Happy Hate Week, everyone. And what a glorious Hate Week it is.
Normally in my weekly preview articles I start with some sort of attempt at a clever abstract concept like a prize fight or a Wild West shootout. Then I break down some facets of the game I find interesting, toss in a few gifs, and then make one last reference to the opening concept before making my picks.
Not this time. Because during Hate Week, there's no time to be clever. There is only time for pure unadulterated distaste. Not often do I get to write about a Vikings vs. Packers game where my team is on a five-game win streak and all alone in first place while that team to the East is on a three-game losing streak and looking up at us in the standings.
So buckle up, boys and girls. The shoe is finally on the other foot--for now--and I'm not going to waste the opportunity to jump in with both feet. I'm not going to be a pretend journalist on Hate Week. I'm going to be a real, no-holds-barred, completely irrational fan. You want balanced and objective analysis? There are plenty of excellent beat writers you can read this week instead. Because I won't be pulling any punches. There will be several swear words. There will be offensive jokes. There will be sweeping generalizations about the intelligence and weight of the opposing fan base.
Deal with it.
Now that you have been warned, let's get right to that smug, purple Crush drinking, unfunny Dubsmash making prick Aaron Rodgers . Oh poor Aaron. How's your first three-game losing streak? I bet you aren't enjoying it as much as I am! Do you miss your binky Jordy Nelson? Did you get a few owies after getting sacked 11 times in the past three games? Are you "just trying to do to much?" Aww bless your heart, poor little fella.
The reigning NFL MVP's numbers are down across the board. In fact, Green Bay is on pace for all-time lows in offense and passing yards per game since Rodgers took over. Of course they're still much better than the numbers of Teddy Bridgewater this season, who ranks near the bottom of the league in most passing categories. But guess what? Do you know what Rodgers was doing his second year in the league? Sitting with his goddamn thumb up his ass on the bench! Teddy is too busy WINNING to care about his stats. He doesn't have to sit behind a Hall of Famer and get coddled for three years before going out there and getting shit done.
That said, even the homeriest of Vikings homers can't argue that Bridgewater is even close to Rodgers' level yet. Rodgers is still one of the very best quarterbacks in the NFL. But do you know an important position where the Vikings have a gigantic advantage? Coaching! Mike Zimmer might as well be straight from Central Casting for a Friday Night Lights spin-off. He's gruff and no-nonsense yet encouraging and motivational. He knows his shit and he doesn't take any shit. Meanwhile the only reason Mike McCarthy is still gainfully employed is because he lucked into ten consecutive years of Hall of Fame quarterbacks. That lazy-eyed buffoon started his career on the opponent's goal line and acts like he led a two-minute drill to get there. The Packers should have at least three or four titles in the past decade with the personnel they've had. But they only have one because their head coach manages games like 50 Cent manages money. McCarthy is such a joke that the team finally had to take play calling duties away from him because he didn't understand why "Go throw the thing to the guy over there" isn't a real play. The Packers lost the NFC Championship Game last year because McCarthy didn't have the balls to try and put the Seahawks away in the first half when he had the chance. And McCarthy might not even be the worst coach on his own staff!
In just 25 games as a head coach, Zimmer has molded a defense that collapsed more than stocks in the late 20's into one of the best in the NFL. Zim gets the most of out his players week after week. Meanwhile, Dom Capers makes a Rob Ryan defense look like Buddy Ryan defense. Capers has no desire to coach to his players' strengths and instead forces many of them to play in an outdated scheme. So basically Capers is the Brad Childress of defense, which is as insulting as it sounds.
You know where else the Vikings are a lot better than the Packers? Running back. Maybe because Adrian Peterson is built like an action figure while Eddie Lacy is built like a Cabbage Patch doll. James Starks has been a solid fill-in for ol' Fatty Fatty Two by Four but you won't hear any Vikings fans worrying about how Starks could take over the game. Bridgewater could put up the numbers Peyton Manning had last week and the Vikings could still win because of Peterson and Minnesota's defense. So go ahead, Cheeseheads, tell your dumb "switch" jokes for the ten millionth time and act like nobody on the Packers has ever done anything bad off the field. (**cough**JOHNNY JOLLY MARK CHMURA**cough) Just try not to cry in your curds when Peterson is using Clay Matthews as a welcome mat into the end zone.
Of course the very worst part about the Packers are their entitled fans that won't shut up when their team is winning and won't make a peep when their team is losing. ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling was writing about the Vikings/Packers rivalry this week and has been posing questions on his Facebook page. On Monday he asked to hear from Packers fans living in Minnesota. If he would have asked the question when Green Bay was 6-0, I'm sure there would have been dozens upon dozens of cheerful Packers fans happily chiming in about their superior football team and how fun it is to be a Cheesehead in enemy territory. But as I write this, nearly two days later, do you know how many comments Goessling got on his post? EIGHT. And one of them was me cracking a joke about how all the Packers fans in Minnesota seem to have gone missing. I guess they were all at an important stockholder meeting or something. (I assume they have those, right? I mean, no fan base would be dumb enough to get duped into paying hundreds of dollars for a meaningless piece of paper, would they?)
