NBA Playoffs: An Appraisal Of The Oklahoma City Thunder

Justin breaks down the Thunder’s beatdown of the Lakers last night and what to expect moving forward

The Lakers big men were pounding the glass. Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed were getting beaten on by Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. LA up by 4. Then it happens. The trigger is pulled and OKC starts to get crazy, the sort of youthful controlled crazy that says “I’m coming to take you out old man”. Kobe Bryant, unfortunately, is meeting the Playoff Thunder.
The playoff Thunder are much like the regular Thunder, except they have a trick up their sleeve. It’s called the (much awaited) 2nd line. Harden at the point. Derek Fisher at the 2. Thabo at the 3 while Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka take the 4 and 5. It’s controlled chaos.

When Fisher takes the ball up the court with Harden flying in and out of the paint, Ibaka running up to set a screen and Collison setting himself up in the low block. Even Scott Brooks admitted “There’s a point when we put Russell and Kevin on the bench, and we just let James run the show”.

Get Harden a top hat and a velvet jacket, because this guy can break ankles and give sartorial advice while simultaneously dunking it over your head. This, (after what may have been the greatest thing that could happen to the Thunder in a Dallas playoff rematch), is the end result of the 10,000 hour rule.

How did it start? It started with Kevin Durant prodding the zone of the Mavericks, with Russell Westbrook getting his jump shot going in games 1 and 2 of round 1 while everyone waited for the 3x scoring champion to start feeling it. It started with overcoming the ghosts of last year (a 4-1 series loss to the Mavericks), something that can make or break (Grizzlies) a young (average age of Thunder starting 5: 24) team trying to make its mark in the NBA playoffs.

The Thunder have the physical gifts to beat just about every NBA team in a one game series, but it needed the extra preparation of the playoffs to understand the value of every possession. More often than not, it was the breakaway speed of the Thunder that allowed them to be last in turnovers (16 per game) while somehow running away with the second best record in the NBA. They knew they could get it back, and when the opponent got tired, they used legs and length to get to the basket at will while opposing Centers stood around and watched.

Last night? 4 turnovers. I am almost certain that is some sort of record for a playoff game. Last night? 32 point lead halfway through the 4th quarter. Last night? Shooting 54% from the field. Last night? 25 from Durant. 29 from Westbrook.
I’m not going to go ahead and crown the Thunder champions of the West. I predicted the first round series to go 7 (Thunder swept in 4), and I predict this one to go 6 if for nothing else than the most obvious size advantage that the Lakers will figure out to use against the duo of Collison and Mohammed. Perkins (who is questionable with a hip) and Ibaka are a different story.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the Lakers are going to work harder on defense against the pick and roll, which is going to lead to some serious eyeball work from the refs. The Thunder aren’t going to shoot 54% again, but I can see high 40’s as an average. What is going to determine this series is speed vs. size, and big men don’t run marathons.

Survival Mode: The Mess That Is The Eastern Conference Playoffs

Justin breaks down the messy Eastern Conference Playoffs

A brief review of the first round series before we get into the real matchups:

Bulls vs. Sixers – When you lose Derrick Rose to a torn ACL, a few things begin to cross your mind. You lost your floor general, but luckily you still have guys like Rip Hamilton, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer to help make up for the loss. When you lose Joakim Noah (the undisputed heart and soul of the Bulls), things start to get real shaky. Rip Hamilton having to create one on one? Carlos Boozer having to take some sort of leadership role? Not good. Not good at all.

There’s a reason the Sixers won this in 6, and it has much less to do with the Sixers talent than it does to do with the downfall of the Rose legacy. Now I’m not going to write off the Bulls for good…but something metaphysical died when Rose went down with a torn ACL. For a guy who literally lives off planting (sometimes very awkwardly) and driving to the basket, a torn ACL is like a voice in your head that whispers all your fears every time you try to do something highlight worthy. Quite literally, Rose is never going to be the same. Did I think they could win the East at full health? I’d give them a 50/50 shot with Miami, but can they win it next year? I have my doubts. Especially if “that’s all that matters, yo” Carlos Boozer is still here. Amnesty please.

Magic vs. Pacers – No Dwight Howard = No Chance. It wasn’t even close, despite the efforts of Glen Davis, the Richardsons and Ryan Anderson. This entire team has been predicated on the notion of getting the ball to Dwight Howard in the low post, so when he’s gone there’s really no point in attempting a breakdown of how the Magic can adapt their style to suit their sharpshooters. As Dwight Howard does his rehab, the Magic are reportedly giving him the cold shoulder. This team will look nothing like it has in the past, and Howard is most likely gone before the next Magic training camp.

As for the Pacers, they seem to be the more experienced version of the Sixers. Danny Granger stepped it up in the playoffs, as did Roy Hibbert and my favorite UNC alum PSYCHO T. We will discuss them more in the next round preview.

Hawks vs. Celtics – You had them Atlanta! You had them and it all fell apart. Well, that and you have Joe Johnson and Josh “no all star appearances” Smith as the pillars of your franchise. Game 4? Yeah only down by 25, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce looking 10 years younger. Al Horford coming up huge in game 5. Then the owner called Kevin Garnett the dirtiest player in the league and the floodgates hath open. So what’s the upside for Atlanta fans? Your team is still pretty nice in 2K12.

Knicks vs. Heat – The Knicks recent postseason accomplishments make the Jets look like a perennial powerhouse. So let’s just do a quick review of the Knicks second half of the season leading to the postseason. D’Antoni exits, Baron’s back flares up, Landry Fields regresses, Shumpert goes down with a torn ACL in game 1, Amare slices his hand punching the glass case of a fire extinguisher after game 3, Baron’s knee and ACL tear in Game 4, topping it all off with Carmelo reverting to his one man show, getting no one else involved in game 5,ending the series at 4-1 in favor of Miami. It’s going to be a long offseason in New York, and the excuses will come fast and furious.

With all that said, let’s move onto the real excitement of the playoffs…the semifinals –

Boston vs. Philly – There’s an ideological battle that is going to be waged in this series. Do you hang on to aging veterans or piece together a team of young 20 somethings, hoping for a few breaks as you try and use speed to get your way through tough playoff games. The only issue? Boston is feeling like 2008 again and the 76ers have no answer for the combination of Rondo and Ray Allen. Do I see 76ers giving them a tough run at home? Sure, but Boston is coming in rested and full of confidence, especially after they proved that they can absolutely demolish teams like the Hawks at 90% strength. Celtics in 6.

