Archive for Jacob Wandersee

Vikings Season Preview

There were times where it didn’t seem likely that we would even have an NFL season this year. Amid bubble concerns, testing questions and travel parties, football has persevered and began last night with the Kansas City Chiefs dominating the Houston Texans 38-14 behind three rushing touchdowns for rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Well, I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon, so that is simply an optimistic projection in hopes that I have a good week in fantasy football, but I digress.

The Minnesota Vikings have shaken up things considerably since we last saw the purple and yellow in action. Let’s take a look at the offense, defense and schedule to see where things stand ahead of week one of the NFL season.

Defense

Key Additions: DE Yannick Ngakoue, CB Jeff Gladney (31st pick), CB Cameron Dantzler (89th pick)

Key Losses: DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, DT Michael Pierce (opt-out), LB Ben Gedeon, CB Xavier Rhodes,  CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander

This is far and away the most turnover in the defensive unit since Mike Zimmer has taken over. Defensive staples Griffen, Joseph, Rhodes and Waynes are all out, leaving room for rookies and young veterans to take over some serious playing time. The Vikings don’t roster a corner over the age of 23, although safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris should be around to clean up messes, of which there will be plenty. In a shocking move, Minnesota was able to trade a 2nd round pick along with a conditional 5th for Pro Bowler Ngakoue, who has 37.5 career sacks, 14 forced fumbles and is actually younger than star defensive end Danielle Hunter.

Offense

Key Additions: WR Justin Jefferson (22nd pick), T Ezra Cleveland (58th pick) WR Tajae Sharpe (sort-of)

Key Losses: WR Stefon Diggs, C Brett Jones, G Josh Kline, WR Laquon Treadwell (just kidding).

There is really only one major change to report on the offensive side of the ball. The Vikings essentially were able to ship off headcase and perennial complainer Stefon Diggs for Justin Jefferson (22nd pick), a 2020 5th and 6th and a 2021 4th. While it will take some time to get Jefferson up to speed, the offense should perform similarly to last season. The biggest question mark is the offensive line. Thankfully veteran tackle Riley Reiff took a pay cut to stay with the team. Aside from Reiff, the Vikings trot out lineman with less than four years of experience. Hopefully, they can’t be any worse than they were last season.

Let’s take a quick peek at the schedule, classify each game as Favorable, 50/50 or Formidable and examine one key aspect of each game.

Schedule

Week 1: vs Green Bay Packers. The Pack are the definition of a 50/50 game and no crowd at US Bank Stadium is going to be weird.

Week 2: at Indianapolis Colts. Easy choice for a Favorable for me. Phillip Rivers is over the hill.

Week 3: vs Tennessee Titans. The Titans made the AFC Championship game in shocking fashion and returned most of their team, making this a 50/50 game. Without Linval Joseph or Michael Pierce, will Derrick Henry run roughshod through the Vikings interior?

Week 4: at Houston Texans. I have to go with Favorable, despite it being an away game. I know Deshaun Watson is a great QB, but I just don’t see this offense being very good with the departure of DeAndre Hopkins and addition of David Johnson.

Week 5: at Seattle Seahawks. For what feels like the 18th year in a row, the Vikings travel west for a primetime game (Sunday Night) against the Seahawks. This is a clear cut Formidable game as Mr. Unlimited himself will likely take over and thwart Minnesota’s chances.

Week 6: vs Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have improved, but this is a Favorable game. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley will test the unproven corners early and often, making it an upset candidate.

Week 8: at Green Bay Packers. Any game at Lambeau teeters on the side of Formidable, but I have to stick with 50/50. I don’t love the Packers defense and the offense isn’t anything to cower in fear against.

Week 9: vs Detroit Lions. Although it is no doubt a Favorable game, the Lions could be pesky as they have improved across the board. The homecoming for Adrian Peterson will be emotional.

Week 10: at Chicago Bears. Just as dependable as a primetime game in Seattle is a primetime game in Chicago. The Bears are only one season removed from a 12 win campaign, but at this point it might be QB Nick Foles instead of Mitch Trubisky. 50/50 it is.