I am well aware that there are many, many more than eight Green Bay fans living in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Fun fact: there aren't nearly as many Vikings fans in Wisconsin because most people enjoy being gainfully employed in a state where the main attractions aren't cheese shops and porno stores. I actually appreciate all the Packers fans in Minnesota--they paid the taxes that helped build the monolithic U.S. Bank Stadium that opens next season. So thanks for all the state of the art features we'll be enjoying for years to come! Too bad dwelling on the past and trying to squeeze in between rows full of morbidly obese alcoholics on high school bleachers doesn't give you decent Wi-Fi at Lambeau.
I'm sure Packers fans will read this (at least the four or five literate enough to decipher polysyllabic words; for the vast majority that can't: don't worry, you bumbling simpletons, I'll add a few pretty pictures later so you can follow along too) and be all like "Durrr we don't even consider the Vikings a rivalry because we win all the time. Your coach made t-shirts like it was a high school Homecoming and we don't even care about you guys." Well guess what? Look at these standings. I said PUT DOWN YOUR INDUSTRIAL SIZED CAN OF E-Z CHEESE AND YOUR FIVE-GALLON TUB OF DEEP-FRIED VENISON JALAPENO POPPERS FOR A FEW SECONDS AND LOOK AT THEM.
I bet you care now, you New Glarus-guzzling pasty lumps of flesh. If your precious Packers lose at TCF on Sunday, you'll effectively be three games out of first place due to head-to-head and division record. All the Milwaukee's Best Ice in the world won't be enough to drown your sorrows then.
Oh man, that felt great. But that's enough trolling for now. Let's get into a couple of football-related reasons why I like the Vikings' chances on Sunday.
It wouldn't be a football season in Minnesota without Vikings fans relentlessly debating the performance of their quarterback. After watching Sunday's telecast against Oakland, the concern seemed justified. Once again Teddy Bridgewater looked overly cautious and refused to take chances downfield. After watching the All-22 film, I feel much better about Bridgewater's performance.
To put it simply, Teddy didn't have much open downfield. The Raiders continually dropped seven back in coverage for most of the game. They were confident that their defensive line could beat Minnesota on the pass rush (they were mostly right there) and let Teddy have the short underneath routes. The Vikings wide receivers were consistently outnumbered by defenders, forcing Bridgewater to check down time and again. On this play, most of the back seven of the Raiders defense are ten yards off the line of scrimmage by the time Bridgewater finishes dropping back.
You'll notice Kyle Rudolph was also open in the left flat, but Bridgewater was already scrambling to the right to avoid pressure. Plus, [insert your favorite joke about Rudolph's hands here.]
Here's another example. Three of the five options are swallowed up by coverage over the top, leaving Rudolph open in the flat and Matt Asiata on a delayed route up the middle. I was incredibly surprised to see how far Oakland was dropping back throughout the game.
Even when the Vikings went with big sets, Oakland was still mostly backpedaling. On this play the linebackers take one step toward the line, and when Peterson doesn't get the ball they immediately sprint backwards. Again, nothing is open downfield and Bridgewater makes the correct choice to dump it off to AP.
I'm not claiming that Teddy made the best choice every time. There were a couple opportunities that Bridgewater could have taken and didn't. Here, Stefon Diggs is open with lots of space in front of him after a quick out but Teddy has already left the pocket. It looked like he could have hung in there a bit longer and found Diggs for a potentially big play.
We have bemoaned the lack of a connection between Bridgewater and Mike Wallace this season, and here's another example of it. Wallace is open at the 25 yard line on a curl route but Teddy doesn't see it and eventually has to throw it away.
But when you're playing with a lead for most of the game and you can depend on a stout defense, it's probably better to err on the side of caution. If the Packers jump out to a quick lead and the Vikings it will be interesting to see if Norv Turner and Bridgewater can adjust accordingly.
If you want a full breakdown of why we shouldn't really be worried, I implore you to give Arif's article about Teddy a read. It's thorough and complete in a way that only Arif can pull off. I assure you that you'll feel a whole lot better about our quarterback play after you read it.
So why aren't Packers fans feeling as good about their quarterback play lately? It turns out that Green Bay is really missing Jordy Nelson. Without Nelson they don't have a true #1 receiver. (Something Vikings fans should be able to identify with.) James Jones had some big plays early in the season but has been very quiet in the past month now that teams realized they actually need to cover him. Randall Cobb is good but he can be shut down when the defense can focus on him as the main passing threat. And Davante Adams is having a tough time getting open consistently. I know that's crazy to say about a guy that caught ten passes on 21 targets last week but it's true. Cian Fahey of Football Outsiders has an excellent film room review of Adams' struggles that was very revealing. Green Bay was supposed to be absolutely stacked at wide receiver this season; without Nelson they haven't been that great. When you include their extremely average running attack it makes sense that this Green Bay offense hasn't been the juggernaut we're used to.
