Missing Rings: 2009 Minnesota Vikings

When you think back to the NFL before the free agency era, you rarely had the chance to see players take on their former team. Not with the venom or emotion we have seen post 1993 as players left as salary cap casualties with something to prove. We watched Hall of Famers like Marcus Allen & Thurman Thomas move to divisional rivals knowing they had 2 shots a year to get some payback. Yet over the years this was rarely seen at the QB position.

Favre’s locker at The Pro Football Hall of Fame on display the day of his induction.

The last true time we saw this was when Joe Montana was traded out of San Francisco to make way for Steve Young. They had rebuilt on the run and were still among the league’s elite and no longer needed their young QB looking over his shoulder at a living legend who played the same position. In 1994 they faced off in an epic week 2 battle that captured the nation’s attention. We wouldn’t see a match-up of this magnitude again for another 15 years.

Now of all the long standing rivalries in the NFL there are few with more hatred between two teams like that of the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. Theirs is a clash of lifestyles, cultures, teams, and an envy from Vikings fans and players of the Packer’s globally revered NFL legacy.

Although the Packers have won 13 championships it’s the legacy of Vince Lombardi and their being “Team of the 60’s” that NFL Films and books have elevated these teams & players to mythic status. Minnesota on the other hand is largely remembered for losing 4 of the first 11 Super Bowls with very few of their great players being recognized by  Pro Football Hall of Fame. One example is Paul Krause, the NFL’s All Time Interceptor with 81 passes. It took 20 years for him to make “The Hall” after a 16 year career. Could you imagine any player who retired #1 in any major statistic waiting that long to make the journey to Canton?? I didn’t think so.

Had the Vikings won those 4 Super Bowls they would have been remembered as the “Team of the 70’s.” There are only 5 members from the Vikings enshrined compared to the 12 from the 60’s Packers and that will increase to 13 when Jerry Kramer gets in this year.

From the mid 90’s on it seemed as though the Viking organization was constantly searching for a QB. The Vikings spent the better part of 2 decades with teams good enough to make the playoffs but not “the guy” to get them over the top. They shuffled in an aging Warren Moon, an enigmatic Jeff George, resurrected Jim McMahon, had journeymen like Sean Salisbury, and revived a retired Randall Cunningham.

In ’98 Cunningham was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year as he threw for 34 TDs. Super rookie Randy Moss set a record with 17 TDs as the Vikings roared to a 15-1 regular season and set the NFL scoring record with 556 points. They were a meteor and was the best of the Denny Green era however they were upset in the NFC Championship 30-27 and had to watch Super Bowl XXXIII.

Lost in this sea of futility, the Green Bay Packers became the center of the universe with the emergence of Brett Favre and the free agent signing of Reggie White. When they won the ’96 Super Bowl, Favre was in the midst of 3 straight MVP seasons and Viking faithful seethed with envy. The hated Packers had become one of the glamour teams and Favre had become the face of the league.

Peterson sets the NFL single game rushing record at 296 yards vs. Chargers.

This went on for years as the Vikings, with Randy Moss, could make the playoffs yet could only muster 1 more championship appearance. Once there, the lights went out in a 41-0 loss to the Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship. The most explosive player in football and they couldn’t field a champion with him. After his departure lightning struck again when they landed future Hall of Famer in RB Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft. His rookie year saw him rush for 1,341 yards highlighted by an NFL record 296 yd rushing performance against San Diego. Yikes! His combination of speed and power might have been the most frightening at its zenith in NFL history. If they only could get a quarterback with him they could be lethal…

Elsewhere in the NFC North the Packers had retooled and Favre had become the grand old man trying to get back to the Super Bowl. Gone were the gunslinger days where Brett had to will his team to victory, he was getting by on guile. Timely audibles, leadership and staying controlled within Coach McCarthy’s offense led to a 13-3 record and homefield advantage. Early in the year he eclipsed Dan Marino to become the NFL’s all time touchdown passer, against the Vikings no less. In his 17th season he was the sentimental favorite to win a title in a swan song season that seemed predestined. But alas… the New York Giants upset Green Bay 23-20 in the NFC Championship. Favre had thrown a fatal interception in overtime to Corey Webster…and it was over.

