Wednesday, September 30, 2009

They should stick to making beer

From this link:

ESPN hopes to hype records for its Green Bay-Minnesota game Monday night. Literally. ESPN, says spokesman Mike Soltys, will announce that on next Monday's broadcast of its ESPN2 SportsNation (5 p.m. ET), it will try to set a record for the most mentions of Brett Favre on a TV show — with Guinness World Records now looking for the current record. Some records should never be broken. …

As if I needed another reason to tune out ESPN this week...

Monday, September 28, 2009

The post that never was

My blog post was about 90% written in my head before "The Play" yesterday. In it, I was going to lay into Brett "five yards and a cloud of RAC yardage" Favre and his mediocre play. I was going to make fun of everyone who was chirping about his 77% completion percentage and 110 passer rating and how "all he does is win" when he completed barely 50% of his passes and led the offense to just 13 points (20 minus Percy Harvin's TD return).

Then Favre and Greg Lewis made all that moot.

On the one hand: Happy to be 3-0!

On the other hand: Unhappy because the "Favre is God" crowd will be even more insufferable than usual.

(On the third hand: Disgusted at the media-gasm likely to propagate over the next week leading to Packers/Vikings on Monday night.)

I can try to counter with all sorts of reality-based arguments. Like that, 9 times out of 10, Greg Lewis doesn't make that catch or his left foot scrapes the back goal line. Favre made a hell of a throw -- and probably the first I've seen all year that I would put beyond Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels -- but one pass, which required a miracle catch by a receiver can't overshadow the rest of the drive, game, or season, in which Favre hasn't looked like a quarterback you'd want to pay $12 million for.

But I'll stick with this one simple comparison, to illustrate how much of a difference one play can make, especially this early in the season:

Passer rating A: 94.5
Passer rating B: 87.8

Adjusted Yards Per Attempt A: 6.6
Adjusted Yards Per Attempt B: 6.0

Yards per attempt A: 6.0
Yards per attempt B: 5.6

Yards per completion A: 9.3
Yards per completion B: 8.9

Situation A is Favre's actual stats. Situation B is his stats if Lewis doesn't come down with the ball (and with one extra game-ending incompletion thrown in). That 87.8 passer rating is nice, but it would still be only 15th in the league. With the Lewis catch, he's 16th in AY/A and would be 22nd without it (just ahead of Tom Brady, for whatever that's worth). Brett Favre's numbers still look pretty good, but he's one unlikely play away from looking average, at best.

But regardless of what was likely to happen, what did happen is that Favre made a play as improbable as just about any we've seen and delivered the goods the first time he was really asked to do so in a Vikings uniform. For that I'm grateful and happy. I'm just not ready to crown him yet.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

San Francisco 89ers

I started watching football in 1989. In those heady days, George Bush (the first) reigned as president, the U.S.S.R. still existed, Thursday night on NBC was real "must-see TV," thanks to The Cosby Show and Cheers, and I was a huge Debbie Gibson fan. (Shaddap!)

And the San Francisco 49ers were the best football team on the planet, by far. And I've never really gotten over it.

Even though I only started watching football full time in '89, I can vaguely remember the Vikings' playoff games against the 49ers in the late '80s. There was the improbable victory in the '87 playoffs, which was followed by a pair of thrashings in '88 and '89. And then there was this game in 1988, from which you've almost assuredly seen this highlight. Sorry, Mike Vick, but you don't have the best run of all time by a QB against the Vikings. (In fact, you probably don't even have the second-best, but I can't find video of Vinny Testaverde's absurd 48-yard TD run against the team in this game.)

Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, and even Steve Young are all long gone. Jeff Garcia and Ricky Watters and Terrell Owens all had their moments, but, for the better part of this decade, the 49ers have been a mediocre to bad team. Still, I still can't help but feel something special every time the Vikings play the 49ers. As a tribute, and because I wanted to play around with's Play Index, here are some notable Vikings-vs.-49ers all-time stats:

First, unless I've missed something (entirely possible), the Vikings have played the 49ers 39 times in the regular season since 1960, and the teams are, rather unusually, deadlocked at 19-19-1.

The Vikings have only had 2 100-yard rushers against the 49ers. 49er RBs have achieved the feat 9 times, but not since 1992.

The 49ers also lead the 100-yard receiver contest, 14 to 9.

300-yard passers have been very rare in the rivalry, with just 3 for San Fran and 2 for Minny.

You might be a little surprised to see which 49er is tied for the most sacks in a game against the Vikings, instead of the other way around.

Meanwhile, the all-time leader for TDs for the Vikings against the 49ers is someone I've never heard of. On the other side of the coin, I think I have heard of this guy.

And only one guy has ever had just 200 all-purpose yards against the 49ers as a Viking. C'mon Adrian (or even Percy), you can do better than that!

