VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell and Patrick Donnelly of SportsData, and Ted Carlson of TST Media. They are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Vikings fans

VikesCentric: NFL's March madness set to begin

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: February 28, 2013 - 3:39 PM

And we're back! After a brief sabbatical, it's time to once again spew forth opinions, observations and speculation from our little VikesCentric corner of the interweb. A lot has transpired since I last checked in so here are a few quick thoughts on the happenings of the last few weeks before we look ahead:

 
Cris Carter made the Hall of Fame. Finally. Only seven players have ever scored more touchdowns and no player ever displayed better hands. On stats and ability alone he should have received his call to the Hall on the first or second ballot. Mick Tinglehoff deserves to be the next Vikings great to gain enshrinement… more on him in a future VikesCentric post.
 
Adrian Peterson was appropriately honored as NFL MVP and then underwent surgery for a sports hernia, adding yet another exclamation point to the absurdity of his accomplishments. It's not too soon to be talking about him as one of the all-time greatest running backs. He's 4,000 yards (two years?) away from cracking the top-eight all-time rushing leaders. Also, let's put a quick end to the Chris Johnson vs. Adrian Peterson talk before it goes any further. NFL Network and other media types have tried in the last 24 hours to stir the pot on that nonsense again, but it needs to stop. My money is on Peterson rushing for 2,500 yards before Johnson ever approaches 2,000 again.
 
Speaking of Peterson, he went on KFAN last month and said he wants Percy Harvin to remain a Viking. Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman have echoed that sentiment. However, it seems Harvin's bipolar relationship with the team might leave them no choice but to deal him away. They should entertain any offers for Percy that come their way. It's a frightening concept for a team so desperately in need of wide receiver help even with Harvin on the roster. However, the Vikings might be better off with the juicy draft picks a Harvin deal could fetch rather than face the likelihood of a holdout as Percy enters the final year of his rookie deal. Harvin is a remarkable talent. But it's pretty clear he's also a malcontent who has no aspirations of playing for Minnesota any longer than he needs to. Call me crazy, but I doubt a franchise tag following the 2013 season would sit well with him.
 
That brings us to March Madness – not the college basketball, office-bracket mania that is about to grip the country. I'm referring to the NFL version of March Madness. The new NFL business year begins March 12. Before then teams have to be under the league's new salary cap. Hence the recent restructured deals for the likes of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and DeMarcus Ware. There's a chance Jared Allen could do the same and save the Vikes some cap room in 2013.
 
March 12 also marks the beginning of free agency and opens the door for trades to be made. And that's when the fun (a.k.a. "madness") really starts.
 
Vikings fans who thought the team should pursue a trade with the 49ers for quarterback Alex Smith had their dreams crushed Wednesday when it was reported a deal to send Smith to the Chiefs had been agreed upon. Let's face it, this was a purple pipedream. Now that Smith is on his way to Kansas City in a deal that will become official on March 12, it's likely the Chiefs will opt to release Matt Cassel. There's a better chance of the Vikings going after Cassel than there ever was of them being in on the Alex Smith bidding, but I'm not holding my breath. I'm guessing Cassel lands in Arizona. Besides, the Vikings have made it abundantly clear that Christian Ponder is locked in as the starter and any quarterback competition that takes place in Mankato this summer will be for the backup job. That means Joe Webb is probably on the way out. I'm keeping my ear to the ground for any more Matt Flynn rumors. Seattle is going to trade him and they'll probably only get a fourth or fifth-round draft pick in return.
 
Will the Vikings make a run at a free agent wide receiver like Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe or Greg Jennings? Probably not. Spielman is a proponent of building through the draft, not free agency. Thus, I don't expect the Vikings to make a free agency splash. They'll have to pay a lot to hold onto UFA right tackle Phil Loadholt and Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton. Beyond that, Vikings fans shouldn't get their hopes up. Does Steve Breaston do anything for you? How about Devery Henderson?
 
