VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.

Posts about Super Bowl

VikesCentric: Marion Barber, Enemy of the State

Posted by: Updated: December 18, 2011 - 1:28 AM

 

Before we wrap up Week 14 in a bow (or a "Te-bow" if you're a member of the national media who thinks mentioning the Broncos quarterback every 13 seconds is crucial to your ratings), let me offer Season's Greetings to one of Minnesota's favorite sons, Marion Barber III, running back, Chicago Bears.

 

"Bah, Humbug!"

 

Last Sunday in Denver, Barber screwed up twice in spectacular fashion, allowing the Broncos to pull yet another victory out from under their tails and further cementing 2011 as the Year of Tebow Unless You Live in Wisconsin and if You Do Boo-Hoo Enjoy Your Perfect Season While the Rest of the World Focuses its Attention on a Fundamentally Inept Quarterback Who Specializes in Amazing Comeback Victories.

 

Only one of Barber's screw-ups irked me, however. And not the one you're probably thinking of. Yes, he committed the unforgivable sin of Robert Smithing himself out of bounds while the Bears were trying to run out the clock against the timeout-bereft Broncs.

 

But that mistake merely gave the Tebows an extra 40 seconds and allowed them to tie the game. What really got under my skin is when Barber committed a crime against humanity, fumbling in overtime when he could have changed the future of the NFL as we know it.

 

Overstatement? Perhaps, but bear with me.

 

My biggest pet peeve as an NFL fan – bigger than 15-yard penalties for stupid end-zone celebrations, bigger than punt returners who catch the ball inside the 5-yard line (hello, Marcus Sherels, we're looking at you), bigger than Jon Gruden – is the regular-season overtime rule. It's always bugged me that a team can lose a game in overtime without touching the ball on offense.

 

Most Viking fans will recall the 2009 NFC Championship Game, unless you paid for expensive electroshock therapy to erase that memory, and my health plan at the time didn't cover elective brain realignment and yours probably didn't either. After 12 men in the huddle, and after a certain aging gunslinger ignored a wide-open Bernard Berrian and committed the cardinal sin of throwing across his body over the middle, the Saints won the coin flip, got a couple of first downs and kicked the game-winning field goal without the Vikings offense ever taking the field.

 

Now, I'll concede that between Adrian "Butterfingers" Peterson, Brad "Sideline Chaos" Childress and the good ol' gunslinger, the Vikings probably would have found a way to screw it up in overtime. But they at least should have had that chance.

 

My stridency toward this rule dates back to Sept. 17, 1995, when the Vikings lost a Sunday night game at the Metrodome against the Dallas Cowboys. Warren Moon led a late comeback that culminated in an 8-yard touchdown pass to Cris Carter in the waning moments of regulation, tying the score at 17. But Dallas won the coin toss, and everybody in the house knew that it was over the moment that silver dollar settled onto the Metrodome turf.

 

Both teams' defenses were absolutely spent. It was an unseasonably warm day, and a brutal slugfest left both squads gassed after 60 minutes. The overtime period played out as expected – the Cowboys methodically marched into field-goal position before Emmitt Smith broke free for a 31-yard touchdown run, and the Vikings lost without ever running a play in overtime.

 

The "purists" love to point out that defense and special teams are part of the game too, and thus both teams have an equal chance to win. "You don't like it? Stop 'em," they sneer while dreaming of a day when Dick Butkus decapitated running backs and Alan Page head-slapped his way to the Hall of Fame.

 

However, if that theory were pertinent to overtime, why does the team that wins the coin toss always elect to receive the kickoff? They know that playing offense is a distinct advantage, even more so these days with seemingly every rule designed to protect the quarterback and receivers at the expense of the defense.

 

Sure enough, those 2009 Vikings lost the flip, the Saints ran the kickoff back to their 39 and Cedric Griffin blew out an ACL on the play, putting a tired defense another man short. Eventually linebacker Ben Leber was called for a shady pass interference penalty that helped get New Orleans into field goal position, and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

Of course, that game helped the NFL realize that perhaps something as important as a trip to the Super Bowl shouldn't be so heavily influenced by the flip of a coin, so it instituted new rules for overtime playoff games – if the team that receives the overtime kickoff converts a field goal on its first possession, it must kick off and give the opposing offense a possession.

