A big part of Minnesota's regression to the mean has been the regression of Christian Ponder. - Jonathan Daniel
Through 12 games the Vikings have split their wins, losses, and fan base down the middle. Is there any hope for them to rebound and beat the Bears on Sunday?
"A house divided against itself cannot stand." --Abraham Lincoln
It couldn't be more fitting that the Minnesota Vikings have six wins and six losses so far. Are they one of the best bad teams or one of the worst good teams? Are we supposed to be happy they've doubled their win total from last year or upset at how awful they've looked in the last two road losses to division opponents?
The answer to both of those questions, of course, is "yes". There can be valid arguments on both sides of just about any question you ask about the Vikings these days. They're equal parts promise and disappointment. A 50/50 split of excellence and ineptitude. A rebuilding team that should be contending. This team can't decide what it is.
Which is why this season has been so maddening and polarizing for Vikings fans. The fallout from Sunday's game in Green Bay evoked the most comments (and subsequent arguments) on our site since the Favre days. Everyone seems to have a very definitive opinion on the myriad issues that the Vikings are currently dealing with. I'm not going to try to change those opinions today--let's just recap both sides of the major talking points.
On one hand: It's time for him to run the Tebow offense--in other words, ride the bench. The Vikings used to be winning in spite of him; now they're losing because of him. He has had less than 200 yards passing in half of the games this year. He's averaging less per pass attempt than Adrian Peterson is averaging per carry. Ponder has shown us that he can't get it done as a starter at this level. Sure it's only his second year, but look at what Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson are doing in their rookie seasons! Just like his draft classmates Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker, Ponder's team reached for him too high in the first round and is paying the price for it. Let's at least see what Joe Webb can do with this team. If (when) that doesn't work, then we can look for answers in free agency or the draft in the offseason. But for God's sake, don't subject us to another pass that floats five yards over the head of the intended receiver and/or directly into the arms of a defender while someone else was wide open on another part of the field.
On the other: With Percy Harvin out, he has exactly one reliable target--Kyle Rudolph. The rest of his targets have hands that are allergic to pigskin. When they're not dropping the ball, they get about as much separation as a junior high slow dance with no chaperones. It would be a different story if he had more weapons. It's not like his offensive coordinator is doing him any favors either. Musgrave is flirting with Childress territory at times. We know he's capable of making NFL throws--he just needs to be more consistent. Joe Webb isn't going to change anything--Ponder's plenty mobile and has a better arm than Webb. [EDIT: By "better", I mean "more accurate" in this context. Commenters have politely pointed out that Webb can launch it further than Ponder; my argument here is about Webb's complete lack of accuracy he showed us in the preseason.] And for God's sake, the guy has started only 22 games! I know the rookies have been great this year, but can we let the guy develop for a while before we yank him?
On one hand: He has the team headed in the right direction. He's an even-keeled guy that everyone likes. His stoic approach is a calming influence on an otherwise chaotic game--straight out of the Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, and Lovie Smith methodologies. The players vouch for him. There's still a lot of work to do, but he's getting the most out of what he has right now. He's helping to lay the foundation of even more success in 2013 by giving so many of his young players a shot.
On the other: You know who else has a "stoic approach"? Romeo Crennel, Art Shell, Jim Caldwell, Chan Gailey, and Dick Jauron. How did standing on the sidelines with a blank stare every week work for those guys?! Sure he's a nice guy, but is he inspiring his team to play better? And why he is he so stubborn about keeping Ponder in the game when he's struggling that badly? Have he and his staff even heard the term "halftime adjustments"? How can you expect to win a division title when you've NEVER BEATEN THE BEARS OR PACKERS?!
On one hand: There's no debating that Harvin is an incredible player when he's on the field. But Leslie Frazier's press conference on Wednesday was really fishy and now we know why. Harvin's season is officially over, leaving us with AP and a whole bunch of nothing for playmakers on offense. Um, wasn't this supposed to be a simple ankle injury? It would be one thing if this was the first odd story about Harvin, but they just keep piling up. His status for each game is almost always in question. It really seems like he doesn't want to be on this team sometimes. If that's the case, we should trade him--he'd bring a very handsome reward of players and/or picks. Better than losing him for nothing.
On the other: THE GUY IS ONE OF EXACTLY TWO PEOPLE ON THE OFFENSIVE SIDE OF THE BALL THAT YOU CAN DEPEND ON! He's obviously injured! There are reports that he tore a freaking ligament! He's one of the toughest SOB's in the league! Wouldn't you be pissed off if you had to play in this offense when you are one of the most dynamic players in the league?! And he still doesn't have a long-term contract!! We have about 50 more important things to worry about when it comes to this team over Percy's mood--just pay the man! I can't quit using exclamation points!!!
On one hand: Just kidding. Everyone universally agrees that he's awesome. I know there are the folks that think trading him now while is stock is high would be good for a team with so many holes; I'm not opening that up for discussion today.
