Archive for Jacob Wandersee

Vikings Play Perfect Week 1

You can’t ask for much more in a football game than the effort the Vikings put forth this past Sunday. Things started going in the right direction from the very beginning. Linebacker Anthony Barr sacked the Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan on the first play of the game. Shortly thereafter, the Vikings blocked Atlanta’s punt attempt.

Two plays later, Minnesota was already up 7-0 after a 23 yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen. The Vikings would never look back.

Minnesota would use a combination of an effective running game and a stifling defense to seize control. Up 28-0 going into the 4th quarter, there was no threat of a comeback brewing with the Falcons.

With a statline that will make you think this game was played in the 1950’s (and that might be an insult to the 1950’s), Cousins finished going 8-10 with 98 yards and two touchdowns, one rushing and one passing. Dalvin Cook looked incredibly impressive going for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Even the rookie runner didn’t miss a beat as Alexander Mattison ran for 49 yards on only nine carries.

The Vikings defense was also phenomenal, intercepting Matt Ryan twice and forcing one fumble, all accumulated by safety Anthony Harris. The front four looked like they had returned to their former greatness as Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph all tallied a sack in the game.

However, despite an impressive all-around performance, (and yes, even the kicker and punter had good games), the Vikings are still flying under the radar nationally. Most NFL insiders are still worried about the quarterback position.

While it is true that I don’t think we will see another game where Cousins only throws 10 times, I do think we saw the formula of how Minnesota is going to be successful. The three most important factors for this team are as follows.

First, they need to play great defense. Mike Zimmer has always had a top ten defense in his time in Minnesota and if the Vikings are going to make the playoffs, this has to continue to be true.

Second, the Vikings need to run the ball effectively. Cook, and Mattison for that matter, looked explosive in the first game of the 2019 season. In the NFL, most of the time it takes two years for a player who tore his ACL to fully return to the level they were at before the injury. Cook ran fast (20.17 mph to be exact), made defenders miss, and looked like the old Dalvin that Minnesota needs.

Third, Minnesota played turnover free football. I know it was unusual circumstances and Cousins is going to throw 20-30 passes in an average game. However, Cousins made the right plays, looked confident and didn’t make any stupid mistakes. The reality is that the Vikings are paying $84 million for a slightly above-average game manager in a QB, but with the makeup of this team, that can be enough to win a lot of games.

This Sunday, the Vikings take their show on the road to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. The Packers looked impressive in a 10-3 win over the Chicago Bears. Their defense looked much better than in previous years, although it does help to play the hapless Mitchell Trubisky.

However, the Packers have not beaten the Vikings since Christmas Eve of 2016. I was still a college student the last time the Packers beat the Vikings. Barack Obama was still president of the United States the last time Green Bay toppled Minnesota.

Vikings win a close one to go to 2-0.

 

Minnesota Vikings Season Preview

As fun as other sports are to watch, there is something special about the NFL. It is simply impossible for other sports to replicate the importance that each NFL game has. One loss might derail your entire season. It is hard to feel that affect with 82 games, let alone 162.

This Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings take the field in their home opener for the 2019 season against the Atlanta Falcons. There is no doubt that US Bank Stadium will be rocking as naive fans will fill the seats hoping that this year will be different. Being from Minnesota we should know better, but what fun is it to be realistic?

To be fair to Vikings fans, it isn’t the craziest idea that there is at least a chance. Minnesota currently is 14th in the league at +2800 for their Super Bowl odds which isn’t terrible value in my opinion.

There are a few reasons to be optimistic. First, Minnesota brings back almost all of their defensive players that have been key to the team’s success the past few years. After finishing 1st in defensive scoring in 2017/18, the Vikings regressed to 9th last season. A healthy Everson Griffen and Mike Hughes along with the returning starters should be able to return the unit to the top five in the NFL.

Second, the offense has (hopefully) been rebuilt for the better. The Vikings brought in an entirely new offensive scheme based on running the ball effectively, an offense that Kirk Cousins has thrived in. Gary Kubiak is sure to have his hand in the offense helping first time Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski find his footing.

Throw in a healthy (hopefully) Dalvin Cook and a (hopefully) improved offensive line, and this offense should be good enough to control the ball, limit turnovers and score enough points for the defense.

I am going to preview the Vikings season a little differently than how I did it last week with the Gophers. When looking at the schedule, you usually can chalk up each game into one of three categories: Tough to Win, 50/50 Games, and Should Win. Let’s see how each category shakes out.

