Throughout this NBA season, I have not been as hard on LeBron James as most other people – my friends and those in the media included. From the moment he chose Miami over staying in Cleveland, I could see that he did it for one reason only: to win the NBA championship and put the first ring on his finger.

I think LeBron and Chris Bosh join Dwyane Wade as NBA champions. The Miami Heat will beat the Dallas Mavericks to win this year’s title.

LeBron could have made his announcement in another way. I think that if he would have chosen Cleveland in The Decision, it barely would have been a blip on the NBA radar this year, mostly because he would have had another floundering year with mediocre teammates.

The Cavaliers organization was successful over the past five years, despite front office ineptitude in bringing in premier players to play with LeBron. He chose the Heat, because the Cavs had another summer in 2010 where no free agents signed there. Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, and others chose elsewhere. LeBron saw this and he moved on, too.

The Celtics and Lakers teams of the 1980s were stacked, and no one batted an eye. Shaq and Kobe won with the Lakers at the turn of the century, and people said, “Good for them and their hall of fame coach.” In 2008, the Celtics got their version of the Big 3 and won the NBA title.

But the Heat get LeBron and Bosh to join Wade, and it’s open season, complete with a great big target on their backs. People said they only did it to win a ring and that it wouldn’t mean as much as if they would have brought a title to their cities on their own, especially LeBron.

I’ve called people on this argument all year. NBA history has shown that players have not been judged by how they’ve won rings, only in how many they have. Everyone knows that Bill Russell has 11 rings, Michael Jordan has six, and that Kobe Bryant needs one more to catch MJ.

We don’t care how a team wins the ring, as long as they win the ring. Tim Duncan with the Spurs and Dirk Nowitzki with this Mavs team would be the only superstars in the last 20 years to win the title without another big superstar on the team.

The Heat, by beating the Mavs, would defy some pretty long odds and many skeptics, to win this year’s NBA title. LeBron and Bosh should get their first ring and Wade his second.

In a seven game series, the teams know each other too well and in this series, there are too many veterans for schemes to be the difference. One-on-one play will be the difference, especially late in the games.

LeBron and Wade are too good, will make all the difference, and the Heat will win the title this year.

And America, except for me and a few others, will collectively yell, “Noooo!” at the top of it’s lungs.

This reluctant Super Bowl XLV preview is brought to you by the colors black and yellow (Pittsburgh Steelers) and the failing franchise known as the Minnesota Vikings.

As a fan of the purple and gold, the last couple weeks of football have been ridiculous to watch. Bears vs. Packers in the NFC Championship? Come on, now. And the Green Bay Packers making the Super Bowl? Oh my…why, God, why?

I successfully predicted this Super Bowl matchup before the Conference Championship games, but I would have rather had the Bears meet the Steelers. I know the Steelers would have beaten the Bears for the championship. I am not so sure about them beating the Packers, though.

We have heard a lot about both teams’ defenses and both teams’ quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger just finds a way to win big games, even though he’s rarely mentioned on the same level as Brady, Manning, and Brees. And Aaron Rodgers, who is sometimes mentioned on the same level as those guys, would be the first QB taken by many if they were starting a brand new team today.

I don’t think this game will end up as high-scoring as their 2009 instant classic (37-36 Steelers on the last play of the game), but I think both teams get into the 20s. The Steelers are a very balanced team, where they can run and throw the ball down the field. It’s a great recipe for success in a game of this magnitude and might be enough to keep the Packers defense off-balance.

The Packers offense isn’t as balanced, even though their running game showed up a little bit in the playoffs. It’ll be hard-going against the Pitt front 7, however, so I think the Packers come out passing four out of every five downs. By spreading the Steelers talented defensive players out, Rodgers can try to find the one matchup to exploit on each play, which he is one of the best at doing.

Can Rodgers do it enough though, especially with an improved, but still somewhat unreliable, offensive line in front of him. The Bears hit Rodgers a lot after the opening drive of their game (he even got crushed on his TD run), and he was nowhere near as effective.

Pittsburgh is one of the hardest hitting teams in the league, so if they can get to Rodgers early – say, three times in the first quarter – I like Pitt’s chances. Rodgers will get happy feet, won’t progress through his reads as well as he can, and Green Bay won’t pick up huge chunks of yardage we all know they can get.

