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The Loop NFL Picks: Week 17

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The Loop NFL Picks: Week 17

Every Sunday, Kevin Cusick makes his predictions against the latest Las Vegas point spread, the way God intended …

Vikings at Packers (-6½)
Former Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre got emotional in a video message after his successor, Aaron Rodgers, broke his Packers career record for touchdown passes. Favre agreed to salute his former rival just as soon as the Packers’ check cleared.
Pick: Packers by 8

Former Packers and Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, left, and current Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers greet each other at the 2nd Annual NFL Honors on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 in New Orleans. (Photo by AJ Mast/Invision/AP)

Raiders at Colts (-7½)
The NFL will remember hall of fame Raiders coach John Madden with a moment of silence after the football icon’s death on Tuesday. He’ll be remembered as a brilliant communicator, a colorful character and the very last American who enjoyed riding a bus.
Pick: Colts by 3

John Madden, Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster, dies at 85
John Madden, Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster, dies at 85

Buccaneers at Jets (+13½)
Tampa Bay wideout Antonio Brown topped 100 yards in his return from suspension, then criticized the media for creating “drama” over his fake vaccination card. It’s the most upset AB has been since his last few arrests.
Pick: Buccaneers by 21

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown warms up before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Browns at Steelers (+2½)
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admitted that Monday night’s game will likely be his last regular season home game at Heinz Field. He also predicted the sun will rise in the East, spring will follow winter and that Prince Andrew will never be king.
Pick: Browns by 3

1639326172 543 The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 14 Last minute moves
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) warms up before an NFL football game, Sunday, December 5, 2021 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

Panthers at Saints (-7½)
Carolina’s embattled coach Matt Rhule asked for patience, pointing out it took Jay-Z seven years to become ‘an overnight sensation.” That’s why the rap mogul has a better chance of being the Panthers’ coach a year from now than Ruhle does.
Pick: Saints by 3

1640901359 912 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Jaguars at Patriots (-15½)
Bad day last Sunday for Bill Belichick. First, after the Bills drubbed his Patriots, the coach was asked by a clueless reporter if he had any New Year’s resolutions. Then he was unable to burn a hole through that reporter using his infamous death stare.
Pick: Patriots by 20

1640901360 481 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick takes the field before an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Eagles at Washington (+3½)
WFT teammates Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen became a viral sensation when they were caught on camera fighting on the sideline during their blowout loss to Dallas. It’s the most embarrassing moment for the franchise since the last time Daniel Snyder opened his mouth.
Pick: Eagles by 7

1640901360 120 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
(Screen grab from NBC Sports)

Giants at Bears (-5½)
The Giants have revealed plans to bring back embattled coach Joe Judge and battered quarterback Daniel Jones in 2022. This is crystal clear proof of Big Blue’s dedication to lock up the No. 1 draft pick for 2023.
Pick: Bears by 7

1640901360 221 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
New York Giants’ Joe Judge yells during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Rams at Ravens (+3½)
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh cried foul to Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor after Joe Burrow run up a passing total of 525 yards in the Bengals’ Week 16 win. It’s an interesting ethical stance from someone who spent most of his career lionizing Ray Lewis and Ray Rice.
Pick: Rams by 7

1640901360 618 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
(Screen grab from CBS Sports)

Falcons at Bills (-14½)
Buffalo’s animated Stefan Diggs taunted New England fans with an F bomb during the Bills’ big win last Sunday in Foxboro. That level of enthusiasm may indicate that the former Viking is still at least a year away from quitting on this team.
Pick: Bills by 7

1640901360 785 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass against the Tennessee Titans in the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Lions at Seahawks (-6½)
A Seattle fan threw a snowball at Bears players near the end of Sunday’s elimination loss. Pro Football Focus analysis is expected to show that, while the throw was technically illegal, it was the most accurate toss made this season by anyone in a Seahawks jersey.
Pick: Seahawks by 3

1640901361 956 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
Chicago Bears fans cheer after their team defeated the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Broncos at Chargers (-5½)
Denver coach Vic Fangio admitted it’s “hard to say anything good” about the Broncos’ offense after their pivotal loss to Las Vegas. So he’s probably not even going to mention the debacle next month when he starts his new job as a Walmart greeter.
Pick: Chargers by 7

1640901362 906 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio attends a news conference after an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

OTHER GAMES
Cardinals at Cowboys (-5½):
Pick: Cowboys by 7

Chiefs at Bengals (+4½):
Pick: Chiefs by 7

Dolphins at Titans (-3½):
Pick: Titans by 1

Texans at 49ers (-14½):
Pick: 49ers by 7

The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) runs against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

RECORD
Week 16
14-2 straight up
10-6 vs. spread

Season
156-83-1 straight up (.653)
134-104-2 vs. spread (.563)

1640901363 351 The Loop NFL Picks Week 17
Tennessee Titans running back D’Onta Foreman scores a touchdown during an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Point spreads through Thursday. You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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What’s behind Gleyber Torres’ early season resurgence?

