Rick Weegman column: Walsh’s struggles a kick in the head to Vikings

Soon after the birth of my grandson three years ago, my son had big plans to turn him into an NFL kicker.Time to accelerate that timetable.What once was one of the more stable jobs in the league has turned into a volatile profession, all because ...

News Tribune sports editor Rick Weegman

Soon after the birth of my grandson three years ago, my son had big plans to turn him into an NFL kicker.
Time to accelerate that timetable.
What once was one of the more stable jobs in the league has turned into a volatile profession, all because the NFL moved the extra-point attempt back 13 yards and it completely messed with kickers’ heads.
The latest basket case to lose his job was the Minnesota Vikings’ Blair Walsh, who never recovered from botching a 27-yard gimme field goal against Seattle in the playoffs last season and had a miserable start to 2016.
Not that bringing in Kai Forbath is a permanent solution. The former UCLA kicker has bounced around four other teams and his career field-goal percentage (84 percent) is the same as Walsh’s.
But Walsh’s main problem, inexplicably like many kickers around the league, is the extra point, which the NFL moved back to the 15 before the 2015 season.
Only four teams made all their extra points a season ago, and Minnesota’s 79-percent conversion rate this year is by far the lowest in the league. Walsh made 62.5 percent of his extra points on the road.
And when you have an offense that is having more trouble scoring than Richie Cunningham, one-point conversions are crucial.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ solution to the problem was to go for two points, but that strategy backfired four times in a five-point loss to Dallas last week.
The best solution is to find that Adam Vinatieri- or Stephen Gostkowski-type personality that doesn’t come unhinged after missing a kick. Maybe that’ll happen 20 years from now when a certain grandson will be of professional age.
Hopefully it’ll be 20 years before I have another week as bad as Pigskin Picks suffered in Week 10. If not, I might be standing next to Walsh in the unemployment line.

Arizona (4-4-1) at Minnesota (5-4): Let the playoffs begin in Week 11. Vikings’ offensive woes are well-documented, starting with a running attack averaging less than 70 yards a game. The Sam Bradford-to-Stefon Diggs combination is Minnesota’s only positive on that side of the ball. David Johnson, on the other hand, is hard to stop and expect Larry Fitzgerald to make a difference in his return home.
Line: Pick ’em
Rick’s Pick: Cardinals 24, Vikings 17

Green Bay (4-5) at Washington (5-3-1): Packers’ defense resembled a Pony League team against Titans and now face another legitimate offense on the road Sunday night. Kirk Cousins is putting up outstanding numbers, and don’t expect that to stop this week. Washington has covered just one of last 10 meetings but it’s time to get off Packers’ bandwagon. This might resemble teams’ 48-47 Monday night thriller in 1983.
Line: Redskins by 2½
Rick’s Pick: Redskins 33, Packers 28

New Orleans (4-5) at Carolina (3-6): Each team lost a heartbreaker last week and their last two meetings ended 41-38 so another last-second finish is likely. Drew Brees is putting up crazy numbers and even the running game is working, but as the finish to the Denver game proved it’s not the Saints’ year.
Line: Panthers by 3½
Rick’s Pick: Panthers 30, Saints 27

Pittsburgh (4-5) at Cleveland (0-10): Steelers lost their fourth straight in crazy fashion to Dallas but now face an opponent they are 6-1 against in last seven meetings. Browns are getting worse, if possible, losing past two games by 56 combined points.
Line: Steelers by 7½
Rick’s Pick: Steelers 31, Browns 16 (best bet)


Chicago (2-7) at N.Y. Giants (6-3): Bears laid an egg off their bye week and lost OL Kyle Long and WR Alshon Jeffery. In addition, RB Jordan Howard is questionable, which puts onus on Jay Cutler. Oh, oh! G-Men’s six wins have been by a combined 21 points and they average just 74 yards rushing per game so this will be closer than it should be.
Line: Giants by 8½
Rick’s Pick: Giants 23, Bears 17