The Steelers move more methodically down the field, even though they have big play receivers in Mike Wallace, and even Hines Ward on his aging legs. And with Clay Matthews breathing down his neck, Big Ben won’t be able to sit back in the pocket and find his guys. But he’s one of the best QBs after the pocket has collapsed. He makes play after play moving his feet, since he is so big and hard to bring down. His receivers know to keep moving if they are initially covered, and if they find open space, Ben will find them.

Last year, I was convinced before the playoffs started that the winner of the NFC would win the Super Bowl, and the Saints did. This year, I was convinced the winner of the AFC would win the Super Bowl. I really dislike that Green Bay is playing so well the last five games, when they have had to win each one or have their season over.

Not this time. The Steelers win Super Bowl XLV mostly due to their talent on both sides of the ball, and because they have been there before. As I said, Big Ben finds ways to win the big games.

Also, I won’t stand for watching the team I root against the most hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. It’s petty, but I don’t care. Green Bay can not win this game. So they won’t. Go Vikings.

Steelers win 27-23.

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler got pummeled during and in the 24 hours after the NFC Championship game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, because he didn’t finish the game due to injury. We all know how it played out: Cutler was horrible in the first half, showed bad body language, which isn’t new, played one series of the second half, then showed more bad body language on the sideline the rest of the game.

Even before the third quarter was over, Cutler was getting blasted on Twitter by fans and former and current players. The Bears rallied, but couldn’t complete the comeback after the final interception inside the Packers red zone, losing 14-21.

During the game, I didn’t call out Cutler for quitting on his team. I went after his body language, questioned his reputation for being a “tough” quarterback (regardless of the injury), and agreed with others who said that Cutler and Brett Favre showed an interesting contrast in playing with pain in a game to go to the Super Bowl. When one person wrote this, I hedged my agreement by saying, “Depends on [his] injury, but yes.”

I think that the people who found it so easy to blast him during the game didn’t think the whole scenario through and may have forgotten that he played in the second half after the injury occurred. Until reports surfaced on Monday that Cutler sprained his MCL, he had been labeled “Jay Quit-ler.”

It’s the NFL, an unbelievably important game, and Cutler was the best chance on offense for the Bears to come back, despite his performance. He gave it a go, but couldn’t. Why do those who ripped him think he would just give up so easy? It is because he hasn’t earned respect or the benefit of the doubt from his peers or the media, so it was easy for people to rush to judgement without any facts.

Since his knee was hurt in the first half, I have to believe that Cutler spent time with the Bears’ medical team in the locker room at halftime and probably did some tests to see how sturdy the knee was. My guess is that it didn’t respond how he and they hoped, but they decided to give it a try, since, you know, they were playing to go to the Super Bowl. The Bears went three-and-out to begin the second half, with Cutler attempting one pass on third down, and his day was done.

I am more troubled by how the Bears organization handled this than how Cutler handled himself. After the game, he, along with Head Coach Lovie Smith, talked about speaking with the medical staff and decided he shouldn’t continue to play. But their explanation stopped there. Bears players, including leader Brian Urlacher, were left to vehemently defend Cutler to the media.

No one bought it. And didn’t for 24 hours, which is a lifetime when there are 24/7 sports maniacs like ESPN, Yahoo, CBSsports, SI.com, etc. After a game of that significance, the Bears needed to come out with something more definitive to take the pressure off Cutler as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to keep us from hearing that people are also questioning his decision to go to dinner after the game with family and friends.

If the game on Sunday was a regular season game, I have my doubts that Cutler would have returned for that first series of the second half. I think the Bears’ medical team, trainers and coaches would have had him in the locker room for further tests (it was a knee injury, after all), and I think the only reason he stayed on the sideline was to support his teammates, which he did a poor job of doing, based on television camera views.

I think I would have acted differently, if I was in his place, but how do I know? He had to be dejected with what was going on in the game and his performance. It’s not like he could have bounced around slapping guys on the shoulder pads with the injured knee – that would have been even worse.

He probably should have shown he was more involved on the sidelines during the game. He didn’t, but people should get over it. I guarantee that PR people for athletes in every sport are using this as a lesson for their clients, telling them that they are always on. Even if they aren’t on the field or court of play, they are on, and people are watching. Which I think is one of the reasons so many who ripped Cutler have started to backpedal from their criticism.