Heat vs. Pacers – I would personally enjoy nothing more than the Pacers taking this 7 games off the pure effort of Roy Hibbert and PSYCHO T, but I can’t help but realize the Heat haven’t even had a real challenge yet and got to mostly coast through the Knicks series (which could at some point work against them into a false sense of confidence). The Heat are going to win this series, it’s just a matter of how long it’s going to take them. Heat in 6.

Now, there is something amazing brewing in the East. It’s the heart and soul of the blue collar heroes against the flash of the Heat. Big 3 vs. Big 3. Short of OKC winning the West, nothing would give me as much joy as seeing Boston win the East. Celtics/Spurs finals? OKC/Heat finals? Or…Lakers/Celtics re-rematch? This is why the playoffs are great.

A Night With The Yankees

Guest contributor Justin Fritze breaks down his latest trip to Yankees Stadium

Guest contributor Justin Fritze walks us through another one of his nights at Yankees Stadium – 

The day started with rain. Rain and more rain for about five hours. I was going to see the Yankees play the Orioles at 7pm, sans Swisher yet sadly with Phil Hughes starting at pitcher. Hughes was 1-3 this year with an ERA rising over 6, so to say I had general apprehensions about his start would be an understatement.

At around noon the sun started coming out, slowly but surely, until around 3pm it was about 70 degrees and feeling like the glorious spring we’ve all been waiting for. At 5 I walked out of work and headed towards Union Square, which was currently being flanked by about 500 cops, surveillance buses, emergency service units, and general gestapo of the highest order. The kids were having some fun so someone had to stop it.

The most interesting part of the journey to Yankee stadium is the 4 train from Manhattan, which slowly picks up all the wall street crowd, the yuppie crowd, and the kids from the projects getting on for a quick 40 block ride to 161st street. It’s a real interesting mix, and despite the income inequality, living quarters, political views etc. there is a general unifier. They are going to see the Yankees. New York’s only REAL New York team. (Jets/Giants play in NJ…Knicks are too expensive for most)

If you’re really familiar with parking for a Yankees game, then you’ll know that the Gateway shopping Center is the best deal to get to the stadium and openly drink to the point of recklessness. Also, there is Taco Bell 500 feet away. And if T-Bell doesn’t do it for you then there is a fine Indian hot dog vendor who will sell you two hot dogs and a soda for $3.50 as soon as you come down the pedestrian walkway.

We made the mistake of coming out the back side (blame it on the Goose) of the Gateway, but found an amazing thing had happened in the Bronx in the matter of one year. We start walking towards the stadium, somehow stumbling on a recently built Metro North Station that looks like it’s the site of a space shuttle test (clean and minimal decorum). You cross over the footbridge and then you get to a site that makes you feel quite far from the Bronx.

Macombs Dam Park/Heritage Field is a revelation to anyone who is used to slumming through the generally downtrodden River Avenue. It’s huge. It’s spacious. There are basketball courts, running tracks, playgrounds, baseball fields. There’s nearly everything for every sport and it’s all surrounding the Stadium itself. More than anything else it gives you a feeling of approaching something larger than life. You forgot that you are stepping on hallowed ground, where the great played. And you see the new stadium, like a coliseum piercing the New York skyline. It is where THEY play. The great ones. The ones you listen to in the background while you are doing other work. The ones you check in on while you’re at a family party. The ones that pace the summer with games every other night. Sometimes you don’t even have the volume up. You know what they’re talking about.

The entrance is something almost primal. You start wrapping around from the first base line, catching a glimpse of the huge steel beams holding up the top deck, and then the green is so bright, so expansive it stops you in your tracks. Jeter just got a hit and the whole place is rumbling. This is his house. A subway rolls by and someone spills a beer. You get to the bleachers and you see Curtis Granderson standing about 50 feet away. You don’t see him much on television, but he is there and he is in prime position to move left, right, forward, back. You buy Bazzini peanuts and grab a beer. It’s the 5th inning and everyone is jumping up and down because Rodriguez just drew a walk.

This is baseball at Yankee stadium. Everything the Yankees do well is rewarded with 20,000 cheers. Everything they don’t is drew with 20,000 boos. It is Tuesday in May, and for a little while you forget about everything and just enjoy the game. They lost 7-1. No complaints.

NHL Playoffs: This Physical, Beautiful Game On Ice

Justin Fritze discusses the violent beauty of the first round of the NHL playoffs

As both the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils head into decisive Game 5’s tonight, Guest contributor Justin Fritze discusses the violent beauty of the first round of the NHL Playoffs so far…

For as long as I can remember, I have had some sort of connection to hockey. My Uncle used to play ice hockey religiously growing up and even into his 20’s in an amateur league about a mile down the road from my grandma’s house. In the summer he would play deck hockey, and at the end of games he even used to ask the guys who ran the place to let him stay late and shoot around with me for about half an hour.

My Dad’s best friend growing up was a guy named Matt Janney, whose brother was Craig Janney, a first round pick of the Boston Bruins in 1986, and who according to the NHL Alumni board had the “softest hands in hockey”. To say he was a legend in Enfield was an understatement. He was pretty much god in that small Connecticut town, and despite being 6 years old, I still remember the insane party he had at his house after getting selected in the NHL Draft.

After that, I pretty much had hockey ingrained in my psyche. I went to Bruins games, went to Whalers games…that’s right. Look it up. Hartford Whalers. Pretty much the coolest jersey to ever exist. I watched every Craig Janney game I could, and the Bruins recent bruising of the Canucks on the way to the NHL Stanley Cup brought a smile that only a kid who grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts could understand.

I never did make it into ice hockey, but I did play roller hockey. Outdoors. In January. On Long Island, where the average nightly temperature was around 20 degrees. Not so fun getting checked into the boards when you’re having trouble feeling your fingers.

I also benefited from a next door neighbor whose father was a firefighter and brought us to the yearly NYPD vs. FDNY hockey game that took place in the hellhole that is Nassau Coliseum, where fighting was so rampant that the two fan-bases were literally separated on opposite sides by barricades. At one game I counted 12 fights on the ice, and probably about 6 more in the bathrooms. It was one of the greatest sports events I have ever been to.

And so, this year’s NHL Playoffs. Did the NHL make a mistake in not coming down “hand of god” style a la Roger Goodell against all this blatant violence? I’m not someone with a horse in the race, so to say I don’t like the violence of the NHL would be an outright lie.