Finally, a little music to get you jacked up for the game! I promise, it's not Rick Astley

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When Canadians attack

One of the silliest paragraphs I've read in a while, from the keyboard of Yahoo! Sports' Jon Krawczynski:

Even with Brett Favre at quarterback, [Adrian] Peterson is the key to the Vikings offence. He draws so much attention from opposing defences who stack eight or nine men near the line of scrimmage that he opens things up for the passing game.

First, yay Canada? "Offence" and "defences"?

Second, there's nothing about our passing game so far this year that resembles anything has "opened up." And the Vikings' running game has really opened up the passing game since AP arrived, hasn't it? I mean, our guys are throwing for 5,000 yards and 40 TDs every year!

And third....well, there's this:

The Vikings' leading tackler practised on a limited with pads on, but defensive co-ordinator Leslie Frazier said he believes Henderson will be fine.

"Practised." Like, take off, eh? And he practised on a limited...what? A limited-time offer? A limited partnership? The Limited?

But you gotta love those "co-ordinators."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The NFL hits the Oregon Trail

You've probably already seen it on Daily Norseman, but just in case...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Motoring through Motor City

Pardon the late commentary on yesterday's win over the Lions. My best guess is that I picked up something at the sports bar that's left me coughing, sniffling, and nigh exhausted since about halftime of the late games yesterday, and not in any real mood for doing much of anything, including blogging. It'll probably be another early bedtime for me tonight, too.

(Cheap shot alert: Yesterday did prove, though, that I'm a better wide receiver than Troy Williamson, who, as we all know, can't even catch a cold. And he won't be catching anything else for the rest of this year, either. His first two years in Jacksonville: eight catches, 64 yards and four kick returns for 84 yards. And we thought his time in Minnesota was bad.)

But the Vikings did play yesterday, and played generally well, though it would be nice if they'd show up for the first half of games. They've actually been outscored 23-17 in the first half of both their games this year. But they've made up for it with a 44-10 scoring margin in the second halves of their two games this year. And while Detroit and Cleveland aren't exactly powerhouses, going 2-0 on the road to start your season is very nice indeed.

I still like E.J. Henderson, but Chad Greenway might be the team's best linebacker. If he would have fielded that onside kick near the end of the game cleanly, he might have gone for 6, to go with his two interceptions.

Still, it's not all perfect. Maybe I'm being greedy after all these years of seeing running games absolutely shut down, but I'm a little worried about the team's sudden "vulnerability" to the run. Kevin Smith averaged 3.5 yards on 24 carries this week, to go with Jamal Lewis's 5.2 last week on 11 carries. That's exactly 4.0 yards per carry (35-140) to the two teams' primary running backs. Are we sure the Williams Wall hasn't been suspended?

(Here's a crazy thought...when the Vikings went up by a couple touchdowns, I was actually glad that the Lions would have to pass instead of run. With the Vikings giving up a total of 315 yards passing through two games, they might be better against the pass than they are against the run now. Weird.)

Then there's Brett Favre.

His long pass for the game went for 13 yards (to Sidney Rice), and, though his first two games, he's thrown for 265 yards on 48 pass attempts (37 completions). That's an average of just 5.52 yards per pass attempt, not too far off the league average of 6.2, but that doesn't take his (excellent) completion percentage into account. His 7.16 yards per completion is well below the league average of 10.64 (and his personal Y/C of 11.36). Essentially, the Vikings have absolutely no deep passing game, which I thought was why Brett Favre was brought in. You know, to open up the running game, which has been horrible these two ga -- oh, wait. It hasn't.

But, while he's been limited, you have to give credit to Favre for what he has accomplished. He's throwing almost exclusively short, which inflates his completion percentage (a league-leading 77.1%) and hasn't contributed a single turnover. The team being 2-0 doesn't hurt his cause, either. I can't even get worked up too much over the sacks, which are for minimal yardage (4.1 each), seem to be as much the offensive line's fault as anything, and may be helping to contribute to the lack of interceptions. He's been solid, but let's face it: Did you really think Brett Lorenzo Favre would be this good of a "game manager"? Highly unlikely.

The upcoming schedule is still mostly soft. Of the next four games, three are at home, with the only road game being against the Rams, who look worse than the Lions these days. 4-1 or even 5-0 seems likely once Baltimore comes to town in week 6, and maybe the "extended preseason" will help Favre adjust to his new surroundings and become a quarterback worthy of a $12 million paycheck. The thing is, I'm not sure at this point I want him to.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lion in wait?

So...the Lions.

We should win. It should be fairly easy. Right?

And, while it's a mostly meaningless stat, the last time Brett Favre lost to the Lions in a home game was -- never. He's 16-0 at home all time against Detroit, even if all those games took place in Lambeau Field. And Barry Sanders won't be suiting up in Honolulu Blue tomorrow.

