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If you haven't seen this already, here is Ken Griffey Jr. giving exactly zero [redacteds] about his live appearance on SportsCenter on behalf of Upper Deck.
It isn't possible to care less. It simply isn't.
Basketball Reference still gives the Wolves an 18 percent chance of making the playoffs even after Wednesday night's debacle against the Knicks -- previously losers of 7 in a row -- at Target Center. Mathematically, we suppose that number is about right based on remaining schedules, et al.
But this Wolves team has been about incongruent math all season, so let's be real: for practical purposes, the season died last night. It died painfully, with a terrible start, a missed opportunity to reclaim momentum for good in the third quarter and a questionable decision to roll with the bench to start the fourth.
In other words, the season died how it lived. The Wolves gave themselves no margin for error by blowing winnable game after winnable game early in the season and then finished the job with one more particularly crushing defeat.
We will remember this as a team that could take a massive lead on just about anyone and looked dominant when shots were falling. We'll remember all of those losses by fewer than four points. We will note that the Wolves somehow still rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the league, numbers that suggest their record should be 38-22 instead of 30-30. We will remember this as a team, ultimately, where the sum of the parts added up to less than the whole.
So yes, there are winnable games ahead. The Wolves will probably still finish above .500 for the first time in nearly a decade. But even if the math says they could still get into the playoffs, the reality is that a team that can't be trusted to beat the Knicks certainly can't be expected to go on a sustained run to close the year.
Sixty games is a large enough sample size. This team isn't cursed by bad luck. This team is cursed by its own shortcomings.
Making it into the playoffs in any sport is, by definition, granting a team the opportunity to win a championship. But in some sports, seeding matters more than others. In the NHL, it matters less than in any other major team sport, the NFL's recent history of producing Super Bowl champs from low seeds notwithstanding.
As such, the Wild's deadline moves -- including nabbing three-time 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson today in what likely amounts to a late-season rental -- are evidence that this year is about more than just a token appearance even if Minnesota is probably locked into a low seed.
The addition of Moulson and the return of Mikko Koivu gives the Wild real depth on its forward lines. Russo knows way more than we do, and he put out these theoretical line combos:
Those are playoff-caliber lines -- not just to make it there, but to be a real threat. This team still relies many nights on goaltending, and while Darcy Kuemper has been terrific that's still a question mark. But if he can hold up, or if the solar system-loving new backup can catch lightning in a bottle, this has some real potential.
Remember, the Wild is 29-10-5 in games not started by Niklas Backstrom this year. That's an elite record, even if Minnesota doesn't always play like an elite team.
The first-round matchup will be brutal, assuming the Wild makes it, but it won't be a picnic for the opponent, either. Bottom line: the baseline expectation now is at least for a competitive first-round series. Anything can happen after that.
There are a million things more serious about the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal than whether Mike McQueary, the former QB at the heart of blowing the whistle (eventually) on the whole thing, possibly had a gambling problem during his playing days.
But if you read the vast ESPN report on McQueary, that subject was raised.
According to several of his classmates and teammates, McQueary developed a compulsive gambling habit at Penn State. He bet and lost thousands of dollars on poker and sports wagering, mostly on pro football, though he also bet, several of his former teammates say, on Nittany Lions games. One former teammate specifically recalls that Big Red bet and lost on his own team in a November 1996 game against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. With McQueary serving as a backup on the sideline, favorite PSU won on a late field goal 32-29 but didn't cover the eight-point spread.
As his losses mounted, McQueary owed thousands of dollars to a bookie, a debt that was eventually erased by his father, several people say. A college friend recalls urging McQueary to slow down. "It got pretty bad," the friend says, "and it just kept snowballing and snowballing. He was very impulsive."
It adds another layer to an already controversial ending to a game from 1995, when McQueary -- playing as a backup QB at the end of a game -- threw a TD pass from midfield with barely a minute remaining and the Lions holding an 18-point lead on Rutgers. Per an account of the game at the time:
And then Mike McQueary, a substitute Penn State quarterback, spotted an open receiver late Saturday night, and the question of the young season -- When does too much become enough? -- was revived once more.
McQueary's 42-yard touchdown pass to Chris Campbell, 58 seconds from the end of Penn State's bizarre 59-34 victory over Rutgers at Giants Stadium, led to an angry exchange between Doug Graber, the Rutgers coach, and Penn State's Joe Paterno.
Suddenly, Penn State's 20th consecutive victory, and the types of defensive lapses that could eventually derail a second straight trip to the Rose Bowl, were overshadowed by a quarrelsome handshake. Paterno had to be restrained from pursuing Graber after the Rutgers coach made a parting remark.
Afterward, Graber chose not to talk about the margin of victory -- which didn't exceed the Las Vegas point spread of 19 1/2 to 20 points until the final score -- or the controversial touchdown, and his players followed his lead.
Here is video of the play and the heated exchange (there are some swears during the midfield exchange, FYI). It could all be one big coincidence. Or not.
Most of Minnesota is locked in on the winter sports teams and their respective postseason pushes or the Twins and what 2014 might bring.
But for some reason, we've been thinking a lot about the Vikings lately -- specifically, how 2014 has the potential to be a lot like 2012. We were in ridiculously early on that 2012 bandwagon, writing on Jan. 6 of that year that the Vikings could win 10 games and sneak into the playoffs. It was one of the only things we've ever ended up being right about, so pay attention to this:
The Vikings are a legitimate threat to return to the postseason in 2014, and this is why:
1) They have building blocks in place. Offensively, they have weapons -- Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings, etc. And their offensive line was top-10 in the NFL in both run blocking and pass blocking even during a rough 2013 season. QB play was obviously a disaster in both production and handling for much of 2013, but when they settled in and got competent play, they were basically a .500 team last season. The QB situation will not be as bad as it was last year. The Vikings will settle on a draft pick and a veteran. Between the two, QB play will be adequate and properly sorted out -- and that's a major upgrade from what it was in many games last year. Adrian Peterson won't replicate 2012. An NFL RB might never have that good of a season ever again. But QB play will make up for it.
2) Again, they weren't terrible last season. Their defense was terrible, QB play was largely terrible, and that led directly to 2 or 3 losses. They were actually above .500 (4-3-1) over the last half of the season. The season was a major disappointment because of the regression from 2012 to 2013, but it wasn't a bottoming out.
3) Why won't the D be terrible again? Two reasons. First, a new coach (and staff) with a defensive background will bring a schematic upgrade. Second, they have more than $30 million in cap space to play with, and we dare say 75-80 percent of what they spend should be on defense. Get a full year of Harrison Smith. Find one good to very good starter at each level of the defense (secondary, linebacker and D-line), supplement with depth through other free agents and the draft, and suddenly the D could go from the bottom to the middle, much as it did in 2012 before regressing last year.
4) The schedule. The 2012 Vikings got to play a soft schedule because of their 3-13 season in 2011. The 2014 schedule isn't quite as soft, but it's only the 21st-toughest in the NFL in terms of opponent winning percentage and only three NFC teams (none in the NFC North) have easier roads.
5) Special teams. Buried in a lost season during 2013 was another solid special teams effort. We can discuss the ramifications of allegations against special teams coach Mike Priefer in another forum. It is certainly nothing to be taken lightly. But if we're focused squarely on football here, Priefer's special teams units get results. It's why he still has a job, and it can help elevate an improving team.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.
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