You know what the best part of NHL 94 for Sega Genesis was? Watching some poor bastard come up the side from their own blue line, getting a head full of steam, and knocking him through the glass. That’s right. Through the glass. Oh yeah, and the inevitable 2nd period throwdown. THIS IS HOCKEY. Even the video games were preprogrammed with checking, guys getting carted off, and literal Mike Tyson Punchout matches in the middle of the ice.

Now, to play devils advocate, would I be able to sit comfortably if I was related to the leading scorer on any of the playoff teams? Of course not. I would be terrified. Everyone is one severe hit away from a concussion that could last months. But this is the ancient element of hockey. No escape. Locked in. And they’re coming from all directions. Even the goalies aren’t completely safe.

For the sake of objectivity, I will admit that hockey fans are a different breed. A guy who may be a corporate lawyer will turn into a Hell’s Angels when it comes to playoff hockey, especially when it’s a matchup like Flyers/Penguins. If the Bruins and Rangers make it to the next round, I’m going to have a dilemma so deep, because of the Boston roots and the teenage years in New York (remembering Messier/Richter/Leetch/Graves and that whole insanity of 94) I may just have to wear a different jersey every single night to help the balance.

But I’ll be damned if someone doesn’t admit playoff hockey is exciting unlike any other sport in the world. It’s what soccer should be. Goals/Saves/Hits at a rate that turns your nerves into downed power lines in a hurricane. Your blood boils and your brain is on the edge of adrenaline overload. Your eyes can’t keep up, and you’re beginning to scream for no reason other than the eventual hit that is about to send someone backwards or into the boards with the force of two Mac trucks hitting each other at 35mph.

Thank You NHL. Now shorten the season, and let’s hope no one gets seriously hurt.

TOJ Roundtable: Tebow, Tebow, Tebow And The Jets

The TOJ writers discuss the pros and cons of the Tim Tebow trade

An emergency calling of the roundtable to discuss the pros and cons of the Tim Tebow trade to the New York Jets. I am going to sit this one out, as I wrote about 5,000 words on it yesterday and have plenty more on the way today.

Chris Gross: First, let’s look at why this could be viewed as an idiotic move by Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan. The Jets have been portrayed as a circus since the public meltdown after last season’s loss to Miami in week 17. There is a great scare that Tim Tebow, and the massive amount of publicity that he receives, will only add to the zoo that has become the New York Jets.

There is also the fear that Tebow’s presence will cause a split between players and fans if Mark Sanchez begins to struggle. The assumption here is based on how the fans and players of the Denver Broncos pushed for Tebow to take over for Kyle Orton after he got off to a shaky start last season. However, the fact of the matter is Kyle Orton is not Mark Sanchez. In his seven seasons in the NFL, Orton has never won a playoff game. In three seasons, Sanchez has won 4 postseason games, all on the road mind you. There is no question that Mark Sanchez, who was just given a three-year contract extension, is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. Tebow is not being brought in here to challenge Sanchez for that title, regardless of what the so-called experts in the media say. Instead, Tebow will serve as a very useful weapon in Tony Sparano’s arsenal, regardless of what capacity that may end up being.

Sanchez will not feel threatened by Tim Tebow. Regardless of what people say, Sanchez is not fragile. He has taken more scrutiny and physical beatings on the field (Hello Wayne Hunter) in his first three seasons combined than some quarterbacks face in their entire career. Tebow was not brought to the Jets to take Sanchez’s job. He was brought to New York to help the Jets win, and that is exactly what he is going to do.

Anyone who is a fan of football has grown to know Tim Tebow as many things. He is super competitive, he is a winner, and most of all, he is a team player. It is understandable that fans view this move by the Jets as an acquisition of a glorified role player. However, if Sparano uses him correctly, Tebow will serve as much more than a Wildcat quarterback. At 6’3” 245 pounds, there is so much flexibility to how Tebow can be used.

Tebow will dedicate everything he has and fulfill that role to the best of his ability, which he has shown to be extremely high. He is certainly one of the hardest working, most determined players in the NFL, and on top of that he wants to win more than anything.

Matt Fritz: Tough for me to even try to give positives out of getting Tim Tebow from the Broncos since I have been a Tebow hater all along, but I’ll do my best. In all honesty, if the reason we got Tim Tebow is for what I truly believe it to be, then I cannot fault the Jets on this decision entirely. Just after giving Mark Sanchez an extension, do you really think the Jets are thinking of making Tebow their every down quarterback? No, the Jets reached out and got Tim Tebow because they feel as though it will make their offense that much better. Tebow will most likely get somewhere around 10-12 snaps a game, all primarily out of the wildcat, and could be a nice change of pace in the Jets offense, much like Brad Smith was two years ago.

This is ultimately how I would like the Jets to go about handling Tim Tebow in the Jets offense next season. Whether they use him like that or not we will just have to wait and find out. In the end, as much as I despise this trade, I will admit three things about Tim Tebow that there are no denying. He is a winner, he is tough, and he’s got God on his side.

We all know it’s the same song and dance. Mark comes out in the first game next year and throws two picks, and the whole New York Media and Jet fan base are calling for Tim Tebow to take over . This is ultimately my biggest fear out of all of this mess. Obviously the talk has been that Mark needs to feel some pressure behind him at the QB position, but he doesn’t need to feel like he has to be perfect. On top of that, I just don’t think that Tim Tebow is a very good quarterback. Do I think he is a tremendous athlete? Yes. Do I think he is extraordinarily tough? Absolutely. Do I think he is a winner? He’s proven that.  It’s just that if Jet fans are calling for a switch from Sanchez to Tebow next year, there just simply won’t be an upgrade.

Rob Celletti: I have a lot swirling in my mind right now, so I’m unable to really lay things out in a pro/con fashion.  I will just say that I think this is one of the worst personnel decisions that the Jets have made in the history of their franchise, for two reasons:

1) The Jets have proven that selling Tebow jerseys and PSLs are ahead of winning football games on their list of priorities.  And to send Mike Tannenbaum out there to basically lie about the main motivation for this move to the media is tantamount to spitting in the faces of the intelligent members of the Jets fanbase.  This move insults me, which brings me to…

2) If it insults me, how do you think Mark Sanchez feels right now?  What’s worse, what happens when Sanchez plays merely a mediocre half at MetLife Stadium and the Jets find themselves trailing by 7 or 10 points?  I was in the old building when people literally cheered when Chad Pennington was injured.  This is one of the most brutal fanbases in sports.  The “We Want Tebow!” chant will be deafening.  And it will be the death knell to Mark Sanchez’s career as a Jet.