But we remember last year. We remember the Vikings escaping the Lions with a pair of close victories, 12-10 and 20-16. And nobody wants to be "that team," the one that the Lions finally break their 18-game losing streak against.

(The record for consecutive losses is 26, set by the 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the Lions keep losing, then they'll be on a 25-game losing streak and looking to tie the record, in week 10 against -- you guessed it -- the Vikings.)

It should be fun to watch Matthew Stafford run for his life from the Viking defenders, hopefully never finding sufficient time to hook up with Calvin Johnson. Yes, the Lions scored 28 points last week, but that was against what can only charitably be called a "defense," or whatever it is that New Orleans puts out on the field when its opponents have the ball. The real Vikings defense -- discounting a punt-return TD and a garbage TD when most of the starters were out -- only allowed two field goals against Cleveland last week, and one of those came after the Browns got a short field on the failed surprise onside kick at the start of the game (which I don't think was an awful idea).

So we should stifle what passes for the Detroit offense. And Adrian Peterson should run wild. And Brett Favre should look like the Brett Favre of old, playing the defense like a pinball machine.

So why do I feel so nervous?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fun with numbers (again)

I haven't had much of a chance to play around with's new Play Index tools, but their recent blog post about week 1 stats inspired me to examine the Vikings' week 1 win over Cleveland in more detail:

* The Vikings have had 49 Week 1 games. Adrian Peterson's 180 yards is the highest total for a Viking running back in the team's first game. In fact, AP, holds three of the top 10 rushing totals for the franchise in Week 1 -- not bad, considering he's been in the league three years.

* In fact, only 13 players overall have rushed for 180 or more yards in Week 1. You all remember Norm Bulaich, don't you?

* Only three Vikings have had three rushing TDs in Week 1, as AP did, and only six have scored three TDs in Week 1 overall.

* On the other side of the coin, Brett Favre had the 45th most passing yards from a Vikings QB (in 49 games) in Week 1. Tarvaris Jackson checks in at #36 and #40.

* On the bright side, only 16 Vikings QBs (with at least 10 attempts) have gone without an interception in Week 1, as Favre did Sunday.

* OK, it's a little artificial, but no Viking has ever has ever had a stat line like Percy Harvin did Sunday in Week 1. It's fairly common overall, though.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Great Boycott

My mother threatened this when I talked to her a month or two back. But I didn't think she or my dad would actually follow through. Here's a rough transcript of a phone conversation with my dad from last night:

Me: So, what do you think about that new quarterback of ours?
Dad: I'm not even following the Vikings any more. I've been a Vikings fan for 40 years and I can't believe they went out and got that guy. I'm not paying any attention to them while he's on the team.

Mom wasn't home so I couldn't get her exact reaction. But I have to say, this is about as emotional as I've heard my father in years (even if it's closer to 50 years that he's been watching the Vikings than 40) and it scared me a little. He's already had one heart attack, he doesn't need another.

Do you know anyone else who's boycotting the Vikings while #4 is in town? Or at least is significantly diminishing their fandom because of it?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vikings enforce Brown-out

Now that's how you start a season.

Adrian Peterson had a great day, with a highlight-reel 64-yard run to put the effective nail in the coffin, and the defense stuffed the Browns' offense until a late, garbage-time TD. The quarterbacking and special teams? Well, that's another matter. But first the good.

Adrian Peterson. What more is there to say? Even if you want to stick AP with the "inconsistent" label, he had 116 yards on 24 carries, a 4.8 average, if you take away his 64-yarder. And boy, was that run a thing of beauty, especially the part where he casually threw aside the last Cleveland defender and then turned on the jets to outrun everyone to the end zone. Right now, there's definitely nobody in the NFL with his combination of strength and speed, and there might not have ever been anyone with his physical skills. And to think some idiots wanted the Vikings to take Brady Quinn in the 2007 draft...

("Some idiots" should include a link to my post on my SportingNews blog dating back to the '07 draft where I expounded just that idea. But SN is unavailable due to heavy traffic related to the start of the NFL season. Yet another good reason why I don't use that blog any more.)

The defense. Apart from that late Cleveland TD, when mostly backups were in the game, the defense allowed just 188 yards, forced three fumbles and a pick, and sacked Quinn five times. This unit looked lights out in the preseason and, apart from a 73-yard Cleveland drive in the second quarter, the first unit stymied the Browns all day long. (But see below.)

The rookies. I may be coming around on Percy Harvin. With Bernard Berrian out, he was practically our #1 receiver, and while his numbers -- 3 catches for 36 yards (and a TD) and 2 rushes for 22 yards -- weren't huge, he had that "exciting" look every time he touched the ball. His 33-yard average on three kick returns wasn't too shabby, either.