Might the Vikings March Madness have more to do with non-player news? The team picked Mortenson Construction a few weeks ago to build their new stadium and a schematic design is expected in March. The team also tweaked their logo a few weeks ago in what could be a precursor to new uniforms.
 
Could new uniforms be unveiled in concert with the stadium design later this month? Are the new uniforms going to have more of a throwback look than the current design? Will they ever bring back the purple pants for road games on more of a permanent basis? These are important matters and inquiring minds want to know.
 
So I asked the Vikings a few weeks ago about the prospect of new uniforms being announced soon and was told politely told the following by a Vikings spokesperson:
 
"We are continuing to work through some additional exciting changes for the fans, but nothing has been finalized at this point. We’ll have more on that later in the offseason."
 
I don't know about you, but that tells me there's probably something in the hopper on the uniform front. Then again, that might be just wishful thinking.
 
Will the Vikings' version of March Madness be highlighted by stadium and uniform designs? Is Spielman under-playing the team's free agency plans? Vikings fans might want to step away from the copy machine and put down the college hoops brackets long enough to find out.
 
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Why isn't there a Vikings Fest?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: January 28, 2013 - 9:18 PM

I take my son to Twins Fest every year and I'm always impressed by the turnout of baseball-hungry fans at the spring-can't-get-here-fast-enough celebration. Yeah, I know attendance was down a bit this year, but that'll happen when your team loses 195 games in two seasons. This year we went on Sunday – the final day of Twins Fest in what might turn out to be the final time the Metrodome hosts the event. After my son got Joe Mauer's autograph and before he got Miguel Sano's autograph, we strolled the jam-packed aisles of collectibles. He was looking for Bryce Harper and Mike Trout rookie cards while I eyed stuff I didn't need like a green seat from old Metropolitan Stadium and an Alan Page bobble-head.

 
After seeing all the Vikings memorabilia interspersed with the baseball stuff, it hit me: why isn't there a Vikings Fest? You know… a Vikings version of Twins Fest. Surely I'm not the first one to think of this, right? This thought has had to occur to others before me, maybe even the guy standing next to me looking at the Fran Tarkenton autographed jersey.
 
A few hours later, as I carefully navigated my way down the icy, slushy streets of downtown Minneapolis I was convinced the Vikings should have their own team festival. After all, if the Twins can lure thousands of fans to trudge through the snow for Twins Fest, surely the Vikings could do even better over a late spring/early summer weekend.
 
Then I wondered: why don't any NFL teams hold a team festival of some kind? As far as I know, none of them do. There has to be a good reason because it seems like a no-brainer. What was I missing?
 
The NFL reigns supreme as the most popular American sport and shows little inkling of imminent decline despite what Bernard Pollard might think. A Vikings Fest would undoubtedly be an annual hit among fans of the Purple, regardless of their on-field success, and would do a lot of good for the Vikings Children's Fund or whatever charity they choose. The team has sold out a million straight games at one of the worst stadiums in existence and virtually every television in the state is tuned to the Vikings game on Sundays during the season. Fans can't get enough of them.
 
Such was the genesis of this VikesCentric post.
 
So as a public service to the thousands (or at least dozens) of people who have also wondered why there isn't a Vikings Fest, I decided I'd check with the Vikings and ask if they'd ever considered such an event. I received a quick response from the good folks at Winter Park, and what they told me made a lot of sense.
 
It was pointed out to me that the Vikings do in fact host many fan-friendly events every year that raise money for the Vikings Children's Fund. In fact, there's one coming up in a few weeks – the "Arctic Blast" Snowmobile Rally on Feb. 9-10. The Vikings Draft party in April is their largest annual gathering and I was told the team is "in discussions about expanding the typical Thursday night event during the first round of the NFL Draft with a second event that will be open to a broader array of fans on that Saturday."
 
That sounds promising. They always have current and former players mingling with fans at the Draft Party, signing autographs and posing for photos. But an expansion of the event could get fans closer to a Vikings Fest kind of vibe.
 
