[Scene: The summit of Mt. NFLympus. An emergency meeting of the football gods has been called by the ROGER ZEUSELL.]
ZEUSELL: Fellow football gods, I have called this assembly to address the clan of Vikings that are seeking to overthrow our tyrannic reign. For generations, we have kept these Vikings in the Underworld and have successfully prevented them from ever reaching the summit of Mt. NFLympus. Year after year we turn these Vikings into 53 versions of Sisyphus. It is a sick game that we play with the mortals for our entertainment. But now it appears the clan is threatening the balance of power.
HADES: Yes, brother. In the past we have employed Aphrodite and Dionysus to lead the Vikings astray on an ill-fated sea voyage. We have sent Artemis and her army of golden-clad soldiers to hunt down the Viking leaders for a bounty. We used Athena’s vast wisdom to outwit the simpletons that used to lead previous attacks on Mt. NFLympus.
ZEUSELL: Indeed. I have personally overseen many of our victories over the Vikings. I devised schemes to take down one the Vikings’ strongest defenses—the Wall of Williams. On several occasions I threatened to banish them to another realm altogether to ensure that they would not rebel against the will of the football gods. Instead, I fooled them into erecting an extravagant altar in order to better worship us. However, none of our usual tactics to keep the army at bay seem to be working.
POSEIDON: Perhaps I can command the ocean to swallow their army whole?
ZEUSELL: No, their camp is headquartered too far inland. That is a terrible idea, Poseidon.
POSEIDON: [Mumbling] Whatever, Zeusell, you are not even a real football god. We just put you in charge to take the blame when the rest of us commit injustices to the mortals in our own realms.
ZEUSELL: I HEARD THAT, POSEIDON! HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE THE ULTIMATE AND INFALLIBLE POWER OF ZEUSELL?! I BANISH YOU TO THE UNDERWORLD FOR AN ARBITRARY AMOUNT OF TIME THAT IN NO WAY REFLECTS THE SEVERITY OF YOUR CRIME!
[With a mighty wave of his Staff of Suspension, Zeusell sends Poseidon hurtling to the Underworld.]
ZEUSELL: Does anyone else feel the desire to challenge my unchecked power?! I thought not. Now Ares, I thought I commanded you to unleash the dogs of war upon this clan of Vikings! Why do they keep advancing?
ARES: I have already sacrificed some of their best warriors in the name of the football gods. I struck down the Vikings’ young general named Theodore before a battle even took place. I conquered their granite-handed hero Adrian, upon whom their entire attack strategy was previously based. And with each new battle, I have managed to eliminate a protector of their new field general who goes by the name of Samuel.
ZEUSELL: This is excellent news, Ares. Surely the Vikings will be beaten back to the Underworld soon.
ARES: This is not an assurance I am able to share. Samuel remains true with each arrow he slings despite very little protection from our forces. And the defenses of these Vikings...[trails off]
ZEUSELL: Yes, what is it? You are the football god of war and injuries! Surely you have enough firepower to defeat them.
ARES: I have never seen anything like it in all my years of war. It makes the mighty Williams Wall look like a common farm gate. They have wave upon wave of skilled warriors. Even our strongest troops can barely advance against them. I’m afraid we may not be able to contain an army like this with a leader like this.
ZEUSELL: [Scoffs, getting more and more agitated] WHAT LEADER?! SURELY NO MERE MORTAL CAN DEFEAT THE WILL OF THE FOOTBALL GODS!
HADES: I...I do not believe he is entirely mortal. His name is Zimmerseus. You had cast him aside years ago and now he is declaring war on the football gods. Zimmerseus and his Vikings will stop at nothing until the Underworld demons that have tortured them for decades are vanquished.
ZEUSELL: But what about McCarthedusa? He has conquered the Vikings several times in the past. We football gods have given him and his army of Packers every advantage over his opponents for over twenty years. One gaze of McCarthedusa’s hideous form and head of cheese turns anyone he faces into stone.
