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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All season you hear the mantra, all around the NFL: Gotta get into the playoffs. Gotta make it to the playoffs. Gotta get into the tournament.
Well, the tournament is here, and it's...kinda blah.
Panthers-Cardinals, with Ryan Lindley playing quarterback for a faltering team, facing a team with a losing record?
Ravens-Steelers, with the Ravens featuring 18 players on injured reserve and the Steelers losing their star back, Le'Veon Bell?
The Bengals, who never win in the postseason, against the Colts? At least you get to watch Andrew Luck.
The Lions and the Cowboys?
Ok, that last one has my interest.
Like it or not, the Cowboys are always fascinating, and this year they've been good and fascinating. DeMarco Murray will face a stout run defense led by a guy who should be suspended, Ndomukong Suh, and who is, in the twisted thinking of the elite athlete, somehow motivated that the NFL is out to get him, even though his proposed suspension was overturned.
One of two talented and productive quarterbacks, Tony Romo or Matthew Stafford, will be forced to win a playoff game.
My silly picks are as follows:
The Panthers are as hot as a losing team can be. Cam Newton is playing well, and the Panthers have rediscovered their running game just in time to face a Cardinals defense that has been vulnerable to the run the last five weeks. Ryan Lindley won't be able to keep the Cardinals in the game. I like Carolina, and maybe by a lot.
Losing Le'Veon Bell means the Steelers may have to rely on Ben Tate, who was cut by two NFL teams thsi year. That completely changes their offense. The Ravens are battered but their offense is much improved because of Justin Forsett and Steve Smith. The Ravens win this one.
The Bengals are not going to win their first postseason game under Marvin Lewis without A.J. Green, and it doesn't look like Green will play. The Colts will pick off Andy Dalton at least twice and Luck will have a big game.
Lions-Cowboys is the toughest to pick and should be the most interesting game. The Cowboys' running game has slowed in the last third of the season and the Lions' front is impressive. But I like Tony Romo to continue his brilliant play, and as much as the Lions have improved I don't trust them to make big plays in the fourth quarter against a good team. Cowboys, with Dez Bryant making a winning play in the fourth.
Just watched Houston complete a remarkable comeback against Pitt. Houston went for the two-pointer for the win with less than a minute left, and got it, to win 35-34. I would have supported the call even if they had missed. Why not give your players a chance to gain two yards and win the game instead of hoping that circumstances fall your way in overtime? I love the call.
At 3 p.m. today, Strib hockey writer Michael Russo and I will run our next podcast. You can listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
Usually, when an NFL head coach speaks at a postgame press conference, the only visible emotion is anger.
Sunday afternoon, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer looked like he almost cried.
Asked about cornerback Xavier Rhodes' improvement this season, Zimmer said, ``Xavier came up to me and said, `Thanks for everything,' helping him get good.''
Then Zimmer paused, trying to collect himself as his eyes welled. He regained his composure and went on, saying, ``He's got a chance to be a really good football player....''
It's hardly been a flawless season for Zimmer. He's made a few mistakes, and acknowledged them. Overall, though, he's made the best of a difficult situation.
His star player was arrested after beating a child and only played in one game.
His starting quarterback went down in Week 3, forcing him to play a rookie.
His best pass-receiving threat, Kyle Rudolph, had his season ruined by an injury.
Zimmer won seven games. More important, he presented himself as a passionate teacher who can connect with players, as a gruff old-school defensive coordinator willing to take advantage of modern philosophies.
At midseason, I sat down for a talk with Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who said he had the wrong perception of Zimmer. Greenway said he thought he'd see the coarse-talking guy whose profanities were highlighted on Hard Knocks. Instead, Zimmer proved to be human, and flexible ,and open to new ideas.
This franchise and roster have a long way to go to becoming, as Zimmer puts it ,``a championship team.'' But as the season ends, it's hard not to like the coach and his rookie quarterback.
My podcasts are up at SouhanUnfiltered.com. The last three were with Twins great Roy Smalley, Strib NFL writer Mark Craig and Strib hockey writer Michael Russo. Thanks for listening.
If the United States does indeed open the gateway to Cuba, the sports world could change dramatically and for the better.
Cuba produces tremendous baseball players, and would become a new, open, hotbed for talent.
Cuba possesses more than 11 million people, almost all of them baseball fans. If baseball can expand to Canada, surely it can expand to Cuba ,which would probably offer more support to a big-league baseball team than Miami does.