 

That change doesn't go as far as I would like – I'd prefer to see both teams get the ball regardless of the outcome of the first possession, meaning even those 1995 Cowboys would have had to stop the Vikings on that hot September night in the Metrodome.

 

But it's a start. The next step is to implement that change in the regular season as well, because in a 16-game season, one game is often the difference between a playoff berth and a January staycation.

 

Which brings us to Marion Barber.

 

When Barber coughed up that fumble, he cost Robbie Gould a chance at a game-winning field goal on the first possession in overtime. More important, he cost the world a chance at seeing Tim Tebow and the Denver Tebows defeated without giving Tebow an opportunity to pull off more of that great Tebow magic that has captivated the nation for the past two months.

 

Can you imagine the hue and cry, the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, had Tebow been denied the chance to touch the ball in overtime? God, it would have been glorious. ESPN would have gone wall-to-wall on every platform with indignant outrage over the injustice of the overtime rules. Skip Bayless might have had an aneurysm on live TV. The sun would have fallen from the sky, the rivers would have turned red with blood, the four horsemen of the apocalypse would have run roughshod over the 24-hour news cycle.

 

And, lo, the overtime rules would have changed for the 2012 regular season.

 

But no, Barber had to fumble, giving Tebow his chance to do that thing that he does, and we're still no closer to justice for the coin-flip losers.

 

And that's why Marion Barber is Public Enemy No. 1. For today, at least.

 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

 

 

How long does it take to rebuild?

Posted by: Updated: December 13, 2011 - 8:51 AM

With yet another snatch-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory game in the books, the Vikings will officially finish with, at most, four wins this season (yes, I've already assumed a loss against the Saints).

While pondering Joe Webb’s most recent attempt to sabotage the Vikings’ draft chances (when he inexplicably lead the Vikes to a win over the Eagles last year, it cost them a whopping five draft slots), I began wondering how long the inevitable upcoming rebuilding project might last. “Self,” I said to myself as I watched Webb’s neck being twisted in inhuman ways on an apparently legal tackle attempt on the final play of the game, “how long does it take for a team to rebuild after sinking this low?”

In an effort to answer that question, I did some digging. I pulled the win-loss records for every NFL team for the last decade, then filtered out all seasons in which a team won five games or more. What remained was a list of 51 teams that have finished 4-12 or worse since the 2000 regular season.  Then, I looked at the records of those 51 teams in the seasons after they won just four games or fewer to figure out how long it generally takes to return to the playoffs. 

On one hand, those who hold that parity reigns supreme in today’s NFL would be somewhat vilified by the fact that a surprisingly high number of teams managed to make the playoffs just one season removed from having lost at least three-fourths of their games the previous year. In total, eight teams went from 4-12 or worse to the playoffs in the subsequent season, the most impressive of which was the 2008 Dolphins, who engineered a 10-game turnaround in just one year, going from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008.  Only two other teams – the 2004 Chargers and the 2008 Falcons – managed to win more than 10 games the year after sinking to 4-12 or worse.

Generally speaking, however, the one-year rebuild is the exception, not the rule. A team that has finished 4-12 or worse in the last decade has won an average of just 6.5 games the next season. A whopping 84% of those teams didn’t make the playoffs the year after bottoming out. 

If you assume the Vikes will lose to the Saints and then lose to either Washington on the road or the Bears at home and will finish with no better than three wins, the outlook is even bleaker.

There have been 22 teams that have finished with three or fewer wins in the last decade. Of those 22, only the aforementioned Dolphins and the 2006 New Orleans Saints managed to make the playoffs the next season. Considering the Dolphins have gone 7-9, 7-9, and now 4-9 in the three seasons since mysteriously winning 11 games, let’s chalk up their 2008 playoff appearance as a fluke. As for the Saints, after finishing 3-13 in 2005, they brought in a coach named Sean Payton and a quarterback by the name of Drew Brees the next season and have been to the playoffs four times in the last seven years (including, of course, a Super Bowl title). Assuming there are no Hall of Fame quarterbacks lurking out there this offseason (cough! Peyton Manning! ahem!), I don’t see the Vikings righting this ship quite that quickly.

