RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Nuclear Wessel: 40 English Premier League matches in 13 days

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 19th at 12:36pm 286376891

nuclearDana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show with Rider and Rena Sarigianopoulos on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am.

Welcome to the happiest time of the Premier League season, Nuclear Wessel lovers!

Seriously, we have matches on matches on matches. The run from now until New Year’s Day has enough soccer that it could easily be grounds for divorce for a lot of people. Forty matches in 13 days. Every team plays four matches. Get ready for the table to be more jumbled than a jigsaw puzzle being done by drunk person wearing mittens in the back of a moving pickup truck.

Lets break it down for you. We have a normal full slate of matches spread out over the weeknd coming up. Then, every team plays on Boxing Day (December 26th). Then there are two days off before a full Sunday/Monday slate. Followed up by every team playing on New Years Day. I got misty-eyed just typing that.

It can be a glorious time or a disastrous time for your favorite 11. This is where squad depth and health come play a huge factor. A lot can, and will change from 1-20.

So saddle up and enjoy.  One quick programming note: the matches come so fast and furious that I doubt there will be time for more Nuclear Wessels during the holiday stretch. Maybe I’ll claw out an update before the New Year’s Day matches if time (and Rand) allows. I am on vacation for two weeks and the more time my hands spend typing is less time they have to go for the Donkey Kong world record and eat wings. I know you understand.

No. 1: Manchester City vs Crystal Palace at Etihad Stadium

When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: City won this match last season 1-0. Happened just about a year ago on December 28th. The eventual champions got the full three thanks to a 66th minute goal by Edin Dzeko

If you have a pair of cleats and have ever played striker in your life, you might as well report to Etihad on Saturday for a tryout with City.

Yes, the current title-holders are indeed having issues up top. And by issues, I mean they don’t have a single healthy striker. Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic will all be watching the match in their little jumpers and scarves from the seats against Palace. And since watching a soccer match is more fun with friends, they’ll be joined by captain Vincent Kompany who continues to be nagged by that hamstring. Time to catch up on their gossip!

So City are striker-less and captain-less. Thankfully for them they have the grubby Crystal Palace who have just one win since October (it was against Liverpool, but still) and sit at 16th place, just a point ahead of the drop zone.

Even without a striker and a captain, City should be fine, right? But wait! In the completely meaningless stats department, four of the five teams that City have dropped points to this season have been clubs based out of London. And where is Palace based out of?! London. So Palace have that, and only that, going for them, which is nice.

It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Palace could be competitive in this one, but Pellegrini has these guys playing well and they now have Chelsea in their cross-hairs. December sets up pretty nicely for them, too, with matches against West Brom, Burnley, and Sunderland to follow this. If you’re gonna have a boat-load of players gossiping in the stands in their jumpers, better to have it now than after the first of the year when matches with Chelsea, Arsenal and a Champions League tie with Barcelona looming large.

City roll by a pair of goals.  

No. 2: Aston Villa vs Manchester United at Villa Park

When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: This fixture was not a contest last year, with United winning 3-0. Current Arsenal man Danny Welbeck had himself a brace and Tom Cleverley added one to rub Villa’s face in it.

You want a take so hot that it’ll scorch your face worse than Clark Griswold’s christmas tree?

OK. Get your fire proximity suit on….

Manchester United will be atop the league at some point this season.

Hot enough for ya? I picked this club to finish top four but I thought it would be in a dogfight for that 4th spot with Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham etc. But Louis van Gaal’s men have separated themselves and taken hold of that third spot in the table. United have won six games in a row, and if some semblance of that form continues, they can definitely challenge Chelsea and Manchester City.

This kinda bums me out. I was hoping the United downfall was going to last more than a year. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted them to eventually return to prominence. The world is better with Darth Vader, Shredder and Manchester United. But I feel like I didn’t cherish the embarrassment that was the Manchester United season enough. So let that be a lesson to you kids out there, anytime a rival team is laying face down in dog poo, enjoy every second. Take pictures, Keep a journal. Paint a picture. It will end faster than you know.

But back to the match, there is little reason to believe United won’t win their seventh straight game. Villa haven’t beaten the Red Devils at Villa Park since 1995. Villa started December with a pair of wins before taking an egg to the face against the mighty West Brom last week.

United are rolling. Sounds like they might even get Angel di Maria back in the fold. Villa are Villa. United will pick up all three points to tighten their grip on third and continue to show the league they are for real.

No. 3: Liverpool vs Arsenal at Anfield

When: Sunday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: This one, uh, this one didn’t go so well for Arsenal. The Gunners left Anfield after a 5-1 beating. Martin Skrtel, of all people, had two goals inside of 10 minutes. Raheem Sterling also had two of his own.

