The Pain Remains in Minnesota

Heartbreak….
 We have all been there, one moment the world couldn’t hold more color, the sun couldn’t shine brighter and then suddenly it stops. Your days turn gray and the sun gets lost behind some clouds. If you’re a Viking fan, like me, you’ve seen many days like this come and go.
 The 2017-2018 season started like any other, a solid draft by Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his staff led by a solid off-season training program. Minnesota truly did seem like they were on the cusp of something special. Week one I was there, the home opener in US Bank Stadium, the loudest venue I have even been apart of (sorry KC fans I’ve been to two games in arrowhead and nothing gets louder than a SKOL chant on Sunday afternoon). Sam Bradford and the new look Vikings offense wage war on the New Orleans Saints led by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. This game would set in place a season marked by loss and fortunate events. Sam Bradford lights it up his first game out 27 of 32 attempts found their mark for a staggering 346 yards and 3 touchdowns you throw in 22 carries and 127 yards for a solid 5.8 yards per carry from rookie Dalvin Cook its hard to think of anyone stopping the machine certainly while backed up by arguably the best defense in football.
The first fracture comes here Bradford goes down with a knee injury a bone bruise maybe it’s a torn ligament or scar tissue I don’t think anyone really knew. So this is it, like a free delicious sample at a store, just enough to show you how good it could be but not enough to satisfy your craving. In steps Case Keenum the best way I can say it is if Sam Bradford was your vintage Porsche that you’ve restored after some dents and scratches, then Case was like having to drive your old Geo Metro with a hubcap falling off, a crack across your windshield and you just had to crank the key just right to get it to start. That’s what Case was before Minnesota but Pat Shurmur the Offensive Coordinator and Kevin Stefanski the Quarterback Coach they were the fairy God Mother of the Vikings dreams. They turned the beat up broke down Geo Metro into a formula one car that came in the form of a gunslinger Minnesota hasn’t seen since Favre suited up in the purple and gold. After all he just needed to manage games with Dalvin tearing up defenses and let the defense win it for you…sounds familiar doesn’t it? Minnesota leans on a loaded defense and dominant run game to mask the short comings of their passing attack. Not so fast, not this year after all Minnesota had pro bowl Tight End Kyle Rudolph pro bowl Wide Outs in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen they even signed former pro bowler Latavius Murray who came from a spread it out offense in Oakland. The Vikings had the pieces, they just needed the glue or a beat down broken Metro.

Case Keenum didn’t break down, in fact, he posted a career year tallying 3,547 yard 22 tds and only 7 ints not bad for a falling off hubcap, but then week four, Dalvin Cook tears his ACL on a non contact football move and is gone for the season. The Vikings lose that game to the Lions 14-7 and that’s the season, it’s over, another year of what ifs. This is the second fracture of the campaign. The team rolls in to week five and limps out with a 20-17 win over Chicago, and then week six they catch fire. Anthony Barr injures Aaron Rodgers, Minnesota claims a 23-10 win and wouldn’t see another loss until week 13 against the Panthers losing 31-24, all the while quietly posting a historic season. Mckinnon and Murray silently post a 2nd place finish in regular season rushing for a running back tandem behind Jay Ajayi and Legarette Blount of Philadelphia. Case Keenum posts his remarkable year. The Vikings defense posts a 25.2 third down percentage the best the league has seen since 1991 when the Saints set the mark with 26.1 and in modern-day football that’s unheard of.

