Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ironclad Stone Cold Ice Locking Pick Lock Rock Plock Lick Picks for 2013

Vikings worst case scenario: 7-9. They suck but don't suck bad enough to get a good draft choice so they're stuck in purgatory. Ponder sucks worse than last year, so people cry for Cassel who will somehow be even worse than Ponder. Greg Jennings is the second coming of Bernard Berrian. Peterson gets hurt. Brad Childress somehow becomes head coach again.

Vikings best case scenario: 10-6, like last year. Ponder is competent. Cassel doesn't see the field. Jennings is a solid #1 WR. Peterson is Peterson. Childress remains a high school janitor somewhere. Harrison Smith is a beast all year. Everson Griffin has 10 sacks. All three first round picks do well. That Mauti kid from Penn State becomes a difference maker at LB.

The answer will be somewhere in between. But man, their schedule is bruuuutal. If they're over .500 I'll honestly be surprised.

Just as a reminder for Vikings fans, PLEASE, I beg you, keep these things in mind this season and repeat after me:

Matt Cassel is not better than Christian Ponder. Joe Webb is not better than Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder. McLeod Bethel-Thompson is not better than Joe Webb, Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder.

Now here's the rest of my predictions with some notes here and there:

NFC North
Green Bay 10-6 (Their o-line is still a problem. One-and-done playoff fodder.)
Minnesota 8-8
Chicago 8-8 (Talent is there but not sure about new head coach or front seven.)
Detroit 5-11 (D-line way overrated and secondary is TERRIBLE. No idea why they're getting buzz.)

NFC East
Dallas 9-7 (There's just too much skill talent there for them to not eventually have a good year.)
NY Giants 9-7 (Typical Giants season.)
Washington 7-9 (RG3 makes it to Week 5 before going down again.)
Philadelphia 4-12 (Defense is the worst in football. But hey, rabblerabbleChipKellyrabblerabble.)

NFC South
Atlanta 13-3 (Not crazy about defense but man, Ryan/Jones/White/Gonzo is effing strong.)
New Orleans 10-6 (Wild Card in Payton's return.)
Carolina 6-10 (Meh.)
Tampa Bay 4-12 (Bleh.)

NFC West
San Francisco 12-4 (Best defense in football.)
Seattle 9-7 (I'm just not buying Russell Wilson. But they get the Wild Card.)
St Louis 8-8 (Competitive but not good enough, typical Jeff Fisher team.)
Arizona 4-12 (Carson Palmer is the ultimate huge-stats-on-bad-team QB.)

AFC North
Baltimore 11-5 (Coaching and additions on D will put them in AFC title game again.)
Cincinnati 10-6 (Tons of hype for them but they're the same as last year to me, Wild Card again.)
Pittsburgh 8-8 (Tomlin and Ben are worth at least 8 wins every year.)
Cleveland 8-8 (A year away.)

AFC East
New England 10-6 (Brady + Belichick + easy division = automatic 10 wins.)
Miami 9-7 (I like their offense, will contend for Wild Card.)
Buffalo 6-10 (No idea about their coach or QB situation but decent amount of talent.)
NY Jets 3-13 (Clownin' for Clowney. Even then, Jets wouldn't be smart enough to draft him.)

AFC South
Houston 14-2 (Loaded roster. Crap coach but this should be their year.)
Indianapolis 8-8 (Love Luck but their D is right down there with Philly.)
Tennessee 6-10 (Meh.)
Jacksonville 3-13 (Bleh.)

AFC West
Denver 14-2 (Peyton. Welker. Thomas. Decker. Friggin' stacked.)
Kansas City 10-6 (Reid/Smith a ginormous upgrade over Crennel/Cassel. Wild Card team.)
Oakland 5-11 (Another year, another losing record.)
San Diego 5-11 (The beginning of a long, rough stretch for this crap roster.)

Seattle at Green Bay - Green Bay
New Orleans at Dallas - Dallas
Cincinnati at Baltimore - Baltimore
Kansas City at New England - Kansas City

Dallas at San Francisco - Dallas
Green Bay at Atlanta - Atlanta
Baltimore at Denver - Baltimore
Kansas City at Houston - Houston

Dallas at Atlanta - Atlanta
Baltimore at Houston - Houston

Atlanta vs. Houston - Houston

That's right, the friggin' Houston Texans are my Super Bowl pick. I do not feel the slightest bit good about it, but I don't have to worry because it has no chance in hell of being right.