Week 11: vs Dallas Cowboys. There is hope that by November, US Bank Stadium will be able to hold fans. If so, I’d imagine longtime Viking Everson Griffen will get quite the standing ovation. The Cowboys stack up as one of the favorites in the NFC, making this a challenging yet winnable 50/50 game.

Week 12: vs Carolina Panthers. Christian McCaffrey is a freak and Teddy “Two-Gloves” Bridgewater returns to Minnesota as a starter… However, the Panthers defense is awful and the offense really only has one weapon, albeit a great one. Favorable.

Week 13: vs Jacksonville Jaguars. QB Gardner Minshew has all the swag in the world, but the team is tanking for Trevor Lawrence. Favorable.

Week 14: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady and the retooled Bucs are certainly Formidable. Add in starting safety former Gopher Antoine Winfield Jr. and hopefully soon to be relevant Gopher receiver Tyler Johnson and this will be a fun one to watch.

Week 15: vs Chicago Bears. At this point, the Bears likely have gone from Trubisky to Foles back to Trubisky and back to Foles. Favorable.

Week 16: at New Orleans Saints. A Christmas Day bash on a Friday afternoon at the Superdome is definitely Formidable. The Saints want revenge from last year… and the year before.

Week 17: at Detroit Lions. The Lions are likely to be around .500, but the Vikings should be better. Sorry Stafford. Favorable.

By my count, I tallied eight Favorable matchups, five 50/50 games, and three Formidable games. The Vikes are atop the NFC North with nine projected wins and are tied for 8th in Super Bowl odds at 25/1. Based on the schedule, I’d be comfortable with a 10 win projection, a NFC North division title and a chance to make a playoff run.

 

Minnesota Lands the 1st Overall Pick

For the second time in franchise history, the Timberwolves have claimed the first overall pick via the NBA Draft Lottery. Minnesotans were bracing themselves for the worst case scenario and were ready to claim that the lottery was rigged once the Warriors claimed that first pick, but were shocked when the Golden Gate Bridge popped up on the screen as 2nd overall.

While I do fully believe in the frozen envelope theory from the 1985 draft (NBA was hemorrhaging money, Patrick Ewing was a no-brainer first overall pick who was one of the most dominant college players at Georgetown, and the Knicks, the biggest market, needed the local star to hopefully jolt the NBA), those days are long gone with the NBA’s health in tact and Adam Silver at the helm.

For those complaining that the Wolves never move up in the draft, you do have to realize how the NBA lottery works. The Wolves only had a 14% chance for the first overall pick, equal to that of the 1st and 3rd teams. With the way that the top pick is determined, the Wolves had a 52.1% chance of staying in the top four, meaning it was almost a coin-flip’s chance to fall out of the top four, let alone wasn’t reasonable to expect to get the first overall pick.

But now that they have it, what are they going to do with it? While the draft has no obvious first overall picks like when Minnesota drafted Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015, there are certainly some talented prospects in the pool. More popularly, fans seem to want Gersson Rosas to continue his aggressive nature and trade the pick for a veteran difference maker.

What trades are realistic? One of the most popular ideas being thrown around is to trade for the Suns superstar Devin Booker. This was mostly based on two things. First, it has long been public that Towns, Wolves point guard D’Angelo Russell and Booker want to play together at some point. With the Wolves having two of the three, it seems like a good fit. Second, the Suns have been awful in Booker’s time in Phoenix. That is until the recent bubble games, where Booker played outstanding and led the Suns to an 8-0 record.

Simply put, Devin Booker is too good and the Suns have no incentive to trade him. The only way it might happen is if he explicitly says “I’m not playing another game here. Trade me to Minnesota.” And even then, it might not happen.

Another option being thrown out there has been Ben Simmons, due to the 76’ers lack of success with Joel Embiid and Simmons together. Most basketball minds are convinced that those two superstars simply cannot win a championship together and that Philadelphia is going to have to pick one.