On one hand: Again, I'm joking. I think we're all in agreement that Musgrave hasn't shown us much of anything during his two-year tenure in Minnesota. I don't think anyone would object to a new offensive coordinator next year.
SUNDAY'S GAME AGAINST THE BEARS
On one hand: Um, have you seen the last two games? Christian Ponder has become the very definition of regression. (I even tweeted it last Sunday.) The way Frazier coaches against the Bears, it's almost like he's still playing for them. (Called "Kevin McHale Syndrome" after how McHale allowed the Celtics to fleece the Timberwolves in the KG trade.) Chicago is simply a better team. They'll have plenty of motivation after giving away the game and control of the NFC North last week. And the Green Bay game showed that the Vikings can manage to lose even when AP goes off. Home field advantage won't matter because the boo birds will be out after the team's first drive. The Vikings have been sputtering out of the playoff picture for a month; Sunday will be the final nail in the coffin.
On the other: The Vikings are a different team at home. Christian Ponder is a different player at home. The Bears are really beat up. Brian Urlacher is out on Sunday and Chicago historically awful without him--7-15 to be exact. They aren't exactly playing their best football either--their win over Minnesota was their only victory in the last month. The Vikes didn't generate a ton of pressure two weeks ago, but we'll see how the Bears' patchwork offensive line performs in the noisy Metrodome. The Vikings know this is their last chance--if they jump out to an early lead, the crowd will make it tough for Jay Cutler all day. Speaking of All Day: he's still wearing purple, which always gives you a chance.
The Vikings seem to play their best when everybody expects the worst this year. But with the Harvin news and how they have played since the bye week, I fear they've reached a new level of worst. So I'm going to go with Lincoln's logic and predict that this house divided against itself will indeed fall.
(Sigh. I'm sick of picking against my favorite team.)
Prediction: Bears 31, Vikings 20
Here are the rest of my Week 14 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Broncos over RAIDERS: Peyton Manning started his NFL career in 1998 as the #1 overall pick, came back from a devastating injury, and has gone on to age like a fine wine. Carson Palmer started his career in 2004 as the #1 overall pick, came back from a devastating injury, and has gone on to age like a boxed wine left out in the sun.
BILLS over Rams: St. Louis is undefeated in their division and 1-6 against the rest of the league. SEE?! THE NFC WEST STILL SUCKS!
Cowboys over BENGALS: If Dallas loses this game, how will they keep their annual tradition of pissing away the playoffs over the last two weeks of the season going?
BROWNS over Chiefs: Cleveland is a 5.5-point favorite. It's the first time they've been favored by that much since 2003. That statement is probably incorrect, but the fact that it sounded believable speaks volumes doesn't it?
COLTS over Titans: Remember the Vikings' glory days of 2011 when they were actually in the running for Andrew Luck most of the year? Let's just move on before I get tears all over my keyboard.
STEELERS over Chargers: So this is what it has come to, San Diego. Your team is a touchdown underdog to a quarterback that used to play with Barry Sanders.
BUCCANEERS over Eagles: C'mon, Bucs. Don't screw this up and ruin Philly's chance of sending Andy Reid out on a 12-game losing streak.
REDSKINS over Ravens: I have a rule when it comes to picking NFL games: anytime a team loses at home to a quarterback that used to play with Barry Sanders, I don't pick them the next week. During my daily visit to theCHIVE, I happened to stumble across the Gratuitous Picture of the Week. Chive on!
"RGIII will make you look like crap, so KCCO and Mind the Gap!" (image via chivethebrigade.files.wordpress.com)
Falcons over PANTHERS: This one is just screaming letdown game. But Atlanta has already won about six letdown games this year.
Jets over JAGUARS: Before you bitch too much about Harvin: does Maurice Jones-Drew even have a foot anymore? Wasn't this injury supposed to keep him out for a month or so? Or is he just smart and avoiding playing for Jacksonville?
49ERS over Dolphins: You just know that Alex Smith had to try his hardest not to smile on the sidelines while Colin Kaepernick was struggling last week. He must have been like a girl that stalks her ex's current girlfriend's Facebook page and picks apart how ugly she is in every picture. "Nice toss, Colin! Ooh, way to get a safety on a play that started on the 17 yard line, Colin! I bet Jim really likes that!"
SEAHAWKS over Cardinals: In 500 years, digital archaeologists will travel back in time to study our civilization and wonder how we lived in simpler times. By then they'll have every major scientific question solved, every disease cured, every mathematical quandary answered. Yet they'll still be completely stumped when it comes to explaining how the 2012 Cardinals started 4-0.
PACKERS over Lions: The last few weeks have probably made Detroit fans long for the 0-16 days--at least the sucking didn't blindside them every week like it does now.
PATRIOTS over Texans: Crap. I think I'm all out of snark. This is just a great matchup between two outstanding AFC teams on a national stage. I'm actually really looking forward to this one. Um...Tom Brady is an Uggs-wearing pretty boy and Matt Schaub looks more like an accountant than a quarterback! Good enough?
Last week: 9-7
Season so far: 131-60-1