NFC North: Vinny Testaverde
A few thoughts:
1. Snowbound: Vikings players and coaches spent two days watching free movies, eating free room service and passing the rest of the time as they, uh, saw fit. The Eagles opened their practice facility for a brief walk-through Monday. It's impossible to predict how the Vikings will react to the delay. Did they address two consecutive embarrassing performances in their time together in closed quarters? Or were they marking lines on the wall, keeping track of every minute that brought them closer to rescue? Tonight will mark the 20th game in NFL history to be played on a Tuesday, but the first since 1946. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that game -- between the New York Giants and Boston Yanks -- had been postponed for one day because of rain. So we are in uncharted waters here.
2. Know your history: There are all kinds of conspiracy theories about why this game was pushed back two days. (Apparently it sounds too convenient to cite National Weather Service forecasts of a blizzard, along with a state of emergency in the city of Philadelphia.) One is that the Eagles didn't think their speed-based offense would be at its best in the snow. I can only hope that isn't true. As we noted in what was expected to be our Final Word on this game, the Vikings have only one victory in the past 20 seasons in a prime-time game when the temperature at kickoff was below 40 degrees. Current forecasts call for 30 degrees at 8 p.m. ET in Philadelphia. The Vikings are 1-6 in such circumstances since 1991. After playing in a dome for 28 years, they are at a consistent and undeniable disadvantage in any and all cold-weather venues. The Eagles need not be concerned about the details.
3. FavreWatch: Another conspiracy theory suggests the NFL wanted to give Vikings quarterback Brett Favre (concussion) enough time to be cleared to start. (Perhaps that would be his discipline for sending inappropriate photos and text messages to a former New York Jets sideline reporter.) Seriously, Favre wasn't cleared as of Saturday, and ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported there were no plans to give him another round of concussion tests in Philadelphia. But to be fair. the Vikings wouldn't be required to divulge that information because they listed Favre as "doubtful" on their injury report. By definition, that left him a 25 percent chance of playing. It's much more likely that rookie Joe Webb will get his first NFL start, but don't forget this tidbit: If Favre does start, he would break the record he currently shares with Warren Moon and Vinny Testaverde for most starts after turning 40.
4. FrazierWatch: Interim coach Leslie Frazier has faced the mother of all curveballs in the past three weeks, trying to demonstrate his qualifications for the permanent job while the franchise literally collapsed around him. The Vikings won his first two games but have mailed it in since the Metrodome roof collapse. Should those performances count against Frazier? Does he get a pass under the circumstances? Those questions are difficult to answer, but owner Zygi Wilf will have to render judgment over the next 10 days.
5. Money matters: This delay added to the financial issues the Vikings must sort out in the coming weeks. They've already lost game-day revenue associated with their past two "home" games, and University of Minnesota officials suggested the Vikings paid more than $700,000 to prepare TCF Bank Stadium for their Dec. 20 game against the Chicago Bears. I couldn't begin to estimate how much the Vikings had to pay out to house their team for two extra nights in a hotel, among other associated charges, but I would think it's not insignificant.
Gruden spent time with four of the draft's top quarterbacks -- Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow. Gruden wrote his evaluations here, where you can also watch video of each player. Here are some excerpts:
Gruden on Bradford: "The guy he reminds me of talent-wise is Vinny Testaverde -- and maybe it's because they wear the same number. Testaverde was a No. 1 overall pick and I saw him play when he came out of the University of Miami. They both have the ability to get the ball out quickly with velocity and to throw on the move. Bradford has a similar stature and he had dominant results much like Testaverde did in college."
Gruden on McCoy: "I tried to watch as much Drew Brees film with McCoy as I could because their overall physical size is very similar (Brees is 6-0, 209 pounds; McCoy is 6-2, 210 pounds). Offensive guards in the NFL are 6-5 today and some of the defensive ends and tackles are also, so he's going to have to create passing lanes at times."
Gruden on Clausen: "When I look at quarterbacks and see how they play when they are tied or behind in the fourth quarter, that tells me a lot about them. Clausen excelled at crunch time. The statistics speak for themselves and he has shown dramatic improvement every year. He's a polished, confident kid and I like his upside. I think he's really going to work at it and continue to get stronger."
Gruden on Tebow: "I think Tebow is going to be a tremendous pro. He must continue to work on some of his mechanics, and he might not be a starter right away, but in a very short period of time he's going to be an excellent NFL player."
MINNEAPOLIS -- We'll be inside the Metrodome in a few hours for the big Border Battle, but before then let's take a spin around the division on an important and in some cases dramatic Sunday in the NFC North.
Appropriate to our featured game this weekend, Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal offers a fair look at a topic we neglected to touch on this week: The cold relationship between Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Vikings coach Brad Childress -- which seemed to spill over into the public when Childress failed to shake McCarthy's hand after the Packers' 24-19 victory Sept. 8 at Lambeau Field.
Childress said last week that incident was "over-reported," but Wilde's story has a couple of measured quotes from McCarthy.
When asked about the coaches' personal rivalry, McCarthy said: "There's no good answer for that. Let's not go there."
Childress has said he didn't shake hands because he wanted to talk to quarterback Tarvaris Jackson immediately after the game. The pair eventually exchanged telephone messages but did not speak about it. On the issue, McCarthy said: "I thought it was odd. I think it's part of our professional etiquette. So, I thought it was odd. But he called. We exchanged messages."
Just another subplot to keep in mind as the Packers try for their sixth consecutive win against the Vikings.
Continuing around the division:
- In his weekly matchup package, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel picks the Packers because the head-coaching matchup is "not even close."
- Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at Childress' willingness, or lack thereof, to allow his quarterbacks to audible. In 390 plays this season, quarterback Gus Frerotte has called two audibles.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune figures Bears coach Lovie Smith will use the victory of president-elect Barack Obama as part of his motivational speech for Sunday's game against Tennessee. The normally reserved Smith has spoken openly about his support and admiration for Obama.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has this number: The expected start of Rex Grossman against the Titans marks the 34th time the Bears have changed quarterbacks in the past 148 regular-season games.
- Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press profiles interim Lions general manager Martin Mayhew by speaking to peers around the league. Indianapolis president Bill Polian: "I don't see any reason why he won't succeed as an executive. I would bet on it."
- Lions coach Rod Marinelli has brought up the example of Vinny Testaverde as a quarterback who successfully started a midseason game the same week after being signed out of retirement. The Lions are likely to try the same path today with quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press has the story.