It’s not necessarily as bad as I would have thought for the bottom-feeding teams, however. Of the 22 aforementioned squads that finished with three or fewer wins, five of them made the playoffs within two seasons of their apocalyptic low point. If you exclude the eternally rebuilding Lions, Bills, Texans, and Raiders – none of whom have made the playoffs at all since 2002, and who account for eight entries on the under-three list – from the list, more than a third of the teams (five of 14) that won three games or less in one season were in the playoffs two years later. 

And as long as we’re suddenly looking at the Vikings glass as being half full, let’s explore another possible ray of optimism.

Including the narrow loss on Sunday, the Vikings have lost an awful lot of close games this season. Eight of their 11 losses have been by a touchdown or less. Two of those were by a field goal in overtime or on the last play of regulation. Last week came down to the final play, and in several other games the Vikes had the ball with a chance to win on the final possession. Which is to say, the Vikings aren’t as bad as their 2-11 record indicates. Mix in the slim margin of loss with the absurd number of games lost to injury, and it stands to reason that this team, even if it finishes 2-14 or 3-13, isn’t as bad as your typical two- or three-win team.

As it turns out, people a lot smarter than me have known this for years, and have developed a method to more accurately predict future performance than by simply using a team’s win-loss record from the previous season as their baseline.

The formula is generally referred to as Pythagorean Wins, mainly because the formula used to calculate it looks kind of similar to the Pythagorean Theory most of us learned in middle school, or whenever it is that one learns said theory. It could be that 3rd graders are being taught this stuff now-a-days. Considering my four-year-old is already taking computer classes, nothing would surprise me at this point. 

Originally introduced by the great baseball statistician Bill James in the 1980s, Pythagorean Wins assumes a team’s strengths (or lack thereof) are more accurately measured by the number of points they allow and the number of points they score, than by their win-loss record. 

To calculate a team’s Pythagorean W-L record, grab your calculator and do some math involving coefficients and division (the exact formula, according to pro-football-reference, is [(Points Scored ^ 2.37) / (Points Scored^2.37 + Points Allowed ^2.37)], and poof!, you have a more accurate representation of how good your favorite NFL team is.

Doing the math for the Vikings, we learn that, through Week 14, the Vikings have 4.4 Pythagorean Wins this year, as opposed to their two real-life wins. So, they’re twice as good as we thought they were! Or, only half as bad, depending on your point of view.

In fact, using the same formula on every other team this year, we learn that the Browns, Chiefs, and Buccaneers are all worse than the Vikings in terms of Pythagorean Wins, despite having won at least four games each (I’ll conveniently ignore the fact that the Vikes have lost to both the Chiefs and Bucs this season).

Point being, there’s some hope that the starting point for this team heading into the offseason isn’t necessarily 2-14 or 3-13. Perhaps the 2011 Vikings are really more like a five-win team. Five wins isn’t a lot, but the jump from 5-11 to the playoffs looks a lot less daunting than the jump from 2-14.

My conclusion: While it wouldn’t be unheard of to make the playoffs in 2012 after finishing with only three wins this year, it would be beating the curve by at least a year. And historically speaking, the odds unfortunately don’t favor the Vikings getting back into the playoffs again for at least two seasons, and would suggest that this team is due for mediocre six or seven-win season in 2012.

Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

VikesCentric: Do the Vikings have any chance at Lambeau?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: November 9, 2011 - 5:32 PM

Last Wednesday, when I was on KFAN with Paul Allen, he was already looking 12 days down the road past the bye week to Monday night's game against the Packers in Green Bay. I couldn't really blame him since he's the "voice of the Vikings" and the team had the week off. Why not look down the road a bit? After all, there was nothing very worthwhile to look back on from the first half. 

However, I was a little caught off-guard when PA not only looked ahead but suggested that the Vikings might be able to beat the Packers and then run the table.
 
