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 have two Vikings predictions that may seem contradictory:
-They win on Sunday, easily, over a bad Jaguars team.
-The finish the season 5-11.
The former may be too optimistic. The latter may be too pessimistic.
I made the former pick because Christian Ponder should be better than Blaine Gabbert, the Vikings are less reliant on Adrian Peterson than the Jags are on Maurice Jones-Drew, and the Vikings are playing at home. Call it 23-16, Vikings.
I made the latter pick because I'm not impressed with the Vikings' receivers, offensive line or linebackers, and Ponder still has much to prove. Yes, the schedule is easy early on, but don't you think the Colts look at their game with the Vikings the same way the Vikings do - as an easy matchup?
I see this as a year of marginal improvement at quarterback and in the secondary. I hear good things about Josh Robinson, and the Vikings' cornerbacks should be markedly improved, which should make a big difference.
It's hard for me to imagine this team surviving the second half of the schedule, though, even if everything goes right.
The Gophers are asking people to pay money to see a game against New Hampshire?
I'm actually not offended, as some of my colleagues are, about the price of beer at TCF Bank Stadium. Yes, $7.25 is a lot to pay for a beer, but it's really exorbitant only if you want to get drunk. If you just want to drink one beer while watching the game, $7.25 won't hurt you. And I've seen way too many drunk football fans to want to see that price lowered. If you want to get sloppy drunk at a football game, you should pay in more ways than one.
My favorite games of the weekend:
Peyton Manning with his new team facing an old nemesis, Dick LeBeau's Steelers defense. I think Peyton wins this one.
Packers vs. 49ers at Lambeau in the Game That Should Have Been. Packers don't drop 18 passes this time and win a close one.
Raiders-Chargers. Just because I never know what to expect from either team or franchise, and the Black Hole should be very loud on a Monday night.
Cam Newton and the Panthers vs. Tampa Bay and Greg Schiano. Newton gets to show off after his first full NFL offseason.
Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from the 1500ESPN studio before the Vikings' game. Longtime NFL writer Gary Myers, of the New York Daily News, will join us, as will Tom Linnemann for NFL picks.
I have some bad news for everyone who thinks that employing real NFL refs is important, and who thinks that NFL is being short-sighted in using replacement refs:
The scabs weren't too bad last night.
I hate to say it. I really hate to say it. After covering the replacement baseball players in the spring of 1995, I never wanted to see replacement anythings in sports again. I expected the Cowboys-Giants game to become a fiasco filled with bad calls and awkward communication.
Instead, the replacement refs did fine.
I fear what that means.
Does it mean the NFL owners will feel emboldened to keep using replacements, and continue their hard-line negotiations with the real refs?
Before last night, I thought the refs would be back for Week 2 games. Now, I believe only a series of catastrophes on the field this weekend will force the NFL's hand. And if last night was any indication, the replaceement refs won't be quite that bad.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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.
Let me tell you a secret: Most sportswriters hate the NFL draft.
It requires months of work, much of which proves meaningless to the local team. It's often over-hyped and over-discussed and becomes fertile ground for bad rumors, like the funny one going around this afternoon about the Vikings really wanting Morris Claiborne or, funnier, Justin Blackmon.
Thursday was different. My Friday column explores Rick Spielman's first draft as Vikings' GM, but I'll get in a few quick hitters here:
-This was actually an interesting draft both nationally and locally.
Nationally, the NFL had two tremendously talented yet dissimilar quarterbacks go with the first two picks. Locally, we had the Vikings fooling a lot of national media people about their intentions, then trading down to get the fourth pick, and later trading back into the bottom of the first round, ending up with Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith, two players they had targeted all along.
-While many people have rightly obsessed about cornerback, I love the fact the Vikings took the best safety available. In the Tampa-2 scheme, you need a safety who can drop into the box and make tackles, and prevent big pass plays. And while you can game-plan around a good cornerback, you can't game-plan around a safety.
Think of the impact safeties on good teams in recent years: Troy Polamalu, Bob Sanders, LaRon Landry. They intercept passes and blow up running plays and generally make more impact plays per game than even great cornerbacks.