I was also reminded the Vikings host the "Ride for Life" Motorcycle Rally, the VCF Golf Tournament and the "Bowl with the Vikings" night. In addition, they have a "Taste of the Vikings" event that'll set you back $150 if you want a ticket (last year's price). But they get pretty much the entire roster at the event and it benefits their "Summer Lunch Program," a partnership with Second Harvest Heartland that I'm told has provided millions of meals for underserved children in the metro area. These are all great events that raise a lot of money for worthy causes.
 
Nope, the Vikings don't have an actual "Vikings Fest," but there's no shortage of opportunities for fans of the Purple to interact with their favorite football team. Oh and then there's training camp. Every year, 50,000 to 60,000 Helga Horn-adorned fans make the trek to Mankato to watch practices and get autographs.
 
By this point of my exchange with Vikings headquarters I was feeling a little defeated. My Vikings Fest idea seemed like a moot point.
 
But then, toward the end of our email conversation, I was told that the team is "discussing internally the creation of an additional fan-friendly fundraising event for the VCF. Those conversations will continue moving forward."
 
A-ha! Could there be a Vikings Fest in the offing? Maybe when the new stadium opens?
 
It seems a little superfluous given all the other events on the Vikings slate, but I still think the idea has merit. They might not need it, but I have no doubt it would be huge. What say you, Vikings fans? Would a Vikings version of Twins Fest interest you? If so, when and where would you like to see it held?
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: You're questioning Ponder's toughness?

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: January 11, 2013 - 11:43 AM

In the week that's passed since the Vikings' season-ending Wild Card defeat at Green Bay, a disturbing – but predictable – phenomenon has been on display in the world of social media: the trashing of Christian Ponder's reputation for having the audacity to miss a playoff game due to an injury to his throwing arm.

Actually, the criticism of Ponder started almost immediately after the Vikings announced he would not be active for Saturday's game. His deactivation was a surprising development, no doubt, thanks mostly to Vikings officials and Ponder himself downplaying the seriousness of his triceps injury throughout the week. A few local scribes wondered if Leslie Frazier's leaving the door slightly open to the possibility of Ponder not playing was just a case of Belichickian subterfuge designed to force the Packers to prepare for both Ponder and Joe Webb. But until word of Ponder's truncated pregame warmup trickled out, no one in their right mind thought he would actually miss the game.

Thus, when Webb was named as the starter 90 minutes before the game, Twitter exploded with outrage over Ponder's supposed lack of heart. Just one example: former Wild star Wes Walz expressed his shock at the news and ended his tweet with "#suckitup" in a hashtag. And that was one of the nicer critiques of Ponder's backbone.

Even after the game, when reporters noted that Ponder could barely lift his right arm to put his shirt on and Frazier said Ponder couldn't make the throws necessary to give the Vikings a chance to win the game, the tide of invective was not stemmed. If anything, the tone of the Internet tough guys hardened when gory photos of Ponder's swollen, discolored arm were made public on Monday.

Now, some amount of mudslinging is to be expected on the Internet, where critics can remain anonymous as they tear down the celebrities in their midst. But even on sites that require Facebook logins to post – or on Facebook itself – a shocking number of Vikings "fans" attached their name to commentary that revealed a pretty distorted view of reality, or at least a fundamental misunderstanding of the physical conditions required to play quarterback in an NFL game.

Most of the Ponder criticism can be broken down into five basic (and faulty) arguments.