Now, I know Paul drinks a lot of Purple Kool-Aid (I'm pretty sure it's in his contract) and I know he lives and dies with the Vikings. But I assumed he was being a little tongue-in-cheek with this particular bit of speculation. I played along and said the Vikings could give the Pack a game if they played them as well as they did in Week 7 at the dome when they only lost by six.
 
I went on with PA again this Wednesday and, and even though he didn't bring up his fanciful notion that the Vikings might pull the massive upset this Monday, I could tell he was fired up. Then I saw his "Bits and Boredom" post for Wednesday over on KFAN.com where he once again speculates how tremendous it would be if the Vikings won the rest of their games.
 
As you can see from the link, just above the post is a clip of Gary Wright's 1976 classic "Dreamweaver."
 
Yeah, PA is dreaming and he knows it.
 
No one in their right mind can seriously think the Vikings are going to make a playoff run this season, to say nothing of their chances of "running the table." Not a chance. But do the Vikings have a shot of defeating the Green Bay Packers in prime time to end their 14-game winning streak? Any chance at all?
 
I certainly don't think they do. Nor do the Vegas odds-makers who have installed the Super Bowl champs as a two-touchdown favorite.
 
Based on the "on any given Sunday... or in this case, Monday" rule, however, the Vikings have a shot. Anyone has a shot of beating anyone else, I suppose. So what is the Vikings' perfect recipe for winning on Monday night?
 
I can think of only a few scenarios that don't have something to do with an injury that knocks Aaron Rodgers out of the game – which I would never root for, and not just because Rodgers is on a few of my fantasy football teams. Rodgers might be the best player in the NFL right now and – even if you despise the Green and Gold, as I suspect a high percentage of those reading this blog do – he is darn fun to watch if you call yourself a football fan. He's having a season for the ages. Any defeat of the Packers that doesn't include Rodgers would be a hollow victory. Let's not go with the injury scenario.
 
So how do the Vikings beat the Packers with Rodgers at the helm?
 
The most obvious answer might be to keep the ball away from him as much as possible. Despite the Packers' feeble pass defense, no team has been able to out-point their fast-break offense this season. The Chargers tried to last week, but fell short.
 
Playing keep-away might be the only way.
 
And if any team is uniquely qualified to play keep-away, it's the Minnesota Vikings. They have the NFL's best running back, fresh off his bye week. Give Adrian Peterson 30 carries. Give Toby Gerhart 10. Give Percy Harvin a handful. Run, run, run, and run the clock down. Long drives will give the Packers fewer chances to score and keep the Vikings defense fresh. It's an age-old strategy – one that every team that has faced the Packers this season has undoubtedly already considered.
 
Sounds great in theory, huh?
 
A win over the dreaded rivals from the East on Monday night in an otherwise joyless season might be enough to do the unthinkable: put a smile on the faces of Vikings fans.  In reality, though, I think we'll have funding approved for a new Vikings stadium before this team beats the Packers again.
 
Vikings fans: suspending reality for a moment, what is your dream scenario for beating the Packers on Monday night? Share your winning recipe for the Vikes in the comments section below.
 
Bo Mitchell is VP of content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: It doesn't feel like Packers week

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 19, 2011 - 10:00 PM

Wait a minute… this is "Packers Week," isn't it?

Yep, I just double-checked: the Vikings absolutely host the Packers at Mall of America Field this Sunday afternoon at 3:15.
 
Normally, Packers Week in Vikings territory is filled with back-and-forth taunting and braggadocio across the state line -- or in some cases even across the office or across the living room. The Vikings/Packers border battle is the biggest rivalry in Minnesota sports and one of the biggest in the NFL, but you'd never know it this week.
 
Whether by some odd design or coincidence, Vikings fans find themselves distracted by shiny objects in the days leading up to Sunday's showdown, namely: a new starting quarterback and the prospect of a shiny, new stadium. 
 
Perhaps it's a good thing the focus is elsewhere. Frankly, the Vikings/Packers rivalry isn't really much of a rivalry right now. On paper it's a sizeable mismatch.
 
