The Vikings have become what Mike Zimmer feared

An Access Vikings podcast listener asked us on our most recent episode — which went online Thursday — to come up with positive developments in this predominantly negative 1-5 season.

Andrew Krammer started, bringing up the emergence of second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. in recent weeks. Smith has caught four passes each of the past two games, topping 50 yards both times, after totaling just two catches through the first four games of the season.

Ben Goessling noted the biggest one by far: rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson. He has the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any receiver in the NFL and has caught 28 passes for 537 yards while topping 100 yards three of the past four weeks.

Going third out of three people and trying to find a positive sign for this season wasn’t easy, but when put on the spot I decided to go with the offense in general. Despite Kirk Cousins’ obvious struggles with turnovers and inconsistency, that side of the ball has shown at least an ability to hold its own in the games when the Vikings were competitive this season and looks to have pieces for the future.

(That I have spun three positives into a negative-sounding headline is truly an accomplishment).

In any event, I was struck after the fact that all three of us chose something relating to the offense as our rays of hope.

It’s not surprising, I suppose, given that the Vikings rank No. 17 in points and No. 14 in yards on offense this season while ranking No. 30 and No. 29 in those defensive categories. But those rankings in the context of Mike Zimmer’s teams are a surprise.

In Zimmer’s six full seasons as Vikings head coach, Minnesota has never finished lower than 11th in points allowed. And the Vikings have never finished with an offensive ranking in points scored or yards that was better than their defensive ranking in those categories in Zimmer’s six seasons.

But this is the direction the Vikings have been trending. In an ideal world, the Vikings would be good in both — as they were in 2017 and 2019, when they ranked in the top 10 in points scored and points allowed.

In the real world, the shift is a consequence of the Vikings’ actions — and, as the headline suggests, the coming to fruition of what Zimmer articulated during one of the most honest media sessions of his tenure at the scouting combine 2018.

The Vikings were mulling their quarterback options at the time, trying to decide whether to re-sign Case Keenum (or perhaps Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford), invest in a low-price stopgap, perhaps draft a QB or go all-in during free agency on an expensive but stabilizing presence less than months after reaching the NFC title game with Keenum.

Zimmer said at the time, on March 1, 2018: “I think it’s really, really important that we understand — and I’m not just saying this — we’ve won 40 games in the last four years. We’ve done that by being pretty good on defense. This year obviously the offense was much better, but part of the reason we’ve been winning games and staying in games is because we’ve been playing good on defense and we’ve been a smart team and all those things. I want to be really careful about taking away from our strength and saying, ‘OK, we’re not going to be able to do this and we’re not going to be able to do that anymore because of financial reasons or something else.'”

The Vikings of course ended up signing Kirk Cousins, the biggest all-in move they could have made at that position. And while it hasn’t stopped them from retaining a decent amount of their defensive core, it certainly has influenced the direction of their team toward the one you see today.

Simply put: When you invest that much money in a quarterback, there are fewer resources to commit to the defense. It also sends a signal — and naturally triggers more investment on offense.

Since signing Cousins to the fully guaranteed $84 million deal in mid-March of 2018, just two weeks after Zimmer’s comments at the combine, the Vikings have:

*Used six of their nine picks in the top three rounds of the draft on offensive players: linemen Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland, running back Alexander Mattison plus the aforementioned Smith and Jefferson.

*Used precious cap space to extend running back Dalvin Cook and keep tight end Kyle Rudolph.

*Extended Cousins himself through 2022.

It’s no wonder the Vikings’ fortunes this year hinge on offense and that it has become a bright spot. What they probably couldn’t have imagined, of course, is just how far the defense would fall early on in 2020 — even without the injured Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and with a very inexperienced secondary.

But the results are what they are. And coaches are ultimately judged not just by results but by how those results are measured against expectations. Zimmer surely knew that on that fateful day at the combine as well when he said this about their impending QB decision.

“It’s important for myself and [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and the organization that we pick the right guy that is going to help us to continue to move forward,” Zimmer said. “If we don’t do that, then I’ll probably get fired.”

Imagine if Brett Favre had signed with Vikings — but couldn’t play Packers

Imagine it’s the summer of 2009 (for many, many reasons but just for football reasons in this case).

