Saturday, July 31, 2010

2010 Vikings v. 2009 Vikings: what breaks won't be the same?

I've turned what was going to be an extended comment from below into a new post.

Here are the positives from 2009 that we cannot count on for 2010.

1. Schedule. The Vikes got to play the lousy NFC West, going 3-1. They played two AFC playoff teams, but got them both at home (winning both). On the proverbial paper, the 2010 schedule looks a lot tougher. A first round bye in the competitive NFC will be tougher to come by.

2. Holding off a good Packer team twice. The Packers were 11-5: the Vikes weren't that much better than them. In both games, the Vikes got big leads with a great passing game and dominant pass rush. In both games, the Packers came back and made a game of it when they went to all-throw mode and so the Viking pass rush couldn't succeed for three straight downs every time. The Vikings also got the Packers in the first half of the season, when they were still struggling awfully in pass protection, and Rodgers was holding the ball way too long. They and he got better in the second half. I don't expect a Packer sweep again.

3. Bears stinking. They got us at Soldier Field (as always), but stunk in the Dome game and weren't a division contender. Will Cutler suck that bad again? And nemesis Julius Peppers playing us twice? That's a nightmare. The good thing is that a better Bears team also means better competition for the Packers.

4. Favre's career year. Last year he had a career low in INTs (excluding his four attempt rookie season), career best completion percentage, and his first career 100 rating. It's possible that, playing with his experience and these teammates, that is now the player he is. But I'd expect at least modest regression, plus we'd be counting on him playing that well at 41. 41!

5. No outdoor playoff games. Will we be that lucky again? It's possible, but no guarantee. The Vikings still struggle on grass, especially defensively, where the pass rush seems significantly less dominant.

6. Postponed suspensions for Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Actually, we can probably count on that lucky break again in 2010, but it was a lucky break in 2009 that is worth including here.

Now, here are some of the negatives from 2009 that perhaps the Vikings can improve on or avoid (here's where the pessimism comes in: above is a list of things that mostly, reasonably and analytically speaking, I would expect not to break our way again. Below is a list of things I hope for, but also can't count on).

1. Injury luck. I don't know if the Vikings had worse injury luck than is typical, or compared to other teams. But we lost Antoine Winfield for a big stretch, E.J. Henderson for the end of season and playoffs, Pat Williams for a key late-season game (a loss), Bernard Berrian had sub-par health all season, etc. But will it be better in 2010? Already Henderson and Cedric Griffin are coming back from brutal injuries, Sidney Rice has a hip issue, a lot of key players are a bit old, etc. I don't know that the injury situation will improve.

2. Run blocking. The offensive line did a much better job in pass protection last season than I imagined, but the run blocking was not nearly what it had been in 2007 and 2008. If that becomes a greater focus, then Adrian Peterson might perform more like he did in 2007 and 2008. But the personnel is the same: the improvement needs to come in execution, playcalling, focus, player improvement, etc.

3. Defensive interceptions. The Vikes have a terrific pass rush, yet the defense had very few INTs last season. I think it's something of a fluke, and the Vikings will have more picks this season.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

They finally broke me.

As the Vikings get ready to start training camp, I think about all the other years the Vikings got ready for training camp. After the '98 season, I began every Viking season believing sincerely that this--THIS--was the year the Vikings were finally going to win the Super Bowl. You may look back and think I was deranged going into '01, '02, '03, '06, '07, or maybe even all of them, but for each season, I had reasons to believe that this was it.

And now, as the Vikings get ready for the 2010 season, I have to be honest: I do not believe the Vikings will win the Super Bowl this year. For the first time in over a decade, I do not have that unbridled hope. Everything went right in 2009 but they blew the NFC Championship Game with turnovers and a 12 men in the huddle penalty. I just don't believe 2010 can be better. I can talk myself into it, and I'm sure there are moments where I have real hope. But mostly, I don't believe. My spirits have finally been crushed by this team.