Jacksonville (2-7) at Detroit (5-4): This one should be nice and easy, right? But Lions, like Tina Turner, never do anything nice and easy. Their five wins have been by a combined 17 points and they are first team in league history to have first nine games decided by a TD or less. They will struggle with the Blake Bortles-to-Allen Robinson combo, but squeak another one out.
Line: Lions by 7
Rick’s Pick: Lions 27, Jaguars 24

Tennessee (5-5) at Indianapolis (4-5): Death, taxes and the Colts beat the Titans are life’s only guarantees. Indy has won 10 straight in series, including 34-26 four weeks ago, and are 9-1 against the spread in that time. Titans are averaging 39 ppg and 444 ypg in last three and have been over the over-under in last seven games so expect a shootout between Marcus Mariota and Andrew Luck.
Line: Colts by 3
Rick’s Pick: Colts 31, Titans 27

Tampa Bay (4-5) at Kansas City (7-2): Chiefs, 17-2 in last 19 regular-season games, are slowly becoming a Super Bowl contender and comeback win at Carolina accentuates that point. Bizarrely, Bucs haven’t lost this interconference series since 1993 but their recent offensive surge has been against poor defenses. KC hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in five-game win streak.
Line: Chiefs by 7½
Rick’s Pick: Chiefs 26, Bucs 17

Buffalo (4-5) at Cincinnati (3-5-1): Will Rex Ryan fire his brother, whose defense is allowing 33 ppg during three-game losing streak? This is essentially an elimination game and perhaps a referendum on Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. But every time the call goes out on Lewis’ head, Cincinnati seems to pull through.
Line: Bengals by 2½
Rick’s Pick: Bengals 28, Bills 21

Baltimore (5-4) at Dallas (8-1): As painful as it is for me, it’s about time I jump on Cowboys’ bandwagon. Eight straight wins overall and ATS and a decision to keep Dak Prescott at QB ahead of Tony Romo has me convinced. But Ravens keep it close with an outstanding D (18 ppg, 71 rpg) and 4-0 lifetime record in series.
Line: Cowboys by 7½
Rick’s Pick: Cowboys 24, Ravens 20

Miami (5-4) at Los Angeles (4-5): Don’t look now but Dolphins are on a four-game win streak and just two games behind New England in AFC East. They’ve averaged 166 ypg rushing in last three games though Rams are tough against the run. Top draft pick Jared Goff starts first game for LA, which is averaging a paltry 9.7 ppg in last three.
Line: Dolphins by 1
Rick’s Pick: Dolphins 20, Rams 13

New England (7-2) at San Francisco (1-8): This time Patriots-Seahawks game ended with New England at the 1-yard line in a possible Super Bowl preview. Pats apparently will be without TE Rob Gronkowski in this game, which definitely does not have a February rematch in the offing. San Fran’s losing streak hit eight in three-point loss to Arizona but they showed heart.
Line: Patriots by 14
Rick’s Pick: Patriots 30, 49ers 20


Philadelphia (5-4) at Seattle (6-2-1): Both teams showed their mettle a week ago by beating fellow playoff candidates. Eagles struggle on the road, however, losing their last four and are 1-9 vs. spread against NFC West. Seattle is not a touchdown better than Philly but expect everything to fall Pete Carroll’s way.
Line: Seahawks by 6
Rick’s Pick: Seahawks 27, Eagles 13

Houston (6-3) vs. Oakland (7-2): Mexico City hosts its second NFL game, pitting two AFC playoff hopefuls. There’s a huge discrepancy between these teams’ offenses, especially at QB where Derek Carr holds a big edge over Brock Osweiler. Raiders will be able to run against a vulnerable defense that misses J.J. Watt.
Line: Raiders by 5½
Rick’s Pick: Raiders 27, Texans 17
Last week (season) - straight up: 6-8 (86-59-2); against the spread 3-11 (70-70-7); best bets 0-0 (4-4).

Rick Weegman is the News Tribune sports editor and still a fan of straight-ahead, squared-boot kickers.

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