 So here we are the 2nd seed Carson Wentz is on a campaign to be the leagues MVP in Philly goes down with a knee injury. Teddy Bridgewater returns and plays in a game during garbage time and I feel the sun I see the colors and I think this could be it the pieces are falling into place perfectly. Then comes the divisional round. I see Philly and Atlanta play in a snooze fest and I figure well, if Minnesota can beat the Saints it just about books a trip home to the Super Bowl after all Philly was the weakest 1st seed ever…ha,  so naive. Minnesota would break out to an early lead against the Saints, it looked like a no contest early and then, Xavier Rhodes turns an ankle and the premier shutdown corner of the NFL is hobbled,  Michael Thomas and Drew Brees the duo, light up Minnesota like a Griswold family Christmas display and I see the clouds rolling in. Then it happens the Saints take a late lead and I realize it’s over, the seasons done, that magic flickered out, ha! so naive. I learned my lesson that night to never give up on your team, because with seconds to go Case Keenum would write his name into Viking lore forever, a high pass which hung in the air for what seemed like forever was rescued by Stefon Diggs and as he fell all I could think of was get out-of-bounds, please for the love of God get out of bounds, and then it happened, pandemonium. Marcus Williams makes one of the worst tackle attempts of all time taking out Crawley, Stefon Diggs does the best impression of an Olympic speed skater I’ve ever seen on grass, bending parallel to the ground catching himself with his hand turning and finding nothing but history. That run was in slow motion, go ahead, key up the titanic music and get some tissues because as I stood there eventually dropping to my knees I witnessed a miracle. My grandfather who has seen it all since 1961 and I hugged we watched the replay and we thought no way not this way these plays never play out for us. Example, Blair Walsh or Gary Anderson, maybe everyone recalls the greatest run by a QB in NFL history when Michael Vick turned into a human video game to win it in overtime for Atlanta. This was ours though and you couldn’t beat destiny you couldn’t halt fate.

 You can’t beat destiny, but you can break her heart. It still hurts….Minnesota rolled into Philadelphia the team of destiny. The first team to ever play a Superbowl in their home stadium, a historic defense, a miracle man in Case Keenum with enough offensive sidekicks to make the justice league jealous, it just seemed like a formality. The first drive the Vikings look like they are about to run rough shot over the Eagles and then, a bolt comes loose on the hubcap in tune of a pick six to tie it. Then another screw with a deep shot to Alshon Jeffrey…then the tire falls off the car goes crashing rolling flipping and diving and before you know it…its over. Heartbreak…it ends, and you’re numb, how could this team do what it did the week before and then have it come to this? Emotional hang over? Was Philly just that good? I say no to both. The Vikings just crumbled under the weight. In reality, they don’t go on that run and they shouldn’t have. In reality, as well I would know better than to let myself believe the hype, but in reality Minnesota is that pretty girl that you know is going to wreck your heart but you can’t help but go for it anyway. That’s the 2017-2018 campaign the records the memories and the miracles they’re all for nothing. What lasts is the hurt and the dark clouds the gray and lack of color. It’s mid February and I still can’t see an Eagle without being sick to my stomach, but that’s this game we play. I know this feeling all to well, being a Viking fan, but come April when Roger Goodell stands at that podium and he says with the 30th pick in the NFL Draft the Minnesota Vikings select. I will be there in my purple seeing all the colors soaking in the sun because no matter how many times I say I’m done I always come back for more. I’m not sure what 2018-2019 holds for Minnesota, hopefully a Superbowl birth. It will hold a few things I feel are guaranteed. The return of the prolific Dalvin Cook, an embarrassed elite defense looking to make a point with something to prove, another year in the west coast offense to see Rudolph, Diggs, and Thielen go off. Who gets them the ball? Will it be the restored Porsche? The Geo Metro missing a wheel, how about the Camaro salvage from wreckage rebuilt and left under the tarp. Whether its Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, or Teddy Bridgewater, or maybe a rookie, whoever it is I will love this team, because whats love without a little heartbreak in between?

– Matt Corum (Guest Writer)

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Why isn’t ANYONE Talking About These 4 Teams?

As we continue to get closer and closer to March, we’ve all began to get a general sense of what the bracket is going to look like. Separating the contenders from the pretenders, thinking we know for sure what we are even talking about. Come on people. It’s the Big Dance, nobody knows what’s going to happen. With that said, I decided to list off some of the hottest teams that no one seems to be giving any sort of attention when in reality they certainly deserve it.

Alabama Crimson Tide (16-9) – This team is one of the most confusing teams I’ve seen in a while. Some nights they look like a top 10 team and then other nights they look like a team I’d never even consider to make the tournament. Collin Sexton has been the undoubted leader all season long and has led the Tide to some HUGE wins and that’s the reason people need to keep an eye on this squad.

Best Wins: Rhode Island, Texas A&M, Auburn, Oklahoma, Florida & Tennessee.

If Alabama gets hot entering March, look out.

Florida Gators (17-8) – Just like Bama, this team is incredibly inconsistent. Coming into the year, everyone had high expectations for this Gator squad. Even being ranked in the top 5 early in the season, Florida soon became the team nobody knew what group would show up. Lead by Chris Chiozza, Florida’s roster is stacked with talent and is certainly capable for a big another big run in the tournament and has shown flashes of what kind of team they are capable of being.