Other random thoughts: Dallas' annual kick in the balls comes in the NFC title game this year. I also couldn't resist a Dallas/San Francisco playoff game, which would be awesome just for the uniforms and history montages alone. Baltimore/Denver will be touted as a "REVENGE GAME" ("Peyton's been salivating for this!")... and then the Broncos promptly get their asses handed to them. I love when that happens. (See also: Green Bay at San Francisco last year.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Absolute Definitive Amazing Quarterback Power Rankings Ever In The World Of The Universe Forever And Ever Amen (for 2013)

Because what the hell, I'm bored and anxious to talk about football. This pointless list represents how I'd rank the starting quarterbacks at the quarterback position on the football field of the National Football League. There, now I feel like a real blowhard.

32. Mark Sanchez
31. Blaine Gabbert
I don't know about you, but that just looks hilarious in print, doesn't it? Well not in print, on the screen... whatever. In conclusion, buttfumble.

30. Whoever the Raiders Start
I had to look it up -- apparently it's either Matt Flynn, Terrell Pryor, Tyler Wilson, Matt McGloin, Jay Schroeder, Kenny Stabler, Todd Marinovich or George Ratterman. My money is on Schroeder.

29. Kevin Kolb
When you heard "quarterback hurts knee slipping on a mat," your first thought was probably, "Wait, Greg Oden is a quarterback?" But I'm confident the next was, "God, Kevin Kolb just suuuuuucks."

28. Brandon Weeden
27. Jake Locker
I have no clue what to even say about these guys, so here's a picture of my dog looking bored.

26. Christian Ponder
Hey, look, proof that I'm not a stupid homer. Unless you think Ponder is even worse than Jake Locker, which I'd have no problem with. If I read one more post or hear one more talking head say that Ponder needs to STEP IT UP this year, I'm going to put myself in the Sharpshooter until I pass out. NO SHIT HE HAS TO STEP IT UP, EINSTEIN. Ugh.

25. Ryan Tannehill
24. Sam Bradford
23. Andy Dalton
22. Josh Freeman
Ah, the "We spent a high draft pick on this guy so we have to play him for better or for worse even if he's average at best" category. Also known as "purgatory." Full disclosure: I've barely seen Tannehill play, because I'm an NFL expert which is why you're reading this. Hard hitting analysis.

21. Carson Palmer
20. Philip Rivers
19. Michael Vick
The "totally washed up but can still put up nice numbers" category. Also known as "purgatory but more depressing because fans can't delude themselves into thinking 'Young Guy X Just Needs More Time.'" There's a better chance one of these guys pulls a Rich Gannon and catches fire than the Freeman/Dalton/Bradford/Tannehill group being anything other than mediocre.

18. Russell Wilson
So yeah, I'm not in on the RUSSELL WILSON JUST WINS FOOTBALL GAMES ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD WITH THE FOOTBALL circle-jerk. People forget just how awful he was for a large majority of the season up until his career-best game at Atlanta in the playoffs. And when I say awful, I mean like... can't-even-throw-the-ball-over-his-own-offensive-line awful. But hey he JUST WINS so who cares about style points or sustainability or defense or special teams or any of those other things.

17. Alex Smith
I was actually bummed out to see him traded. After years of being stuck in such a terrible situation, he was finally put in a position to succeed, leading to one of the all-time great playoff games with that absolutely awesome final drive against New Orleans in the '11-'12 postseason. Ever since then I've been on the bandwagon. The Chiefs will win with this dude. Not necessarily because of him, but you could do much worse.

16. Matt Schaub
Totally average, which is why he's smack dab in the middle at #16. Texans fans defend this guy to the death for not having enough targets, having crappy playcalling, or whatever... but any one of those fans who say they wouldn't trade him for the one of the 15 guys ahead of him is a liar.

15. Cam Newton
One of the hardest guys to place, so middle of the pack seems about right. He's spectacular at times, but I have a nagging feeling Cam's destiny is to peak in the "take the bad with the good" group (see #s 10-12), but we'll see.