Brendan Rodgers is a desperate man. Liverpool’s season has been an abject failure thus far and he knows his days could be numbered. He is now saying he hopes that Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth in the League Cup quarterfinals will be a turning point for the Reds this season.

Brendie, I know you are desperate, and I know you have to say things like that, but it’s the League Cup. Semifinal berths are nice and all, but they don’t make up for Champions League group stage knockouts and 3-0 embarrassments at Manchester United. You are grasping at straws here and it really shows.

Arsenal come into this match after demolishing an in-form Newcastle team 4-1 last weekend. You have to imagine they are licking their chops looking at their wounded rivals. They sit in the middle of that 4-8 logjam in the table with 26 points. They desperately want to keep collecting wins to separate themselves from the Tottenhams and Southamptons of the world.

Liverpool have only won three of their eight matches at Anfield this season. They also have just two wins against Arsenal in their last 14 meetings. Something tells me that those stats will be even worse once the match ends Sunday and Arsenal will be leaving with all three points.

Alright, that’ll do it for this week, Nuclear Warheads. Enjoy the holiday season. Be safe. Have fun. Watch the Premier League until your eyes fall out.

Until next time, keep your socks up and your headers down.

Friday (Norv's honest, calculated praise of Bridgewater) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 19th at 10:25am 286360231

norvteddyVikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner took his weekly turn at the podium to address the media on Thursday. Normally, coaches give a brief opening statement and then open things up for questions.

Turner, though, made it quite clear that he had an agenda — not in a bad way, but still in a clear way. Unprompted by any questions that day, but surely prompted by those who have questioned rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater and picked apart his performance this season (present company included, we imagine), Turner launched into what could be considered a speech about all the positives he sees in Teddy.

It measured in at 545 words, making it twice as long, plus one word, as the 272-word Gettysburg Address. (Seven years ago, by the way, the Vikings pinned their hopes for four scores every game on the likes of Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger, all of whom started games at QB for the Vikings).

The first half of it went like this from Turner:

Over the last period of time since Teddy [Bridgewater] has been playing there have been a lot of people that weighed in in terms of their evaluation and where he is and what type of player he is and where we are at. Sometimes I see some of that stuff and I’m not sure who it is that’s evaluating or what their background is, what their qualifications or even what their experience is. So, I thought I’d weigh in because I know my background, I know my qualifications and I do have a little bit of experience with this. I think this is, for a young guy and for a rookie put in the situation he’s been put in in terms of we’ve started eight different offensive linemen, we’ve obviously started three different tight ends, we’ve started three different running backs, played five different running backs, over the last five weeks our leading wide receiver is a guy we signed in late September/early October off the Cleveland Browns practice squad and you throw a rookie quarterback into that, I’ve seen a bunch of guys really, really have a tough time with that and a bunch of guys that are good players. It’s pretty incredible to me what he’s done, how he’s handled it, the things he’s gotten done and what he’s really done is made everyone around him better and that’s a quality that you’re looking for.

We weren’t there, in person, to hear it. But the tone and timing seemed spot-on. While we don’t think a person has to have played in the NFL or have coached a number of years to recognize there are throws Bridgewater struggles to make, it is Turner’s right — and maybe even part of his job description — to not only defend his QB but remind everyone that there is a lot of good that has happened in his rookie season.

Words won’t ultimately define what Bridgewater becomes, but we also doubt Turner would have gone on the record in such a clear way if he didn’t believe fully in his young QB.

Hot Take Roundup: "John" Manziel and public subsidies for stadiums in Minneapolis

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 18th at 4:09pm 286279051

hottakesWe’ve been toying with the idea of starting a daily post on the hottest take (or takes) in sports that we see, but we were lacking the true inspiration we needed.

Until today.

In just one day, we came across two of the piping hottest takes one will ever see. Mere oven mitts would not be enough to handle these takes. A full body hazard suit with a melting point of 1,000 degrees would be a better start.

And so we give you:

1) The winner and probably champion for a while comes via a Tweet from Sean Kane of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. 

HOT! It’s tough to cram so much heat in 140 characters or less, but Sean really did it there. He spent the day getting crushed on Twitter. At one point he tried to say he was joking,  but some of his other @replies and double-down tweets suggest otherwise. Regardless of the intent, the take was so, so hot.

2) There were more than 450 comments on today’s Star Tribune story about Minnesota United and its push for a Major League Soccer franchise, and the vast majority of them were about the notion of helping pay for another stadium. That kind of talk is going to bring out a lot of hot takes from the reading masses, but we think this one from gailyc really brings the heat:

No way, pal. I will personally refuse to pony up one more penny to subsidize a major team sports arena in this city.  These guys want to bring in a pro soccer team?  Bring in all of the money then.  The palaces that have been/are being built for teams with cheapskate owners who won’t put $$$ on a payroll to be high class talent have seen attendance dwindling for years.  It will be yet another half empty facility.  I guess I’ll have to move out of this state.