Best Wins: Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Kentucky & Baylor

This team can compete with anyone in the country. Don’t sleep on the Gators.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (19-8) – NU is the Big 10’s silent assassin. Currently 10-4 in conference play, Nebraska has played beyond expectations this season and now control their own destiny heading into March. The Huskers don’t have the flashiest resume so they will definitely need to finish the season strong but they certainly put themselves in a great situation in one of college basketball’s best conferences.

Best Wins: Boston College, Minnesota, Michigan

I also have to mention they had Kansas beat until the Jayhawks hit a last-second shot to squeak by the ‘skers. These aren’t your average Cornhuskers and be ready to see more of them come March.

Tennessee Volunteers (18-6) – Being the 3rd SEC team on this list, it just goes to show how deep this conference really is. Similar to Nebraska, the Vols have been silently taking care of business in conference play. The Vols have the talent and depth for a deep run in the tournament this season.

Best Wins: Kentucky (TWICE), Purdue, Iowa State, & Texas A&M

Rocky Top is red-hot right now and I don’t see them slowing down by the time March Madness comes around.

I obviously know these aren’t the only “dangerous” teams in the country, but these are the four that I’m surprised I don’t hear more about. You can agree or you can disagree, but one thing is for sure. March needs to hurry up and get here so we can watch all of this unfold.

– Collin Borron (Founder & Owner of The Gridiron Express)

Isaiah Thomas Already Causing Trouble in L.A.

Do you ever just look at a couple and right away can tell that they just aren’t going to work together. They’re great people and all, but as duo they just don’t “click”. Isaiah Thomas and LeBron James were that couple.

After arriving in Cleveland, Isaiah Thomas just didn’t seem like he belonged, nor did it seem like he even wanted to be there. Fast forward a few months, the Cavaliers are just a big mess. No chemistry, no effort, horrific defense and the former Boston super star still had yet to make any sort of impact. It just wasn’t working.

Then today happened. The NBA trade deadline has finally arrived and oh my goodness did Cleveland take full advantage of it. To no surprise, Isaiah Thomas was traded away and sent to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Cleveland easily got the better end of the deal.

Shortly after being traded, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols received a text from Thomas’ agent saying “HE IS NOT COMING OFF THE BENCH.”

Well that’s a bit aggressive. Then apparently IT4’s agent followed that statement up suggesting they’d rather have a buyout than come off the bench.

Now we just have to wait and see how the Lakers will make him fit into their roster and with Lonzo expected to return in the near future, we’ll see if Thomas and his agent stay true to their words and attempt to get out of Los Angeles.

– Collin Borron (Founder & Owner of The Gridiron Express)

49ers Go ALL IN On Jimmy Garoppolo

We all knew it was coming at some point this off-season. Today it finally happened. The San Francisco 49ers gave QB Jimmy Garoppolo a 5-year contract extension worth $137.5 million. Making it largest in league history in terms of “average per year”. The 49ers found their franchise quarterback and John Lynch made it official.

Garoppolo transformed one of the worst teams in the NFC to one of the hottest when he arrived in October. The Niners didn’t lose a game when he started, going 5-0 while looking seemingly unstoppable. Also keep in mind during his time in New England he never lost when he started, going 2-0. Jimmy G is 7-0 in the NFL as a starting QB. Has he done enough to earn this payday? In my opinion, absolutely.

The Patriots traded Garoppolo away to the Niners last October for a second-round pick in the 2018 draft. I can’t help to think that Belichick and New England just sort of gave him away. Then again, was he really worth anything more at the time? Either way, San Francisco found their guy for little to nothing.

Personally, I’m glad for Jimmy G and would really like to see him continue to thrive in San Francisco. The organization and fans certainly deserve to get back on the map and I have no doubt that the 49ers will see themselves back in the playoff talk in the 2018 season.

