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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I have two Vikings predictions that may seem contradictory:
-They win on Sunday, easily, over a bad Jaguars team.
-The finish the season 5-11.
The former may be too optimistic. The latter may be too pessimistic.
I made the former pick because Christian Ponder should be better than Blaine Gabbert, the Vikings are less reliant on Adrian Peterson than the Jags are on Maurice Jones-Drew, and the Vikings are playing at home. Call it 23-16, Vikings.
I made the latter pick because I'm not impressed with the Vikings' receivers, offensive line or linebackers, and Ponder still has much to prove. Yes, the schedule is easy early on, but don't you think the Colts look at their game with the Vikings the same way the Vikings do - as an easy matchup?
I see this as a year of marginal improvement at quarterback and in the secondary. I hear good things about Josh Robinson, and the Vikings' cornerbacks should be markedly improved, which should make a big difference.
It's hard for me to imagine this team surviving the second half of the schedule, though, even if everything goes right.
The Gophers are asking people to pay money to see a game against New Hampshire?
I'm actually not offended, as some of my colleagues are, about the price of beer at TCF Bank Stadium. Yes, $7.25 is a lot to pay for a beer, but it's really exorbitant only if you want to get drunk. If you just want to drink one beer while watching the game, $7.25 won't hurt you. And I've seen way too many drunk football fans to want to see that price lowered. If you want to get sloppy drunk at a football game, you should pay in more ways than one.
My favorite games of the weekend:
Peyton Manning with his new team facing an old nemesis, Dick LeBeau's Steelers defense. I think Peyton wins this one.
Packers vs. 49ers at Lambeau in the Game That Should Have Been. Packers don't drop 18 passes this time and win a close one.
Raiders-Chargers. Just because I never know what to expect from either team or franchise, and the Black Hole should be very loud on a Monday night.
Cam Newton and the Panthers vs. Tampa Bay and Greg Schiano. Newton gets to show off after his first full NFL offseason.
Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from the 1500ESPN studio before the Vikings' game. Longtime NFL writer Gary Myers, of the New York Daily News, will join us, as will Tom Linnemann for NFL picks.
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.
Roger Goodell got it right. I've been critical of the NFL commissioner in the past because I thought he was playing hall monitor too often, concerning himself too often with minor, off-field transgressions of players. I thought he had put himself in a no-win situation.
Today, though, he deserves all the praise we can muster. After years of hammering players on the subjects of behaviour and violence, he put Sean Payton's money where his mouth is. He suspended Payton for a year, forcing him to forgo $7.5 million in salary, and took two second-round draft picks away from a Super Bowl contender. Goodell hammered Payton and the Saints not only for violating the rules, but for endangering other players and for lying to the NFL when the league investigated.
Had Payton and the Saints 'fessed up, the penalties would have been lesser, and Goodell might have even been able to adopt a ``boys will be boys'' attitude toward the Saints' transgressions. When Payton lied, he put himself in the gunsights, and got what he deserved.
Goodell has rightly campaigned for increased player safety. He couldn't ignore a regime that paid players bonuses to cause injuries to opponents. I admire him having the guts to damage one of the best teams and stories in his league.
Tim Tebow just isn't that good. And everyone who says his force of personality can somehow make him valuable just isn't paying attention.
The entire league had a chance to bid for a former first-round draft pick who won a playoff game as a quarterback just a few months ago, and the best the Broncos could get for him was a fourth-round draft pick. That tells you all you need to know about Tebow's stock. He's just not that good, and a mountain of bibles won't change that.
Royce White is making a mistake. He finally found a good situation, playing for Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, and now he's going to go pro? Does he really think he's going to receive the care and attention, and the ability to develop his game, anywhere other than Ames right now?
He should maximize his time with Hoiberg, and hope he's ready for the next level when his eligibility expires.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn on Thursday night with Tom Peliserro. We'll run Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn from 10-noon on Sunday. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I received a predictable reaction to my Friday column, in which I predicted that the Patriots would whip the Broncos and that Adam Weber, given a chance, would have a better NFL career than Tebow.
Instead of answering individual emails and tweets, I'll answer questions and concerns here:
1. No, that wasn't a joke. I think Tebow will fail as an NFL quarterback, just as he has failed miserably in four of his last five starts.
