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Playoffs? Forget about it!

The end is near. The Vikings are now 7-7 with two games left on this injured season. Adrian Peterson returned Sunday, and what many thought would be a much-needed, no-excuses spark turned into a reality check.

It’s not likely going to happen in 2016. The Vikings are alive for the playoffs but need a respirator, divine intervention, and collapses by Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Green Bay. That’s asking for a lot.

Sunday’s Colt 34-6 destruction just reminds us all that this is the NFL. You can dream, but you cannot sleepwalk on Sunday. That performance Sunday was not only an eyesore for the most loyal of Vikings fans, but truth in disclosure. I know a sleepwalk when I see one.

Remember, the Colts are in their own AFC fight, happily now 7-7 chasing Houston and Tennessee at 8-6. The Colts, one of the NFL’s oldest teams, were born in Baltimore — remember John Mackey and Johnny Unitas? Unable to get a new stadium, they loaded their pads in a huff and took a Mayflower semi-truck to Indianapolis years ago.

Andrew Luck is their franchise player. Frank Gore is their next Hall of Fame player. They both combined to have their way at U.S. Bank Stadium with the once 5-0 Vikings.

The Colts are 17-7 all-time versus the Vikings and have beaten them five games in a row. The Vikings are now third in the NFC North, looking up at 9-5 Detroit and 8-6 Green Bay, and they play at the Packers Saturday on Christmas Eve. Oh boy!

Think about it: If the Vikings beat Green Bay and Chicago and the Packers beat Detroit the final weekend, all three teams would be 9-7. Who wins the tie-breaker? The Vikings would have swept the Packers, and the Packers would have swept Detroit, and the Lions would have swept the Vikings.

That, folks, might be the only way this Vikings team of Mike Zimmer (no longer wearing and eye patch) can reach the 2017 playoffs. Good luck and Merry Christmas from the eternal optimist.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

Coach Richard Pitino on his Gophers

Truth in disclosure: Since Tubby Smith was fired unfairly three years ago by Norwood Teague, the ex-Gophers athletic director, I felt so strongly about how bad that decision was that I stopped covering men’s Gophers basketball. Last year was the worst year in school history at 8-22.

Two weeks ago I ended my protest by covering the Gophers vs. Arkansas at Williams Arena. They won. Before that game, I sat down with Richard Pitino (RP), now in his third season as head coach.

MSR: Congrats on a great start to the season!

RP: Thanks, it’s been a kind of quiet, challenging start to the season.

MSR: The Gophers are better. They are 7-1 and play New Jersey Institute of Technology next at Williams Arena. How are you selling your program and the keys to it?

RP: I would hope that when you talk about playing for the University of Minnesota, you’re obviously talking about a tremendous college experience. And tremendous opportunities outside of basketball if you get your degree from here with all the Fortune 500 companies. To play in the Big Ten if not the best one of the best basketball conferences. And to play in front of our loyal fans.

You talk about all those things. You talk about style of play and the commitment to getting these guys better on and off the court. And, hopefully, winning follows that too. You’re constantly talking about those things with our guys. Our guys love going to school here.

I think that’s kind of an underrated thing here. And they love playing in this arena as well.

MSR: Your dad Rick, head coach at Louisville, is a Hall of Fame coach. Is your goal to achieve some of the things he’s accomplished over the years?

RP: I’m 34 years old and I’m new at this, and to try and mirror a Hall of Famer’s career would make me pretty unhappy. I try to take it day by day.

I’ve been provided a tremendous opportunity to be the head basketball coach at a great school a Big Ten school, at a young age. I’m just trying to get better every day and pour myself into our team, my family, and do my best there. The whole trying to be like your dad…you really don’t think about those things.

MSR: Much was made of recruiting and the number of talented in-state high school players that got away from Minnesota. You did get one of the best in Amir Coffey. Can you talk about that?

RP: What’s difficult about local kids is you can’t take them all. You only get 13 scholarships, and you have to identify with the ones that you need. Amir was a guy that we needed. It was extremely important to get him.
It’s early, obviously, but he’s playing well. When you get a local kid and it works — and hopefully it does continue to work — that might be the best local recruiting tool that you can have. We’re going to continue to try and do our best and put him in the position to succeed.

I know the fans locally, they love him if you can see a local kid have success.

MSR: You have a more physical team in 2016-17. Is that what you wanted?

RP: Yes, we’re a much bigger team. If you look at our team, we’ve got more size [with] Amir at 6’-7” at the three spot. That helps. Your four spot is bigger. Reggie Lynch is bigger. That helps in defensive rebounding, and that puts pressure on the defense when you can play inside to out.

I don’t know too many teams in this league if you’re not big that are going to win. If we stay healthy — knock on wood — we’ve got the size to compete. I really do like our size a lot.

How about them 10-1 Cowboys!

Over the last six weeks we’ve witnessed the slow, steady demise of a once 5-0 Vikings football team to consistent injury, kicking game and coaching defects. The combination has jeopardized this once promising season. It’s easy to point the finger, but all 32 teams understand in the NFL that it’s not how you start but how you finish.

With five weeks left, the Vikings can still rescue their season by catching Detroit in the NFC North or qualifying as a Wild Card. Three of the Vikings’ remaining five games are at U.S. Bank Stadium, where they are 4-1. In a couple of weeks they could be getting running back Adrian Peterson back, so keep hope alive.

This week on Thursday night, buckle up for the hottest team in the NFL. The 10-1 America’s team Dallas Cowboys will be here for a prime time showdown on NBC.

Dallas lost their first game to the New York Giants 20-19 and since have reeled off 10 straight wins. They have the dynamic combo of rookie sensations quarterback Dak Prescott and the NFL’s leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott. The NFL has not had a breath of fresh air like this combo in a long time.img_2645

Prescott has taken Tony Romo’s team to the next level. He has protected the football, having only two interceptions this year. For an All-Pro quarterback, that’s great. For a rookie? That’s unheard of.

He’s thrown for 2,835 yards and 18 touchdowns and has been brilliant in the fourth quarter, only the fourth rookie QB in NFL history with six consecutive multi-touchdown games. He has a QB rating of 108.6, third-best in the NFL. Only Tom Brady of New England and Matt Ryan of Atlanta are rated higher. He has been nothing short of sensational, plus he has the ability to move in the pocket and run — he has five rushing touchdowns.

Elliott is the best running back in football. He leads the NFL in rushing with 1,199 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 109 yards a game. Dallas has not had a rookie running back like this kid since Tony Dorsett.

Dallas is loaded with talent and experience. Dez Bryant is among the best receivers in the NFL, and tight end Jason Witten is a future Hall of Fame player.

The Vikings will have their hands full dealing with these Cowboys, who have maybe the biggest, most physically dominating offensive line in the NFL. Looking closely at the Cowboys reveals that they have feasted on the likes of San Francisco, Cleveland and Chicago, who are a combined 3-31.

img_2696The Vikings have played a much tougher schedule than Dallas and beat the Giants, remember, the only team to beat Dallas. However the Vikings lost to Chicago.

Dallas is listed as a 9-2 favorite to reach Super Bowl 51 in Houston. They are 5-0 when they score 30 points or more and 5-0 when they score 24 points or more. They are 0-1 when they don’t score 20 points. That’s where the Vikings defensive unit can make this game interesting.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer used to work for the Cowboys, so he has knowledge of how the Cowboys’ machine operates. The Vikings now need to go 5-0 to match last year’s 11-5 record. It’s a home game against the Cowboys, and you should be able to win at home.

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.