Minnesota Vikings: Don't Fight the Inevitable
Some things are inevitable. And no, I’m not just talking about death, taxes, and the eventual Aerosmith reunion.
I’m talking about Jay Leno’s odd stranglehold on the American TV viewer.
As much as I dislike Leno, and as much as I would like to see his future in television met with a resounding “Who cares?” by the American public, it’s inevitable that upon his return to The Tonight Show , he will immediately resume beating David Letterman’s head in. Ratings-wise, I mean.
I’m talking about my need to purchase electronics.
As much as I bristle at the notion of buying a Blu-Ray player, it’s inevitable that one day I will cave to the pressure put upon me by the endless sales reel that I hear every time that I’m at Target. (“Still watching movies on DVD? Still peeing in your pants, too?”)
In the world of sports, there are other things that are inevitable:
1. The Vikings will lose. There are a small percentage of Packers fans that have accepted Green Bay’s earlier-than-anticipated playoff exit and are now cheering on the quarterback who kept them at or near the top of the NFC for a remarkable 16 seasons.
Then there is the other 99 percent of green and gold supporters, all of whom should go to bed very happy on Sunday night.
Look, the Vikings have had a terrific season and Packers fans should be envying their trip to New Orleans. But there are several logical reasons why the Vikings have little chance to advance to Super Bowl XLIV.
The Vikings’ 2009 offensive stats are great, but they aren’t as good as the Saints’. Favre’s team scores fewer points, passes for fewer yards, and runs for fewer yards. And the Vikings commit more penalties. (The Vikings are still more disciplined than the Packers, but outside of Gilbert Arenas, who isn’t?)
Defensively, the Vikings have been better than the Saints, but those stats can be misleading. The Purple People Eaters Mark II don’t play as well on the road (they were gashed at Arizona, at Carolina, and at Chicago in the latter half of the season), and they haven’t played as well overall since losing linebacker E.J. Henderson and since cornerback Antoine Winfield has been hobbled by a foot injury.
Overall, the Vikings secondary is as questionable as Heidi Montag’s sanity, a fact hidden for most of the season by their terrific defensive line and their terrific pass rush. But with DE Ray Edwards and DT Kevin Williams question marks for Sunday’s game, the effectiveness of that pass rush is suddenly in doubt—not to mention their run-stopping ability.
But stats aside, the Vikings will lose simply because they are the Vikings. Going back to their last two NFC Championship appearances, they lost in 1999 when they were clearly the better team and they got embarrassed 41-doughnut in 2001 when they were far too good to be embarrassed 41-doughnut.
Could the Vikings beat the Saints and still prove the inevitable to be inevitable? Technically, yes, since Minnesota could then go on and lose in the Super Bowl. But the Saints are much stiffer competition than either the Colts or the Jets. The inevitable will happen Sunday.
2. Nice Guys Finish Last. Going back to the Leno/Conan drama, there are numerous show-biz stories—far too many to detail here—that collectively dispel the long-held notion that Jay Leno is a nice guy. (The last couple of weeks should have erased whatever doubt was in anyone’s mind.)
That brings us to the Jets/Colts championship game: There is no doubt that Colts head coach Jim Caldwell—a Wisconsin native—is a decent, honorable family man who did not deserve the outpouring of criticism that came when he elected to sit out many of his starters the last two weeks of the season. (Imagine what outcry he would have heard if Peyton Manning had torn his MCL and ACL playing in a meaningless game in Week 17.)
There’s also no doubt that Jets head coach Rex Ryan—like his father Buddy Ryan and mentor Brian Billick—is the biggest, tactless jerk since Kanye West. Ryan has already declared that he would be “shocked” if his team doesn’t beat the Colts on Sunday.
Unfortunately, Ryan’s braggadocio is well-placed. I think the Jets will win on Sunday
The similarities between the Chargers and Colts are even more obvious than the similarities between “Ghostbusters” and “I Want a New Drug”: The Chargers owned the second-worst rushing attack in football last season. The Colts own the worst. The Jets’ defense, while statistically the best in the league overall, is particularly dominating against the pass.
If the Jets—with stud cornerback Derrelle Revis blanketing Reggie Wayne—can frustrate Manning into throwing a couple of errant passes (just as they did with Rivers), they will advance to New Orleans.
It seems odd, but the pressure is really on Peyton Manning in this game. He has to realize that his chances to move the ball against the Jets will be few and far between, and he knows he will get little help from Joseph Addai, Mike Hart, and fantasy football bust Donald Brown.
On the other side, Jets QB and professional Mark Consuelos look-alike Mark Sanchez can use his running game to calm his nerves. He just has to be smart enough to take advantage of the plays in the passing game when they present themselves later in the game. And they will present themselves later in the game.
I’m not thrilled at the prospect of hearing Rex Ryan run his mouth for the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, but as I’ve learned to accept the fact that the McDLT is never coming back, I’m expecting to have to learn to accept Ryan’s jabber-jawing.
3. The Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball Team Will Keep Winning. By most accounts, Bo Ryan’s team should be panicking right now. After losing arguably their best player in junior Jon Leuer with a wrist injury on Jan. 9, the only thing more miserable than the team’s shooting percentage is the trailer for that new The-Rock-As-The-Tooth-Fairy movie.
The Badgers shot 20 of 52 from the floor against Northwestern, 19 of 47 against Ohio State, and 17 of 47 on Wednesday night against Michigan. That’s a lousy field goal percentage of 38.4. To put that in context, Iowa, the worst team in the Big 10 with an overall 7-12 record, is maintaining a field goal percentage of 42.7.
Without Leuer’s presence, the team is struggling to penetrate like my son struggles to beat me on The Price Is Right for Nintendo Wii (I guess six-year-olds just don’t know what mobile homes cost): The team’s been forced into more low-percentage three-point shots, and they’ve only hit 26 percent of them in the three games without Leuer.
Leuer’s teammates haven’t exactly been compensating for the loss of Leuer at the offensive end—Jordan Taylor has hit on just 12 of 29 shots since scoring a career-high 23 against Purdue—Tim Jarmusz is showing no signs of breaking out of his season-long scoring slump, and Keaton Nankivil has converted on just two of his 14 three-point attempts in the last three games.
But Bo Ryan’s team has won two of three games without Leuer because they continue to play great defense—seventh best in the country. As long as they can continue to hold teams to under 60 points a game, they will continue to win a majority of those games.
The Badgers also have the luxury of a deep bench, and everyone from Ryan Evans to Mike Bruesewitz to Rob Wilson—who scored 13 in the victory over Michigan—seems able to step it up whenever it’s needed. And it’s needed now more than ever.
While Trevon Hughes is obviously Wisconsin’s MVP with Leuer out, Jason Bohannon also deserves special credit this season for stepping up his game immeasurably. Although he had a rough night against Michigan (1-7, 0-4 three-point attempts), Bohannon is no longer just a threat from outside. He is now just as likely to drive hard to the basket, which has been a pleasure to watch all season.
The improvement in Bohannon’s production has been equaled over the last several months only by the improvement in David Letterman’s ratings.
Leno’s return to The Tonight Show on Mar. 1 should be the inevitable end to Letterman’s brief resurgence; if the Badgers are lucky, they could get Jon Leuer back around the same time for the postseason.
But even without Leuer, a trip to the NCAA tournament—which would be Wisconsin’s 12th appearance in a row—seems inevitable.
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