Phil Loadholt also looked good at right tackle. I'll admit to not paying too much attention to line play, but he did nothing to embarrass himself (unlike Ryan Cook most of last year) and when I did pay attention to him, he seemed to handle his man cleanly. A key factor in my appreciation for Percy Harvin will be the play of Phil Loadholt, to make me feel better about the team passing on Michael Oher in the first round. So far, so good.

And while he's not a rookie, how about Darius Reynaud? Oh my goodness, we might have a kick returner and a punt returner! And to think we gave up on Maurice Hicks...

Those were the good. Then there's the not-so-good:

Punt coverage. Let's get this one out of the way. Really, apart from that second-quarter TD return by Josh Cribbs, who's maybe the best return man in the game, the coverage units did pretty well. Cribbs' other two punt returns netted exactly zero total yards, and he managed just 23.3 yards on six kickoff returns. But hoo boy, did it seem like more of the same after that TD. I'll still hold my breath every time Chris Kluwe boots one...

The rush defense. OK, so they weren't exactly shredded, but how on earth does Jamal freakin' Lewis manage 5.2 yards per carry against us? Unacceptable!

Him. Wasn't Brett Favre supposed to stretch the field and keep the defense from stacking the line against Adrian Peterson (who never had any good rushing games with our usual assortment of medicore QBs)? Memory may fail me, but I can only recall about three or four passes that went longer than 10 yards downfield, with a lot of dump-offs and short passes and way too many sacks (4) for the number of dropbacks (25). I'd say two of the sacks weren't Favre's fault, but on the other two (the first two, if I recall), he had plenty of time.

Now, there are a few legitimate reasons for Favre's mediocre play. One is, as previously mentioned, the lack of Bernard Berrian. And Brian Billick (we'll get back to him in a minute) brought up a semi-good point when he mentioned that the reason Favre took one of his sacks was so that he wouldn't toss up one of his well-known no-chance passes for a sure-fire turnover. Finally, with Peterson running the ball like he did and the defense playing as well as it did, Favre didn't need to take big risks and go down the field with any risky plays; to his credit, I didn't see any of those "oh no"-type passes from Favre.

But if he's not going to provide an extra dimension to the passing game, why is Brett Favre here? Did he do anything today that Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels couldn't have done? We'll never know, of course, but if all we wanted from a QB is 110 passing yards per game, we sure didn't need to cough up $25 million for it. Last year, the Vikings' lowest net passing yards in a single games (subtracting sacks) was 104. Today, it was 85. This is progress?

(And going back to Brian Billick...I believe he had three "That's just Brett being Brett"s, two "He's only been here a month"s, and two or three "He needs to work with his receivers"es. Let the excuses begin continue!)

Cleveland's probably not a good team. Still, it's good to know that even when the QB is barely contributing, the Vikings can put up 34 points. It was a team effort -- offense, defense, and special teams -- and if the team looks like this all year long, I won't be disappointed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Here we go!

The start of the Vikings' 2009 season is less than 24 hours away, tantalizingly close. All the months of speculation, rumor, disappointment, and joy (though not necessarily in that order and not necessarily relating to the same events, depending on your point of view) are nearly ended. Starting tomorrow, the games count. Starting tomorrow, predictions and opinions become fact.

So it's just a short post for today. No stats, no worrying, not even a last chance to poke fun at Brett Favre, though I will have my bingo card handy -- OK, so maybe that is one last chance. But he can make me somewhat less grumpy with a good performance tomorrow. Heck, I might even believe he can get it done, at least for the games in which he chooses to play.

OK, I'll stop now. Are you ready for some football?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

2009 Minnesota Vikings Preview

While my NFL season predictions are usually significantly off, I've done a better job in recent years with my in-depth predictions and analysis of the Vikings going into the season:

2007 Vikings Predictions
2007 Results

2008 Vikings Predictions
2008 Results

Except where Adrian Peterson is concerned, I've done pretty well, injuries aside, in predicting individual stats of players and overall performance of the team, position by position. This year, I intend to be 15.37% better, with a margin of error of less than 6.71%.

(And I didn't just make those numbers up -- they've been in use for centuries.)

Here we go...

Brett Favre: 3,300 passing yards, 21 TDs, 19 Int.

Not much to talk about here, right?

As with all my position predictions, they're based on a full season of play, with no significant injuries or benchings. Whether Brett Favre will hold up for a whole season is unknown, but regardless of the quarterback, the Vikings passing numbers will probably look something like the above line, with maybe slightly fewer TDs and interceptions if Tarvaris Jackson plays a good portion of the season and higher interceptions if Sage Rosenfels is permitted to throw the ball (which he probably shouldn't be).