14. Robert Griffin III
This is assuming he's 100% for 2013 obviously. Even then, I have a nagging feeling that it's always just a matter of time before he gets hurt again. His don't-give-a-shit recklessness is what makes him spectacular, but it's unsustainable, which is why I'd rather have...

13. Colin Kaepernick
He should and probably will eventually be ahead of the next group this year, but people forget he's only had 10 starts, despite what over-inflated gasbags like Ron Jaworski spew. If nothing else, you gotta love Kaepernick's tribute to Scott Steiner after every touchdown.

12. Matthew Stafford
11. Tony Romo
10. Jay Cutler
That's right -- Neil Lomax 2.0, Jim Everett 2.0 and Jeff George 2.0 are all top 12 quarterbacks in today's NFL. (Or is Romo closer to Drew Bledsoe and Stafford closer to Everett? Either way.) Here's my thing though: these guys can really look amazing at times, just like their predecessors. You just have to take the bad with the good, which admittedly is pretty bad sometimes. But I'm convinced the Bears/Cowboys/Lions can win with these guys at the helm. If anyone tells you they'd rather have Russell Wilson or Cam Newton over these guys, their NFL consumption likely consists of nothing but SportsCenter highlights and the RedZone Channel.

9. Joe Flacco
Ugh. Begrudgingly, I guess Flacco is a top 10 guy. I'm in the "Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta are way better than anyone realizes" camp but Flacco has proven he can deliver when it matters most. I'm verrrrrrrry interested to see how this year pans out for him -- he could either earn his way to becoming a top 5 guy, or free-fall out of the top 15.

8. Andrew Luck
Might be a bit high already, but seriously, would you honestly rather have Flacco, Cutler, Romo, a guy of that ilk over Luck, even for just 2013? No effing way. I love watching this dude play to the point that I'm not even pissed at the Colts for pulling a "1997 San Antonio Spurs" to get him. He's a once-in-a-generation player and will be the unanimous #1 within two or three years.

7. Matt Ryan
Here's where I lose 75% of my reading audience (or 3 out of the 4 people who will end up reading this somehow): the development of Matt Ryan has been really fun to watch in an old school way that reminds me of watching how a WWF mid-card guy used to be able to climb the ranks from tag teams, to the Intercontinental Title to eventually the WWF title. Ryan is in that "Bret Hart in his 2nd Intercontinental title reign" stage of his career and he's only getting better. I loved this article where he breaks down the final drive of the 2012 NFC Championship game. Great stuff there.

6. Drew Brees
5. Ben Roethlisberger
That's right, Big Fat Ben over Drew Brees, who I think is in the 1990s Dan Marino/Warren Moon part of his career. Did you know Brees is 34 already? That's not a criticism, just something that startled me. For me this boils down to "Who can do more with less," and I've always loved BEN's (ugh, thanks for instilling that habit, Al Michaels) ability to move around and make shit happen downfield and take a ton of punishment. He's the white Steve McNair, another player I used to love. Brees is still great obviously, and will put up Nintendo numbers again this year, but I'd rather have BEN.

4. Eli Manning
I feel really weird that I seem to be one of the only non-Giants fans that thinks Eli Manning is really effing good. He has that innate ability to play well despite who he's throwing to -- whether its Steve Smith, Kevin Boss, Domenik Hixon or Jeremy Shockey, all of which put up quality numbers with the Giants and totally fell off the face of the earth once they left. (I suspect the same will eventually pan out for Mario Manningham.) Everyone loves making fun of Eli, but Christ, what the hell else does he have to do? Besides not try to rap ever again.

3. Peyton Manning
2. Tom Brady
Brady just a hair over Peyton because of his ability to do more with less, which is kind of a thing with me I guess. I like when a QB can take a pile of crap WRs (in 2006, Brady was throwing to Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, 99-year-old Troy Brown and a moldy sack of onions) and still have a pass offense worth respecting. Not to say Peyton isn't entirely capable of doing the same thing, and it's not Peyton's fault that he's had Harrison/Wayne/Clark and now Welker/Thomas/Decker, blah blah blah. The point is these two are just so close together that you have to split hairs to decide, but sadly Peyton's hair is disappearing faster than Ron Jaworski's mind. Gotta go hair > forehead here.

