Before we delve into this week's preview, let's get you into the London mood with a quick song set to the tune of "London Bridge Is Falling Down":
London ratings falling down,
'Cause the Vikes, are in town,
Expectations hit the ground,
My fair lady.
The Steelers are also dodgy,
Same record, oh and three,
They got old in a hurry,
Tomlin goes crazy.
Only three weeks in we know,
But playoffs? Cheerio!
Hear the British birds all go:
"Where's Tom Brady?"
This probably isn't what the NFL had in mind when they created the schedule. "Let's promote our product abroad by sending two of the most disappointing teams in the league!" What was supposed to be a cracking match has quickly turned into absolute pants.
Yes, I'll be using some British slang while I preview the London game. If you don't like me going full monty with my humour, you can piss off. I absolutely adore how the English speak English. Outside of their incredibly liberal use of the c-word, my favorite linguistic quirk of the British is known as "Cockney rhyming slang". It's a sort of Pig Latin-esque secret language that replaces a word with another word or phrase that rhymes with the original. Most of the time they make zero sense:
- "Apples and pears" for "Stairs";
- "Adam and Eve" instead of "Believe";
- "Tom tit" in place of "Shit";
- "Barney Rubble" means "trouble"; and
- "Bees and honey" for "Money".
So saying something like "Can you Adam and Eve that I had to run up five flights of apples and pears just to take a tom tit? I was in a bit of Barney Rubble there," wouldn't be complete nonsense. But some of the best Cockney rhymes actually relate to the words they're replacing. My personal favorites are "trouble and strife" for "wife" and "struggle and grunt" instead of...that aforementioned c-word those blokes are so fond of. So in that spirit allow me to introduce a few Cockney sayings for players to go with Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium. How about "Missing Yonder" for Ponder? Maybe "Mullet's fine" for 69 (Jared Allen)? "Never whiff" for "Smiff" (how the English would pronounce Harrison Smith's last name)? "Ripped and sleveless" instead of Purple Jesus?
Or maybe I should leave the Cockney rhymes to the people across the pond. (I encourage our international readers to submit some of their own in the comments.) Just be glad that I made it this far into talking about London slang without making a single lame "Big Ben/clock" joke. Let's stop before I completely embarrass myself and dig deeper into why Pittsburgh and Minnesota have been at sixes and sevens thus far.
The Steelers' problem areas are fairly obvious. Their offensive line is in shambles after losing center Maurkice Pouncey for the year just eight snaps into the season. Because of that Ben Roethlisberger is running for his life (what's new) and their running back-by-committee is playing like they went on strike (only 155 yards rushing through three games). Their once vaunted front seven got old in a hurry, especially the linebackers in their 3-4 scheme. Troy Polamalu is still flying around the field but it feels like it's only a matter of time before he's banged up again. The young guns haven't appeared to mesh with the old guard yet.
For the Vikings
, losing their first three games has truly been a team effort. Everyone's quick to point the finger at Christian Ponder
for the team's woes. He definitely deserves a good heap of the blame--instead of improving in this important third year he has slightly regressed from his mediocre-at-best 2012 season. There's no doubt that going from "meh" to "worse than meh" with quarterback play isn't going to help any team. Even if Ponder doesn't play on Sunday (hooray for writing a preview on Wednesday night and having no clue about the status of our quarterback) I don't think Matt Cassel
is going to make a huge difference unless other facets of the offense change. I believe a lot of the onus has to fall to the offensive line.
Everyone on the O-line is back from last year, allegedly healthy, and a year wiser with experience together. So how the hell does the unit that blocked for a 2,000 yard rusher last year look so out of sorts this year? Adrian Peterson has looked positively pedestrian since his first touch of the year. Unless Jerome Felton is the best fullback in the known universe and the blocking schemes only work with his expertise, the poor offensive line play is easily the most baffling story line of the Vikings' early season.
But the quarterback and the offensive line can't be held responsible for allowing 96 points through the first three games. The front four has created some pressure here and there but it has only resulted in four sacks. The linebacking corps is an absolute mess. Erin Henderson looks like someone cranked his AI sliders down in Madden while Chad Greenway looks about seven steps slower. If Desmond Bishop isn't showing enough in practice to take more snaps away from the likes of Henderson and Marvin Mitchell then a) he isn't that good, b) he's still hurt, or c) he said something disparaging about Alan Williams' mama before the season.
The special teams have even got into the act of team-wide failure. A week after allowing roughly eleventy thousand return yards to Devin Hester
they were duped into two
fake kicks by the oh-so-tricky Cleveland Browns
. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, fire everyone that was dumb enough to get fooled twice.
The only thing the Vikings can't blame their atrocious start on? Dumb penalties and lack of forcing turnovers. Only three teams have incurred fewer penalties than Minnesota this season. Only the Bears
have more takeaways than the Vikings. That means they're flat out losing fair and square. Meanwhile, the Steelers have forced zero
takeaways in 2013. I'd bet that the unselfish Vikings offense (10 turnovers, second worst in the league) will help change that statistic on Sunday.
