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The Norse Reporters, September 9, 2018

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We Kick Off the 2018 Season With a New Feature

For those of you who partied too much on Saturday nights back in the day, ESPN had a Sunday morning show called “The Sports Reporters”. It was here where the legendary Dick Schaap would pick the brains of noted sports writers such as Mitch Albom, Mike Lupica, John Feinstein, and Bob Ryan, among others. The panel would spend a half-hour debating the topics of the day. And the best part was that the panelists would let each other speak, and - get this - come up with pretty interesting takes. It was - for lack of a better term - sports discussion for the thinking person. It was a wonderful, entertaining, thought provoking show. Sure, the East Coast bias was strong - they spent an awfully large amount of time discussing the Giants, Patriots, and Celtics. But the show wasn’t particularly controversial. It wasn’t full of ridiculous statements.

And, maybe that’s why it’s no longer on the air, and Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe... are.

This week on the Daily Norseman, we roll out a new feature, and we’re calling it “The Norse Reporters”. Outside of an occasional comment section “back-and-forth”, the writers of the DN rarely get to debate each other on the pages of the DN. Hopefully we can make this a great feature every week, and you, the readers, will enjoy it as well.

The offseason is now done and the team is about to kick off the 2018 season. How would you grade what the Vikings have done since their season ended last January?

Ted: I give them an A. In free agency they upgraded at the two positions where they lost players, QB and DT. They added depth to the offensive line and secondary during training camp with the Brett Jones trade and the George Iloka signing, and in the draft they got two guys that will contribute early in Mike Hughes and Brian O’Neill. The one criticism fans had over the off-season was that they didn’t do enough to address the offensive line, but drafting O’Neill and trading for Jones, I think, answers that critique. I was going to go B or B+ until they got Jones, and since the key phrase was ‘since their season ended’ and not, technically, ‘during the off-season’, the Jones trade counts. Boom, lawyered.

Jonah: I’d say it’s a B. I love Case Keenum as much as the next guy, but there’s no question Kirk Cousins is an upgrade. He was the top QB on the market, and Rick Spielman went out and signed him the second free agency started. The Sheldon Richardson signing, while somewhat under the radar nationally, will help upgrade a unit that was already very good.

But I question the decision to draft Mike Hughes. It’s not that I don’t think Hughes is good — all indications are that he is, and will be a very good starting cornerback very soon. But there was one obvious position of need, and that was the offensive line. I suspect the Hughes pick had something to do with future plans that might not involve picking up Trae Waynes’ fifth-year option, but that’s just speculation. For the moment, though, the decision not to take an offensive lineman or move down in the draft might haunt the Vikings.

Dan: I’m giving them a solid B+. I loved the Hughes pick. I gave a solid “like” to the O’Neill pick. Holmes - at least on the outside - feels like a Danielle Hunter-esque pick that could surprise all of us. The Cousins deal needed to happen. But I’m keeping them away from an A for now. If Rashod Hill, Danny Isadora and Pat Elflein are able to continue their growth, and Brian O’Neill exceeds expectations and can be productive right away, then all this talk about O-Line dumpster fires will be much ado about nothing, and I can say it was an ‘A’. If the line starts playing musical chairs because of injury and ineffectiveness, then I’d move the grade down.

Lucas: I’d have to agree with Dan. I’d give them a B+ for obvious reasons, that the rest of the DN writers basically already covered. The one thing that I will point out that really helps secure the grade is the ability to not only replace former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, but to find probably the top candidate for the job in John DeFilippo.

On top of that, the front office managed to bring together one of the quickest up and coming coaches in the league and one of the most consistent passers in the league. That’s something that gives me goosebumps just thinking about.

Chris: I’m down with this new format, as long as I don’t have to be Lupica. Man, I couldn’t stand that guy.

But I’d have to give the Vikings an A- for their work this past offseason. They basically had their pick of quarterbacks between the three that were on the roster last year and the rest of the free agency market, and John DeFilippo decided that Kirk Cousins was the guy he wanted running his offense, so it’s tough to fault them for that. Defensively, they return 10 of 11 starters, and the new guy is a player that won Defensive Rookie of the Year not so long ago and could bring the Vikings the best defensive tackle pairing they had since the Williams Wall broke up in Sheldon Richardson.

