Vikings’ title hopes, NFL power rankings, Patrick Mahomes hype and more

NFL


The Minnesota Vikings have are Super Bowl favorites. With a torturous past, the Vikings face the reality of either exorcising demons or creating more.

The last time we saw the Minnesota Vikings, they were getting dragged across Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles were putting the finishing touches on a 38-7 route in the NFC Championship Game, one the visiting team was favored to win.

Only a week prior, the Vikings had been bailed out by the Minneapolis Miracle. When Stefon Diggs miraculously crossed the goal line, it seemed decades of bad juju finally turned to favor the frozen faces in Minnesota. Instead, it was a momentary stay of execution.

This offseason, general manager Rick Spielman treated the roster as though it needed major reinforcements instead of minor tweaks. The Vikings made the biggest splash of free agency, landing Kirk Cousins on a fully-guaranteed three-year, $84 million pact. Not satisfied, Spielman added Sheldon Richardson to an already loaded defensive line. In the draft, Minnesota put the finishing touches on the spring, selecting first-round corner Mike Hughes.

The end result is a Minnesota team that, for the first time since the Brett Favre era, has massive expectations. Even with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers looming in the NFC North, the Vikings are NFC North favorites, boasting a superior roster at almost every position group.  While the rest of the conference is indeed loaded with the likes of the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota is outclassed by none.

For most fanbases, the idea of winning it all is intoxicating. For Minnesotans, it’s terrifying because it means letting guards down. Yet that’s the reality for a team trotting out Pro Bowlers and All-Pros all over the depth chart on both sides of the ball.

Few franchises carry around the type of baggage associated with the purple and gold, ranging from the painful to the borderline supernatural. The Vikings went to four Super Bowls between 1969-76, and lost them all. In 1987, Minnesota made a miracle run to the NFC Championship Game, only to lose on a dropped touchdown pass in the waning seconds. Eleven years later, it was the infamous Gary Anderson debacle to cap a 15-1 campaign.

More recently, it was the 2009 NFC Championship Game and Favre mind-boggling decision to throw across his body, late, resulting in Tracy Porter’s fourth-quarter interception. Now, after last year’s letdown, the Vikings are positioned better than they have been at any point this century, wearing the preseason crown.

Come September, Minnesota will have another chance to erase the pain of the past and forge a new identity, much like the Eagles did in February. The Vikings have all the ingredients of a championship-caliber team, with the biggest challenge being not to screw it all up.

In Minnesota, the fear of that happening is very real because of prior heartbreak. It’s up to the 2018 edition to finally mend those shattered souls.

Power rankings

Top 10 fun teams time has forgotten

1. 1975 Baltimore Colts
2. 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars
3. 1979 Houston Oilers
4. 1963 San Diego Chargers
5. 1988 Philadelphia Eagles
6. 1991 Atlanta Falcons
7. 1976 New England Patriots
8. 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. 1996 Carolina Panthers
10. 1991 Detroit Lions

Quotable

“Everything is an individual thing, so you have to be careful speaking on it since injuries are different,” Manning told ESPN after participating in Wednesday’s Pro-Am at the Memorial in Ohio. “But it’s also universal. For me, I was a [repetition] guy. I liked to get all the reps on practice. The theory of 10,000 reps, I believe in that. I felt like I was kind of behind because I hadn’t gotten the reps even though you have a lot in the bank. It took me a few games before I felt like I was coming back. Getting as many reps as possible is key.”

– Peyton Manning on Andrew Luck needing reps before he can return to form

Andrew Luck hasn’t played a down of football since getting shoulder surgery following the 2016 season. The former No. 1 pick still hasn’t thrown a football, although the Colts say he’s making progress. Even so, Manning is correct. Luck has to round back into form after such a long layoff, almost making the 2018 season a time to regroup for the struggling franchise.

Considering how improved the AFC South is, the Colts shouldn’t rush into anything. The Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are all clearly better even if Luck is an All-Pro, putting Indianapolis in the position to bring Luck along in a manner that prolongs his career.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill are back this week with a brand new episode of Stacking The Box, with live video of the recording on FanSided’s Youtube Live page! Also, please subscribe on iTunes and leave a comment!

Random stat

The coldest NFL game ever played was the 1967 Ice Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, clocking in at -13 degrees.

However, the second-coldest was the 1981 AFC Championship between the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals at -9 degrees. After beating the Dolphins in the sweltering heat of Miami the week prior, the Chargers took on the Bengals in frozen Cincinnati.

Factoring in wind chill, the temperature change was an absurd 135 degrees.