Just two years ago, during Brett Favre's first season with the Vikings, the intra-divisional feud was at its zenith. Who will ever forget that Bizarro-World Monday night in October of 2009 when Favre played as a Viking against the Packers for the first time? The buzz was off the charts and the prime time contest drew record ratings.
 
The Vikings swept the Packers in 2009 en route to the NFC Championship game. The Packers reciprocated in 2010, and one-upped the Vikes by sweeping them en route to a Super Bowl championship. The second game of the series in 2010 – a 31-3 blowout by the Packers at the Metrodome – was the final straw for Brad Childress. It also signaled a hiatus in the heated rivalry.
 
Vikings/Packers will become a true rivalry once again, in time, provided the Vikings get a new stadium in the Twin Cities rather than relocating to Hollywood.
 
(Side note: by mentioning a new stadium not once, but twice, I have virtually ensured that at least 95 percent of the comments below will not be about the Vikings/Packers, but will instead be anti-stadium rants.)   
 
For now, however, even the most ardent Vikings fan can't boast with a straight face that they have a shot of beating the snot out of the Packers on Sunday. Yeah, I know, I know, "on any given Sunday…" but let's be serious.  On paper, this doesn't look like much of a game.
 
Starting with that four-touchdown loss to the Packers last season, the Vikings have won just four of their last 14 regular season games. Meanwhile, including last year's postseason, the Packers have won the last 12 times they have taken the field. The Packers are the only undefeated team in the NFL right now and they lead the league in points.
 
So what's the worst thing that could happen for Vikings fans this Sunday? It's not another four- or five-touchdown blowout. I would argue the worst thing that could happen to the Vikings is having the Packers treat them like they did the Rams last Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Packers raced to a 28-3 halftime lead over the Rams last week, and then… stopped trying. They took the foot off the gas and toyed with the Rams in the second half like a dog plays with its food.
 
It was almost as if they felt sorry for the Rams so they showed some mercy. It was kinda sad.
 
If this Sunday's game gets that out of hand – if even the Vikings' hated rivals from across the border don't consider them as a serious enough threat to put forth a full, 60-minute effort – then this season will have reached a new low.
 
Vikings fans can only hope it doesn't come to that.
 
Bo Mitchell is VP of content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: A memorable rivalry

Posted by: Updated: October 7, 2011 - 10:41 AM

 

For two teams that don't play in the same division, the Vikings and Cardinals have put together a pretty impressive run of memorable games lately. Sunday's game will be the sixth meeting between the teams in the last nine years, and four of the last five games have carried special significance for the Purple.

So join us, won't you, as we take a walk down memory lane and revisit this curious rivalry between the desert dwellers and the tenants of the tundra.

Nov. 7, 2010 – Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)
Fresh off the debacle in New England and the release of Randy Moss, Brad Childress needed his team to make a statement in the Metrodome in order to save his job. But for the first 55 minutes of the game, that statement appeared to be, "Fire the bum already!" The Cardinals led by 14 and the Vikings were spinning their wheels until Brett Favre briefly became The Ol' Gunslinger again, leading the offense on two TD drives in the final 4 minutes and 32 seconds and sending the game into overtime on a 25-yard strike to Visanthe Shiancoe with 27 seconds left.

Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards, including a 22-yard pass to Bernard Berrian (he must have had no other options) that set up Ryan Longwell's 35-yard game-winning field goal that temporarily calmed the fans' thirst for Childress' blood.

"I think they came expecting to see an execution, and it ended up a pretty good football game at the end," Childress said afterwards. But it was just a temporary reprieve for the 3-5 Vikings and their beleaguered head coach. Two weeks later, after a listless home loss to the Packers, the fans got their wish and Chilly got his pink slip.

 

Dec. 6, 2009 – Cardinals 30, Vikings 17
The Vikings were riding high at 10-1 when they traveled to Phoenix to take on the Cardinals in a nationally televised Sunday night game. The offense had been held below 27 points only once, in their lone loss at Pittsburgh a month earlier. But Favre threw two picks (after having thrown only three in the previous 11 games) and Adrian Peterson was held to 19 yards on 13 carries as the Vikings fell behind 21-10 at the half and didn't do much the rest of the way.