The one thing that I might have to fault them for is not taking an offensive lineman in the draft earlier than they did. However, with as good as Mike Hughes has looked this preseason. . .Mike Zimmer has lavished the praise on him this offseason. . .you can forgive them for taking what apparently was the best player on their board at #30 overall. But, other than that, it’s hard to find fault in what the Vikings did this offseason.

Sarita: I would give them an A. I really like that we have John DeFilippo since he made Nick Foles look like Jesus last year. DeFilippo is one of the best so having him run the offense with Kirk Cousins is to be exciting to watch. Cousins also helps secure the grade for me because he is good quarterback. I feel that he finally has solid weapons around him and great coaching to really put him on top. And speaking of the offense, bringing in Brian O’Neill and trading for Brett Jones is a good plan. Them in addition to Pat Elflein, Danny Isadora, and Rashod Hill is going to give Cousins a chance to survive this season. Fingers crossed they stay healthy.

Eric: I’ll give them an A-. We’ll see if adding Cousins was ultimately the right choice, but it was the best choice with the information they had at the time. The Vikings couldn’t trust the knees of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford and it’s hard to see Case Keenum repeating the serendipitous season he had in 2017. The $84 million price tag was steep, but Rob Brzeznski’s cap wizardry softened the blow there. The fact that they were still able to re-sign Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, and Eric Kendricks is nothing short of incredible.

The only thing hurting their GPA is that offensive line. I think they’re OK for now and DeFilippo will make sure to put them in a position to succeed, but we’re only a couple injuries from that 2016 PTSD coming back to haunt us.

Every team - even the lowly Cleveland Browns - begins their season with expectations of competing for a championship. Coaches say it all the time - ‘we expect to come out and compete for a championship’. It might be the one place where fans are more rational than the professionals. Have the Vikings reached a level of expectation with all of you that anything short of a championship has to be considered a failure?

Ted: That is the yin and the yang of being a fan of this team. To expect championships for this franchise is to invite misfortune. Start to believe in this team and a young reliable kicker misses a field goal many of us could make, and then his career goes off the rails. Utter the words ‘Super Bowl contender’ regarding the Vikings, and the young franchise QB that almost everyone loves has his knee destroyed by a tactical nuclear weapon during a non-contact drill a week before the season begins. When the GM trades for another good QB that could get the job done, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse get a lease with an option to buy in the Vikings offensive line room to dash any hopes. Expect them to win it all and another kicker misses his only field goal of the season and that moment is still so painful it has become an entire episode on a popular TV sitcom. Damn!

Putting those expectations on this franchise is like walking out into a field in the middle of a lightning storm with a metal pole held high daring the Football Gods to do something. Nay, triple dog daring them. (Slight breach of etiquette going straight to the triple dog dare, I’m aware.)

But...as the old guy in the room who actually got to watch the Purple People Eaters play week in and week out, this 2018 team is a strong on paper as those teams were. Like them, they have a ridiculously talented defense. Like them, they have a really good QB, with weapons to hand off to and throw to. I mean, they didn’t bring Kirk Cousins in to grab a wildcard on the final week and then meekly bow out on the road the following week.

So yeah, let’s roll. Let’s March to Atlanta like Sherman and burn everything along the way.

Dan: *grows handlebar moustache, puts on finest blue wool britches, grabs Springfield Model 1861 Rifle, kisses wife and fourteen children goodbye, leaves single room mud house on prairie, sets out for Atlanta.*

Chris: As someone that’s watched the Vikings for a number of years (though not as many years as Ted, because TED IS OLD LOL), there’s always the fear of getting your hopes too high when it comes to this team. Being a Vikings fan is seemingly all about finding a new and creative way to kick yourself in the junk every year, and every fan of this team has that in the back of their minds. However, championship expectations for this team this season are completely realistic, even though the NFC is going to be a complete meat grinder compared to the AFC. This team is every bit as talented as any other team in football, and it isn’t wrong to have those expectations. Hopefully this is the year that they live up to them.