On the one level, Brett Favre will turn 40 a short time into the season, and 40-year-old players aren't particularly durable, especially ones who are coming off arm surgery. On the other hand, this is Brett Favre we're talking about, arguably the most durable player in NFL history. Still, if I had to put money on it, I'd bet on him missing maybe two to three games with injury and Tarvaris Jackson doing a reasonable job as a fill-in.

Truthfully, Brett Favre could swing either way -- he could be great, chucking 25-30 TDs, and he could be awful, chucking 25-30 interceptions. Unfortunately, there's absolutely zero chance of him being benched, because it's clear that he's got more pull than Brad Childress, so, barring an injury, he'll be under center all season.

Position grade: B-

Running Back
Adrian Peterson: 1,450 rushing yards, 200 receiving yards, 14 TDs
Chester Taylor: 500 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards, 6 TDs

The numbers for Adrian Peterson might seem a bit low, especially after he ran for 1,760 last year. But remember that, going into last year, nearly everyone (myself included) thought he would miss at least a few games (at the best) with an injury. Now, after being healthy for 16 games last year, everyone believes Peterson will do the same in 2009 and have completely forgotten his health concerns of 2007.

I believe that Peterson is neither especially fragile nor especially durable. Like most running backs, he'll probably miss a few series here and there, and maybe a game or two; with luck, the Vikings will do well enough that they can afford to rest him late in the season. Also, with Brett Favre in the lineup, the team will probably pass more, cutting into his numbers even further (because we all know that AP won't have a huge year just because Favre "opens up the field" for him).

Thus, we have my fairly conservative yardage total for Purple Jesus, along with a nice complementary stat line for Chester Taylor, whom I drafted in both my fantasy leagues this year, just in case the worst case scenario occurs. After doing his time on the practice squad, Albert Young has made the team as the #3 running back, with Ian Johnson lurking on the practice squad and ready for a call-up if something happens.

Position grade: A

Bernard Berrian: 55 catches, 900 yards, 7 TDs
Sidney Rice: 25 catches, 350 yards, 1 TD
Bobby Wade: 40 catches, 550 yards, 3 TDs
Percy Harvin: 20 catches, 300 yards, 2 TDs
Visanthe Shiancoe: 35 catches, 550 yards, 6 TDs

Bernard Berrian gets paid a lot for a guy who's never had 1,000 yards receiving in a season -- and this year he might not, just for the simple reason that Vikings QBs will have a number of good-but-not-great targets to throw to this season.

Someone from the Vikings' second tier of receivers will have to step up this year. Bobby Wade is reliable but unexciting; Sidney Rice shows occasional flashes but isn't reliable; Percy Harvin might be exciting, but it remains to be seen if the Vikings will use him properly; and wide receivers Jaymer Johnson and Darius Reynaud will be used mostly on special teams. Visanthe Shiancoe emerged last year as an above-average target and, as Mark Chmura and Bubba Franks can attest, Brett loves throwing to his tight ends in the red zone!

Still, the offensive focus of the team will still be on the run, thus limiting any spectacular passing numbers from the receiving corps. It's amazing how much you have to rein in your predictions when you've established a likely maximum passing total for the team (in this case, about 3,500 yards) and have so many players to spread out your predictions for. This unit may still surprise in 2009, but it'll probably be mostly Bernard Berrian (on the weekends he's not invisible, as he was all too often last year) and whoever has the hot hand on a week-to-week basis.

Position grade: C+

Offensive Line

It's a changing of the guard in Vikingland, as Matt Birk finally steps away from his center position, after 11 years in purple. (Technically, he'll still be wearing purple, but you know what I mean.) Second-year man John Sullivan replaces him, while rookie Phil Loadholt mercifully steps into the right tackle spot previously held by the likes of Ryan Cook and Artis Hicks. I've only seen a little of Loadholt in preseason, but I'm impressed by the footwork and mobility from such a huge man. At the very least, he has to be an upgrade over Cook.

(Though I could ask why, if it only took $12 million over three years to keep Birk, why didn't we re-sign him? It's not like we didn't have twice as much money to throw at another aging star...)

The left side of the line is solid as ever, with Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie. If Loadholt and Sullivan can get it done, the O-line could be one of the best in the league.

Position grade: B+

Defensive Line

Here's where the real fun begins. Jared Allen is a beast. Pat Williams and Kevin Williams are probably the best interior tackle combination in the league. And Ray Edwards...well, he's all right, I suppose. As I said last year, he's effectively interchangeable with Brian Robison, and the pair combined for 7.5 sacks. Assuming that suspensions don't rob us of the "Williams Wall" in 2009 -- and it looks like they won't -- this has the makings to be a dominant defensive line, playing equally well against the run and the pass.

Backups Jayme Mitchell, Fred Evans, and Letroy Guion hopefully won't see too much time on the field, but even if they do, the presence of the other members of the line could open up some nice opportunities for them. Overall, this is going to be a fun group to watch, swallowing up running backs (perhaps literally, if Pat Williams has skipped lunch) and chasing opposing QBs all day long.