Tebow has had every advantage. He played for a great college team and for perhaps the best offensive coach in college football, Urban Meyer. He was drafted in the first round, ensuring that his team would give him plenty of attention and eventually give him a chance to succeed. He has been supported by an excellent defense and running game and in many of his victories, other than his impressive performance against the Steelers, he played horribly for three quarters or more before making a few clutch plays.
Weber is an athletic guy who was a better passer in college than Tebow was, and who, instead of being coached by someone like Urban Meyer, had to try to survive the coaching of people like Tim Brewster and Jedd Fisch, who altered his throwing style, and, I'm told by people close to the program, caused arm problems for Weber.
Yes, I'm serious: Given an equal chance, Weber will outperform Tebow as an NFL quarterback.
2. Yes, I'm sick of Tebow invoking religion at every opportunity. The reaction of many: Why would I react this way?
Spend a few minutes thinking about it, people.
By using his platform to push his religious beliefs, he's telling you that his religion, and perhaps even his God, is better than yours, and that you should convert. Yes, that's what he's saying. He is an evangelical, as was his father.
Tebow is also telling you that God wanted him to win. Trust me, there are plenty of religious people on the other team. Only a fool or a zealot would believe that God, if he dabbles in such things, would side with an overtly religious quarterback of one team over the devout people who represent the other team.
(Although I did see, in a great tweet this week, that maybe this is why the world is so screwed up - God spends all of his time obsessing about the NFL.)
Yes, Tebow does good work and helps children and visits hospitals. So does Jared Allen, and Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau and...well, I'll stop now before I list every athlete in the Twin Cities.
Tebow is trying to set himself and his religion apart from every other person, religious or not, in the NFL. It's simple-minded and narcissistic.
Some of the most religious people I know would never be arrogant enough to suggest that their faith is better than your faith. That's what Tebow tells us every day.
What has happened with Tebowmania is that Tebow has told people that he's a great person because he's religious, and fans have swallowed it because he's won a few games.
In what other walk of life would you celebrate someone who finishes every sentence or paragraph, by praising their Lord? If I did that, I'd be fired, but I'd be fired only after I chased off 95 percent of my readers and listeners.
Somehow, many observers of the sports-entertainment complex think wearing his religion makes Tebow a hero. I think it makes him annoying, at best.
Disagree all you want. I value people who live good lives regardless of their religious beliefs, not people who tell me how good they are because of their religious beliefs.
Quick thoughts on the Wild loss and Gophers' win last night:
-It appears that hockey coaches have only one card to play. Last night, Wild coach Mike Yeo complained about his team's lack of effort in a lopsided loss to the Blackhawks.
I like Yeo. Even considering the Wild's slump, I think he's done a good job and is very promising. I see this season as evidence that he was able to get his players to overachieve for a span rather than as an indictment of his work of late.
But it's always the same with hockey coaches: Win, and your guys showed grit; lose and everyone's a dog.
It's just not true. The X-factors in hockey and basketball are shooting. If the Wild had the skill to finish more odd-man rushes with goals, they'd win more games and spend fewer postgame interview sessions complaining about effort. Last night, the Wild lost to a far superior team on the road. It's a game of skill.
In basketball, shooting fixes all kinds of problems. I remember having a conversation with Larry Johnson's high school coach in Dallas. He played Johnson at center and surrounded him with four shooting guards. I praised the concept once, and the coach, ol' J.D. Mayo, told me: ``You know what? When we make shots, I look really smart. When we miss shots, it looks like we've never been coached.''
Simple, but true. The Gophers beat Indiana last night because they made shots. They made three-pointers, and Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman and Rodney Williams finished their drives.
Credit Tubby Smith with having his team ready to play last night. Credit the players for performing well in a tough place. But if Tubby tries to complain about a lack of talent on his roster at any point this season, remember that the Gophers were the more athletic and gifted team last night. Rodney Williams was the best player and athlete on the floor, and the Gophers had more quickness and depth than the Hoosiers.
Win or lose, my position on Smith is that he should not be allowed to make excuses. He has enough talent to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.