ARES: It used to suffice, but now I am afraid that Zimmerseus has defeated McCarthedusa in two consecutive battles. Zimmerseus seems to be forcing the Packers army into civil war—they are constantly defeating themselves. The Packers general Rodgers, once touched by the gods, now seems incompetent against the Vikings’ mighty defenses.
ZEUSELL: [Sits back in his throne, exasperated] Brace yourselves, fellow football gods. I fear the landscape of Mt. NFLympus may be changing in a matter of months.
OK, so that introduction was a little unconventional, especially for those of you that might not have been as interested in Greek mythology as I was in high school. But hey, it’s the bye week. Without an actual game to preview, I had to get a little creative.
Through the first five weeks of the 2016 season, it does feel a little like Zimmerseus, er, Mike Zimmer, has the Vikings defying the football gods with each dominating performance. Despite having as many players on various forms of Injured Reserve as they have on their Practice Squad, Minnesota is the lone remaining undefeated team in the NFL as they head into their bye week.
And it isn’t like the Vikings have been losing role players either. The season was less than seven quarters old before they found themselves without arguably their two most important offensive players. Incredibly, the Vikings offense could be better off in the long run.
No, Teddy Truthers, I’m not saying that the Vikings are better without Bridgewater. I’m talking about the other guy. Adrian Peterson could be the best candidate for Bill Simmons’ Ewing Theory the sports world has seen in years. For those unfamiliar with the theory, it states that sometimes teams perform better when the superstar they relied upon too heavily is removed from the equation. I have been one of AP’s most ardent supporters throughout the years, but it sure seems like his absence could be a prime example so far.
However, a theory is just a theory until it’s actually proven. Cian Fahey of Presnap Reads did an amazing job of proving it last week. Fahey showed how the removal of Peterson has allowed (or perhaps forced) Norv Turner to embrace a more diverse offense that plays to the strengths of his current personnel. Sam Bradford can take the majority of his snaps in shotgun now, a luxury that certainly was not afforded to Teddy Bridgewater last year. The offensive line is every bit as underwhelming as it was last season, yet Bradford isn’t scrambling for his life like Bridgewater was because there are less seven-step drops and more quick-hit passes.
We’ll touch more on that offensive line in a bit, but first we should expound on how the revamped offense is allowing some former bit players to enjoy more of a starring role. For instance, Cordarrelle Patterson’s unexpected renaissance doesn’t happen if AP is getting 25 carries per game. Kyle Rudolph may have had only one catch for each of his newborn twins on Sunday, but he was still an important part of the offense. On this play, Rudolph split out wide and garnered a double team while Matt Asiata went uncovered on the wheel route for an easy 23 yard gain.
Of course Rudolph wouldn’t be a focal point for the defense if he wasn’t already on pace for the best season of his career. Samuel Feldman of NumberFire illustrated how Rudolph’s numbers have improved so far, especially in the red zone.
I doubt that Adam Thielen would have had eight targets on Sunday with AP on the field, which would have been a shame. Thielen has developed into a bona fide starting NFL wide receiver. The double move he pulled for his touchdown was a thing of beauty.
Thielen’s great routes could have still been for naught without another round of excellent deliveries from Sam Bradford. We knew he was an accurate passer coming in, but I still wasn’t prepared for his level of precision. His pass to Jarius Wright while getting annihilated at the end of the first quarter gets more amazing each time you watch it.
So how is Bradford performing so much better with the Vikings than he did in with his previous two teams? Is this just a four-game outlier? Will Bradford eventually regress to the mean?
Perhaps it’s simply because Bradford is playing in a much better situation in Minnesota. With the Zim Reapers dominating opponents on defense, Bradford often gets to enjoy something he rarely had in St. Louis and Philadelphia—a lead. On the Bill Barnwell Show this week, Chase Stuart of Football Perspective pointed out that Bradford’s average drive with the Vikings has come with roughly a five point lead. It has been almost the exact opposite for the rest of his career. It’s probably oversimplification, but there is something to be said about how a quarterback plays with the lead compared to how he plays when he’s chasing the game. This also means that we haven’t seen Bradford try to mount a late comeback in purple yet—we’ll see how he performs in that situation going forward.
