“SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY! IT’S THE SEASON FINALE BATTLE OF I-94 BETWEEN THE PURPLE PEOPLE EATERS AND THE MONSTERS OF THE MIDWAY! A COMBINED TOTAL OF THIRTY PLAYERS CURRENTLY ON INJURED RESERVE! MATCHING 2-8 RECORDS SINCE WEEK 5! A MINUS-14 COMBINED TURNOVER RATIO IN THE PAST TWO WEEKS ALONE! COME TO U.S. BANK STADIUM AND PAY $12 A BEER FOR THIS ONCE IN A
LIFETIME YEAR OPPORTUNITY! IT’S WEEK 17 FOOTBALL AT ITS FINEST—CATCH THE THRILL!”
I know, I know—it’s incredible that I don’t have a job with the Vikings PR with a pitch like that. But even the world’s greatest spin doctors couldn’t put lipstick on this pig of a game. Outside of a spot or two in next year’s draft order, the random contract milestones that some players could hit, and some good old-fashioned pride, Sunday’s season finale between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings means basically nothing in the grand scheme of things. It’s the classic “go out there, don’t get hurt, and enjoy your vacations and tee times on Monday” game.
But even if it seems like many of the Vikings players are playing with a certain amount of apathy this week, they will have nothing on their fan base. The embarrassing home blowout by the Colts relieved the purple faithful of nearly all hope; last week’s throttling in Green Bay shook out any remaining crumbs that might have been floating around. There were plenty of highlights to go along with our collective sorrow, but ultimately the 2016 Vikings season was a five-week flurry of hope sandwiched by disasters of varying degrees. It was fun for a while but at this point Vikings fans are 100% checked out emotionally. The general consensus among most diehards I have talked to this week seems to be “I guess I’ll probably have the game on in the background if my New Year’s Eve hangover isn’t too bad.”
Since this week’s game is meaningless, I hope you’ll forgive me if I go a little light on the X’s and O’s as we play out the string this week. Does anybody really need to see another gif of T.J. Clemmings attempting to block like he’s playing patty cake with an invisible man? Would you be riveted by someone breaking down the intricacies of Matt Barkley’s thrilling five interception performance last week? Are you dying to hear about how Chicago is now actually ranked just ahead of Minnesota in overall DVOA?
If your answer to any or all of these questions was “nah”, then you’re in luck! Instead of analyzing this meaningless game, we’re going to have some meaningless fun and hand out some meaningless made-up awards! I decided to call this award show the Dammys in honor of the classic “Little Minnesota” episode of How I Met Your Mother. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure, Marshall, the character from Minnesota, takes his friend Robin to a Minnesota-themed sports bar in New York City. In this bar, every time a past Vikings failure is brought up—specifically the 1999 NFC Championship Game—the patrons pound the table and yell “Damn!”
Since we’ve done a whole lot of pounding the table and yelling our favorite expletives over the past ten weeks, I figured Dammys was the perfect name for awards that looked back on the 2016 season. And in true Vikings fan fashion, the majority of these awards will have a negative connotation.
The presenters have their envelopes and are ready to hand out the hardware. So without further ado, I present the First (and hopefully last) Annual Dammy Awards!
Worst injury, preseason category
No surprises here—it’s the catastrophic knee injury suffered by Teddy Bridgewater that turned out to be the perfect omen for the 2016 season. Teddy looked amazing throughout camp and then the rug was pulled out from under us when his knee gave out from under him. Subsequently, the Vikings season followed suit by looking amazing at first until it all crashed into a heap.
Honorable mention: Mike Harris and his head condition that remains shrouded in mystery to the public.
Worst injury, mid-season category
This one was viewed by some as an upset on the level of Marisa Tomei winning Best Actress for My Cousin Vinny. But it can be argued that no injury had a greater effect on the demise of the Vikings’ season. The season-ending Achilles tear suffered by Jake Long on the penultimate play of the Washington game might have sealed Minnesota’s fate for good. After knocking off some rust in his first couple games, it really looked like Long was improving and might actually be the stopgap tackle the Vikings so desperately needed to have some semblance of a respectable offensive line. But it was all for naught and the line remained hot garbage for the rest of the season.
Honorable mentions: Adrian Peterson’s meniscus tear and subsequent “yeah never mind I’m still hurt” injury after he rushed back; Matt Kalil’s hip injury that forced the Long signing and subsequently eliminated what little cap wiggle room the team had left.
Worst injury, coach category
An obvious pick here—Mike Zimmer’s scary detached retina that caused him to miss the Dallas game and sport a rotating ensemble of eye patches, bifocals, and sunglasses for the remainder of the season. Because when a season goes this haywire, not even the Head Coach is safe from serious injury.
Honorable mention: Does the Norv Turnerectomy count?
