair, evidently Deford was once one of the best, and trying to be creative talking/writing about sports over the course of decades is probably difficult. But even more important, older sportswriters are trained to see new technology as destructive and damaging--these are people who treat younger people with a mixture of confusion and contempt, and who don't so much write well, but write a lot.

Enjoy your weekend, everybody. Except Packer and Bear fans.