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What’s behind Gleyber Torres’ early season resurgence?

Gleyber Torres, at just 25 years old, has already lived several lives in pinstripes.

He was the anointed one, the heir apparent to Alfonso Soriano, a two-time All-Star and a playoff hero, all before his 23rd birthday.

Then the pitfalls that many people face in their early-to-mid-20s began to rear their ugly heads. The pandemic certainly didn’t help, but even in 2021 as things returned to normalcy, Torres was dreadful at his job. The former top prospect who looked like a pillar of the Yankees’ next great team instead lost his starting shortstop gig. When he was in the starting lineup, he was often buried in the seventh spot.

When Torres was officially moved off of shortstop at the end of last season, his manager said of his defensive issues at the high-pressure position, “I feel like it’s been a weight on him.” Trade talks swirled, as the combination of poor play and the impending free agency of Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and others made Torres seem like the odd man out.

Instead, the Yankees stood pat on free agent shortstops, kept Torres, and traded for a defensive maestro in Isiah Kiner-Falefa. With the stability of knowing that he’d still be a Yankee, plus not having to worry about playing shortstop anymore, Torres has started 2022 with a bang.

As of Wednesday morning, Torres has a 117 wRC+ and .741 OPS, both his highest since 2019, the last time he consistently punished the baseball. After five straight hitless games in mid-April, Torres turned things around with a pinch-hit single in Detroit. Though his eighth-inning knock ended up being mostly meaningless — he was stranded on the bases and the Yankees lost 3-0 — that plate appearance did something to get him back on track.

Starting with that game, Torres has slashed .301/.342/.521. Seven of his 22 hits in that span have gone for extra bases, including four home runs. As a result, his numbers on the young season show a completely different player than the one who sulked through two straight soul crumbling campaigns.

“Last year was a very [hard] struggle for me,” Torres said after driving in five runs in a win over Toronto on May 11. “All the work I put in the offseason, I can show that every time I go to home plate. I mean I can still learn the game.”

Glancing at his numbers, the things that Torres has seemed to learn this year are fairly simple, and also a very common school of thought across Major League Baseball right now. He’s mashing fastballs, putting the ball in the air more often, and as a result, he’s making a lot more hard contact.

In 2021, as Torres’ overall slugging percentage sagged to a career-low .366, fastballs were one of the main culprits. He slugged a not-ideal .352 on heaters, and with two strikes, fastballs resulted in a strikeout 19.6% of the time. This year, though things could still change as he gets more at-bats, Torres is slugging .536 on fastballs. They’re only putting him away 12.9% of the time he gets in a two-strike hole.

Hunting fastballs is an effective strategy for most hitters, but on an even more simplistic level, so is hitting pitches that are meant to be hit. First-year hitting coach Dillon Lawson showed up to his new job with the catchphrase “Hit strikes hard”. Torres appears to have taken that to heart. According to Baseball-Savant, in three key areas of the strike zone — middle-up, middle-down and up-and-in — Torres is hitting the ball hard at a significantly higher rate than he was last year.

Hard contact is particularly damaging when it’s in the air. Every stadium can hold a well-struck grounder, very few will contain an airborne missile. For the last two seasons — the ones Torres would like to forget — he ran a ground ball rate north of 40%. This year, it’s down to 35.2% so far, with fly balls getting above 40% for the first time since 2019. As Rangers’ salty manager Chris Woodward can attest to, sometimes getting the ball in the air at Yankee Stadium leads to “Little League home runs.” Whether they go 320 or 420 feet, a home run is a home run, and Torres is already more than halfway to his home run total from last year.

The other adjustment Torres has made in the season’s first month is swinging more often. His swing percentage has shot up to 76.2%, nearly identical to the 76.3% he had when swatting 38 homers in 2019. This could be a sign that Torres isn’t overthinking things at the plate, a welcome sign for someone who has spoken openly about the mental strife he’s endured.

“First of all, I feel really good,” Torres told reporters last week. “I mean, my swing has gotten better and better. And I’m working hard every day to be the way I want to be. But so far, so good. I think confidence is back and that is the most important thing for me.”

That renewed confidence could also wind up being one of the most important things for the Yankees, a team that, at 27-9, has absolutely been the way they want to be.

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Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell wants to be more than ‘just an offensive coach’

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Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell wants to be more than ‘just an offensive coach’

Kevin O’Connell was an NFL quarterback and an offensive assistant in the league for seven years before being named head coach of the Vikings. But he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.