The saga of Brett retiring and unretiring began as the Packers wanted to move on with a young Aaron Rodgers. Having his championship appetite whet he didn’t want to retire. Green Bay didn’t relent and he became a free agent and wound up playing the 2008 season with the New York Jets. He wasn’t inspired and seem to go through the motions and retired again… but when the Vikings came calling… this sent shockwaves through the NFL and a rejuvenated Favre hit the ground running.

Football fans everywhere took sides waiting to see Favre with the hated Vikings take on his old team. Packer fans were outraged he went to Minnesota and felt betrayed. Social media was in its infancy but comments “Judas” and quotes from the Godfather “It was you Fredo!” with pics from the kiss of death scene were everywhere as the buildup for those games began that summer.

To go with All Pro RB Adrian Peterson, the Vikings had developed WR Sidney Rice and drafted wild card and super rookie Percy Harvin off the NCAA champion Florida Gators. Farve had never had this type of firepower in Green Bay and Packer fans were nervous as hell. More important there was a pep in his step as though Favre had stepped back in time 5 years. He returned to being the emotional gunslinger and was on full display in week 3. The Vikings had begun the season 2-0 and were losing at home to San Francisco. They were being accused of looking ahead to the 1st matchup with Green Bay….and then the Vikes got the ball with 1:29 to go needing a touchdown.

The old man swaggered onto the field and brought life to the Viking huddle they hadn’t seen in a decade. A frantic drive saw Favre complete 6 of 8 passes that weren’t spikes and his last pass was a scramble & 32 yard touchdown to Greg Lewis with :02 seconds to go to win 27-24. The Metrodome hadn’t been that loud since the days of Moss and Cris Carter a decade before. Bring on the Packers!!

A raucous crowd awaited a Monday Night audience as the old knight outdueled the young lion in a 30-23 victory. Farve had gone 24 of 31 for 271 yards and 3 TDs where Aaron Rodgers had been sacked 8 times and harassed all night. He threw for 384 yards 2 TDs and an interception and had to play uphill all night. Favre left the field with his arms outstretched amid a sea of reporters. However in week 8 the Vikings would have to take the trek to Lambeau Field. Surely the Packer faithful would be just as loud and unforgiving as the Metrodome crowd had been for Rodgers.

In what might have been the biggest sporting event of the decade the nation tuned in for Favre’s return to Lambeau Field. Had there been pay per view for football games this would have smashed any record any boxing match had ever achieved. All the shows aired specials on the game and all week Fox dotted their television landscape with promos for the Game of the Week. The NFL’s all time winningest QB with the most touchdowns and yardage in NFL history, and the greatest Packer legend was going to be playing in purple and gold?? The mind struggled to take it all in…and when the whistle blew:

When the smoke cleared the Vikings were going into their bye week 7-1 and Favre had definitely had his revenge. In 2 games he completed 41 of 59 for 525 yards 7 TDs and was in complete control where Rodgers threw for 6 TDs, however had 1 interception and was sacked 14 times by the Viking front line. Yes… 14 times!! The Packers only led once in either contest, 3-0 in the 2nd game, and didn’t intercept or sack #4 once in either contest. This was against a Packer defense that finished ranked #2 in 2009. Suddenly the season was at the halfway point and the question had to be asked: Was this the best team in the NFL??

For the season Minnesota finished 2nd against the run & 6th in total defense and led the NFL with 48 sacks. Future Hall of Famer Jared Allen was a menace all year with 14.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, a safety and a touchdown in a season where he was All Pro and made the Pro Bowl. He would have been Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year over the NFL’s choice in Charles Woodson. Why?? In the 2 biggest games of the year Packers vs Vikings, Woodson never intercepted Favre where Allen sacked Aaron Rodgers 7 times which included the safety. This led to Rodgers being the most sacked QB in the NFL in 2009 taken down 50 times. Yes… 7 times. Checkmate!

Allen was joined at the Pro Bowl by fellow defenders CB Antoine Winfield, immovable DT Kevin Williams (also All Pro) and LB Chad Greenway should have been. DE Ray Edwards had a career best 8.5 sacks in ’09 playing across from Jared. MLB E.J Henderson, OLB Ben Leber, DT Pat Williams, and CB Cedric Griffin turned in solid seasons.

