Thursday, September 27, 2012

National Friday League, Week Four

Vikings-Lions Preview

Last year the Vikings had their worst season in almost 30 years. The Lions made the playoffs for the first time since the '90s.  Remember those?

And twice, the Lions could barely beat the Vikes. But they did.

An offense like the Lions is effective against the Vikes. They're willing to abandon the run, and no matter how good a pass rush is, it is hard to keep getting to a QB that's throwing 50 times. They can throw deep, and the Viking safety play has been bad for several years, making the Vikes vulnerable to the long passes: even if you stop them over and over and over again, they can still come back quickly, and they can make up for a lot of futility in one or two big plays. In both of the Lions' victories last season, their offense only played one good half, and did nothing in the other half. But that was enough.

The last time we saw Christian Ponder at Ford Field, he was having the worst game of his career. I won't be totally sold on Ponder until he is consistently completing medium and deep throws. I'm not blaming him for not attempting that much so far this year (I think it is personnel), but that he's going to have to do it in his career, and can't always rely on Percy Harvin to gain yards after the catch on throws around the line of scrimmage. Jerome Simpson may help: I want to see at least two deep attempts to Simpson per game, starting Sunday.

I've got no feel for this game whatsoever. I guess if I'm honest I never have a feel for any game whatsoever. Frankly I don't know why I continue to try write game previews.

On Fairness and Fandom
How much pleasure can a Packer hater take in their loss* at Seattle? How might we respond to our justifiably angry Packer fan friends?

I care about competitive fairness, think the scab ref debacle should have ended before it began, find the NFL deplorable here, and view Monday night as a travesty (if there's a sobering thought, it's that a lot of bad calls went against each team). But I do view sports fandom differently: for me it is an existential long-game. Every day I am reminded that my favorite football team has never won a Super Bowl (I've never even seen them make it TO the Super Bowl): it colors everything about sports fandom for me. So it is harder for me to sympathize much with fans who saw their favorite team win a Super Bowl less than two years ago, even after that horror show that happened Monday. If we can endure the jokes and ridicule about the Vikings never winning a Super Bowl, I suppose we can have a moment for our little jokes now.

It is critical that a sporting competition be fair. Outcomes shouldn't be random, and the extent to which they are determined by random factors should be minimized/shared equally between teams. But there's nothing about being a fan that is fair! You don't have any control over whether your team is good or bad, whether it wins or loses. And you probably didn't choose your team: though not true for everybody, many people attach to a team through family and geography. And when you're a kid, the time you're probably getting attached to a team, you don't get to choose your family or region. It is not fair that the Packers lost the way they did. But what's fair about, say, being born in Cleveland and never seeing any of your city's professional teams win a championship (they haven't since 1964)? For fans, sports is a bunch of shit that happens that you can't do anything about but care about to greater or lesser degrees.

All of this is not to say that Packer fans should be outraged and angry about this week's events. But it is to say that the sports-agonies inflicted on fan bases don't have any fairness of distribution to them.  Packer fans got anger/disappointment/frustration/punch-to-the-gut  different in form from other kinds of anger/disappointment/frustration/punch-to-the-gut fans can experience, but there are a lot of forms of anger/disappointment/frustration/punch-to-the-gut for fans, and I'm not really convinced this was fundamentally different in degree.

Following the Logic
Just about every announcer and commentator about the scab ref situation rightly blamed the NFL rather than the individual officials, noting the officials were in over their heads and are simply doing the best they can. I think this is right. But did it go too far?

Nobody forced the scab refs to take those jobs. There was, after all, a labor dispute (a lockout, mostly about money but ironically also about how the league manages officiating quality), and those officials were working in place of locked out union employees. Does all criticism deserve to be deflected to the league, not the officials?

If your tendency is not to blame the scab refs at all, I hope you keep that tendency in other areas of your life. If you encounter employees in the service industry, they may be young, fairly new, or poorly trained at a job that doesn't provide much in the way of pay and benefits. The quality of these low-paid workers is partly the result of management decisions: they are willing to hire employees who may not be very motivated or prepared to be good at their job, but are at least willing to work cheap. This may create a situation of high turnover. When these employees make mistakes, I assume you won't yell at them. I assume you'll say to yourself, "Well, this employee is in over his/her head. Sure, nobody is making him/her take the job, but these mistakes should be blamed on poor hiring practices, poor training, poor oversight, poor compensation. I blame this on corporate's and management's bad decisions, not this employee displaying incompetence. He/she is probably doing his/her best at what is a difficult and unpleasant job."

