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'll be running Garage Logic and co-hosting Sports Talk today on 1500ESPN, 1-4. Hoping to have two friends from the great band The Jayhawks, Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, in studio at some point.
On to football...
My NFL predictions: This year, I’m going to be right on at least 3 percent of them, I promise…
MVP: Drew Brees.
Aaron Rodgers might be set up for a great season, but he’ll have to share credit with Eddie Lacy and Jordy Nelson, two exceptional players. Peyton Manning will face a tougher schedule and probably not be in position to chase any records, so he could play brilliantly without matching his 2013 statistics.
Brees is set up to be just as productive as either, and he won’t have to share as much credit. He relies on only one exceptional skill-position player, and that player is a tight end – Jimmy Graham, who won’t produce as much as a great wide receiver. Brees should have an exceptional season and receive most of the credit for it.
Offensive player of the year (other than Brees): LeSean McCoy. It might be trendier to suggest Adrian Peterson in a new offense, or Eddie Lacy as an emerging star, but look at it this way: Last year McCoy led the NFL in rushing even though the Eagles changed quarterbacks while learning a new offense. Now Chip Kelly’s system is fully in place, there is no question who the quarterback will be, and Kelly will be able to spread out defenses even more with Darren Sproles as his wild card. Only an injury will keep McCoy from being the NFL’s most productive back this season.
Defensive player of the year: J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the game, and the arrival of Jadaveon Clowney will make him more difficult to game-plan for.
Coach of the year: Chip Kelly. A great, rising coach entering his second year in a weak division. It’s all set up for him.
AFC division winners: New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver.
AFC wild cards: Cincinnati, San Diego.
NFC division winners: Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle.
NFC wild cards: San Francisco, Detroit.
AFC champ: New England
NFC champ: Seattle
Super Bowl champ: Seattle
I wish I could pick someone else. But I can’t. Seattle won the Super Bowl in a route while facing a record-setting offense last year, and I think Seattle will be better this year. Better at quarterback, better at receiver, and perhaps even deeper on the defensive line, with Kevin Williams joining a fierce unit. San Francisco looks vulnerable, and the 49ers are the only team that seems capable of standing up to Seattle physically. Russell Wilson is primed to have a great season.
Vikings record: 8-8. I think this will be a well-coached team that will have people excited by the end of the season, but this team will also face a brutal early-season schedule that could end its playoff hopes early.
Been at Winter Park the last two days, and head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have both taken shots at Pro Football Focus' preseason individual grades.
Their message: Someone watching film who doesn't know what the players' assignments were on every play can't know how well they performed.
My takes on this:
-These guys have every right to tell us when we are, or PFF is, wrong. We also have the the right to be dubious about NFL coaches offering accurate assessments of their own players, because they so rarely do.
-Our job in the media is to use stats, whether old-school versions or advanced metrics, to illuminate subjects. But it's also our job to add the context that can make a statistic worthwhile. You have to use a combination of data, sourcing and first-person observation to complete the picture.
This is why good beat writers are so valuable. They're capable of filling in the blanks when a player has an apparently poor performance. Maybe the guy next to him missed an assignment. Maybe he's playing with a bad foot. And, yes, maybe he just played lousy.
I think Pro Football Focus does a masterful job of evaluating film, but I wouldn't take their grades as gospel, just as I wouldn't take anything an NFL coach says in public as gospel.
When I was covering the Vikings in 1999, I watched the tape of a game and downgraded the offensive line. I showed up at the facility the next day ,and Mike Tice, then the offensive line coach, called me in and showed me where I was wrong. Since then, I've been very cautious about grading out offensive line play. It really is a mystery to just about everyone who isn't in the team's offensive meeting rooms.
Over time, you get a good sense of how well a player performs - it didn't require much studying to judge Randall McDaniel as one of the best football players who ever lived - but picking apart one play or one game is risky.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at an unusual time tomorrow - 11:15 a.m.
We'll run Sunday Sports Talk from the fair, Sunday 10-noon.
Spoke with Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner yesterday after practice. While he didn’t intentionally shed light on the Vikings’ quarterback situation, he did confirm what I have heard from others, and what has become obvious by the Vikings’ playing time allocation: That Matt Cassel will start in Week 1 and Teddy Bridgewater will brought along slowly, if Cassel plays well and remains healthy.
My question: What’s Turner’s philosophy in regards to developing a talented young quarterback?
``I personally think it’s all about the guy,’’ Turner said. ``Some guys are more comfortable when they can go play. And some guys, it’s more comfortable for them to see it happen. I don’t know that you can answer that question. It depends on the guy.
``I know Teddy’s getting himself ready to play, and he’s got to be ready to play, because this league is tough on quarterbacks. You can be in there real fast.’’
I don’t think Turner was trying to tip his hand. I think he was just acknowledging reality – that Bridgewater needs to be ready to play with the first team because he’s one injury away from playing with the first team.