The Vikings are closing in on signing Brett Favre, their on-again, off-again pursuit of the legendary QB having paid off. They arrive at the moment of truth, but there’s one wrinkle: Favre can play for the Vikings … but he can’t play for them in their two games against the Packers in 2009.

Is that a deal-breaker?

Pardon me for engaging in such a strange hypothetical, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the 2009 and 2010 Vikings seasons — and their seeming parallels to the 2019 and 2020 Vikings season.

And then a curious story from our Minnesota United beat writer, Jerry Zgoda, put me down this path.

Zgoda wrote about how Loons striker Kei Kamara, acquired in September from Colorado, was not going to play in Wednesday’s match against his former team because of a “gentlemen’s agreement” reached before the deal was consummated.

Apparently such arrangements are common in European soccer.

“A lot clubs during the season will ask that you don’t play against their old club,” said Loons coach Adrian Heath.

And indeed, Kamara did not play for United in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory.

The concept seems completely foreign to U.S. sports, where a player going against his former team is a compelling angle — sometimes about revenge or proving doubters wrong, as it most certainly was in Favre’s case.

The Kamara situation isn’t quite the same since Favre came to the Vikings after playing a season with the Jets. But the chance to play against Green Bay — which dumped him in favor of Aaron Rodgers — was a prime motivating factor for Favre and quite probably prevented him from being traded to Minnesota a year earlier because the Packers wanted none of that.

As former Vikings coach Brad Childress told me in an interview last year about the courting of Favre and his arrival:

“For me, I really felt like he was in it to obviously play the Packers twice and rehabilitate his image from the Jets — the way things finished [there]. I don’t think he wanted to let it finish on that note. And then it was a bonus, I mean there was a reason Green Bay traded him to the Jets. They didn’t want him in the NFC. Little did they know that the Jets were going to pick Mark Sanchez and Brett was going to be on the street. And then we were going to try to move heaven and earth to get him on our team. I don’t think he seriously considered anybody else except coming to the Vikings.”

Imagine it’s 2009, and a “gentlemen’s agreement” is in play: Favre can play 14 games … but Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels has to start the two very critical games against the Packers (both wins for the 12-4 Vikings, by the way, that swung the division title in their favor over the 11-5 Packers).

European soccer can keep that tradition across the ocean. I’ll take the best players on the field and the subplots that ensue any day.

Justin Turner’s Covid celebration was an abundance of recklessness

For most of Tuesday night, it seemed as if Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash’s decision to remove dominant starting pitcher Blake Snell from Game 6 of the World Series while he was cruising with a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning would hold up as easily the dumbest and most controversial thing we would see and remember.

Even if you look at the numbers and see that Snell tends to get hit a lot harder as games go on, there is a difference between the average game and the type of game Snell was throwing Tuesday. Cash deserves to be criticized for not recognizing how hot Snell’s left hand really was.

But he was let off the hook to a large degree by the aftermath of the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory — whereby we learned not only that Justin Turner had been pulled from the game because of a positive Covid test but also watched him join the post-game celebration, post-diagnosis, including posing for a team picture and kissing his wife without his mask.

“I don’t think there was anyone that was going to stop him,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said after the game of Turner joining the celebration.

How stupid and thoughtless can a sport, an organization and a player be?

(Quick conspiracy theory aside: The Dodgers learned of Turner’s confirmed positive test in the sixth inning — the same inning in which Snell was mysteriously pulled. Now there’s a tiny piece of me that wonders if Commissioner Rob Manfred ordered the Code Red, telling the Rays to stand down given any comeback victory would have led to a delay of Game 7 and even more embarrassment for MLB).

The sheer hubris of both decisions can lead a person into strange places. But one was a baseball move that can at least be argued with supporting data. The other?

Well, the data says there have been nearly 9 million Covid cases and close to 230,000 deaths this year from the viral disease in the United States alone.

The numbers say many parts of the country are experiencing a surge in cases — even as MLB brazenly turned the NLCS and World Series into a potential super-spreader event by allowing 11,500 fans, many of them with masks dangling from their faces or not visible at all, into every game.

Turner tweeted after the game that he feels great and has no symptoms. Good for him. But: The data says people with Covid are most contagious about 24-48 hours before they experience symptoms, meaning he is quite possibly at that peak.

