Gophers FB: One Jug Down, Axe and Pig to Come?

Back on August 27th I previewed the Minnesota Golden Gophers non-conference football slate. I predicted an undefeated 4-0 start. Well, of course, the Gophers were dominated in Fort Worth by the TCU Horned Frogs, 30-7. My intention was to get a preview of their Big 10 schedule up before their conference opener at “The Big House” in Ann Arbor versus Michigan. However, life got in the way. So I’ll take that as a gimme. Here is my preview of the remaining Big 10 games for Minnesota as Jerry Kill & Co. look to improve the Gopher’s bowl game fortunes from 3rd tier to New Year’s Day.

- Just for fun let’s see how I did. I predicted the Gophers would score 132 points in non-conference games. They actually scored 108. Take away the TCU game and I was 7 pts off. Defensively they’ve given up 81 vs the 54 I predicted. Again, taking away my grandiose error in the TCU game and I was off by 14. Not bad for the my first ever predictions!

Sept 27 at Michigan – Going into the season I would have thought at win at TCU and loss at Michigan. The Gophers haven’t exactly had good luck in Ann Arbor through the years. I had Gophers 4-1 after the Michigan game and that’s where they stand. Who could have predicted as thorough a beat down as we saw last week. After losing 3 years ago 58-0, to now winning 30-14, Jerry Kill has shown progress, especially on defense.

Oct 11 vs Northwestern – Again, prior to last week, I would have said this is as close to a sure thing as is possible. But Northwestern took down undefeated Penn State in Happy Valley last weekend. That’s an impressive win for Pat Fitzgerald’s team, a team that was badly in need of a good win. However, Minnesota’s defense is 5th in the Big 10 in pts allowing just over 19 pts per game. Northwestern is 12th in Scoring Offense in the conference. If Minnesota can score 20 they win, and I think they will. Gophers win 27-17.

Oct 18th vs Purdue – The Boilermakers are terrible. No other way to say it. They rank in the bottom 5 of the Big 10 in almost every category. Specifically, their passing offense is abysmal. Against the improved and experienced Gophers secondary that doesn’t bode well. Minnesota will run over Purdue as well. The Boilermakers are giving up over 150 yards per game on the ground, and that came against two MAC teams, an FCS school and ND and Iowa. Those last two are understandable, but either way, an ugly season for Purdue only gets uglier. Gophers 38-14.

Oct 25th at Illinois – It will be strength against strength in this match-up. Illinois boasts the strongest passing attack in the Big 10. Again, Minnesota’s secondary will be tested. Road games in conference play are tricky, no matter the records. If Minnesota loses a game they “shouldn’t” I can see it being this one. However, the Gophers, even under Tim Brewster, found ways to win in Champaign, Ill. There’s a different feel around this Gophers team, and Illinois defense ranks last in the Big 10. Plus, in the only 2 real tests for the Illini, they lost by a combined score of 89-43. I see a higher scoring game, but Minnesota starts out conference play 4-0, maybe sneaking into the Top 25, 35-31.

Nov 8 vs Iowa – The bye week on Nov 1st will be extremely convenient and important to the Gophers. The final 4 conference games are brutal (as difficult as things can get in the awful Big 10). This starts a stretch vs Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. However, the bye week can help get the Gophers healthy in the 80th battle for Floyd of Rosedale against their neighbors to the south. Fans like myself were excited for last year’s match-up vs the Hawkeyes, only to be reminded of the their supremacy on the football field in recent years. These are two similar teams with similar strengths. The change of QB in Iowa City seemed to spark the team last week. This one is too close to call. I imagine Matt Limegrover will have the Gophers offense in better shape than they looked in 2013 at TCF Bank Stadium for this huge game. At the risk of being called a “homer”, I’ll take Minnesota to win 20-17 on a Ryan Santoso FG at the horn.