Sarita: A few years ago, I wrote about being optimistic about this team and believing that Minnesota can win the Super Bowl and that hasn’t changed. Every year I am absolutely one of those crazy ass people that yell “this is our year!” and every year I get throat punched. But as it has been mentioned by my esteemed colleagues I do feel that with the talent the Vikings have this year there is no reason why we can’t finally win the damn Super Bowl.

Is it a failure if we don’t? Yes and no. Yes, because of how close we came last year and because of the level of talent and great coaching that is on this team now. No, because this is the Vikings and somehow, some way this teams finds new and glorious ways to rip out our heart and make us eat it.

Screw it. We’re going south for the winter!!

Eric: Lucy has been pulling the football on Vikings fans for the better part of six decades now. As Drew Magary wrote in his annual “Why Your Team Sucks” masterpiece, expecting anything other than a gut-wrenching failure is an exercise in futility. But if we can’t be excited about this team at the beginning of the season, when can we be? This roster has a chance at being the most talented Vikings team of my lifetime. Both sides of the ball are loaded with talent.

Will it all end horribly when we least expect it? History suggests as much. But fans of the Red Sox, Cubs, Capitals, Cavaliers, and Eagles never thought it would happen for them either—until it finally did. So yeah, championship or...what will likely end up happening.

Lucas: That’s the downside with being a Minnesota sports fan. We’re, or at least I’m always thinking that a team has a shot, always. If they don’t win a championship, then well there’s always next year, I’m not going to call the season a failure. But, since it’s been forever since a major sports team from Minnesota has won a championship, besides the Minnesota Lynx, it’s been a mind-numbing feeling, a feeling of mediocrity. I think it’s time for that to change, time to set some sort of a higher standard for our teams.

Every fan plays armchair GM. Is there a player - or players - you would have kept? And, if so, who are you cutting to make room for that player?

Ted: I would have kept Ifeadi Odenigbo and let David Parry go. The Brian Robison and Terence Newman choices were tough ones, but the young players replacing them have a ton of potential.

Jonah: Ted, I’m with you on Odenigbo, and not just because of his alma mater (sidenote: Go ‘Cats). The fact that he got claimed off waivers is telling, and I think the Vikings will miss his ability to play multiple positions on the defensive line.

Ted: LOL Wildcats. Go Bucks. Jalyn Holmes lives! Pat Elflein shall return!

Dan: I guess if you look at Parry versus Odenigbo purely from a standpoint of “Who backs up Big Goon”, though, keeping Parry makes sense. He’s almost 320 pounds, versus 275 for Odenigbo.

Chris: I do think the Odenigbo cut was the most surprising, given what we saw in the preseason. I think that Minnesota figured they might be able to sneak him onto the practice squad, but the Browns. . .who had #1 waiver priority and could literally claim anyone they wanted. . .thought enough of him to grab him off the waiver wire. Outside of him, I’m not sure if there were any other players that the Vikings waived that I would have pounded the table for them to keep.

Sarita: My emotions tell me Brian Robison but my logic says Ifeadi Odenigbo.

Eric: I was very partial to Odenigbo because he was easily one of the best interviews on the team. I guess Parry had a more defined role and a bit more experience, but I thought Ifeadi had more upside and versatility. I’m just glad they did everything I wanted at the wide receiver position.

Lucas: I didn’t mind the players that were cut, I do like the players who did make the roster. I’m excited that both undrafted running backs Roc Thomas and Mike Boone made the roster, that should really make the backfield intriguing. I also liked that Devante Downs was able to crack the 53 as well, after getting picked in the seventh round of the 2018 Draft.

Terance Newman and Brian Robison - unquestionably two of the leaders in the locker room - will not be on the team this year, at least not in a playing role. Do you think their absence creates a void in veteran leadership and presence on the defensive side of the ball, or are there players who may have already stepped into those roles?

