Previewing Jets-Vikings

Rarely can a professional football team pull off a trade that totally obliterates any developing perceptions and exceptions surrounding their season. The Vikings seemed an easy mark for regression. Casual followers may have surveyed a defending division champion, and conference runner-up, quite favorably before the games counted.

 Brett Favre, the cannon armed ancient, returned to the fold after his annual bout of preseason waffling. He wavered for a good while, but shocked absolutely no one by returning for one more grasp at vanishing glory. Adrian Peterson, an all-world halfback, was in the prime of his career. A dynamite defensive-line had remained largely intact.

Indeed, the Vikings may have appeared sturdy at first glance, but for the fan or analyst seeking to dig deeper, flaws rapidly become apparent.  For instance, would Favre and his receivers be synchronized from the first snap, considering his absence for most of August? Were Adrian Peterson’s fumbling woes serious? Could playmaker Percy Harvin overcome his vicious migraine affliction? How sorely would the dependable, and departed, Chester Taylor be missed? With his varied skillset now being utilized by Chicago, would Minnesota be more predictable, especially on third down?

These concerns may have been bubbling beneath the surface, but Vikings related fretting justifiably exploded following the announcement that Sidney Rice would undergo hip injury, correcting a preexisting condition which could no longer be ignored.

Rice, Favre’s number one target and the Vikings’ most indispensible receiver, would miss at least eight weeks.  A dark karma cloud followed Minnesota into their regular season schedule, and while their 0-2 beginning may have been a slight surprise to those more optimistic about their redemption quest, it was hardly a shock to the realists who had already diagnosed their numerous distresses. Favre was lost without Rice, primarily honing on ascending tight-end Visanthe Shiancoe. When Minnesota fell to Miami at home in a week two upset, all signs pointed toward an ominous future. A victory against Detroit in the succeeding week hardly assuaged the dire forecasts. A bye was their temporary reward, to be quickly mitigated by a schedule best described as cruel and unusual. The gauntlet would begin on Monday night, October 11th, against a resurgent Jets outfit. The Vikings were slipping off the National radar, highlights bound to become disposable. But then– as Alonzo Harris once said in the classic cop noir “Training Day”: Boom.

Earlier this week the Football world was rocked with rather shocking news, concerning a mercurial talent by the name of Randy Moss. Moss’ employer had decided to exchange his services for future rewards, in the aftermath of an uplifting blowout on the road against a divisional foe. It was a bizarre machination, a debatable decision, pure Belichick, respectably gutsy and asinine at the same time.

Yes, Randy Moss had resurrected himself with the Patriots following an off year with the Raiders. Because of his controversial reputation, Moss’ stock fell ridiculously low following a shiftless ’06 with Oakland. He had gained one thousand yards receiving the previous season, but, quite like athletic compatriots such as Alex Rodriguez with the Texas Rangers, or David Wright with the contemporary Mets, the best player was unfairly blamed for the failings of an entire misfiring organization. So Moss was done and finished according to more than a few talking heads, instead of merely bored.

Misconception became reality, as inexplicably, rival general managers watched the savvy Patriots pluck him from Oakland. Oh, the Packers tried, but not hard enough.  From ‘07 until this very week, Moss had been obscenely productive, arguably New England’s most reliable weapon.  Why was Wes Welker running free over the middle? And this season, why were the rookie tight-ends enjoying so much room to roam? Why hadn’t a neglected running game bitten the Patriots in the regular season? It’s the Moss effect.

[Go ahead and check what kind of impact Moss had on the 1998 Vikings. And I’m sure it was just coincidence that his arrival coincided with a perfect New England regular season in 2007.]

This mobile, agile, once in a generation talent possesses the power to elevate an entire offense. A focused Moss transcends comparison. A malingering Moss frustrates, more than the less gifted players, because he seems so utterly intent to display disinterest, committed to his own ego. His gifts set him apart, and often, Moss undermines himself by positioning himself on an island against all sorts of foes, whether coaches, the press, or team management. This could explain his travels and travails.

