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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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.
Roger Goodell got it right. I've been critical of the NFL commissioner in the past because I thought he was playing hall monitor too often, concerning himself too often with minor, off-field transgressions of players. I thought he had put himself in a no-win situation.
Today, though, he deserves all the praise we can muster. After years of hammering players on the subjects of behaviour and violence, he put Sean Payton's money where his mouth is. He suspended Payton for a year, forcing him to forgo $7.5 million in salary, and took two second-round draft picks away from a Super Bowl contender. Goodell hammered Payton and the Saints not only for violating the rules, but for endangering other players and for lying to the NFL when the league investigated.
Had Payton and the Saints 'fessed up, the penalties would have been lesser, and Goodell might have even been able to adopt a ``boys will be boys'' attitude toward the Saints' transgressions. When Payton lied, he put himself in the gunsights, and got what he deserved.
Goodell has rightly campaigned for increased player safety. He couldn't ignore a regime that paid players bonuses to cause injuries to opponents. I admire him having the guts to damage one of the best teams and stories in his league.
Tim Tebow just isn't that good. And everyone who says his force of personality can somehow make him valuable just isn't paying attention.
The entire league had a chance to bid for a former first-round draft pick who won a playoff game as a quarterback just a few months ago, and the best the Broncos could get for him was a fourth-round draft pick. That tells you all you need to know about Tebow's stock. He's just not that good, and a mountain of bibles won't change that.
Royce White is making a mistake. He finally found a good situation, playing for Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, and now he's going to go pro? Does he really think he's going to receive the care and attention, and the ability to develop his game, anywhere other than Ames right now?
He should maximize his time with Hoiberg, and hope he's ready for the next level when his eligibility expires.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn on Thursday night with Tom Peliserro. We'll run Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn from 10-noon on Sunday. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Because Brett Favre is a fickle and mysterious human, you have to wonder how the Saints' bounty on him affected Vikings history and his career.
If the Saints hadn't badly injured his ankle in the 2009 NFC title game...
-Would he have run for the first down after the 12-man-in-the-huddle call? He had room. He instead tried to force the ball to Sidney Rice and was intercepted. Another first down and I would have bet a lot of money that Ryan Longwell would have kicked the game-winning field goal. Well, OK, I would have bet a little money.
-If he had either advanced to the Super Bowl or left Superdome healthy after a close loss, would he have been more eager to play in 2010? It was Favre's passive-aggressive attitude about playing that helped ruin that season. I can't even guess on this one.
What SpyGate and BountyGate have taught us is that the NFL is a dirty, dirty business. Even when defensive players aren't offered rewards, they often enter the game intent on injuring or intimidating offensive players.
I covered Floyd Peters when he was the Vikings' defensive coordinator. Great guy. And he wanted his defensive linemen to knock every quarterback unconcious. Sound harsh? These were the days before concussion awareness, when that was an explicit goal of every defense.
Football hasn't changed. It's become even more violent and profitable. I can't pretend to be offended by the Saints' bounty system because I believe that all defensive players are incentivized to brutalize offensive players. The Saints were just stupid enough to create a traceable system, and stupid enough to get caught.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
So, I picked the Giants to beat the Patriots. I wrote a column explaining my reasoning, and even won a mythical case of mythical beer from my mythical radio co-host, Tom Pelissero.
So, I was right. Right?
I thought the Giants would handle the Patriots a bit more easily than they actually did. My pick was Giants 28, Patriots 17 (or something close to that, it's radio, I don't take notes). I thought the Giants would have an easier time making big plays against the Patriots, but Bill Belichick took away most deep throws, turning the game into a grind.
If I had picked the game wrong, I couldn't comment on the unpredictability of sports. It would sound like a copout. But picking the game correctly reminded me of the reaction when I picked another Giants team to win.
In Super Bowl XXV, I picked the Giants to beat the favored Bills, by one point. I wound up being exactly correct. Back then, with fewer people able to publicly make their picks (no facebook, twitter, or comments sections in newspaper websites - or newspaper websites) making a public pick was a bigger deal.
So when I turned out to be right, I had a lot of people treating me like I could actually pick games successfully whenever I wanted to.
Which is silly. At best, game picks are educated guesses, and they are educated guesses that can be proved wrong by an injury, a tipped pass, a special teams play, a penalty.
If Wes Welker had made that catch last night, the Patriots probably would have won the Super Bowl. If Tom Brady hadn't taken a safety early in the game, the Patriots might have won the Super Bowl. There were dozens of plays determined by centimeters that could have turned the game in New England's favor.
So my advice on picking games is to never to bet money (or beer) you can't afford to lose, and never to believe anyone who tells you they know who's going to win. Especially players and coaches. I can't tell you how many times I've had a player, coach or manager tell me privately that they were certain of victory. Then, after they lost, they didn't bring that up ever again.
I think Kevin Love's two-game suspension is just about right. It's serious enough to correct his behaviour but doesn't ruin the season, or even the month, for him and his team.
The stomping of Luis Scola was ugly and absolutely wrong, but the behaviour I'd like to see Love correct is his whining about calls while the ball heads to the other end of the court. He's an effort player. He should be an effort player all the time.
Congratulations again to Matt Birk for winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, and thanks to Matt for spending so much time last week talking to me, for a newspaper column and on my radio show.
Eli Manning is a classy dude. Did you see him run onto the field to celebrate with teammates? Most Super Bowl winning quarterbacks look to the heavens or wave their finger or isolate themselves.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 each weekday afternoon. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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