Thursday, July 31, 2008

More places to waste time

Since I'm still not seeing much happening out of training camp (other than Tarvaris Jackson looking shaky, which isn't news at all), I've decided instead to take another look 'round the blog-o-sphere (with Smell-o-Vision!) and see what everyone else is talking about, as well as adding a few new sites to my link list:

* has a host of blogs for all kinds of sports teams out there, and the Vikings War Cry part of the site can be found here. Or, if you're feeling brave, you can see how the other side lives.

* In the "Girls like to blog, too" category, there are two very pink sites, one touting the Minnesota Vikings and another displaying a near-unhealthy love of the Minnesota Wild. I'm not intimidated by the estrogen-laced competition, but I do fear the day my mom gets a blog. I nearly had a heart attack when she first e-mailed me.

* As long as you remember that I'm your favorite Jason, feel free to check out another Jason's Minnesota Vikings Thoughts.

* Finally, I might have to change my layout soon, because fanofred's Nachos Grande just looks too cool.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My poor, bleeding eyes!

Those wacky Madden '09 folks are at it again.

Warning: The following image may be too graphic for young viewers, especially those in the upper Midwest.

Read the story here. In essence, a Madden '09 season with Brett Favre as QB put the Vikings at 10-6. Without him, the team goes 5-11.

(And besides, John David Booty is wearing #4. You think the rookie fifth-round draft pick is going to give up his hard-fought number for a nobody like Favre? Pfeh!)

Now I'm as big a Tarvaris Jackson critic as anyone. But 5-11? Three wins fewer than last year? The article's author seems to agree:

Unless Jared Allen is mauled by bears on one of those hunting trips and the rest of the defense catches polio, that team isn't going 5-11.

With one defensive player already sidelined for the season by leukemia, I don't know that I'd be tempting fate like that.

* Ever wonder who would win between the 1998 Vikings and the 1996 Packers? Of course you have. Maybe you've even simulated the game in some version of John Madden Football. But have you ever wondered who would win if the two teams faced off in Tecmo Super Bowl?

I have to hand it to the creators of this video, and others like it, playing a full season of games pitting top historical teams against each other. (The Vikings/Packers game comes around the 5:30 mark. I won't spoil it for you, but justice is served later in the video, when the 1998 Falcons lose.) The editing and commentary are far better than I would have expected, too. Now, if I only knew how they did it...

* Continuing the video-game theme, what player holds the all-time record for the two-minute drill in Madden 2002? If you guessed, Daunte Culpepper, you'd be right. But I'm not talking about someone using Daunte in the game.

Actually, I am. Sort of. Nice to see the man's keeping busy, no?

* Imagine if, midway through the season, the Vikings lost Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, and Steve Hutchinson to injury. Then you'd know what the Atlanta Braves feel like, having lost their three best players (Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann) all in the last few days. McCann should only miss a few days after suffering a concussion Sunday, while Chipper's been placed on the 15-day DL and Hudson is likely done for the season.

Oh, toss in that John Smoltz's last pitch for the season was on June 2 and that'd be like losing Kevin Williams around week 6, too. And they'll probably trade away Mark Teixeira (Vikings equivalent: Matt Birk?) in the next few days. OK, then the team might go 5-11.

* While I think that paying Joe Nathan -- a player who will pitch approximately 1/20 of his team's total innings -- $11 million per year is a little ridiculous, it's not as bad as paying $7.5 to $10 million a year to a guy with 112 touches last year and whom opposing teams can purposely avoid. But I guess when you're the Bears and you have only one actual scoring threat on your team, you need to make sure he's happy.

Congratulations, Devin Hester. Now that you're financially set for life, feel free to follow Dante Hall's career path from "godlike return man" to "fifth wide receiver."

* Finally, after starting this post with such a disturbing image, I thought I'd end it with something nicer:

That's Jenn Sterger, who, in addition to looking good in a referee's uniform (insert "I'd like to commit a personal foul on her" joke here), was a regular columnist for in 2006 and 2007...aaaaaaaaaand, she posed for Playboy. I try to maintain a PG-13 blog here, but you shouldn't have too much trouble finding of her, if you so desire.

Jenn, if you're reading this, I'd be open to the idea of a guest columnist some day, especially one with your, ah, experience...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Strength (of Schedule) Training

A lot has been made of strength of schedule this offseason. Mark Craig of the Star-Tribune brings it up in a recent article, noting that the Vikings will play four games against the tough AFC South, which includes Indianapolis (13-3 in 2007), Jacksonville (11-5), Tennessee (10-6), and Houston (8-8). Likewise, the NFC East boasts teams like Dallas (13-3), New York (10-6), Washington (9-7), and Philadelphia (8-8). Each division saw three of its teams make the playoffs in '07, capturing both of its conference's wild-card berths, meaning that any team that has to run such a gauntlet should have a tough time breaking through and turning in winning seasons of their own.

There are, however, two problems with this line of thought:

Number one is fairly obvious: Teams change. The 2008 Dallas Cowboys or Jacksonville Jaguars are not the same as the 2007 Cowboys or Jaguars. From year to year, teams get better or worse, in equal measure. If anyone wanted to make a bet with me that either of those divisions will send three teams to the playoffs next year, I'd take it, straight up. One or two teams might be that consistent from year to year, but not six to eight. As I said in my post regarding opposing misery index, last year is last year, and things can (and invariably will) change.

