October 14, 2012. It was truly a simpler time.
Maroon 5's classic hit "One More Night" topped the Billboard charts. The legendary film Taken 2 was the #1 movie in the box office. A gallon of gas was just $3.71. And the surprising 4-1 Minnesota Vikings lost 38-26 to the Washington Redskins.
Young, promising quarterback Christian Ponder passed for a career high 352 yards but Washington sealed the game in the fourth quarter thanks to a scintillating 76-yard touchdown run from mercurial rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The entertaining, back-and-forth affair was a precursor to future success for both teams. After some midseason struggles, the Vikings and Redskins both rode impressive season-ending winning streaks into the postseason with matching 10-6 records. Both squads were bested on Wild Card weekend due to injuries to their starting quarterbacks, but there was plenty to look forward to in the 2013 season. The Redskins and Vikings were truly teams on the rise.
November 7, 2013. The Redskins and Vikings have a combined record of 4-12. Whoops.
The last time Washington and Minnesota met wasn't all that long ago but it might as well have been decades the way these two teams are playing.
We know what a disaster the Vikings have been. We have covered it over and over and over on Daily Norseman in the past few weeks. Going into any further detail here would just be beating a very sad and purple dead horse. There's no escaping how awful this 1-7 team is. But what the heck has happened to Washington?
Yes, the Redskins have the same record as they did through eight games last year. (Although they have an iffy call by the refs and idiotic goal line play calling by the Chargers to thank for their last win.) Yes, they play in a less than stellar NFC East that's still very winnable. But they aren't catching anyone by surprise this time around.
Why not? For starters, their defense hasn't been catching anyone this season. We have rightly bemoaned the woes of the Vikings defense all year but Washington's D might be even worse. The Redskins defense has allowed the second most points per game and the third most yards per game. Advanced metrics aren't any kinder than the raw stats: Pro Football Focus has Washington as the third lowest rated defense in the league, including the third worst run defense and worst pass coverage.
But for the second straight week, one the opponent's main weaknesses doesn't play into one of the Vikings' strengths. Ponder "lit up" the shaky Cowboys secondary for a whopping 236 yards last week. There isn't much hope that he'll fare any better against Washington because the one thing the Redskins defense has done well this year is rush the passer. With two starting offensive linemen out and Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo coming off the edge, Ponder probably won't have time to go through his usual hasty and incorrect progressions. The Vikings would be wise to repeatedly pound the rock with Adrian Peterson and keep RGIII off the field as much as possible.
Then again, the RGIII that effortlessly sprinted down the left sideline in last year's game seems like a distant memory. It turns out that rushing back from a serious knee injury isn't as easy as AP made it look in 2012, so you probably can't read too much into Griffin's slow start. He's not a cyborg like a certain running back we know; it's actually logical that Griffin might take some time to get back to normal. But even when he gets back to 100%, there are still recent rumblings about his style of leadership. RGIII is refreshingly honest and seems like a wonderful human being but you have to wonder if his attitude is starting to grate on his teammates as premature self-entitlement.
There are also questions about Griffin's decision making as a passer. PFF has Washington as the fifth ranked overall offense and fourth best pass blocking team, yet they have a negative rating for passing (ranked 22nd). MMQB's Andy Benoit had an excellent article about RGIII on Wednesday, saying that he still has a ton to learn when it comes to being an NFL passer regardless of his recovery from the knee injury. If he doesn't improve his pocket passing and continues to rely too much on his running, another major injury is nearly inevitable. The Andrew Luck vs. RGIII debate from last year's draft is beginning to look sillier by the week. Luck has been consistently great while the 2013 season has been an absolute roller coaster for Griffin. His PFF ratings have alternated between very high and very low each week.
But oh, how us Minnesota fans would kill for just one ride on the RGIII roller coaster instead of the usual Vikings QB kiddie carousel. I would love nothing more than to nitpick such an amazing talent every week instead of critiquing a team devoid of any at that position. Washington still has a chance to make some noise this year and their quarterback should only get better as the season goes on. Both of those Viking ships sailed a long time ago.
Quarterback play and defense aren't even the biggest concerns for Minnesota heading into Thursday's game--the Vikings are simply beat up. Nine of the Vikings' 22 Week 1 starters are out, doubtful, questionable, or on injured reserve. Depth was a concern heading into the season and it's now showing in the depths of the standings.
In the end, what would you rather bet on--RGIII having a "He's Back!" game in front of a national audience or this bruised and battered Vikings team actually showing up in a primetime game? I hate trotting this stat out yet again but the Vikes are 1-13 with a total score differential of 425-220 in their last 14 primetime games. This team handles bright lights worse than vampires and Gremlins.
It has been 313 days since Vikings fans last saw their team win in the Metrodome. Sadly, I think it will be 337 or more before they do. Even more sadly, I think we'll have a lot of Vikings fans that are A-OK with that since they want their very own version of RGIII in next year's draft.
Prediction: Redskins 31, Vikings 24
And now for the rest of my Week 10 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Seahawks over FALCONS: Seattle has won ugly the past couple weeks. Good thing there aren't any pictures in the standings. Good thing there are pictures in my weekly picks--namely, Gratuitous Pictures of the Week!
"ATL girls are really naughty / They go down faster than Julio and Roddy!" (image via www.atlantafalcons.com)
Lions over BEARS: I love all the stories of how Jay Cutler has been such a great teammate while he has been out with his groin injury. Just look at this picture of him after Monday's game with Brandon Marshall. He even high fives like he doesn't give a shit!
Even if Cutler plays on Sunday I'll take Detroit just because of that.
RAVENS over Bengals: I'd take Cincy here if they weren't so busy losing one of the best players on their defense every week.
Eagles over PACKERS: Please, Football Gods. Just let me have this one. Let the Green Bay fans see what having an awful quarterback is like, even if it's just for a few weeks. Show me Jordy Nelson's face after Seneca Wallace sails another pass over his head. Let me listen to Mike McCarthy try to explain that he's actually a good coach in the postgame press conference and Aaron Rodgers isn't the main reason why he still has a job. I've already put up with the 2011 and 2013 Vikings seasons--is it really too much to ask in return?
TITANS over Jaguars: I'm back to my "whoever's playing Jacksonville" Survivor Pool strategy, and I'm now 8-1 on the season after Dallas beat the Vikings last week. I'm also back to hating Chris Johnson because he decided to have his first big game of the season while I was playing against him in two fantasy leagues last week.
COLTS over Rams: With the holiday season rapidly approaching, I really want to hear Andrew Luck sing "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch". His voice is so low that he makes James Earl Jones sound like a soprano.
GIANTS over Raiders: I have a strict rule when it comes to picking NFL games: whenever you allow 7 touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating to a backup, I don't pick your team to win the next week.
49ERS over Panthers: Yes, Carolina has blown out four straight opponents, but the teams they beat during that stretch made Ohio State's non-conference schedule look like juggernauts. Beat a real team on the road and then I'll be impressed.
Broncos over CHARGERS: I went with Denver here but watch out for the San Diego upset. According to my TV Peyton Manning spent his entire bye week making pizzas with a referee instead of preparing for this game.
CARDINALS over Texans: At first I thought Houston would rally and win one for their head coach; then I remembered who their interim head coach is.
SAINTS over Cowboys: This game could swing the balance of power in the NFC. This game will swing the balance of power in at least half the fantasy football matchups across the country this week.
BUCCANEERS over Dolphins: I'm picking the 0-8 team with the embattled head coach to win because nobody can bully me into making smart picks this week!
Last week: 7-6
Season so far: 86-47