Offensively the Vikings finished 5th offensively and scored 470 points which was 2nd in the NFL. All World RB Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,383 yds and a career best 18 TDs while collecting 43 rec. for another 436 yards. Wideout Sidney Rice was another contributor with 83 rec. 1,312 yards and 8 TDs…all career highs. Now add in NFL Rookie of the Year in Percy Harvin who contributed with 925 yards from scrimmage 6 TDs while ranking 3rd on kickoffs with a 27.1 yard avg for 1,100 yards and 2 more scores.   This team had weapons!

Do you realize at 40 years of age Favre completed a career high 68.4% of his passes for 4,202 yards 33 TDs and a career low 7 interceptions?? It was the highest season TD total for #4 in 12 years.

After racing out to a 10-1 start, the Norsemen finished 12-4 as the most complete team in football. Well, some were saying the New Orleans Saints were and after the Vikings stomped Dallas 34-3 in the NFC Divisional Playoff, they would meet in the Superdome for the NFC Championship. It was the only time in the 51 year history of the Super Bowl where a QB had taken 2 different teams to the conference championship game in just 3 years.

Favre had grown up just 60 miles from the Superdome and this was the building he had won his Super Bowl title. The script seemed to have been written…

A team that finished 3rd in fewest turnovers allowed w/ 18  during the ’09 regular season turned it over 5 times in New Orleans. The Vikings were able to bring in the catalyst for the best season in 10 years but he couldn’t breathe championship pedigree into players who didn’t have it on the professional level. Well at least for this game. A 31-28 defeat in overtime to a team they lost the turnover battle to 5-1 on the road. Most teams get blown out yet the Norsemen hung tough and fought to the bitter end. Brett gambled with a bad throw on he Tracy Porter interception when the Vikings were near field goal position to win it in regulation. This became the final on field image of a legendary performer… like it or not. The Saints were off to Super Bowl XLIV where the Vikings had to ponder the what ifs…

The NFL’s best team had to sit and watch the New Orleans win the Lombardi two weeks later and the sports world was left to ponder “what might have been”?  Had the Vikings gone on to win that 1st Super Bowl, Brett Favre would have become the 1st QB to win the NFL Championship with 2 different teams since Norm Van Brocklin in 1960. He did become the 1st QB in the Super Bowl era to lead two different teams to a conference championship appearance in a 3 year period.

In the grand scheme of things it had been a magic carpet ride for fans everywhere. Not only for the middle aged men who got behind an aging lion in a young man’s game, but those who cheer the Viking legacy and almost watched the greatest Packer in history win their 1st Super Bowl Championship. A unique chapter in NFL history remembered at Favre’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. Both by speech as Chris Berman addressed the audience and the display pictured above. For Packer fans that grumbled at the locker display I just encouraged them to stand in front of the Viking jersey when taking their pics. Yet when you look back at the ’09 Vikings overall it was one of the strongest teams in the last 20 years that fell short of Super Bowl glory.

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2016 NFC Divisional Playoff: Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

One of the biggest misnomers NFL brass has told the public is the phrase “It’s a quarterback driven league.” To that avail The Chancellor of Football has always countered “the game is won on the line of scrimmage.” Well today those axioms collide when the streaking Packers take a trip to Jerry World for today’s divisional match-up.

mccarthy-rodgersTruth be told one of the best things to happen for Aaron Rodgers in this year’s playoffs is to get away from Lambeau Field and into these temperature controlled domes where his play can flourish.  Close your eyes and think of Rodgers greatest playoff games…they’ve all come in domes.

In 2009 he threw for 423 yards and 4 TDs in a 51-45 overtime loss in the desert of Arizona. He followed that up on the march to Super Bowl XLV when he torched Atlanta in the Georgia Dome 48-21. In that one he was 31 of 36 for 366 yards throwing for 3 scores. Two weeks later he lit up the Steelers for 304 yards and 3 TDs in Jerry World to bring home the Lombardi. Rodgers game is never going to go 3 straight cold weather playoff games to the Super Bowl and he has to get out of Lambeau Field in January to get the Packers there.

Before last week, even all his Hail Mary’s had taken place in domes on the road and make no mistake he is the only way Green Bay wins this football game.

elliottWhen it comes to winning the game on the line of scrimmage, no one has illustrated this better than the Cowboys offensive line. In October 2014 The Chancellor of Football christened this group The Great Wall II as they have now paved the way for a 2nd rushing champion in Ezekiel Elliott. His 1,631 yards were buoyed by a 28 carry 157 yard performance at Lambeau that shapes the heart of this game.