The second is the equality of scheduling in the NFL. Yes, it stinks for the Vikings to have to play the AFC South, but the rest of their division has to do the same. And while that does put them at a disadvantage in the NFC as a whole, if they are competing for the wild card, keep in mind that at least one other division has to face a similarly difficult road. The NFC West plays all four teams of the NFC East, and while the South may not have quite the same caliber of opponents, the North plays the South, and so we control our own destiny in the conference, at least in some part.

Going back to point #1, it's highly unlikely that the teams in the NFC East and AFC South will fare as unilaterally well as they did in 2007. To wit, I looked back through the years since the league went to a 16-game schedule to see if there were any other divisions that boasted at least two 10-win teams and no teams at all under .500, as both the NFCE and AFCS did last year. I thought I might find a few, but I was surprised at the results.

Over 27 full seasons since 1978, only one other division -- the five-team, 1999 AFC East -- met those criteria, with Indianapolis (13-3), Buffalo (11-5), Miami (9-7), New England (8-8), and New York (8-8) combining to post a stellar 29-11 (.725) record outside their division. Next year was more moderate, with the teams posting 11-5, 10-6, 9-7, 8-8, and 5-11 records, for a total of 23-17 (.575) winning percentage outside their division. Of course, the teams totaled 20-20 in in-division games.

So the 2000 AFC East, while still above average, was hardly some great boogeyman to be feared, and I think the 2008 NFC North and AFC South will be similar -- good, but not likely great divisions. Strength of schedule is a neat little thing to look at and something for fans to get up in arms about during the off-season (You do know that the reason the Patriots have the easiest strength of schedule -- or at least a contributing factor -- is because they don't play themselves, right?), but it ultimately has very little effect on how a team will perform in the coming year.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Training Camp!

It's finally here! Which means...

Well, not much actually. It means another few weeks of reports like "Adrian Peterson is running hard" and "Tarvaris Jackson is making all the throws" that are essentially meaningless. Real news only comes out of training camp when there's a position battle or if someone gets hurt. Pretty much all the Vikings' starters have already been determined, and we hope nobody gets hurt, so there shouldn't be much to report the next few weeks. With the first preseason game (Aug. 8 vs. Seattle) a tantalizingly close two weeks away and the team's sole nationally televised preseason game (Aug. 23 against Pittsburgh) less than a month away, the only drama is really whether everyone will stay healthy and whether they Vikings will wear those awful purple pants:

or, even worse, the purple-on-purple combo:

in any of their preseason games.

(OK, so maybe that's not the only drama, but I refuse to talk any more about you-know-who until something actually happens, good or bad.)

Even so, the Star Tribune posted a list of five things to watch for in Training Camp, most of which, again, are impossible to gauge until the games are for real. I suppose the question of Bryant McKinnie's availability, pending a possible league suspension, is news, but again, that's been lingering for months now with no obvious end in sight. And hey, look at #4, where they wonder if Visanthe Shiancoe has improved because he's catching passes in workouts.

Here's my take: If you're an NFL receiver, you should catch 99.9% of balls thrown at you during drills and camp. That's because the quarterback isn't under any pressure and you can run your route at your leisure. But actual catching ability is a small part of a receiver's skill set. When the QB has to aim an off-balance throw your way and the DB/LB is jamming you at the line and you have to make a precise cut with no room for error, that's when it's time to see if you're actually a good receiver.

That said, Troy Williamson is "looking good" in Jaguars camp. No, I didn't read that anywhere, but I know every writer covering the Jags has written it at least once this off-season.

Well, I've managed to stretch a post about, essentially, nothing into nearly 400 words, which means I could have been a writer for Seinfeld. I'll try to come up with something more interesting next week. Have a great weekend, and keep your fingers crossed about the purple pants!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What are you doing?

...isn't just a puzzle category on Wheel of Fortune. It's also a question I get asked semi-regularly, ever since I left Press Pass Inc. nearly a year ago. The simple answer is "sitting on my butt wasting time," which I do in varying amounts every day. But I've also found quite a few interesting part-time and freelance jobs, most of which pay actual, real money. Here's a rundown of what I've been doing:

* The original plan when I left Press Pass was that I'd go back to work for Scrye as an Associate Editor, but that fell through and F&W Publications has been downsizing ever since. Still, I do write the occasional freelance article for them still, most recently a review of Mass Effect for the PC.

* I wrote an article in Beckett Massive Online Gamer for The Lord of the Rings Online. It should appear in the next issue.

* I've recently starting helping to write some articles for, including last week's piece about Green Ronin not producing books for D&D 4th Edition, and I've also contributed to the next print version of the ICv2 Guide to Games.

* I remain on good terms with Press Pass, good enough that I produced some copy for some of their football cards earlier this year, notably the 2008 Marquee Matchups. Some of them are for sale here. They don't show the backs, but if you could read the Woodson/Brohm one, it would say (depending on edits to my original text):

The 14th edition of the “Border Battle” between Kentucky and Louisville wasn’t decided until the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Brohm threw for 366 yards and two touchdowns, but Woodson lofted a 57-yard TD pass with 28 seconds to go in regulation, sending the Wildcats to a 40-34 victory in this 2007 game.

Now is that poetry, or what?

* I've written several hobby-retailer-friendly articles in F&W's Card Trade and one for Kalmbach Publishing's Model Retailer.

* I've also penned some articles for and Suite101. Hint: Mahalo pays well, Suite101 not so much.