If you don't treat those you encounter that way (that is, with a shred of empathy), why did you give the scab refs a pass?

My favorite play of last week's game

My favorite play of last week's game was Chad Greenway's sack on Alex Smith. When you watch the replay in slow motion (knowing the outcome), you can see that Smith wasn't looking Greenway's direction. But when watching it live at game speed, it looks like after Smith rolls to the sideline Chad Greenway is running straight at Smith's face, he's covering a lot of yards, a lot of time is going by, and Smith is just standing there holding the ball not throwing it away (which you completely expect him to do, because watching it live it seems like he has plenty of time to do it and should clearly see Greenway directly in front of him) and then he gets solidly drilled in the open field. It was fun (it's also fun being a football fan in 2012 and being able to easily find and watch these replays online.

I've complained for a while that Greenway is more solid linebacker than playmaking linebacker, but he's been making a lot of plays this season.

It seems to me there are three possible ways we'll be viewing the Vikings' victory over the 49ers in a few weeks. It may be that the Vikings are actually good. It may be that the 49ers are actually bad. And it may be that the Vikings are bad, the 49ers are good, and this was just an upset, an "any given Sunday" one-time event that bodes nothing about anything other than that one-time event.

Ted and Me (my continuing adventures in psychologically fusing together How I Met Your Mother with my desire to see the Vikings win a championship)
For a brief, fleeting moment, my jaw dropped: as the camera panned up, and I really thought we were going to see the mother. Alas, the umbrella. But Ted and Ted's Kids' Mom are now in the same place, about to meet. This is really happening! It's a small (tiny, actually) fraction of the feeling I had when the Vikings were driving against the Saints in that game, but of the same kind. My sports-nervous-breakdown is over (I can tell because I've got a little vinegar when watching the Packers again), but I think I might still be a mess.

The Seahawks have a legitimately good defense, and I can't help but think if they'd done a reasonable thing like start veteran Matt Flynn, they'd be 3-0 right now without much controversy about it.

Other Interesting Games
Week Four Schedule

49ers-Jets. Because don't you want to know if the Vikings revealed holes in San Fran, or if San Fran bounces back?

Patriots-Bills. A bunch of freaky stuff can happen.

Saints-Packers. Does it seem like whoever loses this game could see their season start to derail?

Giants-Eagles. No outcome should be surprising.  13-10, 37-36, whatever.

Bears-Cowboys. A combined 10+ sacks are possible here: these offensive lines aren't terribly good at protecting their QBs right now, and these defenses are good. That means a very boring game or a very exciting game.

Broncos-Raiders. Another Bronco game aired in the Twin Cities. New residents may think the Broncos are the local team. We might see more Bronco games than Packer games this year.

Fantasy Box
Quarterback is becoming a difficult position to manage in 2012: so many players drafted or picked up as backups are performing well, while some players drafted to start have disappointed. If you paid big/drafted high for stud QBs, you probably have to (and should) ride out a cool start. But if you picked a QB outside the top five, there are some real questions. Who will have more fantasy points the rest of the way, Tony Romo or Andy Dalton?  Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger? Philip Rivers or Ryan Fitzpatrick? How quickly do you make the switch? Can you really win a title switching QBs for matchups? Is Joe Flacco startable?

Kick Ass Links
Looking back before looking forward: close looks at Vikings-49ers. At Grantland, Bill Barnwell examines the ways a team can beat the 49ers based on what the Vikings did. At Football Outsiders, Rivers McCown pays closest attention to how the Vikes use Percy Harvin so creatively to get him in space.
How the NFL is like a dictatorship (The New Yorker).

On who built the league and who can destroy it (The New Yorker).

Photo galleries at are really enjoyable (especially after a win).

The thing to do is go jogging every Sunday morning. That way when you spend the rest of the day watching football, you can tell yourself at the end of the day that at least you went for a run.