As we found out, when people are watching, they are reacting and commenting for the world to read and see. It’s Twitter’s world, and, for better or worse, we’re all just watching our timeline’s in it.

By now, you may have read or heard of John Stone, the Chicago-area car salesman who was fired the Monday after the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears to advance to the 2011 Super Bowl. If not, you might be asking yourself if he was so mad at the Bears loss that he set a car on fire or punched a gloating Packers fan looking to buy a new ride to drive to Dallas for the game next week. No and no.

Turns out, John Stone is the Packers fan, and he didn’t set anything on fire in celebration or do much gloating at all. He did, however, have the audacity to wear a Packers tie to work on Monday, which was too much for his boss, Jerry Roberts, to take, so Roberts fired Mr. Stone. Yes, fired him for wearing an article of clothing to work.

As a Minnesota Vikings fan, in addition to cheering for my favorite team to do well, I take equal sports enjoyment in hoping the Packers team suffers defeat each week so their insufferable, almost-to-the-point-of-intolerable fan base doesn’t have anything to hang their hat on either. I cheered for the Packers to lose the last five weeks, so those cheeseheads would have had to join us in analyzing what went wrong this year and how could the team make it better next year.

I should have no sympathy for this guy, John Stone, who lost his job, because he is a Packers fan. Usually, they’ve earned whatever negativity goes their way. However, since he was reportedly fired for nothing that had to do with his job performance, I do have sympathy for him and don’t think it was right. Even Packers fans have earned the right to celebrate their team’s success this NFL season.

If you read the story in the link provided above, nothing the boss says indicates that Mr. Stone violated company policy in wearing the Packers tie – didn’t break a dress code, didn’t have a conflict-of-interest clause in his contract, since his former dealership did business with the Bears, and didn’t do any irreparable damage to the business. He wore an article of clothing that the boss didn’t like, and now he’s out of a job (sure, it’s an ugly tie, as any Packers tie is bound to be, but that’s neither here-nor-there and, as reported, not a fireable offense).

I have managed employees where I enforced the organizational dress code. I remember two instances of sending an employee home to change into the proper work attire and many other instances where I had to give employees the proper organization-issued shirt to wear. There was discipline involved – some, because it was a pattern of behavior that warranted further discussion – but the violation alone didn’t rise to the level of dismissal.

And for that, Jerry Roberts, you earn yourself a “Come on, man!”

As a Minnesota Vikings fan, the NFC Championship game puts the final nail in the coffin of the Vikings 2010 season. I have to watch…well, don’t have to, but probably will…the Green Bay Packers travel to Soldier Field to play the Chicago Bears for the right to go to the Super Bowl.

I dislike both teams, so seeing either have success is terrible, but knowing one and their fan base will be insanely happy at the end of the day is almost too much to bear. But bear it I will, but it will only be tolerable if the Bears come out victorious. See, I dislike the Packers many times more than the Bears, so watching them suffer defeat will provide just a little bit of consolation.

It is no consolation for what we endured this year watching the Vikings. A year after playing in this very game, and feeling very confident they would win in New Orleans, we are stuck watching our rivals, knowing how far away the Vikings were to getting back for another chance with basically the same team. But they couldn’t get out of their own way right from the beginning.

A list for you: Favre being Favre in the off-season (when I thought he was going to declare coming back by the 2010 NFL draft), Sidney Rice’s injury and poor decision-making on timing of the surgery, Cedric Griffin had another knee injury, Percy’s migraines and extended training camp absence after the death in his family, Head Coach Brad Childress fired, and Favre’s consecutive games played streak ends due to injury. And that’s before we even bring up their play on the field.

I argued all season with Childress haters that the play on the field, and, therefore, the Vikings players, was the reason the team finished so poorly. Missed throws by the QB, missed open holes by the RB (AP was awesome, but missed two TDs at the goal line in losses this year), dropped passes by WRs, dropped INTs by the defense, defensive line disappearance in September and October, and finally, too many times allowing the opponent to convert a first down on third and long.

The job of all coaches is to put their players in position to make plays, which, in turn, will usually lead to wins. The Vikings players were in more than enough positions to make plays, but failed. In 2009, they made those plays and ended with 12 wins and were within one play of the Super Bowl. In 2010, they just didn’t make the plays, which led to loss after loss, and eventually, at 3-7, the coach getting fired (had to be done only to rid the team of the public relations nightmare it had turned into).

