Posts pertaining to the National Football League.
Big Sunday in Downtown Minneapolis
The Coach and Dr. Football
January 13, 2018
It’s the biggest Sunday of the 2017-18 season in downtown Minneapolis. At 3:40 CST at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings will play host to the New Orleans Saints in the 2018 Conference Championship semifinal.
The 13-3 Vikings worked hard all season – especially on defense – to put themselves in this situation and while it’s hard to imagine they could lose at home, the Saints provide a particularly difficult challenge. With the Super Bowl in this same stadium in three weeks, a defeat at the hands of the Saints would be devastating for the coaching staff, the players and the fans, a hearty bunch that have filled the big land crawler in downtown Minneapolis all season.
The Saints are tough. They just completed a three-game season sweep of the talented Carolina Panthers and they haven’t forgotten how the Vikings took them apart in Week 1. Of course, when these two teams met in September, Adrian Peterson was the Saints runningback. Since then, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have become a gifted one-two running punch to go along with Drew Brees’s dangerous passing game. This isn’t the same Saints team that the Vikings took apart four months ago.
However, while the Vikings offense has improved under the surprisingly talented Case Keenum, the defense is still the straw that stirs this drink. Featuring established stars such as Harrison (Harry the Hitman) Smith, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph and emerging future stars such as Anthony Barr, Trae Waynes and Eric Kendricks, the Vikings defense is the best in the NFL.
It’s going to be loud inside that big downtown boat this weekend and the Vikings are nearly unbeatable inside its large, friendly confines. Minnesota is favored by five, but the Saints won’t roll over.
This could be the game of the year.
Meanwhile, our fearless prognosticators have been on a planet of their own this year. The money keeps rolling in just as it did in the opening round of the playoffs last week. Dr. Football went 3-1 (181-79) on the money line and 1-3 (147-113) against the spread while The Coach went 2-2 (183-77) on the money line and 1-3 (147-113) against the spread.
It should be dandy weekend of football in this, the second week of the playoffs. Let’s take a closer look:
Atlanta Falcons (11-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
Line: Falcons by 3
Let’s face it, Nick Foles just doesn’t have the skill set needed for the Eagles to move on. Atlanta, despite not having a home playoff game, wants to get back to the show.
Dr. Football: Take the Falcons to win and cover.
The Coach: Take the Falcons to win and cover.
Tennessee Titans (10-7) at New England Patriots (13-3)
Line: Patriots by 13
The one thing that Tom Brady loves is proving the critics and gossipers wrong. The Titans are just lucky to still be playing. There will be peace in New England after this one.
Dr. Football: Take the Patriots to win and cover.
The Coach: Take the Patriots to win and cover.
EARLY SUNDAY AFTERNOON
Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
Line: Steelers by 7
Jacksonville’s defense is tough, and they did beat the Steelers in Week 5, but that was a long time ago, and Big Ben and company are playing at a much higher level.
Dr. Football: Take the Steelers to win and cover.
The Coach: Take the Steelers to win and cover.
LATE SUNDAY AFTERNOON
New Orleans Saints (12-5) at Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
Line: Vikings by 5
Minnesota can taste it, but it won’t be easy. New Orleans is much better team than they were in Week 1, but so are the Vikings. Count on a great game from Case Keenum, the Rodney Dangerfield of pro football.
Dr. Football: Take the Vikings to win and cover.
The Coach: Take the Vikings to win and cover.
by Thomas U. Tuttle
The Minnesota Vikings play a Big One Sunday, against the New Orleans Saints, a formidable opponent that just won a Big One last week over Can Newton’s Carolina Panthers. It’s playoff football time, and every contest is potentially one and done, now or never, etc…
The Saints are led by Drew Brees, and the old Purdue Boilermaker (class of 2000, winner of Super Bowl XLIV) seems better than ever, leading a confident, improved team that believes it’s ready to avenge an early season 29-19 loss in Minneapolis.
Remember Sam Bradford setting the completion percentage record a year ago, breaking the mark held by Drew Brees? Brees broke that one again this year to reclaim the top spot in the category.
New Orleans is supremely confident after the workmanlike victory over the Panthers, and why not? They are firing on all cylinders with a developed running game featuring Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, both of whom have good hands and know how to carry the ball after the catch.