The data says people with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems are vulnerable to more complications from Covid. Turner took off his mask at the exact moment he was posing for a team picture next to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a cancer survivor who also wasn’t wearing a mask.

There was not a shred of caution. There was an abundance of recklessness.

Turner decided he wanted to celebrate because he was entitled to it. The Dodgers and Manfred — who was there and surely could have stopped it, knowing both the optics and real consequences could be dire — instead enabled it.

Millions of Americans have gotten sick and will get sick. Millions more are feeling the effect of an economy ravaged by the barely checked virus. A lot of us are being as safe as we can be — forgoing outings with friends and dinners with extended family even if everyone is presumed healthy because we know that the virus spreads quickly and often asymptomatically.

But a known contagious baseball player celebrated with teammates, at times without wearing a mask, about an hour after getting pulled from a World Series game because of a positive test.

I guess the 2020 baseball season had a fitting end, which is not at all a compliment.

What Minnesota pro team will be next to break its championship drought?

Minnesota has, by my count, six major professional sports teams: the Vikings, Twins, Wild, Wolves, Lynx and Minnesota United. The word “major” is subjective, but as a baseline (to me) it means that the league to which those teams belong must be the top pro league in the United States and that its athletes must be able to make a living solely by playing in that league.

When it comes to winning championships, the ledger is lopsided. The Lynx have won four of them in the last decade — 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.

The Vikings, Wild, Wolves and United have never won a Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, NBA title or MLS Cup (granted, some have been trying for a half-century longer than others).

The Twins have not won a World Series in 29 years.

So the question, as it is framed in the headline, pertains to five teams, excluding the Lynx. As a team that has won several championships recently, they do not have a drought.

If the question was simply which of those six teams is most likely to win a championship next, the Lynx would be the answer at pretty much every point for the last decade, including now.

They have evolved into the Spurs of the WNBA — not that an NBA comparison is necessary — by winning championships and somehow seamlessly turning over almost all the major pieces from their title-winning rosters and still remaining competitive enough to reach the league semifinals this year.

Head coach/GM Cheryl Reeve drafted back-to-back rookies of the year with the No. 6 pick (Napheesa Collier) and a second-round pick (Crystal Dangerfield), a rarity in the WNBA. By comparison: of the five rookies of the year from 2014-18, four of them were No. 1 overall picks and the other was No. 4. Usually to get a team-altering talent, a team needs to pick higher than the slots from which the Lynx have chosen.

So please be advised: The Lynx are excluded from the rest of the conversation not out of negligence but because their dominance would make it an unfair fight. If you would prefer to think of the rest of the teams as 2-6 in this battle, though, that’s fine by me.

That said: When it comes to the likelihood of either winning a first-ever championship or breaking a nearly three-decade streak of not winning a championship, here is how I would rate the likelihood of Minnesota pro teams being the first to get it done in order of most to least.

1 Twins: It’s easy to get bogged down by 18 consecutive playoff games lost. I get it. But this is still the best team of the five in this comparison by a pretty big margin. The Twins are set up for at least a few more playoff trips in the next handful of years, and if they ever finally win a playoff game (and maybe add just one more really dominant starting pitcher) the dam could break and a title could be won.

2 Minnesota United: MLS is unpredictable. The Loons made it to the semifinals of the MLS is Back tournament earlier this year and are on track for a second consecutive playoff berth this year. Soccer is like hockey in that a team can be severely outplayed and still win a playoff game, bringing a level of volatility to the postseason.

3 Wild: To win in the playoffs, it sure helps to have a dominant top line and great goaltending. The Wild doesn’t have either of those things yet, but you can see the potential with the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov, the ascent of Kevin Fiala and the promise of Kaapo Kahkonen. You have to squint to see it, and it’s not happening next season, but this could be a dangerous team in 2-3 years.

4 Vikings: Two months ago, the Vikings would have been at least one place higher on this list. But they are in an unenviable position now: Looking like they guessed wrong about the talent on their roster, getting older at key positions and locked into an expensive quarterback who is better suited to be a complementary piece than one who elevates a team. Unless players chosen in the last three drafts get a lot better in a hurry, this could be an ugly next few years.

