Monday, November 16, 2009

Peaks and Valleys

I won't make a needlessly grandiose statement about the importance of something unquantifiable like momentum, but I'll be damned if we haven't seen some seismic changes over the past 10 weeks this NFL season. That M-word certainly comes to mind as a reason. Two teams have peaked (maybe three) and we're seeing two teams that bottomed out quickly on their way back.

-It's looking more and more like Denver's entire season was that New England game. Huge win for sure, but you couldn't help but feel like that was their Super Bowl, and since it's been mostly downhill since, it sure seems that way.

-After Week 3, the New York Giants and Baltimore were considered by many to be the clear-cut front-runners in their respective conferences. Eli looked fantastic, the Giants were pounding the ball and making stars out of their new receivers, Flacco looked to have made The Leap, and the Baltimore D was making huge plays, as witnessed by Ray Lewis' tackle-for-loss on Darren Sproles on a 4th and 2 to end a close one against San Diego in Week 2. Both teams looked to be going at all cylinders.

That's meaningless in today's NFL. They've gone a combined 2-6 since Week 5. The Giants have lost 4 straight, and Baltimore is coming off a 1-4 stretch. Both look old and defeated, and I can't help but see that both have peaked.

-I have to take a stun gun to my inner Kool-Aid Drinker Vikings Fan when I say this, but the Saints look eminently beatable. The Rams (the fucking RAMS) took it to them - they got to the quarterback, they moved the ball at will propping up Marc Bulger's exhumed corpse, and Steven Jackson (who is not better than All Day) lit them up with 176 total yards and a TD. Their defense is banged up, but damned if they didn't look average yesterday. I think they've... *gulp*... peaked. Maybe.

-Carolina and Tennessee are the opposite. Both could not possibly have looked worse over the first several weeks, and now suddenly Delhomme has gone 3 weeks without a pick, Steve Smith took back his name from the Giants' Steve Smith, Chris Johnson looks like the Madden '11 coverboy, and Vince Young Just Wins Football Games*.

*I wonder if this carries over to his everyday life too. Every time he plays Xbox 360 or checkers or rock paper scissors, he loses. "I just win football games."

As a wannabe sportswriter columnist for a predominantly Vikings based blog (despite the tacky name), this is important to me because the Vikings haven't peaked yet. They haven't reached their tipping point, the defining moment of their season. We saw New England's last night as Belichick made one of the all-time great shocking calls in recent NFL history. (On a 0 to Michaels-Throwing-Jannetty-Through-a-Window scale of shock, I was a 9. I love Bill Belichick.)

What I mean by defining moment is probably better described as a "writing-on-the-wall" moment. Belichick obviously had zero faith in his defense stopping Peyton Manning. Denver used up all its power-ups against New England and have been flat since. The Giants' secondary has been roasted Wasswa Serwanga-style. The Saints can't stop the run and when they're not able to get Pierre Thomas going, their offense can sputter. The writing is on the wall for all those teams.

A great example of this for the Vikings was last year's Week 2 game at home against Indianapolis. They drove up and down the field against them but kept having to settle for field goals, which cost them the game. They couldn't score when it mattered. The writing on the wall said "First round playoff fodder."

The Vikings have had a few potential games like this, where they could have either outright dominated or laid an egg - a bold statement either way. Both Green Bay games come to mind. The closest they've come was Favre's miraculous winning TD to Greg Lewis against the Niners in Week 3.

What I'm trying to say is, the wall is blank. The Vikings have yet to reach their ceiling or their floor. No peaks, no valleys. The best (or worst) is yet to come.

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