1. Tim Tebow
Hey, listen: it is a travesty -- a TRAVESTY -- that Tim Tebow has not gotten a fair shot at becoming a starter at the quarterback position in the National Hockey Lea-- I mean, the National Football League. Tebow ranks #1 in intangibles, he's a leader, he's gritty, gutty, and he just wins football games. End of story. Tebow has proven IN THIS LEAGUE, without a shadowofadoubt, he - is - a - winner. Period.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. The real #1, sadly...

1. Aaron Rodgers
He recently spoke of "semi-disappearing" after he retires. I'm assuming he said this while filming another twenty-five State Farm Insurance commercials that will air 9,000 times every weekend this season. But hey, he can have it both ways because he's the best in the game right now. (Dammit.)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Throwbacks: 1998 NFC Divisional Playoffs, Arizona at Minnesota

Pretty boring week Vikings-wise, so I thought I'd do a recap of a Vikings game from happier times -- specifically, the 1998 season. This is the Wild Card game on New Year's Day of 1999 against the Arizona Cardinals.

This game is coming to you TAPED from the Metrodome with your hosts Pat Summerall and John Madden!  Just hearing Summerall's voice puts a hop in my step.

Vikings receive the ball to start as Summerall introduces the starting offense. "This is the SECOND Randall Cunningham," he begins to say, but uh... doesn't finish his thought for some reason. Poor Pat was getting up there at this point. I think what he meant was this was a much different Cunningham than how he started his career.

Anyway, the rest of the lineup reads like a Pro-Bowl roster. Randall McDaniel. Jeff Christy. Korey Stringer.  Robert Smith. Randy Moss. Cris Carter. Jake Reed. Andrew Glover. David Palmer on 3rd downs. Leroy Hoard for short yardage.

Notice I left out Todd Steussie. The only time you heard him mentioned was when the referee called a false start, which is exactly what happens the 2nd play of the game. Yeah, when I think of the '98 season, this is one part I do not miss.

Vikings quickly get to 3rd and 6, where its noted that they are an insane 51% for converting third downs. A quick bit of research shows only the '99 Rams, '06 Colts and '11 Saints were better over an entire season since then. A big part of that percentage is David Palmer who catches one over the middle for an easy 1st. Seriously, Palmer was the most under appreciated part of this offense.

Two should-be Hall of Famers going head to head here, Randy Moss vs. Aeneas Williams. Cunningham hasn't looked once in his direction, instead getting the ball to Carter, Robert Smith and Leeee-royyyy HOAAAAARD (Summerall's enunciation) as the Vikings drive inside the Arizona 30. Madden takes the opportunity to go on about the offensive line.

"If you don't have these guys right here, if you don't have this group, then you can have all the Randy Mosses and Cris Carters and Robert Smiths and all the other guys you want, but it's academic. The first thing that happens is these guys have to block." Well said. Sure, Madden said that in every single game ever, about every o-line (he even said it in the video game), but it's still well said.

On 3rd and 1, Palmer lines up at QB with Cunningham wide left. OMG WILDCAT!~!~1!(#@(~! Palmer scampers for 10 yards to the right side, first down.

More Smith and Hoard lead the Vikings to 1st and Goal until Hoard pounds it in. "They make it look so simple, they get it done with such ease," says Summerall. Madden follows up, "This drive was surgery. The Minnesota Vikings just performed surgery on the Arizona Cardinals defense." Bear in mind, Moss didn't even get a look, let alone a throw in his direction. Neither did Jake Reed or Andrew Glover. Damned impressive.

Eric Metcalf (!) returns the ensuing kick to the 27. Adrian Murrell runs for -1, Jake Plummer is nearly picked off by Corey Fuller, 5 yard delay of game, incomplete to Frank Sanders. Not an inspiring start for Arizona.

Summerall says something curious, "Don't make too many gambles, Jake. They'll put this game out of reach in a hurry." I guarantee you if Joe Buck says something like that, people would be marching toward the booth with torches and pitchforks. It sounds like he's blatantly rooting for Arizona but I think he just knew the blowout potential here and wanted a competitive game.