Some people claim that this won’t/shouldn’t affect Sanchez.  They have to be kidding.  Did they witness what occurred last year?  Throw in Rex Ryan, Santonio Holmes and however many “unnamed players”, and the 2012 circus could make 2011 look like the Monmouth County fair.

I won’t even touch upon the 8 other positions the Jets should have prioritized over gimmick/backup/wildcat quarterback.  I’m just too upset.  All I know is that being born into Jets fandom is something that will test my love of sports for as long as I walk this earth. I’m sure I’ll eventually come around to Tebow, and learn to grin and bear it, but all I can say is that being a Jets fan is extremely difficult for me right now.

New York Knicks: D’Antoni Quits, Focus Shifts To ‘Melo

TOJ on Mike D’Antoni’s resignation, along with Justin’s thoughts on Carmelo Anthony moving forward

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article by Justin was written prior to Mike D’Antoni’s surprising resignation this afternoon. This is a player’s league so nobody should be surprised that the Knicks stuck with Carmelo Anthomy over D’Antoni as the two of them clashed. Beyond that, we know how James Dolan feels about Anthony. He isn’t going anywhere.

You can make a strong argument from both sides on this one. D’Antoni has been here for three seasons and hasn’t accomplished anything. Anthony hasn’t even been here a full 82 games. Then again, D’Antoni continually had his roster shuffled around and whenever he seemed to find a unit that was working, a drastic change was brought upon it. In the end, Anthony lost a scapegoat and now needs to carry this team amid talks that the rest of the locker room is fed up with his style of play. Winning cures everything and the Knicks need to start doing that…now.

Mike Woodson will be the coach for now but expect the Knicks to make a push in the off-season for a big name like Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan or John Calipari. – JC

I used to make a crack about the Knicks wearing the same colors as the Mets. The Mets, in case you aren’t an aficionado of America’s Game (which is really politics, but I’ll let Charlie Pierce toe the line on that one) are the most poorly run organization in baseball. Don’t bother checking the ESPN NY site or their own official website (where that creep Mr. Met is hiding somewhere, crying to himself), it’s only horror tales and sick demented smiles from the ownership group, who are still insisting they’re gonna “give them boys from Philly a good run for their money this season. How you ask? With sheer DETERMINATION.”

It was always good for a smile, and a brief moment of David Lynch-like terror for those who have spent any time watching Knicks classics from the 70’s or the 90’s. To be in ANY way associated with the Mets is essentially the death knell. We’ll look what wears orange ladies and gentlemen.

Carmelo Anthony, in the BRIGHT orange, who is looking like a guy attempting to back down a power forward and leaning like a dope addict, expecting to get the ball and somehow contort himself into a layup And 1.

I personally like that kind of crazy, that “forget reality, this is FUN” kind of insanity that lives on it’s own, somewhere far away from where it can affect other people. So what does this have to do with Carmelo Anthony? Well, he really does think he’s better than he is, that the best answer to scoring is for him to fake a post up, spin, and try and drop one from 8 feet, which is good and all, except they need to go in.

The Knicks have devolved into the sort of thing that belongs in some 12 year old’s 2K12 season and does not in any way resemble a NBA roster. 6 shooters, 2 defenders who can’t play because the shooters are out there for scoring, a power forward who should really be playing center, a center who is overpaid and on the wrong side of 30 despite his obvious 110% work effort, 27 guards and the 2/3/4 man that is Landry Fields.

But hell, I’m a Thunder fan, so when I told some friends last night that the Knicks are the most hilariously entertaining team that doesn’t involve JaVale Magee or Kemba Walker, and boldly predicting them to go up 5, then be down 5, then lose by 10 (which was close), I didn’t say it with any emotion. I said it in a monotone of someone reading a sports almanac.

This is where it is with the Knicks. It’s so fractured and hopeless that people are starting to despise their Lin jerseys. Right Joe? They don’t even want to talk about him or comment as he charges the lane, flailing like a blindfolded, “sans equilibrium” “paper tiger” version of Derrick Rose, (who promptly proceeded to stomp all over everyone’s dreams that Lin could even be on the same court and not look like a complete joke).

Is it going to get better? Sure, just get rid of Amare and Melo, blow everyone’s minds simultaneously, and let Steve Novak, Jared Jeffries, Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields and Tyson Chandler take the reigns as everyone attempts to figure out how to have James Dolan arrested for emotional genocide.

There’s no hell deep enough for a man like Dolan, who let Donnie Walsh go and spends a large amount writing songs like “Wish I Had A Life”, (not even gonna touch that one). He deserves an epic amount of public humiliation for what he has done concerning ticket prices, hopes at relevance, and keeping Knicks fans from watching their team for a good portion of the season, that is until they brought the “fantasy roster” back and couldn’t get a decent string of momentum for longer than 4 minutes.

Everything the Heat did, as bogus and Nixonian as it was, was done knowing full well that these 3 guys will work harder than everyone else in the league at making a system that can utilize their athleticism, length, and basketball IQ. The Knicks are built on old expectations (Carmelo being a 24 year old scoring machine), shaky knees/eye sockets (Amare), ugly point guards (Douglas/Bibby) and overlapping parts (Novak/Smith).

Will I watch? Of course. Everyone in New York is obligated to go down with the ship.

The End Of The Peyton Manning Colts

Justin sorts through the wreckage Peyton Manning is leaving behind in Indy

They started angry. Disrespected. No one believed they had a chance to compete without Peyton Manning. 4-12, 2-14, etc. Many a radio and television personality go against the stream of public opinion, even advocate it while simultaneously agreeing with about 90% of their colleagues. Some would call this hypocrisy. Sometimes though, you just can’t fight it, and as the 2011 season got underway things started to look…strange.

The Colts have bad blood with the Texans for as long as the Texans have existed. As soon as the Texans got any sort of momentum, the Colts have proceeded to stomp out their playoff dreams. This did not sit well with the Texans, so hearing that Peyton Manning would be out for a good portion of the season was the old “Christmas came twice” idea, literally.
Looking back, even Peyton Manning would have had trouble with the new look 3-4 Texans defense. A brief list of defensive stars: JJ Watt, Brooks Reed, Brian Cushing, Demeco Ryans, Mario Williams, Jonathan Joseph. Not what a team who lost their coach/qb/coordinator/predictor of the future is ready to handle.