Should Win: vs Raiders, at Giants, at Lions, vs Redskins and vs Lions. Granted, the Vikings lost at home to Buffalo last year in what was the biggest upset against the spread in like 30 years in the NFL, but I digress. 5-0

50/50 Games: vs Falcons, vs Eagles, vs Broncos, vs Bears, vs Packers, at Chargers. These are tricky for various reasons. The Falcons, Eagles and Chargers are good teams that have realistic playoff aspirations, the Broncos always bring a tough defense, and the Bears and the Packers are pesky no matter when or where the game is. Let’s say 3-3 in these games.

Tough to Win: at Packers, at Bears, at Chiefs, at Cowboys, at Seahawks. Those are some very difficult away games for Minnesota. The Chiefs are Super Bowl favorites, the Seahawks and Cowboys are legitimate 2-seed contenders and Soldier and Lambeau Field aren’t always the kindest to the Vikings. Let’s say the Vikings sneak out two victories. 2-3.

After sorting these games out, it looks like I got to a 10-6 record. It really isn’t much of a spicy take to have, but I don’t think the Vikings have a high variability for their record. They most likely will finish with between 7-10 wins along with both the Packers and the Bears. Week 16 and 17 will definitely be the defining games of the season for Minnesota, as they play the Packers and Bears at home. Hopefully they are still in the race for the NFC North at that point, or even better yet, hopefully they have it clinched.

 

2019 Gopher Football Preview

It’s that time of year again. The State Fair is in full swing, it’s Labor Day Weekend, the temperature is somehow in the low 70’s every day and the Minnesota Golden Gophers kicked off their 2019 football campaign last night against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

In what has now become a yearly special, it is time for my annual Gopher Football Preview.

8/29 vs South Dakota State. This should be a win. Plain and simple. The Jacks come in ranked as the 4th best team in the FCS and they have been on an impressive run. They are supposed to compete for the FCS Title. However, the Gophers received top 25 votes, are favored by 12.5 points, and I’m hoping they took care of business last night. 1-0.

9/7 at Fresno State. This game is a lot trickier than the average fan realizes. Fresno State finished 12-2 last season and the Gophers were able to sneak away with a 14-7 win thanks to a crazy interception from Antoine Winfield Jr. Travelling to California for a 9:30 pm game scares me against a team this good, but I’ll give them the slight edge. 2-0.

9/14 vs Georgia Southern. SKI-U-MAH. 3-0.

9/28 at Purdue. Another game that is trickier than fans might think, heading to Purdue is never an easy game. Especially since the Gophers smashed the Boilermakers 41-10 last season and they will be motivated. However, I think the Gophs have enough to pull through. 4-0.

10/5 vs Illinois. The Fighting Illini gave Minnesota the business last year in a crazy 55-31 loss for one of their only two conference wins on the season. This won’t happen at TCF Bank Stadium.  5-0.

10/12 vs Nebraska. This will be the biggest test for the Gophers in the first two months of the season. The Huskers also handled Minnesota in a 53-28 blow out last season in Lincoln. Currently ranked 24th in the country, Nebraska has high expectations and are picked by some to win the Big 10 West. I’m 51/49 on this one, but for the sake of being excited about this squad… 6-0.

10/19 at Rutgers. I mean, come on. 7-0.

10/26 vs Maryland. Here is another bad team that finished worse than Minnesota in the standings who destroyed them. The Terrapins dominated the Gophers early in the season last year 42-13, but I think the Gophers will be rolling into another home win. 8-0.

11/9 vs Penn State. Are you excited for College Gameday to do their show at the University of Minnesota this year? Dinky town will be crazy as Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and friends do their show in front of a bunch of passionate and excited Gophers fans. I can’t wait to see it. But we aren’t beating Penn State. 8-1.

11/16 at Iowa. Another difficult game. The back half of this schedule is infinitely more difficult than the first half. I think Minnesota hits a slump after the Penn State game and the Hawkeyes defend their home turf in a close one. 8-2.

11/23 at Northwestern. I think the slump will continue. The atmosphere is always weird in Evanston and the Wildcats are always feisty. After an 8-0 start, the Gophers will fall to 8-3.

11/30 vs Wisconsin. This will be the most important game of the season as it very well might be for the Big 10 West title and a chance to head to the Big 10 championship game in Indianapolis. After beating Wisconsin for the first time in far too long last year, Minnesota makes it two in a row and the Axe stays in Minneapolis. 9-3.

