I’ve been to plenty of stadiums. I’ve been to Miller Park -- a dump in a bad part of Milwaukee. I’ve been to the Metrodome -- a terrible place to watch baseball but loud and fun nonetheless. I’ve been to Safeco Field -- a beautiful, quaint place to watch baseball as long as the roof is open. I’ve been to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City -- a beautifully vast stadium. I’ve been to Fenway Park, which makes me feel spoiled every time I visit Target Field. But even Target Field nor the newly renovated Target Center compares to the decadence that is U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Bathrooms

The most important aspect of any stadium experience is the bathroom experience. Long lines are bad, but dirty, smelly bathrooms are worse. Both the Metrodome and Target Center had urinal troughs omitting a smell no number of fresh urinal cakes could mask. The U.S. Bank Stadium bathroom I used was as clean at the end of the third quarter as it was prior to kickoff of Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Rams.

Not only are the U.S. Bank Stadium bathrooms fresh, they’re smartly located and designed to limit time spent in line. I didn’t spend any time in line for the bathroom, but had I, I wouldn’t have been that disappointed. In our section (C7 of the second level), there’s a lounge with televisions and comfortable seating so you can watch the Vikings game or any other game for that matter.

The Seats

While we didn’t spend much time in them, the padded seats at U.S. Bank Stadium were plush and relatively roomy. The addition of padded seats in Target Center was the second biggest reason for my purchase of a 10-game season ticket package this season (the addition of Jimmy Butler being the first). Baseball stadiums need to start installing more padded seats because a comfortable seat can make people forget about the length of your game. There are a lot of breaks in NFL action, so the fact our butts were comfortable made the inaction slightly more tolerable.

The Atmosphere

Before the Vikings (specifically, Detroit Lakes’ Adam Thielen) started running away from a pretty good Los Angeles Rams’ defense, U.S. Bank Stadium was rocking. It’s certainly comparable to the Metrodome when it comes to crowd noise. During the 1987 and 1991 World Series, the crowd noise at the Metrodome was measured at 125 and 118 decibels, respectively -- the equivalent of a jet airliner and on the threshold of causing physical pain. The decibels at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday were repeatedly measured above 118 -- during a regular season game.

The Vikings do a fantastic job getting the crowd revved up, too. I nearly leaked tears of joy as the Vikings ran onto the field as if exiting a Viking ship that breathes fire to the sound of a blaring Viking horn while former Vikings like John Randle and Randy Moss narrate. As far as player introductions go, it’s a very distant second to the introduction of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, which still gives me goosebumps.

The Eats and Drinks

While eats and drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, were severely overpriced, there is a diverse menu of both available at U.S. Bank Stadium. The only downside is you can’t find a Coca-Cola product in the building, and a cocktail and a domestic beer will cost you $20. A plate of salmon and lobster with chips will cost you $18, but looked delicious, as did a mushroom Swiss burger that was enjoyed by a fan in the row in front of us. If you can afford it, I highly recommend eating a meal at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Product

The stadium experience is also dependent on having a good product inside the stadium, and the Vikings took a big step in securing a first-round bye and a home game in the NFL playoffs with a win over the contending Rams. If the Philadelphia Eagles ever stumble, the Vikings could stay at home throughout the playoffs and have a chance to win their first championship in their own building. Only the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX and Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV have ever played for a championship in their home market. The Niners won and Rams lost. Regardless of who represents the NFC and AFC in Super Bowl LII, U.S. Bank Stadium will quite possibly provide the best stadium experience for fans ever.

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There were plenty of NFL teams that made playoff statements in Week 9 -- some good, some bad. No team made a bigger statement than Philadelphia, though.

The NFC road to the Super Bowl will go through Philadelphia

The Eagles (8-1) have been fantastic and should end up the top playoff seed in the NFC. The rest of Philadelphia’s schedule isn’t easy, with two games against Dallas, one at Seattle and one at the Rams. But with eight wins already and a home game against the Bears and the hapless Giants on the schedule, the Eagles should win more than 10 games. If the offensive line holds up and Carson Wentz stays healthy, the Eagles might win 14. As for their opponent in Week 9...

The Broncos will miss the playoffs

The Broncos are a mess when they have the ball, and their defense was picked apart for 51 points by Wentz. Worse yet, the Broncos will take their sixth loss of the season at home against the Patriots next week. The Denver defense can’t carry this team to the playoffs if the turnovers continue, unless Kansas City collapses.

