Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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All season you hear the mantra, all around the NFL: Gotta get into the playoffs. Gotta make it to the playoffs. Gotta get into the tournament.
Well, the tournament is here, and it's...kinda blah.
Panthers-Cardinals, with Ryan Lindley playing quarterback for a faltering team, facing a team with a losing record?
Ravens-Steelers, with the Ravens featuring 18 players on injured reserve and the Steelers losing their star back, Le'Veon Bell?
The Bengals, who never win in the postseason, against the Colts? At least you get to watch Andrew Luck.
The Lions and the Cowboys?
Ok, that last one has my interest.
Like it or not, the Cowboys are always fascinating, and this year they've been good and fascinating. DeMarco Murray will face a stout run defense led by a guy who should be suspended, Ndomukong Suh, and who is, in the twisted thinking of the elite athlete, somehow motivated that the NFL is out to get him, even though his proposed suspension was overturned.
One of two talented and productive quarterbacks, Tony Romo or Matthew Stafford, will be forced to win a playoff game.
My silly picks are as follows:
The Panthers are as hot as a losing team can be. Cam Newton is playing well, and the Panthers have rediscovered their running game just in time to face a Cardinals defense that has been vulnerable to the run the last five weeks. Ryan Lindley won't be able to keep the Cardinals in the game. I like Carolina, and maybe by a lot.
Losing Le'Veon Bell means the Steelers may have to rely on Ben Tate, who was cut by two NFL teams thsi year. That completely changes their offense. The Ravens are battered but their offense is much improved because of Justin Forsett and Steve Smith. The Ravens win this one.
The Bengals are not going to win their first postseason game under Marvin Lewis without A.J. Green, and it doesn't look like Green will play. The Colts will pick off Andy Dalton at least twice and Luck will have a big game.
Lions-Cowboys is the toughest to pick and should be the most interesting game. The Cowboys' running game has slowed in the last third of the season and the Lions' front is impressive. But I like Tony Romo to continue his brilliant play, and as much as the Lions have improved I don't trust them to make big plays in the fourth quarter against a good team. Cowboys, with Dez Bryant making a winning play in the fourth.
Just watched Houston complete a remarkable comeback against Pitt. Houston went for the two-pointer for the win with less than a minute left, and got it, to win 35-34. I would have supported the call even if they had missed. Why not give your players a chance to gain two yards and win the game instead of hoping that circumstances fall your way in overtime? I love the call.
At 3 p.m. today, Strib hockey writer Michael Russo and I will run our next podcast. You can listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
Awaiting the start of the Gophers game at Michigan State's Spartan Stadium.
This would be the Gophers' biggest win of the season, if they could pull it off.
I believe their performance last week, in a loss against Wisonsin, was their most impressive performance of the season. Beating a very good Michigan State team on the road would be more impressive.
In fact, beating Michigan State would give the Gophers their most impressive six-game stretch in the modern era.
Glen Mason's best seasons did not include a six-game stretch in the Big Ten schedule this impressive. The 2003 loss to Michigan interrupted an impressive stretch. If the Gophers win today, they will have gone 5-1 in a key six-game stretch with their only loss coming against a very good Wisconsin team.
I'd argue the Gophers' loss to Wisconsin marked their best performance this season, given the quality of the opponent.
A victory today would trump that.
I'll be in studio Sunday morning for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500ESPN before heading to the Metrodome for Vikings-Bears. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
This isn't to pick on NFL general managers or scouts. This is to emphasize how difficult it is to draft well, how difficult it is to differentiate between a guy who's going to become a star and a guy who's going to become a barista, and how a choice that seems inconsequential at the time can alter a division or league.
In the 2006 draft, the Vikings used second-round picks on cornerback Cedric Griffin, center Ryan Cook and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Griffin became a starter, Cook did not, and Jackson became a mediocre quarterback.
The Vikings chose Griffin with the 48th pick, and Cook with the 51st. With the 52nd pick, the Green Bay Packers chose Greg Jennings.
The Vikings just signed Jennings to a five-year deal worth, presumably, lots of money to fill their remarkable void at receiver.
Imagine the 2009 Vikings with Jennings on the field, or the 2012 Vikings.
The Bears chose Devin Hester with the 57th pick. The Jaguars got Maurice Jones-Drew with the 60th. And the Broncos chose Brandon Marshall with the 119th.
I used to make fun of the enormous attention paid to the NFL draft. I can't anymore. Seemingly innocuous picks can alter the league's landscape.
In the first 47 years of Vikings history, Viking running back produced one 200-yard game.
Scine 2006, Adrian Peterson has produced three.
He rushed 21 times for 210 yards and a career-long 82-yard touchdown on Sunday. Because of Christian Ponder's two horrific interceptions deep in Packers territory, Peterson's efforts weren't enough, and the Packers won, 23-14.
Since Washington ``held'' him to 79 yards, Peterson has rushed for: 153, 123, 182, 171, 108 and 210 yards. On the season, he's rushed 213 times for 1,236 yards and seven touchdowns. He's averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
His previous career-high was 5.6 yards per carry in limited action as a rookie. His yards per carry starting in '07: 5.6, 4.8, 4.4, 4.6 and 4.7 before this season.
He's never been better. With four games remaining, he could challenge his career high of 1,760 yards, set in 2008.
The question of the day is whether the Vikings are wasting the best years of one of the best running backs ever to play the game.
``It's very disappointing, especially the way we ran the ball today,'' Peterson said.