Back in October C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, Ronald Leary, T Doug Free & Tyron Smith paved the way for 33 attempts and 191 yards rushing. This was also the game where Dak Prescott (18 of 27 for 247 yds 3TDs & 1 ints) proved he was no fluke out playing Rodgers (31 of 42 294 yds 1 TD & 1 ints) while only being sacked twice. When they line up with 2 backs and especially 2 TEs, Dallas wins on early downs. They wear out the defense and keep Prescott in manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations.

matthewsThis is where the game boils down to is Aaron Rodgers has to start hot and establish an early lead and force Prescott to throw. If they can do this and effectively take the ball out of Elliott’s hands they can control the tempo and make the Cowboys press on offense. Then Dom Capers can unleash Clay Matthews and show the exotic packages that have doomed young quarterbacks at this juncture of the playoffs.

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Not only is Green Bay 20th against the rush but they are 0-2 this season when facing a top 10 rushing attack. Who are those two teams?? Dallas ranked 2nd and Atlanta ranked 5th. In the NFL its hard to repeat an earlier performance however when you can knock your opponent back, that gameplan can travel.

Much like Emmitt Smith and the first Great Wall, we’ll have to go with Ezekiel Elliott and this one in this matchup. Dallas will win 37-24.

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Wildcard Weekend: New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers

It wouldn’t be the NFL playoffs without a playoff game on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. Tonight we’re going to dip a couple degrees below zero wind chill. With both of these teams allergic to running the football this game is tricky to pick.

eli-frozenHowever the Packers have committed to running the football in recent weeks with #88 Ty Montgomery in the backfield. How will he hold onto the football with playoff intensity hitting?? He led the team in rushing this year with 457 yards but McCarthy may use #22 Aaron Ripkowski more. He’s more 3 yards and a cloud of dust but he is conditioned to the hitting from close proximity more. Fumbles are critical in cold weather playoff games.

Over the last 6 years of his career, this has been the hardest season to watch him. He just hasn’t looked comfortable all season. His play has been sporadic even though he threw for 4,027 yards 26 TDs and 16 interceptions. Much of this has to do with Odell Beckham’s ability to break big plays for him. He has to keep from turning the ball over on his side of the 50.

Which Eli Manning is going to show up?

Aaron Rodgers has had another great season and many think he should receive MVP consideration. He finished the season with 4,427 yards 40 TDs with just 7 interceptions. He led the Packers to a 5 game winning streak to finish the season as he predicted they would run the table. However none of this happened in below zero weather. For the last 5 years our CEO has questioned if this is the best approach to winning in Lambeau in January. It hasn’t panned out.

Ripkowski could be the unknown factor.

Ripkowski could be the unknown factor.

The penchant for Mike McCarthy to pass, pass, pass could play in the Giants hands as their defense is leading their charge. He has to fight that urge and stay on the ground. Although the Packers have scored over 30 in their last 4 games, the Giants have held 3 of their last 4 opponents to 10 points or less.

New York comes into this game with the NFL’s 10th best defense giving up 339 yards per game. However a closer look and the Giants have only given up 288.5 yards per game in the last 4. That would have the Giants ranked #1 and this is how they are coming into Lambeau Field. Early in the season Green Bay receivers were having a hard time getting open. Now they face CBs Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who have jelled into the best secondary in football. At least from the corner position. They will smother the slow Packers receivers.

Jenkins and the CBs for New York are the key to New York winning this game.

Jenkins and the CBs for New York are the key to New York winning this game.

On the strength of this defensive matchup and the cold, the defense will keep Eli and the offense in it. They will need 1 or 2 explosive plays from Odell Beckham and the Giants will win a close game 23-16. Eli Manning has always risen to the occasion when he needs to make that one play.

 

2015 NFC Divisional Round Predictions

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

cardinals_vs_packersIts time for the rubber to meet the road here in Glendale Arizona. The Packers just lost 3 weeks ago 38-8 to the Cardinals in this building so what has changed? They went on to lose to the Vikings who took the NFC North from them 20-13 in Lambeau. The saving grace is last week’s wildcard win over Washington.

Last week saw a rebirth of the running game as Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. This helped settle a schizophrenic Rodgers down who started the game being sacked for a safety and throwing off his back foot. He found his rhythm in the 2nd half. Can he repeat that against Arizona?