The AFC road to the Super Bowl won’t go through Kansas City

MVP candidate Alex Smith was stymied by an overachieving Dallas secondary and pass rush, and Kareem Hunt was taken out of the game by his own coach. He had just nine carries. The Chiefs were sloppy pre-snap, wouldn’t establish a running game nor stop the run. The Chiefs will make the playoffs, but I like the Steelers’ and Patriots’ schedules (and quarterbacks) better the rest of the way.K

The Steelers (6-2) have the Andrew Luck-less Colts next, the Titans at home, and the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers followed by the reeling Bengals in Cincinnati. The Patriots are the only team remaining that should beat them, but we’ve already seen Pittsburgh fall to the Bears this season and struggle with the really good Jacksonville secondary.

Despite an ugly loss to Kansas City in Week 1, the Patriots could still end up the AFC’s top playoff seed. They play the Dolphins and Bills twice, and the Jets once. The Broncos and Raiders won’t likely pose problems for the Patriots, either.

The Carolina Panthers will win the NFC South

The Panthers’ Cam Newton was better than reigning MVP Matt Ryan on Sunday, and Christian McCaffrey displayed why the Panthers don’t need Kelvin Benjamin, who was traded to Buffalo for third- and seventh-round draft picks. If Newton and McCaffrey stay healthy, the Panthers are champions of the NFC South.

The Panthers (6-3) have just one blemish on their record, which is a home loss to New Orleans. They’ll get a chance to redeem themselves on Dec. 3 in New Orleans, after facing the hapless Dolphins and Jets with a bye week sandwiched in between. The Saints (6-2) have three tough games upcoming: at Buffalo, hosting Washington and at the white hot Rams prior to hosting Carolina. They also have two games against the Falcons, who were a Julio Jones drop away from making a positive playoff statement in Week 9. Instead…

The Atlanta Falcons will miss the playoffs

With losses to the Bills and Dolphins already this season, the Falcons have lost too many of the games they need to win to make the playoffs. Atlanta can still make a positive playoff statement either next week against the Cowboys or the week after in Seattle, but that’s looking less likely with every snap. If the offensive woes continue, the Falcons will lose either one of their two games against the high-octane Saints and/or another against the Panthers, which will make them miss the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Rams will make the playoffs

The Rams (6-2) put up 51 on the terrible Giants, but they also put up 35 on Dallas in a win that could break a tie for a Wild Card spot. The Rams are dangerous on both sides of the ball and on special teams, too. Jared Goff is starting to show why he was selected number one overall now that he has weapons in former Bills Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. Speaking of the Bills…

The Bills will miss the playoffs

Buffalo’s loss to the Jets on Thursday to kick off Week 9 of the 2017 NFL season was certainly a Thursday Night Football anomaly, but it left the Bills 4-3 with two games left to play against the Patriots. The Saints visit next week before the Bills visit the Chargers and Chiefs. That’s seven losses right there, so the Bills will miss the playoffs.

The Jaguars will win the AFC South

The Bills’ misfortune on Thursday night will open the door for the Jaguars to make the playoffs. Despite a Week 1 loss at home to the Titans, the Jaguars can win their division. They will take their revenge at Tennessee in the final week of the season to win the AFC South -- if they haven’t won it by then already. The Jaguars get the Chargers, Browns, Cardinals and Colts over the next four weeks. Tennessee hosts Cincinnati and visits the Steelers and Colts before hosting the Texans.


This was originally published at GCNLive.com.

Published in News & Information
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 19:31

What we learned about each NFL team in Week 1

Week 1 of the National Football League provided a little bit of everything -- surprises, upsets, injuries, and, of course, questionable officiating. Here’s what we learned about each NFL team in Week 1. All grades are provided by Pro Football Focus.

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick might have underestimated Kansas City rookie running back Kareem Hunt (89.5 PFF grade), but he might not have the tools in the toolbox to contain him regardless. Trading for Seattle’s Cassius Marsh isn’t the answer (38.4 PFF grade), and it seems the Patriots’ linebacker corps will miss Jamie Collins a bunch this season.

Kansas City Chiefs

Andy Reid’s Chiefs still know how to win with that dink-and-dunk offense. The Chiefs amassed 212 of their 368 passing yards after the catch, mostly thanks to Tyreek Hill and Hunt, who are matchup problems for just about anyone. The Kansas City defense can still get into the backfield, too, sacking Tom Brady thrice and hitting him six more times. They also collected 6.5 tackles for loss.