Nov 15 vs Ohio State – A lot can change between now and Nov 15th. If the Gophers remain at 1-loss they’ll have plenty of confidence coming in to this game. Ohio State’s JT Barrett, who replaced Braxton Miller, will have plenty of seasoning by this time and should be comfortable. Injuries aside, the Buckeyes are still a more talented team. However, they aren’t the most experienced or physical team seen in Columbus over the years. The Buckeyes’ defense has shown holes, specifically in its highly discussed loss to Virginia Tech (who the next week lost to Georgia Tech) and last week’s game vs Cincinatti. I don’t see how the Gophers can score with Ohio State though, even against a weaker than average rush defense. Gotta go with Ohio State here, Buckeyes win 34-24.

Nov 22 at Nebraska – Minnesota surprised their fans, and the nation, when they beat Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium last season. It had a similar feel to the Michigan game this year, taking down a national power experience a down year. But that Husker squad was much better than the 2014 Wolverines. Ameer Abdullah looks unstoppable on the ground. If you haven’t seen his game-winning catch and run vs McNeese St, check it out here. They have looked impressive recently, but face their toughest test Oct 4th at Michigan State. Nebraska is the lone undefeated team left in the Big 10 as of today, though I don’t expect that when they play Minnesota the week before Thanksgiving. Huskers have revenge on their mind and win convincingly, 42-20.

Nov 29 at Wisconsin – This is the game every Gopher fan wants more than any other. It’s the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. It’s jealousy, envy, and all that goes with it. Wisconsin has what Minnesota wants, an established power in the nation’s most popular sport. Hockey is not that sport. The Badgers have obviously tilted this rivalry in their favor. This is the closest the two teams have been in talent and potential since 2005 when the Badgers blocked a punt with 38 seconds remaining and trailing 34-31. watch it here. OUCH I don’t see Minnesota going into Camp Randall and pulling off a win vs the Badgers. Their running game is too much. And just like the Iowa/Minnesota match-up, close games usually go the way of the home team. Wisconsin wins 28-24.

Gophers finish 8-4, a huge program builder to get back-to-back 8-win seasons, but the 2014 version has the tougher schedule with TCU on the non-conference slate. But wins versus Michigan and Iowa, trophy games, helps ease another loss to Wisconsin. A 6-game winning streak followed by a 3-game losing streak to end the year sounds right. Minnesota has to make hay against NW, PUR and ILL or it could be a tough Big 10 season.

Twins’ Gardenhire out; Who’ll be next?

It’s the end of an era in the Minnesota Twins organization. Ron Gardenhire, who took over for Tom Kelly following the 2001 season, has been let go, according to various sources around baseball but first reported by Jerry Crasnick. Gardy’s tenure included 6 division championships, but only 1 playoff series win (2002 vs the Oakland Athletics). Gardenhire couldn’t survive a 4th consecutive 90+ loss season, something only 2 managers had done previously, including Tom Kelly from 1997-2000.

No one wants to see Gardy go. He’s liked by most, if not all in the game. But the time had come, probably 2 years ago honestly. Based on his teams’ poor performance in the playoffs when he had talented players he probably didn’t have the long leash that Kelly had when his teams struggled. With Gardenhire out, I believe pitching coach Rick Anderson will also be let go.

Now that the move is made speculation will begin as to who will be the next manager of the Twins. Here is a short list off the top of my head.

Paul Molitor is #1 on my list. He’s a Hall-of-Famer, excellent with the bat, on the bases and in the field. He has the respect of the young kids, but the baseball knowledge to win games. If Molitor is the choice, keeping Tom Brunansky as hitting coach would be a must.

Ozzie Guillen is a pipe dream, but just goofy enough to work. We know he wants to manage again. Knowing the Pohlads’ loyalty and their mindset this will most likely not happen. The young Latin players could take nicely to a Latin manager though. Ownership will want to appease Arcia, Vargas, Berrios, Sano, Santana, etc. There could be other Latino managers available, but none as opposite a demeanor than Guillen.

Kirk Gibson was recently fired by the Arizona Diamondbacks after a .500 season. Most Twins fans would die for a .500 season at this point. But Gibson’s struggles with management may not sit well with any potential boss.

Doug Mientkiewicz is the Fort Myers Miracle manager, the Twins High Class A affiliate. He has earned plenty of praise from within the organization for his on-field performance, including a 2014 championship. His name draws interest as a former player who was a key cog in the resurrection of the Twins in the 2000s. But he played for many organizations and likely picked up different ideas and philosophies around baseball. He’s a long shot, but intriguing.