Position grade: A+


If EJ Henderson can recover from the dislocated toe that cost him most of 2008 -- and really, unless you're Deion Sanders, a bad toe doesn't sound like a career-threatening injury -- he might still only be the second-best linebacker on the field for the Vikings in 2009. In Henderson's absence, Chad Greenway emerged as a force to be reckoned with in 2008, notching 84 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks and seemingly being in on every play, both on his side of the field and elsewhere. He'll probably never be considered an elite linebacker, but as long as he flies around the field like he does, I'll be OK with his lack of recognition.

Ben Leber fills out the other linebacker spot, and he's an underrated player who I think would get more attention if he didn't have such stellar teammates. Unfortunately, as shown last year when Henderson went down (Napoleon Harris!), the team's depth at linebacker is almost non-existant. Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, and special-teams ace Heath Farwell are penciled into the backup spots, but that pencil will need an eraser if something goes wrong with the "big three." Let's hope it doesn't.

Position grade: A-


With Darren Sharper signing with New Orleans, Tyrell Johnson steps into his vacated safety spot. Johnson looked a little overwhelmed at times last year, having to start as a rookie in place of the injured Madieu Williams. Hopefully, he's used that extra year to learn the position and can take over admirably for the departed Sharper. Williams, his safety-mate, was solid after returning from a back injury that cost him the first half of the season.

The other two corners are the same as last year, if not a little more well paid. Both Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield signed big deals in the offseason that will keep them both in Viking purple for years to come. That could be a questionable decision in the future, with Winfield having just turned 32 and Griffin not being able to keep up with elite receivers at times last year, but both should provide at least decent play for a couple more years, provided the defensive line can keep quarterbacks on their toes. And Winfield should be good for at least half a dozen or so highlight-reel tackles each year.

As with the linebackers, depth is a major issue at the position. Benny Sapp and Karl Paymah will likely compete for the nickel and dime spots, and neither one exactly inspires confidence. An interesting player is third-round draft pick Asher Allen, tabbed as "Antoine Winfield, Jr." because of his relatively small size (5'10").

Position grade: B

Special Teams

Speaking of Darren Sharper, remember when the Vikings signed him in 2005 and everyone thought, "Oh, no, a Packer!" (Well, I did anyway.) Then we signed Ryan Longwell in 2006. And this year...well, you know. Suffice to say, Longwell's earned his keep as a Viking, converting 84.3% of field goal attempts in three years, including 6-of-6 last year from over 50 yards. Do you think he prefers the dome to Lambeau Field?

Chris Kluwe had an up-and-down year last season. His 47.6 yards per punt were phenomenal, but he was often blamed for several huge returns, including four touchdowns. While I'll admit that hang time is a good thing, the difference between "booming a punt" and "outkicking the coverage" is usually dependent on how well the rest of your team covers downfield. A healthy Heath Farwell, who missed all of last season, should do wonders for the coverage unit.

After a predictably awful year of letting Maurice Hicks return kickoffs, the Vikings are turning to rookies Percy Harvin as their primary kick returner and Percy Harvin as the punt returner. Both might switch off at the position in 2009, with Darius Reynaud likely also getting some touches as a return man.

Position grade: B-

Let's face it: Even without Brett Favre, this was looking like the most stacked Vikings team in recent history. The addition of Favre will probably provide confidence, if not actual performance, to an already potent team, but health, as always, will be a key component to a successful season.

So far, at least, the Vikings have been fortunate in that regards. Going into last year, Heath Farwell and Madeiu Williams were unavailable, and EJ Henderson only lasted until the fourth game. While none of them are as important to the team as Adrian Peterson or Jared Allen, enough little injuries can pile up to the point that they have a significant effect on the team. And three of the Vikings' main issues from last year -- special teams coverage, pass defense, and poor middle-linebacker play -- can be, in part, directly attributed to those three injuries.

Then there's the quarterback position. I won't get into my views on Brett Favre -- you're either sick of them already or you agree with me 100% -- and there's no way to actually simulate how the Vikings would have been with Favre and without him. I stand by my assertion, though, that any positive effect he has on the team will be strictly mental. People, probably including opposing defenses and coaches, will respect the name of Brett Favre, even if the player is a shell of his former self. His half-game-plus of play against the Texans was nice, but that needs to carry on over a full season, or about 30 times as much as it did two Mondays ago. I'll try to resist the urge to throw something at the TV every time he makes a bonehead play (especially when the announcers write it off as "having fun" or other nonsense), but this could be the most trying season ever for me as a Vikings fan -- amazing when you consider that, by and large, the team's got a very good chance of going to the Super Bowl.