-Today's LPR - the Local Power Rankings that are a transparent device in which I can comment on the development on all the local teams:
Crazy to rank a 3-7 team No. 1 locally?
Maybe, but I think sports are as much about entertainment and atmosphere as winning championships. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love justify the purchase of a ticket, and the atmosphere at home games this year has been fun. That puts the Wolves way ahead of the pack in this market.
2. Gopher hockey
Lucia's boys are in a typical slump, failing to capitalize on their early promise. This weekend's games at North Dakota could tell us a lot about the state of this team and Lucia's program.
At this point I don't expect the Wild to make the playoffs. I would be more disappointed if I thought before the season that this team would make the playoffs, but I didn't. This slump may be a good thing in one way: It may allow the Wild brass to continue focusing on building for the future, instead of making a deal that might help this team.
Fletcher and Yeo need to recognize that this team isn't ready to make a playoff run, that they need more scorers to have any staying power. And I think Fletcher does.
4. Gopher basketball
Impressive win at Indiana. I think the Hoosiers are overrated, but give Smith credit for orchestrating a victory that keeps the season alive.
5. Minnesota Twins
I hasn't been an offseason filled with blockbusters, but the Twins have never made blockbuster signings, and making lopsided trades is harder today than it was when Terry Ryan was stealing from everyone in baseball in the late '90s and early 2000s. I think the Twins have had a reasonable, sane, rational offseason, and their fortunes will be decided by the health of their star players and the ability of their starting pitchers to provide quality innings.
I'm not particularly optimistic about either, but no flashy signing was going to change either of those realities.
6. Golden Gopher football
I'm surprised Jerry Kill hasn't gotten a contract extension for avoiding losses for the last two months.
7. Minnesota Vikings
I'm not impressed with the Vikings' search for a defensive coordinator. Rick Spielman is going to have to have a great draft to change this team's fortunes.
49ers-Saints: The Saints don't perform as well on grass as on turf, but I think this is such a mismatch that secondary factors won't matter. The 49ers excelled because of a weak schedule and division this year, and won't be able to keep up with the Saints. My guess: Saints 30, 49ers 17.
Texans-Ravens: The Ravens' defense ain't what it used to be, but it's good enough to win at home against a third-string quarterback. This game, to me, points out just how weak the AFC is this year. (And I still can't believe a great defensive coordinator like Dick LeBeau would make life so easy for Tim Tebow in a playoff game.) My guess: Ravens 23, Texans 15.
Broncos-Patriots: The Patriots have been lousy in the playoff since their last Super Bowl win. The Patriots have a mediocre defense and running game. You can seize on either trend and pick against the Pats, but I wouldn't. Belichick will not make the same mistakes against Tebow that LeBeau did. Belichick will find a way to contain Tebow and force him to read zone coverages.Tom Brady, facing a superior defense, will nevertheless move the ball enough to outpace Tebow and the Broncos My guess: Patriots 27, Broncos 12.
Giants-Packers: As with Broncos-Patriots, there are plenty of good reasons for picking an upset, and I'm not buying into any of them. The Packers' flaws (offensive line, porous defense, may have peaked too early this season) indicate that the Giants could win another big playoff game at Lambeau. The Giants have the better running game and defense. But I'm going big-picture here: The Packers remain the best team in football, they should be healthy again following their bye week, and they're playing at home. I'm not picking against Aaron Rodgers here, or for the forseeable future. My guess: Packers 31, Giants 26.
If you want to know how confident I am in any of these picks, please consider that I never bet on sports.
-Spoke with former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber for today's column. I wasn't joking when I said I think he has a better NFL future than Tim Tebow.
Weber had horrible coaching and little support at the U of M, yet still was highly productive. With good coaching and a great work ethic, I'm sure he can complete more than 46.5 percent of his passes, which is what Tebow did this season.
I'd rather put my money on Weber than Tebow or Brady Quinn. And anyone who thinks that Tebow is somehow a better human than Weber is a religious fanatic. You don't have to quote scripture to be a good human being. I'll take Weber as a guy as well as a quarterback.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey and at 6:40 with Tom Pelissero. Tom and I will run an abbreviated Sunday Sports Talk on Sunday from 10-10:30 a.m. before making way for Gophers women's basketball. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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