Admittedly, this is a little bit of a homer outlook on the season. However, if the team is as good as everyone tells me it is and as good as the coach makes it seem, there is no reason they should not start 7-1 or 8-0. They should be in the mix in those last four games and they should be competing for a Big 10 West championship. Anything less will be disappointing.

 

Five Fantasy Football Favors

I have kind of become a Fantasy Football nut. I’m not sure why I have such a strong interest in it, but what started as a casual hobby has become an avid interest. I listen to podcasts daily, read articles and probably think about it more than I should.

For some (or maybe most) of you, this column might be absolutely worthless. If that is the case, I’ll see you next week and go Twins!

For those of you who are in Fantasy Football Leagues, this column might have at least some value to you. Most leagues will have their drafts in the next two weeks. Groups of friends will convene to order some pizza, drink some beer and hang out for a few hours with fantasy football as the avenue to make it happen.

Some players put hours of prep into their draft strategy while others show up on draft day and pick almost at random. The best part about fantasy football is that both of these methods can draft a championship team. Regardless of your draft strategy, here are my five basic tips for having a successful draft.

First: You are totally fine if you “wait until late” to draft a QB. Last year, Patrick Mahomes was an outlier, scoring 417 fantasy points (standard scoring). After Mahomes, the spread between the 2nd overall QB in Matt Ryan and the 15th QB in Mitch Trubisky was only 91.1 points for the season.

For context, the spread between between the 1st RB Todd Gurley (313.1 points) and the 12th RB Phillip Lindsay (187.8) was 125.3. Go even further to the 24th RB, and the spread between Gurly and Matt Breida (135.5) was 177.6 points. The story was similar at the WR position.

In most leagues, you are required to play at least two RB’s, two WR’s and a flex spot. You need to stockpile as many backs and receivers as you can to give you the best chance of filling five roster spots with quality players. Other than Mahomes, the drop off isn’t that steep to the point that I’m fine waiting until at least the 8th round to draft guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Jared Goff or Phillip Rivers.

Second: It is generally good advice to draft the best player available (within reason). It is easy to think you need to fill all of your roster spots in order, regardless of the talent on the board. However, you will be happier with your team if you continuously draft the best player available. Just make sure your first five picks aren’t RB’s and you’ll be fine.

Third: Pay attention to what other teams are doing in the draft. For example, if you haven’t drafted your tight end yet and 10 of the other 11 teams have, you probably can keep waiting because almost nobody is going to draft a second tight end. Another example, if you are debating between similarly ranked RB’s and WR’s and notice that everyone already has RB’s behind you, you might want to go with the WR before everyone starts taking them.

Fourth: Don’t get caught up in past performance. I mean this for both the better and the worse. Don’t draft Amari Cooper simply because you’ve had him last year and he won you a big game. Don’t pass over David Johnson simply because he had a down year last year because the Cardinals stank. Use past performance as a base and look at it with a fresh perspective.

Fifth: Don’t overdraft a handcuff. Fantasy players often will think they are getting sneaky when they draft a handcuff. For most cases, that is fine – let them. There are very few cases where the handcuff will be valuable. In reality, most of the time you are wasting a roster spot on a guy that doesn’t have any value unless there is an injury.

It’s easy to look at James Connor last season and think that all cases end up that way. However, most of the time, you will have a guy on your roster that never enters your starting lineup.

Bonus tip number six: Don’t draft a defense or kicker too early. Stream these positions and play the matchups. Trust me.

Those are my five fantasy football favors to help you with your upcoming draft. If you employ these strategies and lose every game, it wasn’t my fault. But if you win your championship, feel free to send me a cut of your winnings. Happy drafting!

 

Meaningful Baseball in August

The lead is down to a half of a game. After leading the AL Central by as many as 11.5 games, the lead is down to simply one half of a game. With 42 games to go, the Minnesota Twins chalk up a 72-48 record while the Cleveland Indians come in at 72-49.

Chances like this don’t come around every year. We should know this as Twins fans since they have only made the playoffs one time since they opened Target Field. Teams rise and fall sometimes at the drop of a hat and may have short opportunities to go all in to try to win the World Series, or at least a playoff series.

The Twins have shown how good they can be. Their hitting is among the best, if not the best, in the entire MLB. They are going to shatter the team home run record and will be in the top five in almost every major hitting statistic.

However, the pitching is a slightly different story.

It is not like the pitching has been among the worst in the league. Minnesota is currently 8th in the MLB in team ERA which at a glance would seem respectable. However, when Houston is 4th and more importantly, Cleveland is 3rd, this becomes more of an issue.

