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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Posts about AFC

Friday morning LPR and picks

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 13, 2012 - 10:29 AM

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:

1. Timberwolves

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.

3. Wild

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.

-NFL Picks:

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.

 

What a strange sports weekend

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 31, 2011 - 11:51 AM

It was a great weekend for sports, if you like sleeping on your couch.

Couldn’t bring myself to watch the Pro Bowl, although the game did leave me with this thought: How’d you like to be an AFC defensive player, relaxing in Hawaii, trying to get through the game without getting hurt, and then you look up and Adrian Peterson or Stephen Jackson are bearing down on you at full-speed?

Is it any wonder so many players bail out on this game? How’d you like to get hurt during what is essentially a Luau?

As for the NHL All-Star game, well....

Sorry, nodded off there.

TwinsFest went well. We did Sunday Sports Talk from the Sports Hall in Blaine. I’m always stunned by how many Twins players show up for the Caravan, TwinsFest and the Diamond Awards, and how gracious they are. Even Delmon Young, who isn’t exactly a big fan of mine, came on the radio with me the other night and was extremely classy.

While I think the Twins’ ability to bring their players in from all over the country to ride across the tundra in vans and buses is pretty unique, I do have to say all four major sports teams in town have become better and better at getting their athletes to do good works. Our guy Denny Green helped usher in a new era with his ``Community Tuesdays’’ in the ‘90s.

-I start thinking about spring when I see the first good golf tournament in the States. The Farmers Insurance tourney at Torrey Pines (where I saw Tiger Woods win the US Open on one leg) proved that, despite what I often say, golf can be interesting and relevant without Tiger.

Bubba Watson could be one to watch. He routinely hits it 350 with a swing that looks worse than mine, he’s goofy, he’s emotional, and he’s fun. Phil Mickelson is must-see TV, and Jhonny Vegas (not making that name up) has a classic swing and a lot of fire. Good stuff.

Sunday, we saw Phil Mickelson lay up on the 18th, then try to win the tournament by holing a 72-yard wedge shot while his caddy tended the flag. Again, not making that up.

Perhaps Phil could have won more majors with a more thoughtful approach over the years. But could he have been any more entertaining? I doubt it.

-I leave for spring training on Feb. 19, so I’m going to try to get my Winter Sports fix in before I head out of town. I’ll be at the Wild on Tuesday and the Wolves on Wednesday.

-Saw the Jayhawks twice this weekend at First Avenue, one night with my son, the next with my daughter.

Is there a better marriage of quintessential Minneapolis band and quintessential Minneapolis venue?

The band sounded wonderful - sharp and understated on Saturday, loose, fun and emotional on Sunday. Here’s hoping they remain a going concern for years to come.-

-I don't think losing at Purdue, for the Gophers basketball team, is any concern. But the way they lost - with Blake Hoffarber being taken out of the offense while trying to play point guard, and Rodney Williams disappearing - is.

-Gophers hockey loses at home to a team from Alaska? As the kids say, ``Really?’’ ``Seriously?’’

-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 p.m. each day this week, then will run a Super Bowl Sunday version of Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon. We'll soon be making a big announcement - and I mean big - about the show. I know you won't be able to sleep now.

I'll also be on 1500espn with Joe Anderson tonight in the 6 o'clock hour.

As Tom Linnemann would say, ``Cheers.''

 

 

 

Frazier's moves

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 20, 2011 - 2:09 PM

 

Random and not-very-deep thoughts on the day in sports:

-I don't know if Bill Musgrave will be a good offensive coordinator, but I like that he's interested in highlighting the Vikings' existing talent, and that he's not married to the West Coast offense. (That's the subject of my Friday column.)

-My NFL picks for Sunday:

AFC: The Steelers beat the Jets because their pass rush will get to Mark Sanchez, and because Ben Roethlisberger is that rare athlete who plays his best at the end of close games.

The Patriots didn't have enough athletes on defense to either stop the Jets running game or hassle Sanchez. The Steelers' defense is good enough to do both.

I believe the keys to modern football are having a quarterback who can make plays down the field and a defense that can disrupt the opposing quarterback. The Jets are talented enough to keep it close, but the Steelers win this one, say, 20-17.

NFC: The Bears are far better than I thought they were, but they're not as good as the Packers, not the way the Packers are currently playing.

Aaron Rodgers is better than Jay Cutler. The Packers' pass defense is better right now than the Bears'. For the Bears to win, Julius Peppers will have to have one of the great postseason games ever by a defensive end. I think Mike McCarthy is smart enough to find a way to limit Peppers' influence, and the Packers' passing offense will roll. Call it Packers 34, Bears 23.

-If hockey players are so tough, how come, when a team is getting beat, it displays the emotional maturity of a bunch of 8-year-olds who didn't get their naps?