However, again, the likelihood that the Wolves can put together a package that meets the 76’ers win-now mindset without a third team being involved is minimal. Even if there is a third team, there will be many moving parts making it an incredibly complex and unlikely scenario.

There aren’t currently many other B-list stars that seem to be available, making trading the first overall pick for a high impact player difficult to do. That leaves the Wolves with the option of drafting someone.

There are pretty much three players that appear to be at the top of this draft class, with a lot of disagreement about which one has the brightest future. The three are Anthony Edwards, a shooting guard from Georgia, LaMelo Ball, a controversial point guard, and James Wiseman, the center who played two games at Memphis. I personally will throw out Ball as an option. I don’t want to deal with that headache.

That leaves Minnesota with two options and I’m not sure which fit is better. If the Wolves want to play like the Rockets and hoist 3-pointers and go cruise control on defense, Edwards is the guy. Edwards is an explosive perimeter player who likes to have the ball in his hands and take plenty of shots. Put him with Russell and Towns and the game will look like a track meet.

Inversely, the Wolves could go a different direction with the 7’1” center. Towns historically has struggled as a rim protector and Wiseman could be a great athletic option to pair alongside KAT to help stabilize the defense. Wiseman has a great post game and is a decent shooter from outside and due to his athleticism, should be able to play in a switching defensive scheme. However, scouts question his ability to give consistent effort, which usually isn’t a great sign.

Regardless, it is going to be interesting to see what Gersson Rosas has planned for the future of this franchise. This draft will have a large hand in determining the future success of the Russell and Towns core. On the bright side, I don’t think it can go as poorly as the last time the Golden State Warriors picked after the Timberwolves…

5 Most Intriguing NBA Playoff Storylines

The NBA restart at the bubble in Orlando, Florida has been very competitive. While a few minor players chose to opt out of the rest of the season, most of the players elected to play and the play has been surprisingly intense and the quality has been good.

The atmosphere is also surprisingly good in my opinion. The video screens around the arena are a fun touch to get some fans on TV. The pumped in crowd noise doesn’t feel fake to me either – if you aren’t paying close attention, you almost assume that there are fans at the games.

The playoffs started on Monday and have been stellar thus far. Both 8 seeds won game one of their series and an overtime game where Donovan Mitchell put up 57 points in the loss was phenomenal to watch. Let’s take a look at the top five storylines for the playoffs this season.

5. How will the Rockets small-ball strategy over the course of the playoffs?

James Harden (and the Rockets) have not had an abundance of playoff success. This is not entirely Harden’s fault, though, as they ran into the Warriors dynasty a few times. In 2018, the Rockets were up 3-2 on the Warriors when Chris Paul got injured and the Warriors won game six and seven.

This year, the Rockets fully committed to the small-ball strategy, trading their center Clint Capela for Robert Covington, a 3-and-D small forward who is starting as their “center”. Their starting lineup consists of two small forwards under 6’7, two shooting guards and Harden. More guards and small forwards fill out their bench. The Rockets rely on an onslaught of 3-pointers to score which is great when shots are going in but can be a disaster when shots aren’t falling. Harden is no doubt an amazing offensive player, but I’m very skeptical that this team can get past the Clippers in round two, which puts the Rockets’ future plans in limbo.

4. Will Kawhi Leonard be the first player to win three Finals MVPS with three different teams and titles with different teams in back to back seasons?

The Clippers are essentially tied with the Lakers and Bucks as the odds on favorites to win the title. Leonard, simply put, is a different animal when it comes to the playoffs, as he is the primary offensive threat and defensive stopper. I am intrigued to see if he can put the Clippers officially on the map and become the first player in NBA history to win three Finals MVPS with three different teams and win titles back to back seasons with different teams. They’re my pick to make it out of the Western Conference.