New York Jets

Quarterback Josh McCown wasn’t as bad as his 29.4 quarterback rating when he wasn’t pressured, but the Jets couldn’t run the ball, either, amassing just 38 rushing yards. The defense is good (7.5 TFL, two sacks and six QB hits), but Jets fans are in for another year of low-scoring losses.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills’ defensive backs are fantastic, with safety Jordan Poyer, and cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Tre’Davious White all receiving PFF grades above 82. Safety Micah Hyde also secured an interception. They’re going to give even Tom Brady fits, and Tyrod Taylor is going to give defenses fits. He rushed for 38 yards and passed for 224, throwing two touchdowns and just one interception. Oh, and LeSean McCoy still has it.

Chicago Bears

The Bears are much improved, and replacing Mike Glennon with Mitchell Trubisky could make them even better. Glennon didn’t throw one ball over 20 yards, and Bears fans would like to think Trubisky’s arm talent is superior to Glennon’s already. Regardless, the Bears have quite the security blanket for Trubisky in rookie running back Tarik Coen (66 yards rushing, 47 yards receiving).

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have reason to worry about the guard position. Wes Schweitzer was an open door, and Devonta Freeman never got the run game going (12 carries for 37 yards). A pair of second- year players have really progressed for Atlanta, though. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell made a game-saving tackle and earned an 86.6 PFF grade, and tight end Austin Hooper’s two catches for 128 yards is nearly half the total receiving yards he had last season. If he provides MVP Matt Ryan yet another option on offense, the Falcons are going to continue piling on the points.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are a mess on offense. They have a quarterback in Andy Dalton who doesn’t respond well to pressure, and their offensive line enters the season ranked second to last in the league. The defense will keep the Bengals from being humiliated, but they’ll have to score points if the Bengals are going to win.

Baltimore Ravens

The two-headed backfield of Terrance West and Javorious Allen should make Joe Flacco’s transition back from injury a comfortable one. The two combined for 151 yards on 40 carries, so Flacco only had to throw the ball 17 times -- completing just once beyond 10 yards downfield.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns might finally have something in rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kizer made just one big mistake on the day -- an interception that could have been the difference in the game. The Cleveland defense will give the Dog Pound reason to cheer this season, as will Kizer.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers couldn’t get the run game going against the Browns (35 yards on 17 carries), but Antonio Brown came to Pittsburgh’s rescue (182 yards on 11 receptions and 11 targets). With so many weapons, a veteran quarterback, and one of football’s top offensive lines, the Steelers need just worry about injuries.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals were dealt the biggest blow, losing running back David Johnson for two to three months. So the three drops by Arizona wide receivers will play an even bigger role than they did in their loss to Detroit in Week 1. John Wetzel doesn’t seem to be able to protect Carson Palmer, either (35.4 PFF grade). The Cardinals’ season is not over by any means, though. They can still hang in the NFC West with wins against the Rams and 49ers, and have the luxury of likely seeing the Andrew Luck-less Colts in Week 2.

Detroit Lions

There’s a reason Matthew Stafford is the highest paid player in the game. His downfield passing accuracy would make almost any team better. The Lions also have a formidable defensive secondary. The only question left to be answered is on the offensive line. If the Lions struggle, it’s likely due to the offensive line not giving Stafford enough time to throw downfield.

Houston Texans

The Texans still don’t have a quarterback, as both Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson struggled. The defense wasn’t particularly impressive, either, as J.J. Watt’s return was overshadowed by his brother, T.J.'s, debut with Pittsburgh.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Quarterback Blake Bortles playing like a game manager can win football games for the Jaguars. His wide receivers need to do a better job of catching the ball (three drops), but with rookie running back Leonard Fournette in the fold, the Jaguars’ defense will give the offense a chance to win games. The Jaguars’ top five PFF grades went to defensive players.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders lived up to Vegas’s lofty expectations in their first game after being approved by NFL owners for an eventual move to Las Vegas. With the stadium still years away from completion, the Raiders could leave Oakland amidst a dynasty if Derek Carr remains healthy. He should, given the Raiders’ seventh-ranked offensive line.

Tennessee Titans

Fellow quarterback Marcus Mariota joined Carr in a return from injury. He looked good in the first half, but fell apart in the second. His performance shouldn’t discourage Titans’ fans, nor should that of Jurrell Casey, who took a shot to his pride from Marshawn Lynch and just about everyone else who blocked him on Sunday.

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton’s performance wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to beat the hapless 49ers. Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey showed what makes him unique while also looking like a rookie, losing a fumble. The Panthers still have a reliable back in Jonathan Stewart (18 carries for 65 yards) and an offensive line just outside the top third in football. The defense is still elite, ranked as the fourth best defensive front in football.