Favre wasn’t the same as 2009, when he was awesome and exceeded everyone’s expectations. He missed open receivers, couldn’t move around, was out of shape, and looked…old. The Vikings defense could not get off the field and give the offense a short field to work with early in the season, especially in the two road losses to the Patriots and Jets. They needed a stop in the 4th quarter after the offense scored to make it close, but in both games, the opponent held the ball to end the game.

Those quarters were the season. The Vikings failed, so the season failed. Which is too bad, because Adrian Peterson would have been in the MVP conversation had the team been winning. His season is overlooked, but he was running lights out early on. The offensive line struggled, but AP, stung by the criticism of 2009, ran like a beast.

He fought for yards, and most importantly, hung onto the ball – only one fumble in 2010, which happened in week 15 versus the Bears. He did miss those open holes on the goal line, which was disappointing, but he, along with Percy when he was healthy, were two bright spots on an otherwise underwhelming and underperforming team.

Which brings us back to the 2010 NFC Championship Game between the Packers and Bears. The Packers, despite also underwhelming for most of the year, turned it around at the right time (although only winning 10-3 in the final week over the Bears is still embarrassing). Aaron Rodgers is playing at a very high level, and the defense is giving up very little. Why it took so long is probably due to injuries, but their season didn’t seem to be as good as it is finishing. Whatever…good for them.

The Bears, on the other hand, just wouldn’t go away when everyone expected them to at some point. I made more than one comment in September to Bears fans that they need to enjoy 1st place, while they can, as it wouldn’t last long. Well, I was wrong. Their old defense kept playing well, and the offense, for the most part really bad, did enough to win ugly games.

They’re just an ugly team, with a QB who doesn’t show any enjoyment for playing his sport, but like the Packers, the team’s finish is better than their season seemed to be (I do count their opening game versus the Lions as a loss, but since they were given that one after the Calvin Johnson ruling in the end zone, we should have known they were possibly going to have a winning season).

I guess I hope the Bears win the game and advance to the Super Bowl. I don’t want the Packers to even have a chance to win the Super Bowl. So the Bears must win.

However, I predict a Green Bay victory in Chicago (puking now). They won’t run it up like they did against the Falcons in the climate-controlled atmosphere of the Georgia Dome, but they’ll win by at least a touchdown. The weather will be brutal, and shouldn’t favor either team. I’m taking the Packers, because I can’t predict the Bears will win after not believing in them at all this year.

No matter who wins, however, they need to get destroyed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. I do not want to listen to Rex Ryan for two weeks and do not think the Jets are that good, either (like the Bears). Watching Roethlisberger for the Steelers in the Super Bowl after the off-season he had last spring and summer isn’t great either, but I like Mike Tomlin, and since I’m a homer, I want to see the former Vikings coach win his second Super Bowl.

Since I can’t root for purple and gold, I’ll settle for black and yellow. Pass me a Terrible Towel, please.

I don’t like watching the Vikings lose any game, so watching them lose to the Packers Sunday night, when the game was definitely winnable, was especially difficult. As in their previous three losses, they were one-to-two plays away from winning the game by 10 or more. Alas, they’re now 2-4, staring at a promising season slowly going south.

Fans will rip Brett Favre for the interceptions in the 2nd half, which weren’t pretty, but I see that he and Randy Moss still aren’t clicking through almost four weeks of being together. It looks like Moss isn’t quite clear, yet, on where he’s supposed to be, and the timing on their routes, when Favre looks to his side, is off.

Usually, with Moss, the team would want to take two or three shots down the field with him. The only one I remember, outside of the two on the last drive where they were just a couple jump balls that went out of bounds, was the pass interference at the end of the first half. Otherwise, no fades, no quick slants or any other quick hitters to try to get him into open space.

On the flip side, Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson have been electric the last couple weeks. They are a great duo and two weapons I am convinced the Vikings will utilize more in the coming weeks. They can get into open space and not many defenders will bring them down on first contact. These guys are the real deal, and the Vikings offense needs to continue to revolve around them to try to turn the Vikings season around.