What struck me, watching it live, was that the Packers entered this season once again as a Super Bowl contender, and the Vikings were thought to be rebuilding, and yet the Vikings would have won at Lambeau with a competent performance from their quarterback.
If you want to play the good news/bad news game, the good news is that the Vikings look capable of beating the Bears and Packers with decent quarterback play; the bad news is they're not getting decent quarterback play.
As I wrote in my column for tomorrow's paper, the Vikings are making a mistake, hanging the entire season on Ponder. If he plays poorly, he should be benched, just like anybody else on the team.
-I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. on Monday, and on with Reusse and Mackey on 1500ESPN tomorrow afternoon.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Now that we've spent the offseason wringing our hands over player safety and bounties, we can leaves our consciences at the other end of the overstuffed couch and start concentrating on games.
My divisional picks for the 2012 NFL season:
This is too easy. The Patriots probably aren't quite as good as we think they are. Their offensive line has holes. Years of poor drafting has hurt their defense. But Tom Brady and Bill Belichick give them an edge over everyone else in the division.
The Jets probably aren't quite as bad as we've made them out to be. Because we spend so much time on the foibles of Rex Ryan and their quarterbacks, we tend to forget that this is an excellent defensive team with a strong offensive line. The Jets may not have the firepower to beat elite teams, but they are built to ground lesser teams into dust.
So: Patriots win it, with the Jets finishing second and contending for a playoff spot. The Bills are still fraudulent. The Dolphins are still mediocre.
The Ravens have become the class of this division and should win it again. They have key veterans like Ray Lewis and Matt Birk nearing the end of their careers, but Joe Flacco and the passing attack could offset that by getting better, and they were very close to beating the Patriots in the AFC title game last year.
I like the Ravens to win the division, but I don't believe they'll go to the Super Bowl. This is personal bias. I've been around three Vikings teams that lost in the championship game, and they were nothing less than depressed the following season.
The Bengals were surprisingly good last season and you would figure that Andy Dalton would keep improving, but I never trust this franchise, and I don't like the offensive line. I figure they tread water and make the playoffs, but I won't pick them to win the division or a playoff game.
The Steelers, to me, are the wild card. Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger win them a lot of credibility, and this is one of the best organizations in the game, but I don't like the vibe. Tomlin changed special teams coaches late in training camp and Mike Wallace held out.
The Browns remain the Browns.
So...Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Browns.
The Houston Texans have been a trendy pick for a few years now, and they're trendy again, and they'll benefit from playing in a horrible division. They should have an easy road to the playoffs, but I'll have to see them beat an elite team in the playoffs before I'm going to be a believer.
Tennessee is mediocre. Jacksonville is awful. The Colts are rebuilding. It's good to be Gary Kubiak.
Peyton Manning is one of the smartest and most analytical athletes I've ever met, so picking the Broncos shouldn't surprise us. I figured he'd head to Miami to be near his second home and enjoy the weather, but Denver, it turns out, is perfect for him.
He's with a driven, quality organization. He has two underappreciated receivers in Decker and Thomas. He has a running game. He has a defense. He has a distinct home-field advantage. And he get to face mediocre competition in his division.
Nice pick, Peyton.
The Chargers remain the biggest tease in football and they no longer have one of the best overall rosters in the game.
The Raiders appear to be gaining sanity, but it's hard to place much faith in Carson Palmer at this stage of his career.
The Chiefs have captured Belichick's paranoia without emulating his expertise.
AFC champion: Denver. It might be risky to pick a guy with a bad neck, but I'm willing to bet on Manning's head.
Super Bowl champions almost always suffer a letdown.
The Cowboys have improved their pass coverage and could surprise in Tony Romo's latest make-or-break season.
The Eagles are loaded but dependent on a fragile quarterback.
The Redskins will be exciting but won't win as Robert Griffin learns the NFL.
Give the division to the Eagles. They should have addressed their defensive shortcomings. If they can keep Vick healthy, they could be nearly unstoppable on offense.
I don't know if I've ever seen as many dropped passes by a good team in a big game as the Packers had in their loss to the Giants. That was the Packers' Super Bowl to lose last year, and they lost it in shocking fashion.
They're still the class of the NFC.
The Bears should benefit from Mike Tice taking over the offense and Jay Cutler having a favored target in Brandon Marshall. Brian Urlacher's knee is a concern, but this is a strong team.
The Lions are talented. Are they mature enough to handle expectations? Probably enough so that they'll make the playoffs.
The Vikings admit they're embarking on a slow rebuilding project. Don't expect much from them this year. I'd pick 5-11 unless they can fully take advantage of a soft early schedule, in which case I'll pick 6-10.
This is a fascinating division. What will the Saints be like without their mastermind coach? Will the Falcons finally break through? Will Schiano's college act play in Tampa? Is Cam Newton ready to become one of the game's elite quarterbacks, which will mean adding victories to his already-gaudy stats?
I like the Falcons, a bunch of grinders, to grind through the regular season and win the division. I think the Saints fall off, and I see Newton making a big impact this season, leading his team to the playoffs.
The 49ers will dominate this division, but I believe Russell Wilson will be the surprise player of the year. The Seahawks are better than you think, just like their rookie quarterback. Seattle will make the playoffs.
The Cardinals and Rams will await relegation to the Big Ten.
NFC champ: Packers
Super Bowl champ: Aaron Rodgers beats Peyton Manning in a shootout.
If Jason Witten can't play, or play well, Romo will be missing his safety blanket when he needs it most. The Giants will be ready to play, and they're the better team. Giants 31, Cowboys 23.
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