The Wild gets up early on Edmonton, and what do the Oilers do? Start cheap-shotting the Wild.

Toughness is taking a hit and accepting that, as a hockey player, you are going to take hits. Toughness is not whacking an opponent in the ankle with your stick because you're losing.

-It wasn't long ago that there were rumors about Todd Richards' job status. I never thought he should be fired, and now I think he has a chance to be coach of the year.

The Wild lacks goal-scorers and has watched its two top goalies suffer injuries, and yet Richards has the team playing its best. His players almost always play hard, they move the puck, they play inteligently, and when they score a few goals, they get credit for how disciplined they are on defense.

-The re-visit my last column: I'm serious when I compare Mike McCarthy favorably to Vince Lombardi. Lombardi was great in his era; my point is that the modern era of football is much harder on coaches. It's much harder to win championships in a 32-game league, it's much more difficult to manage today's players and today's media and today's workload, and that football has become increasingly complex over the years.

I'm sure Lombardi would have found a way to be a good coach in today's environment, but there is no way he would have been adaptable enough to dominate the modern NFL.

-It's interesting to see Leslie Frazier adapt to his new role. I asked him about that, about going from being friends with his fellow assistant coaches to telling people like Darrell Bevell and Brian Murphy - both exceptionally nice people who had plenty of success in their roles - that their services were no longer required.

His answer: ``It's a difficult process, especially in this case where you worked with guys for a number of years like I have. Now you're making decisions that are going to affect peoples' lives. It's a part of our profession. I've been on the other side of it. I know what's required and I know that my purpose in being here is to bring a championship to Minnesota. Anything less than that and we'll be parting ways down the road. That's the way this business is. But it's hard because you have feelings. These are friends. It's a tough deal, but it's the business we've chosen.''

Hard to argue with that. Coaches complaining about getting fired is like sportswriters complaining about deadlines. It's what you signed up for.

-I liked what Musgrave had to say about his offensive philosophies. New special teams coordinator Mike Priefer startled me, though, when he talked about the possibility of kicking to Bears return specialist Devin Hester.

To quote John McEnroe, ``You cannot be serious!''

Priefer said that if a punt unit executes properly, it can handle a good return man. That's what everyone says until they see Hester make all of their players fall down. You cannot kick to Hester. He is the best return man ever, and the rare return man who has demonstrated longevity. Without him, the Bears might have been a .500 team.

-In October, I spoke with a Twins official who said that the team would like to bring back Carl Pavano, perhaps to a two-year deal worth about $17 or $18 million.

Then, as happens in free agency, Pavano solicited other offers, and tried to find a three-year deal, and watched Ted Lilly sign a three-year deal worth $33 million, and must have believed that his market value had risen.

And then he signed with the Twins for two years and $16.5 million.

That's some pretty good negotiating by the Twins, getting the best remaining pitcher on the free agent market for perhaps even a little less than they expected to spend.

And for those saying the Twins need to spend more money to bolster their bullpen or their infield, please remember that the best Twins teams have not traditionally been those that had set rosters when they left for spring training. The best Twins teams have been those that have kept their best players healthy and developed key role players as the season progressed.

Right now the Twins have three end-game relievers - Matt Capps, Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares - and six starters, meaning one of those starters could become the long reliever. Let's say that guy is Kevin Slowey, and let's say that Glen Perkins is at last a left specialist. That would leave the Twins with one bullpen opening and a bunch candidates, like Pat Neshek, Jeff Manship, Alex Burnett, Rob Delany, Anthony Slama and the fast-rising Carlos Gutierrez, as well as the two relievers arriving in the J.J. Hardy deal.

This isn't a crisis. This is business as usual for almost any big-league team.

Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 today, then on the station in Joe Soucheray's stead from 2:40-6 p.m. on Friday.

On the station, Sunday Sports Talk will feature appearances from Kevin Seifert and Tom Pelissero, and I'm working on a Wild or Twins guest as well.

Also, you can follow me on Twitter at Souhanstrib, although I wish you'd really just mind your own business.

Please congratulate me: I didn't mention Brett Favre once.

 

OK, go ahead and fire Wade Phillips

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 17, 2010 - 6:43 PM

If the Colts get to play the Jets in the AFC title game, will they rest their starters?


I take back anything nice I ever said about Wade Phillips. He and his staff were outcoached to a ridiculous extent today in the Dome.

Every Viking player I talked to said they knew what the Cowboys were going to do all day. I thought the Cowboys actually dominated the game physically in the first quarter and got nothing out of it.

They missed two field goals. They asked an iffy kicker to try a 48-yard field goal on fourth-and-inches when they were driving almost at will. They went to the Wildcat formation when Tony Romo was picking apart the Vikings' secondary, short-circuiting another drive. They didn't attempt to make any plays down the field. And Romo caved in under the Vikings' pressure, looking like Old Brett Favre on Favre's worst days.