What are your thoughts on who will be the next manager of the Minnesota Twins?

Gophers QB Situation Falls on Kill

Glen Mason’s Minnesota Gophers football teams were built on a power-running game and play-action passing game. Asad Abdul-Khaliq was an option threat, but also had a good enough arm to keep defenses honest. Bryan Cupito was more of a pocket passer, but fit in well when Maroney, Barber and the offensive line was gashing defenses for over 300 yards on the ground. Adam Weber was a local kid with big expectations who was up and down as a Gopher, but certainly was good enough to make an NFL roster. Another QB recruited prior to Jerry Kill’s arrival in Dinkytown, MarQueis Gray, is playing TE for the Vikings today. It was Tim Brewster’s inability to settle on his role that limited Gray’s potential.

That brings us to today. Kill had some time with Gray and moved him to WR to let freshman Phillip Nelson start in 2012. Since then the Gophers have had nothing but unsettled, inconsistent play at the quarterback position. This is a problem because as most would agree, in today’s football landscape the QB is the most important position on the field. Granted, a “prized” recruit left the program. Nelson was supposed to have a big-time arm and decent talent. He was a good get for the Gophers at the time. But he lost favor in the coaches when current starter Mitch Leidner began to split time with him. It’s no wonder Nelson left. No other position got jerked around like this in FBS. So that left Kill with Leidner under center this year. A powerful runner, with little quickness and poor passing skills. And what if he got hurt? Well we found that out in the 3rd game of the season.

To his credit, Kill has shored up the U’s defense, something Mason could never do. He also appears to have improved the offensive line play and its depth. The offensive line is not near the Mason years (yet), but it’s improvement has brought back some elements of the power running game from the early 2000s. The only thing missing is adequate, not even average, QB play. In 4 years, Kill has yet to solidify a starter who can consistently complete the forward pass.

Last week vs an awful San Jose State team, instead of giving RS Freshman Chris Streveler the chance to learn, grow and develop some confidence at the position, the Gophers coaching staff decided to pull the chains back. Streveler was 1-7 for 7 yards vs the Spartans. That’s hideous, both in performance and in foresight. The Big Ten is awful, but Kill’s team will have to pass for more than 7 yards to win games. If they think Maroney, Barber, Setterstrom, Eslinger and Hamilton are walking through TCF Bank Stadium anytime soon the Gophers are sadly mistaken.

The current passing game is a joke, and blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the those who recruit and coach these players.

 

Packers Take Off, Vikings Fall Flat

So much negative news going on in the NFL this past week. I have many thoughts and opinions. At some point I’d like to take the time to post them here, but it would take me a while to digest my thoughts in an eloquent, coherent manner. You can find many other opinions that probably mirror mine. For now I’ll stick with the games that are played, despite my urge to resist watching organizations and leagues that appear to have their priorities mixed up.

Packers vs NYJ – As I predicted, the Packers lost at Seattle, but came home to win vs the NY Jets. It was closer than expected, due in part to some injuries. However, no NFL game is easy. The Jets came to play, but Rodgers to Nelson was too much. He picked them apart, Nelson had a career day and the defense did just enough to win. I’m still concerned about this defense. They Packers D gave up 146 yards on the ground, while Eddie Lacy continued his 2014 struggles with only 3.3 yds per carry for 43 total rushing yards, granted against another stout run defense. The Packers secondary did make some plays, including Tramon Williams’ 2nd quarter INT, and held Jets’ QB Geno Smith to only 50% completion percentage. It also should be noted that only the Jets can score a TD late in the 4th quarter, but call a timeout just before the play is run.

The Packers next head to Detroit for a match-up with the Lions. This will be an interesting game on a couple fronts. Detroit looked unstoppable in week 1, but awful in week 2. My guess is the Lions are somewhere in between those two performances. Green Bay’s passing offense and defense improved in week 2. I expect a shoot-out with Detroit, but the Packers win.

