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.
•Question: The National Football League Playoffs continued last weekend with San Francisco defeating New Orleans 36-32 and the New York Giants topping Green Bay 37-20 in the NFC and New England handling Denver 45-10 and Baltimore topping Houston 20-13 in the AFC. Which team impressed you the most and what were your overall thoughts on the games?
-Dorr: The only game I saw in its entirety was the New England-Denver game and New England was easily the most impressive team for me. The best game I saw part of was the San Francisco-New Orleans game, which I began watching during the second quarter. That was as good a playoff game as you could see, especially the final minutes when four touchdowns were scored. It was unbelievable that the 49ers scored that last touchdown and I’ll bet New Orleans feels the same. Converting on a third-and-long situation before the surprise try for a touchdown by San Francisco (instead of a game-tying field goal) was the play of the weekend. Didn’t see one minute of the Baltimore-Houston game and saw only bits and pieces of the Giants-Green Bay game because I was watching the Gopher basketball game. The high number of turnovers by New Orleans and Green Bay, and the dropped passes by the Packers, show that it’s almost impossible to predict the outcomes of such games. Who, in their right mind, would have predicted that number of turnovers or that number of dropped passes?
-Marxhausen: The team that impressed me most was San Francisco on both sides of the ball. Even though its defense gave up 32 points, the 49ers were instrumental in giving the offense all the opportunities to score as well. Alex Smith was poised throughout the entire four quarter, leading the 49ers to victory in the final moments of the game. The Giants stunned the regular-season best Green Bay Packers with Eli Manning leading the way with 330 passing yards and three touchdowns. I thought the Broncos would come close against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Brady’s performance was the best individual performance of the weekend, with 363 yards and six touchdowns. The Ravens took advantage of young Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and his three interceptions. The game was rather dull after the first half. It was a heavy defensive game.
-Larson: What a weekend of surprises. The match-up many fans, including me, were hoping for in the NFC finals was a Drew Brees-Aaron Rodgers showdown at Green Bay. But, Brees made too many mistakes and Rodgers, well, he wasn’t Brett Favre. Well, thinking back to 2009, maybe he was.
The Packers were the best team during the regular season and the biggest flop in the playoffs. New England’s mauling of Denver and quarterback Tim Tebow was no surprise and San Francisco’s victory at home was a mild surprise. The Giants get my vote as the most impressive team as they went to Green Bay and dismantled the team many predicted would win the Super Bowl.
•Question: The NFL conference finals are Sunday, with Baltimore at New England and New York at San Francisco. Who advances to the Super Bowl and why?
-Dorr: New England and New York would be my picks. New England’s offense seems like too much to stop, although Baltimore’s defense is probably stronger than the Denver defense that New England absolutely decimated. No special reason for picking the Giants, the underdog in that game. They just seem to be playing well right now. If that game was in New York instead of San Francisco, I’d make the Giants a lock.
-Marxhausen: Baltimore will be New England’s biggest test all season. The Ravens’ defense is known to cause problems and a chief reason as to why they win games. I feel that Brady will put up a performance that has been consistent with his play all season. The Patriots’ defense concerns me a little, with its terrible reputation on pass and rush defense, but they did shut down Tim Tebow after he had made Pittsburgh’s defense look like Swiss cheese. I counted out the 49ers last week against the Saints and I feel a little bad that I have to count them out again. I feel Eli Manning is playing some of his best football behind that offensive line that gives him time in the pocket. I think that New York’s defensive line and the pressure they get in the backfield will be the biggest key for the Giants to overcome the 49ers. The Super Bowl is going to be a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.
-Larson: I’m guessing that the network that will carry the Super Bowl took a hit when both Brees and Rodgers fell by the wayside. Like Luther and Logan, I like the Patriots and Brady at home against Baltimore. The Raven offense will have trouble putting up more than 17 points against a suspect New England defense. Brady won’t have trouble putting up 20 or more points against a good Baltimore defense. Unlike Luther and Logan, I’ll take San Francisco, a team I predicted to lose last week, over the Giants. That means SF quarterback Alex Smith will have to out-duel Eli Manning.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings have promoted Rick Spielman to the position of general manager. Spielman was previously vice president of player personnel and shared in making team decision in a “committee” approach the Vikings favored. Spielman has been with the team since 2006. What do you think of Spielman’s promotion?.
-Dorr: Some in the Twin Cities media have offered the opinion that the Vikings should have hired from outside the organization. I can understand that, given what has happened with the team the past couple years, although some say the draft picks that were rookies this year were OK. I think it odd that the team didn’t have a general manager for the past few years. Is there any other NFL team that doesn’t have a general manager? I don’t know enough about Spielman to comment on the hiring. We’ll know more about him in a couple years.
-Marxhausen: I think the idea of changing from the “committee” to the general manager position was a big step in franchise changing its old ways. The Vikings have technically had a general manager since the 1980s. The fact of the matter is that the Vikings finished 3-13 (9-23 last two seasons) and needed a change in the front office. Spielman has experience with the organization so he has that going for him, but this draft and this off-season will prove his worth to the future of the organization.
-Larson: How much input did Spielman have the past couple of years? If he had major input into the direction of the team, it’s a bit scary that now he will have even more influence. Many members of the media chided Spielman for not stepping into the spotlight when things were going bad this season. As my cohorts say, we’ll know a lot more about Spielman a year from now.
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