Today marks the last day of September, the time of year where fans of all but eight baseball teams can devote their undivided attention where it should be: to the heart of football season. As a born and raised Minnesotan, I also happen to be a devoted Twins fan. The Twins were supposed to be a playoff contender, but the 2011 season was more or less over by early July. The last two months were full of players most fans had never heard of before as the hometown nine avoided losing 100 games by the slimmest of margins. The losing was long, arduous, and inevitable; it was basically a two-month Parade of Suck down the stretch.
Now compare the Twins' plight to that of the Boston Red Sox. The Sawx were odds-on favorites to win the World Series when the season began. They did little to disprove their believers throughout the season--until September. After leading the AL East for most of the year, Boston pissed away a 9-game Wild Card lead in the last month. (To give you an idea of just how bad the Red Sox played, they lost as many games as the Twins did in September. Not good.) If that wasn't bad enough, they were still a strike away from beating the Orioles to force a playoff at the very worst. Nope, Jonathan Papelbon blew the save and the Sox lost. Mere minutes later, the Rays completed a miraculous comeback from 7 runs down in the 8th inning, knocking the Red Sox out of the playoffs and abruptly ending their once promising season.
That got me to thinking: which form of losing is tougher to endure? The kind where great things are expected but it's obvious that it isn't happening right away, or the kind where everything is cruising along well until the rug is pulled out from under you at the last possible moment? I ask because so far in the 2011 season, the Vikings and Chiefs have both endured painful losses, but they've done it in completely different fashions.
I know the Chiefs kept it close last week at San Diego, but look at their first two games against the Bills and Lions. Kansas City had high hopes for each game, but the outcome was obvious right away. They lost a lot like the Twins did: by the end of it, they were just playing out the string.
On the other hand you have the Vikings. We've detailed it here ad nauseum, so I'll make it brief: big halftime leads, crap second halves, yadda yadda yadda. Our form of losing has followed the Red Sox route: high hopes battered by crushing disappointment at the bitter end.
So if you had to choose between the two (what a fun choice!), how would you rather lose? Vote in our poll below and read on for who I think will win the "Well, Somebody Has To" Bowl.
If you haven't had it slammed down your throat enough already, you might have learned throughout the course of the week that Jared Allen is returning to his old stomping grounds. And just for dramatic effect, he'll be lining up against one of the players that the Chiefs drafted with the picks Minnesota gave them, Branden Albert. Chiefs fans may say they're OK with how the trade turned out, but nearly every Viking fan I know would do the Allen trade again every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I'd be shocked if Allen didn't have a huge game in his return to Arrowhead.
The Vikings are bringing another important piece of the puzzle along with Jared Allen: a relatively healthy team. Sure, there are plenty of bumps and bruises on the Vikings' injury report, but Kansas City has already been ravaged by season-ending injuries. Their super-back Jamaal Charles, rising Tight End Tony Moeaki, and excellent young safety Eric Berry are all out for the year. Matt Cassel has struggled mightily this year without his key weapons. Even if the Vikings go into full-on Lead Losing Mode in the second half like they've done so well in the first three games, I'm not sure Kansas City can score enough to catch up.
While the Chiefs are missing their explosive running back due to injury, it sounds like Minnesota's will be just fine come Sunday. Adrian Peterson has missed some practice this week with a sore calf but it sounds like he'll be back to his normal incredible self by game time. With the Chiefs giving up 123 yards a game on the ground and the Vikings coaches finally realizing that giving the ball to your best player in the second half will probably result in better outcomes, I expect a huge day for AP.
Of course, it can't be all positives for an 0-3 team. The Vikings are usually pretty terrible outside, on grass, and against the AFC. Kansas City is normally a very tough place to play. However, I say normally because the Chiefs have lost their last three games at Arrowhead by a combined score of 102-24. I don't expect a blowout, especially since Gus Johnson is announcing the game, but I think the Vikes should have enough talent to beat one of the dregs of the AFC.
Hopefully the Vikings can finally quit comparing which method of failure hurts worse for a while and finally get their first win of the year. Because one thing's for certain: 1-3 is better than 0-4, no matter how you got there.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Chiefs 17
And now for the rest of my Week 4 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Bills over BENGALS: Everything about this one screams TRAP GAME! TRAP GAME! TRAP GAME! And it is. Luckily for Buffalo, it's against the Bengals, so it's still an easily winnable trap game.
BEARS over Panthers: Yes, the Bears aren't good, and yes, Cam Newton is. But the Bears D is going to give the rookie more than he can handle on that pile of slop they call the turf at Soldier Field. First team to 17 points wins?
Titans over BROWNS: Also known as the Overachiever Bowl. I believe in Tennessee slightly more than Cleveland at this point.
Lions over COWBOYS: Ndamukong Suh and DeMarcus Ware are climbin' into your windows, they're snatchin your QBs up, so hide yo kids, hide yo wife, because they be sacking errbody out here. (For those of you that didn't get the reference, click here.) I'll take the Lions because they're way less beat up. So run and tell THAT. Home boy.
Saints over JAGUARS: Duh. And since I have nothing else to say, here's your Gratuitous Picture of the Week!
These girls could probably beat the Jags. (via 1.bp.blogspot.com)
EAGLES over 49ers: While it's been all Michael Vick all the time in Philadelphia, will someone please recognize the ridiculous season LeSean McCoy is having so far? I'm absolutely terrified every time I have to play against him in fantasy football. Dude's a stud. OK, you may now return to reading 500 articles about the boo-boo on Vick's hand.
TEXANS over Steelers: Wow does that Steelers defense look pedestrian so far. And they wish they had the Vikings offensive line at this point. The Texans historically blow games like this, but I'll take a flier on them this week.
Falcons over SEAHAWKS: This game will decide if the Falcons "just got off to a rough start" or "are a completely terrible team". I'll take Option A for now.
Giants over CARDINALS: Poor Larry Fitzgerald. He's got a new quarterback, yet he's still catching touchdowns only if he out-leaps all three defenders covering him to grab the poorly thrown ball.
PACKERS over Broncos: My Survivor Pool pick of the week, still in after Pittsburgh edged Indy last week. Including this game, the Packers' next four opponents currently have a grand total of four wins. Which means they have an excellent chance of going into their bye week undefeated. I will now check my knee's reflexes with a sledgehammer.
Patriots over RAIDERS: The funny thing is that I'd totally pick Oakland here if the Patriots came into this game 3-0. But Brady and Belichick will come in good and pissed off now to handle the upstart Raiders. (Side note: Darren McFadden is also in McCoy's "Oh crap I have to play against him" fantasy territory.)
CHARGERS over Dolphins: It's hard for Norv Turner to suck at the beginning of the year like he usually does when he keeps playing pushovers like Miami.
RAVENS over Jets: You're going to hear over and over and over during the broadcast about how awesome each of these defenses are. The Ravens and Jets currently rank 13th and 11th in the NFL in total defense respectively. Let's just settle down a bit there.
BUCCANEERS over Colts: Two words: Curtis Painter. The defense rests your honor.
Last week: 9-7
Season so far: 26-22