So how does Jim Caldwell counter this relentless pass rush? He puts in Dallas Clark, the only “tight end who is not a tight end and is really a slot receiver” to block Mario Williams. Wait, doesn’t Mario Williams play defensive line? No. Wade Philips saw to it that he assembled the wildest 3-4 defensive end/linebacking core in the AFC, and Mario Williams is the new centerpiece.

So Kerry Collins gets hurt, before which he is illustrating rather blatantly that he has to huddle every single play because he is looking more and more like a guy who should have stuck to recording music on his farm and not decided to attempt a savior role in the most complex NFL offense in the history of the game. But that’s OK, because Curtis Painter has been around and can attempt a paper tiger version of the offense. Hell even Reggie Wayne backed Painter because he’s had enough time to watch Peyton orchestrate like my main man MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas). As the announcers pointed out during the Browns game, Painter got a lot of mental reps watching Peyton Manning, but watching Picasso paint and painting like Picasso are two different things.

Here we stand at week 2, where Colt McCoy and his band of mediocre skill players, his mediocre offensive line (save for Joe Thomas), and his mediocre defense decided to put on a clinic on how to completely demoralize a team that was a field goal away from the AFC championship game and was what could be considered the second or third best team in the last ten years.

In his second year in the NFL, with his second head coach, in his second offensive system in two years, McCoy was privy to a revelation. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are old. So old that they only play 50% of snaps. Despite this, they are ferocious when they are on the field, so McCoy took his time, and when he didn’t want to get pancaked and knew Freeney and Mathis were coming, he handed off to Peyton Hillis, the greatest “throwback to 1950’s football” running back this game has ever seen.

This formula worked for a few reasons. The Colts defense is small, the secondary is awful, and the Colts were slowly realizing that life without Peyton was awful on all fronts. Even the people in the concessions handed out popcorn with the look of someone who just came back from the killing fields. When Adam Vinateri starts missing field goals, you might as well curl up into a ball to start protecting vital organs.

So it’s week 5, Joseph Addai has been replaced (due to injury) by the tandem of Delone Carter and Donald Brown, who are completely opposite types of running backs and both of whom should be kept, with Delone Carter getting the starting nod because of his “bowling ball full of steroids” frame and flashes of Darren Sproles lateral agility.

THE ROAD TO PERDITION

The Chiefs were without Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry for this game, which should help both sides of the football for the Colts. Trouble is, the Colts suck. I’ve been waiting to say it, but it must now be said. Reggie Wayne can’t be Reggie Wayne, Jacob Tamme hasn’t had anyone even attempt to find him, Pierre Garcon is up and down, and Painter is starting to have serious doubts about the possibility of even converting a 3rd and 7.

How long lord? 11 weeks to go. To review, the Colts put up a decent fight in both prime time games, got rolled on by the Chiefs, Browns, and Texans, and are now heading into a game against the Bengals.

The Bengals are starting to turn into a serious contender at this point in the season. The running game and the new offense coupled with a very aggressive and well coached defense would have put the Bengals into a bye week if they didn’t play in the same division as the Steelers and the Ravens. None of this is good for the Colts, who proceeded to keep the game close until about 5 minutes to go, when a missed field goal, an interception, and a fumble all sealed the fate for the rest of the year.

So the Colts didn’t win that game. And so they limped into the Superdome, for another shot at Sunday Night Football.

LIFELINE

Although Aaron Rodgers and his band of receivers put up points and numbers at will, the fact that Drew Brees throws to sequoias at receiver and tight end, has a rookie running back who won the Heisman, and the most complete running back in football is something straight out of Madden. The Colts had no chance. Everything was scripted to perfection. Colts play zone? Find the soft spot. Colts blitz up the middle? Check it down to the hot route.

What started to look life an offense that could have mustered a competitive game started to fall apart. Painter missed throws, threw interceptions, and everything began to look disengaged on all fronts. This was essentially the beginning of the end.

They go to Tennessee, where the blandest team in the NFL decided to play out of their mind for the first quarter on special teams and block a punt in the end zone for a touchdown. That was pretty much the most exciting part of the game for Colts fans, as Donald Brown got ripped by Caldwell, Pierre Garcon looks like he doesn’t care anymore, and Dallas Clark decided to start catching passes.

So how can the strange get weird? A nice sideline throw by Painter getting tipped by the corner back, and the Cover 2 safety catching the tip for an interception. Again, general ugliness. I started sewing myself a Luck jersey at this point, and would variously look up to find the score slipping away. Donald Brown had a touchdown, but Donald Brown’s touchdowns are like noticing a ruby necklace on a leper.

DREAM THEATER

In review, the Colts are 0-8. Peyton Manning is explaining to Curtis Painter how the goal of the defense is to sack him, and that he should attempt to throw the ball down the field towards the end zone, upon which he will be awarded 6 points. The winner…most points.

The “Suck for Luck” campaign begins somewhere around here, and the true clowns in the audience are starting to show up in Luck jerseys. So here it is, Atlanta, namely Roddy White and Julio Jones, who are proceeding to put on a show of complete dominance against the Colts defensive backs. DB’s are being shuffled in at breakneck speed, and Curtis Painter is throwing interceptions number 15, 16, 17, etc.

Matt Ryan is too good to not take advantage of the now scripted Freeney/Mathis substitutions, and is gashing the Colts up the middle with Michael Turner and Jaquizz Rodgers while Pat Angerer attempts a halfhearted tackle against the much larger Tony Gonzalez. Things are beginning to get sad.

There would be a chance for redemption the next week, as the Jaguars, helmed by another long haired blond excuse for a quarterback is somehow making Curtis Painter look poised and in control of his offense. Think about this, if the Jaguars didn’t have Maurice Jones Drew, they would be the ones getting Andrew Luck, and it wouldn’t even be close. They would score somewhere around 160 points on the season and their owner would have personally paid for a trip to expedite Blaine Gabbert as soon as possible.

As a side note, many experts had Gabbert over Newton in last years draft. Experts.

So what prevented a Colts victory? The JETS. Well, the fact that the Jets undervalued Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery to the point that they let them walk and single-handedly rescue the Jaguars from both the Colts and the Ravens. But the Jets didn’t need them. Eric Smith did in fact have a…um….”competent” season for a starter. No, no he did not. He was awful.