Vikings vs New England – The Adrian Peterson news hit the Vikings hard, but many of their problems were independent of Peterson’s game. QB Matt Cassel looked unsure and inaccurate, which is pretty much Cassel in a nutshell. He’s like my golf game, consistently inconsistent. Cordarrelle Patterson was taken out of the game, partly due to Norv Turner amazingly not using him in the run game, but also by the Patriots’ understanding of his inadequacies as a route runner. Belicheck’s defense never let Patterson get off the line clean and he had fits all afternoon in 1-on-1 battles with Logan Ryan. Great quote by Michael Hurley, CBS Boston, “I found it very telling that for as much hype as buffoons such as myself gave to Cordarrelle Patterson, Bill Belichick put Patterson duties on second-year corner Logan Ryan. That left Revis to stick like glue to Greg Jennings, and the play he made on the ball to pick up the interception was tremendous.” The Patriots offense didn’t do a lot, and Mike Zimmer’s defense actually played alright. New England’s blocked FG return for a TD was a back-breaker and resulted in a 10-point swing. They also returned an INT to the 1-yard line, so essentially 14 pts were not on the defense.

How many of the problems were game-planning with Peterson and then not having him? How much was LT Matt Kalil’s continued struggles? The Vikings don’t get a break next week at the loud Superdome and Drew Brees’ Saints. I fully expect the Vikings to lose this game, especially if the two Matts, Cassel and Kalil, don’t improve.The Vikings are 1-1, as expected in my season preview. 

So far, I’m 4-for-4 on my picks for the Vikings and Packers this season. Good start for the novice game picker.

East Ridge WR named Pioneer Press Athlete of the Week

East Ridge senior WR Kjetil Cline was named one of the Pioneer Press’ East Metro Athletes of the Week following his 5-catch, 121-yard performance in a 23-7 win over Cretin-Derham Hall.

Cline was one of the players featured in our East Ridge football preview. His Raptors are 2-0 heading into a Friday, September 12th match-up with Mahtomedi in Woodbury. Watch for the RiverTown Sports Roundup video blog on WoodburyBulletin.com and SWCBulletin.com later this week for a look at week 3 in Woodbury/Cottage Grove prep football.

McCarthy Decisions, Packers D concerning

Count me surprised by how aggressive and sharp the Seahawks looked on the NFL’s opening night. All that talk from Russell Wilson and Co. about not having a Super Bowl Hangover was spot on.

Still I thought the Packers would keep it close, and in the 1st half it appeared they might. But losing Bryan Bulaga to a knee injury was a huge blow to the Pack against a dominant Seattle defense. (RB Eddie Lacy’s concussion isn’t a good sign either. It’s his 2nd in 2 years.) Aaron Rodgers never had time to make plays downfield, especially once the Seahawks built a double-digit lead and thePackers running game became irrelevant.

But a couple things have me seriously concerned about Green Bay. Before you say anything, I fully realize Seattle is an outstanding team, especially defensively. That being said:

1. What was Mike McCarthy doing leaving Derek Sherrod on an island in the 2nd half after Bulaga went out? Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, knew that was a bad idea. It directly led to 2 pts on a Seattle safety after Michael Bennett flew past Sherrod and stripped Rodgers of the ball, not to mention the great field position on the ensuing free kick. But it also stopped the Packers from getting any kind of consistent drive going because any  progress was thwarted by a Seattle sack, usually blowing past an overmatched Sherrod. Why were the Packers not giving him any help? I’d sacrifice a back or TE from going out on a route to save Rodgers’ life and allow him at least the chance to find a receiver. Sorry, Derek, it’s NOT all about execution.

2. WARNING: Bold statement coming…..I don’t necessarily think Seattle’s offense is that good. They are probably top 10, but not top 5 (2013 they were 18th in yards/game and 8th in pts/game, with a handful of points coming from the defense). Wilson has almost no one to throw to outside of Percy Harvin – who looked FANTASTIC and had me flashing back to 2009. As their best receiver, he isn’t the most durable. If he gets hurt teams will gang up on Lynch, which GB should have been doing. But this Packers defense couldn’t stop someone named Robert Turbin, let alone Marshawn Lynch. Rookie safety HaHa Clinton-Dix made a couple feeble attempts at tackles, including this one, and dropped a difficult, yet catchable interception. Sam Shields looked good at times, but also get fooled on the read-option TD pass. Clay Matthews looked fast and played well. Free-agent Julius Peppers did ok, but was targeted in the run game and could become a liability vs elite rush offense.

