Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Chicago Bears 17-13 Sunday. What are your thoughts on the game? And, should Leslie Frazier return as Vikings head coach?

-Dorr: Mistake after mistake, as usual, and undisciplined as usual. Something that continues to amaze me is that writers and broadcasters – in this case our own Sid Hartman and Pat Reusse – keep saying that teams have nothing to play for, and that the Vikings would win because of that. People who haven’t played, or played much, go on and on about that, forgetting – or not knowing – that athletes have some pride and don’t care to look like fools for a television audience.  What did Green Bay have to play for Sunday? Nothing, yet the Packers put up 45 points with a back-up quarterback. San Diego had nothing to play for but knocked Oakland out of a playoff spot. And there is example after example of the same thing in every sport. The Bears aren’t good but the Vikings are worse and it showed Sunday. I’m not one to fire a coach after only one year as the head coach (Frazier also had six games as interim coach last fall) but he has done nothing to make me think he should be the coach. He seems confused and so does his team on occasion.

-Marxhausen: Although the record doesn’t show it, the Vikings have numerous positives that come out of this season.  Besides defensive end Jared Allen’s individual performance, there were not many positives for Minnesota. Leslie Frazier was not in control most of the season, dealing with weekly issues that disrupted any flow that the Vikings could use to win. But, Frazier deserves more time to develop this team and the camaraderie it takes to put together a contender.

-Larson:  As Luther said, Sunday’s loss was pretty much a replay of earlier losses. Both young quarterbacks, Christian Ponder and Joe Webb, lost some of their shine.

Frazier isn’t the coach to put the Vikings back together and should be replaced with someone who has the ability to evaluate players, something Frazier can’t do. Despite the early release this season of offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie and receiver Bernard Berrian, Frazier appears to be a “players coach.” The team needs a taskmaster.

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•Question:  The NFL Playoffs begin next weekend with Wild Card Weekend. Detroit is at New Orleans and Atlanta is at the New York Giants in NFC games while Pittsburgh is at Denver and Cincinnati is at Houston in AFC games. Who wins those games and which of those eight teams has the best chance of advancing to the Super Bowl?

-Dorr: New Orleans is playing the best of those eight teams and seems to have the best chance to make it to the Super Bowl.  The bookies say Houston, New Orleans, New York and Pittsburgh will be the winners next weekend so I’ll go with them. Want to bet there won’t be at least one upset? How about Cincinnati?

-Marxhausen: The AFC games seem a little more definitive than the NFC. In the AFC, the Steelers’ defense is going to control Tebow and the marginal Bronco offense that has been inconsistent as the season comes to a close.  Cincinnati vs. Houston will be a good game, but the lack of experience from quarterbacks Andy Dalton and T.J. Yates will show in this playoff game.  The Texans will win, but it will be a close game won by the Houston defense.  Detroit vs. New Orleans will be a competitive match-up, but I cannot see Drew Brees and the Saints faltering as they did in the playoffs against Seattle last year. Atlanta against New York will be the best match-up of the first round.  Eli Manning and Victor Cruz have connected with each other more than any other quarterback and his slot receiver.  The Falcons will put up a great fight, but the combination of the Giants’ defense and offense will be too much for the Falcons.

-Larson:  Many national analysts are saying the New York Giants are this year’s “sleeper.” They may be and will topple the Falcons. New Orleans tips Detroit in the other NFC game while Pittsburgh stops Denver and Cincinnati tops Houston in the AFC. New Orleans looks like the best bet to advance from this group to the Super Bowl.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Timberwolves are off to a 2-3 start and fans at the Target Center are on their feet because of the team’s overall play behind forward Kevin Love and new guard Ricky Rubio. What do you think of the team’s play so far and do you think it will finish with a winning record?

-Dorr: I think the media, especially, and fans have gone overboard on the Wolves so far. After all, they lost their first three games, a couple of which were winnable. Fans, writers and broadcasters seemed to have forgotten that high school and college players can make passes that Rubio was making – high school kids make bounce passes for layups, you know. He played OK but, at the NBA level, it wasn’t that special. But, give the team credit – the performance against Dallas Sunday night was laudable. Love, the subject of ridicule by StarTribune columnist Pat Reusse for a couple years, has turned into a very, very good NBA player. He’s added the three-point shot to his game and he’s a great rebounder. Rubio played well against Dallas, showing some scoring he hadn’t shown the first three games but let’s wait awhile before getting too excited. I don’t think the team will finish above .500 but it’s really way too early to tell. We’ll know more by the end of January.

-Marxhausen:  I watched all but one of the Timberwolves games so far and in every instance, they have shown they can hang with any opponent through the fourth quarter. In the last couple of season, the Timberwolves were playing from behind starting the fourth quarter, losing by an average of 10 points.  This season is different and it shows as the Timberwolves have produced a little swagger on the court.  The combination of Rubio and Love has done some great things, but it is also nice to know that the regular starters can get things done.  Luke Ridnour proved by scoring 19 points and dishing out nine assists against the San Antonio Spurs Monday.

-Larson:  Many Minnesota basketball fans have watched more minutes of Timberwolves basketball in the first eight days of this season than they did in the first eight weeks of the 2010-2011 season. TV ratings are way up. Fans didn’t take a wait-and-see attitude this year. They tuned in right away to see if the long-awaited Rubio was the real deal. And, so far, he sure looks like it. The team has played a rugged early schedule and hasn’t been intimidated, even by the Miami Heat, the team nearly all the experts are picking to win the NBA playoff crown this season. So far, it looks like new coach Rick Adelman is making a big difference.

Can the team win 33 games or more in the abbreviated 66-game schedule? I’ll go with 31.

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•Question:  No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama meet in the Bowl Championship Series title game Monday, Jan. 9. LSU defeated Alabama 9-6 in overtime at Alabama during the regular season. Which team emerges as 2011 national champion?

-Dorr: I have little to base an opinion on. I’ve only see the two teams play once and that was the 9-6 game, a game I tuned out a lot in the second half because it was boring. As a mini-protest of the whole BCS mess, I don’t plan to watch the game. I’ll take the team that’s the underdog, even though I don’t know who it is.

-Marxhausen: Alabama is my pick to win the national championship. In the previous match-up against LSU, the Crimson Tide came up short because of the lack of field goals.  When the game was all said and done, the Alabama kickers went 2-for-6 from the field and sealed the team’s fate.  Alabama has a phenomenal defense that will supersede that of LSU’s great defense.  The Crimson Tide will emerge as champions as a result of them capitalizing on their opportunities.

-Larson:  Don’t let Luther’s answer fool you. He will be sitting in front of the television cheering both teams on while waving one of those D – fence posters, the ones featuring the D and a drawing of a yard fence.

LSU didn’t play well in the first meeting at Alabama. The title game will be in the vastly-improved Tigers’ home territory, the Superdome in New Orleans, which will be a big edge. The LSU defense will bottle up Alabama running star Trent Richardson, leaving the Crimson Tide with little offensive punch. Make it LSU, 24-13.

It is fitting this season that two Southeast Conference teams are playing for the title. Present (Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State) and future (Texas A&M, Missouri) Southeast Conference teams scored bowl victories this year, with only Vanderbilt and Georgia losing. And my, what a sorry showing by Big Ten teams.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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