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If the shift in odds of the NFL future book is any indication, many prognosticators may be wearing their own version of a ‘Purple Heart’ during this upcoming season
The Minnesota Vikings, loser of four Super Bowls in their storied history, and two NFC Championship games in the last seven years, have seen their odds to win the 2006 Super Bowl plummet from 35-1 to 10-1 in the short span of 2 ½ months, a drop even steeper than that of Sammy Sosa’s muscle mass.
Against the Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship game, Gary Anderson, maker of 39 consecutive field goals during the campaign, and 46 straight dating back to the prior season, went wide left with a 38-yard chip shot, and the ‘Dirty Birds’ went on to victory, a win that left them easy prey for John Elway’s Broncos in the storied quarterback’s sendoff game. The Vikings and their alabaster faithful were denied a trip to South Beach and the chance to work on their suntans in the week leading up to Super Bowl XXXIII.
Two years later, the Vikings went into Giants Stadium on a crisp Sunday afternoon and were humiliated by Kerry Collins and company by way of an aerial attack that generated 300 yards passing in just the first half. The 41-0 drubbing by the underdog Giants was even worse than the final score would indicate if that is imaginable. By late in the third quarter, the only thing up for grabs was the over and under, which was later decided on a field goal that caromed off the goal post and how many strides into his pass pattern that Randy Moss would give up on his routes.
Nobody could argue that the Vikings are the NFC’s version of the ‘the heartbreak kid.’ Super Bowl losses to the Chiefs, Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders, within a span of 7 years, have put the Vikings in a class reserved only for their AFC counterparts, the Buffalo Bills, themselves loser of 4 consecutive Super Bowls.
The public support for the Vikings has been largely the result of former owner Red McComb’s aggressive activity in the free agent market. McCombs recently sold the team to New Jersey Real Estate magnate Zigi Wilf, who led a group of investors that included Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler, whose attempt at the purchasing the club fell apart earlier in the year.
For a team that has been historically defined by poor pass coverage, the Vikings now possess the best secondary in the league with the addition of former Redskin corner Fred Smoot, and Packer cornerstone, Darren Sharper, who will take over at strong safety. With cornerback Antoine Winfield having been signed out of Buffalo last year, opposing quarterbacks will face serious problems in their quest to move the ball through the air. Other acquisitions on the defensive side of the ball include linebacker Napoleon Harris, picked up in the Randy Moss trade, and defensive tackle Pat Williams, a talented big man signed away from the Bills. They will replace the departed tandem of LB Chris Claiborne and DT Chris Hovan, both of whom have shown a marked decline in productivity over the last three years.
The acquisition of LB Sam Cowart from the NY Jets for just a seventh-round draft pick may prove to be the biggest coo of them all. When Cowart sprained a knee last year, it opened up the door for LB Jonathan Vilma, who stepped up big time with 107 tackles, which resulted in Cowart’s expendability. In the prior two years, Cowart averaged 133 tackles for the Jets, and at 30 years of age, he still has a lot left in the tank.
The big question that looms is ‘what effect that the loss of Randy Moss will have on the team.’ ‘Addition by subtraction’ is the phrase that best comes to mind. Opposing defenses will breathe a collective sigh of relief, but the positive effect on team chemistry will more than offset the loss of the perennial underachiever and chronic clubhouse distraction. First round draft pick Troy Williamson will join the quartet of Nate Burleson, Travis Taylor, Kelly Campbell, and Marcus Robinson. This group will get the job done.
On a negative note, the loss of RB Onterio Smith, a third year player with a career average of hair less than 5 yards per carry, is a major blow to the offense. Smith’s loss will force Michael Bennett to step up, and will place added pressure on Ciatrick Faison, a forth round draft pick out of the University of Florida. Faison is a ‘slash and dash’ type back who led the SEC in rushing. What should help the running game, and the offense in general, is the drafting of second round pick and star Ole Miss offensive guard Marcus Johnson, and the reentry of All-Pro offensive lineman Mike Rosenthal, back into the lineup. Rosenthal, you may recall, broke his foot in a Monday night game last year against the Eagles, and was declared out for the season
Past future betting history has shown us that the public is seldom on cue when it comes to their long range prognostications. Last years’ darlings, the Seahawks, limped their way to a division crown with a 9-7 record, and were quickly dismissed in the first round of the playoffs by a Ram team that defeated them for the third time in one season, a rarity in the NFL. But this handicapper, down early at odds exceeding 30-1, believes that this years version of the ‘Purple People Eaters’ are for real.
The Vikings are fortunate to play in a division (NFC North) that consists of three other teams that possess the ability to be competitive, but which are still notches below them in overall talent. Both GB and Detroit will score points, especially with latter acquiring Jeff Garcia, but they both failed to address last years’ glaring weaknesses.
In the case of the Lions, a secondary that allowed 29 TD passes during the year and 234 yards per contest was not addressed, while Brett Favre and the Pack, in addition to losing two anchors on the offensive line, saw their already soft defense take a further hit with the loss of Sharper to these Vikings.
The Bears, offensively troubled, with unproven talent at QB and an OL that allowed 66 sacks last year, will have to revert to 1985 form on the defensive side of the ball to have any chance to overcome what will be an inability to consistently move the ball, in spite of the addition at running back (Cedric Benson) through the draft.
The Eagles should pose the only obstacle to the Vikings’ quest for participation in the landmark 40th Super Bowl to be held from Detroit at Ford Field. The Eagles could very well suffer a post Super Bowl hangover, which could be further exacerbated by Terrell Owens and his demand for more cash.
On a sour note, if the Vikings do make the Super Bowl, Coach Mike Tice may be out of the ticket scalping business due to an outpouring of requests from friend and family. Tice, you may recall, was busted for selling his allotment of seats last year at ‘slightly’ above face value. If this plays out the way I think it should, Tice may just get a taste of his own medicine. Super Bowl seats get mighty pricey in this capitalistic society, even in Detroit.
For Mike’s sake, I hope he took the 30-1.