Divisional Picks: Just What We Needed

Mike Zimmer would be just what the doctor ordered in Minnesota. - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Before giving his picks for the Divisional playoff games this weekend, one Daily Norseman writer explains why he thinks Bengals Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer is the best man for the vacant Vikings Head Coach position.

By now you know that a lot of us Daily Norseman writers are hoping that Mike Zimmer is the next Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Arif has provided us with a comprehensive profile on Zimmer and he likes what he sees. Ted is all-out Zimmer or Bust at this point. Even our Fearless Leader is on board the Zimmer bandwagon.

I'm no different. I have been a fan of Zimmer for a couple years running, and his awesomeness on this year's Hard Knocks only increased my coach-crush tenfold. In fact, I'm so enamored with the possibility of Mike Zimmer as the next Vikings coach that I wrote a song about it:

"Just What We Needed" (to the tune of "Just What I Needed by The Cars)

Other coaches comin' here
And wastin' all our time
The Vikes are even lookin' at
It's not the headset that you wear
But it might just be your scary stare
I sure hope you're comin' here
And coachin' all the time...

[Instrumental break 4 measures]

I don't mind you hangin' out
And talkin' sh*t 'bout Bobby P
It doesn't matter where you've been
You've always had great D (yeah)
You always knew to coach it well
You are a leader I can tell
I don't mind you hangin' out
And coachin' up our team

I think you're just what we needed (just what we needed!)
We needed someone to scream
I think you're just what we needed (just what we needed!)
And we need you to succeed...

So yeah, I like this Mike Zimmer fella. I personally believe that a very large part of being a successful NFL head coach is being a successful leader of men, and Zimmer fits that profile in spades. He's part firm-but-fair father figure, part drill sergeant. We probably paid too much attention to Leslie Frazier's stoic sideline demeanor over the past three years but it sure would be nice to see a guy that looks like he gives a crap on Sundays.

With Frazier it was all about "going back, looking at the film," and throwing in a few other clichés regardless of how his team fared that week. With Zimmer you're probably going to get a brutally honest answer no matter what. Don't believe me? Just take a look at what he had to say about Bobby Petrino leaving the Falcons when he was on their staff. There's no doubt that the Vikings players loved playing for Leslie Frazier; what this team needs is someone they love going to battle with. I think Zimmer can provide that spark.

Of course it isn't only about motivation. Zimmer is far from just a rah-rah type. He knows his X's and O's as well. He has spent 14 seasons in the NFL as a coordinator. He has been around the league block and then some. Many NFL writers and experts, most notably Peter King, have been baffled that Zimmer wasn't offered a head coaching position years ago. Zimmer certainly seems to be ready for the challenge and 2014 certainly seems to be the year he'll finally get a shot at that challenge.

It's nice to know your football but it's pretty worthless if you aren't putting players in the right spots to succeed. This is probably my favorite trait about Mike Zimmer: he isn't afraid to change his game plan based on the personnel he has available. Under Frazier's regime (and Childress before him) there was endless talk about fitting players into "systems" instead of the other way around. Zimmer has shown that he isn't afraid to shuffle his defenses around to play into the strengths of his personnel.

An example of why coaching to your personnel is important: the Tampa 2, the Vikings' favored base defensive system for the past several years, makes the linebackers cover a lot of ground in pass coverage. When Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway are showing you time and again that they can't cover traffic cones, why are you still running the same scheme? Meanwhile, Zimmer lost one of the best defensive tackles in the league (Geno Atkins) along with his best corner (Leon Hall) this season. His defense still finished in the top third of the league in most defensive metrics and helped lead the Bengals to a division title. They kept performing well because Zimmer changed his plan of attack after his stars went down.

They also kept performing because Zimmer excels in what might have been the Vikings' staff's biggest flaw: talent evaluation. Atkins was a fourth-round pick; now he's an All-Pro. Commenters on this site were begging the Vikings to give Vontaze Burfict a chance at a big position of need; lo and behold, the undrafted free agent is already one of the best linebackers in the league. Meanwhile, it took Frazier and his staff the better part of a season to realize that Cordarrelle Patterson should probably get the ball more, Xavier Rhodes is much better in press coverage, and Audie Cole is a much better solution at middle linebacker.

