Monday, November 26, 2007

Winds of Change

Can things finally be going our way? I mean, things just haven’t been the same since 1998. We’ve gone through more personnel changes than the Bush administration and consistency is one of those four letter words. It seems that things may be changing with the Minnesota Vikings.
Going into a game where, on paper…and in reality the Vikings were outmatched, they should have folded. Tarvaris Jackson should have thrown 3 INT’s, Chester Taylor should have gotten injured and the defense should have looked like a bad 9th grade team. Instead, Jackson was statistically impressive, Taylor stayed healthy and had a good day on the ground and the defense had 3 touchdowns while making Eli Manning look like…well…Eli Manning.
I was on my way back to school this afternoon, so I had the pleasure of listening to the game from Paul Allen’s perspective. After watching Fox for the last couple weeks and then listening to PA today, I understand why my grandfather always listens to games on the radio while the T.V. is on mute. Advantage: Listening to great and energizing announcing as well as not having to see Tony Siragusa eating a cheddarwurst while explaning why New York has the best pizza and drinking water in the greater northeast region. Disadvantage: Not getting to actually watch the thrashing that the Vikings gave to the Giants today.
The win today instantly means that the Vikings season is worth paying attention to again. The team is 2-0 with rookie sensation Adrian Peterson on the sideline (word has it that he will be playing against Detroit on Sunday at the Dome) and Childress/Bevell have been calling the right plays as of late. They aren’t putting Tarvaris Jackson in “must throw” situations which allows him to throw the ball with limited pressure. Although he had a solid game, Jackson still needs to be able to rid of the ball quickly or get out of the pocket when a rush is on. He’s got an arm (see: Sidney Rice, 60 yard TD pass from T-Jack) and when used wisely he can do some damage. So a big key to the Vikings success in these next 5 games will be how well Childress and Bevell call the game offensively.
The story of today though was the Vikings defense. Defensive Coordinator Les Frazier called a great game yesterday. He had Eli Manning completely baffled and almost every throw was rushed and would result in terrible passes. Dwight Smith and Darren Sharper came up huge with their interception returns and the pass defense that has been a punchline for the last few seasons looked like the old Tampa Bay/Baltimore defenses that have been successful. Since the Vikings will not be facing a quarterback who can beat them by himself for the next 5 weeks, Les Frazier’s defense should be able to continue this momentum. The Vikings face Jon Kitna, Jason Campbell, Rex Grossman, Trent Dilfer (yes…I was just as surprised that he’s still playing as well) and Kurt Warner. With the exception of MAYBE Jason Campbell, none of these quarterbacks are mobile. So as long as Frazier switches up coverage schemes and blitzes, the Vikings defense could look for some big weeks coming up here.
Next week, we get Adrian Peterson back and a Lions team who is reeling from 3 straight losses. The Vikings should have beaten them in week two had Jackson not fumbled the ball in OT. With 3 out of their last 5 games at the Dome, people should get behind this team and help push them into the playoffs. Right now, the Vikings are arguably playing the best out of all the teams involved in the Wild Card race. They just dismantled the WC leader, should beat the WC # 2 next week and take care of the Redskins and Cardinals at home in the ensuing weeks before facing an incredibly inconsistent Broncos team at Invesco field in Denver.
So my question posed at the beginning was “could things finally be going our way?”
…Stay tuned.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Man oh Man

Let's look back to August 16th, 2007.

I was at the Mall of America with Alec and we were on a search. I was just looking around for some hats and shoes (the usual) and he was on a Lord of the Rings type quest for a Joseph Addai jersey.

While having trouble finding the Addai jersey, we stumbled into the big Foot Locker on the 3rd floor. He noticed that they were selling rookie jersey's for $49.99. Included in these jerseys was new Vikings rookie Adrian Peterson. Earlier that week he had romped over the Jets and gave us all a little preview of how this season might go for him. I hadn't really been a die hard Vikings fan because I was tired of cheering for a team who spent more time in jail than in the Red Zone and they didn't really have a superstar.

Alec looked at the jersey and goes, "Dude, he's going to be a stud...and it's only $49.99, buy it". So I gave into peer pressure and bought my first Vikings jersey since Randy Moss was burning the turf (not the way many of you may think, the legal way of course).

In all honesty...who would have known it would have been the smartest jersey buy of my life? Well Alec did.

Yesterday, those of you who got a chance to watch the Vikings/Chargers game may have seen the emergence of the next great thing in the NFL. In a state where the most popular player since Kirby Puckett was traded to Boston and where Kirby's replacement is surely going to another team, Minnesota was in dire need of a superstar. Well, we've got one.

Adrian Peterson, "All Day" dubbed by him and his teammates, ran for an NFL single game record of 296 yards. He would have had well over that had he not been horse collar tackled by a San Diego cornerback. He also had 3 touchdowns to go with that. A 1 yrd, 64 yd and 45 yd. He is carrying this team on his back. He was running so well that even Brooks Bollinger looked like a steady quarterback with his big strike to rookie Sidney Rice.

Yesterday was truly the day of the rookie for the Minnesota Vikings. As much problems coaching that Childress has had and Vikings brass for their incompetence, they drafted pretty dawggone well. They drafted the next Eric Dickerson (maybe better?) as well as a talented receiver who can leap forward about 5 yards.

The Vikings defense shut down a Chargers offense who can score at the drop of a dime. LaDanian Tomlinson looked like the rookie on Sunday. Only having one Touchdown and maybe 45 yards rushing or so. And don't even get me started on Philip Rivers. I think Marshawn Lynch had a better game passing than Rivers did. He made the Giants look great for taking Eli off of the Charger's hands a couple years ago. Give the front line credit as well. Kevin Williams and Pat Williams got amazing pressure on Rivers to force him into those bad throws.

