Viking's focus turns to division rival

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NEW ORLEANS – Thanks to the whims of the NFL schedule-maker and a disconcertingly choppy offensive performance, the Minnesota Vikings became the first NFL team of 2010 to cause the 1972 Miami Dolphins to exhale Thursday night, dropping a 14-9 decision to the Saints in the Superdome. And as he prepared for a long trip home – the type he seldom had to experience last season, when the Vikes won their first six games and went 12-4 to win the NFC North – Visanthe Shiancoe(notes), the talented tight end who scored the Vikings' lone touchdown at the Superdome, already knew exactly how he'd spend his Sunday.

Absolutely, he'll be tuning in to see Minnesota's much-hyped rival, the Green Bay Packers, battle the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in one of the marquee matchups of the NFL's opening weekend.

''Of course,'' Shiancoe said. ''Of course we're going to watch.''

Last year the Vikings beat Green Bay twice and reached the NFC championship game, while the Pack snuck into the playoffs and suffered a first-round defeat to the Arizona Cardinals. Yet in terms of national perception, the Packers have surpassed Minnesota as the division's sexiest team, emerging as a trendy Super Bowl pick.

''You've got to watch a team like the Packers – they're the new Cowboys,'' Shiancoe continued, his sarcasm obvious. ''Everybody's jumping on their jock, like they've actually gone to the Super Bowl, and won it.

''Give them credit. They did good in the preseason. I mean, good. Good job. That's good stuff.''

Shiancoe paused for effect, then added: ''You know what, Philly's defense is pretty good, too. It always is. We'll see how [the Packers] fare against them.''

It's one of many games, some more obviously compelling than others, which will shed the first shards of light on the season. I'm also curious, and I'm sure Shiancoe is as well, as to how the clash between the other two NFC North teams, the Bears and Lions, will play out at Soldier Field. Both teams, I'm convinced, will be improved in 2010.

Two years removed from an unprecedented 0-16 season, the Lions are no longer regarded by opponents as pathetic pushovers.

''The thing is, Detroit can flat-out beat you now,'' Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell(notes) said after Thursday's game. ''They have the talent to do that. Before, they didn't.''

My advice? Get ready for some Week 1 surprises, and sit back and enjoy the unveiling of our new Friday feature. After three seasons of The Gameface, I'm retooling with an eye on enhancing your fan-centric experience, as we continue what I hope will be a long, passionate relationship at Y! Sports.

Friday Offerings will contain many of the categories with which you've grown familiar, some appearing on a weekly basis, others more sporadically. We'll still tell lies and live out fantasy annoyances and alter song lyrics while providing a weekend primer for the sport that turns so many of us into captive viewers.

We've got 21 of these to go, and it's going to be a rollicking ride. And when we offer regular features like this one, Morning Rush (Mondays), Live Trippin' (Tuesdays), 32 Questions (Wednesdays) and the newly christened One Voice (various days)?

Of course you'll be reading.


My guy Dennis Dixon(notes) will bring the heat in his first start at Heinz Field, but my mancrush Matt Ryan(notes) will one-up him by leading the Atlanta Falcons over the Pittsburgh Steelers. … The insanely hyped-up Houston Texans will outscore Peyton Manning(notes) and the Colts as Indy’s Super Bowl-losing hangover commences. … The Detroit Lions – yeah, I said it – will upset the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, despite a 300-yard passing day by a revived Jay Cutler(notes).


1. Upon learning that cheerleading may soon be granted competitive-sport status by the NCAA, 10 members of the Cal field hockey team dropped their sticks, got into a 3-4-3 formation and chanted, “U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly … you ugly …”

2. After Joe Montana questioned the legitimacy of his inspirational story, former Notre Dame scrub Rudy Ruettiger got a text message from Steve Young reading, “Been there, bro.”

3. As a touching humanitarian gesture, the NCAA confiscated the jersey that got Georgia receiver A.J. Green suspended, auctioned it off to the highest bidder and donated the proceeds to the University of Georgia athletic department.


Vince Young.

You remember how this works: Each week I pick one winner, outright, and if successful I live another day, though that team is no longer eligible for future selection. Last year I made it all the way to Week 13, when Mike Tomlin’s Steelers failed to live up to their coach’s hype in a hellish home defeat to the Raiders. You’ll be happy to know I’m picking up right where I left off and picking against Oakland on the road once more – this time against the Titans in Nashville. Either Vince Young(notes) has a much happier opening game than he did two years ago against the Jaguars, or I’ll be the one despondent. (Not really, but I still harbor dreams of pulling off an unblemished season, so let’s pretend.)


