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.
Here's what went wrong during the Twins' 6-2 loss to Toronto on Thursday night:
-The Twins fell to 8-23, worst record in the bigs by 2 1/2 games.
-Starter Jason Marquis threw 39 balls in 87 pitches and lasted just four innings. He was brought to Minnesota to throw strikes and eat innings and did neither.
-Trevor Plouffe, in the first game of a tryout at third base that could determine the course of his career, ran into a tag play at second base and failed to call for a popup that he should have caught, a popup that fell between him and Marquis.
-Centerfielder Denard Span forgot how many outs there were.
-Erik Komatsu failed to pick up the third-base coach and, with the ball in rightfield, stopped at second before getting thrown out at third.
-Alexi Casilla got a forceout at second base and forgot to look home to prevent a runner from scoring.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he saw things that you don't see ``in high school ball.''
This was disgusting. This is a flat, unintelligent team filled with guys who shouldn't be in the big-leagues.
Plouffe is not a winning big-league player. Casilla is not an everyday big-league player. The starting rotation is awful, and the best competitor among them, Carl Pavano, hasn't cracked 90 mph this season, indicating he's probably pitching with an injury or in pain.
The bullpen has actually been pretty good. Brian Dozier looks like a player. Josh Willingham has produced. Joe Mauer has stayed healthy.
Other than that, this season has been a washout.
To think the Twins played this poorly the day two key players were demoted - Francisco Liriano to the bullpen and Danny Valencia to AAA.
It may be time to trade Denard Span. The Nationals are still interested and have a surplus of pitching. Make the deal.
And if the Nationals want Plouffe or Casilla or a part-time outfielder, so much the better.
-I'm hearing the Twins like Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton in the June draft. While the Twins are desperate for pitching, Buxton projects to be a big-league star.
-Wrote about the Vikings' stadium for the Friday paper. My take: Minnesota will have an amazing array of sports venues once ZygiDome gets built.
-Joe Mauer is hitting .270 with one homer. Being healthy doesn't help a whole lot if he can't swing the bat with authority.
-Bring up Ben Revere. If you can write a lineup with Komatsu and Darin Mastroianni, you can find enough playing time for Revere.
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 tomorrow for my daily update with Reusse and Mackey. Tom Pelissero will run the Gardenhire Show and Sunday Sports Talk from 9:30-noon on Sunday.
-If the Twins keep looking for competent outfielders, they could give Matt Carson a look. He's a veteran minor-leaguer who's hitting .295 for Rochester.
-Thank you, Tiger Woods, for making me feel better about my golf swing.
-I really wish the Twins had been lucky enough to land Bryce Harper. This team needs someone who competes like that.
-The Timberwolves, when semi-healthy, were so much more entertaining than most of the teams in the NBA playoffs.
-Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Here's today's highly irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Ranking:
They're not just the best team in town (in comparison to the competition they face), they're the most entertaining and endearing team we've seen in this town since the 2001 Twins.
Like the '01 Twins, the Wolves are not only good, they are unexpectedly good, and young, and charming. (Can I call professional athletes charming?)
Last night was the rare night I covered a Wolves game without being restricted by writing on deadline, so I got to work the lockerroom at my leisure. It's hard not to like Derrick Williams, Kevin Love, Martell Webster, J.J. Barea and Nik Pekovich. You can tell they are enjoying themselves and each other.
Rick Adelman is positioning himself for coach of the year honors. I picked the Wolves to win 28 games this year and they're much better than that. And as the Wolves rise, the Western Conference suddenly looks vulnerable beyond the No. 1 seed. Oklahoma City is excellent. The Spurs are admirable but hardly spry. The Mavericks are suffering a predictable championship letdown. Who else scares you?
The Wolves have learned how to beat Portland, the Clippers and the Rockets. I love the way Memphis plays, but the Wolves are not overmatched against them. And the Lakers are a mess. Mike Brown might be the only defensive coach who can hold down Bryant, Bynum and Gasol.
If the Wolves can make it to the playoffs without burning out Love and Rubio, they could be dangerous. Now that they're in the 8th slot, they need to make a move so they face someone other than Oklahoma City in the first round. Even moving into the 6th seed would mean a matchup with Memphis or one of the LA teams.