The Saints beat the Panthers for the third time last weekend, a feat said to be difficult to accomplish in one season. The Vikings need to win a second consecutive battle with New Orleans, a manageable proposition if that vaunted, league-leading Purple defense comes out firing and pressures Brees from the get-go.
I’m not the only person who wonders how the tough and tenacious 5 – 10 QB almost always gets the ball off despite a ferocious rush by large defenders, averaging 6-4 in height, closing in with their arms extended.
Much taller men in his position seem to take more of a beating and have more balls batted down than he does, and Brees tends to consistently put the ball on the spot while moving.
It’s not usually one play, or one moment that decides a football game, or so they say. For many in the coaching profession such a cliche is a mantra, designed to deflect criticism, or scrutiny, or something…
Nah, don’t believe it. Just last week Georgia, leading by two touchdowns, was going in for a score to put the National Championship game away against Alabama. Alas, the young Bulldog QB Jake Fromm bounced a pass off the helmet of a Georgia offensive lineman into Alabama’s hands – a huge interception in the red zone!
The next sound you heard in Atlanta was the groan of despair. They knew what was coming soon… defeat, and another Alabama national title. It was just a matter of time.
I’ve been blessed to have seen many sporting events, of a wide variety. From Olympic Games to World Series to Super Bowls. Okay, maybe not as many SB’s as my running mate Eric Nelson (25 SB’s) and certainly not as many as Mr Super Bowl (over 35 and counting, including one with his son participating) Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.
But one game stands out as the toughest defeat of all time. The 1999 overtime loss to Atlanta, in the 1998-99 NFC Championship game. You remember that one, the game where the Vikings snatched defeat from the jaws of victory? Man, that was brutal.
Many people forget that Atlanta and QB Chris Chandler came out of the gate fast on that cold January day, scoring a touchdown on their first possession in a mere five plays. But then Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss, along with Robert Smith and the gang, turned up the heat on the Falcons and were trying to put the game away at the end of the first half.
Trying too hard, it turned out, with an interception just before halftime leading to an unexpected touchdown for Atlanta that seemed to shift momentum in favor of Chris Chandler and his crew.
Still, when Gary Anderson came on to kick a 38-yard field goal and put the Vikes up by 10 points with two minutes and change left in the game, the door on the Dirty Birds season would officially close. Anderson had not missed a field goal all season. The first man in NFL history to accomplish such a feat, and this was a mere chip shot for the veteran.
The snap looked good, the kicking motion smooth, the ball rotated nicely and…wide left…WIDE LEFT? It couldn’t be! The Purple faithful in the Metrodome let out a sound that I can remember hearing in the press box to this day.
A soft, lingering gasp – with a touch of forboding. AAHHHhhhhhhh…….with a little OOOHHhhhhhh….
Atlanta took the ball and scorched a suspect Vikings secondary for a touchdown pass from Chandler to Terrance Mathis with just under a minute left, then stopped the take-a-knee Purple to close out regulation time.
They stuffed the vaunted but shaken Vikings offense again in overtime, and marched to solid field position for the game ending, Morten Anderson field goal. 30 to 27, Dirty Birds on top.
Toughest. Loss. Ever.
Let’s hope this is the year a Minnesota Vikings team gives the hurt rather than receives it. And I’m not going to touch the four lost Super Bowls, because I’m not old enough to remember…right?
MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the land of 10,000 frozen lakes…
•Super Bowl Envy: The Minnesota Vikings had plenty to smile about in 2017. The Vikings were 13-3, the second most successful regular season in franchise history. That’s quite an accomplishment and the Purple deserve plenty of accolades. But, let’s cut to the chase – the Vikings will be judged on how they perform in the post-season. Anything short of a coveted Super Bowl title isn’t good enough…
•Mission Minneapolis: The Vikings are overdue to win the Lombardi Trophy. Minnesota is the best team in NFL history to never win the Super Bowl. The Purple pedigree is impressive, but four Super Bowl losses, five straight NFC Championship Game setbacks and other dagger defeats have given the fan base an Eyor complex. The goal is simple for the Vikings – become the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in their home venue and finally take a confetti shower…
•Climate Controlled: The forecast high for Minneapolis on Sunday is 11 degrees. If the New Orleans-Minnesota game were outside, the Saints would spend the entire week prepping and worrying about the North Pole-like weather. It would be the dominant story line in Louisiana. But, because the game is inside at US Bank Stadium, the frigid temps are a non-issue. What could be a huge weather advantage for the Vikings – especially against warm weather teams – is a non-factor because the organization chose to build another dome…
•NFLements: If this game were being played in the deep freeze there is no guarantee Minnesota would win. But the Vikings would clearly have an edge because they are acclimated to the cold. If someone polled New Orleans players and gave them the option of playing in a heated glass house or outside on frozen field turf, the vote would be a landslide. The guys from the balmy bayou would opt for playing inside USBS…
•Decibel Dome: To be fair, Minnesota is difficult to beat at USBS. The Vikings are 7-1 in their Purple playpen this season and they feed off an energetic and boisterous fan base. However, I believe frigid cold is a tougher obstacle for opponents than rock concert-like noise…
•Snake II: The game-winning touchdown toss from Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith in the NCAA title game was the most impressive throw by a Crimson Tide southpaw since the days of Kenny Stabler…
•Peachtree Pain: Sports fans in Georgia have had a rough 11 months. In Super Bowl LI, Atlanta’s 28-3 lead vanished as New England pulled of a colossal comeback to win 34-28 in overtime. On Monday night, Alabama erased a 20-7 Georgia lead in the NCAA college football championship and won 26-23 in OT…
•Six-Pack: Congrats to North Dakota State for winning another FCS crown. For the Bison it’s the joy of six as they have now won six titles in seven years. North Dakota State has the top football program in the Upper Midwest…
•Cavs Crushing: Minnesota’s 127-99 battering of Cleveland on Monday night in Minneapolis is one of the most convincing and impressive T’Wolves efforts in many seasons. The Cavs – who have won three straight NBA Eastern Conference titles – looked slow and confused. It was a statement win for Minnesota…
•Just a Hunch: I am guessing that LaVar Ball and Luke Walton won’t be exchanging Valentines’s gifts…
•Soccer Promotion: Minnesota United F Christian Ramirez has been called up to the US National team and will participate in their annual January camp in Carson, CA, which includes a friendly match against Bosnia and Herzegovina at StubHub Center on Sunday, January 28. Ramirez scored 14 goals for Minn U in 2017…
It’s Playoff Time: Where Dreams Can Come True
The Coach and Dr. Football
January 5, 2018
It’s playoff time in the NFL. That time of year when good teams all have a chance to win a championship and teams with bad quarterbacks – and there are a lot of them – are only a distant memory.
It’s been a pretty horrible year for the NFL. The president of the United States isn’t happy that African-American players protested police brutality by kneeling during various National Anthems. TV ratings dropped across the board, not because of the protests but because the football was, generally, terrible (ratings in New England, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Los Angeles, Buffalo and yes, even San Francisco were way up while ratings in New York, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Arizona, Cincinnati, Denver, San Diego, St. Louis and Oakland were way, way down). And the play was terrible because (a) there aren’t enough quarterbacks to go around, and (b) the one quarterback that could have helped some of these horrendous teams wasn’t signed because owners would rather lose by three touchdowns than even attempt to win games because of their personal political views.
The NFL is a mess. But it’s not so big a mess that Jon Gruden can’t come out of the broadcast booth and get a coaching job that provides him with a 10-year contract worth $100 million. The NFL’s problems are at the executive level. The players are playing as hard as they can. They’re desperately trying to win, but ownership is much more concerned about the questions they might be asked at a cocktail party, than they are about providing their coaches, players and fans with the proper tools to win football games.
How else do you explain Cleveland (0-16), Houston (4-12), Indianapolis (4-12), the Giants (3-13), Chicago (5-11), Tampa (5-11), Denver (5-11) and the Jets (5-11)? So much for parity.
But that was then, this is now. It’s going to be tougher for our fearless prognosticators now that all those dreadful football teams have been eliminated. And let’s be completely honest. During the regular season, it was easy to pick winners.
Last week, in the final week of the regular season, Dr. Football went 10-6 (178-78) straight up and 9-7 (146-110) against the spread while The Coach went 11-5 (181-75) straight up and 11-5 (146-110) against the spread. These guys get richer and richer and richer. It was the best season for each prognosticator since 2007.