Despite only allowing one touchdown through 3 quarters, the MJD factor reared it’s head, pitting a small man in Drew against an even smaller man, Angerer, and the Pro Bowler won. Easily. It might have been the most deflating loss of the season, simply for the fact that they could, and should have beaten the worst rookie QB in the league, and that’s being nice.

The matchup was the Patriots, and looking at the matchups, it wouldn’t even be close. Any chance Indy had on defense was thrown out because Pat Angerer was out, Mathis and Freeney are so one dimensional all it took was a few step ups into the pocket from Tom Brady to pick apart the zone (zone with an undersized defense against Tom Brady? Really?).

The Indy offensive line at this point was Jeff Saturday and a bunch of Wayne Hunter impersonators, so the Patriots simply laid back in off coverage with a 5 man defensive front and waited for Dan Orlovsky (who looked more Manning than Painter) to try and air it out deep.

The highlight of the game was Pierre Garcon’s chuck of anger after a receiving touchdown at a sign with a bulls-eye intended for Rob Gronkowski. I watched it and mumbled to myself “screw your contract, this place is a lake of tears”.
After starting 0-12, things start to get comical.

The Colts had beaten the Ravens the last 10 times they played each other, so they were going to use this opportunity to promptly destroy any hope of even going on a 4 game winning streak, which was the largest streak possible at this point in the season.

It is common knowledge that any action, according to the laws of science, has an equal and opposite reaction, so if the play of the Patriots offense could be seen as “action”, the Baltimore defense is “reaction”. It demoralizes teams in the exact same way, keeping your offense off the field, getting blitzed on 3rd and long, and a complete lack of rhythm and timing.
Like the Saints blowout, this was one of the games you only pay attention to for moments at a time, because even I was starting to feel bad for guys like Mathis and Freeney, knowing that Ray Rice was going to negate every spin move by cutting back through the middle and gashing the middle linebacker for 8 yards at a time. It was completely relentless for the Ravens defense, as they pressed the receivers at the line, clogged the line of scrimmage and occasionally sent a corner blitz to keep Orlovsky on his toes. 0-13.

TURNING POINT

0-16? The blandest, most middle of the road team in the NFL! The Titans! I suppose after 0-13, you take what you can get.

So how did it happen? Orlovsky channeled his inner Peyton off the play action, and wings one to Wayne in the corner. The CORNER of the endzone, where hope was born. But QB’s are ok, Jacob Lacey, man of iron and steel, decided to put the team on his back and snag a pass right out of the hands of a Titans receiver and run that the whole way to the endzone. 1st of the season. Game 14. Too late? Not In Indy! Not long after that the floodgates opened. Angerer strip for a turnover. Donald Brown running like a wild man, and then ANGERER! Interception in the Tampa 2.

It feels like the Colts have been waiting the entire season to play like this. At home! “Give the people a show”, Caldwell mumbles to himself as a single tear of a thousand hours labor falls with the grace of a dove down his quiet cheek. Peyton is overjoyed.

OK, OK. Not to get too overjoyed, it’s going to be the dream killing Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. And what happens first play? Brian Cushing decides to hit Orlovsky hard enough that he is, to put it nicely, “parted from the ball”. 10-3 Texans. Reggie Wayne is getting pissed, as multiple passes tip off Wayne’s fingers, old man time is standing on the sideline, waiting, smiling at Wayne. But if 6 is ⅓ of 18, then Orlovsky will hit 1 of 3 passes to Wayne. But 12, Jacoby Jones gets an insane tip pass. Ah damn this logic!

This is the Orlovsky hour, and he never cared about rivalries, or the fact that his team has 1 victory in 14 games. And it’s Reggie Wayne with 13 seconds left for the win. And that’s all I care about. Two feel good wins at home for the Colts in a season of complete disaster. It was fate that they won at home, because it would have been laughed off as a joke if they didn’t do it at their own place. I, a Jet fan, actually felt good for the Colts.

They lost the last game of the season. Andrew Luck will have some work to do next year.

EPILOGUE

As I’m writing this, literally at 6:32 PM March 6, 2012, the fact that Peyton Manning is getting cut is becoming abundantly clear as Chris Mortensen preps the montage of Manning clips, and then delivers the notice that Peyton Manning will be released by the Colts. I always had a relatively emotionless relationship as someone watching Manning (which wasn’t all that often), appreciating the myriad of achievements but never really appreciating just how well versed he was in a system he created for himself after years of being mentored by the irreplaceable Tom Moore (to whom Dallas Clark owes his career).

Manning will not be duplicated. He might not have always executed up to his potential, but he certainly could have, and he almost always knew how to work over a defense with audibles at the line of scrimmage, “check with me” calls, and a slew of incomprehensible code words that may have just been psych out material. We will never know, but we will see if there’s one last go round for what Rex Ryan called “the hardest working quarterback he’s ever seen”.

Black Spring – NFL Combine & All Star Clownery

Justin breaks down the NFL Combine and what we learned from the NBA All-Star Game

Tequila is not for the faint of heart. Neither is getting whipped with a belt about 20 times as a crowd of drunken lunatics scream for more. Both things happened in conjunction Friday night at the always classy Coyote Ugly, so my attempt to cover the start of the 2012 NFL Combine was simply reduced to me trying to put enough meat in my body that blinking felt like an Olympic exercise while I heard Mike Mayock and Bucky Brooks ramble on about Indy without Peyton, the beauty of the 3 cone drill, and the various difficulties of switching guards to tackles and back again.

Still, I carried on. The best thing about the combine is the back and forth that ex-players and analysts have about the combine being worthless, pointless, having nothing to do with football, yet glancing over the fact that the newest iteration of the hideous workout uniform combined with super HD cameras create an almost uncomfortable level of voyeurism as GM’s and coaches stare in the stands like they’re at some bizarro slaughterhouse or bull auction, scanning each player for body fat, wobbly knees, nose hair, tattoos, and for the Raiders – telekinetic ability. And when they’re done looking from afar, they bring them into a room with various astrological charts, gypsy psychics, polygraphs, Rorschach blots and Friendly’s style color ins.

That’s the process. So who WON the combine? RG3! The great hope for whatever god awful franchise he goes to. While Griffin can run, throw, run, run, and throw a deep ball pretty good, he played at BAYLOR. Baylor. You know what I know about Baylor? That Phil Taylor is from Baylor. And they play against some of the worst defenses in college football. Not the biggest challenge for a quarterback who is going against corner backs, linebackers, and defensive lineman that aren’t even being invited to the combine.