At the very least, this team won't be boring this season, that's for sure.

Projected Finish:
11-5, 1st in NFC North

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

2009 NFL Predictions

I'll give the same disclaimer (or excuse) for these predictions that I gave last year: Predictions are silly and only half-educated guesses that are only revisited by the predictor when they go spectacularly right. Of course, I won't be like that; I'll actually revisit mine in February, but that's a long ways off. For now, bask in my half-educatedness!

y - Division Winner
x - Wild Card

AFC East
1. New England - y
2. Buffalo - x
3. Miami
4. NY Jets

Sure, there's a school of though that says the Patriots won't come all the way back to where they were in 2007. And they won't, but a healthy Tom Brady should be good for at least 12-13 wins. Miami overachieved last year, I think, and the Jets will have a rookie QB under center, which rarely works unless you only consider last year. The Bills in the playoffs? Sure, why not? Terrell Owens is always good for his new team, at least for a year.

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh - y
2. Cleveland
3. Baltimore
4. Cincinnati

After Pittsburgh, this is a tough division to call. Cincinnati and Cleveland both had a ton of injuries last year and should rebound fairly well, while people will soon realize that Joe Flacco wasn't really all that good. Still, I could see 2-4 in just about any order. (What a cop-out!)

AFC South
1. Tennessee - y
2. Indianapolis - x
3. Jacksonville
4. Houston

Just because nobody expects Tennessee to repeat, I have to pick them. What people don't realize is the amazing offensive line they had last year -- Titans QBs were only sacked on 2.6% of their dropbacks in 2009, compared to a league average of 5.9%. And I think the loss of Tony Dungy will weaken Indy just enough to keep them as a 10-11 win team. Jacksonville probably wasn't as bad as it showed last year, and I'm tired of waiting for Houston to finally do something.

AFC West
1. San Diego - y
2. Oakland
3. Denver
4. Kansas City

Like the AFC North, here's another sure-fire division winner and three also-rans. The difference is that I think the AFCN teams might be pretty good, overall, while Oakland, Denver, and Kansas City could all finish under .500.

Joe Buck Division NFC East
1. Philadelphia - y
2. Dallas - x
3. NY Giants
4. Washington

I think Philly has the potential to be the best team in the NFC (along with another you can probably guess), largely on the strength of their defense. And I think that the loss of T.O. won't hurt the Cowboys as much as people think, while the loss of Plaxico Burress has already shown that it hurts the Giants. And the Redskins? Well, who knows what Daniel Snyder's doing up in DC.

NFC North
1. Minnesota - y
2. Green Bay
3. Chicago
4. Detroit

Even Brett Favre can't screw this team up too badly -- I think. I admit that I'm very close to picking Green Bay as my wild card, but I think the defense will let them down just a little too often this year; still, 9-10 wins is likely. The QB with the second-most interceptions in the league in 2008, behind Favre, was Jay Cutler. This probably means that the Packers' defense is a nice sleeper pick in fantasy football. But not the Lions' defense. Stay away from the Lions' defense. (OK, really, I think any team, the Lions included, are capable of about 4 wins.)

NFC South
1. Atlanta - y
2. New Orleans - x
3. Carolina
4. Tampa Bay

New Orleans has no defense and no running game, but man, can Drew Brees chuck it! Still, those shortcomings will be enough to keep them out of the top spot in the division, which I think goes to Atlanta, which only helped itself by bringing aboard Tony Gonzalez to help out Matt Ryan. Jake Delhomme is Brett Favre, Jr., capable of easily losing a game with an interception-fest, like he did in the playoffs against Arizona last year. I think this year will be more "bad Jake" than "good Jake." Tampa Bay is the definition of "rebuilding." Remember what I said about the Lions winning maybe 4 games this year? The Bucs would likely kill for that.

NFC West
1. Seattle - y
2. Arizona
3. San Francisco
4. St. Louis

I agonized over this one for a while, but in the end I picked Seattle to rebound from its injury-plagued 2008, in part because I needed to pick a fourth new division winner and in part because -- let's face it people -- nobody really knows how Arizona suddenly played well last January after being kicked around like a rag doll in December. San Fran's a trendy pick this year, but I don't know if I buy them just yet. And St. Louis might fight with Tampa Bay for the #1 draft pick. Marc Bulger looks absolutely finished.

Well, that's it! Check back with me in six months to see how stupid I was!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Minnesota 23, Pauluscuse 20 (OT)

Just wondering if anyone else caught the game between the University of Minnesota and the Pauluscuse Pauluses, which were quarterbacked by Greg Paulus, who used to go to Paulus University to play Paulusball but transferred to where he Paulused up as a kid and Paulused his high school Paulusball team to the Paulus championship when he was just a wee Paulus?

