Thursday, November 19, 2009

National Friday League (week 11)

Vikings-Seahawks Preview
2009 Vikings
Offense: #2 in points and #7 in yards
Defense: #12 in points and #15 in yards

2009 Seahawks
Offense: #19 in points and #16 in yards
Defense: #18 in points and #20 in yards

Don't look at the Vikings home game against the 3-6 Seahawks as a gimme win. They might be better than their record (p-f-r's expected W-L for Seattle is 4.2-4.8). They have Matt Hasselbeck, a good quarterback that isn't what he used to be but that can still hurt you in the passing game. They'll throw short passes like crazy, and while I think they won't be able to sustain drives against the Viking defense that way, they're still dangerous.

The Vikings are a much better team than the Seahawks, but if they underachieve, commit untimely penalties, and commit untimely turnovers (aren't they all?), they can lose.

Last week, the Vikes should have put 40 up on the Lions, and the reasons they didn't are concretely obvious. I'd point to four specific plays. On a first half drive, they had a 2nd and 3 inside the ten and had a five yard penalty (they ended up kicking a field goal). On another first half drive, they drove to the red zone and on 1st and 10 called a reverse that got fumbled (they got zero). On another first half drive, they were in the red zone and failed on a fourth and one (they got zero). And in the second half, Adrian Peterson had a long run toward the red zone but had the ball poked out from behind him (they got zero).

I don't think on the whole the Vikings were sloppy or lethargic. You don't get 492 yards of offense playing flat. What they did do was fail--badly--on some key plays that meant those 492 yards amounted to 27 points instead of 40+. Luckily, the Lions are awful. But if the Vikings make those sorts of failures against the Seahawks, I don't think they'll end up with a 17 point win. They can overcome such struggles, but they might not. If they play a lousy game and the Seahawks play a good game, Seattle could knock us off.

But what do I think will happen? I think the Seahawks won't be able to run, and won't be able to complete many passes downfield (their personnel and scheme are directed toward short passing). I think the Seahawks won't be able to cover Rice, Harvin, and Berrian, that Favre will connect with accurate passes, and that Adrian Peterson might be able to run wild against this team. The Vikes will play excellent on special teams. If the Vikes can avoid the untimely mistakes, they should easily handle the Seahawks.

The Viking Defense
The Viking defense is, I believe, better than their current numbers show. I think during the second half of the season, they are going to establish themselves as a dominating unit.

The Vikes have had trouble holding big leads. In both Green Bay games and in the Baltimore game, the defense played very well for long stretches before giving up big plays (especially in the passing game) to let the opponent back into it. That's a problem on the defense, obviously, and is rightly credited against them--but it's also a very specific problem, and one that might be improved upon.

The defense has given up garbage time touchdowns against the Browns and Lions. The Vikes have also given up five non-offensive touchdowns. The defense is much closer to being a unit giving up 15 points per game than the 20 they've currently got credited against them.

The core of it all is the defensive line. I'm not sure how good the secondary is, and I'm not even sure how good the linebackers are (E.J. Henderson does not look like his old self out there--too often I see him near the ball carrier but unable to make a tackle, or finally making a tackle downfield after a ball carrier has already gained yardage. It makes me sad: I've really liked his game in the past, and hope he improves). But Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are potential Hall of Famers in their prime, dominating and playmaking. Pat Williams is a major disruptive presence, and Ray Edwards has had stretches when he's looked dominant himself.

I think the defense's numbers will improve, and they'll continue to keep the Vikes in games if or when the offense falters.

I purposely avoid hearing details about any Viking stadium news, and I will purposely avoid writing about it ("if you're purposely avoiding writing about it, you're doing a lousy job," you say. "Yes," I say. "You know, it's a really annoying technique to guess at what your readers are thinking, voice those guesses, and then respond to them," somebody else says. "That may be," I reply, "but I've been immersing my mind entirely into the world of John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman where such writing seem natural." "Oh," you say, "I forgot you're a pretentious prig who can't control himself within parentheses." "You forgot that? I don't see how," I say). I have a deeply felt terror that the Vikings will be relocating in three years, and worse that they'll relocate before winning a Super Bowl so that we'll never see them win it, and I don't like to face that terror, since there's virtually nothing I can do about it anyway.

