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 covered Cris Carter's arrival in Minnesota. He had earned his dismissal from the Eagles, abusing drugs and alcohol. The Vikings picked him up on waivers because Jerry Burns thought he could turn into a great receiver. Burnsie was right.
Carter was your classic underperforming diva wide receiver when he arrived. He and I hit it off the following training camp. He agreed to a long sit-down interview. He told me if I told his story honestly, we'd get along fine, and if I didn't, he'd punch me in the eye.
I didn't pull any punches, and he didn't throw any. He wanted to make his story public, and he was my go-to guy in the lockerrom until I left the Vikiings beat to cover baseball following the 1992 season.
When I began covering football again, in 1998, Carter and I didn't have the same relationship, but I loved watching him play. Dennis Green gave perhaps the quiintessential quote on Carter: He said Carter expanded the field. It was an early version of the ``catch-radius'' idea. Green meant that with Carter, a quarterback could throw the ball three feet out of bounds, or five feet over his head, or at his toes, and Carter would catch it.
Near the end of his career, I asked Carter how he played so long, as a guy who was willing to go over the middle to make catches. He began listing the people he employed: Nutritionist, physical therapist, chiropractor, chef, personal trainer...the list went on for a while.
I'm not sure I ever covered a more dedicated athlete.
His downside was linked to his greatest strength: He put so much into playing football that he couldn't stomach those who didn't match his commitment.
I think he was deserving of the Hall of Fame. He was elected to the Hall on Saturday in New Orleans.
I'm at the NFL Awards Ceremony, awaiting word on whether Adrian Peterson will win the MVP award.
Carter and Peterson have very different personalities. They have this in common: There is or has been any doubt about their desire to be great.
I stopped Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on the red carpet and asked if he's talked with Peterson about the award. ``Oh, yeah,'' Frazier said. ``He's still upset that he didn't win the Heisman. He'll be the first to tell you he should win this.''
Mark Craig and I will have all the Hall of Fame and NFL award coverage from New Orleans in tomorrow's paper and at startribune.com.
The Vikings' 24-13 upset of San Francisco might have been their most impressive performance since they beat Dallas in the playoffs in 2009. Their upset of Philadelphia in Philadelphia in 2010 was surprising, but those Eagles turned out to be a very flawed team, and with the game being postponed by weather, it never felt like a normal game.
This was different. This was the Vikings beating the 49ers at their own game. Here's what stood out to me:
1. A young Vikings roster that I don't think is talented enough yet to play with the league's big boys took it to the 49ers. They ran the ball. Percy Harvin, as usual, took it to defensive backs. Christian Ponder played with poise. The defense stifled the 49ers' power running game and pressured Alex Smith.
This is the way Leslie Frazier wants to win, and Sunday marked the first time you could see his vision played out on an NFL field against a superior team.
2. Ponder has yet to throw an interception this season. I know, I know, he's had a few dropped, and the 49ers could have changed the game by holding onto Ponder's one terrible throw in the fourth quarter,
Good quarterbacks thrown interceptions, too, though, and good quarterbacks have apparent interceptions dropped. The numbers, in this case, are accurate. Ponder has been careful with the ball and has completed 70 percent of his passes. After 13 NFL starts, he looks about as good as the Vikings could have hoped at this stage of his career.
3. Randy Moss looked like he didn't want to get hit. He short-armed a high throw and didn't appear interested in another pass that whistled by his head. He played sparingly in the fourth quarter of a game where the 49ers were desperate for a deep threat.
After all this time, Moss is pretty much everything everybody has ever said he is. He's a great receiver. He's one of the most unique talents in NFL history. He's a pain in the butt. And he is untrustworthy.
4. Ponder held a weird postgame press conference. He sounded like he wanted to pretend to be mad at everyone who didn't pick the Vikings to win the Super Bowl. But he's such a nice, reasonable guy, that he couldn't maintain the fake anger and kept making jokes.
He did keep bringing up the Super Bowl. Make of that what you will. I do think that Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, John Sullivan, Matt Kalil and the other young offensive players believe they're building something here. The question, for me, is whether they will be ready to win big while Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin are still healthy and in their prime.
Even in a game we all know if violent, Peterson and Harvin are exceptions. They run with exceptional effort.
5. Chad Greenway is having an outstanding season. He's shown up in the pass rush and in pass coverage. He's been a strong performer against the running game for years, but the man does work at his craft and you can see improvement across the board this year.
6. Sportswriters and radio hosts pick games because picking games can make for interesting copy and fodder. But we really shouldn't. We don't know who's going to win. If we did, we'd all live in Vegas. In penthouses in Vegas.
We don't. I proved that again today. I thought the 49ers would win by about 10.
Please don't ever take the advice of a sportswriter when betting. Nothing good will come of it.
-Restaurant recommendation of the day: Lola's Pizzeria in Southwest Minneapolis, on Xerxes. Great food and atmosphere.
-Tailgated outside TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. Nice atmosphere. Not as rowdy as some college campuses, but I think that's a good thing. People were friendly and calm, and the band sounded great.
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 tomorrow, and on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m.
-Luckily for me, I'll be covering the Ryder Cup in Chicago this week. It's one of the few things I haven't done as a writer that I had always wanted to do. Next wish: The British Open at St. Andrews one of these years.
The Gophers and Vikings are a combined 3-0.
Of course, they should be, given the level of competition.
I'm not sure exactly what to make of the Vikings' 26-23 victory. They had awful lapses and struggled to beat a lousy team at home, but there were these high points:
-Adrian Peterson, the subject of my Monday morning column, carried 17 times. That's 17 times more than I would have given it to him and about five more than the coaches wanted to, but he looked remarkably healthy and spry. Without him, the Vikings lose this game.
I hope for his sake he doesn't spend the rest of his career on bad teams. He is a rare competitor and deserves to play for championships.
-Christian Ponder looked shaky early, but got better as the game went on. I thought the best thing offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave did was call a few quick passes to Percy Harvin late in the first half. That loosened up the Jaguars' defense, and calmed Ponder, who was at his best in clutch situations late in the game and in overtime.
-The defense was lucky that Blaine Gabbert missed a wide-open receiver for a touchdown and that Maurice Jones-Drew wasn't at full speed. Chris Cook should have played the Jags' go-ahead touchdown pass much better, but how can a receiver get that much space in that situation?
-Chad Greenway made a couple of key plays in pass defense, a good sign from a player who has to be more than just a solid run-stopper for this defense to thrive.
-Jared Allen spent a lot of time on the sideline in the first half looking very angry. He's done that before, but it's ominous this early in the season.
-Kyle Rudolph is going to have an excellent career if he stays healthy and Ponder remains the quarterback.
-Second-guess time: Peterson had two rushing touchdowns on which he was barely slowed as he got to the end zone. Vikings have the ball inside the Jacksonville 5 in the fourth quarter. Twice, Peterson is sent left as a decoy. Both times, the Vikings wound up with a muddled-looking pass play and no open receivers.
Don't over-think it. Give it to Peterson.
-Blair Walsh was awfully impressive. He nailed all four of his field goals, including the 55-yard that sent the game to overtime, and he boomed his kickoffs.
I don't know anybody who doesn't like and respect Ryan Longwell, but Walsh is making Rick Spielman look pretty smart today.
-Only six of Ponder's 20 completions went to wideouts. That's probably wise, but it also indicates that this offense is going to be very limited.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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.
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