1. Brett Favre would have sucked it up and played through that injury. Yes, Brett Favre started a remarkable 297 consecutive games and probably played through a number of injuries that would have sidelined any other player. But that's what makes this comparison so specious. Didn't we (and by "we" I mean fans and the media, especially certain members of the national media) just spend the last 20 years gushing about Favre's super-human strength and healing powers? Didn't we inflate the man's image until it was basically accepted that he was a god-like figure walking among us mere mortals? And we expect Christian Ponder – a player that most Vikings fans spent the first three months of the season trying to run out of town based on his dismal performance – to measure up to the Great Favre? (Oh, and not for nothing, but Favre did suffer a similar injury in 2008 with the Jets. He "sucked it up" and played through it, and the Jets lost four of their last five games as Favre threw two touchdown passes and nine interceptions in that stretch. Just sayin'.)

2. RGIII played through a much worse injury on Sunday. He sure did. And how did that turn out? Oh yeah. Not only did the Redskins blow a 14-0 lead after Griffin reinjured his knee in the first quarter and spent the remainder of the game hobbling around the field like the reincarnation of Billy Kilmer, but the rookie quarterback needed reconstructive surgery this week after his ACL and LCL finally gave out in the fourth quarter. The Redskins have a quality backup in Kirk Cousins, who led them to a comeback win over the playoff-bound Ravens and a blowout victory at Cleveland in December, but by the time Mike Shanahan turned the offense over to him, it was too late. So yes, RGIII played through a much worse injury on Sunday, and it cost his team a chance to win a playoff game and jeopardized his 2013 season.

3. Ponder needs to learn how to stay healthy. I'm not sure how one trains one's body to avoid injuries like the one that knocked Ponder out of Saturday's game. He hurt his triceps when Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett crashed into his right arm helmet-first as he was trying to complete a pass. If Ponder had curled up into the fetal position and taken the sack to protect his body, the same Internet tough guys would have called him "soft" and "gutless" and a bunch of other names we can't use on a family website. Injuries are what you call an occupational hazard when you play quarterback in the NFL. Sometimes they're unavoidable, no matter how well you've "learned" how to stay healthy.

4. They could have shot him up with pain-killers and sent him out there. No, they couldn't have. I'm not sure why this point wasn't made more clearly in the postgame breakdowns, but the issue was never Ponder's pain tolerance. It was all about what his body was capable of doing on Saturday afternoon and evening. All the injections in the world wouldn't have reduced the swelling in his arm, which hampered his range of motion and prevented him from getting any power behind his throws. You can't fire an 18-yard sideline route to Jarius Wright when you can't raise your arm above your chin.

5. I would have gone to work with a bruised elbow. This one's my personal favorite. Yes, Internet Tough Guy (or Gal), I'm sure you would have shown up for your job at the law firm or factory or McDonald's with a similar injury. I would have too. Because most of us can figure out a way to do our jobs without having to raise our right arm above our shoulder. An NFL quarterback doesn't have that luxury. It's right there on the NFL quarterback application for employment: 1. Can you raise your throwing arm above your shoulder? If the answer to that question is "no," then you can't be an NFL quarterback. Even if you have a physically taxing job, you can probably make accommodations for a similar injury and still perform your duties at a slower pace. It should go without saying that the same does not apply for an NFL quarterback.

In the end, I'm guessing most of the Ponder-based angst stems from fans who are upset that the Vikings laid an egg in the playoffs and wanted somebody to be mad at. They needed to lash out because the thought of spending a week (or an entire offseason) alongside smug Packers fans after that loss is really hard to stomach. Maybe they were in the "play Joe Webb" camp all season and were embarrassed to be proven so wrong. Or they were upset with the Vikings' brain trust for having no legitimate backup quarterback to turn to when Ponder went down. So they found themselves a convenient scapegoat – the pretty-boy No. 1 draft pick who earns millions of dollars, married the blonde bombshell sideline reporter, and showed just barely enough improvement in his second season (in the last four games of his second season, actually) to tease the Vikings into running him out there again in 2013.

But I can say this with complete confidence: if Ponder had "sucked it up" and tried to play through the injury, only to heave a dying quail on the first possession that Charles Woodson picked off and returned for a touchdown, these same Internet tough guys would have been screaming at Ponder for being selfish, for putting himself ahead of his team, for desperately trying to hang onto his job when everybody knows that Joe Webb gives the Vikings the best chance to win.