* And, speaking of things that don't pay (but are still really fun), there's my recently renamed sports blog, which, Google Analytics tells me, received over 1,000 hits over the last month.

All that being said...I WANT MORE. More specifically, I need more -- that's the life of a freelancer, always looking for more work and scraping by on the scraps life throws to him. Feel sorry for me yet? Excellent. That means I are riting gud.

So let this serve as a semi-ad for my services. Need a fast and skilled freelance writer or editor with 12 years of experience? Need someone who can craft anything from how-tos to press releases? Need someone who works for peanuts (as long as they're gold-plated, jewel-encrusted peanuts)? Gimme a holler, comment, or e-mail (jasonlwinter), though I'm loathe to post (@) my e-mail for everyone ( on the 'net to see. Long-term, short-term, I'll take it. And I promise you won't be disappointed.

Unless you ask me to dance. That would be a disaster.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

2008 Strength of Schedule, Misery-wise

In my last post, I looked at the "Misery Index," defined as the sum of turnovers and sacks -- plays that typically generate points for fantasy football defenses -- for teams from the 2007 season. Then I said the Vikings would have an average opposing Misery of 62.2 in 2008, slightly below the 63.1 average of all teams during the 2007 season. I wanted to figure out opposing Misery Indeces for all teams, using their 2008 schedules, but didn't want to have to compute it all by hand. Thankfully, one scheduling page and some nifty Excel work later, and I was able to compile all the data into one spreadsheet in about 15 minutes. Thank you, I'll take a bow now.

The results are below. Remember, this chart represents the average turnover+sack total each of these teams will face for the upcoming season, based on their opponents' 2007 stats. It's like taking every 2008's opponents' win-loss record and combining it all to say that teams opposing Team X had a .530 winning percentage in 2007. It doesn't necessarily mean that team has an extremely tough schedule the next season -- the opposing teams change from year to year, and .530 is so close to .500 as to be nearly insignificant -- but it gets people talking (and usually complaining about their team's "tough" schedule or another team's "easy" schedule).

New Orleans Saints67.4
Arizona Cardinals67.2
New England Patriots67.1
Washington Redskins65.5
Seattle Seahawks65.4
St. Louis Rams65.3
Atlanta Falcons65.1
Buffalo Bills65.0
New York Giants64.6
Green Bay Packers64.5
San Diego Chargers64.5
Miami Dolphins64.4
Dallas Cowboys64.3
San Francisco 49ers64.1
Philadelphia Eagles64.0
Carolina Panthers63.9
Cincinnati Bengals63.8
Tampa Bay Buccaneers63.8
Chicago Bears63.5
Oakland Raiders62.5
Minnesota Vikings62.3
Denver Broncos62.2
Tennessee Titans62.2
New York Jets61.8
Houston Texans61.6
Detroit Lions61.0
Cleveland Browns60.1
Jacksonville Jaguars60.1
Indianapolis Colts59.8
Kansas City Chiefs59.5
Baltimore Ravens58.8
Pittsburgh Steelers55.9

Defensively, New Orleans has the easiest schedule, misery-wise for 2008, and Pittsburgh the toughest. That's fairly easy to see, based on their division schedules. Seven of New Orleans' 2008 opponents had Misery Indeces of 70 or higher in 2007, while Pittsburgh takes on eight of 16 teams with Misery Indeces of 50 or lower, including the league's best, New England and Indianapolis.

Now, does this mean you should rank the Saints' defense ahead of the Steelers' defense in 2008? Probably not. The most pseudo-accurate determination you could make from this list would be to say that, for example, if an average defense played the Saints' 2008 schedule against teams that performed exactly as they did in 2007, you might expect that team to pick up about 67 turnovers + sacks. That average team playing against Pittsburgh's 2007 opponents would get about 56 turnovers + sacks. Obviously, '08 teams are different from their '07 versions. Again, this has about as much relevance as strength of schedule. If New England had the toughest SOS in the league for 2008, would you still bet against them to go to the Super Bowl?

That said, it's interesting to note that four of last year's better defenses -- Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville -- rate among the league's toughest five schedules. I've always thought you never want to be the first guy to draft a defense in fantasy football, and with these squads likely among the first off the board, that might be truer than ever this year. I'll wait a little while and take New England or Seattle, both of whom gave up fewer than 300 points in '07 and seem to have pretty easy SOS for 2008. And they may have the 21st best Misery SOS, but I'll still take the Vikings -- though I might not want to start them until week 3.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Miserable Offenses

I've heard the term "Misery Index" floated around a few times in NFL circles. Most recent, I believe, was Jim Caple's article on a while back about the most miserable franchises in the NFL.

I prefer to use the term to describe bad offenses, primarily the types you want to oppose with your fantasy football defense. We always drool over juicy matchups for our offensive players against bad defenses, but it doesn't seem like the same attention is given to defensive matchups against bad offenses. Since most leagues give bonus points to defenses for sacks and turnovers created, my Misery Index is simple: It's simply the sum of sacks and turnovers by an offense. Using that data, you can construct a kind of "strength-of-schedule" for your fantasy defense that should maximize its point totals.