3. Can Damian Lillard carry the Blazers to a tremendous upset?

As the bubble was being discussed, Lillard made a point that it wouldn’t be genuine unless the Blazers were invited. Portland indeed was invited, went 6-2 in the bubble, won the play-in game and Dame scored 51, 61, 42, and 31 in the last four games, winning those games by a combined 11 points to claim the 8-seed. Lillard followed that up with 34 points in a game one upset of the LA Lakers on Tuesday. Simply put, his run has been spectacular. Charles Barkely predicted a 4-0 sweep by the Blazers, to which Lillard says “One down, three to go.” Lillard has become my favorite player in the NBA and I can’t stop watching.

2. Can the Bucks and Giannis finally break-through to make the NBA finals?

The Bucks have been the best team in the NBA the past two seasons. After losing to the Toronto Raptors 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the Bucks responded by dominating the regular season and claimed the number one seed again. However, the Bucks limped to a 3-5 bubble record and in a tremendous surprise, got upset by the 33-40 Magic 122-110 in game one. Similar to the Rockets, the Bucks rely almost entirely on star Giannis Antetokounmpo to create everything on offense. When defenses collapse down, he kicks it out to one of the four shooters spaced out on the floor. However, the Magic are putting five guys around the paint and daring Giannis to give it up and it has worked so far. I’m very intrigued to see how Giannis and the Bucks respond going forward because the offense that they ran in game one is not going to win them a title, not to mention the defense giving up 122 points to the awful Magic.

1. Can LeBron win his 4th NBA title? 

As tiring as the LeBron NBA title narrative can be, it is inevitably the most intriguing aspect once again. After missing the playoffs last year, LeBron got his buddy Anthony Davis to join him and again has built the roster he wants to take to battle in the playoffs. However, losing Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley has proven to be challenging and despite a 23 point, 17 rebound and 16 assist night from the King, they lost by seven to the Blazers.

LeBron already doesn’t seem to trust his teammates and guys like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and Alex Caruso are easily outmatched by the Blazers backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. In order to even sneak out of the first series, I think we are going to need to see some vintage LeBron performances which I am all here for. However, as a Michael Jordan truther and Lillard enthusiast, I can’t wait to watch the meltdown and blame-game fallout from a Blazers first round upset.

Anything Can Happen in Shortened MLB Season

Opening day for the MLB is quickly approaching as teams convene for their version of “spring training” amid the pandemic. On July 23rd, teams across the country will begin their play of a shortened 60 game regular season and expanded playoffs. But what exactly will the season look like?

First, spring training will be operating mostly as normal, with 60 players invited to camp. There is no minor league season this year, so the 60 players are mostly anyone who has a chance to play this season. The Twins will have two sites, Target Field for the top 30-40 players and CHS Field for the bottom 20 or so minor leaguers.

Testing will be done every other day all season long in order to catch any potential COVID cases. Anyone who tests positive or is showing symptoms will have to sit out until they are clear. Four Twins have already tested positive.

This could be quite the roadblock to a successful season. For example, if three of your best starting pitchers all get sick in the same week and have to sit out, things become a lot more complicated when it comes to the rotation. This year, more than any other year before, depth will be essential to a successful season.

With the shortened season, there are also some different rules in place regarding the game itself. First, all National League games will be using the designated hitter. Finally, awkward pitchers who bat twice a year can sit out of batting practice and save themselves from the embarrassment.

Also, in extra innings, each half-inning will begin with a runner already on second base. Due to cramming more games into less days, this will likely prevent any marathon 15 inning games from occurring.

There will also be a special COVID-19 injured list, allowing teams more roster flexibility in the case of an outbreak among the team.

Lastly, the 60 game schedule will involve 40 games against divisional opponents and 20 games against the same division in the opposite league. That’s great news for the Twins as the bulk of their games will be against their division rivals (who are generally on the weak side right now) of the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals. In the NL Central, they will face off with the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. This will limit the travel for teams, making the hectic season a little more bearable.

Coming off a franchise record 101 wins, how do the Minnesota Twins stack up this season? Currently, the over/under on the season win total is 34.5, which is good for 4th in the league behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Houston Astros.

In the new 16 team playoff format, where the three division winners are the top three seeds and there are five wildcard teams, the Twins would be in a great position to at least win a series. In the first round, the series will be a three game series, with all three games at the home stadium of the higher seed. The good news is that this would make it much less likely that the Twins would have to get swept by the Yankees in the first round again.