5 Timberwolves: With Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and the No. 1 pick in next month’s draft, Minnesota has some pieces to be competitive. But we are nowhere near seeing how they all fit together — and how they stack up in what figures to be a very tough Western Conference for years to come — so there’s no reason to think a championship is worth discussing any time soon.

What’s interesting is I posed this question on Twitter recently. I’ll share some of the funniest/most interesting responses in a moment, but first here is a tally from the 48 people who answered the question directly and ranked the teams 1-5. This is an average of the “place” you put each of the five teams:

1 Twins: 27 first-place votes out of 48. All but five votes were either first or second, and no last place votes. Average place of all 48 votes — 1.56.

2 Loons: 16 first place votes. No last place votes, but at least five votes in all places between 1-4. Average place of all 48 votes — 2.13.

3 Wild: 3 first place votes. Huge variance, with at least three votes in all five spots. Average place of all 48 votes — 3.15.

4 Vikings: 2 first place votes. Like the Wild, a huge variance with votes in all five spots but most in the 3-4 range. Average place of all 48 votes — 3.46.

5 Timberwolves: 0 first place votes. 38 out of the 48 last place votes. Average place of all 48 votes: 4.69.

So I guess … I agree with you! Then again, some of you were a little extreme. Let’s leave exit with some of those responses:

Three types of Wolves trades illustrate value of No. 1 pick

It’s officially speculation season (Szn?) in the NBA, with the finals wrapped up and the condensed offseason primed to deliver the draft in a few weeks as well as free agency and a number of trades.

Nobody loves speculation quite like people who talk about sports for a living (unless it’s the people who listen to the people who talk about sports for a living), and since I guess I fit into BOTH categories I listened with interest to Zach Lowe’s recent ESPN podcast on which Bill Simmons was a guest.

These are two guys who could probably take up permanent residence inside ESPN’s Trade Machine, and their offseason podcast was full of dueling banjos style deals.

Naturally, a few of them involved the Wolves since 1) They have the No. 1 pick and could very well trade it and 2) President Gersson Rosas hasn’t been shy about making moves already in his tenure.

None of the deals they suggested should be treated as news — they weren’t reported via sources but rather conjured up as deals that might make sense.

Nevertheless: I thought three trades they constructed involving the Timberwolves were interesting because they illustrate three realistic trade types for the Wolves. That is to say: they are illustrative of directions the Wolves could go while holding a significant asset in the No. 1 overall pick even in a year where there isn’t a sure-fire star at the top of the draft.

So let’s take a look at all three deals — and deal types:

*A somewhat “boring” deal with an eye toward the future: Simmons suggested that the Wolves could swap picks with the Warriors (who have the No. 2 pick), and that in exchange for that move they could get Golden State to change the protection on the 2021 first-round pick Minnesota owes as part of the Andrew Wiggins/D’Angelo Russell swap.

That pick is protected — meaning it won’t be traded — if the Wolves wind up with one of the top 3 picks in 2021. It would nudge down the road to 2022, when it is unprotected.

If the Wolves are worried that they might wind up with a high lottery pick again next season, they could try to get the protection changed to, say, a top-10 pick and/or add a layer of protection to the 2022 pick as well.

Boring, right? But maybe it’s win-win. Golden State gets an improved asset that it can use to either take whatever player it wants or repackage in a deal for a win-now veteran … and the Wolves get some future value and still get a player in a draft that seems to drop off at least in terms of star potential after the top three picks (Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball).

*A move that adds a good player while still keeping a high pick: An example floated on the podcast was the Wolves trade James Johnson’s expiring contract and the No. 1 pick to Charlotte for Terry Rozier and the No. 3 pick.

Rozier has two years left on his contract at about $18 million per season. He’s a point guard, which also happens to be D’Angelo Russell’s position, but he earned a strong defensive reputation in Boston and became a better scorer/shooter with Charlotte last season (18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists per game on 40% from deep).

Rozier could play in the same lineup as Russell since they can both score, though I’m not sure what that move would mean for re-signing Malik Beasley unless the Wolves went VERY small and tried him at the three (or split the 96 guard minutes between Russell, Beasley and Rozier, which is reasonable). He’s 26, which somewhat aligns with the timeline of Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell (both 24 and soon to be 25).