The NFL is eyeing London as a franchise destination, hoping to carve a niche in a market dominated by soccer and even cricket. Cuba offers 11 million people who don't have a lot of other entertainment options.
Cuba could work for basketball. Hockey wouldn't seem to be a likely export, but if you can put a team in South Florida, you might be silly enough to put one in Latin America.
I've traveled extensively in Latin America and the Caribbean. I've always been told that if Cuba were open and economically vibrant noone would ever bother going to Hawaii. Cuba is supposed to be that beautiful.
I hope that in my lifetime, we see American professional sports, even if only baseball, taking residence in Cuba.
Today I asked Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater what quarterback he wanted to emulate when he was young. ``Brett Favre,'' he said.
He loved Favre's toughness and production.
Now we just need to get Bridgewater to give Favrian press conferences.
I'll be at The Local in Minneapolis tonight at 5 for a podcast with Twins great Roy Smalley, who is a great storyteller. Come by, or listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
DETROIT -- Every losing sports team claims some sort of progress. Sometimes, it's a marketing ruse. Sometimes, it's self-preservation. Sometimes, it's even true.
It seems to be true for the 2014 Vikings. They aren't good. They haven't beaten a good team yet. But they have become more competitive in their division as the season has progressed, even as their roster has been shredded by injuries.
Here are the scores of their games, all losses, in the division:
They were outclassed at Green Bay when Christian Ponder was forced to start. They were manhandled in their first game against Detroit. They played their worst game of the season in the 21-13 loss at Chicago.
Since then, they matched up well with the Packers at TCF Bank Stadium, and came close to beating the division-leading Lions on Sunday.
In the last game of the regular season, a Vikings team that has played hard and improved will face a Bears team that has embarrassed itself in many ways this season. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings win that game going away.
My podcasts can be found at SouhanUnfiltered.com. Last one was with Jarius Wright on growing up in Arkansas and life in the NFL. Tonight you can listen live at the site, or anytime later, as I speak with old friend Tom Linnemann, the most interesting man in the world, at 6:15.
I've been rather bullish on the Vikings, considering they're 6-7 and out of the playoff race. Or maybe because they're 6-7 despite all that has befallen them as a franchise in the last few months.
That doesn't mean I think they'll win on Sunday at Detroit. Quite the contrary. I think this is the worst possible matchup for this team.
The Vikings' flimsy offensive line? Up against the Lions' fearsome front, playing at home, with crowd noise. Advantage: Lions.
The Vikings' rookie quarterback? See above.
The Vikings' running game? Using its third and fourth and fifth options of the season against the best run-stopping unit in the NFL, by far.
The Vikings' rush defense? It's been less than stellar lately, and now has to face a surging Joique Bell and a finally-healthy Reggie Bush.
The Vikings' secondary? Xavier Rhodes has been exceptional of late, but he'll either have to cover Calvin Johnson on every down (unlikely) or he'll be leaving Josh Robinson to cover Johnson. Robinson has gotten torched by bigger receivers (the Bears') and by those with excellent body control and ball awareness (Percy Harvin.) Johnson is a combination of both.
The Vikings' special teams? This might be an area of strength for Minnesota. You've got to like Blair Walsh kicking in a Dome.
Coaching? The Vikings have usually had the advantage in this category throughout the history of this rivalry. And they may this year. I'd take Mike Zimmer over Jim Caldwell as a strategist. But Caldwell has done what a Lions head coach needs to do - provide solid leadership to a remarkably talented squad. Caldwell not being one of his predecessors is good enough to get the Lions into the playoffs.
I like a lot of what's happening at Winter Park these days. I think Zimmer is positioning this team to succeed in the future.
The Lions, though, may provide a reminder of just how far the Vikings still have to travel to be a playoff team.
My don't-bet-on-it-even-with-your-brother's-money pick: Lions 31, Vikings 17.
New podcasts up at SouhanUnfiltered.com: Jarius Wright on his childhood, his biggest play and vomiting; Jayhawks frontman and great all-around artist Gary Louris on music, sports and life on the road; Strib hockey writer Michael Russo; Chad Greenway; Glen Perkins; Craig Leipold; Strib football writer Mark Craig; ESPN.com writer Kevin Seifert; Mike Grant; Paul Molitor; Ross Bernstein.
I'm in Detroit this weekend to write Vikings-Lions.
Thanks for reading.
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