Twin Cities versus Chicago, redux
Come this Sunday the 28th when the Vikings host the defending World Champion N.Y. Giants and the Chicago Bears travel south to play the Houston Texans, it will be almost three months to the dark day when the Chicago White Sox knocked the Twins out of the second-season with a 1-0, one-game Central Division playoff win in Chicago. This weekend should be markedly better (from our vantage), although equally strange.
The Vikings and Bears are both 9-6, although we hold the tiebreaker so, in brief, we win and we're in. Furthermore, we lose -- they lose -- and we're still in. That's the focus.
But on the periphery of such truths are a myriad of stats and sidebars that merit some further study. That's to say, from looking at the Bears' numbers: aside from their poor polarity in team passing categories (23rd in pass defense; 28th in pass offense), a tough run defense (91.3 yards per game), stud rookie back Matt Forte, and a very strong turnover differential margin (+5), Chicago is really damn average in almost every statistical category. They've got some fine talent, but as an overall unit the only thing remarkable about the Bears is their 9-6 mark channeled through marked mediocrity. Check 'em out -- they're in the middle of the proverbial pack in virtually all numerical categories.
On the opposite sideline we have this bunch (should ring familiar), a team that sports:
- the league's leading rusher who is also the league's leading fumbler
- two Pro-Bowl defensive linemen who are presently active via a district court judge's injunction; the larger of whom is currently listed as "Out" with his first injury in seven seasons
- a sound, ascending tight end who will sadly be remembered more for closely resembling a tripod, instead of being lauded for accruing career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns
- a pseudo-quarterback controversy between an Enigmatic and a Geriatric
- a coach with no playoff appearances and a career mark still below .500 (23-24)
Ladies and gents -- your Minnesota Vikings.
Of further bizarre presentation for the 2008 season is this Sunday at Metrodome. The Giants have already paved their way to homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. However, Week 17 of 2007 found the G-Men in a somewhat similar position in that they entered the final week of the season with their playoff position already cemented. Their opponent, you likely recall, was their ensuing Super Bowl opponent New England Patriots who they ultimately battled to a 35-38 loss in Week 17, giving the Pats their biggest scare in an historic 16-0 regular season. What the eventual champ Giants undoubtedly gathered and gleaned from that effort was the merit of rhythm. What they'll gather this Sunday -- in my opinion -- is that Jared Allen will bend and bounce quarterback Eli Manning enough times that he could depart the contest more closely resembling Archie Manning should he go the distance. Eli won't play in the latter half.
Instead, expect to see former #1 pick (2002) David Carr, a dude known more for his awesome hair than a celebrated arm. Carr has thrown one pass this season, hasn't started a game since Week 12 of '07, and sports more career fumbles (69) than touchdowns (63). Fear only his mousse.
What is worthy of greater concern, however, is the great talent that is backup running back Derrick Ward. Starter Brandon Jacobs doesn't look to be making the trip to the Bread Basket, so expect to see plenty of Ward and backfield-mate Ahmad Bradshaw. Ward is coming off a crazy 215-yard rushing effort against Carolina last week and surely will want to crest the 1,000-yard mark for the year. With Pat Williams down, expect Ward to gather the 52-yards needed to reach said milestone.
Beginning with the lesser of these two noon games, I'm taking the Bears (underdogs at +2 ½) over the Texans, 23-17. Houston (7-8) had won four straight prior to last week's egg versus lowly Oakland and they're a strong 5-2 at home. Still: the Bears are again playing for their lives and despite being a pedestrian 3-4 on the road, they've somehow managed to win four of their last five. They'll escape with the "W," but . . .
. . .We'll win as well. I'm taking the Vikings (favored by a hefty 6 ½ over one of football's best clubs) straight-up, 24-20. Consecutive 2007-'08 Week 17 throwdowns from the Giants just seems excessive. Historically, David Carr has appeared rusty even when he was fresh. I'm looking for a tight first half followed by a Purple pull-away come quarters three and four. The Giants will have it close enough to keep us watching, but come the final whistle . . . See you Week 18.