In many ways, this game was the beginning of the end for the magical 2009 season. Favre was seen quarreling with Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sidelines, the first actual evidence of the infamous schism that became an undercurrent of the final two months of the season. Throw in E.J. Henderson's gruesome broken leg, which forced rookie Jasper Brinkley into a key role the rest of the way, and this loss knocked the Vikings off-kilter on both sides of the ball.

 

Dec. 14, 2008 – Vikings 35, Cardinals 14
At 8-5, the visiting Vikings needed two wins in their last three games to wrap up a playoff berth, while the Cardinals already had sewn up the NFC West (their first division title in 33 years), and from the outset it was clear which team had shown up to play. Stepping in for the injured Gus Frerotte, Tarvaris Jackson threw a career-high four touchdown passes and the Vikings raced out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Berrian returned a punt 82 yards for Minnesota's first score, and Jackson later hit him on a 41-yard rainbow for another TD (too bad B-Twice wasn't on Twitter yet) and the rout was on.

The Vikings went on to beat the Giants in Week 17 to clinch the NFC North before losing to the Eagles and some guy named McNabb in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were destroyed in New England the next week, then rattled off a nice little four-game winning streak to reach their first-ever Super Bowl.

 

Nov. 26, 2006 – Vikings 31, Cardinals 26
Umm … OK, this one's not actually worth remembering. The Vikings got three TD passes from Brad Johnson (to Marcus Robinson, Billy McMullen and Jeff Dugan – I told you it wasn't worth remembering) while Cardinals rookie Matt Leinart threw for 405 yards, a mark he hasn't come close to matching since. Denny Green made his not-so-triumphant return to Minnesota that day, but his 2-9 Cards were no match for Chilly's 5-6 juggernaut. Arizona did tie an NFL record with two 99-yard touchdowns – a kickoff return by J.J. Arrington and a fumble return by Adrian Wilson – but the Vikings pulled out to a 31-13 lead in the fourth quarter and held on for what turned out to be a pretty meaningless win in a pretty meaningless season.

Perhaps the game was most notable for being the first meeting between the Cardinals and Vikings since …

 

Dec. 28, 2003 – Cardinals 18, Vikings 17
"NOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOO! The Cardinals have knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs!" Yes, all the Vikings had to do was defend one more play and the NFC North crown would have been theirs, in Mike Tice's second season as head coach, no less.

But of course, we all remember Arizona quarterback Josh McCown scrambling to his right and heaving the ball into the end zone, where journeyman receiver Nate Poole hauled it in and got two feet down for a 28-yard touchdown that sent the Vikings home for the season, put the Packers in the playoffs, and gave Paul Allen his first dose of national airtime with that painful final play call.

(NOTE: Careful readers have pointed out that Poole technically did not get two feet down -- the Vikings were victimized by the lame "force-out" rule that's since been excised from the books. True. Also a distinction without a difference. It didn't make that flight back from Phoenix any happier for the Vikings knowing that if the play had occurred in a different era they would have won. And yet, thanks to those who have pointed out the discrepancy.)

So what will we remember from this year's Vikings-Cardinals game? Will it be the start of the Christian Ponder Era? Will Donovan McNabb save his job and get head coach Leslie Frazier his first victory since the interim tag was removed from his title? Or maybe Larry Fitzgerald will blow up for four touchdowns, Kevin Kolb will start earning that ridiculous contract he weasled out of the Cardinals, and Berrian will insult a nun on Facebook. As recent history has shown, almost anything is possible when the Vikings and Cardinals get together.

 

 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual (on newsstands now!), and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

VikesCentric: If not now, when?

Posted by: Updated: October 4, 2011 - 3:53 PM

I’m sure the Vikings can see what everyone else can see. They aren’t going to make the playoffs this year. There are too many holes on the roster – from defensive back to the offensive line to the obvious problem at quarterback – and at 0-4 with two 4-0 teams in the same division, the season is effectively over.