The part that I'm excited about? The schedule gets very favorable from here on out for the Vikings. They are at Green Bay next weekend, then after that they have Oakland, Chicago, Detroit and Washington at home and the New York Giants, San Francisco and Denver away. The Vikings are only 3-5 right now and have yet to get completely blown out in a game. If they can get some consistency at QB and have AP run like he has been, this team could easily see the playoffs. Jeff George did it without an AP and he went 8-2, so anything's possible.

I'm very excited to see where this team can go. There are glaring problems at QB, but like I said, as long as AP runs like that, just hand the ball off Brooks...hand it off.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Timberwolves season predictions

It is currently the middle of the first Wolves game of the year, and I decided that I needed to make some predictions for the next 82 games and subsequent offseason. (Also, I'd like to mention that through 3 quarters, the Wolves have thoroughly outplayed the expected Northwest division winner, the Denver Nuggets)

Prediction 1: Al Jefferson averages a solid double-double. Jefferson will be one of the West leaders in rebounding, and will average upwards of 20 points. I don't expect an average of more than 20 points a game just because the Wolves will be able to spread the ball around a lot, to Foye, McCants, Gomes, Smith, and Walker.
Prediction 2: The Wolves will have no problems with Antoine Walker. Walker reportedly was overweight for the Heat, and had fallen out of favor with Heat coach Pat Riley. I think as a veteran presence on this roster, he will help a lot of the players, and eventually average upwards of 10 points a game once he learns the offense.

Prediction 3: The Wolves will stop talking about KG around the All-Star game, once Jefferson makes it. This is more hopeful than anything. They need to celebrate these new guys, and move on from KG. These new guys look pretty damn good.

Prediction 4: Theo Ratliff will have his best season in 5 years. The guy looks rejuvenated this year, playing hard both on offense and defense. I think he could play his way into a new contract with the Wolves if he does well this season as their starting center, especially after considering their lack of talent there in the past. I think in general they will try to keep this team together for a while.

Prediction 5: The Wolves will contend for the last playoff spot. Yes, I realize this is a big prediction, but I honestly feel that without Blount and Davis, this roster will flourish. These guys will learn to love playing with each other, and it will be like a playground game out there. They don't have the immediate talent of other teams, but these guys are hungry to prove something. I expect them to surpass their 32 wins from last season and be in the hunt for the last spot for a while, and there is a possibility they could win that 8th spot. No one expects it from them, and that almost makes it easier for them, since no one will take them seriously. Honestly, there has never been a team much like them in this or any other professional league, a team with nearly all unproven players. Just because they are unproven, doesn't mean they aren't good.

Well there they are, my season predictions. I won't be the least bit disappointed if they don't make the playoffs, but if they do, you heard it here first. I also want to say that Foye will average over 15 points a game and 5 assists, and McCants will average nearly as many points per game as Foye. Again, just a prediction.

Either way, you need to watch these teams. There is an excitement to these games that hasn't been seen since 2004, and I know that I've been convinced just in these first 3 quarters.

And so it begins...

I am excited....

More excited than I have been in years. And why is that?

Because the Timberwolves start their NBA season today.

Now many of you, I am assuming, are skeptical of how this team will finish this year. Just about everyone and their mom has them finishing 15th in the West (which is actually 6th in the Eastern Conference). Not to mention not even giving this young group of guys a chance in the NBA. My question is, how many times do you see a trade that includes 5 players from the same team going to a team together? It's tough enough to bring a new player into a team that he's never played with before but these guys all played together last year. That's a step up from a lot of other trades in NBA history.

If you'll remember my KG tribute article, you'll know that I am the first person that wishes we still had KG. But if you really want the Timberwolves to have a successful future, KG HAD to go. Taking up so much payroll really hurt their chances of signing a lot of players. Not to mention, he wasn't going to win a title in the West when everyone else was improving so much. So shipping him off to the Deveopmental league of the NBA was the best choice for all parties involved.

Today is not the start of the "Post-KG era"...STOP CALLING IT THAT! There is a guy that is emerging as possibly one of the best old-school post players in the NBA. Today is the start of the "Al Jefferson Era". When did you ever hear KG say, "I really didn't think that I'm worth the max yet". KG let his agents rule what he thought he was worth. Jefferson had a better first two seasons than KG did all around and yet KG was making $121 million just a few years after he had been in the NBA. This kid is the truth. Hard worker and not full of himself? That's like finding a successful WNBA franchise. I'm excited to see him go up against Duncan and see what he can do.

This team has a lot of question marks surrounding it. I am excited to see a bunch of guys, my age mostly, grow into a solid NBA team. It may not happen right away this year, but trust me...It will happen. Don't fall off the Wolves bandwagon just yet. I've fallen into that trap as a Minnesota fan, as the teams suck the ticket prices seem to go up (except for the Twins, thank you) and we decide to stop watching until they are good again. But stick with these guys, for once in my life, I feel like McHale and Taylor did something right. Now, they have the chance to screw it up but they signed their best player to an extension before it became an issue during the season and even traded away the Stacey Patton of the NBA (aka Ricky Davis).

My prediction for the Wolves is that they will surprise people this year. A bunch of young guys with good work ethic and chemistry? That is dangerous in today "me first" NBA society. By saying that, I predict that the Wolves will win between 25-30 games this year. I don't see lottery but if we get there, understand that this team will get much better. Look at the teams who have evolved in the last couple years. The Nuggetts, Bulls, Blazers, Warriors...all teams with young cores who worked their way to respectability.

So watch the Wolves tonight, tomorrow and the rest of the season. Get on that bandwagon tonight so that in a couple years you don't look like a fool when you're standing at the stop while we're speeding off towards the NBA Finals.