Brad Childress's extension
Brad Childress got an extension through 2013 (ESPN). I don't approve. This is not to say Childress is a bad coach that doesn't deserve to be the franchise's coach; there are a lot of positive things that can be said about his tenure. I just think the extension is unnecessary at this point: Childress is under contract until the end of the 2010 season, and there's little reason the Vikes shouldn't wait until the end of the 2009 season to offer Childress an extension. Would it be too much to ask that he win a playoff game before getting a long-term commitment?

There is a positive, however. Childress is now under contract with the Vikings through 2013. To me, this indicates a commitment by Zygi Wilf to maintain ownership of the Vikings long-term, and also a commitment to keep the franchise in Minnesota after the Metrodome lease ends after 2011. I could be very wrong about this and I am just speculating, but if I were an NFL owner thinking of either selling or relocating the team after 2011, I wouldn't extend the contract of my coach past 2011. As I say, this is nothing but speculation, but the tone suggests to me a commitment to franchise stability long-term.

Other Games of Interest
Week 11 games

Colts-Ravens. How many WRs are clearly better than Reggie Wayne? I think Randy Moss is. I think Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson are Wayne's equals.

49ers-Packers. I could see this game going a lot of different ways. I choose to see Frank Gore running for long touchdowns and Aaron Rodgers taking a bunch of sacks. What I will actually see outside my imagination, I don't know.

Falcons-Giants. a mid-season game between two 5-4 teams is interesting. The outcome is not necessarily a sign of the direction each team is going, but during mid-season it's fun to pretend that it is.

Chargers-Broncos. a game between 6-3 division teams, with the winner sitting atop the AFC West. I want to predict that in December, we'll look back at the time when the Broncos were talked about as a good team. But they still have a game against the Raiders and two games against the Chiefs remaining, so they'll stay relevant even if they lose to the Chargers (which I think they will).

Eagles-Bears. Either of these teams could do anything against each other, and I wouldn't really be surprised.

Titans-Texans. I vaguely hope the Titans win out, finish 10-6, and I can start having wild fantasies about Vince Young again. But really, what I want out of a Monday night game is fantasy superstars, and this game delivers players like Chris Johnson, Andre Johnson, and Matt Schaub.

Fantasy Box
Since my fantasy teams rely on the Indianapolis Colts, I wouldn't object to seeing them lose a few games (by scores like 52-49). When I acquire Colts for my fantasy team, I already abandon week 17: it's always a virtual bye for the Colts. But if the Colts clinch everything early, then weeks 15 and 16 have potential to see starters benched. This is a less than thrilling idea for me.

Free advertising on a little-read niche blog
Parks and Recreation is a very funny show. You should watch it.

I do think Mark Brendanawicz was funnier as an easy-going rake. See, I still use words like "rake" and "cad" to describe rakes and cads.

This has been free advertising on a little-read niche blog.

Timberwolves Box
I went to the Wolves-Mavs game on Friday with my toddler. He had fun: he danced when the music was on, he watched for Crunch, he saw a guy dress up like a cowboy and ride a mechanical horse. I had less fun: I watched the game. Without Kevin Love or Al Jefferson, the Wolves' best players were Jonny Flynn, a 20 year old rookie point guard who is learning the pro game and at any rate has no scorers to pass to, and Corey Brewer, a hustling player who does a lot of little things that can contribute to a team, as long as there are other players on the team who do things like, um, score.

On Bill Belichick's fourth down decision
In my view, punting in that situation says this:

A. This opponent may defeat us, but they're going to have to earn the win.

Going for it on fourth down says this:

B. We're going to try win this game.

Most coaches in most situations choose A. And in most situations, A. is the right decision. But Bill Belichick has built up enough credibility that he can get away with choosing B. If he punts and loses, the loss is understandable; if he goes for it and loses, criticism of the loss goes on him. Belichick knows that and knows he can take it, because he's ensconsed in his position, and he's proven he deserves to be ensconsed in his position. He made a risky call, and it didn't work. But it was a call intended to win the game, not a call intending to make the opponent earn a win. A. and B. may seem synonymous, but they're not. Though his decision failed in this case, I still like that Belichick chose B.