Here are the Misery Indeces for 2007's offensive squads:

Detroit Lions365490
San Francisco 49ers345589
Kansas City Chiefs335588
St. Louis Rams374885
Baltimore Ravens403979
New York Jets255378
Oakland Raiders374178
Chicago Bears344377
Philadelphia Eagles274976
Atlanta Falcons244771
Miami Dolphins294271
Pittsburgh Steelers224769
Minnesota Vikings303868
Tennessee Titans343064
Carolina Panthers293362
New York Giants342862
Denver Broncos293261
Arizona Cardinals362460
Houston Texans382260
Seattle Seahawks243660
Washington Redskins292958
Tampa Bay Buccaneers203656
Jacksonville Jaguars213152
Dallas Cowboys242549
Cleveland Browns291948
San Diego Chargers242448
Buffalo Bills212647
Cincinnati Bengals301747
New Orleans Saints301646
Green Bay Packers241943
Indianapolis Colts192342
New England Patriots152136

No huge surprise there to see truly awful offensive teams San Francisco, Kansas City, and Baltimore near the top of the list. Detroit's Jon Kitna led the league in times sacked in 2007 and tied for the league lead in interceptions, while the Rams had to make do with Gus Frerotte longer than any NFL franchise should ever have to at this stage of his career. (Please stay healthy, Tarvaris Jackson.)

The other end of the spectrum includes what many could say were the five best quarterbacks in the NFL in 2007, save Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger. I don't have the numbers, but since QBs are responsible for nearly all interceptions, many of a team's fumbles, and play some part in taking sacks, then it shouldn't come as a surprise that good QBs minimize those errors and help keep the misery low.

So how does this chart help you pick a fantasy defense? For the first few weeks of the season, it probably doesn't help much at all. Defenses can change dramatically from year to year and, while quarterback play tends to be more steady, especially at the higher levels, a QB change can dramatically impact a team's Misery Index one way or the other. Aaron Rodgers will probably be OK (if he's the starter in Green Bay...), but I'd consider it unlikely that the Packers are #3 in lowest Misery in 2008.

It is, however, very helpful to look at the season's current Misery Index around week 8 or so and perhaps pick up an underperforming defense that has a stretch against two or three miserable offenses for the next few weeks. If you had the Seattle defense from weeks 10-14 last year (a stretch that included San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Arizona), you would have been rewarded with 14 turnovers and 18 sacks over that five-week span. I'll try to post semi-regular Misery Index updates throughout the 2008 season.

And what about the Vikings' outlook for 2008? With what looks to be one of the league's best defenses, they should rack up the sacks and turnovers as well as any team in the league -- but perhaps not that early. Here are the 2007 Misery Indeces of the teams on the Vikings' 2008 schedule, in order:

43, 42, 62, 64, 46, 90, 77, 60, 43, 56, 52, 77, 90, 60, 71, 62

That's an average of 62.2, compared to a league average of 63.1 -- slightly tougher than average. The first two games, against Green Bay and Indianapolis, figure to be tough, but, as mentioned, who knows how Aaron Rodgers might play? And now that Mike Martz is out of Detroit, it might be a little harder to sack Jon Kitna (the Lions accounting for the two 90s on the schedule). On the bright side, the average 2007 Misery Index for the team's final five opponents is 72, meaning that you should get strong performances from the defense late in the season and into your playoffs, which is when you need it the most.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bevell's Edge

Just when I thought I was done talking about Brett Favre, along comes this. I caught a little commentary about the affair last night on ESPN, where John Clayton said that the whole affair would probably be resolved in a week or two and that, barring some amazing discovery in the phone records, there probably wouldn't be any real repercussions, except that, win or lose, the Vikings would be even less likely to make a deal with Favre than initially supposed.

The whole case revolves around whether Vikings Offensive Coordinator -- and former Packers assistant -- Darrell Bevell broke league rules by contacting Favre illegally to discuss the possibility of him coming to the Vikings. The team's hardly been reluctant to embrace former Packers the last few years -- Ryan Longwell and Darren Sharper, most notably, in addition to Bevell -- but if Bevell made overtures to Favre on his own, without the head coach, owner, or anyone else in management being aware, then he could find himself in some warm-to-hot water. And I don't think I'd mind that much.

I've always found Bevell a curious case. For those who are unaware, he was the starting quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers in 1993 and 1994 before moving on to a few college coaching jobs, then Offensive Assistant and then Quarterbacks Coach with the Packers from 2003 to 2005. Then, in 2006, Brad Childress lured him away from the green-and-gold and installed him as the Vikings' Offensive Coordinator, a post he still holds. Certainly, there are other factors involved with a team's offensive success, but it's not erroneous to state that Bevell has played a direct hand in the quarterback play of two NFL franchises for the last five seasons. All this from a man, who, for nearly four of those five years, was younger than the QB (Favre and Brad Johnson) he was instructing.

Now, let's take a look at that quarterback play, shall we?

Favre: 32 TD, 21 Int., 4.5% Int.

Favre: 30 TD, 17 Int., 3.1% Int.
Other: 4 TD, 2 Int.

Favre: 20 TD, 29 Int., 4.8% Int.
Other: 0 TD, 1 Int.

(Consider at this point that you're the QB coach for a man widely considered one of the greatest QBs of all time, and he just had the worst season of his career under your watch. Curious that you'd find not only a job, but a promotion, no?)

Brad Johnson: 9 TD, 15 Int.
Tarvaris Jackson: 2 TD, 4 Int.
Other: 0 TD, 1 Int.

Tarvaris Jackson: 9 TD, 12 Int.
Other: 3 TD, 2 Int.

