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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Win or lose next week, make the playoffs or not, the Vikings are overachivers this year, and the way they manhandled two of the league's best teams lends credence to Leslie Frazier's approach.
The Vikings manhandled the 49ers at home. They manhandled the Texans on the road.
When Christian Ponder doesn't lose the game for them, the Vikings tend to win.
They're 9-6 now, and one victory away from the playoffs, and winning with a style that seems sustainable and a young roster that seems capable of growth.
Ponder and the defense should get much of the credit for the victory. I think the coaching staff should get a game ball for this one. Chad Greenway said the game plan was to choke off the Texans' running game, which woulid hamper their ability to use play action and bootlegs. It worked.
While Andre Johnson caught passes in the middle of the field, he didn't hurt the Vikings' deep.
Offensively, Bill Musgrave designed another game plan that set Ponder up to succeed. He scripted easy throws early, and obviously encouraged Ponder to use his legs when appropriate. Ponder has looked like a much more confident quarterback the last two weeks, especially when on the move.
I know the Pagano-Arians pairing in Indianapolis will receive most of the coach of the year votes, and they have a great and emotional case. I think Leslie Frazier deserves consideration, it not a slew of first-place votes. This team looked hopeless last year, and he has this gorup of players playing with fire and cohesiveness.
As I've noted before this season, Frazier has also helped make this a class organization. I can't remember the last time I covered a winning Vikings team that was this much fun to be around.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 2:05 on Monday with Patrick Reusse, and on WJON in St. Cloud with Jay Caldwell at 7:15 a.m.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I wrote about Robert Griffin III, and the Vikings' view of him, for the Monday paper.
I could have written about Christian Ponder's struggles and Bill Musgraves' red-zone calls.
I've given Musgrave lots of credit this year for finding clever ways to run an offense dependent on Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. I've given him credit for helping Ponder look far improved from last year. But Musgrave has a flaw, and it's red-zone common sense.
Too often, as was the case on Sunday, he takes his best players off the field and goes away from his team's strengths near the goalline. Harvin and Peterson should be on the field, even if only as decoys. And Musgrave shouldn't abandon power running and quick hits to Harvin.
As for Ponder, he threw a lot of pitches that even Jim Joyce wouldn't have called strikes. He didn't blame the swirling wind in the stadium - Ponder isn't the kind of guy who makes excuses - but if it wasn't the wind, he merely had a lousy game.
Losing on the road to Washington is no shame, but it does increase the importance of the upcoming homestand. The Vikings will face Arizona and Tampa Bay in a five-day stretch. Sweep, and the Vikings are 6-2 at the break. Lose both, and they're 4-4 with the more difficult half of the schedule remaining.
One thing I marvel at when watching the Vikings live is how hard Harvin and Peterson run, and how often they're hurting when they go to the sideline. Both left, limping, at times on Sunday, and once Peterson went to the sideline shaking his head, then removing his helmet. I don't know if they can last the entire season taking the pounding they are required to take in this offense.
This team has to pray that Jerome Simpson can shake off his back problems. They need a downfield threat, especially when they fall behind. Simpson is the only player they have other than Harvin who can scare safeties.
-Mike Shanahan earned his 168th NFL victory, including playoffs. That ties him with Bud Grant for 14th on the all-time list.
-Griffin's 13 rushes was a career-high, and it came a week after he suffered a concussion.
-His 138 yards rushing marked a franchise record by a quarterback, breaking his record set in Week 2 of 84.
-The total was the fifth-most in a game by an NFL quarterback.
Haven't done Local Power Rankings for a while, so this week's ranking should look far different from the last.
We now have good teams in town. And promising teams. And interesting teams. Today's LPR, which ranks the local high-profile revenue sports based on current performance and promise:
1. Minnesota Lynx
Going for back-to-back. Sometimes I leave the Lynx out of the rankings because they seem to be in a different category. They play in a small league that is subsidized by NBA owners. But let's give the Lynx credit for making it to the Finals for the second straight year while playing an entertaining style.
2. Minnesota Vikings
I thought this team would win five or six games, and that this season would be about making sure they had the right quarterback and coach in place. I was half right.
This team could still stumble, of course, but it should no longer look at any game on the schedule as unwinnable, and the work Frazier and his staff did in their first full offseason together has yielded a smart, well-run team. Christian Ponder and Bill Musgrave are far better at their jobs today than they were a year ago.
3. Gopher hockey
This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Lucia.
4. Gopher basketball
This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Smith.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
This might be the most entertaining and intriguing team in town, and if Ricky Rubio were healthy, this team might be playing for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. As it is, the roster is vastly improved, Rick Adelman is getting to run his first full training camp, and I expect Kevin Love to find some way to improve on last year's remarkable performance.
6. Gopher football
Losing to Iowa on the road isn't shameful. This team still has a chance to go to a bowl, or at least establish that Jerry Kill has made improvements in his second season.
7. Minnesota Twins
I know, I know, they stink. They stunk in 2011 and they stunk again last year. But you can't accuse them of not making changes. In the last year, they've changed GMs, a handful of coaches, their head athletic trainer, their Triple-A manager and a few behind-the-scenes positions.