Now, if there's any reason to root for Arizona, it's that guy.

Vikings get right back to work with Palmer under center again, and Madden goes nuts as Cunningham actually throws a block on the play.

Nobody makes a "Is that Randall Cunningham or Randall McDaniel out there?" joke, despite that Summerall called Cunningham "McDaniel" by accident that season at least twice a game. Meanwhile, here's how the Vikings offense has operated thus far:

15 plays, 15 different formations. Smith and Palmer continue to be the feature guys so far today as the offense rolls right along.... until ANOTHER Steussie false start (seriously, he had at least two a game, like clockwork), and offensive coordinator Brian Billick gets a little too cute by having fullback Charles Evans take a carry (???). Seriously Billick was great at calling plays but he got a little too up his own ass at times.

Meanwhile, center Jeff Christy does exactly what I'd love to do to Steussie a couple times:

Notice that love-tap did little to change Steussie's "DUHHHH" expression. Of course Madden absolutely loves this. "WHAP!"

The first quarter ends with the Vikings 1st and Goal, and the Cardinals offense only seeing the field for 54 seconds. Sadly, just as I'm about to point out Moss hasn't been involved yet, Cunningham opens the 2nd quarter by forcing Moss' way and is picked off by Williams, running it back 40 yards.

Smart read by Williams, not much effort by Moss (surprise, surprise), and a terrible, Mark-Sanchez type decision from Cunningham. That's what it looks like to force it to someone.

Thankfully for the Vikings, Jake Plummer and the Cards offense is a disaster, only able to move the ball via dubious pass interference and off-sides penalties. Robert Griffith picks off an errant Plummer pass to get the Vikes' offense back on the field and promptly throw deep to Randy Moss, who blatantly pushes Williams out of the way to go up and grab it.

Now THAT'S how you're supposed to force a ball to Moss. However...

Today, a shove that blatant is getting called 99 out of 100 times, but back then, go ahead and backhand the guy out of the way. Madden takes this opportunity to say "dawg" four different times. "Just chuck it deep dawg and I'll go get it."

Three plays later, Andrew Glover catches a pass in the end zone on a post route, 14-0 Vikings. Summerall: "We haven't mentioned him yet." Madden: "Naw, we haven't gotten to him yet!" Good lord, they made it look so easy.

Jake Plummer immediately follows that up with a ghastly interception straight to Robert Griffith, his 2nd of the game. Plummer overthrew Frank Sanders by about five yards.

His expression is Cutler-esque. Anyway, Smith runs for 8, Andre Wadsworth (remember him?) bats down a pass, Cunningham takes a sack, so Gary Anderson hits a field goal (remember when he was able to do that?) and all of a sudden it's 17-0 with 11 minutes left in the first half. Dominance.

Arizona finally calms the hell down and gets some momentum on offense, picking up a first down on a nice 3rd and 3 fade to Rob Moore. The Vikes defense helps them out with two offsides penalties in a row giving the Cards the ball inside the Vikings 25. Plummer gets Frank Sanders and Larry Centers involved on a couple crossing routes, leading to an obvious Corey Fuller pass interference call in the end zone. Vikings defense makes a nice goal line stand, until who else but Dwayne Rudd (hello, any Browns fans reading this) gets called for roughing the passer on 4th down. Dumb penalties plus zero pass-rush equals a Vikings defense that looks lackluster. Cards take advantage as Mario Bates runs it in from 1 yard out for a touchdown. 17-7 Vikings.

Thank god for the Vikings offense. They respond immediately with Smith tearing through the middle for 32 yards.

Arizona sticks to the nickel defense, so the Vikings continue to run it up the middle with Smith and HOAAARRRD despite there being less than 2 minutes left in the half. 32 seconds left, Cunningham scrambles to buy time, finds HOOOOAAARD in the flat who sneaks it over the pylon to make it 24-7 at the half. 8 plays, 74 yards, easy peasy.

Mitch Berger kicks off which allows Madden to tell the "He keeps a Snickers in his shoe" bit for what had to be the 400th time that season.