If you’ve grown attached to my annoying fantasy adventures with my buddy Malibu and UCSB women’s basketball coach extraordinaire Lindsay Gottlieb the past three seasons (admit it, you totally have), take heart – Y! Sports fantasy expert Brad Evans and I are taking this concept to the next level. Look for our new video offering, “Fantasy and Reality,” to debut on Y! Sports next week. For the rest of you, I also have some good news – we’re streamlining the written version of this segment to focus on a specific tip (or tips) for my demanding fantasy-playing friends. This week Gottlieb’s “The VIP Room” (that’s her ironic salvo to the fellow competitors who tried to limit my influence last season after I gave advice that included picking Chris Johnson No. 2 overall – albeit advice that was openly mocked at the time) faces “West Coast Again” and will trot out a lineup featuring many selections (Jahvid Best(notes), Beanie Wells(notes), Mike Wallace(notes), Chris Cooley(notes)) that bear traces of my ink-stained fingerprints. Her dilemma this week: Whether to go with Dexter McCluster(notes), Marshawn Lynch(notes), Toby Gerhart(notes), Kenny Britt(notes) or Jordan Shipley(notes) as her flex player. Though tempted by McCluster’s explosive potential in the Chiefs' Monday night home matchup with the Chargers, I advised her to go with Britt, his recent benching by Titans coach Jeff Fisher for an apparent lack of concentration notwithstanding. “What, does the guy have ADD?” Gottlieb asked, her suspicious-coach streak surfacing. “Remember how we’ve been burned by dogs like Braylon Edwards(notes) in the past.” Britt, I assured her, will be legit for the Titans on Sunday – or, at the very least, Vince Young’s top receiving option with some serious upside as a deep threat. We’ll catch up with Malibu next week; his “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” draft haul includes some of my Silver specials (Jay Cutler, Donovan McNabb(notes), Ryan Grant(notes), Dez Bryant(notes)) and the predictable Charger lovefest (Ryan Mathews(notes), Malcom Floyd(notes), Antonio Gates(notes), Nate Kaeding(notes), Chargers defense). For what it’s worth I agreed with his decision to start Cutler (vs. Lions) over McNabb (vs. Cowboys) this week, though I predict that both quarterbacks will have big games.


Back when I started covering the NFL two decades ago, an aptitude for seeing the future was not part of the job description. Somewhere along the way, however, that all changed. You want predictions, and you must have them now – and they will be cited as evidence of both perceived bias and a lack of qualification for the important role in which I serve. Hey, it's a tough job, and someone's got to do it. Why must I tell you which teams will win before the games are played? Who knows, but that's the way it is. So here we go: Last year, in an attempt to differentiate myself from the legions of forecasters who act as though there is a pronounced degree of carryover from one NFL season to the rest – in reality, for the past two decades, there has been an annual playoff turnover rate in excess of 50 percent – I picked a resounding nine teams to make the postseason that finished out of the money in '08. (Four reached the playoffs.) This time, I'll go with a more reasonable five. I already gave you my Super Bowl picks; here's my expanded list: The 49ers, Falcons, Packers and Cowboys will be the NFC division winners, with the Redskins and Saints as wild cards. In the AFC, the Chargers, Titans, Ravens and Jets will win their divisions, while the Texans and Patriots earn wild-card berths. Throw in Aaron Rodgers(notes) as MVP, Jim Schwartz as Coach of the Year, Mathews as offensive rookie of the year (with Best and Dez Bryant close behind) and Earl Thomas(notes) as defensive rookie of the year, and I believe you now know everything there is to know. Oh, and Cal to the Rose Bowl on 1-1-11, which I predict every year. (Hmmm … maybe I can't actually see the future …)


Jill Costello, the former Cal crew standout who died in June after a yearlong battle with lung cancer. During her final season Costello, while undergoing extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, managed to conclude her career in style, serving as the coxswain for Cal’s conference-championship effort and winning Pac-10 Women’s Rowing Athlete of the Year honors (the Bears went on to finish second nationally). She also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political economy a month before her death. Her memory and fighting spirit live on, most conspicuously in this Sunday’s Jog For Jill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to benefit lung cancer research. And while we’re at it, let’s do a shot for another courageous Cal graduate, Sarah Shroud, who was freed by Iranian officials after a 13-month ordeal. (Two other alums with whom she was arrested while hiking, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, remain incarcerated.)


When you read my consistent proclamations that the University of California is the world’s greatest academic institution, perhaps you regard them as mere hyperbole. Think again: In the recently released Academic Ranking of World Universities, only Harvard sits atop UC Berkeley – and Crimson, we’re coming after you hard next year. And while I have nothing but love for each and every one of the incoming students who’ll replenish the university’s bountiful supply of awesomeness, there’s a certain freshman in particular I’d like to thank for coming: Keenan Allen. If you don’t know his name, you will. Very soon. I’m also sending shouts out to a pair of soccer Bears who earned Pac-10 Player of the Week honors: defender A.J. Soares of the 18th-ranked Cal men’s team, and the incomparable Alex Morgan of the No. 18 Cal women.


Hong Kong model Burning Man


Lewis and Ryan in 2007.
(Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

After listening to an entire offseason's worth of cocky talk from his former defensive coordinator, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) finally called B.S. on Jets coach Rex Ryan Thursday, lashing back in an advance of their charged Monday night meeting at the New Meadowlands Stadium. Ryan will surely laugh off Lewis' taunts, but I wonder if in the back of his mind he's a bit worried about the linebacker laughing last. If so, Sexy Rexy may be getting melancholy like the Lemonheads, to the tune of ''It's A Shame About Ray.''

I've never won me the big game
We've busted that door open, now they can't keep us away
Ravens are comin' to our place
They know the score – but that linebacker has a lot to say

It's a shame about Ray
I've moved on, I'm on Hard Knocks
Big Apple I have saved
Some dudes need to go away
It's a shame about Ray

If I make it through Monday
I'll take the podium and put my feelings out on display
And if he puts me in my place?
My players will have lots of egg
All over their stunned faces

It's a shame about Ray
I've moved on, I'm on Hard Knocks
Big Apple I have saved
I hope he doesn't make me pay
It's a shame about Ray