Look, I'm not saying Ponder is untouchable or should be immune from any criticism. Lord knows he provided plenty of ammunition this year – his performance in the first Lambeau game alone should give the front office night sweats this entire offseason, and rushing into a marriage with two weeks left in the season and a playoff berth at stake was certainly … odd.

But if you're going to attack the guy via social media, do it for the right reasons. His "toughness," "heart" or "dedication" are not among them.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

 

VikesCentric: Assessing the free-agent wide receivers

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: January 9, 2013 - 9:21 AM

Like it or not, the Vikings are committed to Christian Ponder for 2013. They will hopefully bring in a tested veteran to push Ponder, mentor the young quarterback, and provide insurance, but I highly doubt Joe Flacco, Michael Vick, or Alex Smith will be calling Winter Park home.

Instead, Rick Spielman will likely place their No. 1 priority on shoring up and improving the offensive talent around Ponder, and that starts with assessing and upgrading the wide receiver situation. The "assessing" part of the equation is key, as the first step in the Vikings' offseason plan will be to figure out what to do with the enigmatic Percy Harvin. Let him play out the final year of his deal and hope he plays nice? Trade him? Offer a long-term deal?

Harvin's situation requires its own blog post, but his status will obviously impact how the Vikings build the rest of the wide receiver group. Let's assume, as Leslie Frazier asserted earlier this week, that Harvin will be back in 2013. I'd then like to see the Vikings pay Phil Loadholt, pay Jerome Felton, and open up the purse strings for a talented wideout who is ready to step into the starting lineup opposite. Who will be available and a good fit?

(Note: I'm only including known free agents at this point. I'm not going to predict any potential cap casualties such as, for instance, Anquan Boldin.)

A-Level Talent
There will be five top-tier talents available, but I'm going to cross three off the list right away:

Wes Welker, Patriots: The prolific pass-catcher turns 32 this May, duplicates too much of what the Vikings already possess in Harvin and Jarius Wright, and needs to be in a high-volume passing attack. Pass.

Mike Wallace, Steelers: He has grumbled about not getting the ball this season and about the Steelers not throwing deep often enough. I love the explosiveness, but I can't imagine he would entertain joining an offense that lacks a vertical passing attack and requires him to share with Harvin and Adrian Peterson.

Victor Cruz, Giants (RFA): Keep dreaming.

That brings us to…

Greg Jennings, Packers: Vikings fans know his talents all too well, and we seem to get a kick out of signing former rivals. Jennings turns 30 this coming September, and he has broken down in recent seasons, missing eight games in 2012 and three contests in 2011. I have little doubt that he'd look good in Purple, but the price tag could be troublesome. Vincent Jackson, who is turns 30 this month, signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Buccaneers last March. Jennings boasts a better statistical resume but also brings his injury history, so five years and $55 million could be in the ballpark for what he ultimately receives. Would you pay it? It feels steep and risky to me right now, but ask me again in two months.

Dwyane Bowe, Chiefs: The Andy Reid hiring may mean the Chiefs will be more serious about bringing Bowe back, but if he hits the market and if the Vikings are willing to spend big, he would be my top target. Bowe, who is a year younger than Jennings, carries some baggage, but he is also the big-bodied, No. 1-type receiver who makes sense opposite Harvin. And it doesn't hurt that he is accustomed to catching passes from terrible less-than-perfect quarterbacks. We need play-making wideouts who can consistently win 50-50 battles (and instill confidence in Ponder to throw those type of passes) and Bowe will be the best option on the open market.

Second Tier
Brian Hartline, Dolphins: The market for Hartline will be very interesting to watch. If the Dolphins don't re-sign him early, Hartline could linger on the market and either (1) get a ridiculous desperation offer from a team that misses out on Wallace, Jennings or Bowe or (2) end up with a low-end bargain deal. He underwhelmed for three years before exploding for 1,083 yards this season. Nearly one quarter of that total came in one game (253 yards, Week 4), and he managed only one touchdown all season. I don't want the Vikings to be the ones who gamble on his breakout year being for real.