Of course we might not see Bradford perform at all if he keeps getting smoked due to shoddy protection. Alex Boone and Joe Berger must feel like they’re in the latest installment of the Final Destination movies with how everyone around them keeps dropping like flies. The Vikings attempted to address the issue by signing former #1 overall pick Jake Long this week.
I have no idea what Long has left in the tank. He was one of the best tackles in the league early in his career but has been derailed by serious injury for the past few years. Either way it’s definitely worth a shot after T.J. Clemmings did this...
...against the Texans on Sunday. Houston has a very good defense, even without J.J. Watt, but Clemmings was an absolute matador to the team with the Spanish Fighting Bull on their helmets. No clever play design can combat that kind of ineptitude.
There’s still an incredibly long way to go, but the Vikings sit at or near the top of most power rankings (even Football Outsiders for the very first time) for a reason. They are one hell of a team and a definite title contender. Zimmerseus is fearlessly leading his army of mortals toward the pinnacle despite suffering an alarming amount of casualties. With how the Vikings are currently playing in all three phases of the game, they could definitely come out of this bye week and continue their ascension.
I just hope the offensive line isn’t the Achilles heel of any potential deep playoff run.
Mythological pun intended.
And now for my Week 6 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
CHARGERS over Broncos
Boom! Starting the week off with a big upset pick! And it’s gonna look really good until the Chargers inevitably piss it away in the fourth quarter again. (But at least they’ll look awesome doing it.)
BILLS over 49ers
COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK COLIN KAEPERNICK
BEARS over Jaguars
Brian Hoyer should be the starter going forward in Chicago. He has looked pretty darn good. Wait, what am I saying? The Vikings still have to play the Bears twice. GET WELL SOON JAY CUTLER!
PATRIOTS over Bengals
I’m not exactly sure what it is, but Cincinnati just doesn’t look right this season. Even if they did look right, I wouldn’t pick them in Foxboro.
TITANS over Browns
Tennessee’s next four opponents have a combined total of four victories. Even the Gophers would be embarrassed of this kind of early season cupcake scheduling.
LIONS over Rams
L.A. fans will always have that blissful week in late September/early October when they were in first place to joyously look back upon while they endure another string of awful passes from Case Keenum.
Steelers over DOLPHINS
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 5-0 after New England cruised last week. I don’t like to pick road teams in survivor pools, but Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will likely take up residence in the Miami end zones by the end of the day.
Panthers over SAINTS
Keep (Cam Newton’s head from taking such a) Pounding, Carolina.
GIANTS over Ravens
These two mediocre quarterbacks of these two mediocre teams have three Super Bowl rings between them but my favorite franchise has never won one. I hate football.
Eagles over REDSKINS
Philly might get caught looking ahead! Nahhh. Washington was gift-wrapped their win in Baltimore last week. The Eagles have a better team. I think.
RAIDERS over Chiefs
Chiefs over RAIDERS
OK Oakland, I’m finally ready to take you seriously this season. (Now watch them get blown out at home by KC.)
UPDATE 5:49 PM FRIDAY: I had to switch this pick. Andy Reid’s teams are always awesome out of byes and Oakland has been outgained on a per play basis in every single game this year. Sorry Raiders, I can’t take you seriously yet. Sorry for the false alarm.
SEAHAWKS over Falcons
I must be crazy to pick against the #1 team in Pro Football Focus’ power rankings!
PACKERS over Cowboys
The only way I could hate everything about this game any more is if noted hair plug addict Joe Buck was announcing it instead of being off on his annual foray into making baseball even more unwatchable.
TEXANS over Colts
The biggest blemish on the Vikings’ 5-0 start might not be the offensive line after all. It might be the fact that 40% of their wins have come against the abysmal division these two teams occupy.
CARDINALS over Jets
Mark my words: the outcome of this game is going to have HUGE playoff implications.
(Fantasy playoffs. Not actual playoffs.)
Last week: 9-5
Season so far: 45-32