But it doesn’t minimize his potential impact. With nine catches through three games, a statistical correction looms. Moss will breakout, and soon, his obscene one-handed touchdown catch against the Jets in week two indicative of attributes still resistant to age-related erosion.

Moss may have had an attitude problem. Could be misunderstood, unfairly labeled, the latest victim of a former dynasty obsessively intent on minimizing the player and elevating their system.  Whatever the case, the numbers are not mysterious.  There’s an injury related aberration in ’04, the meaningless output in ’06. Otherwise, the yardage and reception totals explode like fireworks against a dark, blank slate sky. Seventeen touchdowns here, twenty-three there… this is a special performer.

Forget everything previously thought about the Minnesota Vikings. Moss changes the game. As for Peterson and his fumbling troubles, well, it’s a bad memory at this point, for all involved with the team. A particularly painful botched exchange with Favre in the NFC Championship may now be identified as the nadir. Person has yet to fumble this season.  He has accumulated 392 yards and a 5.6 yard average. And if Favre is not reinvigorated by a pairing with Moss, then he is truly finished.

 The Jets realize that this game’s degree of difficult has been significantly ratcheted. The quotes give it away. A football lifer like Rex Ryan doesn’t attempt underselling Moss. But New York is certainly capable of winning this duel. Mark Sanchez’s exceptional play gives them a chance to taste victory in any given week. The second-year quarterback is forging a connection with Dustin Keller, and will get his first opportunity to integrate route-running extraordinaire Santonio Holmes within a flourishing passing attack. Holmes, who caught the game winning catch against the Arizona Cardinals’ in Super Bowl 43, will no doubt be attempting to steal the spotlight from Moss, and is certainly capable. Darrelle Revis also gets an early rematch with his chief rival, after losing the last round by technical knockout.

 The Jets’ offensive line, still blowing open holes but besieged by penalties, will be tested by Jared Allen and company.

 What cannot be underestimated when attempting to predict this contest is the Vikings’ expected level of desperation, and how the ensuing intensity could shape their evening… here is a team with high aspirations that has been taken on several emotional trips, between Favre’s retirement antics and a more recent, alleged, potentially embarrassing controversy. Not to mention starting 0-2 and being forced to answer very logical questions about team chemistry. Brad Childress could be a damn good coach, but to this outsider, he doesn’t convey total cool when confronted by these issues, his calmness a little canned. Childress would probably benefit by loosening up, but that could be said about many coaches in this league.

Despite all that, this trade offers the Vikings’ a perfect opportunity, considering their already turbulent 2010. Here is a chance to start over, split the screen, create a before and after snapshot. Will they?  

Prediction:

Wow, did this one get a whole lot harder for the Jets. Before the Moss trade, it had all the earmarks of an easy win.

Yes, it’s possible that the Vikings could present problems to New York defensively, and Adrian Peterson is a force capable of taking over any game he is involved in. But the Jets still would have been an easy pick, considering how well they have been playing, how convincingly they stuffed the Bills’ underrated set of running-backs, in addition to having a rabid home crowd behind them. Favre would be pressured relentlessly, forced into a few predictable mistakes, and… scene.

Sanchez and Woody

Sanchez will need the offensive line to step up and protect him against a tough Vikings front seven.

Moss throws everyone a curveball.

For instance, now the Vikings could go to a max protect scheme and still make a big play. Now Shiancoe may be less accounted for. So long Favre isn’t gun-slinging interceptions all over the joint; the Vikings will be right in this game.

Meanwhile, the Jets, at least offensively, may be in for the slightest of letdowns, which could ruin their night. How long will Mark Sanchez remain interception free? Will Tomlinson really maintain this pace? Holmes is a fantastic addition, and makes this one all the more tougher to call. That pro is liable to corral eight catches his first game back. He’s that good. Not to mention the rest of the returning Jets, including pass rushing specialist Calvin Pace.

Because the Vikings are desperate, and Peterson is arriving into the New Meadowlands fresh off a bye, I’ll go Minnesota, halting a Jets comeback in the fourth quarter.

Vikings 27 Jets 17

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