It was good to see Favre get Visanthe Shiancoe more involved in the game, as well. He caught a couple big passes in the first half to keep drives alive. And no one will convince me that his catch in the end zone was not a touchdown. He had possession throughout the catch, and it doesn’t matter that the tip of the ball hit the ground in the “process” of the catch. He didn’t mishandle the football at all, and the refs missed one there, costing the Vikings four points.

The refs actually missed four end zone calls, correcting two with replay (Harvin on the sideline and in the back of the end zone), missing the Shiancoe catch after replay and giving the Packers tight end the touchdown early in the game when replay would have overturned it. Vikings coaches missed throwing the challenge flag on that, but the Packers were given seven points.

I loved hearing Coach Childress with fire in his voice after the game in the press conference and in the locker room talking with Greg Coleman on KFAN-AM 1130. He knew how important the game was, saw his players throw it away, not make one more play, and not getting any favors from the guys in stripes, which shouldn’t be expected on the road at Lambeau. But we at least expect them to get the easy calls correct, whether it’s right in front of them or upon review.

The two penalties when the Vikings had 1st and 10 at the Packers 15 with about a minute left in the 4th quarter were killer. They were moving the ball, and they had so many options – I was convinced Percy was getting his third touchdown of the game. Alas, Favre’s pass to him in the back of the end zone was just a few inches out, and I think he just missed Moss on 4th down. Part of me thinks Moss had alligator arms on it, and if he would have (could have??) extended more, he catches it. I will have to watch it again, but a little more effort might have made the difference.

A little more effort in a few areas would have made the difference, actually. The defense played pretty well after the first quarter, but they didn’t sack Aaron Rodgers once. He heard some footsteps, leading to some really bad throws that were not close to his receivers. It would have been nice to see one of the Vikings’ defensive backs run the other way with it. Jared Allen made the nice pick early, but disappeared again.

The Packers showed nothing that convinces me they will make a run as the season progresses and in the playoffs. As a Vikings fan, this gives me hope, even with the 2-4 record. They have three road losses (Saints, Jets & now Packers), and have made each of those Super Bowl-hopeful teams look pretty pedestrian. The NFC is down with no team wanting to take control.

And the Vikings don’t have the same magic they had last year. They win each of these three games last year, and I guess they win Sunday night if the Packers touchdown is overturned and Shiancoe gets his. That’s a ten-point swing, and when Favre is making one-to-two decisions each game that go the other way, it’s too much to overcome.

If they are 2-5 after next week’s game at New England, the season is about over. Sure, the Vikings could win seven of eight in the second half of the season versus the teams on the schedule, and they will need to in order to make the playoffs. I thought they’d win 10 or 11 and win the NFC North, but at this point, I’ll take 9-7, sneak into the playoffs, and go from there.

The team is talented, so they just need to win some of these close games, instead of being on the wrong end and needing one more play. Hopefully it starts on Halloween in New England.

I am going against my better judgement and picking the Vikings to win at Lambeau Field tonight in Brett Favre’s second visit back to Green Bay. The Vikings have not played a complete game yet in the 2010 NFL season, have a record of 2-3, and need a victory tonight to keep pace in what is turning out to be a very mediocre NFC.

If the Vikings win, they’ll even their record at .500, will be a half-game ahead of the Packers, and will only be a half-game behind the Bears for first place in the NFC North. The Bears are dropping back, record-wise, to where I thought they would be. There were not a good 3-0 team in September. And the Packers should probably be in a position where even a loss to the Vikings at home wouldn’t matter much. But it would. A lot.

The Packers, along with the Saints, have to be the most disappointing team in the NFC. They have tried to overcome some very important injuries, especially on defense, but have not had much success. They, like the Vikings, lost at home to the Dolphins, and their three losses have been by a combined nine points. The defense has held up pretty well, but the Packers’ offense, picked to be one of the best coming into the season, hasn’t looked the part. They have no running game behind a less-than-decent offensive line, which is important against the Vikings, as the purple should be able to consistently drop six or more defenders into coverage. I don’t think this is the night for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers receivers to turn their season around.

The Vikings have probably been even worse offensively than the Packers. Adrian Peterson has been running strong through the first one-third of the season and has been hanging onto the ball, which is what everyone wished him to do. He’s making defenders miss and is breaking tackles. After only scoring nine points in each of their opening two losses, the Vikings have scored 20+ in their last three games, going 2-1.

