What a weekend

Joel Blank: Sunday's Saints-Vikings game reminds us of why we love football

Case Keenum and the Vikings made football fun again. Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

For those of you old enough to remember ABC's Wide World of Sports, the voice of legendary sportscaster Jim McKay would echo in the head of every sports fan who has ever been on either end of a nail biter: "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." It's never really that simple is it? There's always an explanation and a reason (or reasons) one team fell apart or the other team got on a roll. But it's a roller coaster ride no one minds enduring. We can pick a side, back our favorite team, bleed our team's colors and live and die with the results on a game by game basis -- and no matter what, we will keep coming back for more. The NFL games this weekend provided the latest evidence to back these clams and prove these points again and again.

The results of the NFL Divisional Round games Saturday and Sunday proved once again that nothing is a given, no slam dunk is ever a guarantee and after all is said and done, "that's why they play the game." The Jaguars taking it to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and winning in the cold, with Blake Bortles at the helm as a 7.5 point underdog, had to be the shock of the weekend -- or was it? Just when we thought we had witnessed the unthinkable and experienced the improbable, along comes the Saints and the Vikings and the whole weekend was turned on its ear one more time. In a game that was truly a tale of two halves, the Saints and Drew Brees were awful in the opening 30 minutes and looked dead to rights and done for the year. Then, in the second half, New Orleans played almost perfectly and turned the tide and flipped the script. After a field goal with less than a minute to play, the team looked to be advancing to the NFC Championship game in the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history. Next to the Falcons' collapse and the Patriots comeback in last year's Super Bowl, the Saints win would be the latest and greatest comeback in the history of the league. That is until Case Keenum, Stefon Diggs and the Vikings pulled victory from the jaws of defeat and shocked the football world for one heck of a finish and a walk off win for the ages in Minneapolis. Even if you weren't a fan of either team, you felt a pit in your stomach for the Saints and their fans and a bit euphoric for the Minnesota faithful and their beloved Vikes. When Diggs broke free after a last second, desperation heave from Keenum and after a missed tackle that allowed him to run to daylight and answer the prayers of Vikings fans everywhere, NFL fans around the world were left gasping for air, shaking their heads and muttering under their breath that they could not believe what they had just witnessed. For fans of the game and a league that has had to endure massive amounts of criticism and a drop off in TV ratings and attendance league wide, it was just what the doctor ordered and a great finish to another entertaining weekend of NFL playoff football. Did it save the season? No, at least not yet, but there are two more weeks to be played. Did it make us forget the anthem protests, controversy and negative publicity? Not even close. But what it did do is give the league a much needed shot in the arm as it reminded fans and critics that THIS is why we love NFL football and why it is the most popular sport in the country and some say the world. The drama, the stress, the emotions and the athleticism are just the start and when you throw in the sudden death of the playoffs and the story lines like the rags to riches tales of Keenum, Diggs and Adam Thielen, you have the recipe for another storybook finish and maybe even the next Cinderella story? The final chapters remain, but if this weekend is any indication of what lies ahead, I'm all in!  

For the Saints and Steelers -- and for that matter the Titans, Falcons and the rest of the league -- there's always next year. For the Vikings, Patriots, Eagles and Jags the dream is still alive and they live to fight another day. The teams that are still alive will prepare for their respective conference championship games next Sunday as we all recover from the emotions of the weekend that was and count the days with anticipation until we can do it all again,

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The results of Odorizzi's MRI are still unknown. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Astros starter Jake Odorizzi was carted off with a leg injury on Monday night. Being carted off made it seem like it was a huge deal and Odorizzi could be out for quite a while. News came down from manager Dusty Baker that they “may have dodged a bullet” as he was put on the 15-day injured list. MRI results are pending, but the initial prognosis seems favorable.

Odorizzi has been very hit or miss in his tenure in Houston. He’s started and came out of the pen, but hasn’t been able to gain any level of consistency. Until recently. In his last four starts, he’s thrown 22 2/3 innings, given up 9 hits, and only surrendered 3 runs. Grown man ish. He’s made himself a valuable member of the rotation. With him sidelined, it’s time for others to step up.
Lance McCullers Jr is still about a month or so away from returning. He was switched from the 10-day to 60-day injured list on April 18. While he won’t be able to help in the short term, he should be able to help if Odorizzi is out for a long period of time.

The other starters will have to keep the consistency going. Justin Verlander is pitching like he’s trying to win another Cy Young. His 1.38 ERA would be the lowest since Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968. I know it’s early, but that is sick through 7 starts and 45.2 innings. Nobody thought he'd come back after missing two years and be better than he was before. Framber Valdez and Luis GarcÍa have 2.93 and 2.94 ERAs respectively. At 28 and 25 years old, they’re two of the guys that’ll hopefully hold down the rotation for years to come. As good as they've both pitched, they'll be expected to keep and exceed the threshold they've set so far.

The two guys I’m mainly looking to step it up are José Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Both guys have youth on their side. Javier has been bounced between the rotation and the pen. Urquidy has seen some regular and postseason success but hasn't solidified himself because of his inconsistencies. While Urquidy has made the most of the chances both have been given, Javier has the potential to be good in either role. I would love to see him in the long relief role with some spot starts and/or opener gigs whenever the rotation is thrown out of whack. That role is just as, if not more, valuable than the back end of the rotation guys.

Having this many guys that can be counted on that have shown they're capable is a luxury. Health will continue to play a part in this team's potential because of the vets that mean so much to their success. If these young pitchers can fill some gaps, grow into their roles, stay consistent, and continue to develop, this team will be scary. They have enough arms, now it's time for them to find their grooves and produce.

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