Wait, Minnesota won the game? I wonder if they snuck that information in while they were Paulusing Greg Paulus. And by "Paulusing" I mean *expletive deleted*ing his *expletive deleted*.

UPDATE: And it looks like John David Booty, as well as several others, is now unemployed, which looks to me to be the right move. Thanks to Vikings Gab for the heads-up.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The quarterback conundrum

Four quarterbacks and (probably) only three spots to keep them. What's a team to do?

It's not news that the Vikings are asking teams about a potential trade for Tarvaris Jackson before the Saturday cuts. If the return is what we're hearing -- at best, a second-day, probably 5th round or later pick -- then that limits their options greatly. If the team can't work out a trade for Jackson, one of the other QBs has to go, and Brett Favre won't be one of them. And because Sage Rosenfels is on the hook for $9 million over the next two years, he probably won't go either. That leaves Jackson and John David Booty as the odd men out.

(By the way, can I just take a minute to say how much I hate Yahoo's new team page layout? Let's see, no schedule, no pulldown list so I can easily float to other teams' pages...good job taking useful features away just so I could be sure to know that Taylor Melhaff has been cut!)

No matter what happens this year, there is basically zero chance of Tarvaris Jackson being a Viking in 2010. He's in the last year of his rookie contract and, really, if you'd been treated the way he had -- being cast aside not once but twice this offseason -- wouldn't you like to get a fresh start somewhere else? This is probably also the limiting factor in trade talks. Any team that acquires Jackson will only have his services, probably as a backup QB, for 2009, with no guarantee that he'll stick around past that, or even that you'll want him to stick around. That doesn't give the Vikings a lot of leverage.

But the Vikings are a team that's thinking of winning the Super Bowl this year. Teams don't often go to their third-string quarterbacks, but if something happens to Favre and if Rosenfels can't get it done, who would you want leading the team in December? Say what you will about Jackson, but I think we'd all have more confidence in him right now than in Booty.

So could Booty survive a trip to the practice squad? Memories are fresh of the Vikings trying to sneak Tyler Thigpen there a few years ago, only to have the Chiefs snatch him up on waivers. At this point, Thigpen looks like at least a decent backup QB/spot starter -- not bad for a seventh-round pick, but not exactly someone we're regretting losing. Booty's name recognition as a former USC quarterback probably would make it even tougher for us to stash him away on the practice squad, but would there really be any harm done in losing him? As I pointed out just after he was drafted, fifth-round QBs rarely develop into anything resembling a quality player, so his loss would probable have minimal impact. And he's not going to be the starter next year either, not with Favre and Rosenfels around, so do we keep him sitting around for a total of three years collecting dust and then hope he can turn into something useful?

I say no. Unless he shows something amazing in tonight's final preseason game, I think the Vikings' best option is to try and stick Booty on the practice squad and hope he gets through. If he doesn't, it's not a big deal -- we can replace him easily enough with a second-day QB pick in next year's draft. Whoever that is will have a year of tutelage under Favre and Rosenfels and then might be ready to contribute in 2011. Otherwise, quite frankly, John David Booty is just wasting a roster spot for the next two years.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Monday night reactions

I'd say that was actually a little better than a b), with Brett Favre showing his usual zing on passes while not making any critical mistakes. His sacks were largely the fault of the offensive line and his one near-interception came about because of a great play by a Houston defender.

Naturally, however, Favre's ex-QB coach and MNF Official Cheerleader Jon Gruden couldn't assign any blame to Favre for a second-quarter pass that glanced off the fingertips of Percy Harvin in the back of the end zone. Gruden twice said that Harvin had to catch the "perfectly thrown" ball, while ignoring the possibility that, instead of Harvin reaching out another three inches, perhaps Favre could have thrown it three inches less. Truthfully, neither player was at fault -- it was a well-thrown ball and Harvin was grabbed ever-so-slightly by the defender -- but it's not like Harvin's play was an egregious error by the receiver.

Then there was "the hit." There was doubtless no malicious intent on Favre's part, but there are a few problematic things to consider:

1) “I will be 40 years old in October and (was) weed-eating 13 days ago,” Favre said. “I wasn’t thinking about throwing blocks.”

Putting aside any obvious "weed" jokes, this is exactly what I don't want to hear from Favre or anyone associated with bringing him in. Why weren't you in training camp 13 days ago? Were you not thinking about avoiding interceptions? Would you use that if you threw one? Let the media come up with the excuses, Brett.

2) As the analysts pointed out, near-40-year-old quarterbacks shouldn't be throwing a block in a preseason game, especially when they supposedly have cracked ribs. Oh yeah, he's just having fun out there.

So, yeah. Three quarters of preseason football against a mediocre defense isn't enough to get me fully on the Favre bandwagon, but I might be holding back the trigger on the TNT to blow the whole thing up. This week.