The Packers get linebacker Clay Matthews back on the field, but I doubt he’s 100% after sitting out last week with a hamstring injury. Brett Favre, Randy Moss, and the rest of the Vikings passing game had another week to get in sync, so I expect them to be better tonight. Percy Harvin is just as explosive as last year and Visanthe Shiancoe should find some seams after disappearing the last couple games. The Packers’ secondary is still without two starters, and they haven’t faced an offensive unit as capable as the Vikings.

The Packers are at home, Favre has to overcome his slow start and off-the-field distractions, and the Vikings offensive line has to give some better protection, but I think the purple come out with a victory. They have the most upside, the most to prove, and cannot fall any further back in the NFC. It could be ugly, especially if Favre doesn’t play as well as he did last year against his former team, but the Vikings will get it done.

Vikings 24
Packers 20

Skol.

I have to admit that until recently, I didn’t have a great feeling about the Vikings chances in their Monday night game at the Jets tonight. They have not done many great things offensively in the first few weeks of the young NFL season to show that they can go into the Meadowlands and beat a very good Jets team with a very good defense.

Their embattled quarterback, Brett Favre, has not clicked with his receivers like he did in 2009, which can happen when a team loses its number one option, like Sidney Rice. No other wide receiver has stepped up, made consistent separation with the defensive back, and showed that he could carry the position for a few weeks. Bernard Berrian should have been this guy, but he has not proved up to the task through three games.

This all changed last week with the arrival of receiver Randy Moss from the Patriots. The Vikings, again, have a number one receiver that Favre can rely on throughout the game. Moss is a receiver that a defense has to pay close attention to and, on most plays, devote two-to-three guys to his side of the field. Even more importantly, it should open up lanes for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings very good running game.

Vikings QB Brett Favre

Vikings QB Brett Favre

AP has been running very well so far through three weeks, running as though he knew the offense was a little off while not at full strength. I thought the Vikings went away from the run in the 2nd half of the Saints game in week one, but their commitment in weeks two and three proved that the line and Peterson are up to the task in carrying the offense. The Jets defense is stout, meaning the Vikings passing game has to be a factor tonight, so Favre, Moss, Harvin, Shiancoe, etc. have to be on the same page in order for the Vikings offense to stay on the field, put some nice drives together, and score touchdowns, not field goals.

But are four practices and some classroom time enough to make the difference and turn the season around against a Jets team who has Super Bowl visions once again. Favre and Moss are hall of fame players who have been around, played in some big games, and been on teams where they needed to get to know new teammates pretty quickly. But never have they needed to become one in less than a week. They will.

It’s Monday night, and we know that both Favre and Moss have had some of their biggest moments of their careers in primetime on Monday Night Football. They are both under pressure for different reasons this week, so they’ll need all their focus to be in the right place, in the game, blocking out the viciousness the Jets’ fans are sure to bring, in order for the Vikings to come out on top and improve their record to 2-2.

The Jets are playing very well. However, when they traveled to Miami a couple weeks ago, the Dolphins, not known for their offensive prowess, moved the ball up and down the field against the Jets’ defense. Chad Henne threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns, and the Dolphins controlled the ball for most of the game. The Jets ended up winning, due to a great performance from their quarterback Mark Sanchez and an interception in their red zone with under a minute left to seal the game. But they weren’t an unstoppable force, like they have been at times the last year or so.

If the Jets play defense like they did in Miami, the Vikings will score more than 23 points and win this game. On the other side, the Vikings defense has played very well, too, holding the Saints, Dolphins and Lions to 14, 14, and 10 points respectively (really, the defense has only given up three touchdowns, as the Vikings offense has two turnovers inside their five yard line, giving their oppponets 14 points).

The Jets can take control of a tough AFC East with a win, but this game means more to the Vikings. Expected top teams in the NFC have fallen (Saints, Cowboys & Packers), so a Vikings’ win puts them back in the NFC North race and keeps them in a decent place in the NFC. It won’t be easy, but I think the Vikings will win.

Vikings 27, Jets 23.

***********

This prediction totally goes against what I’ve been telling people the last few days. I know as recently as Saturday, I picked the Jets 23-20. But I need the Vikings to win, otherwise I need to change my Twitter avatar to a very bearded Braylan Edwards. If the Vikings can somehow win, however, my Twitter friend, @TheFirstD, has to change his avatar to a very bearded Randy Moss.