Before going further, I’ll admit I’ve developed an SEC bias when it comes to skill players. AJ Green, Julio Jones, Trent Richardson, Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, Mark Ingram etc. etc. Why the bias? Because it’s been proven time and time again that the new conference of power is the SEC, and it’s not even close. The PAC 12 is great except for the fact that they have Washington, Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon State. The Big 12 is full of “traditional” powers that have weakened substantially and the Big 10 is old power that may or may not see some sort of resurgence in the next 10 years. Go watch Michigan State vs. Alabama in their bowl game two years ago.

But does the combine even matter any more? The combine, like the NBA and NFL all star games, is slowly being taken over by player agents, as many agents for prospective first round picks advise their players not to even bother with running or throwing. There is no upside they say, except to satisfy a bunch of analysts that have absolutely no effect on that players draft status. Too much money to risk, too little incentive to perform.

So concerning the combine, what’s the counterargument against the pro day passing against the combine passing for quarterbacks specifically? Think about this. Is a quarterback prospect going to have his college players to throw to when he gets to training camp? Is said player going to tell his offensive coordinator “I’ve never really thrown back shoulder throws, so let’s just keep things simple and maybe I can work on that stuff in the next off season”? Having something that tailored to a players skill set is almost comical when you talk about a guy who is going to be a first round pick, so he sure as hell better be able to make every throw, even if it’s with a set of scrubs in a flag football game.

So the freakshow is over, and it’s time for the truly insane to come out with 4398 mock drafts, but before that, a brief note on the NBA All Star Game. I don’t care if it is a clown-show at heart, things got SERIOUS in the 4th quarter. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made me weep tears of joy as they drained 3’s from the corner and dunked like they were in the Colosseum scene from Escape From LA. And to cap off my childlike joy Lebron James FAILED. Again. But I’ll say this, it’s the All Star Game, not the Finals. Oh, about that.

I’m still trying to come to terms with the perceived mental weakness of James coupled with the most athletic physique to ever play basketball. Maybe he will win 2 or 3 championships, but the Kobe and Jordan era is over for good, and no one will ever challenge them again, especially when the best players are on a team consisting of 3 of the top 10 players in the league that was artificially created to win a championship in the cheapest and most sacrilegious method in the history of sports. CHEATING THE SALARY CAP SYSTEM.

As I’ve said all along, Miami has no soul. So if they want to ever get to that mountain of the immortals, they better win 7, and they better start this year.

The Dead Zone – A Brief Review Of the NY/Boston LoveFest

Justin takes a look around the state of the sports franchises in New York and Boston in the slowest sports time of the year

Sometimes it’s great to be a New York sports fan. Especially when you’re doing tequila shots in a NY located “Boston sports bar” and the bartender is wearing a Celtics shirt, the Celtics of course losing to the god awful Lakers (Nobody likes World Peace) only minutes before. I have to admit I felt a momentary lapse of sadness for this guy, who has in the last 5 days probably been bombarded with drunk Giants fans issuing proclamations that Boston sports are about to undergo a nuclear winter.

Which they are.

The Celtics are in the middle of a Ainge vs. Fans battle that is going to lose hearts, minds, and general optimism for about the next 2-3 years. The Boston Red Sox are being managed by Bobby Valentine (SERIOUSLY? METS MAN BOBBY V?), and are going to be the biggest target in baseball coming off a series of articles that paint the locker room as something out of Blue Mountain State and Animal House combined, the Patriots are going to undergo the “Belichick as GM” annual scrutiny, and anything less than using at least their two first round and two second round draft picks is going to turn away die hard Pats fans until Ryan Mallett starts suiting up and Tom Brady has a touch of gray in that hair, leading to a civil war between Mallett fans and Brady fans, and even a few ancient Bledsoe fans who will issue bible proclamations “for he who taketh that which is not his, that much will be taken away”.

So everything’s good in NY right? Maybe for the Giants, who are going to most likely dump guys that didn’t play this year and possibly trade Osi if they take a defensive end/outside linebacker in the first round of the draft. Jason Pierre Paul is doing his best impression of someone whose genuinely happy just to play for the Giants. Oh yeah, and he is doing the unthinkable in mastering a professional sports position in about 2 years, and will probably go to the Pro Bowl between 7 and 10 times in the next decade while Vernon Gholston starts a football summer camp and contemplates partial ownership opportunities of the IFL.

I’d like to add a general thank you to the Giant fans who gave me a couple bud lights and a few shots of tequila on the 7:16 AM train to Penn Station from Deer Park this past Tuesday (The day of the parade). Really helped me start my day right.

Meanwhile, the Jets have Wayne Hunter and Vlad Ducasse. Jealous yet? They have a half decent (no pro bowls, no all pro nods) receiver who may undergo the Burnett syndrome (who the Yankees are trying to shop as we speak, but are having a GlenGarry Glen Ross moment, Jack Lemon specifically) the next year as he and Mark Sanchez have a Days Of Our Lives style back and forth exchange of opinions, strategies, while everyone wonders why in god’s name the Jets have decided to completely revamp their receiving core every year of Rex Ryan’s tenure.

I’ll tell you why. Because Rex Ryan frankly has little to no interest on the offensive side of the ball. The case stated as thus: If he did, their line wouldn’t have been complete garbage, they wouldn’t have passed 63 times in a game, and they wouldn’t have signed someone like Derrick Mason because he was great 6 years ago.

All Rex Ryan cares about, genuinely lives or dies by, is his defense. And even that didn’t get it done, so for those of us who continually asked, “WHY IN GOD’s NAME IS CROMARTIE NOT PLAYING PRESS COVERAGE?!?!?!?!?! DENNIS THURMAN SAID HE NEEDS TO PLAY PRESS COVERAGE!” we got a whole lot of Mike Pettine, which is fine, except for the fact that the head coach is one of the best defensive coordinators in football. That’s like Mike Martz being your head coach, and having the offensive line coach call the plays.

So what do I make of Jeremy Lin taking over the Knicks? Fear, love, joy, apprehension, etc. etc. Why? Because for the first time in two years I saw glimpses of the D’Antoni system, which is going to die for a while once Carmelo gets the ball back in his hands. And pivots. Pivots back. Pivots again. Ball fake. Crossover. Stop. Pull up jumper. Basket. At times, Carmelo might work better with a bunch of cardboard cutouts stationed at various points throughout the floor, because no point guard is going to run this system while Carmelo is around.

