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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My column deals with the details of the whipping the Vikings took on Thursday night.
Here, I"ll address a few other topics.
-The Vikings had been remarkably healthy this season. Even Adrian Peterson had played in every game after underdoing major knee surgery in the offseason. Their luck changed Thursday, when cornerback Chris Cook suffered a broken wrist.
Secondary depth and talent had been one of the reasons for the Vikings' 5-2 record. That depth is gone now.
-If the Vikings wanted to think of themselves as a playoff team, they needed to capitalize on all of their winnable games. Playing at home on a short week against a losing team should have given them an opportunity to go 6-2, giving them some margin for error during the difficult second half of the schedule.
Now they're 5-3. Their victories are against an awful Jacksonville team, a very good 49ers team, the woeful Lions, the not-very-good Titans and the fast-falling Cardinals.
They'll need to go at least 4-4 in the second half to have a chance to make the playoffs, and they'll have to beat some good teams to achieve that. Their remaining games: at Seattle, Detroit, at Chicago, at Green Bay, Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston and Green Bay.
That's not easy sledding even for a good team.
-Listening to Brian Robison and Leslie Frazier after the game, there are no illusions about their problems. When you pride yourself on physical play and defense and get run over by a small back two straight weeks, your pride is hurting. They are not happy.
-Peterson is having an amazing season. He's rushed 151 times for 775 yards, a 5.1-yard average and four touchdowns. He's caught 23 passes for 139 yards. He currently leads the NFL in rushing.
-Saw several fights in the stands tonight. This was a rowdy and often angry crowd. I understand booing when the team is getting blown out late, but the booing started in the first quarter. I find that strange.
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.
Monday morning second-guessing (let's call it what it is):
-Logically, there is no reason for professional head football coaches to have to jog through the maelstrom of bodies on the field after an emotional game and offer a gratuitous and often insincere handshake. It's a silly custom.
Logically, the practice should be banned.
But I'm glad it exists, because it's brought us some great moments, like Bill Belichick dissing Eric Mangini and now Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz almost starting a brawl.
Here's the deal with Harbaugh and Schwartz: They were both wrong. Harbaugh was wrong to show up Schwartz, which he certainly did. Schwartz was wrong to escalate the situation by chasing Harbaugh down.
But I loved it. This is entertainment. It's also a win-or-bust business. Pro football is not for nice people. There are exceptions to that rule, like Tony Dungy, but they are rare exceptions. I love it when high-profile people bare their teeth and souls. So while I wouldn't want my kids or high school coach or even college coach behaving like this, in pro football, I love it when coaches break their usually cliche-ridden molds.
-I'm at Winter Park today, awaiting news on who starts at quarterback. I've been calling for Ponder since the Vikings fell to 0-3, but now I really don't think the timing matters much.
Start McNabb again, to save Ponder from facing the Packers in his first start? Fine with me. That's one of the reasons McNabb is here, to protect Ponder.
Start Ponder to introduce him to the NFL as quickly as possible, to prepare him for 2012 - or just to evaluate him? Fine with me. Why not?
Start Joe Webb? Fine by me.
When you're 1-5 and bound to lose and have so much of the season left, it really doesn't matter anymore.
-I fear for the Gophers. Their head coach is telling anyone who will listen that they're no good, and the players have every reason to believe him, and now they're facing a Nebraska team that will physically whip them. I fear not only for a 60-0 score, I fear for the players' safety. It's a hard game to play when your heart's not in it.
-To me, the Vikings' loss last night was predictable. They never play well in Chicago. Why would a bad Vikings team play well in Chicago when ever the best Vikings teams have struggled in that town and on that surface?
I am surprised it became a blowout so quickly. I keep thinking about all the quality players the Vikings have, but, then, these are the same players who seemed to quit under Brad Childress just a year ago. Maybe their talent level is overrated.
-Gov. Mark Dayton has been very even-handed, smooth and presidential in his handling of the Vikings' stadium debate. Now he's saying that a 1-5 record makes the stadium iniative less popular.