Skol!

The Yankees beat the Twins on Wednesday night in game one of their ALDS series. We have seen the result and way the game unfolded before. The last few years, when these teams meet in the playoffs, it’s similar to Bill Murray waking up in the movie Groundhog Day: new day, same events.

The Yankees lineup is stacked, so I guess they will get their runs somehow – probably 5-6 per game – unless Pavano and the other Twins starters throw one heck of a gem. The Twins aren’t getting blown out by the Yankees, so here is what they need to do to win, which is the opposite of what has happened the last couple years.

1. Score early and often and keep pouring it on – the Twins have scored first in many of their games with the Yankees. We have seen that this doesn’t matter. They need more.
2. Drive in men on base – the Twins were 0-7 in game one with runners in scoring position. Jim Thome and JJ Hardy had great opportunities to either give the Twins the lead in the late innings or tie it when they fell behind.
3. Bullpen hold strong – Joe Nathan gave it up last year. Jesse Crain couldn’t hold the Yankees in game one this year. These guys need to make one more pitch. Just do it.
4. Get the big hit – ARod & Texiera last year. Big Tex again in game one. The Yankees seem to get the big hit late in the game that the Twins can’t get. They have a lineup of homerun hitters, which is a great advantage when one swing of the bat can make the difference. The Twins need two or more homeruns combined from Cuddyer, Young, Kubel and Thome to win, and I hope that, finally, one can come in innings seven to nine.

Pretty simple, right? I don’t have any problems with how Ron Gardenhire managed in game one, as some have said. I liked Liriano pitching against Granderson, a sub-.200 hitter versus left-handed pitchers. Grandy-man just won that one. And Jesse Crain has been really good this year, so having him pitch against Texiera was probably the right move. Tex has more HRs as a lefty, but I would have rather had Crain in there than Fuentes, at this point.

With Morneau out, I wish the Twins had better bat options on the bench. They don’t, so the starting nine have to be on for nine innings, so this series can get evened up.

Pavano will pitch huge tonight. Let’s take this back to the concrete jungle and get after the rest of the mediocre Yankees pitching staff.

Twins vs. Yankees: ALDS

October 6th, 2010

On a gut feeling alone, I think this is the year the Minnesota Twins finally get past the New York Yankees in the MLB playoffs. The Twins were not as good a team the previous three times they have played in recent years. I’ll take the Twins to win in four games.

Even without Justin Morneau, the Twins lineup is much improved, as we saw throughout the season. They have hit for more power thanks to the addition of Jim Thome, and Delmon Young had a breakout year at the plate. Young gets the nod in the cleanup spot, partly due to the fact that the Twins will face two Yankees lefties in CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte the first two games at Target FIeld.

The key for the Twins, though, will be Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, and Joe Mauer getting on base. They need to combine to be on base six or more times per game in order for the Twins to win. I predict this happens, and once on-base, Span and Hudson should have a decent chance to steal some bases. If Mauer hits higher than .370 in the series, the Twins win.

As for pitching, I think Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano will step up and pitch very well in the two home games for the Twins. Frankie has a tendency to get fired up, which could be a problem in the spotlight, but if he gets through the first three to four innings with only giving up a run or less and throws less than 45 pitches, he’ll settle down in the middle innings and go at least seven. Pavano proved last year that he has what it takes to face his former team with confidence and hold them down.

The Twins bullpen has been very good throughout the year, with a few rough spots at times, but Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Matt Capps and company will get the job done. I don’t think we’ll see any late-game heroics from Alex Rodriguez this year.

As for the Yankees, they scored a ton of runs during the regular season and hit a ton of home runs. Looking at their lineup, there are a bunch of .270 hitters with 20-plus homeruns. They are a very dangerous lineup, but in the cool air at Target Field, in combination with Liriano and Pavano pitching, I think the ball stays in the park more than it might have in Metrodome.

Twins will sweep both games at Target Field versus the Yankees – I’ll say 4-2 in game one and 6-5 in game two – and then will win game four in New York. Just like the Bulls needed to get by the Pistons in the NBA to finally win their titles, the Twins need to exorcise the whooping the Yankees have put on them this last decade. This is the year.

Win Twins!

** Photo found here using Google image search. **