Biggest drop off from 2015, offense
Jarius Wright was never a main focal point of the Vikings offense but he was still an important contributor for the first four years of his career. This season he was relegated to an afterthought, playing in only six games and catching only six passes. Wright started Training Camp running with the second team and was never promoted back to his previous level on the depth chart. This may have to do more with the emergence of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as the team’s preferred 1-2 punch, but it’s still shocking to see how little Wright has contributed after signing a pretty hefty contract extension.
Honorable mention: Adrian Peterson. Of course injuries were the main culprit but he was pretty terrible for the eight-plus quarters of action we saw from him this season.
Biggest drop off from 2015, defense
I still can’t figure out what went wrong with Anthony Barr this year. Last year he was emerging as one of the top young linebackers in the NFL; this year it looks like he can barely cover or tackle at times. I’m still convinced (or at least hoping) that Barr has been playing hurt all season and he’ll bounce back in 2017. Either way, what once seemed like a certainty for the next several years has suddenly become a question mark going forward.
Honorable mention: Maybe Trae Waynes if you consider how well he finished at the end of last season?
Biggest change of opinion, fan category
This Dammy goes out to none other than General Manager Rick Spielman. Last season Spielman was hailed as a personnel genius, a wheeler and dealer that stockpiled draft picks and made the right move the majority of the time. Now fans are gnashing their teeth at Spielman squandering a first round pick, wasting the team’s cap space, and neglecting the offensive line in the early rounds of the draft since taking over.
I’m still giving Spielman the benefit of the doubt for now. Calling for his head is extremely short-sighted. This season was an absolute worst-case scenario that would have ruined even the best blueprints for success. But the pressure is definitely on him heading into the 2017 free agency and draft periods.
Honorable mention: Matt Kalil. Oh, how we miss him now. COME BACK MATT! WE PROMISE TO TREAT YOU BETTER, WE SWEAR!
Biggest change of opinion, media category
When the Vikings were riding high at 5-0 on the heels of a surprising NFC North title in 2015, pundits were applauding Mike Zimmer’s no-nonsense approach as he was pushing all the right buttons to get the most of his charges. As we wrap up the 2016 season, you can’t go a day without someone questioning Zimmer’s methods and the amount of authority he has over his team.
Again, I think anyone calling for Zimmer’s head should get their head checked. Everything that happened this year seemed to literally and figuratively break Zimmer—I still have little doubt that he’ll regroup and come back just fine next season. But when you don’t win, your tactics are going to get called into question. That’s what you sign up for as an NFL Head Coach. There’s an old saying that winning is the best deodorant, and right now Mike Zimmer is all out of Speed Stick.
Most pleasant surprise, offense
C’mon now, 2016 wasn’t all bad. Let’s take some time to recognize the players that were a breath of fresh air in an otherwise toxic year. This Dammy was one of the easiest to choose—I’m not sure I have ever seen a surprise breakout season like the one Adam Thielen had. His evolution from long shot, hometown, undrafted free agent to feel-good practice squad story to special teams ace to legitimate starting NFL wide receiver and big-time fantasy football waiver wire pickup has been nothing short of incredible. Thielen has transformed into the wide receiver we were all hoping Charles Johnson could be since 2014. His hard work and perseverance has put him 40 yards away from being the first 1,000 yard receiver since Sidney Rice in 2009. Thielen is like Vince Papale from Invincible, except he’s actually good at football.
Honorable mention: Sam Bradford. Bitch about the trade all you want—Bradford stayed healthy all year and put up some pretty solid numbers under some pretty terrible circumstances. He will probably be the Week 1 starter next year and I am definitely more OK with that than I thought I would be.
Most pleasant surprise, defense
Believe it or not, the Dammy committee went with Andrew Sendejo here. Everyone (myself included) expected Sendejo to be the weak link on an otherwise stout defense. Sendejo has acquitted himself quite nicely this season, becoming a dependable sidekick to Harrison Smith and quieting many of the scoffs at the large contract he was awarded before the season. He has only missed one game this season—the first matchup against the Bears—and his absence was definitely felt that night. When so many other facets of the team fell apart throughout the season, it was nice to see Sendejo become one of the more reliable constants on the Vikings this year.
Honorable mention: We all thought that Danielle Hunter was poised for a breakout season after such a promising rookie campaign. But 12 sacks, a safety, a touchdown, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery all while still splitting time at defensive end? That’s pretty damn impressive.
Best impersonation of the 2010 season
Amazingly, the 2016 season has come really close to the bizarre 2010 season we all figured could never be topped. From the crazy off-field stories to the quarterback injuries to the embarrassing losses leading to coaches departing the team to the stadiums falling apart, this year seemed bound and determined to match 2010 stride for stride in the amount of “Can you believe this is happening?” stories. After all that has happened to this franchise over the years, it’s really difficult to surprise Vikings fans anymore. Yet somehow 2016 kept doing it again and again.