You can’t possibly expect the coach or organization to admit that, though, which is exactly what they’d be doing by inserting Christian Ponder over Donovan McNabb right now. No rational organization would send such a signal after just four games, no matter how deflating the four losses have been. The only way a team can pull that off is by admitting that they’re rebuilding right from the start. Had the Vikings opted not to acquire McNabb and instead said right from the get-go that they were going to sacrifice the season in favor of developing Ponder for the future, that’s something you can at least attempt to sell to the public.

Once the Vikes brought in McNabb and trotted him out as the starter in Week 1, they were declaring their intentions. They weren’t the Bengals or the Panthers – teams that could afford to start their own rookie quarterbacks coming off of a long history of futility (not to mention, it’s a different story if you’re Carolina and your rookie quarterback is the No. 1 overall pick in the draft). They weren’t even the Jaguars, who announced their intentions loud and clear when they canned veteran signal-caller David Garrard on the eve of the season with the obvious intention of playing rookie Blaine Gabbert sooner rather than later.

The fans in Cincy and Jacksonville are used to losing. They’re ready to be sold on the future, even if it means there’s no hope for this year. The Bengals can be excited (well, not that excited, but we’ll get to that in a bit) about watching Andy Dalton and A.J. Green with no expectations other than seeing some sign that there’s hope for the future.

But the Vikings are only one full season removed from the NFC Championship game. It’s a lot tougher to sell a rebuilding effort when you were on the cusp of the Super Bowl less than two calendar years ago. Or when you’re paying millions of dollars to a couple of high-priced defensive stars (Jared Allen and Kevin Williams) in the prime of their careers. Or when you’re trying to sign two of your young building blocks (Chad Greenway and Adrian Peterson) to mega-contracts before they walk away to less purple pastures. And if you can’t sell a rebuilding effort to your own locker room, it’s an even tougher sell to the fans. This wasn’t a rebuilding year to the tens of thousands of season ticket holders who renewed their seats after last year’s wasted season. It wasn’t a rebuilding year the day single-game tickets went on sale. It wasn’t even a rebuilding year the day they picked Ponder in the first round of the NFL Draft.

And it’s not a rebuilding year now, either. Not publicly. Just four games in, the Vikes just aren’t at a point where they can admit their mistake and look to 2012. Not yet. Not when there are tickets to sell for the next home game. Just ask Leslie Frazier. Or, ask the Bengals. Bengals fans in the immediate Cincinnati area are so excited about the “hope” being sold by Dalton and Green that they haven’t seen their squad play on TV since the middle of last year. Turns out, hope is a tough sell, as they’ve now failed to sell out their last six consecutive home games.

As of last Tuesday, the Vikings were 6,500 seats shy of a sellout for this week’s game. I get the sense the insertion of Ponder would actually be a short-term boost from a PR perspective, even if it’s a long-term hit when the team inevitably continues to lose. A cynic might say the Vikings must be close to selling out this week’s game already and that they don’t need the Ponder PR boost this week.  Perhaps the team is keeping that bullet in the chamber with the expectation that they'll need it in mid-November, the next time they’ll be in danger of a home non-sellout (the only home game between Arizona and November 20 against the Raiders is the always-sold-out Packers on October 23).

And who knows, perhaps by November 20 the McNabb-led squad will have engineered an unlikely about-face with four consecutive wins over the Cardinals at home, the Bears on the road, Green Bay at home, and Carolina on the road. Actually, nevermind. But even so, November 20 is still the next-most likely date for Ponder’s unveiling. Even at 0-5, you wouldn’t throw him to the wolves at Chicago next week or at home against the Packers the week after that (remember, cynics, you don't need to sell tickets to that game). October 30 at Carolina is a possibility, but the Week 9 bye sure would be handy from a preparatory standpoint to start giving Ponder first-team reps in practice. And asking a rookie to debut on Monday night on the road against the Super Bowl champs in Week 11 is just asking for disaster.

That brings us to November 20, at home against the Raiders. Realistically, at that point the Vikings are 2-7, maybe 3-6 if they catch a few breaks, and with very little chance of selling out against an annually non-contending AFC team. And then, with hope undeniably lost for 2011, it will be time to start selling hope in the future.

 

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