I only include interception percentages for Favre's seasons to illustrate that, while his TD numbers were still pretty good, he had two of his worst three seasons, Int%-wise, under Bevell (with the third coming in 1993, his second full year as a starter). Yes, Favre's never been daunted by his high pick numbers, but he was probably worse at keeping the ball out of opponents' hands under Bevell than under any of his other QB coaches.

In total, quarterbacks under Bevell's watch have produced 109 TDs against 104 interceptions. Yes, he had an aging Brad Johnson, a young Tarvaris Jackson, and a (supposedly at the time) washed-up Brett Favre, and there are other ways to gauge a team's offensive success...but still, one would have to think Bevell's not on the sturdiest of ground, despite the team's recent success, largely attributed to Adrian Peterson's emergence.

(On a semi-related note, I always found it mildly amusing that the Vikings had a mediocre-to-bad offense from 1992 to 1997. Then they drafted Randy Moss and got a career year out of Randall Cunningham and suddenly their OC during those years, Brian Billick, becomes an "offensive genius." I don't think "throw deep to Randy" qualifies as a stroke of genius. At least nobody's ready to credit Bevell with "genius" status because of Peterson's strong play.)

If the Vikings sputter offensively in 2008, it will probably mean the end for Brad Childress; if so, Darrell Bevell will certainly follow him out the door, though even mid-season coordinator switches are not entirely unheard of. If it comes to that, Vikings fans shouldn't panic. The next guy could certainly do worse, but it's not a reach to think that he'll do better than Bevell has.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Third-place Vikings?

So I try not to pay too much attention to columnists' pre-season picks, especially when we're still just under two months from the start of the season. (My picks will come somewhere around Labor Day.) Still, with the Vikings being a trendy pick by more than a few folks to win the NFC North (or better), I've been cautiously following the pre-season prognostications, even devoting an entire post to pre-season rankings a few weeks ago.

In that post,'s Vinnie Iyer rated the Vikings at #12 overall. I can live with that. But apparently, his colleague Clifton Brown had a different opinion -- and hey, it's a free country, he's entitled to it. And, for the record, I think Aaron Rodgers will do just fine, for the most part, for the Packers this year, and it wouldn't shock me to see the Pack beat out the Vikings for the division title.

But third place? Behind Chicago? Say what?

Now, I'm not one to say that free agency is the cure-all for whatever ails a team, but you can't tell me that the additions of Madieu Williams, Bernard Berrian, and Jared Allen (who came over in a trade, not free agency, I know) will only be good for one more win in 2008 (and no playoffs). I could get into why I think Chicago won't win 10 games this year, but I'd rather not be that negative. Let's instead focus on Brown's appraisal of the Vikings:

Trendy pick to win the division, but the passing game is still shaky.

Yes, but it's going to be better than last year. You have Berrian, a likely improving Sidney Rice, and, if the stars align right, a somewhat improved Tarvaris Jackson. Again, not to harp too much on Chicago, but their starting QB/WR1/WR2 combo is Rex Grossman (or Kyle Orton), Marty Booker, and Brandon Lloyd (who caught all of two passes in 2007).

Adrian Peterson is great, but he will have trouble improving on his rookie season.

Honestly? Who says he has to? Wouldn't just about every NFL team like to have a 1,341-yard rusher with a 5.6 yard-per-carry average? If he can stay healthy all 16 games, he would have cracked 1,500 yards.

Playoffs must wait another year.

Based on what, exactly? And not a single mention of the defense, which is going to be the first selected such unit in a lot of fantasy football leagues this year?

I'm not going to go all crazy and spout off terrible things about Mr. Brown's family, upbringing, education, or the size of his manhood, like some blogs might. It's still July and predictions like this can and will morph considerably over the next few months. And the Vikings do have a habit of underachieving, so 9-7 isn't quite as unlikely as we'd all like it to be. But if you're going to knock the team, you've got to come up with better reasons than that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Favre wants out, but where will he be in?

I'm not sick of Brett Favre news, per se. What I'm sick of is Brett Favre innuendo, rumors, half-truths, "conversations with a source close to Favre," and news of what he does with his cell phone. (OMG WTF TXT MESSAGE LOL!)

But now there's some real, substantial news about #4, and it's seeming almost guaranteed that he'll come back to play in 2008. It's not all that surprising, really. Brett Favre loves Sundays. He'd kill for the joy of going out there every week in front of 70,000 screaming fans. For three hours a week, he's on top of the world, a nigh-invincible gladiator on the gridiron.

Unfortunately, there are 168 other hours in the week, and while I won't go so far as to say Favre's miserable those other 165 hours, they don't come close to the three hours on Sunday. He's like a junkie, getting his quick fix once a week and then having to endure the pale imitation of practice the rest of the week. And then there's the interminable off-season. If you think it's hard for us, the fans, to endure, at least we don't have to sweat it out in mini-camps, two-a-days, and OTAs all spring and summer long, just to get to that brief euphoria of Sunday afternoons.

Toss in the fact that Favre's 38 years old and his general propensity for "winging it" and you can see why he'd want to skip a good portion of that "unnecessary" prep time and just get to the good stuff. If all you had were those three hours every Sunday, Favre would play until he was 68. You think Allen Iverson hates practice? I promise you, Brett Favre hates it more.

So, now that he's coming back, and apparently not to the Packers, where will he go? What team needs a 38-year-old quarterback with a spotty recent track record who'll command a decent salary and won't accept a backup job? On the plus side, he'd be a major attraction and I hear he's fairly durable.