Again, these problems may just be a factor of playing the best defense in the NFL and a really good QB, RB and Percy Harvin. But this was a bad defense last year and it didn’t look any better last night. On the other hand McCarthy, rightfully so, has a ton of belief in his quarterback. But he shouldn’t expect him figure out a way to buy more time when his offensive line is hurt, and full of back-ups.

Something needs to change. Luckily for the Packers, they have 10 days to adjust before they welcome in the New York Jets.

Packers Preview: Can Improved D, Healthy Rodgers earn Pack Top Seed?

Labor Day weekend pushed back my NFL previews But since the Packers play the NFL kickoff game vs the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks Thursday, I had to get going.

It’s been proven the past 6 seasons a healthy Aaron Rodgers almost guarantees the Packers will be in the playoffs. They’ve been at or near the top of the NFC North since he took over for Brett Favre in 2008 and have been to the playoffs every season since 2009. I firmly believe they are a top 3 team in the NFC so long as Rodgers starts 16 games. The key question is will they earn a home playoff game in that scenario? A suspect defense and injuries already affecting the Pack, are the only things standing in the way of a top-2 seed in the NFC. But as we learned in 2013, a home playoff game doesn’t necessarily mean a deep playoff run. We’ll learn a lot about the fans’ hope for that improved defense, and whether the offense can score vs the NFL’s best defense Thursday on NBC.

Here is my game-by-game prediction of the 2014 Green Bay Packers.

Week 1 at Seattle – Tough way to start, an electric atmosphere at the “Link” where the Seahawks will celebrate their Super Bowl Championship. But Rodgers and Co. are no slouch. If anyone can pick apart the Seahawks defense it’s Green Bay. Many national pundits aren’t predicting a hangover for Seattle, but I can see it, at least in week 1. However, I have to go with Seattle here, partly due to a new GB center, Pack lose in a close game.

Week 2 vs New York Jets – No matter what happens in Week 1, Green Bay will torch the Jets. That Jets defense is decent, but they are going to be on the field a lot. I have no faith in Geno Smith as QB. The way to beat GB is with a strong running game keeping Rodgers off the field, and the Jets will be behind and forced to throw. The Packers’ secondary has a field day in a double-digit win.

Week 3 at Detroit – This could be an exciting game with lots of points. Until proven otherwise though, Green Bay is the far superior team. They will win a game in the 30s.

Week 4 at Chicago – Classic NFC North battle…in today’s NFL with high-octane passing games and “basketball on turf.” I like the Bears receivers vs Green Bay’s secondary in this one. Julius Pepper’s return is a fun storyline, but I don’t know that Pepper’s has enough in the tank. Chicago TE Bennett could have a good game too if they can find a good matchup vs the LB crew of Green Bay. I’ll pick Chicago here.

Week 5 vs Minnesota – The Packers will torch a porous Vikings secondary, but it may take Rodgers a quarter or two to realize Minnesota isn’t playing the soft Cover-2 defense. He’ll pick on Josh Robinson in nickel situations and Anthony Barr vs the Green Bay tight ends or Eddie Lacy. Packers win by 7+.

Week 6 at Miami – After 3 straight vs the NFC North the Packers travel to South Beach to play the Dolphins and I suspect they’ll be happy to get in the warmth of Florida. Eddie Lacy has a big day, but Miami hangs around. I like the Packers in a close one, with Crosby coming up with some big FGs.

Week 7 vs Carolina – The Panthers defense is outstanding, but I doubt their offense will help them enough to win games, let alone vs the Pack. Carolina is my pick to be the playoff team from 2013 who takes a step back. Unless rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin emerges as a stud, this is a terrible receiving crew. The Packers secondary will be able to focus on TE Greg Olsen. Packers win.