We get this exchange:

Madden: "Of all the guys I've coached, anytime that a guy would have a candy bar like that, someone else would eat it. I don't know why the other players leave him alone."
Summerall: "Because it's in his shoe!"
Madden: "Yeah, but it's wrapped! I'd eat a candy bar out of a shoe."

That, folks, is one small example of why they were the greatest announcers of all time. Anyway, we've reached halftime, here's the stats:

The 2nd half starts with Murrell driving Arizona inside the Vikings 30, where Plummer makes a really nice play on third down completing a crazy pass behind him to Moore for a big gain. The Vikes defense allows another TD to Bates on 4th and goal from the 1 to make it 24-14.

No big deal. David Palmer returns the ensuing kick all the way to the 44, and a flea-flicker to Cris Carter has the Vikings inside the Arizona 5, just like that. They can't seal the deal and settle for a field goal but the point remains: the defense was almost irrelevant. It's really amazing to watch. Yes, yes we all know how it ended, but I think people really get lost in that and forget how unstoppable this offense really was.

In fact just to give a better idea, I'm going to try and piece together a modern equivalent of a roster like this to better get the point across to how loaded this team was:

The offensive line is similar to the line the Vikings had just a few years ago when Matt Birk was still around. Both had serviceable but overrated LTs (Steussie and McKinnie), All-World LGs (McDaniel and Hutchinson), occasional All-Pro centers (Christy and Birk) and solid RGs (Dixon and Herrera).  The only comparison that wouldn't fit is Korey Stringer, who was head and shoulders above any other RT the Vikings have had since. He was closer to a David Stewart type from the Titans.

Cunningham's 2013 contemporary -- Stylistically they're very different but imagine if Phil Rivers, who is in the process of crashing and burning in San Diego just as Cunningham did in Philly, quietly went to the Vikings as a backup and totally re-invigorated himself while retooling how he plays.

Robert Smith -- Trouble with injuries off and on, very fast, dual threat out of the backfield, under-appreciated on a national level. Sounds like Matt Forte.

Leroy Hoard -- "If you need one yard, I'll get ya three yards. If you need five yards, I'll get ya three yards." The perfect compliment to Smith. But I can't really think of a modern guy like this. I'd say maybe Brandon Jacobs but he was gigantic. Hoard was 5'11". Michael Bush is the best I can think of, but Hoard was much better than that guy.

Randy Moss -- Who the hell do you compare Randy Moss to? I would guess the closest comparison to his size/speed combo nowadays is Calvin Johnson, but still, there's only one Randy Moss.

Cris Carter -- The best possible #2 receiver you could ask for. Hall of Fame hands, been around the block, always seems to get open somehow. Sounds like Reggie Wayne.

Andrew Glover -- A ginormous dude who compares to Martellus Bennett, only not an idiot.

Jake Reed -- The forgotten man of Three Deep had four straight 1000 yard seasons coming into 1998 before only catching 34 passes for 474 yards in 11 games. Tall guy with deceptive speed and good hands who would've been at least a #2 wideout on any other team. He had comparable size and stats (right down to the occasional injury) to Marques Colston before Moss showed up.

Anyway, back to the game, which is a mere formality at this point. CB Jimmy Hitchcock drops an easy pick-6 from Plummer, who refuses to give up on turning it over by dropping a snap. Vikings recover, touchdown Randy Moss, 34-14. Ho hum. Moss' 8th straight game with a touchdown catch.

The rest of the game is rinse and repeat: Vikings defense bends and bends, giving up the occasional score, Arizona has the occasional bumble, and the Vikes offense controls the game, with the exception of a punt, their first of the game 14:51 of the 4th.

Other highlights: Summerall calling Eric Metcalf "Terry," his dad, to which Madden quips, "Well, Terry was in the league the last time the Cards were in the playoffs." Also, Madden describing the Metrodome as "kind of a dull place" up until '98, as well as saying Jake Plummer "will be a superstar in this league."

The Vikes give up another score (Bates scored all three Cards TDs, nice bit of trivia there), Leroy Hoard pounds in another, and the final score ends up being 41-21, an exercise of dominance by the Vikings offense.

The point of this is just a friendly reminder: 1998 wasn't just one game, and you know which one I'm referring to. The rest of that season was pretty damned amazing and it shouldn't be ignored, especially this game.