Sorry folks. I'm putting a big holiday themed stamp on the preview this week and mailing it in. It's 10:00 on the eve of the Vikings' season finale and I just returned from three different family Christmas celebrations in four days that involved driving 432 miles throughout central Minnesota in a car packed with way too many presents for a 20 month old daughter that didn't really enjoy said presents yet because she was sick the entire week, so her vocabulary involved nothing but whines, whimpers, and the word "nnnnnooooooooo!" for the majority of our trip.
But you know what? I'm not going to let the travel woes leave a bad taste in my mouth. We got to spend a lot of quality time with both sides of our family. I got to snuggle my daughter for most of the long weekend instead of having to chase her all around my relatives' houses for hours on end. She's finally starting to feel better so she'll be enjoying all her new toys in no time. Finally, I got to pack on about ten pounds from eating way too much delicious holiday food and treats. All in all it was still a very enjoyable holiday.
I'm going to take that same attitude into Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. Yes, the Dolphins offense dinked and dunked the Vikings to the tune of nearly 500 yards last week, capped off by losing in a way that only the Vikings could--a blocked punt for a safety. The loss in Miami was indicative of the Vikings' season as a whole--lots of promising positives (getting another early big lead against a quality defense, the performance of Teddy Bridgewater) but ultimately ending in disappointment. The Vikings are just part of the Minnesota sports suckfest happening over the past two weeks--the Vikes, Timberwolves, and Wild are a combined 0-15 since December 13. So is there really any reason to hope that the Vikings can finish the season off on a high note?
Sure! They're playing the Bears, the reigning heavyweight champions of dysfunction. The expectations for the Vikings were nowhere near the lofty goals of the Bears this year, especially after kicking off the season with the disastrous Adrian Peterson scandal. Yet it's the Bears currently holding down last place in the NFC North. In the big picture this game is pretty meaningless outside of deciding where each team will draft in 2015, but a Vikings win would be symbolically significant on many levels. First of all, Mike Zimmer still doesn't have his first divisional win as a head coach. We all know Zimmer has been an upgrade over Leslie Frazier, so it would be a shame to have Zimmer's first year in the NFC North go no better than Frazier's first full year at the helm. (The Vikings finished 0-6 in the division in 2011.)
It would also be a shame if the Vikings couldn't send Marc Trestman and Smokin' Jay Cutler out in style. The Vikings had a chance to help end Joe Philbin's run in Miami last week, but their late collapse has apparently bought Philbin another season. They can't run the risk of letting that happen again. I mean sure, it might be nice to have Cutler and Trestman mucking things up in Chicago for years to come, but I think it's time for the Vikings to put them out of their misery. Cutler is 8-2 in his career with a 23:13 touchdown to interception ratio and 65.7% completion percentage against Minnesota. The 23 TDs are the most Cutler has against a single opponent. If there was ever a week to make those numbers worse, this would be it. (And yes, I'm very worried about Cutler absolutely lighting it up in this meaningless game just as one big final middle finger to Bears fans. It would almost be a perfect ending to Mr. DGAF's season. But hey, I'm trying to keep a positive vibe going here, so I'm just going to ignore that feeling.)
One aspect of this game that could help Cutler's day go worse than it usually does against the Vikings: the absence of his security blanket Brandon Marshall. Alshon Jeffery will still be a problem for the Minnesota secondary but at least there will only be one wide receiver with the potential of jumping over an in-perfect-position-yet-still-helpless Josh Robinson this week.