Once Upon a Time returns this weekend as well; season one was superb, just superb, and ended foreboding radical changes, so it is hard to know if the show can stay at such a high level. Robert Carlyle's Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin is one of my favorite characters and performances on TV. My DVR works at close to full capacity all autumn.

Have a good weekend, everybody. Except Lion and Packer fans.


  1. "How the NFL is like a dictatorship (The New Yorker)." Link NFG.

    1. Anon 5:31:

      It's fixed now. Thanks for letting us know.

    2. PV:

      You've inspired me to be less snotty to people who make my burgers (sorry, I'm a meat eater) at McDonalds.

      Re: Packers-Seahawks: When the decision came down on Monday night regarding the catch-that-wasn't, I was going to tweet something along the lines of, 'Feel bad for the Packers, they just got screwed.' Then I thought, 'Wait a sec, these are the Packers.' I just drank in all the Packer outrage after that. That's what beauty looks like.

      Re: Lions game: I hope the Vikings don't try to force working Simpson into the mix in this game. Finding ways to get the ball into Harvin's hands, throwing regularly to Rudolph (even if he isn't obviously open) and handing the rock to Peterson for positive gains is what is working for this offense right now. Veering away from that too much might be a mistake.

      I'm not sure what we do about Megatron. Break his leg? Unstoppable, he is.

    3. I'd still argue they need to incorporate the deep pass, because despite the 49er win, what they've been doing hasn't been working THAT great. They barely moved the ball in the first half against the Jags, and had 6 points into the fourth quarter against the Colts. Harvin has been getting a lot of yards after the catch, but there will be games where teams contain that (it could be this week), and the Vikes will need to do something else to move the ball.

    4. I was thinking more where the Vikings try to throw it to Simpson nine or 10 times in the game to try to take advantage of this new "weapon" when they should be trying to get the ball to Harvin almost any chance they get. By all means, get Simpson to stretch the field, so he can give Harvin and Rudolph more real estate to work with. Just don't get crazy trying throwing balls his way to get Simpson into the flow.

  2. Replies
    1. Why not? The Vikings played the Lions tough last year when the Lions were playing better ball and the Vikings were in a terrible place. I see this game going two ways. Lions blow out the Vikes, or the Vikings win a close one.

  3. I'm glad Chad Greenway had such a great game in front of his dad. I said he was overrated last year too, but could Pellisero be right? He bashed Singletary's coaching every chance he got, and it is hard to argue with him after seeing Greenway's improvement this year under Pagac.

    I would never raise hell about my food after working as a cook, waiter and bartender in high school and college. I know how it is to have a bad night. To all of you who have never worked in a restaurant, remember one thing. If you're an asshole to someone who is handling your food, you deserve whatever you get. PV: Your logic is describing Burger King or Applebees employees though, not waiters at a five star steak house. I expect idiots when I buy a $3 burger. The NFL made us pay for a $50 steak ($199 NFL Ticket) and gave us fast food service. 100% on the owners. C'mon, if given the chance who wouldn't try to step up and work an NFL game. I'd say screw the union refs too. Thank God they're back though.

    I am nervous as hell for this game. Last week was easy, I had accepted that the season was over. Now there is a chance for some excitement this year. Much like your NY/Philly review, I don't think there is anything that could happen in Detroit that would surprise me. Let's just enjoy that we matter, for one more week at least.

    1. ETR:

      True story: I once worked the night-to-close shift at Subway, and sometimes I would come in around 6 or 7 and be told by the previous shift workers that they were OUT OF BREAD. It was a Subway, and somehow they never got around to MAKING MORE BREAD. So I would have to stand there and tell customers who walked through the door "ugh, I'm sorry, we're out of bread" and look at the combination of anger and perplexity on their faces. Good times.

  4. ETR:

    Greenway has been playing much better, and perhaps Pagac being back as linebackers coach has made a difference. he's supposed to be one of the best and Singletary was useless in that role according to Pelissero (and I had read other reports previously that he was useless as a coordinator and head coach, 'Not an X and Os guy' is what one scout said).

    Last year Pettigrew murdered the Vikings in the first game – 11 catches, LBs couldn't cover him at all. Megatron is Megatron. The Vikings secondary can't stop him – neither can any other secondary. He'll make plays, the Vikings just have to ensure the other guys don't. I picked Detroit in my football pool just to be safe, but I have another good feeling in this one.