Charlotte gets a prime asset, while the Wolves still get a top 3 pick to add to their roster.

It makes some sense, but again I don’t want to get bogged down by this specific trade. You could do numerous iterations with teams in the lottery with young established players. I like this type of trade in a draft without a clear-cut top pick — unless the Wolves happen to love a player at the top of the draft.

*A move to try to compete in 2020-21: Ready for a big swing? Simmons gave this one a spin: The Wolves trade Johnson, Jake Layman and the No. 1 overall pick to Utah for Rudy Gobert and the No. 23 pick.

Phew. That would change Minnesota instantly. There are plenty of trade rumblings involving Gobert — a limited but efficient offensive player and one of the very best defensive players in the NBA. The problem is it would essentially necessitate a position switch for Towns, who would be a power forward while Gobert was a center. I actually think Towns is better suited as a 4, but it might not be the Wolves’ idea alignment.

“I think if I’m Minnesota, I say Towns is a center. Full stop. I don’t want to pair him with Rudy Gobert,” Lowe said in explaining why he didn’t think the Wolves would do such a deal.

Gobert is also 28 years old, is due to make $26 million in the final year of his contract and will then be due for a huge extension. You probably don’t make this move unless an extension is worked out beforehand, but that would be very pricey.

This is probably a deal you only make if you’re worried Towns (and to a lesser extent Russell) will grow weary of losing sooner rather than later and feel the need to jump into relevance.

If you are looking for clues about how Rosas might view such a move, though, look no further than this quote from colleague Chris Hine’s story in August: “For this organization, patience is probably more important than anything because as the Jimmy Butler-Tom Thibodeau experiment showed, the benefit of being all in and getting in the playoffs one year set this organization back,” Rosas said.

But it would give the Wolves instant credibility and a much-needed interior defensive presence.

Again, though, this specific deal isn’t the big question. Rather, it’s this: Would the Wolves try to flip the No. 1 pick for an expensive player who immediately becomes the third piece of the Towns-Russell-Player X puzzle, which is definitely going to need another addition to be relevant in the West?

I could see it happening for the right fit — someone a little younger and a little less expensive than Gobert.

Then again, the simplest thing would be this: Identify the player you think has the highest ceiling, pick him No. 1 overall, and trust that a mix of development and correct initial evaluation yields results within the next two years.

That in itself would be exciting enough.

Penn State, Falcons learn: Scoring a touchdown can be a losing play

It’s the most counterintuitive notion in football: Those rare instances where scoring a touchdown on offense is a bad idea that actually decreases the scoring team’s chances of winning.

But it played out twice in spectacular (depending on which side you were on) fashion this weekend, with the part-math, part-instinct problem rearing its head in a huge college football upset and an NFL game between two teams who both could have used a win.

Here’s a look at the situations at how both played out:

*Underdog Indiana trailed Penn State 21-20 and seemed to be done for when the Nittany Lions forced a turnover on downs at Indiana’s 14 yard line with 1:47 left to play.

The Hoosiers had just one timeout left, meaning Penn State had time on its side. On the first play of the drive, Penn State’s Devyn Ford ran untouched toward the end zone. If he had fallen down at, say, the 2 — getting a first down without a touchdown — the game essentially would have been over. Indiana would have had to burn its last timeout to stop the clock, and Penn State could have kneeled down three times and won 21-20.

But … Ford instead ran into the end zone. Touchdown! Great! Nope. That increased the Penn State lead to 27-20. The Nittany Lions elected to kick the extra point (which they made) for a 28-20 lead. But that gave Indiana the ball back with nearly 2 minutes left and with a chance to tie with a touchdown and two-point conversion.

That’s exactly what happened — leading later to Indiana’s controversial touchdown and two-point conversion in overtime and a 36-35 win over the No. 8-ranked Nittany Lions.

Indiana coach Tom Allen said he had ordered his team to let Ford score. Penn State coach James Franklin, wise to the dynamics at play, had told his players not to score. But sometimes habits are hard to break.

We went through that situation this week [in practice],” Franklin said, “and we went through that situation on the sideline, and obviously we could’ve handled it better. What we wanted to do was get as much as you can and get down.”