At the deadline, fans pleaded with the organization to go get some pitching help. Go get a starting pitcher that can win a playoff game and an experienced reliever or two that can help the Twins in tight situations.

The response was weak. Minnesota traded for Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson, two above average relievers who certainly would help, but probably wouldn’t be the difference between a first round exit and a series win.

According to Aaron Gleeman on Twitter, the Twins bullpen has the worst Win Probability Added at -3.38 in baseball since the All-Star break. That is twice as bad as the next worst AL bullpen.

What about our new additions, surely they can’t be included in that? Well, after Romo blew a lead on Wednesday and Dyson blew a couple leads earlier this month, relievers Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, Sam Dyson, Ryne Harper, Trevor May, Zach Littell, and Cody Stashak all have a negative WPA.

While it is disappointing that the Twins didn’t do more to compete this season, that doesn’t mean they are dead in the water. After surrendering the division lead for the first time since  April after losing three of four to Cleveland, the Twins currently are in first place again.

The reality is that the Indians are just really freaking good. After starting the season 29-30, Cleveland has stormed back going 43-19 over the past few months, winning at a 70% clip.

Now the Twins and Indians will be in a battle for the division right down to the wire. The winner gets the division and the right to play the Astros while the loser will have to play the Tampa Bay Rays in a one game wildcard for the right to play the Yankees.

There is a lot at stake in the last two months of the season. Usually by now fans have shifted their entire focus to Vikings football as there haven’t been meaningful baseball games in August. It should be exciting to see how things finish. I just wish the Twins were fully equipped to go to battle.

Vikings Football is Back

Training Camp for the Minnesota Vikings has been in full swing the past couple of weeks. The first preseason game takes place tonight as Minnesota travels to New Orleans to take on Teddy Bridgewater and the Saints.

The preseason is mostly boring to watch. The games mean nothing to the fans for the most part and the quality usually isn’t the best. Many of the positions are usually already determined and it consists mostly of players fighting for back end roster spots or a chance to be on the practice squad.

In honor of the Vikings releasing their first unofficial depth chart for the 2019 season ahead of tonight’s game, let’s take a look at some players to watch and position battles to keep in mind that will make watching a preseason game more interesting.

Perhaps the most exciting position battle to watch is at wide receiver. Even someone who hasn’t seen a football game before probably knows that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are Minnesota’s bonafide studs. However, behind them, things get rather interesting.

The Vikings will keep four or five receivers on the roster. Currently, Jordan Taylor and Chad Beebe are slotted in as three and four while first round pick Laquon Treadwell is battling Jeff Badet, Brandon Zylstra and more to make the squad.

The once highly thought of draft choice has fallen out of favor in Minnesota and things might finally be nearing the end. Treadwell has been given every chance to succeed and yet finds himself in a battle just to make the team. Tonight could be a strong indicator as to which way the Vikings are leaning if Beebe, Taylor, Badet or Zylstra stand out. The writing could be on the wall for Treadwell.

Another battle going on is at the quarterback position. I think it is safe to say that Kirk Cousins is the starter, but there is some intrigue as to who will be his backup. Most teams only carry two QBs with one on the practice squad, so someone is likely to be cut.

First, we have the 5th year guy out of Oregon State in Sean Mannion who was signed in the offseason to vie for the backup spot. Second, we have Kyle Sloter who has been with the Vikings on the practice squad the past two seasons and has been in the good graces of the coaching staff during his time in purple. Lastly, we have the rookie QB out of Washington Jake Browning, who the Vikings feel very optimistic about.

With Cousins on the sidelines for much of the preseason, these three quarterbacks will have plenty of opportunities to show why they belong on the roster (or why they don’t).

The last area to watch that should be entertaining will be the new rookies on offense. The Vikings brought in two promising guys on offense early in the draft this past year. They used a second round pick on tight end Irv Smith Jr. out of Alabama and a third round pick on running back Alexander Mattison out of Boise State.

Smith Jr. and Mattison are almost guaranteed to have roles within the offense this year, albeit mostly as backups. Mattison is slotted in as the number two running back behind Dalvin Cook and Smith Jr. is currently behind Kyle Rudolph.

However, the rookies will get their chance to shine during the preseason and will receive plenty of valuable reps to help them start to figure out their place in the NFL. With Cook’s injury history and Rudolph’s age, Smith Jr. and Mattison will definitely play meaningful minutes over the course of the season.

Although it is only the preseason, I can’t be the only person to be excited that the NFL is back. And even though it is a Friday night, I probably will be glued in on the TV. Finally, Minnesota Vikings football is back.