Week 8 at New Orleans – My belief is these two teams are incredible similar and have been for years, since Brees’ arrival in NO and Rodgers emergence. As long as the QB is upright and healthy they’ll be in the playoff hunt. Their respective defenses live off turnovers and big plays. So this is a battle of attrition and I will take the home team. New Orleans in a tight one.

Week 9 BYE – As the bye approaches at the halfway point, I have the Packers at 5-3. That feels right.

Week 10 vs Chicago – The Packers get revenge for their earlier loss at Chicago. This is a Sunday Night NBC game and should provide plenty of excitement. I’m not going against McCarthy and Rodgers off a bye, in a nationally televised game. Pack win.

Week 11 vs Philadelphia – I can see this being a trap game. Philly’s offense was outstanding last year. I believe they are the favorite to win a bad NFC East. However, I don’t trust Nick Foles, in fact some call him the most over-rated Eagle, to meet or exceed the excellent play of 2013. I think he regresses and the Eagles lost Desean Jackson. Lesean “Shady” McCoy is still an unbelievable weapon, going top 3 in fantasy drafts, but not enough by himself. Pack make it two in a row out of the bye.

Week 12 at Minnesota – Since I picked the Vikings to win this game in my Purple Preview I suppose I have to go with them again here, though I don’t feel great about it. Even in their worst years though, Minnesota has proven feisty at home, though this won’t be the Metrodome. (Minnesota was 16-15 vs Green Bay at Metrodome.) I still like their improved team enough to keep it close, and in close division games I go with the home team. Minnesota in an upset.

Week 13 vs New England – Is this a Super Bowl preview? Could be, but obviously not the betting favorites. It doesn’t get any better than these two QBs. The difference will be the running game and Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy is superior to anyone New England has. Home field is irrelevant here since NE plays outdoors in a cold-weather city. But the NFC is superior to the AFC and Green Bay shows it here with a gutty win.

Week 14 vs Atlanta – I don’t like Green Bay’s match-up with the big receivers from Atlanta. If the Packers have a let-down loss on the schedule I think it’s this one. They are due for a poor performance, and it could be the Minnesota game, but I think they actually play well in Minnesota yet lose. Also, another member of the O-line or two could be hurt by this point. Atlanta will be improved, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Matt Ryan break apart that secondary in a December surprise.

Week 15 at Buffalo – This is another trap game, but if the Packers, as I’m predicting, lose 2 of their previous 3, they won’t be lethargic in Buffalo. I think Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and that front 7 get after EJ Manuel or whoever is playing QB in Buffalo. The Bills defense is good, but not good enough. Packers get back on track and look good doing it.

Week 16 at Tampa – Green Bay is beginning their playoff preparation and I think Tampa will be out of contention. The Pack will know they can lock up a first-round bye with 2 wins in the final 2 weeks. This will mean something to them. Good balance, a few turnovers from Josh McCown and/or Mike Glennon, the Bucs aren’t beating the Pack in a meaningful December game. Also, the Packers speed will enjoy playing in Florida 4 days before Christmas. Packers win.

Week 17 vs Detroit – Again, I think the Pack will be playing for a first-round playoff bye and Detroit will be trying to play spoiler. Green Bay gives up a lot of points in this game and it’s not pretty. They struggle to put away the Lions, but in late December Eddie Lacy has the potential to be the most important player on the Pack. I think he has a big day. Packers win something like 34-31.

That gets the Packers to 11-5. I’m still not sure that earns them a top-2 seed and first-round bye, but they will win the NFC North and get at least one game at Lambeau in the playoffs. San Francisco may take a small step backwards which could allow Arizona a window in the NFC West. If the Packers lose to New Orleans as I predict, that could cost them the 1 or 2-seed via tiebreaker, with Seattle gaining the other top seed. Those will be the top 3 in the NFC. What the order is who knows.

But once again, the Pack reign supreme in the NFC North and position themselves for a deep playoff run. Can the defense improve, create turnovers, get enough sacks to win big games? Will Eddie Lacy maintain or improve on an impressive rookie season? Will the Packers stay healthy (FINALLY)? If the answer to those 3 is yes, they will be in the NFC Championship game with a chance to win a Super Bowl in 2014-15.