Danny Amendola, Rams: A slot receiver who was only healthy enough to play 12 games over the past two seasons? Where do I sign up?!? Amendola isn't a good fit for the Vikings right now, but I'm already anticipating someone like the Patriots, Broncos or Saints turning a cheap two-year contract into 200 catches over the next two seasons.

Danario Alexander, Chargers (RFA): The Chargers aren't letting him leave.

Other Guys
Donnie Avery, Colts: I'd take him at the same deal the Colts paid him this season (one-year, $615,000), but he is likely to receive a couple million to be some team's No. 3 wideout. I'd be okay with Avery if the price is decent, but I don't think he's an upgrade over...

Jerome Simpson, Vikings: Yep, we're already to that point in the free agent rankings.

Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys: He starred in the Cowboys' season opener (114 yards, two scores) before fading into the background and losing reps to Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. He's worth a look on a cheap one-year deal to replace Devin Aromashodu.

Domenik Hixon, Giants: He's not sexy, but Hixon is one of the mid/lower-level receivers I'd like the Vikings to take a look at. He can be a veteran leader, runs good routes, has shown sticky hands, chips in on special teams, and should be fairly cheap.

Brandon Gibson, Rams: The 25-year-old wideout started 34 games for the Rams over the last three years, but I'll forgive you if you didn't notice. He set career-highs with 51 catches, 691 yards, and five touchdowns this season and received positive marks from both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders. He is another mid/lower-tier guy that I like as long as the price tag is reasonable.

And with that, we've quickly dwindled down to names like Randy Moss, Ramses Barden, Braylon Edwards, Jabar Gaffney, Devery Henderson, and Mohamed Massaquoi - receivers who rabid fans don't dream about in January when trying to dig for difference-making talents. At this point, we're better off turning our attention to the early rounds of the NFL draft, which will be a hot topic for the coming months.

VikesCentric: Vikings looking for a rare victory outdoors

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: January 3, 2013 - 5:35 PM

The Vikings are scheduled to break ground on their fancy new stadium sometime in 2013 – a stadium that will likely have a retractable roof of some kind. That obviously means some of the games at the new joint will be played outdoors.

 
Suggestion: the Vikings might want to work on their "outdoor game" between now and the projected opening of the new digs in 2016 because, well, their record outside of domed stadiums hasn't been so hot the last several seasons. Another suggestion: this might be a good week to begin whatever it is they have to do in order to find a winning formula outdoors.
 
The Vikings are 5-15 in their last 20 outdoor road games. Throw in the snowy game played at TCF Bank Stadium on Dec. 20, 2010 against the Bears and they are 5-16 in their last 21 outdoor games. Of those games, 10 were played with a game-time temp of less than 50 degrees. The Vikings won only three of these "cold" games: once against the Eagles (Joe Webb's finest moment) in December of 2010 and twice against the Redskins (in 2011 and 2010).
 
Oh sure, the Vikings will probably close the roof at the new stadium if the weather gets inclement or the temperature falls below, say, 50 degrees. That's what retractable roofs are for. However, they won't be able to close the roof at Lambeau on Saturday night.
 
Here's where those of us who are old enough to remember might start waxing nostalgic about the glory days at the old Met when opposing teams used to dread coming to play here in the cold. Bud Grant banned space heaters on the sidelines. The players didn't wear gloves… heck, some didn't even bother with long sleeves. Many teams were psychologically defeated the minute they stepped off the plane.
 
Have the Vikings gone soft?
 
I wouldn't ever go that far. These are tough guys capable of enduring all kinds of pain, punishment and uncomfortable conditions. NFL players are, by and large, anything but soft.
 