Indeed, when you watch the video you can see Ford realizes his mistake about a half-yard too late.

What’s interesting is that Penn State still could have come much closer to sealing the game by going for a 2-point conversion. Making it would have put them up 29-20, a two-score lead with less than two minutes left. But missing it would have left it at 27-20, meaning Indiana would need only a TD and conventional extra point kick to tie. I’ve always favored going for 2 in that instance.

*The same situation — albeit with slightly different math — played out in the Lions vs. Falcons NFL game Sunday.

Just like Ford, Atlanta running back Todd Gurley was trying to get as many yards as he could without scoring. But like Ford, Gurley just couldn’t quite keep himself … out of the end zone. And just like Indiana, you can see Lions players celebrating because they allowed … a touchdown. Strange, right?

In that case, Atlanta was trailing 16-14 with just over a minute left. The Falcons could have run the clock down to just a few seconds remaining and tried a chip shot field goal for a 17-16 win.

While a field goal from, say, 20-29 yards is no sure thing (just ask any Vikings fan who was around in 2015), NFL kickers in 2019 made 98.3% of their tries from that distance in 2019.

By scoring a touchdown (and adding a 2-point conversion), the Falcons had a 22-16 lead but gave Detroit the ball back with a minute left needing a touchdown to win. Their win probability at that point was 93.4% — less than it would have been while lining up for a short field goal.

And indeed, the Lions went down the field quickly and scored on the final play of the game — adding the extra point for a 23-22 win. And again, everyone knew what they were supposed to do.

I was trying not to (score). My momentum took me in,” Gurley said. “It’s kind of crazy, the last time I played Detroit, I went down. This time I end up scoring. It’s like what goes around, comes around. It’s one of them unfortunate situations. I’ve been, I mean, plenty of those situations my rookie year, six or seven, and I’ve always got down. It was an unfortunate one right there.”

If there’s any consolation for Atlanta: The loss keeps them in the Tank For Trevor sweepstakes with a 1-6 record after last week’s blowout win over the Vikings left them vulnerable. Meanwhile, the Lions are 3-3.

Anyone banking on Detroit being two wins in the Vikings’ column late this season might need to think again — especially if Minnesota, which has found breathtaking ways to lose a couple of games already this season, manages to score a touchdown when it really shouldn’t.

Hulu becomes latest streaming service to drop Fox Sports North

Sports fans who access their local pro teams through streaming services are running out of options.

Hulu + Live TV announced in an email to subscribers Thursday that it is dropping regional sports networks from its channel lineup as of Friday. Locally, that means Minnesota subscribers will no longer have access to Fox Sports North and the bevy of programming on that channel.

Conveniently — but not conveniently — I’m a subscriber and can share that e-mail with you all. It reads:

Starting on October 23, 2020 Hulu will no longer have the rights to distribute certain Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) that are currently included with your Hulu + Live TV plan. While we were unable to reach an agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group to continue offering channels like your Fox Sports RSN, YES Network, and Marquee Network, the good news is that you will continue to have access to a wide variety of sports from other popular channels including ESPN, TNT, and TBS, as well as FS1 and FS2.

Why yes, that’s tremendous news! Thank you for keeping channels I already pay for while ditching the one I really want!

As a “cord-cutter” who has been hopping from stream to stream, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I moved to Hulu more than a year ago after SlingTV (and DISH, a traditional satellite service) dropped FSN.

A few weeks ago, YouTube TV also dropped all the regional sports networks. With the news from Hulu, that means by far the three largest streaming services — all with more than 2 million subscribers — no longer carry the regional sports networks.

If there’s any glimmer of hope it’s this tweet from media and sports business reporter John Ourand, who notes that there isn’t a ton of programming on RSNs right now since we’re past the MLB regular season and the NBA, WNBA and NHL are in their offseasons.

Indeed, while virtually every Wild, Wolves and Twins game is on FSN (and a lot of Lynx games as well), that channel isn’t utilized nearly as often right now as it typically is in my house given the delayed start to the NBA and NHL seasons.

“These seem to be opportunistic moves to me,” Ourand wrote, adding, “My bet is that deals will be made as live games start up again.”