– Collin Borron (Founder & Owner of The Gridiron Express)

Jacksonville & Minnesota Will Be Simply Average in 2018

The Jaguars and Vikings had two of the best defenses in the NFL this past season. They went on incredible runs deep into the playoffs. Both competing in their conference championship. It’s safe to say after their successful seasons, they will come back next year with a ton of momentum and continue their winning ways. Right? Actually, no.
Jacksonville was given a situation where it was almost impossible for them not to win their division. The Colts didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, Houston was on FIRE with Deshaun Watson but then he suffered a season ending injury, and Tennessee was their toughest competition. I’m not trying to take anything away from the Titans as I actually think they are brewing up something special with Mariota and that offense, but they are still a ways away from being a true threat. In the end, Jacksonville took full advantage of the very messy AFC South.
In the Playoffs, the Jaguars squeaked by the Bills in the Wild Card round, dominated Pittsburgh for half the game and upset the Steelers at Heinz Field in the Divisional Round and were minutes away from defeating the Patriots in the AFC Championship but couldn’t quite put the game away and came up short.
The Jaguars earned our respect, especially in the playoffs and I’m not trying to take anything away from their special season. It’s their success that will be their downfall.
The 2017 season and playoff run creates a tougher 2018 schedule. Both New England and Philadelphia are early opponents of the Jags next season. Also the AFC South will be at full strength. Indianapolis will have Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson will be back for the Texans and Mariota is only getting better. Jacksonville could very easily finish 3rd or 4th in their division next season and personally I expect at best a 9-7 record.
This same concept applies to the Vikings in the NFC North. The Bears were just plain out bad, Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers to injury and the biggest competition was an ‘alright’ Detroit Lions squad. This created a dream scenario for the Vikings and they, like the Jaguars, took full advantage of it.
Minnesota’s 2018 schedule is ridiculously tough. Here’s a list of just some of their competition.
– New England Patriots (Duh)
– LA Rams (Best Offense in Football)
– Green Bay Packers TWICE (Healthy Rodgers)
– New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees)
– Philadelphia Eagles (Defending SB Champs)
– San Francisco (Jimmy Garoppolo)
– Seattle Seahawks (Always a challenge)
Those are just the toughest opponents. Don’t forget about having to face a solid Detroit team twice as well. Minnesota is in for quite the wake up call.

All in all, to me it looks highly unlikely that the Vikings and Jaguars will duplicate their success from a season ago. Opponents returning healthy, much tougher teams scheduled and both are without star QB’s. Not quite the recipe for success.

– Collin Borron (Founder & Owner of The Gridiron Express)

The Most Underrated RB of the 2018 NFL Draft

With the 2018 NFL Draft on the horizon, there’s one position class that is loaded with talent. The Running Backs. Headlined with names like Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel & more. But there’s a beast of a player that little to nobody is talking about. Tennessee’s John Kelly.

We all know how Tennessee turned out this year, but believe it or not Tennessee was ranked for a few weeks during this season. All because of one player that seemingly put the team on his back. John Kelly. He started out the year on fire & was practically the one who won 3 of the Vols 4 wins this year.

Week 1 against Georgia Tech, he ran for 128 yards and scored 4 TD’s, leading the Vols to a double OT thriller victory.

Week 3 in a losing effort to Florida, Kelly played his best game of the season seemingly dominating one of the SEC’s best defenses in Florida. He carried the ball 19 times for 141 yards and a touchdown. He also recorded 6 receptions for 96 yards. He was literally the only reason the Tennessee Vols were even competitive in that game.

Week 4 in a win against UMass, he recorded himself another 100+ yard rushing performance.

After that though, the season didn’t go well for the Vols. After all, Kelly could only have the team on his back for so long before crashing and burning against their brutal SEC schedule.

So why I am I so high on this John Kelly guy if he didn’t lead his team to a successful year or even have that great of a year? As Luke Skywalker once said “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before (Dalvin Cook). It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now (John Kelly).”

The few great performances Kelly had, were enough to sell me on this kid. His strength, speed, and overall build are unreal. His play style reminds me so much of FSU’s Dalvin Cook. Kelly plays with an anger and passion that isn’t found in most running backs nowadays. Unlike Cook, Kelly wasn’t surrounded by a top 10 team and I think that is another reason why Kelly is overlooked. Seeing him against Florida alone had me sold. This guy is going to thrive in the NFL.

This is one of those players that you just have to actually witness play to really grasp on to the idea of him being a success. Nonetheless, I personally feel like John Kelly is the best-hidden gem in the 2018 NFL Draft.

– Collin Borron (Founder & Owner of The Gridiron Express)