That's a blatant copout, and the kind of statement that makes us hate politicians. Noone, whether stadium proponent or opponent, should base a decision that will affect the state for good or ill for the next 30-plus years on how Donovan McNabb is playing this season.
The Vikings are a state asset. Different people will value their presence in different ways. I'm a sports guy. I value sports and think there are intangible benefits to having a team in state as well as tangible economic benefits. If you don't value sports, I don't expect you to agree with me.
But the decision should not be based on a win-loss record, whether the Vikings were 6-0 or 1-5. The decision should be based on the value of having an NFL franchise in our state. And if Dayton or anyone else wants to argue that we should let the Vikings leave because they're 1-5, I would argue that Minnesota eventually would decide to lure back an NFL franchise, and that acquiring another franchise will be much more expensive and complicated than building a stadium for the current franchise, which, for all of its faults and big losses, has been remarkably entertaining and competitive for decades.
-Since the start of the 2010 season, the Vikings are 7-15. That's the fourth-worst record
Here are the teams that are similar or worse during that span:
St. Louis: 7-14.
-My pick: Rangers in six. Other than Cris Carpenter, I don't think the Cardinals' pitching staff can handle the Rangers' lineup.
-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2 p.m. with Reusse and Mackey, then on tonight, perhaps around 6:40, with Tom Pelissero. I'll also be on with Mike McFeely on KFGO in Fargo at 2:35.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
So the Vikings' season is over. What now?
Wrote my column for the Monday paper on the Vikings' predicament, so I'll leave that subject (and a stunning statistic regarding the Vikings' record) for that edition.
What was troubling on Sunday - and what made this a difficult game to write about, as the fourth successive loss - was that the Vikings keep having the same problems every week.
The defense has forced three turnovers in four games. That's not going to cut it.
Donovan McNabb actually made a couple of nice deep throws, targeting Devin Aromashodu and Percy Harvin down the sideline. Maybe the Vikings coaches have found the right combination of routes/receivers to encourage McNabb to take the occasional shot.
What's strangest about the Vikings' 0-4 start is that they are not horrific statistically. McNabb has thrown just two interceptions. Adrian Peterson is having a representative season. Percy Harvin has been dynamic running and catching. Toby Gerhart has done well in limited duty. The Vikings have five receivers with seven or more catches.
But the Vikings neither make enough big plays, or make enough positive plays at important times.
The Chiefs are not a good team. They were 0-3 and missing safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles. They lacked a competent running game, and quarterback Matt Cassel looks very average when you watch him in person. And yet this collection beat a desperate Vikings team featuring a handful of stars.
I keep coming back to two positions: Quarterback and offensive coordinator. Both were actually a little improved on Sunday, but they still weren't good enough to sustain drives, and it's amazing how many unforced errors this team makes. There were two plays when the running back and quarterback didn't seem to be on the same page.
Also, I think head coach Leslie Frazier should have managed the clock better at the end of the game. If he had called a timeout before the Chiefs punted, that would have saved 45 seconds, and then if the Vikings had gone into hurry-up mode, they could have saved a couple of minutes and had a chance at another drive.
I don't think those decisions cost the Vikings the game, but they cost the Vikings an opportunity.
-The Detroit Lions are 4-0. They remind me of the Tampa Bay Rays - a team that finally found good management and started taking advantage of all of its high draft picks.
The Lions will have to develop more of a running game and become better in pass coverage to become a threat to win a playoff game, but right now they're the best story in the NFL.
-Once I get home from KC, I"ll be covering the Lynx in Game 2, 3 and (if necessary) 4 of the WNBA Finals, including coverage next weekend from Atlanta.
-I highly recommend taking in games at the KC sports complex. Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadium are still state of the art, and the tailgating before a Chiefs game is excellent - friendly people and great barbecue.
-Typical Wolves luck that if they were heading into a season right now, they would be the best story in town. Instead, Rick Adelman and Derrick Williams are locked out indefinitely.
-I'll be on 1500espn with Reusse and Mackey at 2 p.m. every day this week (I believe), and I"ll join my Sunday radio partner, Tom Pelissero, a couple of times this week on his new show, which is 6-8 p.m. weekdays.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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