That said, it immediately impacts Minnesota United fans. Four more Loons regular-season matches are on FSN the rest of the season. Now they are unavailable to Hulu subscribers. FSN and FSN+ carried a combined 20 Gophers men’s hockey games last season as well as a variety of other local winter sports. Such games this season don’t figure to be available.

The appeal of streaming services is a pared-down menu of channels — but still the ones you want, particularly as a sports fan — for a lower price (Hulu is $54.99 a month) than traditional cable/satellite providers. They also don’t require a contract, just a month-to-month subscription, allowing the viewer to cancel without any fees.

But if Ourand is wrong and those channels don’t return (Sling hasn’t brought them back, and it’s been well over a year) to Hulu or YouTube TV then in-market cord-cutters will be out of luck — a real shame, and the opposite of what should be the future of TV.

By one measure, Vikings are NFL’s biggest ‘bust’ so far this year

Not all teams with losing records arrived there equally — a notion that can be a comfort to the Vikings if we look at the numbers one way … but a terrible discomfort another way.

Even after a hideous loss Sunday to Atlanta — their third truly rotten game this year along with three more spirited efforts — they rank No. 17 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.

Basically the sum total of everything the Vikings have done on offense, defense and special teams this season should add up to them being around league average, which one would think would yield a record better than 1-5.

But Bill Barnwell’s recent ESPN piece on disappointing NFL teams this season yields some good lines and revealing numbers. The ending:

If the Vikings don’t turn things around and start winning close games, though, all the algorithms in the world won’t be comforting enough to keep the organization from imploding.

Shorter, in the words of Mike Zimmer’s mentor Bill Parcells: “You are what your record says you are.”

But in that vein, not all 1-5 teams are the same. While any team would be unhappy with that record, some might arrive there more predictably than others. If someone would have said at the start of the year, for instance, that Washington, the Giants or Jaguars would be 1-5 (as they all are) after six games, it would have registered as rather unsurprising.

The Vikings, though, were not expected to be 1-5. And so it is by one measure at least that we can consider them the biggest “bust” in the NFL so far this season.

Per Barnwell’s piece, the Vikings started the year with a 51.3% chance to make the playoffs based on ESPN’s Football Power Index. That seems a little generous based on what I thought of them, but with a seventh playoff team added this season in each conference it’s perhaps reasonable to think it was a coin flip at season’s start.

But now? Their chances are just 5%. And the difference between where they started and where they are now, minus-46.3%, is the biggest gap of any team in the NFL — larger than Dallas, San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta, other teams mentioned in the “bust” category.

The culprits are myriad, and we don’t need to get into specifics in this space because Barnwell and our own Vikings writers have covered that ad nauseam.

All that really matters is that it adds up to major disappointment.

Dolphins’ QB plan is enough to make a Vikings fan jealous

One team is benching a capable veteran quarterback who has led his team to a surprising 3-3 record thanks in large part to his own production — which has been good enough to rank him No. 7 this season in Total QBR. They are doing so because they drafted their QB of the future in the first round of the 2020 draft and believe it is time to take an extended look at what he can do.

That team is the Miami Dolphins.

Another team is riding things out with a struggling veteran quarterback who has led his team to a disappointing 1-5 record thanks in large part to his own lack of production — which has been bad enough to rank him No. 28 (out of 30) this season in Total QBR. They are doing so because they have invested heavily in him and really have no options behind him that are worth an extended look.

That team is the Minnesota Vikings.

Circumstances, to be sure, are different for both franchises. The Dolphins are mired in a several-years rut, including an 18-30 record and zero playoff appearances from 2017-19. Their veteran quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was brought in last season ostensibly as a bridge to something better — not as someone who was going to turn things around and stay for the long haul (though perhaps he deserves better than that, as some numbers will show).

That heavier lift belongs to Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in the draft who reportedly will start Miami’s next game.

Fitzpatrick is also almost 38 years old, presumably nearing the end of a career that is best described as “journeyman” (though again, perhaps he deserves better than that).

The Vikings reached the NFC title game in 2017 thanks to a career year from a similar type of QB: Case Keenum. Their QB now, of course, is Kirk Cousins — signed to a lucrative contract before the 2018 season and to an extension before this year.

Cousins had a 19-13-1 record (including one playoff win) in his two seasons as a starter before this season. He’s 32, an age where quarterbacks should have several years of peak or near-peak production left in them. The Vikings rightfully should have expected more from him this season.