San Francisco 49ers

No real surprises here. The 49ers are bad. Brian Hoyer completed just two of 10 passes beyond 10 yards, Niners’ running backs managed just 51 yards rushing behind the league’s worst offensive line, and the defense got into the backfield for just three tackles for loss and no sacks.

Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson looked best in the hurry-up offense and using his legs (led the team with 40 rushing yards) -- as usual -- and his offensive line struggled to give him time to throw downfield (three sacks, seven QB hits and three pressures allowed) -- as usual. The Seahawks are better than the score indicates, though. On one play, Seattle lost six points and starting cornerback Jeremy Lane to penalties. His replacement, Shaquill Griffin, managed just a 44.9 PFF grade.

Green Bay Packers

Green Bay’s defense is better than it was in 2016, with edge rusher Nick Perry making Rees Odhiambo’s day one to forget (one sack, two QB hits and three hurries allowed). Mike Daniels was almost equally disruptive against the run. Jordy Nelson is back to his old self, and Aaron Rodgers found him open underneath all day and took advantage.

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams offense did what it should against the 31st-ranked defensive front in football. Jared Goff didn’t make mistakes and even completed passes downfield. Rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp of the FCS’s Eastern Washington Eagles showed why he’s the most statistically prolific receiver in Division I football history (four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown). And the Rams’ defense is still really good, ranked fifth overall by PFF. They could upset a lot of teams.

Washington Racial Slurs

Quarterback Kirk Cousins was under pressure for much of the game despite Washington’s 11th-ranked offensive line. The right side of the line was a disaster, as were Washington’s safeties. The Racial Slurs were unable to run the ball to boot (64 total rushing yards, with Cousins accounting for 30), so there are a lot of big issues to be resolved in the nation’s capitol -- on the football field and off.

Philadelphia Eagles

Pass rusher Brandon Graham is a beast, and Carson Wentz did just enough for the Eagles to win a big conference opener on the road. The only concern is the run game, as guard Isaac Seumalo seemed unable to run block, resulting in just 58 rushing yards on 24 Eagles’ carries.

New York Giants

They can’t win without Odell Beckham, Jr. Eli Manning completed just four passes beyond 10 yards downfield, and had it not been for his receivers running after the catch, Manning would have passed for almost half as many yards. Worst of all, there was no relief from the run game. The Giants managed just 35 rushing yards on just 12 carries.

Dallas Cowboys

They can win without Ezekiel Elliot. The Cowboys’ defense was the biggest surprise on Sunday, with linebacker Sean Lee giving an unsurprisingly good performance, and backup corner Anthony Brown being surprisingly good.

Denver Broncos

Trevor Siemian can throw a football. He made some fantastic throws downfield and outgained Philip Rivers by two yards per pass completion. The Broncos were also 8-of-15 on third down, but allowed four sacks and five tackles for loss. Run blocking wasn’t a problem, though, and the Bronco offense will be happy to have C.J. Anderson back and Jamaal Charles in the backfield (121 combined rushing yards). The Denver defense is still pretty good, too.

Los Angeles Chargers

Same story, different season. Philip Rivers drove his team down the field in crunch time and gave them a chance to tie it with a field goal. Predictably, Rivers never got a chance to win it. Rivers had to create the run game with short passes, as Melvin Gordon managed just 54 yards on 18 carries behind the 21st-ranked offensive line that struggled to run block the Broncos.

Minnesota Vikings

Unlike last season, Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford had time to throw the ball downfield. He completed eight passes of 20 yards or more. Releasing run-blocker Alex Boone looks to have been the right move given what we saw from the time Bradford had to throw and the performance of rookie running back Dalvin Cook (127 yards, 5.8 yards per carry). And the Vikings offensive line, which entered the game not having played one snap together, held up, albeit against a bad defense.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints’ defense is better, but it’s still bad. New Orleans running backs managed just 60 yards on 21 carries, so Drew Brees and his impressive wide receiver corps will be forced to shoulder the majority of the offensive load, which will be ample. 

Published in News & Information

Following the Minnesota Vikings at DraftFest at U.S. Bank Stadium was a whole lot harder than it was to do so on Twitter thanks to general manager Rick Spielman, who has made 24 draft day trades over four drafts and made seven trades over the three days of the 2017 NFL Draft. Spielman was the biggest reason why the 2017 NFL Draft had the most trades ever. He didn’t change his approach from years past, and it paid off again.