In a weird, hectic, and shortened season where players will be in and out of lineups based on injuries, fatigue and COVID, this might be the trickiest and flukiest World Series that a team could ever win. Nothing about it is going to be predictable as there are way too many unknowns to even consider.

The beauty is that instead of the slow burn of 160 games, the season is going to fly by. Each game will have a major impact on the standings and the playoff picture. Even the playoffs, with shortened three game series, will be wild and unpredictable… So who is to say that this can’t be the Twins year?

 

Most Meaningful Athlete Champ and Sport Shorts

After months and months of research, voting, and bracketeering, the champion has been crowned for Minnesota’s Most Meaningful Athlete. I’m sure you are at the edge of your seats… just like I am. Well, not really because I know the results. But I digress.

The winner, with 60% of the vote, was the one and only Kirby Puckett. While Kevin Garnett was a meaningful athlete, he never had much playoff success. He is the best this franchise has ever seen and probably ever will see, but that was never enough to get the T-Wolves over the hump. Regardless of whether that was his fault or management’s fault, that is the unfortunate truth.

Puckett was a beloved athlete, known for his bubbly personality and his clutch ability. As I’ve stated before, everyone remembers where they were when Kirby Puckett hit that game 6 walk-off home run in the 11th inning. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, especially when it comes to sports and championships (just ask anyone who is a Packer fan). The first overall seed going into the tournament proudly took home the title for Most Meaningful Athlete and it was an honor he deserved.

In other news, sports are finally returning. Most professional sports leagues are eying mid-July as a date when seasons can either start or resume play. Let’s take a quick peek around the professional leagues to see how it impacts our local teams.

First, the NHL is going to resume by jumping straight into the playoffs with 24 teams involved at two neutral sites for all of the games. The top four seeds in each conference will play a round robin tournament to determine the seeding. In the play-in round, the 5-12 teams in each conference will play a five game series to determine who will make the first round of the playoffs.

In this format, the Minnesota Wild will sneak into the playoffs as the 10th overall seed in the West and will face off with the 7th seeded Vancouver Canucks. During the regular season, the Wild were 2-1 against the Canucks and actually have a decent chance of winning this series. Regardless, in a season where it seemed the Wild would take a major step back, they will still sneak into the playoffs and playoff hockey is always entertaining.

The NBA is also going to resume in mid-July with a similar format. However, this plan has a few differences from the NHL. First, not everyone in the league is onboard. This is both due to the COVID-19 situation as well as the equality movement that has stemmed from the murder of George Floyd. Some major players have expressed that they are uninterested in playing more games this year.

When it comes to specifically the basketball portion of the plan, 22 teams have been invited to Orlando to play eight regular season games to determine the playoff seeding. After that, a regular playoffs with seven game series will commence with 16 teams.

The saddest part about this is the fact that in the Western Conference, 13 of the 15 teams are invited to Orlando. The two that aren’t are: The Golden State Warriors, who without Klay Thompson or Steph Curry purposefully tanked to let their stars rest and heal and to hopefully add young talent to the squad, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were trying their hardest to be competitive. Yet another tough year of being a Wolves fan…

Lastly, the MLB may or may not have a season. Owners and the players association are fighting and bickering back and forth concerning the number of games and how much players should be paid. They cannot agree on anything. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred went from saying “unequivocally, we are going to play Major League Baseball this year” to “I’m not confident” there will be a season.

It is very Minnesotan that a roster coming off the most wins in franchise history might not get to follow it up with an opportunity to win the division and make a run for a World Series. I guess all we can hope for is that the Wild get just enough puck luck to get us to the NFL season.

 

Most Meaningful Athletes in Minnesota Bracket: Championship

The sports abyss is finally coming to a close. It looks like sports will finally be returning in mid-to-late July and we can finally start watching, writing and talking about real sports again. Thankfully, this most meaningful athlete of Minnesota bracket was there to get us through the abyss and it is wrapping up this week with the championship matchup.