But: The Vikings have been overpaying for a vision of what Cousins can be at his best pretty much from the outset of his contract, which will amount to roughly five years and $150 million total if he plays it out in full through 2022.

If you are devoting that much of your cap to a quarterback, he really shouldn’t be capable of producing the kind of stretch Cousins has gone through this season — and his ceiling should probably be higher even than what he showed last year.

Fitzpatrick, by contrast, is playing on the second year of a modest two-year, $11 million (total) deal. If we again rely on Total QBR — a good metric that takes into account all of a quarterback’s contributions — Fitzpatrick outplayed Cousins in 2019 as well, finishing No. 8 in Total QBR to Cousins’ No. 13 even during Kirk’s best year so far in purple. Fitzpatrick has posted top-half Total QBRs with the Jets (No. 10 in 2015) and Houston (No. 13 in 2014) in recent seasons as well.

But this is not a referendum on Cousins vs. Fitzpatrick, which again is an imperfect comparison. Rather, it’s about gauging situations.

Would you rather: be the Vikings, who have QB stability in part because of commitment and track record but in part because of a lack of options and roster inflexibility … or the Dolphins, who have the luxury of making the switch to exciting prospect Tagovailoa even as they ditch the production of a capable veteran?

I have to say, that sort of succession plan is enough to make a Vikings fan jealous at this moment.

Let’s talk about how the Packers lost and Mike McCarthy is failing in Dallas

If you are a Vikings fan drowning in despair right now — and let’s be honest, that is pretty much a factory setting — perhaps I can divert your attention away from their 1-5 dumpster fire and onto the surprising Sunday failure of the Packers AND to the misery of former coach Mike McCarthy, now in Dallas.

In a game befitting an old feature in these parts — RandBallStu’s “Increasingly Lost Season” — Green Bay came into a meeting of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks riding high and came out of it with a lot of questions.

It started out the way I thought it would, with the Packers jumping to a quick 10-0 lead over the Buccaneers. That is, in fact, the point at which I started watching.

But then 6-foot-2 Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a pair of uncharacteristic interceptions — one a pick-six, the other returned just short of the goal line — to completely change momentum.

From there, 6-foot-4 Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady directed a bunch of nice drives — punctuating one with a touchdown throw to ex-Gopher Tyler Johnson and another to longtime tight end Rob Gronkowski — and the end result was 38 consecutive Tampa Bay points in a runaway win.

Another ex-Gopher, Antoine Winfield Jr., delivered a hard hit on Rodgers that left the Packers looking for an explanation. Rodgers, one of just five quarterbacks with a lower QBR in Week 6 than Kirk Cousins, was left to explain how a 38-10 loss might be … a good thing?

I think we needed a kick in the (butt) a little bit,” Rodgers said. “There’s a little bit of wake-up to stop feeling ourselves so much and get back to the things that got us to this position. I think this would be, unfortunately but fortunately, something we can really grow from.”

That is, of course, unless Sunday’s game gave defenses something to copy for the rest of the season to neutralize Rodgers.

It was reminiscent of the Packers’ 37-8 loss last year to the 49ers — not to be confused with the 37-20 loss to San Francisco in the NFC title game. But in terms of pure shock value, you might have to go back to the 2018 finale — a 31-0 home loss to the Lions — for a comparison.

That happened with an interim coach in place after Mike McCarthy was fired. If you’ve stayed with this post long enough to get here, you surely wouldn’t mind an extra paragraph or two of schadenfreude.

McCarthy landed a coveted job in Dallas this year. The good news? The Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East. The bad news? They got there in that woeful division with a 2-4 record, and players are already grumbling about the coaching staff.

Per NFL Network’s Jane Slater, these quotes were attributed to unnamed Dallas players: On the coaching staff “totally unprepared. They don’t teach. They don’t have any sense of adjusting on the fly.” Another “they just aren’t good at their jobs.”

This is a good time to remind you that Matt LaFleur has an 18-5 record (including playoffs) since taking over for McCarthy, but that’s only because it’s also an opportunity to remind you that McCarthy very well might have wasted Rodgers prime with only one Super Bowl appearance to show for it.