However, there is something to be said for not being used to playing on grass or overcoming cold, wind and precipitation. The Vikings played 11 indoor games this season. If you don't play outside very often, it's hard to get quickly acclimated to things like bad footing and wind once the conditions get a little sketchy.
 
Yes, the Packers will be playing in the cold on Saturday night as well. The game time temperature is projected to be in the 20's. The Packers players are, for the most part, more used to those kinds of conditions, but it's not like it's always 20 degrees and snowy on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. We all know it can actually be pretty nice in terms of football weather in this part of the world through much of October, oftentimes longer. Bottom line: the cold and wind will affect both teams.
 
The numbers don't lie, though. The Vikings' record is abysmal outdoors. Moreover, they have won just once in their last six visits to Green Bay.
 
Leslie Frazier apparently has the troops practicing this week with the doors open and the air conditioning cranked at the Winter Park practice facility to replicate some of the cold conditions they'll be dealing with on Saturday. That's great, but it's going to take more than that to overcome the malaise the Vikes generally find themselves in when braving the elements.
 
As if it's not enough they have to contend with the game's best quarterback and play in a hostile environment against a team that rarely loses at home, the Vikes have to overcome this losing trend in games played outdoors. And make no mistake: 5-16 is a strong trend. Vikings fans better hope Frazier devises a game plan for winning outdoors in the cold between now and Saturday night.
 
Who knows? He just might. Not many people thought the Vikings would win their last four games of the season, but they found a way. If the Vikings have proven anything this season, it's "expect the unexpected."
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Vikings Pro Bowl hits and misses

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: December 26, 2012 - 8:57 PM

The NFL Pro Bowl has become a joke of a game. Many of the players who participate in it don't care enough to break a sweat – witness last year's 100-point debacle. Many others concoct flimsy injury excuses in order to decline the invitation to the NFL's annual All-Star game. The NFL is the most dominant sports brand in the world, but it has the worst showcase for its stars. It has gotten so bad that commissioner Roger Goodell actually admitted last spring that doing away with the game was an option.

 
Expunging the Pro Bowl still remains a possibility, but it lives for at least another year -- and with it the annual debate over who made it, didn't make it and who should have made it blazes anew.
 
For a game everyone loathes, it sure stirs up a blizzard of controversy each year. Why? Because as much as the game itself doesn't matter one iota, the honor of being elected to the Pro Bowl still does. It's still supposed to reward those who are among the elite at what they do.
 
Pro Bowl recognition is a convenient and powerful short-hand for gauging a player's career. Adrian Peterson is now a five-time Pro-Bowl player. Those are among the words that will be etched on his plaque when he is enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday… only it will likely be anywhere from seven-to-nine Pro Bowls by then. The point is: in terms of how history values a player's career for the ages, Pro Bowl honors really do matter.
 
That Peterson was among the four Minnesota Vikings invited to play in this year's Pro Bowl was hardly surprising. He's been a lock for the game for a couple months now and currently would have my vote (if I had one) for NFL Most Valuable Player.
 
The Vikings other three Pro Bowlers this year are defensive end Jared Allen, fullback Jerome Felton, and rookie kicker Blair Walsh.
 
Felton's inclusion was a pleasant and well-deserved surprise. Fullbacks that actually produce some offensive stats generally get the nod, but the NFC doesn't really have any Mike Alstott types that catch a lot of passes or score a half-dozen touchdowns. Felton is being rewarded for blasting open holes for the game's best running back. That's precisely what he has been asked to do this season, and he has done so with aplomb. This will be Felton's first Pro Bowl.
 
Like Peterson, Allen will be going to his fifth Pro Bowl. Unlike Peterson, Allen might not deserve to be going to Honolulu this winter. Let's be honest, he made it on reputation more than merit for once. He's probably earned this mulligan, though. There's no denying Allen's credentials over his career. He has been the most prolific quarterback sack artist in the NFL since he entered the league. He's also very solid against the run and usually finds a way to make a handful of interceptions, defensive touchdowns or safeties each season. He was robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year award last year when he racked up 22.0 sacks, falling 0.5 sacks shy of the single-season record. I'm guessing Allen himself might admit that he didn't envision falling off to "only" 10.0 sacks this season.
 