I"ll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 with the boys. We're also going to hold a football roundtable at noon on Saturday at the fair, and I'll be doing SundaySportsTalk, 10-noon, at the fair on Sunday with Korzo and Hunter.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. Direct all hate there. Just, please, lay off the hair. I'm very sensitive.
MANKATO, Minn. -- Got a solution to the Vikings' problem with birds hitting the new stadium and dying.
Let's think about this. Birds flying into building. Legendary coach who loves shooting birds. That's it!
Put Bud Grant out in front of the stadium. The man is known to be a little miserly. All you have to do is give him $50 bucks, a tank of gas, and free shotgun shells.
Birds fly toward stadium. Bud lets loose. Dinner for everyone.
What could go wrong?
Why would the Vikings sign tight end Kyle Rudolph to a $36.5 million contract?
Because they have big plans.
After spending three days with the team in Mankato, what struck me is that this team, after a couple decades of turmoil, has a chance to be somewhat stable.
Denny Green won a lot of games, but the organization was never calm when he was around.
Mike Tice was turmoil personified. Brad Childress was constantly battling with quarterbacks or bosses. Leslie Frazier was a calm and wonderful human, but he wasn't hired by the general manager who runs the team, so he was always in limbo.
Now you have a head coach hired by the general manager he works for who cares about nothing other than winning games. You have a coaching staff that Vikings employees say is already making a difference. And one of those coaches, offensive coordinator Norv Turner, is capable of building one of the best offenses in the NFL out of the parts he's assembling.
The worst contracts in sports are those that reward what a player has already done. This one projects what the Vikings expect Rudolph to do.
Rudolph has been a very good player. He has not been a star. In Turner's offense, he could become one.
Jay Novacek played five seasons in the NFL before playing in Turner's offense in Dallas. His best season pre-Norv: 38 catches, 569 yards, four touchdowns.
His first season with Norv and a budding offense: 59-657-4. His best season with Norv: 68-630-6.
Rudolph is bigger and stronger than Novacek, and about as fast. Turner spoke this weekend about teaching Rudolph to run more fluid routes, which should enable him to get deep more often, and to catch the ball in stride and run with it more often.
Assuming decent quarterback play, Rudolph could have a breakout season this year, or next.
Wrote about receiver Erik Lora for today's editions. Other interesting or emerging players to watch: Cornerback Jabari Price, safety Robert Blanton, guard David Yankey.
Key player to watch? Maybe Sharrif Floyd. He's lighter this year. I don't know if that's a sign that he's hungry and in better shape, or a desperate move for a player who didn't make an impact as a rookie.
I'll be on 1500ESPN-AM today and every weekday at 12:15 with Mackey&Judd. I'm on WJON at 7:05 a.m. with Jay Caldwell in St. Cloud every morning. My Sunday show, Sunday Sports Talk, airs 10-noon on 1500ESPN. Sincere thanks for reading and listening.
First impressions from the Vikings' first day of practices:
-Mike Zimmer is a no-nonsense guy. Get the sense he's going to be both very honest and very controlled about the information he gives out. I don't think he's going to try to mislead anybody, but he may not be all that forthcoming.
-Harrison Smith's flexibility might be a key to this defense. He moved around a lot during practice, sometimes lining up as a quasi-linebacker. Given Zimmer's varied defensive schemes, Smith could end up playing as a third safety or fourth linebacker in certain situations.
-Norv Turner has talked about throwing the ball more to Adrian Peterson. For what it's worth, Peterson had a lousy day trying to catch the ball. I'm guessing that at this stage of his career he's not too keen on training camp practices.
-Zimmer said defensive tackle Linval Joseph can bench-press 500 pounds.
-Wasn't as much cussing on the field as I expected, given Zimmer's outbursts during Hard Knocks, and Turner's verbosity during OTAs. Or maybe they were cussing more quietly.
-Adam Thielen of Minnesota State-Mankato made a diving catch and may be elected mayor soon.
-Teddy Bridgewater is a very pleasant and composed young man.
-Christian Ponder, in non-contact scrimmage, repeatedly pulled down the ball and ran. Why? Why?
-Matt Cassel did not look good throwing the ball deep on Day 1.
-The Vikings wisely had everyone involved in the Kluwe investigation answer questions about it on Thursday. That meant nobody was asking about it on Friday. That is the best way to handle a PR nightmare - turn it into a one-day story, make everyone available on the same day, and give yourself, as an organization, the right to say the rest of camp: ``We've already answered those questions.''
It also didn't hurt the Vikings that their day of access on the topic occured while Ray Rice was receiving just a two-game suspension for hitting his wife, and that Chuck Knoblauch's induction to the Twins' Hall of Fame was cancelled because of his arrest on domestic assault charges.
-Of course, the Star Tribune print edition, Startribune.com, Access Vikings The Blog, and Master Tesfasion's videos will cover these subjects more voluminously.
I'll be writing columns from Mankato for the next three days. First topic: How did this team manage to win just five games last year, and what does that mean for this year?
I'll be on 1500ESPN-AM 10-noon on Sunday for SundaySportsTalk with Korzo and Hunter.
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