I'd rather have Cutler heave the ball up for grabs all day instead of enduring another death by 1,000 paper cuts in the form of Chicago screen passes. Plays like this simple screen to Matt Forte absolutely slaughtered them in the Week 11. I don't know what I'll do if I have to endure watching this in 20 degree weather for three hours:
Yes, I'll be there at TCF, wearing long johns of both the literal and liquid variety. I don't want to think about the prospect of freezing important appendages off while watching the season go out with a whimper to a division opponent that stopped caring a month ago. It just wouldn't be right. Let's send this season out on a high note for the bright futures of Zimmer and Bridgewater, draft position be damned. Let's end 2014 feeling good about this team. Even if the Vikings happen to be trailing late again, at least we'll probably have a functioning field clock, right? And maybe referee Jeff Triplette's weekly incompetent screw-up (yep, that's who we get this week) will go in Minnesota's favor. After all, the Vikings are well overdue to get a call or two in their favor.
Just to make sure we end the season on a high note regardless of the outcome on Sunday, I'm going to do something I haven't done yet this season: dedicate the Gratuitous Picture of the Week to our hometown girls.
"Even if we finish 6-10 / At least we have Zimmer instead of Trestman!" (image via vikings.com)
And as a bonus, just to make absolutely sure we finish on a high note, let's include our all-time favorite Vikings cheerleader from last year--Waldo!! IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO LOSE WITH THIS KIND OF CHEERLEADER KARMA!
Vikings 27, Bears 21
And now for the rest of my Week 17 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
PATRIOTS over Bills
This game means absolutely nothing to New England. Unfortunately for Buffalo, "absolutely nothing" is also what their offense is usually capable of.
RAVENS over Browns
I like how the football gods messed with Cleveland this year. Instead of just making the Browns suck like normal, they gave them something much more devious--false hope in the form of an almost winning season and almost competent rookie quarterback. Sprinkling on the Josh Gordon suspension this week was a nice little finishing touch.
Cowboys over REDSKINS
You can't get swept by Washington and expect teams to take you seriously in the postseason. Of course you can't be Dallas and expect teams to take you seriously in the postseason, but the Cowboys should still win this game.
Colts over TITANS
Indianapolis is the 4 seed no matter what. Tennessee is an awful team no matter what. Indifference beats ineptitude every time.
CHIEFS over Chargers
Philip Rivers' back is about as bad as Batman's after his fight with Bane and Kansas City still has a tiny chance to be the first team to make the playoffs without throwing a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. I'll take KC at home.
DOLPHINS over Jets
Two coaches enter; only one leaves with his job. Except the guy staying isn't wanted by the majority of his fan base and the guy leaving will be at the top of every list of head coaching vacancies next year.
Saints over BUCCANEERS
Although it would be sooooooo like Tampa to win this game and screw up their chance at Marcus Mariota.
Eagles over GIANTS
On Thanksgiving the Eagles were in the driver's seat for a top spot in the NFC playoffs. Now they're giving points to the Giants. [Cut to every Jets fan in the world saying "I F*CKING TOLD YOU SO ABOUT MARK SANCHEZ!"]
TEXANS over Jaguars
Fake prop bet I think someone should post: Jaguars total touchdowns -1.5 over J.J. Watt total touchdowns. You'd have to think about it wouldn't you? (Houston is also my Survivor Pool pick of the week, now a pathetic 12-4 after the Rams lost to the Giants last week.)
FALCONS over Panthers
No matter who wins this game, we can say the Vikings beat the NFC South champions handily. Which should tell you everything you need to know about the 2014 NFC South.
BRONCOS over Raiders
Is it just me or is 2014 Peyton Manning looking a lot like 2007 Brett Favre? (And no, that's not a compliment.)
PACKERS over Lions
Death, taxes, and the Packers beating the Lions in Green Bay.
SEAHAWKS over Rams
Oh boy, here comes another month or so of NFL talking heads worshiping at the Altar of the 12th Man.
49ERS over Cardinals
If we don't see Logan Thomas at some point in this game I'm pretty sure Bruce Arians is just gunning for Coach of the Year based on degree of difficulty alone.
STEELERS over Bengals
Like I'm going to bank on Andy Dalton winning two prime time games in a row.
Last week: 7-9 (oof)
Season so far: 159-80-1