Least valuable player
The final award of the night and the most “prestigious” Dammy was also an obvious choice—so obvious that it was unanimous. Nobody played consistently worse in 2016 than T.J. Clemmings. Clemmings was thrust into an impossible situation for the second straight season as a backup that suddenly found himself in a full-time starting role due to injuries. But when you’re this bad...well, I’ll let Andy Benoit of MMQB explain:
#Vikings Film: (No pleasure saying this) No NFL player this yr has been a costlier liability than T.J. Clemmings. He simply can’t compete.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) December 27, 2016
If it’s any consolation, Clemmings remains only the second worst graded tackle by Pro Football Focus. Donald Stephenson and his barrage of false starts remains slightly worse by PFF’s standards heading into the final week of the season. But then again, Clemmings has played almost 200 more snaps than Stephenson, so you could still argue that Clemmings’ awfulness has had a greater impact on his team.
Honorable mention: Laquon Treadwell. HOW DOES A FIRST ROUND WIDE RECEIVER HAVE THE SAME AMOUNT OF RECEPTIONS AS THE QUARTERBACK?!
It looks like the house orchestra has started playing the “Wrap it up” music, so that’s all the time we have tonight. Thank you so much for attending the First Annual Dammy Awards. I hope reliving the 2016 season was slightly less miserable the second time around. At the very least I hope you enjoyed the distraction from what is sure to be a listless and lackluster game on New Year’s Day.
Oh yeah, the game. Since this is still technically a preview and picks article, I suppose I should offer my opinion on what might happen. Last week’s debacle aside, the Bears have been pretty feisty down the stretch. Barkley isn’t the quarterback of the future but he can still be serviceable when given time. Hopefully Zimmer can get his defense on the same page again and get to the quarterback often. More importantly, hopefully he learned from the last matchup and they’ll actually be able to stop Jordan Howard from getting a zillion yards from scrimmage.
As bad as the Vikings have looked over the past two weeks, I still think they’ll be plenty motivated to finish the 2016 season on a high note. There’s still a decent team capable of putting away the Bears in there somewhere. So let’s get some revenge for the Halloween embarrassment. Let’s finish at .500 and make the Eagles’ first round pick a little worse. Let’s avoid going 1-5 in the division and getting swept by a bad team. Let’s make the first day of 2017 a lot better than most of 2016.
And if it all goes bad and the Vikings become the first 5-0 team to finish with a losing record, let’s remember that it didn’t really matter anyway.
Vikings 24, Bears 20
And now for the rest of my Week 17 picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Bills over JETS
Smart move by Rex Ryan to ask to be fired one week early. He didn’t want to finish up his current disaster at the place where he had his previous disaster.
BENGALS over Ravens
Baltimore was literally inches away from a division title on Sunday night. I find it hard to believe that they’re going to put too much effort into this one after a loss like that.
STEELERS over Browns
Cleveland won their Super Bowl last week; no need to screw up their #1 draft pick this week.
EAGLES over Cowboys
Pretty cool that Carson Wentz got his offensive linemen custom shotguns as Christmas gifts. Now they can finally see something that fires past ten yards. (I still love you Carson! Go Bison!)
Texans over TITANS
Tom Savage vs. Matt Cassel in a meaningless game. This is probably making folks in Nashville long for the old blackout rules.
COLTS over Jaguars
I still can’t believe the Vikings couldn’t sweep this division.
Patriots over DOLPHINS
The game means nothing to Miami and New England still has to win to clinch the #1 seed. No fluky loss in Miami for Tom Brady this year.
BUCCANEERS over Panthers
Since Marcus Mariota broke his leg last week, I think we can safely crown the Buccaneers as everyone’s favorite sleeper team in 2017.
FALCONS over Saints
C’mon Atlanta. Don’t let Seattle back their way into a first round bye. They definitely don’t deserve it. Plus I don’t want to hear the announcers gush about how huge of an advantage CenturyLink Field is in the Divisional Round.
Raiders over BRONCOS
Man, what a bummer the Derek Carr injury is. That broken leg must have felt like a kick in the McGloin to Oakland fans.
Chiefs over CHARGERS
That gross security guard video is a pretty good metaphor for the Chargers’ season as a whole.
Cardinals over RAMS
Jared Goff’s current adjusted net yards per attempt is 2.96. I didn’t even know it was possible to get that low.
REDSKINS over Giants
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 13-3 on the season because I picked against Cleveland in the one freaking game they won last week. This game means nothing to the Giants and everything to the Redskins—surely Washington couldn’t blow a home game and allow both NFC North teams in, could they?
Seahawks over 49ERS
A disaster of a season on all fronts, but at least the Niners have Smash Mouth constantly spouting off on Twitter about them. Wait, that makes things much worse doesn’t it?
Packers over LIONS
This game is going to feel a lot like the Cecil fiasco. Almost everyone I follow on Twitter is going to be pissed but that isn’t going to change the fact that the Lions are still dead.
Last week: 6-10 (I picked like the Vikings played last week)
Season so far: 145-92-2