If you see a hot sports take and want us to know about it, our Twitter and e-mail links are at the top of this page. Please don’t hesitate to use them, but always wear gloves.

Report: Wolves actively looking to trade Corey Brewer

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 18th at 4:27pm 286249991

brewerrandInjuries to Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic might have pushed the Wolves into a full-scale rebuild more quickly than Flip Saunders might have liked, but now that they are there it appears Saunders is fully committed. Not only have the youngsters been logging heavy minutes lately, but also now we have an ESPN report that says Corey Brewer is once again being dangled in trade talks.

Per the report:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Timberwolves, beset with injuries and mired at the foot of the Western Conference with a record of 5-19, are again engaging contending teams in trade discussions for Brewer after making him available in mid-November and then abruptly pulling him off the market. The Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers, sources said, remain the most interested suitors for Brewer, but have also been joined by the Los Angeles Clippers.

Houston and Cleveland remain the best positioned to make a deal because both teams possess an active trade exception large enough to absorb Brewer’s $4.7 million salary. But sources say that the Wolves are seeking a future first-round pick in exchange for Brewer, something the Cavaliers are reluctant to surrender. The Rockets, sources say, hope to sell Minnesota on going through with the swap in exchange for a 2015 second-rounder via New York that the Rockets possess. It’s a pick with the potential to be attractive come June given the Knicks’ ongoing struggles.

Can’t say we blame the Wolves since they came into the season with plenty of depth at shooting guard/small forward. If they can gain an asset while letting Brewer play for a contender, it’s win-win.

The only downside is that we haven’t yet had a chance to golf with Brewer in his second go-round with the Wolves.

Thursday (Minnesota football stability in comparison to rivals) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 18th at 10:32am 286233321

jerrykillStability hasn’t exactly been a word associated with Minnesota sports leadership in recent years when you consider Jerry Kill, who was hired late in 2010, is the longest-tenured current head coach among these six major teams: Gophers football, Gophers men’s basketball, Wild, Timberwolves, Twins and Vikings. The Wolves, Twins and Vikings, of course, all hired new leaders in 2014.

The same could be said in terms of stability and the Vikings QB position. Since Brett Favre’s run ended late in the 2010 season, seven different quarterbacks have started at least one game for the Vikings — and in 2013 and 2014, three different quarterbacks have started games for Minnesota.

That said, that lack of stability is starting to change — particularly with respect to specific football rivals, both college and pro.

If the Gophers are going to become consistent contenders in the Big Ten’s West Division — something that is hardly a given, but is at least a possibility — they will need to consistently compete against and sometimes defeat Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Nebraska’s coaching situation could not be uglier or more volatile than it is right now, with Bo Pelini lighting a match in the corn field and watching it all burn on his way out. Wisconsin’s situation is different, with two coaches bolting for other teams since 2012, leaving the Badgers to introduce yet another head coach, Paul Chryst, on Wednesday. Chryst could very well keep the Badgers’ train moving right along. But it’s impossible to say that situation is stable right now.

The Gophers? A year ago, there were all sorts of questions about Kill and his health. He has answered those brilliantly and along with a devoted staff has kept Minnesota moving on an upward trajectory. Among the Gophers, Badgers and Huskers, Minnesota — by a long shot — has the most stable coaching situation right now.

On the pro side, the Vikings entered the season with — again, by a long shot — the least stable QB situation of any team in their division. Aaron Rodgers entered as the league’s best quarterback and still in his prime with the Packers. Matthew Stafford is an above-average starter still growing with the Lions. And the Bears had just handed Jay Cutler a massive contract. The Vikings had just drafted a QB in the first round for the second time in four years, admitting they were starting over again.

Rodgers and Stafford have done nothing to change their standing … but when it comes to QB stability in the division, the Vikings no longer bring up the rear. Part of that is because Teddy Bridgewater has shown enough in his rookie season to convince us that while his ceiling isn’t someone of Rodgers’ caliber, his floor is as an adequate starter in the NFL for years to come. The Bears, meanwhile, just benched Cutler and will start Jimmy Clausen at QB this week.

Long-term, Cutler might still turn it around in Chicago. But his tenure there — already rocky at times — has turned completely volatile. We’d take the Vikings’ situation 10 times out of 10 over Chicago’s right now, and that’s not something we would have said three months ago.

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Michigan 81
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Ohio State 96
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