The Wolves are the most interesting team in town, and they're growing more interesting by the day.
2. Gopher hockey
Don Lucia is having a good year. He has a team that seems to be peaking at the right time. But he still needs to prove he can prepare a team for the postseason and guide it to big victories, like he did in the old days.
I'll give them this: They're better than they were last year. But they could improve by 10 games and still lose 89 and finish fourth. Which, after spending time at spring training, is about what I expect.
If only they had lost that silly game at Washington, they'd have the No. 2 pick and a couple of wonderful options: Drafting Robert Griffin III or trading him. I've thought for months that Griffin has more upside than Andrew Luck. He's a greater risk, but I was not impressed with Luck's throwing motion this season, and I wouldn't want to spend the first pick in the draft on a so-called game manager.
5. Gopher basketball
The coach should be fired, and yet the Gophs rank ahead of two other teams in town. That's sad.
6. Gopher football
Nothing new here.
7. Minnesota Wild
I like Yeo. I like Fletcher. I think they're both sharp. I think Fletcher has a credible plan for rebuilding with dynamic young scorers. But right now this is the most pathetic team we've seen in this town since...last year's Twins.
Congratulations to Glen Perkins. He's shown great humility and flexibility while rehabilitating his career and his relationships within the Twins' organization since filing a grievance against the team.
Twins signed him to a contract extension today because he's become a dynamic pitcher while proving that's he's grounded, and a good teammate, and that he's invested in the organization. It's remarkable how quicky he's gone from problem child to franchise cornerstone.
Upcoming: Tom Pelissero and I will host a rare double-headed, live-and-in-studio version of Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon Sunday on 1500espn. Lots of talk about all of the above, including Tom's look at NFL free agency and the Vikings' plans, and my thoughts on my trip to spring training and a week with the Wolves.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Rick Adelman has been to the Timberwolves what Tubby Smith should have been for the University of Minnesota. He makes a difference in such obvious ways.
Last night, the Gophers held Wisconsin to 16 first-half points and still found a way to lose, because finding a way to lose is what Tubby's teams have done the last two years.
Last night, the Timberwolves beat a good team on the road, whipping the Clippers in LA with a powerhouse fourth-quarter performance, in part because Adelman has a feel for when to play his players, and because he has tremendously upgraded the Wolves' offensive intelligence and defensive tenaciousness.
Darko is not a good player, yet Adelman has used him to good effect twice against the Clippers, particularly in keeping Blake Griffin from the basket. I know Adelman won't win the coach of the year award, but I'd consider him.
In light of last night's developments, here's my latest high-irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Rankings:
I left the No. 1 slot vacant in my last rankings because I couldn't reward the Wolves when they were playing poorly, and no other local teams had earned this spot. The Wolves, having won five of six, easily reclaim this spot. This is a likeable and surging team.
2. Gopher hockey
Four straight victories: That's impressive, but we all know we're going to judge this team by the way it performs in the postseason.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The last two seasons were abysmal, but I'm seeing signs of hope. The farther I get from last season the more willing I am to give Christian Ponder the benefit of the doubt as a rookie quarterback playing with a limited supporting cast. Add Matt Kalil, then find a starting cornerback and a speed receiver either in free agency or the draft, and this team could quickly make strides, especially if Ponder learns from last season.
4. Minnesota Twins
I don't think this is a good team, but there's no way it can suffer as many injuries as it did last season, and the infield defense is guaranteed to be better.
5. Minnesota Wild
Other than the Nick Leddy trade, I like all of Chuck Fletcher's moves. He's aggressive and forward-thinking and I do believe he's building a winner. I just think the young scorers he's drafted and acquired are going to have to make it to the X before the record will support that assertion.
6. Gopher football
Nothing new here, although I continue to hear from Minnesotans about how much they like Jerry Kill. If that vibe works on recruits, we may have something here.
7. Gopher basketball
And your new last-place team in the LPR: I give you the Minnesota Golden Basketball Gophers.
Tubby Smith loses games he should have won, then blames the administration, or his players, or nightlife in Minneapolis. He did take the blame for one mistake: Moving Blake Hoffarber to the point last year. Otherwise, he's a finger-pointer of the first degree.
He must go. But does the new president and his 98-person advisory committee think he should go?