-I love both picks. Kalil, to me, was the safest pick in the draft, given the number of sure-thing quarterbacks who flame out. Before the draft started, I thought Smith would be ideal for the Vikings but didn't think he'd fall to them, or that they'd be able to trade up high enough to take him.
-Kalil sounded genuinely excited about playing for the Vikings. With Kalil, Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin, John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, the Vikings have an intriguing core of young offensive players. Their success will be dependent on Ponder's development, but he'll have a better chance to develop with a bunch of talented young players around him.
-I think Spielman had a very good day, and he left little doubt that he'll target receiver and cornerback during the rest of the draft. He admitted that the draft room worked much better with one person in charge. ``It went a lot smoother,'' he said.
Hard to disagree.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Friday to discuss the draft. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Checking in from the Vikings' press room, where it has been proven that myself, Tom Pelissero and Kevin Seifert don't have a lot going on in our lives.
We're here, waiting on what has become the most interesting pick in the draft: The Vikings' selection at No. 3.
Vikings' general manager Rick Spielman has succeeding in adding mystery to the pick. My early view on what could be an unpredictable night is this:
The Vikings really can't go wrong.
If they take USC left tackle Matt Kalil, they'll be getting a good player at a position of need.
The same could be said if they drafted LSU corner Morris Claiborne.
Or Oklahoma state receiver Justin Blackmon.
I wrote the other day that Kalil makes the most sense for the Vikings. The immediate future of the franchise depends on protecting and developing Christian Ponder, and Kalil can immediately help with that.
There has been a late wave of media support for Claiborne at No. 3, based on the premise that stopping excellent passing attacks in the NFC North is the Vikings' biggest area of need. That's hard to dispute. But the Vikings should get Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook back on the field next year, and the Vikings' defensive system doesn't place a premium on elite one-on-one coverage.
I can't really argue against Claiborne. I just slightly favor Kalil.
Blackmon is a fine prospect, but I would rank him as the third-best prospect of the three and the riskiest.
The Vikings will improve themselves with either Kalil or Claiborne. They would also improve themselves with the other possibility: A trade for the right price.
I have no idea which rumors to believe and which to dismiss, so I"m not going to break them down here. If I'm the Vikings, I trade down only if I think I can land one of the players they truly value - guessing Kalil, Claiborne and Blackmon - as well as additional picks.
All three scenarios - taking Kalil, taking Claiborne or trading down - could play out very well for the Vikings.
I'll be covering the draft tonight along with Dan Wiederer, Mark Craig and Chip Scoggins.
You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Wrote about Wolves' GM David Kahn the other day, and those who support him kept pointing out that the team improved this year and could have made the playoffs with better health.
You're missing the point. The point is that he's been the GM for three years and has brought in one quality starter, Ricky Rubio, who fell to him. He has yet to make one basketball decision that demonstrated professional insight. His best moves - drafting Rubio, hiring Rick Adelman and drafting Derrick Williams - were all easy, obvious, decisions.
We've got to have higher standards in this town. I had people arguing that he's fine because he isnt' that important in the organization because Adelman can make the personnel decisions.
Do you really want an older coach making personnel decisions? Isn't that how teams wind up mortgaging their future, by trying too desperately to win right away? Don't you want Adelman to at least have a smart counter-balance in the front office?
Buckle up, people. There will be a showdown in Target Field this weekend.
The Royals beat Cleveland on Thursday and head to Minnesota with a record of 5-14, same as your Twins.
The tension will be...awkward?
I'm saying it here and now, just as I've been saying for months: I think Andrew Luck will be a good NFL quarterback, and I think Robert Griffin III will be better than Luck.
I'll check back later tonight when we have some news.
I'll be on KFGO in Fargo with Mike McFeely at 4:35 to talk the draft and Twins. I'll be on 1500espn at my usual time, 2:05, on Friday, and Pelissero and I will run a studio version of Sunday Sports Talk on Sunday from 10-noon, following the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30.
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