You'll have to forgive me if this week's preview is a bit brief and of course late. We were very busy entertaining family for Thanksgiving, clogging my arteries with bacon-wrapped turkey, and setting up the tree & other accoutrements for Christmas.
Sorry, I kind of buried the lede with that last sentence. My wife really did prepare a glorious, fattening, as-good-as-it-sounds-and-looks bacon-wrapped turkey this year. Gaze upon its beauty and behold the greatest drumsticks ever concocted:
Now I hope you'll understand why I couldn't write my preview article until late Saturday night--my gut got in the way before I could reach my laptop.
Thanksgiving weekend doesn't just provide a four-day weekend filled with family and delicious food; it provides a cheesy "what I'm thankful for" gimmick for sports articles that has been done a million times, including the last three seasons by yours truly. But hey, if Rick Reilly can plagiarize himself and still get paid millions of dollars, so can I on my (non-existent) Daily Norseman salary!
First of all I would like to say how thankful I am for Matt Kalil. No, not for his play. Of course not--I have eyes. He's looking like a Dolly Parton-sized bust, and now he's being salty to fans to boot. I'm thankful that Kalil has carried on the proud tradition of Minnesota Vikings scapegoats that we can blame nearly everything on. He follows in the footsteps of Christian Ponder, Bill Musgrave, Brad Childress, Adrian Peterson (more of a Goodell scapegoat but still), Chris Kluwe, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Joe Webb, and Donovan McNabb. And that's just in the past few seasons! The role of Official Scapegoat is very important to this franchise. Having Kalil as a target of so much fan vitriol distracts us from the fact that the Vikings are still broken on a lot of levels. So in a way, Kalil is making us happier by not making us dwell on how far away the team is from seriously competing for a title. Thanks, Matt!
I'm thankful we'll get to see what Ben Tate looks like in purple now that Jerick McKinnon has been ruled out of Sunday's game. Hopefully it's a lot better than how he looked in brown and orange, because that wasn't very becoming on Ben. I'm also thankful that if Tate doesn't work out we'll get to see plenty more of Joe Banyard, who might end up being the best running back on the team at season's end if he keeps running like he did last week.
I'm thankful that Teddy Bridgewater is showing promise every week, especially in crunch time situations. This fourth quarter pass to Kyle Rudolph is a great example of everything Teddy has learned in his rookie campaign.
He feels the pressure coming, moves outside of the pocket, sets his feet, and throws a dart to Rudolph. Three plays later the Vikings were in the end zone and within three points of the heavily favored Packers. He could be an excellent NFL quarterback if he makes more plays like this.
Of course I'm also thankful that Bridgewater keeps us humble and reminds us that this is Minnesota sports and Minnesota sports isn't allowed to have nice things. Teddy could just as easily be a bust with head-scratching misses like this:
It's a very similar play to the first play shown, yet he badly misses Charles Johnson for what could have been a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Bridgewater's inaccuracy has been fairly alarming as well as fairly well-documented. I'm just thankful that we have people like Arif who remind us that it's waaaaay too early to start worrying about him.
I'm thankful for knowing that there are teams that are much worse off than the Vikings at quarterback. We have seen plenty of them play against Minnesota. In fact, three of the four teams that the Vikings have beaten this season have benched their quarterback. So I'm thankful that on the off chance Cam Newton gets benched during a Vikings victory, we'll get to see our old pal Joe Webb! I can't even imagine how Twitter would explode if that happened.
I'm thankful that this game is between two of the poorer teams in the NFL yet somehow has playoff implications thanks to the putrid NFC South. Carolina needs a win to simply match Minnesota's win total yet they could be in first place and in line to host a playoff game by Sunday night if results fall their way. And you know what? I'm thankful the Vikings aren't in the NFC South even if their current 4-7 record would tie them the division lead. There's no need to mask the Vikings' issues with the hope of an undeserved playoff game. Better to focus on solving current problems and building towards next year.
Another reason I'm thankful the Vikings aren't in the NFC South--they don't have to face Kelvin Benjamin twice a year. Benjamin still has plenty to learn, but in the meantime he's making huge plays and ridiculous catches to be one of the lone bright spots on the Panthers offense. I'm thankful that he'll be visiting Minnesota this week only because perhaps he'll give Cordarrelle Patterson a refresher course on how to be a raw, young, dynamic, and productive wide receiver.
Finally, I'm thankful that this game is at home and against a bad team, two factors that should help the Vikings' chances if this season has been any indicator. I'm thankful that the Vikings' defensive line could get back on sack track against the Panthers' weak O-line and prevent Newton and Benjamin from doing much damage.
And if I'm wrong, I'm thankful that I probably won't that upset about it. Because there isn't a ton of difference between 4-8 and 5-7. And I'm still too full to get that worked up.
Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving weekend. (Hopefully capped off by a Vikings win on Sunday!)
Vikings 28, Panthers 24
And now for the rest of my Week 13 picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
I'm thankful I can show you this tweet to prove my Thursday picks:
But I'm not thankful that I switched to the Cowboys on Thursday morning.
BILLS over Browns
I'm thankful that the fans of the losing team will probably brag more after this game. "See, God hates OUR franchise WAY worse than yours!"
Bengals over BUCCANEERS
I'm thankful that instead of thinking about two of the worst uniforms in the history of football I can think of the Bucs cheerleaders in the Gratuitous Picture of the Week.
"Our cheer team is a little slice of heaven / But our football sucks outside of Mike Evans!" (image via buccaneers.com)
TEXANS over Titans
I'm thankful that this game reminds us that if it wasn't for Indy the AFC South would be just as bad as its counterpart in the NFC.
COLTS over Redskins
I'm thankful that we'll get roughly 354 sideline shots of Robert Griffin III doing his best to not look like he's not pouting.
RAMS over Raiders
I'm thankful that I know St. Louis might be incapable of beating bad teams, but Oakland is more incapable of following 16 straight losses with two straight wins.
STEELERS over Saints
I'm thankful that the AFC North is sending the NFC South Christmas cards this year for making their division historically good this late into the season. (At least they should be.)
Giants over JAGUARS
I'm thankful that...um...for...uhh...shit. Sorry, I got nothing for this one. This game just makes me mad at football.
RAVENS over Chargers
I'm thankful that the Vikings don't have the Chargers' schedule down the stretch. At Baltimore, home for New England and Denver, finishing at San Francisco and Kansas City. Oof.
FALCONS over Cardinals
I'm thankful that picking against the Cardinals finally paid off for me last week, so I'm going to do it again even though Atlanta can't beat anyone outside of their division.
Patriots over PACKERS
I'm thankful that Rob Gronkowski is completely healthy so he can finally put a home loss on that purple Crush chugging smug bastard Aaron Rodgers. I'm also thankful that I removed all sharp objects from my house so I won't stab myself every time an announcer calls this game a possible Super Bowl preview.
CHIEFS over Broncos
I'm thankful that this is the game that Alex Smith, Doug Pederson, and Andy Reid will finally realize that Travis Kelce is the next great NFL tight end and will finally feature him more in the offense, just in time for my fantasy team to make a push into the playoffs. Right? RIGHT?!
Dolphins over JETS
I'm thankful that...um, I'm busy on Monday night.
Last week: 13-2
This week so far: 2-1
Season so far: 118-60-1