But you know what? That's OK. All my believing never actually willed the Vikings to a Super Bowl, so it doesn't really matter, and the year I don't believe might be the year they actually do it (see how I talk myself into things?). And it's also the best thing for my sports-sanity (barely hanging onto the ledge at this point). Spending every year believing "This is the year!" also means watching every play of every game with intense, emotional, passionate desperation. Maybe that will fade a bit this year (it reached its peak during that NFC Championship game). Maybe I'll enjoy football a little more.

So how about you? Still clinging to the "This is the year!" hopes? It's not like I gave them up; it's more that they were taken away from me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My crazy Timberwolves thought

I'm not going to say David Kahn is doing a good job; in fact, he's made many perplexing moves.

But I wonder if Kahn is acquiring some of the players and many draft picks that will help the T-Wolves one day be a successful, winning franchise. I doubt that's soon and I doubt Kahn will still be there when it happens. It's also a wild grab bag where Kahn is making so many crazy moves that some of them mixed in might just randomly work out (while others are just crazy). But that's the crazy T-Wolves thought I try to talk myself into.

You have a right not to read this post

Let me go ahead and slap two theses up on the church door (I never claimed to be Martin Luther, and evidently I'm 93 theses short of Martin Luther).

1. When media members complain about media saturation of Favre coverage, they are contributing to and adding to media saturation of Favre coverage.

2. In the age of the internet, and of numerous television, radio, and print sources devoted to sports coverage, it is a bit silly to complain about sports media overcoverage or undercoverage of anything.*

I present these theses because Doug Farrar (who frequently tweets complaints about media saturation of Favre coverage) includes in a Yahoo! Shutdown Corner post these silly sentences:

"The Vikings have a right to know what their quarterback is going to do, whether they think so or not. And we have a right to hear and read about things that have nothing to do with Brett Favre."

The first sentence is obviously flawed: it's nice of Farrar to defend the Vikings' "rights" that they evidently don't care about, but obviously if they wanted to assert this right, they could (the fact that they don't suggests either they know Favre is coming back, or they know he's important to their plans and giving him freedom and little pressure is how to get him to come back). But it's the second sentence there that is absurdly silly (perhaps intentionally so, though the sentiment seems sincere).

Of course "we have a right to hear and read about things that have nothing to do with Brett Favre." All you have to do to assert this right is hear and read about them! Nobody has ever required me to read an article about Brett Favre. Nobody has denied me the right to read or hear about pretty much whatever sports story I want to read or hear about. The internet helps a lot: there are so many people writing about so many things that it is not terribly difficult to find some coverage of whatever it is you're interested in. This is especially the case with a popular sports league like the NFL: search for news or commentary on what you're interested in, and there's a good chance you'll find at least one article. As a fantasy football enthusiast, I've been noting how seemingly every day I come across another article focusing on Steven Jackson, to the point that every day my fantasy opinion of him changes (between July 9th and 20th, there's this, this, this, this, and this). Not only do you have a right to read NFL stories not about Favre, it's extraordinarily easy to do so.

And what if somebody doesn't want to hear about Favre? For that matter, what if I found Steven Jackson dull? Do what Lisa Simpson advises in The Simpsons Halloween episode when the advertising mascots come to life to terrorize the town: just don't look. I regularly check every one of those sites above featuring Steven Jackson articles, but if I wasn't interested in Steven Jackson (am I even interested in Steven Jackson?), all I have to do is not click on those links. If I'm watching a sports television network covering something I'm not interested in, I can switch to another sports television network that might be covering something I'm interested in, or if I insist on learning about sports during this moment I could even lower my eyes from the television to a sports magazine or a newspaper sports page. I have zero interest in learning details about rookie contract negotiations: in early and mid July it doesn't matter, and even once training camps begin the headline pretty much tells me what I want or need to know. Rather than complaining about media coverage of something I'm not interested in, I take the drastic step of not paying attention to media coverage of something I'm not interested in.

Hey, I've got a tag devoted to bad sportswriting: I'm not saying critique of sports media coverage is invalid. And there is sometimes call to complain about overcoverage or undercoverage of a particular story. But this brings us back to the first of my incredible two theses. When media members complain about Favre, complain about his indecision, complain about media overcoverage of Favre, criticize the attention given to Favre or the attention Favre evidently craves, they are talking about Favre. They are contributing to the media attention given to Favre. For the rest of us consumers of media, these complaints about the media's Favre coverage only contribute to the saturation.