Spielman had to know this year’s draft would be deep when it came to the Vikings’ needs (OL, RB, LB, S) when he moved a 2017 first-round pick (No. 14 overall) for quarterback Sam Bradford. That didn’t stop him from getting first-round talent, though.

Spielman traded up to get Dalvin Cook, who fell to No. 41 overall mostly due to off-field issues despite being the top running back on multiple analysts’ big boards. No general manager should avoid drafting a player because he has incidents of growing up. These are kids after all, and kids make mistakes. The greatest rookie of all time, Randy Moss, spent time in jail before falling to the Vikings at No. 21 overall, and 20 teams now regret passing on him. The NFL is a business, so these decisions should be purely economical. Unless you think the “red flags” would adversely affect revenue, you draft the player. That’s why Spielman moved up seven spots to draft Cook, and every team in the league will learn to regret passing on him.

The addition of Cook makes the Vikings’ backfield a triple threat, with Latavius Murray wearing down defenses with power up the middle, and Cook stretching the edge and catching passes either as a running back or wide receiver. He’s the steal of the draft in my opinion and will have a chance to prove it immediately.

The Vikings weren’t done improving the running game, though, and Spielman wasn’t done drafting talent that fell into his lap. Ohio State center Pat Elflein was widely considered a second-round talent, and Spielman moved up nine spots in the draft to get him. After signing top free agent tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to large, long contracts, Spielman added Elflein as additional depth on the interior. Elflein can also play guard, and likely will, given Joe Berger’s veteran presence at center. That’s two starters who will have an immediate impact despite not being first-round picks, which will save the Vikings money over the course of their rookie deals.

My favorite deals Spielman made went mostly unnoticed, but he flipped the Vikings’ No. 86 pick to the Chiefs for No. 104, No. 132 and No. 245. Then he traded No. 104 to the 49ers for No. 109 and No. 219. Pick No. 109 became defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson out of Iowa. He’ll serve as insurance if Shariff Floyd decides to retire due to surgery complications with his knee. Johnson is a perfect fit for the Vikings’ defense because he’s a pass-rushing tackle and lacks run-stopping ability, which the Vikings don’t need with Linval Joseph at nose tackle. That’s another potential starter drafted in the fourth round.

It was no secret the Vikings would be looking for linebacker depth, and Spielman got it in Ben Gedeon. Gedeon, out of Michigan, was the strongest and most agile linebacker at the NFL combine, and went to the Vikings at No. 120. He’s a “tackling machine,” according to Darren Wolfson, and will immediately contribute on special teams. The special teams help kept coming from Spielman, with wide receiver/kick returner Rodney Adams expected to fill the big shoes left by Cordarrelle Patterson. Adams was picked 170th overall and shed tears of joy when he received Spielman’s call.

At pick No. 180, Spielman got even more offensive line depth with Danny Isidora, who will provide competition in camp. A red zone threat followed at pick No. 201, after Spielman traded No. 199 and No. 230 to the Washington franchise for No. 201 and No. 220. Bucky Hodges, Captain America’s best friend and tight end out of Virginia tech, should contribute as a wide receiver in red zone situations because he’s six-foot-six and was the best jumping tight end at the NFL combine.

Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley could stretch the field for the Vikings and was taken at No. 219 overall. His biggest question mark is his passion for the game, though. With the very next pick, Spielman added depth to the defensive line with Ifeadi Odenigbo, who had a higher passer pressure rate than some first-rounders.

Spielman provided more training camp competition at linebacker with the addition of Elijah Lee at No. 232, who could be a starter in the NFL eventually. At No. 245, the Vikings finally got some depth at defensive back. Jack Tocho is expected to move from cornerback to safety.

Once again, Spielman moved back in the draft to acquire more picks, and once again, it paid off. Drafting three potential starters without a single first-round pick is impressive and fun. It makes me wish Major League Baseball would allow the trading of draft picks so we could see what the young Derek Falvey could do with the first overall pick.

(Spoiler alert: RHP/SS Hunter Greene will likely be the pick. Can you imagine drafting a starting pitcher who can hit for power and play shortstop? You could even bring in a reliever to face tough right-handed hitters late in the game, move Greene to shortstop, and put him back on the mound after replacing him with your utility infielder. It would also give you an extra pinch-hitter on the bench since Greene would hit for himself. Then you could move Greene back to shortstop for the rest of the game so you don’t lose his bat in the lineup. That would be so fun to watch.)

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