Then again, with so few good quarterbacks in the NFL, picking winners has never been easier.
Let’s take a close look at the first round of the playoffs. Remember Philadelphia and Minnesota in the NFC and New England and Pittsburgh in the AFC have the byes.
LATE SATURDAY AFTERNOON
Tennessee Titans (9-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
Line: Chiefs by 9
Despite the Titans winning the last two at Arrowhead, the Chiefs are the team that beat the Patriots in Week 1. They will want another shot in New England.
Dr. Football: Take the Chiefs to win and cover.
The Coach: Take the Chiefs to win and cover.
Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
Line: Rams by 6.5
The Rams just aren’t ready to take the next step against last year’s Super Bowl losers…Matt Ryan’s experience will be the difference.
Dr. Football: Take the Falcons in an upset.
The Coach: Take the Rams to win and cover.
EARLY SUNDAY AFTERNOON
Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
Line: Jaguars by 9
The only reason the Bills are playing on Sunday is because Baltimore imploded against Cincinnati.
Dr. Football: Take the Jaguars to win and cover.
The Coach: Take the Jaguars to win and cover.
LATE SUNDAY AFTERNOON
Carolina Panthers (11-5) at New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Line: Saints by 7
New Orleans dominated Carolina during the regular season, and will once again win at home in a shootout.
Dr. Football: Take the Saints to win but not cover.
The Coach: Take the Saints to win and cover.
MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the frigid north….
•Dominant D: The Minnesota Vikings defense is starting to resemble the Denver Broncos of two years ago. Like the Broncos, the Purple have ultra-talented players such as Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. Winning the coveted Lombardi Trophy would elevate the Vikings defense to elite status – just like the Broncos were when they won Super Bowl 50 behind Von Miller, Demarcus Ware and Aqib Talib…
•Orange Crush: The Broncos Super Bowl run was made possible because their defense played out of this galaxy. In the playoffs Denver shut down Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and New England’s Tom Brady, and then bottled up Carolina’s Cam Newton on the super stage in Santa Clara. Minnesota has a chance to duplicate Denver’s success if the Viking defense continues to excel…
•200 Club: Minnesota WR Stefon Diggs had 6 catches for 65 yards and 1 touchdown last week against Chicago. Diggs now has 200 career catches and has reached that mark faster than any Viking in team history (40 games)…
•Randy Ratio: Former Vikings WR Randy Moss is one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Moss was a super freak who had game changing abilities. He deserves a hall call…
•Scoreboard Salute: Jack Morris – who was recently voted into the Baseball HOF – received cheers after he was shown on the US Bank Stadium video board during the Bears-Vikings game…
•Drought-Busters: Buffalo is in the NFL postseason for the first time since 1999. The LA Rams are playoff-bound for the first time since 2004. Edmonton’s 11-year NHL playoff drought came to an end last spring. Is Minnesota’s NBA dry spell ready to end too? The Timberwolves have not been in the playoffs since 2004, but with a 24-15 record this season, there is a good chance they join the Bills, Rams and Oilers as a playoff team…
•Sub-Mariners: According to the Seattle Times, the Mariners now have the longest run of futility. Seattle has not qualified for the playoffs since 2001, when the Mariners won an MLB record 116 regular season games…
•Buffalo Stampede: With Buffalo in the playoffs, there is now a chance the Bills will play a Super Bowl in Minneapolis for a second time. Buffalo lost Super Bowl XXVI to Washington 37-24 at the Metrodome…
•Coincidental Losers: Cleveland is now the second team in NFL history to finish 0-16. The only other 0-16 team in league history was Detroit in 2008. According to the LA Times, the Browns and Lions both went 4-0 in the pre-season, only to lose every game that counted. This is more proof that exhibition games really are meaningless…
•Sony Shines: Just a hunch but I am guessing that Sony Michel won’t have to pay for any meals in Athens. Michel ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns in Georgia’s 54-48 double OT win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. Michel’s sprinter speed was simply too much for the Sooners…
•Badger Ball: That was an impressive win for number 6 Wisconsin against 10th ranked Miami in the Orange Bowl on Saturday night. Sophomore QB Alex Hornibrook threw for 258 yards and four touchdown passes in the Badgers convincing 34-24 win. Wisconsin finished the season 13-1 and remains one of the nation’s top programs…