So my advice to people like Farrar who are sick of Favre: just don't look. Don't worry about the Vikings' rights: they can probably assert their own. Don't worry about your right to read and hear about other NFL stories: nobody is taking that right away from you. Just don't look.

*specifying "sports media" is important: there are hard news stories for which the type or amount of coverage by mainstream media sources can have real consequences in policy, politics, public behavior, etc. But sports coverage is a bit more like entertainment coverage in its significance.

I think I should emphasize thesis one a bit more. One reason I feel that Favre saturates the media is the backlash itself: I regularly come across media commentary criticizing Favre and/or the media's coverage of Favre (recently, here and here*). On the whole, these articles actually add to the saturation of Favre for consumers of media; in effect, media members whose complaint is too much coverage of Favre add to the saturation of Favre coverage simply by complaining at all. Some days it seems I come across more criticism/complain about media coverage of Favre than I come across Favre stories themselves.

I think there is too much media coverage of Favre, but the backlash has contributed to there being even more media coverage of Favre. As I've written before,

"several years ago, a backlash really started to develop (prominently on the internet) against the media's treatment of Favre, to the point that complaints about the media coverage of Favre have become the cliche. Furthermore, Favre's behavior in recent years has led to a lot of criticism from mainstream media sources."

That's what I'm saying: the complaining about media coverage of Favre is often the conventional, uninsightful, predictable cliche commentary itself. Many people are exhausted with the media giving too much attention to Favre; I'm actually exhausted with people complaining about the media giving too much attention to Favre!

*By the way, Adam Schein: when you take your time to make a "Go Away" video to complain about Favre, during which you say "I've been done with Favre for years," well, evidently you weren't.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

At least in my sleep

Once again, I dreamed the Vikings won the Super Bowl. I didn't watch the game; it was the next day and I was (literally) running around with my index fingers waving in air. A Packer fan gave me the middle finger. I was (again literally) running to stores looking for Super Bowl Champion clothes to wear.

Not quite as tormenting as the time I dreamed I traveled back in time to before the NFC Championship game, bumped into the Vikings' skill position players, warned them not to fumble, and proceeded to watch (in specific detail) the Vikings crush the Saints. But haunting and disappointing nonetheless.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Viking Secondary Problems

Doug Farrar looks at Vikings' secondary problems, and offers a look at how linebacker positioning can help the coverage (Yahoo!).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How speculation becomes a report, and rumor becomes story

In an article, Michael Lombardi includes under the heading "Things I hear..." this nugget:

"The next player to complain about his contract will be Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who missed the mandatory minicamp due to a scheduling conflict."

What is Lombardi's source for this information? Did he hear this from somebody close to Adrian Peterson? An official with the Vikings? Is this gossip among NFL team executives? Is this what Lombardi's friends in the media are talking about? Do deer come into Lombardi's backyard at twilight and whisper NFL secrets to him?

Well, who the hell knows? But unless Lombardi makes a reference to somebody saying this, it is hardly a report. My guess is that this is some speculation and gossip Lombardi has been hearing, probably from a number of directions. My guess is that's why Lombardi put it under the "Things I hear..." category: it's a part of the buzz, a rumor, things NFL people talk about. And it's not exactly out-there speculation: Peterson is an elite player still getting paid under his rookie contract. I would guess that Lombardi is right: at some point Peterson is probably going to want a new, bigger contract, feeling he's outperformed his rookie contract. Speculation in that direction is fairly reasonable.

And I want to make one thing clear: there is nothing wrong with that. Lombardi is trying to write an entertaining July NFL column, and he includes some of the things he hears people talk about to amuse and inform us. That's absolutely fine, as long as we take it for what it is. Unless Lombardi refers to a specific source (even an anonymous source), this is gossip. I can't see anybody reasonably calling this a "report."

Of course things change when you get to Pro Football Talk. Under the headline "Report: Contract confrontation coming for Peterson, Vikings," Michael David Smith refers to Lombardi's mention and writes:

"Michael Lombardi of reports that Peterson will be the next NFL player to complain about his contract."