As a reminder, the goal is determine who the most meaningful athlete to play in Minnesota is based on many factors: seasons spent in Minnesota, Championships and playoff appearances while in Minnesota, All-Star appearances and other awards won while in Minnesota, franchise stats and memorable moments that stand out as well as overall popularity.

Here are the official results from this past week. Although Randy Moss was a popular athlete, it paled in comparison to Kirby Puckett, as Kirby garnered 62% of the vote to propel him to the finals. On the flip side, Lindsay Whalen was able to edge Adrian Peterson with 58% of the vote, but fell to the number two overall seed Kevin Garnett in a 72% to 28% vote.

Here is the championship match between the two most meaningful athletes of all time.

Final Matchup: 1) Kirby Puckett vs 1) Kevin Garnett

The number one overall seed squares off with the number two overall seed in a battle of longevity, success and popularity.

Kirby Puckett: Kirby Puckett was my number one overall seed for many reasons. First and foremost, he is perhaps the most famous athlete to play in Minnesota that was a critical aspect in two multiple championships. Minnesotans haven’t exactly experienced much winning in our sports history. The Vikings have four Super Bowl losses and a plethora of NFC Championship losses, the Timberwolves only made the Western Conference Finals once and the Wild have never really come close. The Lynx of course have had success but the WNBA has yet to rise to the level of interest that these other sports garner.

Puckett was essential to the 1987 and 1991 World Series championships. In ‘87, Kirby batted .357, leading the Twins in hits and runs scored. In 93, Puckett belted a walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 6 to propel Minnesota to a Game 7, which they would go on to win 1-0 thanks to Jack Morris. Anyone who is old enough to remember things from 1991 remembers that home run in the Metrodome.

When you consider Puckett’s 12 seasons with the Twins, he has the stats, the popularity and success to make the case to be the most meaningful athlete. He was a 10 time All-star, won six Gold Gloves, won the 1989 batting title, the 1991 ALCS MVP and the 1993 All-Star MVP award to top it off. Throw in his strong, lovable personality and you have one heck of a meaningful Minnesota Twin.

Kevin Garnett: The Timberwolves franchise has been mostly abysmal since 2005. In fact, before Jimmy Butler came to town and led the Wolves to the 8 seed, Minnesota had never even made the playoffs without Kevin Garnett. There is some belief that the franchise might not exist in Minnesota today if it wasn’t for the high school superstar that fell into the laps of the Timberwolves.

If you look at the franchise record books, virtually every major statistical category is led by Kevin Garnett. Although the franchise is young, it doesn’t exist elsewhere in the NBA where a single player is the leader in games, minutes, field goals, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and points. That both speaks to how amazing KG was and how awful the franchise has been without him.

The Timberwolves made the playoffs eight straight years with Garnett at the helm, losing in the first round each year until the 2003/04 season. In this season, with the addition of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, KG was an animal, averaging 24 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 stocks (steals and blocks), winning the league MVP award and capturing the number one seed in the West.

In an era with other historic power forwards like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Karl Malone, The Big Ticket was still a 10 time All-Star and made eight All-NBA teams. The highlight of the franchise’s history is game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Sacramento Kings. KG played all five positions, including point guard, and led the T-Wolves with 45 minutes played, and shot 52% from the field with 32 points, 21 boards, 5 blocks and 4 steals, an incredible game on all accounts.

Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal proved to be too much in the Western Conference Finals. Garnett sadly had to go elsewhere to win a title as Minnesota proved too inept to put the right pieces around him. This was something that KG was reluctant to do and he had to be convinced to allow himself to be traded. How many superstars in any sport have ever wanted to stay in Minnesota? Nobody played with more passion and heart than KG and Minnesota fans have loved him from the beginning. Even as he has had a feud with owner Glen Taylor, a feud where both sides have fault, fans only care about Garnett and bringing him back.

Garnett might not have had the same playoff success that Kirby Puckett did, but he did keep a franchise in existence simply due to his talent, effort and popularity. Can Kirby say that?