First things first: I think there's absolutely zero chance he goes to an NFC North team. If the Packers can't arrange that as a condition of his release, I still think it's a slim chance. Minnesota, for better or for worse, seems committed to Tarvaris Jackson, and I think adding Favre at this relatively late stage of things would seriously confuse a team that seems poised for a deep playoff run. Chicago has two QBs they're not sure about -- why add a third? And Detroit's got a junior version of Favre in Jon Kitna. Looking around the rest of the league, here are my thoughts on where he could go:

Atlanta. Would be poetic, wouldn't it? Favre goes back to the team that originally drafted him. He'd have to be a better mentor for Matt Ryan than Chris Redman and Joey Harrington. And remember how many butts Michael Vick put in the seats? Favre could immediately return the Falcons to watchability, if not relevance.

Baltimore. Almost the same situation as Atlanta. Young, highly drafted QB (Joe Flacco), questionable incumbent (Kyle Boller), no real expectations. Would there be room in the locker room, though, for both Favre's ego and that of Ray Lewis?

Buffalo. Here's a team that's got two young but only moderately talented quarterbacks (Trent Edwards and JP Losman), a top-flight wide receiver (Lee Evans), a good young running back (Marshawn Lynch), and, after a 7-9 season in 2007, some aspirations for a playoff spot. And I think he could handle the weather.

Houston. Yes, they still owe Matt Schaub too much money. But you have to think Favre would love to be reunited with Ahman Green and take a team that's never been to the playoffs into the promised land.

San Francisco. Just how committed are the 49ers to Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, and J.T. O'Sullivan? If the answer is "not very," then what happens when Brett Favre and Mike Martz join forces? (The answer is that Frank Gore gets about five carries a game.)

Tampa Bay. No real reason here except that Jon Gruden is still the head coach and Brett Favre is a quarterback. Do you need anything else?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Top 20 Minnesota Vikings

Everybody loves a list! Therefore, I present to you, in the spirit of "still too long until training camp begins and we need something to talk about," the top 20 current and most valuable Minnesota Vikings. That means that, for each one, you have to ask, "What would be the damage to the team if we lost that player?" and not simply a question of whether he's a better player than the one ranked underneath him. Some consideration should also be given to a player's age and how likely it is that the team will need to replace him in the near future anyway.

As a result, my #1 pick may come as a bit of a surprise to most...

1. Jared Allen, DE. This is a definite case of looking at how Allen will likely improve the team and what the options are if he misses time. Ray Edwards and Brian Robison are OK, but Allen is an absolute beast of a pass rusher who's also very good against the run. His presence will make the rest of the defensive line and, by extension, the rest of the defense a top-notch unit.

2. Adrian Peterson, RB. He's the most electrifying player on the team and the best bet to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. The only reason I bump him down to #2 is the presence of Chester Taylor and the great skill of the offensive line, which allowed three backs last year to average better than 5.0 yards per carry. It's a tough call, and he's amazing to watch, but think about it, really -- would you rather have to rely on Chester Taylor to run the ball or Brian Robison to rush the QB?

3. Kevin Williams, DT. The (second) big(-gest) man in the middle, K-dub could return to his great pass-rushing form of 2003-04 with Allen providing heat from the outside. He had 10.5 and 11.5 sacks each of his first two seasons with the team, but has only managed 12 sacks in the previous three seasons. He's extremely athletic for a man of his size, though, with four career interceptions and nine fumble recoveries in his career, and he's taken four of them to the house, including scores of 77 and 54 yards. Run, Kevin, run!

4. Bryant McKinnie, OT. While his loss may not be devastating, if indeed he is suspended by the league for his off-season exploits, McKinnie is, at the least, a very good left tackle, the type of which pretty much any QB would love to have protecting his blindside. And the alternatives are Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson. Tarvaris Jackson doesn't need those kinds of things to worry about; he's got enough already.

5. E.J. Henderson, LB. Henderson cemented himself as the central figure of the defense, racking up 95 tackles last season and providing the backup should any team be somehow able to run past the Williams boys up the middle. He's shown a little bit of pass-rushing talent lately, too, with 4.5 sacks in 2007 and he'll be calling the plays for the defense in 2008.

6. Antoine Winfield, CB. While watching many a Vikings broadcast last year, the announcers would often bring up the sanguine question of "With those two mammoths up the middle, why don't teams run outside on the Vikings?" A few plays later, the opposing team would do just that, and there was the best-tackling cornerback in the NFL, stuffing the running back after a one-yard gain. Williams and Williams get a lot of credit for the Vikings' stifling run defense, but Winfield makes it so that teams can't just avoid those two and get results.

7. Steve Hutchinson, OG. While I think he was a bit overrated upon his arrival, and the team also "added" Matt Birk (who missed all of the 2005 season) to the offensive line in 2006, Hutch shone in 2007, helping his team average 5.3 yards per carry, and, like McKinnie, his potential replacements aren't that great. And just ask Shaun Alexander if he'd like to have Hutch back.

8. Pat Williams, DT. "Phat Pat" has been the immovable object in the center of the Vikings defense that has yet to meet an irresistable force. And it turns out he's a pretty good guy, too. Even if he does lie about his weight. If he's 317 pounds, so am I.

9. Bernard Berrian, WR. The only true deep threat in the Vikings passing game (depending on how well Sidney Rice shapes up), Berrian might not actually be that good, and he's likely overpaid, but he ranks this high due to the lack of quality options at the wide receiver position.