“( want to) be visible to the defense, let them know that I’m learning their side of the ball just as much as they are,” the first-year head coach said Wednesday during the first week of organized team activities. ”I can complement them on detailed things they can do within our coverages, within a pressure, how we stop the run, and they can look at me as not just an offensive head coach.”

O’Connell replaced Mike Zimmer, who came from the defensive side of the ball and in eight seasons gave his offensive coordinator lots of leeway. O’Connell, who turns 37 next Wednesday, said it’s “really important” to him for defensive players and those on special teams to know he’s also invested in those aspects of the game.

With that in mind, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks was asked if he thinks of O’Connell as more than just an offensive coach.

“He definitely knows what’s going on, but I don’t think he can fairly say that,” Kendricks said with a laugh. “He’s definitely an offensive coach. He definitely wants to light us up on defense, but that’s only going to get us better on defense.”

Kendricks said O’Connell can be valuable working with the defense.

“I notice from him watching film and him going over film on the defensive side of things, he kind of goes over what the offense’s mindset or mind frame is as he’s talking about the defense,” Kendricks said.

DIVERSITY SUMMIT

From Wednesday through Friday, the Vikings are hosting a diversity coaching summit at the TCO Performance Center. It is being attended by 12 young coaches, 11 from colleges, with the intention being to groom them for possible future NFL jobs.

“It’s really a chance for us to get exposed to them from the standpoint of how do they carry themselves?” said Vikings assistant head coach Mike Pettine, who is heading the summit. “We’re going to do mock interviews, film everything and give them feedback on it. They get a chance to be in our meetings. We’ll talk to them as well (about) the NFL culture and expectations.”

Pettine wanted to have such a summit when he Green Bay’s defensive coordinator from 2019-2020 but the coronavirus pandemic hit and then he was fired from his job.

Among the 12 invitees is one woman, Roseanna Smith, director of football operations/running backs coach at Division III Oberlin (Ohio) College.

BRIEFLY

— The Vikings’ top three draft picks all could end up starting but O’Connell is not rushing anything. First-round selection Lewis Cine has been working behind Camryn Bynum at safety, second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr. has been sidelined as the cornerback recovers from groin surgery and second-rounder Ed Ingram is getting reserve snaps at guard. O’Connell said the Vikings have a “teaching progression” for rookies but they “can earn” spots for sure.

— O’Connell has been impressed with how second-quarterback Kellen Mond has looked during offseason drills. “Kellen’s having a good spring so far, working hard, digesting the system,” O’Connell said. During Tuesday’s second session of OTAs,  O’Connell said Mond “made a couple of checks at the line of scrimmage that he wasn’t prepared play-by-play for” but that he “instinctively” adjusted.

— Tight end Irv Smith Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, did some work on the field Tuesday but O’Connell said the Vikings will continue to bring him back slowly. “He’s going to be a major part of what we do,” O’Connell said. “It’s just making sure that we’re doing it in a really responsible way.”

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Jim Hagedorn family suing widow Jennifer Carnahan for medical expenses

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Jim Hagedorn family suing widow Jennifer Carnahan for medical expenses

Family members of the late U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota say his widow, Jennifer Carnahan, who is running to replace her husband in Congress, hasn’t come through on a promise to pay them back medical expenses related to his cancer treatments.

Carnahan calls it a political stunt.

Two lawsuits filed Monday by Hagedorn’s mother, stepfather and sister allege they helped pay for cancer treatments he received at Envita Medical Centers in Arizona. Carnahan made a “clear and definite promise” to use inheritance she was to receive after his death to reimburse his family members, according to the complaints.

Carnahan said Hagedorn’s estate is required to go through the probate process in the courts to determine how to divide up his assets and there is nothing more she can do at this time.

“Grief affects everyone differently. Handling the affairs of my husband’s estate should be a private matter,” Carnahan said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate a very simple process has been turned into a political stunt.”

Hagedorn died after a long battle with kidney cancer on Feb. 17. He was told in January that there were no more treatments available for him at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which is his congressional district, so he sought additional treatments at the facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Star Tribune reported.

A suit filed by Hagedorn’s mother, Kathleen Kreklau, and stepfather said they used $10,000 of a $25,000 home equity loan to help cover medical costs. In a separate complaint, Hagedorn’s sister, Tricia Lucas, said she charged $10,000 on a credit card to help cover the costs of his treatment and was promised repayment by Carnahan.

Both lawsuits allege Carnahan was to receive a $174,000 death benefit from the United States government after Hagedorn died, as well $174,000 from his life insurance policy.

Carnahan closed her statement by saying she wishes “Jim’s family well and know this time has been very difficult for all of us.”

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