Could the Vikings play well enough to beat the similarly woeful Steelers in what could very well be a sloppy and jet-lagged mess of a game? Absolutely. It's not like they have been blown out every week. But I still have my doubts. Le'Veon Bell could be back which should be a huge boost to the Steelers' running game. Heath Miller, Roethlisberger's go-to security blanket, should see more time in his second game back from injury. I don't see the Vikings secondary stopping deep threats like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders unless the Minnesota pass rush finally starts finishing the job. When Marcus Sherels is your only standout cornerback like he was last week against the Browns, you might have problems defending the pass. (By the way, Josh Robinson, you can start defending passes whenever you'd like. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus pointed out that you have allowed 22 catches on 23 passes thrown your way this season. Plus you've allowed 147 yards after the catch! Bravo!)
If I'm right and the Vikings fall arse over elbow to 0-4, they might not want to be in a chivvy to come back to the States. Because fans are going to get pissed--in both the American and English sense of the word.
Prediction: Steelers 26, Vikings 20
And now for the rest of my Week 4 picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
49ers over RAMS:
If San Francisco loses their third straight Jim Harbaugh is probably going to explode. I don't want the St. Louis grounds crew to have to deal with that so I'm picking the Niners.
Ravens over BILLS:
Who cares about the game--I just want to know where Bryant McKinnie
and Jacoby Jones
are partying afterward!
LIONS over Bears:
I have a new guy that sits next to me at work that's a Lions
fan. Finding someone cheering for the Lions in Minnesota is like watching someone discover a four leaf clover...you know, if four leaf clovers gave you crippling depression instead of good luck. Anyway, it's just so darn cute to see him happy about his team so far. I hope Detroit takes the NFC North lead this week so I can really enjoy watching it all come crashing down on him in usual Lions fashion by the end of the year.
Bengals over BROWNS:
Only because the 1-2 punch of Brian Hoyer
and Chris Ogbonnaya
can no longer sneak up on teams! (God I hate this season.)
Colts over JAGUARS:
My Survival Pool pick of the week, now 3-0 after Seattle pounded the Jags. (So how did "saving" the Seahawks
and picking the Vikes work out for everyone last week?) Picking against Jacksonville in the Survival Pool every week feels like playing video games against a toddler with no hands: you're going to win every time but you almost feel bad about it after a couple games.
CHIEFS over Giants:
Kansas City is +9 in turnovers. New York is -9. Sometimes the difference between being good and sucking in the NFL is very easily explained.
Cardinals over BUCCANEERS:
To everyone out there tossing around the idea of a Josh Freeman
for Christian Ponder swap now that Freeman has been benched in favor of Mike Glennon
: I HATE YOU. JOSH FREEMAN DOES NOT NEED A "CHANGE OF SCENERY". HE NEEDS A "CHANGE OF ACCURACY". PLEASE DO NOT SUGGEST THAT JOSH FREEMAN WILL MAKE THE VIKINGS A BETTER TEAM. AND WHILE I'M AT IT, SHUT THE F*CK UP ABOUT TRYING TO PULL ANTOINE WINFIELD AND BRETT FAVRE OUT OF RETIREMENT. NEITHER MOVE IS FEASIBLE AND EVERY TWITTER JOKE YOU MAKE ABOUT THEM COMING BACK IS AWFUL. Thank you for your time.
Seahawks over TEXANS: Seattle isn't the same juggernaut on the road as they are at home. But I'm pretty sure nobody has ever said, "Oh man, we have to go to Reliant Stadium this week. That is going to be TOUGH."
TITANS over Jets:
The 3-1 New York Jets
. Yeah, that doesn't sound right to me either. Gratuitous Picture of the Week, anyone?
Cowboys over CHARGERS:
How the hell am I supposed to make fun of either Tony Romo
or Philip Rivers
screwing this game up in the fourth quarter when each of them only have 1 interception this year? Thanks a lot for not sucking yet, you jerks.
BRONCOS over Eagles:
"Hey Chip. What's that? You run your own high-powered offense with all sorts of funky gestures and signals? That's cute. Tell me all about it. Maybe I could learn something." --Peyton Manning
Redskins over RAIDERS:
The Washington defense can't stop anyone. Luckily with Terrelle Pryor
out, the Raiders
don't really have anyone to stop.
FALCONS over Patriots:
Atlanta has a ridiculously good record at home under Matt Ryan and they R-E-A-L-L-Y need this game. Then again, desperation is a stinky cologne
. Just don't bet on this game because I have no idea what will happen.
SAINTS over Dolphins:
Go ahead, Miami. Prove me wrong again. I have picked against you all three weeks. I would feel really
bad if you beat Team Bountygate at their home stadium in front of a national audience.
Last week: 9-7
Season so far: 30-18