Vikings Preview: Will Zimmer right the ship?

Coming off a 5-10-1 season (yes, Donovan, an NFL game can end in a tie), the Minnesota Vikings feel they have a lot to prove. They showed they mean business with wins in all 4 meaningless preseason games. That was my tongue being firmly planted in cheek. That being said I have been pleasantly surprised by how good the offense has looked without Adrian Peterson, who wisely chooses to avoid contact in these exhibition games. However, the offense wasn’t the problem last year and it most likely won’t be this year. Any and all improvement for the Purple’s record will depend on whether new head coach and defensive mind Mike Zimmer can straighten out a historically bad Viking defense, specifically the secondary.

The Vikings finished near the bottom in total defense and pass defense. Their rush defense was only moderately bad. Many of the problems, in my mind, were schematic so the Zimmer change is welcomed by this writer. However, poor personnel at the LB, Safety (outside of Harrison Ford…er Smith) and CB continue to plague a team that faces 3 elite QBs in its division. Bringing in Captain Munnerlyn as a veteran CB with some play-making ability is huge and surely helps. But they are still stuck with Josh Robinson as the 3rd corner in a team expected to play a ton of nickel defense. The safety opposite of Smith is still unknown. Apparently no one really wants the spot.

But enough of the negatives. Let’s just get to actual games so I can stop hearing about games that don’t matter, Johnny Football being a back-up, and Michael Sam’s showering habits. Here is my game-by-game preview of the Minnesota Vikings:

Week 1 at St. Louis – The Vikings secondary was handed a gift when Sam Bradford went down with a torn ACL. Obviously feel bad for Bradford, but the Vikings defense should see some relief with his absence. Vikings win on the road in a close, low-scoring game.

Week 2 vs New England – The Vikings are known for cowering in primetime, nationally-televised games. This won’t be like 2002′s debacle vs the Seahawks that led to this outstanding quote from Mike Patrick, “The Seahawks won the coin toss and elected to kick the living bejeezus out of the Vikings” or the night Tom Brady torched the Metrodome turf in a 31-7 beatdown of the Purple. I just wanted to bring up those horrible performance because they bring back some hilarious commentary. It won’t be that bad this time, but I still see “The Fighting Brady’s” winning.

Week 3 at New Orleans – I hate this game, not only because of the shock and awe STILL lingering from 2009, but because Drew Brees is still the QB for the Saints. Check out his #s in 3 games vs the here. Vikings lose, and probably give up 350 yds passing for the 2nd straight week.

Week 4 vs Atlanta – The Falcons weren’t nearly as bad as their 4-12 record indicated in 2013. They were coming off a 13-3 mark and #1 seed in the NFC in 2012. I expect them to be somewhere in the middle. They have outstanding receivers, but no running game. I bet the Vikings pass defense is looking forward to a downgrade in opposing QB play, but it won’t be much. I give the Vikings the win here since it’s at home. Revenge for ’98! (or not).

Week 5 at Green Bay – The never-ending parade of HoF QBs continues. The Purple lose in GB almost as often as they do in Chicago. I give the Packers the edge. They are one of the 3 best teams in the NFC and the Vikings just can’t keep up on defense. It’ll be close though, as it tends to be in this rivalry.

Week 6 vs Detroit – Calvin Johnson may score 2 TDs and get 200 yds receiving, but it’s still the Lions of old. The only difference is they lose less often because of great talent. But they still find ways to lose in grandiose fashion even off the field. Vikings win in a shootout because neither defense cares to stop anyone, unless it’s Suh cheap-shotting someone.

Week 7 at Buffalo – This is the first game that on paper, the Vikings should be favored. However, it’s mid-October in Buffalo and as Dennis Green once said the “Calcutta Clipper” can swing down and up and out. It’s a stout Bills defense. If the Vikings want to be taken seriously after that brutal schedule to start, they have to win this. So naturally I’m taking Buffalo in a barn-burner.

