We’re nearing Christmas and somehow fans in the Twin Cities and St. Louis are still talking more about games than they are about the draft. This is new. And pretty refreshing as the Vikings and Rams prepare to meet Sunday.
1. It's bowl season. So why not label Sunday's game "The Near-the-Arch Turnaround Bowl" (presented by Bud Ice).
Last year at this time, the Vikings and Rams had a combined 4-22 record. The Vikings were preparing for a Week 15 game with New Orleans in which they were mauled 42-20. The Rams were in the middle of a seven-game losing skid.
A year later, the teams are a combined 13-12-1 and playing a December contest with plenty of intrigue.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier remembers exactly when he sensed a 2012 turnaround coming: April 23, the date players were allowed to return to Winter Park for offseason conditioning. With "off the charts" attendance, Frazier saw an eager and united squad willing to invest in rebuilding process.
In St. Louis, Jeff Fisher had a different chore when he took the reins in January. The Rams not only needed direction, they needed a serious infusion of talent.
As Fisher noted Wednesday, "I've been told 24 players on last year's opening-day roster are out of the NFL."
Another astounding stat: In the five seasons prior to Fisher's arrival, the Rams went 15-65.
With Fisher holding a big say in personnel decisions, St. Louis quickly added key parts through free agency, most notably cornerback Cortland Finnegan and center Jeff Wells. Then the Rams secured a promising 10-player draft class, including defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, receiver Chris Givens and kicker Greg Zuerlein, all of whom have been significant contributors.
Fisher told his players to ignore the recent history of losing and to enjoy the hard work ahead. Quickly, a hungry squad jelled.
"We're very fond of this team right now," Fisher said. "Just because of the way it's responded. Guys understand it's OK to come to work and have fun. And when it's time to put the fun aside and get to work, we do that. So [this team] also has a slight air of confidence."
2. St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford might be ready to turn a corner.
With his team down 12-7 late Sunday in Buffalo, Bradford led a 14-play, 84-yard game-winning touchdown drive, capping it with a 13-yard strike to Brandon Gibson in the final minute and a terrific two-point conversion pass to Givens.
It was Bradford's third game-winning drive this season. He previously beat the Redskins and 49ers with clutch play late.
Fisher has unwavering optimism about Bradford's future. That enabled St. Louis to trade away the No. 2 pick and the chance to draft Robert Griffin III last spring.
And it's worth pointing out that Bradford's surprisingly ordinary second season in 2011 came after a lockout with a depleted offensive line, a receiving corps low on quality depth and with Josh McDaniels serving as both the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
It wasn't exactly the ideal set-up to nurture a young talent.
Now, Bradford seems much more at ease and ready to continue ascending.
Fisher, of course, was coaching the Tennessee Titans when another highly touted young quarterback (Vince Young) showed flashes of brilliance that were trumped by prolonged struggles.
Fisher, however, sees zero parallels in his experience with Bradford, whom he labels a true leader.
"It's consistency on the practice field. It's dedication to his trade. It's all those things associated with being a pro," Fisher said. "What do you do on your day off? What do you do after practice? How do you handle yourself? Your huddle presence. I can go on and on. Sam's got all that."
3. Rookie kickers may play a big role Sunday.
Both the Rams and Vikings used sixth-round draft picks on kickers in April and never have regretted doing so.
In St. Louis, Zuerlein is 21-for-27 on field goal attempts and has hit six from 50 yards or longer. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, meanwhile, is 24-for-27 on field goals and 5-for-5 from 50-plus. Zuerlein has produced 28 touchbacks on 54 kickoffs. Walsh is at 41 touchbacks on 65 kickoffs.
A potentially entertaining duel awaits.
|Houston - D. Keuchel||12:05 PM|
|NY Yankees - B. McCarthy|
|Cleveland - C. Kluber||12:10 PM|
|Minnesota - P. Hughes|
|Detroit - D. Price||12:10 PM|
|Tampa Bay - A. Cobb|
|Arizona - W. Miley||3:05 PM|
|Washington - G. Gonzalez|
|San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong||0||Suspended|
|Chicago Cubs - WP: T. Wada||2|
|Atlanta - J. Teheran||6:10 PM|
|Cincinnati - D. Holmberg|
|LA Angels - M. Shoemaker||6:10 PM|
|Boston - R. De La Rosa|
|San Francisco - M. Bumgarner||7:05 PM|
|Chicago Cubs - T. Wood|
|San Diego - T. Ross||9:10 PM|
|Los Angeles - C. Kershaw|
|Carolina||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|NY Giants||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|Jacksonville||8/22/14 6:30 PM|
|Oakland||8/22/14 7:00 PM|
|Chicago||8/22/14 9:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||8/23/14 3:30 PM|
|Tennessee||8/23/14 6:00 PM|
|Dallas||8/23/14 6:00 PM|
|Washington||8/23/14 6:30 PM|
|New Orleans||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|Minnesota||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|St. Louis||8/23/14 7:00 PM|
|Houston||8/23/14 8:00 PM|
|San Diego||8/24/14 3:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||8/24/14 7:00 PM|
|Montreal||8/22/14 7:30 PM|
|Toronto||8/23/14 3:00 PM|
|Calgary||8/24/14 2:00 PM|
|Saskatchewan||8/24/14 6:00 PM|
|Ottawa||8/29/14 6:30 PM|
|San Antonio||8:00 PM|
|Aug 8 - vs. Oakland||7 pm||X||10-6|
|Aug 16 - vs. Arizona||7:30 pm||X||30-28|
|Aug 23 - at Kansas City||7 pm|
|Aug 28 - at Tennessee||7 pm|
|2014 regular season|
|Sep 7 - at St. Louis||Noon|
|Sep 14 - vs. New England||Noon|
|Sep 21 - at New Orleans||Noon|
|Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta||3:25 pm|
|Oct 2 - at Green Bay||7:25 pm|
|Oct 12 - vs. Detroit||Noon|
|Oct 19 - at. Buffalo||Noon|
|Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay||Noon|
|Nov 2 - vs. Washington||Noon|
|Nov 9 - Bye|
|Nov 16 - at Chicago||Noon|
|Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay||Noon|
|Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina||Noon|
|Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets||Noon|
|Dec 14 - at Detroit||Noon|
|Dec 21 - at Miami||Noon|
|Dec 28 - vs. Chicago||Noon|