In Terry Ryan's first offseason of his second tenure, he hit home runs with Josh Willingham, Jared Burton and Ryan Doumit, and got good value out of Jamey Carroll. He hasn't fixed the biggest problem, which is pitching, but he's earned the benefit of the doubt.
8. Minnesota Wild
The easy thing to say is that the NHL can't afford a lockout, that they're damaging their product.
But is that the way the NHL works? Or will hockey fans always return to the rink?
I think the latter. So while the lockout isn't a good thing for anyone, let's not pretend that the X is going to be empty when the bickering ends.
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey to talk Vikings and Twins moves. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
-Amazing what some people think they read and hear.
On Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn yesterday, I did not say I thought it was a good thing that Terry Ryan was firing people. I said it was proof that the perception that he's overly loyal to his employees is false, that he frequently makes moves, and that he's as loyal to people moving their way up through the organization as he is to the people who hold their current positions.
Derek Lowe, relying almost solely on sinkers down and away, shut out the Twins on Tuesday afternoon.
The Twins' approach was horrible. They were way too willing to give in to Lowe and hit the pitch he wanted them to hit, and in the way he wanted them to hit it.
But the bigger problem occured during the other half-innings, when Jason Marquis continued to look like anything other than a big-league pitcher. His ERA is now 6.68 and the way he's built it - with long pauses between pitches and terrible body language - has been alarming.
I'll have a list of suggestions for the Twins in the Wednesday paper. For now, a few facts and notes:
-Lowe hadn't pitched a complete game since 2008.
-Lowe became the first pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout and not strike out a batter since Scott Erickson did it for the Orioles in 2002.
-The Twins went 3-6 on the homestand and will play their next eight on the road.
-The Twins have been shut out four times this season.
-As a professional baseball player, Brian Dozier, who went 3-for-4 on Tuesday as he turned 25, is 9-for-13 on his birthdays.
-Anthony Swarzak has a 2.63 ERA as a reliever this season, with opponents hitting .167 off of him.
This is way too simplistic, but I still like it: Francisco Liriano should be asked to pitch one inning and only one inning for the rest of his career.
Look what happened on Monday. He was dominant for an inning, sat around thinking, and came out and walked three batters in his second inning. Remove all thought and excuses from his outings. Tell him to pitch one inning and that you expect him back in the dugout within five minutes. He looked great in that first inning on Monday, when all he was doing was thinking about the batter at hand.
I'll be on 1500espn at 6:40 tonight with Tom Pelissero, and all week at 2:05 in the afternoon with Reusse and Mackey. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Rick Adelman has been to the Timberwolves what Tubby Smith should have been for the University of Minnesota. He makes a difference in such obvious ways.
Last night, the Gophers held Wisconsin to 16 first-half points and still found a way to lose, because finding a way to lose is what Tubby's teams have done the last two years.
Last night, the Timberwolves beat a good team on the road, whipping the Clippers in LA with a powerhouse fourth-quarter performance, in part because Adelman has a feel for when to play his players, and because he has tremendously upgraded the Wolves' offensive intelligence and defensive tenaciousness.
Darko is not a good player, yet Adelman has used him to good effect twice against the Clippers, particularly in keeping Blake Griffin from the basket. I know Adelman won't win the coach of the year award, but I'd consider him.
In light of last night's developments, here's my latest high-irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Rankings:
I left the No. 1 slot vacant in my last rankings because I couldn't reward the Wolves when they were playing poorly, and no other local teams had earned this spot. The Wolves, having won five of six, easily reclaim this spot. This is a likeable and surging team.
2. Gopher hockey
Four straight victories: That's impressive, but we all know we're going to judge this team by the way it performs in the postseason.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The last two seasons were abysmal, but I'm seeing signs of hope. The farther I get from last season the more willing I am to give Christian Ponder the benefit of the doubt as a rookie quarterback playing with a limited supporting cast. Add Matt Kalil, then find a starting cornerback and a speed receiver either in free agency or the draft, and this team could quickly make strides, especially if Ponder learns from last season.
4. Minnesota Twins
I don't think this is a good team, but there's no way it can suffer as many injuries as it did last season, and the infield defense is guaranteed to be better.
5. Minnesota Wild
Other than the Nick Leddy trade, I like all of Chuck Fletcher's moves. He's aggressive and forward-thinking and I do believe he's building a winner. I just think the young scorers he's drafted and acquired are going to have to make it to the X before the record will support that assertion.
6. Gopher football
Nothing new here, although I continue to hear from Minnesotans about how much they like Jerry Kill. If that vibe works on recruits, we may have something here.
7. Gopher basketball
And your new last-place team in the LPR: I give you the Minnesota Golden Basketball Gophers.
Tubby Smith loses games he should have won, then blames the administration, or his players, or nightlife in Minneapolis. He did take the blame for one mistake: Moving Blake Hoffarber to the point last year. Otherwise, he's a finger-pointer of the first degree.
He must go. But does the new president and his 98-person advisory committee think he should go?
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 from Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers with Reusse and Mackey. I'll also be on from the stadium for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500espn on Sunday morning.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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