Week 8 at Tampa – Another game, eerily similar to the Buffalo game. Vikings probably won’t be favored here, but have probably enough talent to win. Since I picked them to lose in Buffalo, I’ll take the Purple to win here. I think they split these two games.

Week 9 vs Washington – The Vikings won 34-27 last year. RGIII has new weapon Desean Jackson to throw to. However, the Vikings are tough to beat at home and Griffin isn’t quite elite enough to pick apart a porous secondary. Vikings win in another high-scoring affair.

Week 10  BYE – I have the Vikings at 5-4 entering their bye week. I love the week 10 bye, especially if Minnesota is above .500. Even at 4-5 they have a decent shot at 8-8 or better. Again, they need to be 2-3 or better after 5 games to consider playoffs.

Week 11 at Chicago – The Vikings never win at Soldier Field. It used to be because the team was built for speed on that Metrodome turf and the long grass at Soldier Field threw them off. I think it’s just because Chicago historically has a good team. This year is no different and the Vikings will find another way to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory in Chicago as they did in 2013. Bears win thanks to Alshon Jeffrey, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler.

Week 12 vs Green Bay – This is a tricky game. Even in down years the Vikings can beat the Pack at home. This game is the week before Thanksgiving and cold will be barreling down on TCF Bank Stadium. I take the Vikings in an upset. I won’t predict snow, nor a 65-degree Nov day. But I’m feeling a gut-wrenching loss here, maybe a Walsh missed FG at the horn. Pack wins.

Week 13 vs Carolina – The Panthers came to Metrodome last season and hung a 35-10 loss on the Vikings. It was embarrassing on many counts. Maybe the most embarrassing, and what ultimately cost him his job, was Leslie Frazier’s handling of it. He seemed to pin the loss on Matt Cassel, who only played 2 games, because the following week Frazier started Josh Freeman vs the Giants. We won’t revisit that debacle. But I do think the loss of Steve Smith hurts Carolina and Cam Newton. I believe the Vikings pull this out in a slugfest.

Week 14 vs New York Jets – J-E-T-S and the Rex Ryan circus comes to “The Bank” and this may be the easiest game on the schedule, which doesn’t have an easy game on it. the Jets are terrible even in the MOST meaningless of preseason games. The Vikings win by 10+.

Week 15 at Detroit – Another tricky division game. This could go two ways: The Lions have become irrelevant and dysfunctional but still give Minnesota a close game OR the Vikings have become irrelevant and dysfunctional and the Lions rout the Purple. I say close game, Minnesota wins.

Week 16 at Miami – This feels like a let-down game, regardless how the season goes to this point. Something tells me the hot Miami sun, Cuban food, and clubs catch up to the Vikings here and Miami wins. As I did before, I may be wrong, but I think the Vikings win 2 of 3 vs NYJ, DET, & MIA.

Week 17 vs Chicago – I don’t have any stats to back this up, but it seems like when the Vikings have NEEDED to win a week 17 game to make the playoffs, they’ve done it; Recently versus the Giants (2008) and Packers (2012). Up to this point the Vikings are 8-7. Unfortunately for them 9-7 isn’t getting them in the playoffs. However, the Bears could need this to make a Wild Card spot, and I think the Vikings hold home field and upset the 10-5 Bears, 28-27.

That’s it, Minnesota goes 9-7, definitely covering the Vegas win Over/Under of 6…for those that partake in that sort of thing. I like what I’ve seen from the offense, Peterson is other-worldy and should have another strong year with possibly receptions in the area of 2009 when he last had a capable QB, the defense will be better (can’t be worse!) and the coaching staff will breathe new life into the team. Unfortunately, the NFC is so good, teams may need 11 wins just to make a Wild Card spot, 10 at a minimum. Among SEA, SF, GB, CHI, NO, who won’t have 10+ wins? The NFC is loaded.

Although 9-7 is a much-improved season and would be an exciting step for Zimmer and his staff, I don’t see the Vikings making the post-season. Regardless, my Fantasy Football team WILL, put a guarantee on it, and I can’t wait to watch the Packers and Seahawks kickoff Thursday. Go Rodgers and Jordy Nelson, my fantasy dream team!