Watching the games on Sunday, if you're a Vikings fan, should make you appreciate Ryan Longwell. He's not just accurate - he inspires confidence. As great as Gary Anderson was, you would feel a lot more confidence in Longwell lining up for a game-winning field goal. (My apologies to the Longwell family for jinxing him.)


As I wrote the other day, Vikings' defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier should land a head coaching job after this. He held the hottest offense in football to three points.


That's 25 touchdowns and two interceptions for Favre in the Dome this season. Yes, I think he's coming back.


I think the Vikings will be able to score on the Saints. What I'm not sure is whether the Vikings' secondary will be able to hold up when the Vikings' pass rush doesn't have the advantage of crowd noise on its side.

I don't know who I'm going to pick yet, but I see a high-scoring game.


I dominated in the KSTP Sunday Morning Sports Talk picks. I think I'm beating Reusse by five games at this point, with three left. Unless, as Reusse suggested, we decide to pick the Senior Bowl. (I'm going to take the Northeast.)


Sorry I don't use Twitter or blog more during Vikings games at the Dome. The wireless never works well enough to do so.


Upcoming: I'll be on with Reusse on am-1500 at 6:40, then WJON in St. Cloud at 7:14. I'll be writing Vikings all week. My Monday column focuses on Favre, of course. The Vikings' defense was probably the story of the game, but Favre is the story of the season. The entire NFL season.


You can follow me on Twitter at Souhanstrib.

 

Ensconsed at Soldier Field

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 28, 2009 - 5:33 PM

-In a very embarrassing development for Twin Cities reporters, noone in the local media discerned what was really happening in the world of Big Time College Football this week.

Urban Meyer, loyal to the University of Florida, realizes that by stepping down he can allow Florida to make a coup of a hire that will ensure the future greatness of the Gators. He realizes...that Tim Brewster might become available. Better yet, he realizes that Tim Brewster might become available and be willing to bring one of the great Gators of all time, Jedd Fisch, with him to Gainesville.

Then Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, always proactive, recognizes the peril in letting a coach of Brewster's accomplishments leave, and quickly counters Meyer's thrust with a parry, offering Brewster a contract extension. Tragedy averted.

Meyer, disappointed his ploy didn't work, agrees to return as Florida coach after a leave in which he will mourn Brewster's loyalty to the University of Minnesota.

How did everyone miss this?

-I completely disagree with Colts coach Jim Caldwell pulling his starters with an undefeated season within his grasp.

Yes, it is possible that a key player could have gotten hurt if he had kept his starting lineups intact. My arguments for playing for 16-0, though, are these:

-How often does any team get a chance to make history? The Colts could have become the first team ever to go 19-0. Isn't that worth playing for? Aren't your players motivated by that?

A team wins the Super Bowl every year. Rarely does a team have the chance to achieve a truly history feat. Caldwell blew it when he pulled Manning.

-The Giants proved when they won the Super Bowl that playing your best at the end of the season is an ideal way to set yourself up for postseason success, and a handful of Tony Dungy's Colts teams proved that rust does accumulate at the end of the season if you rest your starters and then sit through a bye week in the playoffs.

This is time to peak, not rest.

-How would you like to be a father who took out a second mortgage so you could take your kids to Colts games, and then, with your team on the cusp of history, you're all of a sudden watching a preseason lineup blow the game you paid so much to see?

-I'm writing this before the Bears-Vikings games, and maybe the Vikings will change my mind tonight, but right now I think I'd rather bet on the last four teams in the projected NFL playoff seedings than the top two.

New Orleans is reeling. The Vikings are slumping. The Eagles, Cardinals, Packers and Cowboys are not only playing their best, they also have passing games that would test the Saints and Vikings. Like I said, it's about peaking at the right time.

In the AFC, I'd bet everything I owned on San Diego making it to the Super Bowl - if I bet on sports.

-I continue to say that the Favre-Childress skirmish is not as big a deal as ESPN has made it out to be. That's because World War III wouldn't be as big a deal as ESPN has made this out to be.

Childress told ESPN that he wanted to pull Favre to protect his health. I believe that. I also disagree with the decision, for many of the reasons listed above. The Vikings need to play well in December and they aren't going to get sharper with Tarvaris Jackson trying to save the day. Even if Jackson had played well, that wouldn't have helped the offense prepare for the playoffs.

-This isn't exactly groundbreaking, but I believe the key to tonight's game will be the performance of the Vikings' offensive line. If the boys up front give Adrian Peterson holes and protect Favre, this could be a blowout. If they don't, even Jay Cutler has a chance to beat them.

I'll check in again after the game.

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