10. Madieu Williams, S. With Dwight Smith gone, the team needed to find a new safety and they found one in "Williams #3," plucking the coverage man from the Cincinnati Bengals. While his overall numbers might not seem that impressive, look at his passed deflected (PD) totals the last two years. His total of 20 beats out Smith (15) and Darren Sharper (17), and he missed three games in 2007. (Winfield, meanwhile, in missing six games in 2007, still leads the Vikings in PDs over the last two years, with 23.)

11. Matt Birk, C. Another lower-than-expected selection, I just see Birk as still very good but likely no longer elite, especially considering the other slabs of beef manning the offensive line. The Vikings are unlikely to sign him after this season and drafted a center in the late rounds of the draft. Plus, with Adrian Peterson, the team is more likely to run outside than it ever has in recent years, making the center position somewhat less valuable.

12. Tarvaris Jackson, QB. He had to be here somewhere, didn't he? T-Jack rides this high on the chart largely due to the complete lack of options the team has at the position. Gus Frerotte and Brooks Bollinger are dead weight, John David Booty is a rookie, and Kyle Wright was recently waived. Plus, as much as I've gotten on his case, he does have the potential to be at least an average, Trent-Dilfer-in-2000-type quarterback, and that's all his team needs right now.

13. Darren Sharper, S. Adding Madieu Williams should help ease some of the pressure that's been placed on Sharper the last few years, and the team drafted his likely replacement, Tyrell Johnson, with its top draft pick. The old man's still got an eye for the ball, though, notching four picks in 2007 and taking one to paydirt.

14. Chad Greenway, LB. Another key to the Vikings' strength against the outside run (along with Antoine Winfield) was Chad Greenway, who overcame a devastating knee injury that wiped out his rookie season to come back and finish third on the team in 2007 with 78 tackles and two interceptions (one returned for a TD).

15. Sidney Rice, WR. Rice figures to improve on his solid rookie numbers (31 catches, 396 yards, 4 TD) and could even surpass Bernard Berrian as the team's primary target by year's end. Plus, it just feels good having a wide receiver named "Rice" on the team, doesn't it?

16. Chris Kluwe, P. You knew I had to put him on the list somewhere, right? Let's face it: For a team that plans to rely on a grind-it-out running game and staunch defense, having a punter to limit the opponent's field position is key. Kluwe was 8th in the league in punting average in 2007 and only 21st in net average, but third in percentage of punts pinned down inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Few teams will be able to drive 80+ yards against the Vikings defense in 2008, I think.

17. Chester Taylor, RB. The yin to Adrian Peterson's yang -- or something like that -- Taylor stepped in admirably when Peterson wasn't available in 2007, and the team nearly had two 1,000-yard backs. With Mewelde Moore inexplicably let go, Taylor will face more of a burden of responsibility should anything happen to Peterson, and even if AP stays healthy all year, you could do a lot worse than insert Taylor for a series or two on offense each half.

18. Ben Leber, LB. The leading sacker among Vikings linebackers, Leber just always seems to be around the ball and making things happen. I know, I know, that sounds far too much like a David Eckstein-like "he plays the game the right way" comment, but I just like the guy and think he's underrated on a defensive unit that features much bigger stars.

19. Cedric Griffin, CB. Who led the Vikings in passes defended and was #2 on the team in tackles in 2007? The one guy in the secondary who most non-Vikings fans have never heard of, Cedric Griffin. So why does he rate so low? Because he was the perceived "weak link" in the Vikings' secondary all year, he was targeted an uncommon number of times, allowing him to rack up some impressive-looking numbers -- while also getting torched on more than one occasion. Still, trial by fire has likely made Griffin a better player and more will be expected of him in 2008.

20. Ryan Longwell, K. Sure, why not put a kicker at the bottom of the list? Longwell's been accurate and dependable in his two years in purple, and he finally got the team to stop looking Gary Anderson's way. And he's certainly gotten results, booting through 40 of 43 FGs from under 50 yards over the last two years after missing six such kicks in his last year in Green Bay. Sure, he's only 1-for-6 from 50 or more, but what else do you want from a soon-to-be 34-year-old kicker?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The people have spoken (and other tidbits) is running a poll that asks the question, "Do you want Brett Favre to come back?" It's been running since at least last night, and there are over 25,000 responses as of now (3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday).

The response is currently 59% "no" and 41% "yes," which is really amazing when you think about it. About 2/5 of all voters want to see the man play again. It's inconceivable that all of those are Packer fans -- given that just under 2,000 of the votes come from Wisconsin -- that means that somewhere around a third of NFL fans who have no particular love for the green-and-gold want to see #4 suit up again. Now, maybe they want him to suit up for their team, which is, I think, at least a mild possibility.

Only 5 of the 51 regions (50 states + international) have a better than 50% "yes" vote, Wisconsin naturally on top with a 68% vote -- though that means that nearly a third of Wisconsinites (and they can't all be displaced Bears, Lions, and Vikings fans, as I was for three years) would rather see Favre stay on the sidelines. Nebraska (54%), Arkansas (52%), West Virginia (51%), and Mississippi (51%) are the other pro-Favre states.

Strangely, Minnesota (34%) isn't the #1 anti-Favre state; that honor goes to Vermont (22%), with an admittedly paltry 27 votes so far (839 for Minnesota). Among states with a significant number of votes, Massachusetts (29%, 680 votes) seems to be the most decidedly anti-Favre state out there. Maybe they don't like anyone sharing the spotlight with their precious Tom Brady?