Carson-PalmerThe Packers come into this game with the NFL’s #6 passing defense. If you look at the stats, Palmer only threw for 265 yards 2 TDs and 1 interception. Pedestrian numbers until you remember Aaron Rodgers was bludgeoned for 8 sacks and 4 turnovers. Palmer, an MVP candidate, can do this without a short field. He threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns comes in this game hot. With Larry Fitzgerald (109 rec/ 1215 yds /9 Tds) John Brown ( 65 rec / 1003 yds /7 Tds) and Michael Floyd (52 rec / 849 yds / 6 Tds) they are averaging 28 points per game at home.

If the Cardinals rushing attack stays productive, the Cardinals should repeat their week 16 performance and wins today 40-17.

NFC Wildcard Predictions

How can we top that Cincinnati Bengal v Pittsburgh Steelers for drama? You have to love the NFL playoffs and its time to get into day 2 with both NFC games on the same day.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2First game up is the Washington Redskins hosting the Green Bay Packers in the nation’s capital. All year long you’ve heard The Chancellor of Football state the Packers are a flawed football team. They have gone 4-6 down the stretch and have the NFL’s 23rd ranked offense. Twenty third?? Not only that, the supposed great Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing game ranks 25th. No team has won with more smoke and mirrors than Green Bay.

What this game will turn on is Kirk Cousins and the 11th ranked passing attack facing the 6th best passing attack of Green Bay. The reason the Packers rank so high against the pass is they have been run on all year…ranking 21st. Also the fact they have gone 6-2 at home and won 5 of their last 6, the Redskins will win 31-17 sacking Rodgers 5 times.

As for the Seattle Seahawks vs Minnesota Vikings it is nostalgic to have this game outside. Teddy Bridgewater will make it to the divisional round…next year. Today in below zero weather is not the time to develop your downfield passing. Seattle gave up 125 yards to the Vikings  in week 13. Too many match-ups Seattle won on the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks will win this 27-13. It will be closer than the last time due to the cold.

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2015 NFC North Predictions

Whenever I think of the NFC North, I still envision the old black and blue division which was the NFC Central. The new division has given way to the new NFL and the heavy emphasis on passing.  With the reigning NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers averaging 41 TDs thrown over his last 3 complete seasons, you either take to the air or find a way to ground Green Bay. Over the last decade, this division has been the Packers to win or lose. However a small storm is blowing in from the northwest

minnesota-vikings-jerseys-uniforms-unveiled-22015 NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings 11-5 *
  2. Detroit Lions 11-5
  3. Green Bay Packers 8-8
  4. Chicago Bears 4-12

Armed with the return of the league’s best back in Adrian Peterson and a growing young QB in Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings are poised to steal the division. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz whose pass defense ranked 7th in the NFL. Peterson controlling the clock is the recipe needed to ground the Packers and Lions and vault Minnesota to the top of the division.

Even before the injury to wideout Jordy Nelson, it was clear the Packers needed to score to cover defensive deficiencies. After defections in LBs AJ Hawk, Brad Jones and reserve/suspended listing of DEs Letroy Guion and Datone Jones to start the season, Green Bay’s defense has yet to find itself. The Eagles thoroughly undressed Dom Caper’s defense in a 39-26 home loss in the 3rd preseason game. It looks like a season long odyssey as Rodgers will have to outscore opponents all year.

Stafford &Megatron

Stafford &Megatron

Returning the league’s second best defense is the Detroit Lions. Gone is Ndamukong Suh who has been replaced by former Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata to anchor the front 7. The pass rush looked more than formidable as they knocked RGIII from the starting lineup in the most physical preseason game of 2015 vs the Redskins. Matthew Stafford was one blown call away from his 1st playoff win in Dallas.  the Lions will make a return trip in 2015.

Stafford has a new weapon in rookie Ameer Abdullah out of the backfield. His explosive quickness on 3rd downs will move the chains. Where “Megatron” Johnson is the big offensive weapon, it’s Golden Tate that brought a gritty attitude to a finesse offense. The player that would make the tough block to spring a teammate or fight through Linebackers to get first downs.Tate is the catalyst to catapult the Lions back to the playoffs in the return of The Black and Blue Division.

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