I know I'm taking a few liberties and oversimplifying a lot of my points here. Zimmer isn't some sort of coaching messiah just like Frazier and his coordinators weren't abject failures. The truth is somewhere in between, like it is with most of these things. But I believe I have illustrated why Zimmer is just about everything the Vikings have wanted in a coach.

Correction: he's just what we needed.

Before I get to my Divisional Round picks, I'd be remiss if I didn't give the results of the super-important Gratuitous Picture of the Week contest I held in my Wild Card picks article last week:

Our second runner up with 80 votes (10%) was our Week 6 GPotW, the chaps-wearing member of the Denver Broncos cheerleaders:
121204165436-denver-broncos-cheerleaders-21642898-single-image-cut_medium_medium_medium

Our first runner up with 154 votes (20%) was our Week 12 GPotW, our painted-on jersey wearing member of the Miami Dolphins cheerleading squad:
Miami-dolphins-cheerleader-2013-fashion-show--18-560x1161_medium_medium_medium

And our winner with 180 votes (24%), my personal favorite, the Where's Waldo costumed member of our very own Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders!
Tempmvc-hall-andy-103013-072103013--nfl_mezz_1280_1024_medium_medium_medium

After some tortuous research, I'm 98% certain that our Gratuitous Picture of the Year belongs to Vikings cheerleader Pam. You can read all about her on her official bio here. Daily Norseman reader Yusaku02 even provided us with this lovely gif to see Pam in action!

Halloweencheer2_medium

Congratulations to Pam! The Vikings finally won something important this year!

And now for my Divisional Round picks, guaranteed to go 2-2 like I do in nearly every round of the playoffs (home teams in ALL CAPS):

SEAHAWKS over Saints: I think the Saints can win this game if Drew Brees goes absolutely bonkers, New Orleans' running game has another impressive show, and Russell Wilson plays completely pedestrian (which he has done a couple times in the final month of the season). But that's just too many things to go New Orleans' way on the road. Plus it sounds like Percy Harvin is deciding to play! Man, what a gig Harvin has. He has probably practiced about a dozen times in the past two years yet he's still one of the most revered receivers in the league and has a very good shot at a Super Bowl ring. It would be like if I wrote for Daily Norseman three times a year but still made Bill Simmons' salary.

PATRIOTS over Colts: Why are so many people jumping on the Indy bandwagon this week? Andrew Luck is amazing, but you do realize that the Colts allowed 378 yards and 4 touchdowns to Alex Smith last week, right? And it took absolutely everything they had to scrape back for the second largest comeback in league history? And the Patriots destroyed them last year? And Tom Brady is probably really sick of all the "he's only 7-7 in his last 14 playoff games" talk? I'll take my chances with New England.

PANTHERS over 49ers: Drink every time an analyst says something about how similar these teams are in the pregame show. Take a shot if they show a side-by-side graphic of how similar the statistics are between Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. Finish your drink if they say the phrase "it's like these two teams are looking in a mirror at each other". I know the Niners are the road favorites here, but I can't bring myself to pick them after they needed a last-second field goal to beat a crappy 8-7-1 team last week.

BRONCOS over Chargers: San Diego has definitely had Peyton Manning's number over the years. They already won in Denver a month ago. Philip Rivers' bolo ties seem to have taken on magical powers. But I picked an Broncos-over-Seahawks Super Bowl before the season, and dammit, I'm sticking to it til the bitter end.

Yep, that's right. I'm going with all home teams this week. Straight chalk. For some reason I think that after the past eight years of complete chaos, the league has one fluke year where the best regular season teams actually repeat their performances in the playoffs.

(Of course that's not actually going to happen--your job is to correctly guess which two games I picked wrong so you can go 4-0.)

Last week: 2-2
Playoffs so far: 2-2
Regular season: 169-86-1

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