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 from Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers with Reusse and Mackey. I'll also be on from the stadium for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500espn on Sunday morning.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Catching up with the sports world after some time away....
1.Just when you thought he might be out of our lives for at least six months, Tim Tebow beats the Steelers with an impressive and dramatic performance, leading to our highly oversimplified national debate. It seems half the country thinks Tebow is an inspirational winner who can't be measured by conventional passing statistics, and half the country thinks he's overrated and lucky.
We tend to do this in sports: Reduce everything to a for-or-against debate that makes for an easy-to-stage TV argument. Here's my not-so-simple view of Tebow:
He's never going to be the kind of precision passer that every NFL GM wants. If you're choosing between the next Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers and Tebow, you'd take the next Brees or Rodgers. But not every team is in a position to make that choice. If you're choosing between Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn and Tebow, why not choose the compelling and entertaining guy who somehow wins games, even if he sometimes wins only because he stays out of the way of the players on his team who actually make a big difference every week?
Also: While I wouldn't want to build a franchise around Tebow, I'd rather have him than the starting quarterbacks for the 10 worst teams in the NFL, That might be faint praise, but it should be part of the debate. You don't have to compare Tebow only with the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL any more than you should be comparing Christian Ponder with the great quarterbacks at this point in his career.
Also: Tebow has a chance to get better. This is where character might matter. He's a gifted athlete with a strong work ethic and a tremendous drive to succeed. Those factors won't enable him to ever complete 70 percent of his passes, but they could enable him to become slightly more accurate as his career progresses.
Finally, Tebow is, beyond a doubt, one of the most entertaining players in a league in which there really aren't all that many interesting people. I don't think he should use his place in the NFL to push his religion on people, but I do find the way he plays and the way people react to him fascinating. So I hope the guy keeps his job as a starter for years to come. Would you really rather watch Brady Quinn? Or Andy Dalton? Or Alex Smith?
The same argument can be made for Joe Webb. If Ponder becomes an efficient passer, then you'd obviously rather have Ponder starting than Webb. But if Ponder fails, and becomes our version of Orton or Quinn, then you can make an argument for a great athlete playing the position and trying to win in an unconventional manner.
2. If his name were anything other than Tubby Smith, would anyone think this man deserved to keep his job? He's lost 14 of his last 15 Big Ten games. He's shown an inability to adapt to injuries and help players get better while they're under his watch. Yesterday, against Purdue, even his vaunted defensive system stunk, allowing Purdue to shoot open three-pointers whenever they wanted.
And can we please re-visit all of the cheerleading from the local media that occured when the Gophers were beating junior-high teams from Winnipeg during their embarrassing non-conference schedule? Please remind me, people, why you were all so impressed? Won't you please admit that you just have no standards?
3. I know a lot of Vikings fans are questioning the Vikings' promotion of Rick Spielman to GM. After all, he's helped shape a roster that has flopped the last two years.
My view: Spielman deserves a shot at this. No one works harder or is more organized. Yes, he's missed on a number of draft picks, but most personnel gurus outside of Green Bay do. I'll say the same thing about Spielman that I said when the Twins made Terry Ryan their GM in 1994: I don't know if he'll succeed, but he's earned this opportunity. While most fans daydream about the Wilfs hiring some personnel magician away from another team, in any organization I like to see loyalty and hard work rewarded.
Of course, Spielman will probably be judged by Christian Ponder's career. If Ponder becomes a good NFL starter, then Spielman will have succeeded on his most difficult and important decision, and will have the opportunity to build around Ponder. If Spielman missed on Ponder, he'll probably be out of a job in two years.
4. I've had a lot of different views of Ricky Rubio over the years. I covered him at the Beijing Olympics, and he was very impressive while playing against the US in the gold medal game. I watched him play in Europe, and thought he had regressed. I watched him in preseason practices, and was newly impressed by his poise and ballhandling.
Just a few weeks into his first NBA season, I'm much more impressed by Rubio than I thought I would be. He's smoother and more efficient than I expected, and he doesn't throw some of the flashy, silly passes that I saw in Europe.
Rubio, Kevin Love and Derrick Williams could be the basis of a playoff team.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn with Reusse and Mackey at 2:05 p.m. today and every weekday. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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