Finally, California only registers a 36% pro-Favre stance, even though one California resident is probably stuffing the ballot box as fast as his computer will reload the page.

* Poor Chris Snyder. The Arizona Diamondbacks catcher just went on the DL with an injury too horrible for words. He suffered a left ______ fracture in Monday's game against Milwaukee. If you think the blank should be filled with something mundane like "tibia" or "elbow," well, Chris should be so lucky. And I thought Kaz Matsui's anal fissures would be the worst baseball injury of the year.

* It's two weeks old, but posted its fantasy football offensive line rankings back on June 18. Good to see the Vikings at #3, and the list confirms what I came up with using my own system back in February that said Cleveland had a really, really good O-line. The only major difference between my rankings and ESPN's are the Jets (#31 for me, #13 for them), though ESPN admits that the Jets were "awful last year, but to their credit, they were extremely aggressive in upgrading this group." Nice to see some of my wacky statistical research having relevance in the real world, especially after what I did earlier this week.

* How good are the Twins playing this year? Not that well, apparently, if they could make an out on a 4-2 count. Whoops.

* Remember when's Dr. Z predicted that the Vikings would win the Super Bowl? Seems that a few people disagree with his opinion. One person points out that, considering their deficiencies both with and against the pass, they would be better off playing outdoors. Might be true, but here's one stat to get you thinking about the potential good times ahead:

Jared Allen on grass: 33.0 sacks in 53 games (0.62 per game)

Jared Allen on turf: 10.0 sacks in 7 games (1.43 per game)

I'll stop drooling now.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Total vs. Average, Part II

Last Friday, I suggested that teams with great running games don't typically have good passing games and that teams with great passing games don't typically have good running games, despite the commonly held belief that good passing opens up the ground game and good running opens up the passing game. To some extent, this is true, but if, say, Adrian Peterson has a great season in 2008, very little of that will likely be attributable to the improved Vikings' pass offense. After all, with a horrible passing offense in 2007, the team still ran for 2,634 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Bernard Berrian can't make that any better, can he?

My thoughts than went to the notion that a good rushing team might have good passing rate stats while a good passing team might have good rushing rate stats. In other words, high rushing totals begets high average yards per passing attempt, while high passing totals begets high average yards per rush. This is because a team that's good in one aspect of offense won't rack up big numbers in the other aspect but when they do use it, they might catch the opponents off-guard and have fair success.

I tried out my theory against team stats for 2007 and here's what I came up with:



Arizona Cardinals5302910
Atlanta Falcons18202621
Baltimore Ravens23171629
Buffalo Bills30181522
Carolina Panthers29151431
Chicago Bears15323023
Cincinnati Bengals728247
Cleveland Browns1261012
Dallas Cowboys410172
Denver Broncos13598
Detroit Lions9193115
Green Bay Packers212213
Houston Texans1124226
Indianapolis Colts622184
Jacksonville Jaguars17325
Kansas City Chiefs20313227
Miami Dolphins24162330
Minnesota Vikings281119
New England Patriots114131
New Orleans Saints3292814
New York Giants214426
New York Jets25231924
Oakland Raiders3113625
Philadelphia Eagles102817
Pittsburgh Steelers22739
San Diego Chargers268718
San Francisco 49ers32112732
Seattle Seahawks8262013
St. Louis Rams19252528
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1691111
Tennessee Titans2721520
Washington Redskins14271216

This chart probably needs a little explanation. (Gee, ya think?) The categories, across the top, are team passing yards (discounting sacks), team yards per rush, team rushing yards, and team average yards per pass attempt. The numbers are each team's rank in that particular category.

The colors are meant to show the correlation between the two (potentially) like categories. For the total pass/rush avg. combo, red indicates the team was in the top half (1-16) in league rank for 2007. Orange signifies bottom half (17-32). For the total rush/pass avg. combo, green is top half, blue is bottom half. In theory, like colors should be next to each other in the chart: red-red and orange-orange in the left half and green-green/blue-blue in the right half.

At a glance, the matches seem iffy at best. Here's the breakdown:

Red-red: 7
Orange-orange: 7
Mix: 18

Green-Green: 7
Blue-Blue: 7
Mix: 18

Well, that's rather disappointing. All the trouble of a color-coded chart, and that's what I end up with? Maybe it's just that, for the teams that were best in rushing or passing, that success came because of the ineptness of the other side of the ball -- that certainly was the case with the Vikings -- and nothing was going to bring that part of the team "up to speed."

Still, it's worth noting that the concept that one part of the offense being very good will have a profound effect on the other is probably still overexaggerated. Of the top 12 rushing teams last year, only Philadelphia -- at #10 -- had a top-10 passing attack. Similarly, of the top 10 passing teams, it was Philly again that was the only team with a top-10 rushing game (#8), and they were only barely in the top 10. The New England Patriots, for all their offensive fireworks and big leads, only ranked #13 overall in rushing (and #14 in yards per carry).

So if you're thinking Tarvaris Jackson makes a great sleeper pick in fantasy football this year, don't hold your breath. If he does improvem it will be because of his continued maturity and experience and the addition of Bernard Berrian. It won't be because Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor are making it significantly easier to pass. And I'm sure as heck not drafting Laurence Maroney in the first round again this year...