What could fix this? Dumping Amare with a first round pick and getting Deron Williams/Brandon Jennings/ anyone not 38? (sorry Steve) Maybe. That would at least let Lin start off the bench and Shumpert go back to being “anything but a point guard”. So what’s stopping it? James Dolan’s heart of pure evil. That and the fact that Mike D’Antoni is probably going to be coaching the Clippers next year. (Just a strange thought).

I frankly don’t care what happens with the majority of the Yankees roster, as long as they kick the piss out of Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox at least 8 times next year. To add to this wish list, I and others will hope that Kuroda and Pineda keep their ERA under 4, A.J Burnett will play for the Pirates, and Bob Lorenz gets real loose on air and admits his hatred for the amount of corporate advertising around the new Yankee stadium.

Despite the inherent ugliness, I will be at Yankees stadium, where for every pregame I will find myself looking out at the beautiful rooftops of the projects from the Target shopping center parking garage, wondering if I’m going to be walking/crawling/running out of the stadium and hoping my record improves from last year’s 0-3.

For now, it’s winter? (49 in February). Time to be productive and attempt to crawl upwards in my analysis of the 4-12 Buccaneers and Browns. At least there are serious changes coming to both organizations.

Give The Kid Some Money: A Look At The Purple People

Justin continues his look at where every NFL team currently stands, with a breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings

Justin Fritze will be breaking down where every team in the NFL currently stands for us here at TOJ, going from worst to first…continuing today with the Minnesota Vikings

Previous Articles

The NFL is the only sport that can say without pause that anyone can win on any day at any venue, home or away. Despite their inability to get anything going the entire season, there’s always some sliver of greatness in the bottom five of the league. There’s always rookies coming on (or about to come on in the next year’s draft), a strange storyline about a team that was on top and fell off (Vikings with Favre), or as with this year, it’s the anticipation of a rookie quarterback (Luck) and one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game having a pre-draft three way metaphysical battle of the psyches between past, present, and ownership.

Would Peyton help Luck? Would Peyton survive? Is Irsay trying to become the new face of the Colts? Is Luck doomed to suffer under the bloodshot eyes of Irsay?

Crawling upwards slightly from the bottom of the barrel you’ve got the Rams, who had the worst luck of any team in the NFL (11 cornerbacks RIP) and have undergone one of the most rapid declines since the Greatest Show On Turf, which can be summed up as a bad deal on the tail end of the #1 draft pick before they changed the rookie pay scale, an experiment with McDaniels that ended in complete and total failure, and the once vaunted Spags defense that really had no talent to begin with, and thus, no impact, even in the terrible NFC West.

With that, I turn attentions again to the Vikings. The Vikings I doomed for at least four years after their stunt with Favre (every year with aging quarterback means two years of failure afterwards), the smoke and mirrors Vikings, the crypt keepers, the old and the unfortunate. The Vikings to me are like a machine that never quite works right. They’re a cheap dirt bike. Half the price, less fun, and prone to throw a piston every few days. The past year has gone as such: Brett Favre nearly dies his second year at the helm, Percy Harvin has migraines that may or may not force him into early retirement, and Adrian Peterson, the greatest running back in the league, just tore an ACL and an MCL.

There’s not much I believe in when it comes to the Vikings. It’s a whirlpool of underachievement. Looking at the all important secondary, Antoine Winfield is too old to keep up with the freaks of the NFC North: Greg Jennings. Calvin Johnson. Earl Bennett? Ok that’s a stretch.

Do they want to grab Morris Claiborne and attempt to put a stop to the aerial assault of Detroit and Green Bay? He could give Harvin a spell on special teams. He also played with Patrick Peterson, who gave the Cardinals a few minutes on sports center as they went ahead and lost for what seemed like the 156th time in the past two years.

Turning to the guys in the middle, Chad Greenway is one of my favorite linebackers in the league simply for the fact that after he sacks somebody, I imagine him screaming something about the cost of the GreenWay, or something about traffic on the GreenWay, an offhand Beltway reference.

The Vikings aren’t going to trade down for a defensive lineman, so they might try and grab someone in free agency or a defensive end/outside linebacker like Whitney Mercilus in the 3rd. They’ll have Jared Allen back, and hopefully Kevin Williams survives the blade unlike Pat. Although Pat is 39 and Kevin is 31, so that move kind of made sense, especially when you look at the actual athletes on teams like the Giants or the 49ers and the general trend towards speed rushers instead of fatboys.

So why “give the kid some money”? Christian Ponder NEEDS some money. He needs some big time. Some Deion. He needs someone who can make him look good. He needs Justin Blackmon. If for no other reason than the fact that they need SOMETHING to take the pressure off Percy Harvin for the rest of his Vikings career. If Kyle Rudolph pans out as a Gronk prototype, the fact that Adrian Peterson can rip off a 94 yard run in the strong I formation should get him open on about 99% of play action bootlegs. Every linebacker bites agains the Adrian Peterson play action fake. There’s no choice when you’re dealing with that sort of vicious juggernaut with a head full of steam.

So what would Justin Blackmon mean? The second coming of Randy Moss? The Third coming of Randy Moss? Neither. Two legitimate receivers on the edge, a working man’s Gronkowski and the best running back in football. That’s what they’ll need if they want to compete in the NFC North.

So enters the Ponder detractors. Ponder doesn’t need elite talent, he needs to be a good quarterback, which he can do with a 2nd or 3rd round receiver and a bolstered offensive line. Regardless the play of Ponder, Matt Kalil will be Matt Kalil, whereas Justin Blackmon can’t be Justin Blackmon if he’s getting passes thrown at his ankles on 3rd down.

Never mind the fact that Steve Hutchinson seems to be on his way out and they may in fact start a kid from Slippery Rock. The Vikings, in essence, need to get more blue collar before they get big time.

Late round value at cornerback and defensive line could get this team into at least playoff contention. Hell an 8-8 season would be looked at as an accomplishment, and prevent Adrian Peterson from suffering the same fate as Larry Fitzgerald – a career whose potential never even came close to what it should be due to John Skelton, Matt Leinart, and Kevin Kolb’s greatest con of all time in getting $50 million for nothing. (If Larry plays his cards right this week however, and Peyton Manning ends donning the Kurt Warner 2.0 uniform, all will be forgotten.)

For pure excitement, I hope they get Blackmon and attempt to grab some lineman in free agency, because I’ve got no horse in the race, and flash is fun. Especially in Minnesota. Which may become LA.