Ted: Newman is coming back to the coaching staff, so I think his mentorship and leadership will still be there. Robison’s loss will be a huge void, but even though the Vikes are the 6th youngest team in the NFL, they have solid veteran leadership on both sides of the ball with Cousins, Linval Joseph, Harrison Smith, etc.

Dan: This will probably be a somewhat unpopular opinion, but I actually like the moves a lot - especially letting Robison go. Winning teams aren’t built around sentiment. I’m sure every player the team let go is a ‘helluva guy’, and I’d probably want ‘em as my neighbor. But if better players are ready to step up, the coaching staff has to be able to make tough decisions. I thought that letting Teddy go was a real sign that the team was serious about winning, and winning soon. The Newman and Robison moves feel the same.

Chris: I don’t think the leadership void is going to be that great, to be honest. As Ted said, Newman is going to be on the coaching staff, and while Robison might be a significant loss in that category, they have guys like Everson Griffen (who, suddenly, is one of the “old men” on defense at age 30) and Harrison Smith that can step in and play that role.

Sarita: Newman isn’t absent since he’s a coach. I feel that will give him more of leadership/mentor role since he can be one on one with the players and really tell them what he knows about playing. And Robison leaving was surprising and sad, but there’s guys like Everson Griffen, Linval Joesph, and Harrison Smith who can step up and guide the younger guys. Which evidently is half this team.

Eric: Getting rid of Robison felt like a bit of bad karma since he already agreed to a pay cut to stick around. But it was 100% understandable as a business decision. The Vikings are loaded with young talent at defensive line, which meant the old guard of B-Rob was disposable. Newman was already halfway to being a coach, so I think that transition should go smoothly.

Dan: Eric, you know what Bill Belichick says about karma? Not a damn thing. He doesn’t have time to worry about it, because he’s too busy admiring all his rings.

Lucas: Y’all are geniuses, and I’m just late to the party with this one.

The Vikings 53 man roster includes a whopping ten players who have never played a down in a regular season game. Fans could look at that and be concerned, or they could be excited that the team is contending while also being stockpiled for the long haul. How are you looking at that situation?

Ted: I would be concerned if seven or eight of them were looking to start or get significant playing team. They aren’t, with maybe the exception of Mike Hughes right away, so these guys will be able to get some playing time in a rotational basis while learning the intricacies of the job while mostly observing. I really look at this as a win-win for both the player and the team.

Dan: I like the position the team is in. If you look at the second year players like Tashawn Bower, Jaleel Johnson, or Danny Isadora, none of them were truly ready to step in last season. This year, though, it looks like they all have a pretty healthy role on the team.

Chris: Yeah, most of those guys are going to be depth guys for now, which is perfectly acceptable. With as stacked as the starting lineup is, particularly on defense, it would be tough for a younger player to crack the rotation. Still, the reason that the Vikings have so much talent is because of the ability of Mike Zimmer and the rest of the coaching staff to develop players. If the young guys are called upon in the case of injury or whatever it might be, I think they’ll be okay.

Sarita: I’m looking at the long haul. Most of the won’t play every second of the game so I’m not worried. They’ll bring them as needed be it for injury or garbage playing time to give the experience as it should be. I’m interested to see how they play when they do come in.

Eric: I think it’s more of a symptom of the current NFL rather than the Vikings being a big outlier. The mid-level veteran contract is declining—you have to pay your top talent top dollar and hope you can find enough cheap, young talent to fill the holes. The Vikings have done a masterful job of this over the past few years. Let’s hope some of the unheralded talent of today becomes the stars of tomorrow; after all, that’s what the rest of the NFL is doing.

Lucas: I would rather have veteran starters and young backups to absorb everything from those veterans. A lot of these young guys won’t get much clock, but will get playing time and the experience of practicing against some of the best in the league, which will be beneficial.

Case Keenum stepped in last season and played the best football of his life while filling in for Sam Bradford. Unless you feel the pull of an underlying curse, give me the one player on each side of the ball that the team can least afford to lose to injury.