Info learned this week

1. Ravens’ Lamar Jackson getting good reviews

Eric Weddle has been around for more than a decade in the NFL. He played most of his career with Philip Rivers before joining Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. Still, Weddle is impressed  with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who Baltimore traded up for in the first round a month ago.

Flacco remains the unquestioned starter, but Jackson isn’t far behind. The Ravens could release the veteran after this year, freeing up $10.5 million in cap space for 2019. If Jackson continues to look good and learn the system, there’s a good chance he’s pushing Flacco by midseason and ultimately takes over in his second year.

Oftentimes, it’s not about talent as much as it is situation and scheme for first-round quarterbacks. This is a great spot for Jackson, who still needs to develop, but has the talent to become a star.

2. Jermaine Gresham, Aaron Jones step up for others

The negativity in both sports and life is overwhelming these days. So much so, that it is especially sweet to see those in positions of strength doing good for others. On Wednesday, Arizona Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham made the news when tweets went viral about him paying $50 for a young woman’s carry-on bag, helping her make her flight.

Earlier in the week, Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones was also of help at an airport, pushing an older woman around in her wheelchair.

It’s nothing major. Nobody is creating world peace here, but these acts of kindness can go a long way. Good on both Jones and Gresham for stepping up when they didn’t have to.

3. Teddy Bridgewater looks strong in OTAs

Yes, it’s only the spring, and everybody looks great when they are running around in shorts. Still, any encouraging words on Teddy Bridgewater following his horrific knee injury are great to hear. Bridgewater, who signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets this offseason, is reportedly moving well and throwing with good velocity.

If the Jets like what they see out of Josh McCown and Sam Darnold, perhaps general manager Mike Maccagnan looks to trade the 25-year-old when his value is high. There are a bevy of teams that would undoubtedly be better for having Bridgewater, with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills at the top of the list.

New York is clearly in a rebuild, so adding draft picks in the top three rounds would be a boon towards that effort.

4. Seahawks dedicating themselves to running the ball more

The Seattle Seahawks can’t block. Last year, Russell Wilson spent far too much time running for his life, while the backs totaled a grizzly 994 yards as a group. In the offseason, the Seahawks did little to upgrade the offensive line, leaving arguably the league’s worst line intact.

Still, new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer believes the key to an improved attack is running the ball more. One could argue that trying to run the ball more with that line is a horrible plan, and that the prudent move would be to let Russell Wilson throw at will.

Ultimately, though, none of it matters if the line doesn’t hold up.

5. Saints rank as having best logo in fan study

The New Orleans Saints have been donning a Fleur-de-lis on their helmets since becoming a franchise in 1967. According to a recent polling of almost 1,500 NFL fans, it remains the best logo in the league.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Cleveland Browns, which can’t be shocking considering they are rolling with the only blank helmet in the NFL. The Jets surprisingly check in 31st.

My biggest qualm? How are the Atlanta Falcons ranked third, while the Pittsburgh Steelers check in 21st? That’s a football crime. The same can be said for the Oakland Raiders being ranked 16th, one spot behind the Miami Dolphins.

History lesson

The 1980s were dominated by the NFC. In fact, the only AFC team to win the Super Bowl in that decade was the Raiders, who did so in ’80 and ’83. Otherwise, it was the San Francisco 49ers (4x), New York Giants (2x), Washington Redskins (2x) and Chicago Bears hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Parting shot

Luck is always a major factor in a team’s fortunes. This can be seen in the current situation playing out in the AFC West, where the Denver Broncos are searching for a long-term quarterback and the Kansas City Chiefs are reveling in finally having one.

In 2016, the Chiefs wanted Paxton Lynch. They loved his size and arm strength, and were hoping to trade up for his services. Instead, they were one again bested by John Elway, who moved up after winning Super Bowl 50 to nab the Memphis product.

As an aside, the Dallas Cowboys also wanted Lynch, but ending up settling for some guy named Dak Prescott in the fourth round.

With Lynch in Denver, the Chiefs were even more aggressive the following spring, moving up 17 spots to select Patrick Mahomes. In Week 17 of last season, Mahomes made his first career start, ironically squaring off against Lynch. The result? Kansas City winning 27-24, with Mahomes severely outplaying his counterpart.

Now, the hype train is off the rails about the former Texas Tech star. Of course, everything could go sideways, but the general consensus is that Mahomes will be the first franchise quarterback in Kansas City since Len Dawson.

For once, the Chiefs appear to have a bright future under center, and all because their biggest rival outbid them for a colossal bust.





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