OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 02: Oakland Raiders fans in the Black Hole cheer on their team during their game against the New England Patriots at O.co Coliseum on October 2, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The "Black Hole" is one of the most famous (or infamous) group of fans in sports. The most recognizable fans of the Oakland Raiders dress up in garish costumes, scream obscenities at anything and anyone that doesn't support the Raiders, and loudly make their presence known at every home game at the Coliseum.
According to Wikipedia's Raider Nation page, the Black Hole is "sections 104, 105, 106, and 107 which is usually occupied by rowdy fans". Um, yeah, to put it mildly.
To everyone outside of the football realm, Merriam-Webster defines a black hole as "a celestial object that has a gravitational field so strong that light cannot escape it and that is believed to be created especially in the collapse of a very massive star".
The 2011 Vikings might define a black hole as "a dome-shaped object that has a gravitational field so strong that talent cannot escape it and that is believed to be created especially in the collapse of a very proud franchise."
Much like a real black hole, being 2-7 sucks. Hard. It really sucks losing by 38 points to your arch rival on national TV while losing the only redeemable member of your secondary in the process. So how can the Vikings reverse the seemingly inevitable process of this season collapsing upon itself and pull off a home win on Sunday?
The good news is that the Vikings and Antoine Winfield aren't the only ones dealing with injury. All signs are pointing to Darren McFadden sitting out against Minnesota along with wide receiver Jacoby Ford. Run DMC is one of the most dynamic running backs in the league and Ford is always a major deep threat. Oakland will definitely miss them.
The bad news is that the Raiders still have Michael Bush and Denarius Moore. If Bush isn't the best backup running back in the NFL, I'd like to know who is. He stomped all over the Chargers for 157 yards and a score last week. Bringing him down is like trying to tackle a Zamboni. Meanwhile, Moore snagged 5 catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns after Ford went down. While the Vikings are still very strong against the run (6th overall in yards per game, 5th in yards per carry), Bush will be a headache especially if Oakland can establish an early lead. As for Ford, I just hope new/old Viking Benny Sapp is a quick re-learner.
If the Vikings somehow manage to shut down Bush and Moore, they still might actually have to deal with a legitimate quarterback (much to my surprise). Carson Palmer's Oakland career got off to a rocky start with six interceptions in his first six quarters, but he's starting to look more and more like vintage 2007 Palmer. He averaged a shade under 15 yards per attempt last week. Getting another week of practice in with old friend T.J. Houshmandzadeh can only help his effectiveness.
Speaking of that week of practice, the Raiders had four more days of it than the Vikings did thanks to being on the opposite ends of the prime time spectrum last week. Figuring out Leslie Frazier's game plan hasn't exactly been like learning Mandarin in the first place--giving Oakland a few extra days to prepare probably won't do the Vikings any favors.
After last week's embarrassment, the only positive thing we can take from it is that it probably can't get any worse. I like the Vikings' chances if they can stake an early lead and hurry Carson Palmer into mistakes with Jared Allen and the pass rush. But then again, we've all seen this team lose plenty of seemingly comfortable leads.
I'll be at the Metrodome in person tomorrow, so I really hope we can avoid the pull of Minnesota's version of the black hole. But I'm afraid that the Vikings won't be able to break free from the powerful sucking force that seems to surround them on all sides this season.
How else do you explain that weird gravitational pull you feel when you're leaving the Dome?
Prediction: Raiders 27, Vikings 20
And now for the rest of my Week 11 NFL picks, which have been so bad the past few weeks I'm starting to wonder why I'm sharing them with you at all (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Jets over BRONCOS: See, I told you my picks were bad. I Tweeted this pick before the game on Thursday just to make sure nobody accused me of cheating. And yea, verily, the almighty Tebow smote all of the nonbelievers with yet another improbable last minute drive.
DOLPHINS over Bills: When just about every analyst in the country is saying your team "was a nice story at the beginning of the season", it probably means you aren't going to win a lot of games down the stretch. Sorry Buffalo. It was actually a nice story.
Jaguars over BROWNS: First team to 10 points wins!
LIONS over Panthers: Tebow puts up terrible numbers and can't seem to lose. Cam Newton puts up huge numbers and can't seem to win. I officially give up on trying to make sense of this league.
Seahawks over RAMS: All four NFC West teams won last week. I'm not sure if I'm reading into it too much, but I bought a bunch of canned goods just in case it was a sign of the apocalypse.
49ERS over Cardinals: My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 8-2 thanks to these same Cardinals pulling the upset in Philly last week and handing me my second loss. No way they do it twice in a row. Since I have nothing else to say about this game, here's your Gratuitous Picture of the Week!
It really has been a year to remember for the 49ers.
FALCONS over Titans: Even if Atlanta drops this game, I'm sure Mike Smith just wants this game to get underway so he can quit answering all the 4th and 1 questions from last week.
BEARS over Chargers: These teams are heading in opposite directions faster than Emma Stone and Lindsay Lohan.
This week: 0-1
Last week: 7-9
Season so far: 84-63