Don't get me wrong, Jared has still had a good season -- a better one than you might think considering the injuries he's been playing through. Based purely on statistical merit, however, the Panthers Charles Johnson or Falcons John Abraham would have been more worthy selections this season. That being said, Allen will probably notch 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble on Sunday against the Packers, making his statistical differences with Johnson, Abraham and others look negligible.
 
That brings us to Walsh, who absolutely deserves to be making the trip to Hawaii as a rookie after the season he's had. Earlier today I was all set to rip the process, assuming Walsh would be omitted, but thankfully I get to save the rant for a different Viking who was robbed (more on that in a moment). Walsh is currently tied for second in the NFL with 32 field goals. His 91.4 field goal percentage ranks fifth among all kickers (second in the NFC) with at least 20 attempts this season. He set an NFL record last week with his ninth field goal from at least 50 yards out this season (missing none). Oh, and he also ranks fourth in the NFL in touchbacks with 49.
 
Compelling arguments for Matt Kalil, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield could be made.
 
Kalil stepped in and played very well as a rookie starter from Week 1, but he plays at a position loaded with blue-chip talent so it may take a year or two for him to get his turn as a Pro Bowler.
 
Greenway currently ranks second in the NFL in tackles (145) and was named as a replacement to the Pro Bowl team last year, but I can't say he deserved the Pro Bowl more than those linebackers who made it ahead of him from the NFC: namely DeMarcus Ware, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Clay Matthews. Heck, Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly has more tackles, passes defensed, interceptions and fumble recoveries than Greenway does, and he didn't make it.
 
Over at ProFootballFocus.com, where they do highly-regarded NFL scouting and grading work on every single play from scrimmage, they have Winfield ranked as the NFL's No. 1 cornerback this season. However, much of that ranking is predicated on his 14.6 mark against the run. Only two other corners have more than a 7.0 grade against the run. That's dominance. Winfield is the league's premier tackling cornerback which is nothing new. But without the splash plays like interceptions, touchdowns or suffocating coverage skills, you usually don't make the Pro Bowl as a cornerback.
 
Winfield, Greenway or even Kalil could eventually be named as replacement Pro Bowl players when others pull out for injuries or Super Bowl obligations.
 
However, the one Vikings player who was completely jobbed is center John Sullivan. Most scouts will tell you he's been one of the two or three best centers in the NFL this season. The aforementioned ProFootballFocus has Sullivan ranked No. 1 among all centers. Max Unger of the Seattle Seahawks will start for the NFC at center in the Pro Bowl. He's a deserving Pro Bowler. No argument there. The backup for the NFC, however, is Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday. Not only is he a backup for the NFC, he's a backup for his own team. Yes, you read that right: Sullivan – the center with the best grade in the NFL per PFF.com was beaten out for the Pro Bowl by Saturday, who was benched by head coach Mike McCarthy last week. And it's not like the Packers have an embarrassment of riches on their offensive line. Their line has been severely thinned by injuries all season. Ironically, the Packers' best lineman is guard Josh Sitton, and he was snubbed by the Pro Bowl process as well.
 
There you go, Vikings fans -- just another reason to detest your rivals from the East in advance of Sunday's big showdown at Mall of America Field, right? But to take your venom out on Saturday or the Packers for the Sullivan snub would be misguided. He probably wouldn't have voted for himself either – and you know coach McCarthy wouldn't have.
 
Alas, the Pro Bowl voting process will never be perfect. Congrats to the four Vikings who made it and here's hoping Sullivan – one of the biggest Vikings Pro Bowl snubs in my memory – gets the nod as a replacement between now and Jan. 27 when they suit up for this sham of a game in Hawaii.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

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