Green Bay's defense hasn't been anything special either. They rank in the bottom third of the league in rushing, passing, and total yards allowed. They still have a pretty solid secondary that could contain a Minnesota receiver group that hasn't been doing much this season. But if they employ the "drop back and keep everything in front of you" strategy that Oakland tried, Adrian Peterson should be in for another huge day. AP has done historically well against the Pack and I don't see that changing on Sunday.
Yes, I wrote this long-winded diatribe with the full realization that this is still the Minnesota Vikings. This team has crushed my hopes at their very highest more times than Lucy has pulled the football away from Charlie Brown. I just spent a couple thousand words taunting a team that has lost to the Vikings exactly once in the past eleven contests. I am completely aware that by Sunday night this could easily blow up in my face and I'll have to listen to a week of talking heads explaining how Green Bay has "righted the ship." I'm petrified thinking about Rodgers evading a cavalcade of pass rushers and finding wide open receivers in the scramble drill like he has so many times before. I'm worried that this is the week that Lacy comes back and plows through the Minnesota defense like it was a Golden Corral. Speaking of eating, perhaps Adams and Cobb find enough space to get loose for big plays and make me eat my words. Maybe the Vikings' red zone struggles finally end up costing them a game. On Monday morning I could have every single Packers fan I know bombard my Facebook page and throw everything I said in this article right back at me.
I get it. I have been writing for Daily Norseman for nearly seven years. The Minnesota Vikings have defeated the Green Bay Packers three times during that span, and on two of those occasions they needed Green Bay's old quarterback to do it. I should be used to watching the team I hate the most beat the team I love the most. This rivalry hasn't really been a rivalry since Favre left.
But as Ted explained earlier in the week, the Vikings have been checking off all the boxes regarding things they previously couldn't do this season. There's only one hurdle left before we can start talking about possible postseason check boxes, and that's the mission that Zimmer printed on the back of the t-shirts he handed out:
Beat. Green. Bay.
C'mon Vikes. Don't make me hate this Hate Week.
Vikings 27, Packers 20
And now for the rest of my Week 11 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
JAGUARS over Titans
It's the ultimate Bad Pizza or Sex Game! What's the Bad Pizza or Sex Game, you ask? It's a game that proves we'll take any form of football over the option of no football at all. Just like pizza and sex.
FALCONS over Colts
I actually like Matt Hasselbeck against the sputtering Falcons, but I want to make sure Atlanta isn't too desperate for a home win next week when the Vikings come to town.
BEARS over Broncos
With Peyton Manning being put down like Old Yeller, we can finally focus on the real story of this game--Jay Cutler's revenge! Just kidding. Not like Cutler would suddenly start giving a shit about football, even if it is against his old team.
Cowboys over DOLPHINS
Tony Romo to Dez Bryant all day! That will surely solve all the problems that have plagued Dallas all season! OK probably not but hopefully it will solve all the problems that have plagued both of my fantasy teams all season. Something that never plagues us is the Gratuitous Picture of the Week!
"The game's at 1 so don't be tardy / just don't make us cheer over by Greg Hardy!" (image via dolphinscheerleaders.com)
Raiders over LIONS
Only the Lions could win in a place they have lost every year since 1991 and still leave the game feeling like crap.
RAVENS over Rams
Either way this game will be close. Every one of Baltimore's games have been one score contests. Perhaps it's time for them to finally catch a break against Case Keenum. Because if you can't catch a break against Case Keenum you should probably just shut it down and try again next year.
Jets over TEXANS
What the hell is going on with Houston? This is a team that has been down 42-0 and 41-0 on separate occasions this season and suddenly they hold an undefeated team to 6 points on the road?! Whatever. I'll stick with the "revenge that isn't really revenge" theme and go with Ryan Fitzpatrick against his old squad.
EAGLES over Buccaneers
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 7-3 on the season after Carolina "dabbed all over" Tennessee last week. I mean, how could backing Mark Sanchez possibly go wrong?
PANTHERS over Redskins
I think it was Deion Sanders that had the line of the season about Carolina: something to the affect that Cam Newton wouldn't get stopped by the TSA with the weapons he has. Yet they're still undefeated. But hey let's talk about his dancing all week instead.
Chiefs over CHARGERS
In a historic divisional rivalry like this, it's important to go with the team that hasn't completely given up on their season and possibly their city.
SEAHAWKS over 49ers
Yes, Seattle is a mess, but if they win this game they'll only be one game behind where they were after ten games last season. If they lose this game, the Curse of Macklemore is real.
CARDINALS over Bengals
Carson Palmer and Chris Johnson are leading one of the best teams in the NFL, and somehow it isn't the year 2009. I don't get it.
PATRIOTS over Bills
Rex Ryan is the Washington Generals of football coaches. You aren't going to see a lot of wins by his team but you're probably going to be entertained in the process.
Last week: 7-7
Season so far: 91-55