Lombardi "reports"? Under what standard of journalism does it count as a "reporting" that a writer just writes something he hears with no suggestion whatsoever who he's heard it from? Again, nothing wrong with Lombardi's note here: it's the "Things he hears..." bit, and after all, this is one of the things I hear too (from Lombardi!). But there was nothing "reported" by Lombardi (at least not journalistically: I suppose technically Lombardi is reporting things he's heard to us). There's no "story" being reported.

By the end of Smith's post, he's taken for granted that this unsourced mention in Lombardi's "Things I hear..." portion of a column is truth:

"So it's no surprise that Peterson isn't satisfied with his contract. And it shouldn't be a surprise if he soon takes his dissatisfaction public."

Look, like I said, I think Lombardi and Smith are probably right; I agree with Smith when he says "Players who produce at that level just aren't content to play out their rookie contracts and wait to become free agents." But to call what Lombardi wrote a "report," to refer to his mention as reporting, and by the end to just accept this as a true statement, well, that's how speculation becomes a report and a rumor becomes a story.

(For a good blog post about Lombardi's mention, see Judd Zulgad in Access Vikings. Not only does Zulgad treat Lombardi's nugget for what it is, but he informatively adds detail about Peterson's contract to not only pass on--and further--speculation, but contribute something concrete and meaningful to it).

In this spirit, I am going to start my own feature here, called "Things I discern from the ether..." Feel free to take this as a report: after all, I am discerning it from the ether and reporting it to you.

Things I discern from the ether...

The Mayans stopped their calendar at 2012 because that is either when the Vikings will win the Super Bowl or when they will move out of Minnesota. The Mayans knew there is no reason to keep track of history after that point.

The Spirit Of Fantasy Football no longer resides in the Shadow Of The End Zone; it has moved into Chris Johnson's socks.

The Green Bay Packers are wieners.

Lombardi's wording itself suggests this is not a report, but a prediction. If Lombardi had said something like "Adrian Peterson will soon be complaining about his contract," that could be taken as a report (without a source referenced, I'd still think it a prediction rather than a report, but for now, whatever). But how can Lombardi know Adrian Peterson will be "the next player to complain about his contract" unless Lombardi knows Peterson will complain about it immediately after Lombardi publishes his column? That's a prediction, not a report. What if all of a sudden Joe Flacco starts complaining about his contract today? Then Lombardi's "report" is wrong. And when Lombardi writes Peterson will be "the next player to complain," that suggests he hasn't already started to complain (privately or publicly), which further suggests there isn't a concrete story being reported here.

It's clear this is speculation and prediction; why is Michael David Smith calling this a "report"?

Addendum 2
Here's a parallel:

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is probably going to run for president: there are several pieces of evidence pointing in that direction, so it is not surprising that a lot of political observers talk about it. If Political Pundit X wrote in a column, "I hear Tim Pawlenty is going to run for president," nobody would reasonably claim that Political Pundit X is "reporting" that Pawlenty will run for president, right? I suppose it's possible that Political Rumormonger Y might post something like "Political Pundit X reports that Tim Pawlenty will run for president," but few reasonable thinkers would follow a link to Political Pundit X's column and think that's a concrete story being reported, right? Some might even call it irresponsible for Political Rumormonger Y to take a casual, unsourced sentence and call it a "report," right? That's why we'd know that Rumormonger Y is a rumormonger, right?

Granted, Pawlenty running for president seems a lot more obvious than Adrian Peterson complaining about his contract. But either way, a rumormonger claiming a pundit's casual unsourced claim is a reported story would definitely secure the rumormonger's reputation for (uncredible?) rumormongering.

Addendum 3
So much for reports.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Resolving the great culture war of our time

Edward is extraordinarily dull; he may as well be part of the scenery for as little as he brings to the screen. Jacob has some screen presence, some charisma, some vigor, some verve. When he's in a scene, you know he's in a scene.

Still, if choosing Edward means becoming a vampire and living longer (maybe not forever, but until somebody tears you to shreds and burns the pieces), then that means getting more chances to see the Vikings just maybe win the Super Bowl. Probably, it will take becoming a vampire and living a few more centuries to see that happen.