Last season Peyton Manning won against a rather weak pool of MVP candidates; this year, he might win against a very strong pool of MVP candidates. As long-time readers of this blog know, only QBs and RBs on winning teams are eligible for MVP. Here are the contenders at the moment.

Peyton Manning. I can't see any other AFC player getting MVP over Manning. Tom Brady will end with great numbers and a great team record, but Manning will be better in both categories and voters will care that Manning's team beat Brady's team this year.

Drew Brees. I don't think he deserves it, but he's the recognized superstar quarterback on a team that will likely be a #1 or #2 seed in its conference. By the end of the year I think he'll only be competing with Manning, Brady, and Kurt Warner for yardage and touchdown numbers.

Brett Favre. I doubt he'll win it, but he's a deserving candidate. Favre has never had a 100 passer rating for a season (career best 99.5 in 1995), but he's currently leading the league with 107.5. He's made the Vikings from a playoff contender to a Super Bowl contender, and it really is his strong play that's on display weekly.

Adrian Peterson. I don't think he'll get the award away from one of the quarterbacks. However, if he's able to (or forced to) take over some games during the second half of the season, and the Vikes end up with the #1 seed in the conference, it's possible.

I love what these two Vikings do, but the competition is likely to be between Manning and Brees. I think Manning is better and more deserving, but voters might be tired of giving Manning MVPs and be ready to give Brees his first.

At Football Outsiders, there is some discussion about how the Vikings have improved so dramatically on Special Teams (scroll down).

Percy Harvin (ESPN). We're lucky.

Antoine Winfield is 85% sure he'll play Sunday (Pioneer Press).

The Vikes have an 80% probability of winning this weekend (New York Times).

Have a good weekend, everybody. Except Seahawk, Packer, and Saint fans.


  1. Anonymous3:25 AM

    I wonder what the before/after for the Vikings defense is when up by 17 or more.

    You know I hope Favre wins it. To me, he and Manning are the only canidates and, as of now, Favre has had the better, more impactful year. At running back you could easily say two other running backs are outplaying Peterson. Brees is sloppy and it's his defense and the poor competition that allows him to win--eventually that will catch up with him.


  2. I agree that Peterson has not been the best RB this year (Chris Johnson has been). I think AP is an MVP contender because he might take over a couple games down the stretch, and those games will stick in voter's minds (especially if winning those games he takes over leads the Vikes to a #1 seed).

    But I don't think he'll get it: it's a quarterback's award this year. I think it would be hard to argue whether Manning or Favre has played better, or had a bigger impact on his team so far. I think in the end, because the Colts' running game stinks and the Colts will have to have a lot of passing attempts, while the Vikes might win some games with Favre throwing fewer than 25 passes, it will end up looking like Manning is more important.

    Just a note: I wasn't listing MVPs of "so far," but candidates to claim the award through their play the rest of the season.

  3. Anonymous4:07 PM

    I was only one point off my last game's prediction...Vikings 28 Lions 10. Here I go again

    Vikings 34
    Seahawks 10

    M.V.P of game- Bernard Berrian

  4. Anonymous7:55 PM

    It would be nice to see the Vikes put together a solid all around domination of the Seahawks this week. In all aspects of the game. I'm not sure if we have genuinely dominated a team this year, even with some great wins.

    Seattle has enough talent to beat the Vikings if the purple are not mentally into the game (senseless penalties, turnovers, etc.)

    Some of the penalty and turnover issues are as much a lack of focus as fundamental flaws. Our front four should be very effective against a nicked up Seattle O line, although the Hawks linemen did a fair job protecting against the Cardinals last week.

    I think that the Vikes secondary really needs to start improving week to week, as the playoffs approach. Their tackling without Winfield has been erratic. They have not been aggressive about attacking the ball carriers at the line of scrimmage.

    I cannot see waiting for a back to gain 4 or 5 yards while I hold my position and wait for him to get to me. A player is not taught that technique at any level of play and our db's, especially our safties need to to start hammering some people.

    Week to week improvement has to be the goal, with the hope of staying healthy. It would be great to be 9-1 when we play the Bears, with a chance to bury them and eliminate them from division title hopes.

  5. Brett Favre has been flat-out dominant this season, and I think the trend continues with another strong performance against the Cardinals.

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