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.
Find him on Twitter
Greetings from the press box at TCF Bank Stadium, where Team Strib is preparing for the Vikings-Lions game.
At the beginning of the season, I thought that if everything went right - Matt Cassel played well and stayed healthy, Adrian Peterson performed well in the Vikings' offense, Kyle Rudolph had a breakout season and Mike Zimmer's defense worked well - the Vikings might win two of their first six games.
Despite all of their problems - injuries, suspensions, turmoil - the Vikings have already won two. In a division in which there are no sure things, and with Calvin Johnson's injury short-circuiting what looked like a possibly dominant Lions team, the Vikings have a chance to jump into contention today.
They face the Lions without Johnson and Reggie Bush, at home, in the rare game at TCF Bank that will be considered an advantage for Minnesota. The Lions rarely play well outdoors, and the loss of Johnson and Bush will make them much easier to game-plan against.
Here are the two most prominent aspects of the game I'll be watching today:
-Can Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner help Teddy Bridgewater get comfortable against a surprisingly strong defense? Can he involve Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerick McKinnon, his two most talented players?
-Can Harrison Smith run well on his sore ankle? Can the Vikings stuff running back Joquie Bell, and limit Golden Tate's ability to run after the catch?
If the Vikings can do those two things, I believe they win. And if they win, they'll be in contention for a playoff spot despite all of the terrible things that have happened to them so far.
Vikings owner Mark Wilf said two things that cannot be disputed on Wednesday after the team decided to suspend Adrian Peterson.
He said: ``We made a mistake’’ when deciding earlier this week that Peterson should play this Sunday.
He also said: ``It’s a fluid situation.’’
Yes, it is.
Once Anheuser-Busch, one of the NFL’s foremost sponsors, publicly upbraided the Vikings’ decision, all that beer swept away the Vikings’ previous decision.
That’s why the Vikings decided to suspend Peterson, with pay: Because of the fear of major sponsors running away from the team and the league.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf offered a prepared statement on Wednesday morning at Winter Park but did not take questions.
When Zygi Wilf left the stage, co-owner Mark Wilf, general manager Rick Spielman and vice president Kevin Warren did take questions.
The most repeated phrase of the press conference: ``We believe we got it right.’’
Yes, they got it right after public backlash and the threat of sponsor retreat made playing Peterson untenable.
I don’t blame Spielman for this or for being unable to offer any big-picture questions about Peterson on Monday. He’s a wielder of stopwatches and personnel decisions. He’s not equipped to speak on child abuse by his best player.
Warren is a legal expert. He emphasized that ``It’s very clear that the Minnesota Vikings are the ones who initiated this process.’’
The Wilfs were the people who got this wrong to begin with and who underestimated what the reaction would be to playing an admitted child abuser.
But at least Zygi and Mark eventually, belatedly, showed their faces.
Where is the NFL commissioner?
Roger Goodell is paid $44 million a year by NFL owners to be the corporate face of the NFL.
He rose through the NFL as a public relations expert.
When the NFL needed him the most, he ducked under the NFL’s cloak of invisibility.
He hasn’t merely appeared weak while mismanaging the disciplining of Ray Rice and Peterson.
He has appeared cowardly.
Warren said the Vikings ``initiated’’ the process of suspending Peterson, and that the commissioner then granted the Vikings an exemption to allow them to pay Peterson and keep his rights.
In other words, while cowering in his Manhattan offices and collecting his millions, Goodell needed the Vikings’ obviously overwhelmed braintrust to suggest a solution to the league’s latest nightmare.
Goodell should be embarrassed.
It doesn’t seem like that’s an option for him.
You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Earlier thsi spring, I wrote about Glen Perkins' transformation from problematic probable first-round bust to Everybody's Favorite Twin. Then, yesterday, he signed a contract extension for far less than his market value to remain with the Twins through 2017 or 2018.
What I love most about the story is that Perkins approached the Twins with the bargain. So many athletes are insulted if they aren't paid what their comparable peers are paid. Perkins begged to be underpaid.
I've been around him since the start of his career and these two things are true:
-I've never seen a local athlete so completely transform his personality and career path.
-Perkins is genuine. He lives in Lakeville year round. He wants to play for the Twins his entire career. He recognizes that he's lucky to be playing a game making tens of millions of dollars. He recognizes that if he isn't stupid with the money he and his family will always have more than they need.
Perkins is good with his teammates. He's good with Twins employees. He's good with writers. He kills time in the offseason hanging out with his old coaches at the University of Minnesota, and by dropping by Target Field to hang out with the media relations department.
He's also the latest prominent Twin to defy the beach-body ethic of modern sports. Perkins has a gut. So did Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. Perkins is in pretty good company in all kinds of ways.
I'll be doing Sunday Sports Talk on 1500ESPN from 10-noon from Fort Myers while Scott Korzenowski hosts from the Twin Cities.
I'm also on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 every weekday morning, and on 1500ESPN (1500 AM) in the Twin Cities at about 12:15 every weekday. You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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.
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