Ted: On offense, Kirk Cousins. Trevor Siemian looks like a Buddhist Monk about to set himself on fire to protest quality QB play, and Kyle Sloter looked great against third team guys. If Cousins goes down, I don’t think either of them are Case Keenum II, Electric Boogaloo.

On defense, Harrison Smith. He’s simply the hinge that the defense rotates around. George Iloka is good, but Smith is as important to the defense as Cousins is to the offense.

Jonah: First of all, the Siemian hate has gone too far. Yes, he hasn’t looked great in the preseason. But the guy was a serviceable starting quarterback in the NFL, and really was more effective than pre-Vikings Keenum.

On offense, with all the injuries on the offensive line, I’ll go with Riley Reiff. There are already major questions along the offensive line, but losing your starting left tackle would be devastating. Shades of 2016.

On defense, I’m with Ted on Smith. He drives everything on that side of the ball, and he’s an All-Pro for a reason. His ability to fly all over the field is unparalleled, really throughout the league.

Dan: A Buddhist Monk about to set himself on fire to protest quality quarterback play? Where DO you come up with this stuff, Ted?

Ted: Really, you don’t want to know. Like seriously.

Dan: On offense, I think Cousins is the obvious choice. Outside of him, I’ll go way out on a limb and say that losing Diggs or Thielen hurts us most. Treadwell just isn’t a number two (yet), and not having Jarius Wright around, would mean that either Brandon Zylstra or Stacey Coley would suddenly be our number three receiver. I like both of them, but I’m not quite ready to say either of them are plug and play on a Championship caliber roster.

Chris: Yeah, Cousins is the obvious choice on offense, I think. I’m sort of afraid of what might happen if this team has to turn to Trevor Siemian for the long-term. Of course, I probably would have said the same thing about Case Keenum going into last season, so it’s important to note that I really don’t know anything about anything.

On defense, I’ve long maintained that Harrison Smith is the key to this defense, simply because his versatility and his talent allows the defense to have so much flexibility in what they do with the other 10 guys. The Vikings have some talent behind Smith at the safety spot, but Smith was in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation last year for a reason.

Sarita: Kirk Cousins for all the obvious reasons you can think of. And I agree with Ted and everyone else on Harrison Smith. He makes all the plays he should and the ones you don’t think he will. He is the one of the major keys to this defense.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pray to the football Gods and any other God that will listen that this DOESN’T HAPPEN.

Eric: I’m going to go with Jonah on offense—I’ll say Riley Reiff. The offensive line is already fragile, and losing its most reliable member could be catastrophic. Of course losing Cousins long-term will likely have similar results. On defense, I gotta go with Harrison Smith too. He’s the straw that stirs the drink in this dominating defense. Without the Hitman, the versatility and unpredictability of this defense takes a huge hit.

Lucas: Losing anyone on the offensive line I think will have an impact on how the offense performs. Even if it’s a depth guy filling in for a starter, it will cause a headache, regardless.

On Defense, I’ll go and say Xavier Rhodes. No knock on Alexander, or Hughes, but they’re not Rhodes. Rhodes could arguably be the best corner in the league. Losing Harry would definitely be a huge loss.

Finally, it wouldn’t be right not to make you all go out on a limb and predict the Vikings regular season record.

Ted: 12-4, NFC North Champions, first round bye.

Jonah: 13-3, NFC North Champions, home field advantage through the playoffs.

Dan: The pessimist in me says 10-6, Wild-Card. The pragmatist in me is with Ted. 12-4, NFCN Champions, and a bye. The optimist is almost ready to go as far as 14-2. I’ll settle for the pragmatic and 12-4.

Chris: I’ll track about the same as everyone else and say 12-4, which I think is going to be good enough to get them home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Sarita: Undefeated! LOL. Just wanted to make sure you were still reading. 12-4, NFC North Champions, home field advantage.

Eric: 11-5, NFC North champs by a narrow margin. The team is more talented than last year but the schedule, especially on the road, is brutal. The Vikings might be playing in the best division in football. Everything they get this season will be hard-earned.

Lucas: I got to back my bold prediction on the team going 13-3, so I’ll stick with that.