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Vikings-Chargers: Huge for wild-card berth, almost irrelevant in NFC North race

Earlier this week, I spent a lot of words laying out all the Vikings playoff scenarios. As Week 15 gets closer, let’s drill in on one peculiar feature of this weekend’s Vikings-Chargers game.

Basically, the game has huge implications for the Vikings in terms of their overall chances of making the playoffs. Per FiveThirtyEight, which allows you to adjust playoff odds based on results for the next three games — which now takes us to the end of the regular season — the Vikings currently have a 72% chance of making the postseason in any form (either wild card or division winner).

That number jumps to 86% if we add a “W” to the Vikings’ ledger against the Chargers, but it drops to 54% with a loss. That’s a pretty big swing from feeling pretty good to roughly a coin flip chance, and the reason is simple: A Minnesota loss means the Rams would grab the final wild card spot by winning out, and it also leaves the Vikings a lot more vulnerable to missing the playoffs if they also drop one of their final two at home to Green Bay or Chicago. But the Vikings are guaranteed to make the playoffs if they win out, and the Rams still have to play at Dallas and at San Francisco.

The improved play of the Rams in particular and the Bears just a little have made the overall playoff race tighter than it was a couple weeks ago.

However: This weekend’s Vikings game means very little in their pursuit of the NFC North title. Their odds of winning it right now are just 24% (they were about 50% before that loss to Seattle two weeks ago). But a win Sunday without factoring in any other results moves that to just 26% while a loss drops it to just 21%.

Why? Because the Vikings’ division chances are almost solely tied to how Green Bay fares down the stretch in its final three games against division foes — and particularly how Sunday’s game between the Packers and Bears in Green Bay turns out.

Minnesota trails Green Bay by two games in the loss column (2-2 vs. 3-0) in division record. So the Vikings need the Packers to lose one other division game in addition to the Week 16 Monday Night Football matchup between the Vikings and Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.

If the Vikings win but the Packers also win Sunday, the Vikings’ division odds will sit at just 9% because Green Bay would only need to win one more game — Vikings or Lions — to win the division by virtue of having the division tiebreaker. If the Vikings lose and the Packers win Sunday, the Vikings’ division odds are nearly identical at 8%.

But if the Vikings LOSE and the Packers also lose Sunday, the Vikings would have a 43% chance of winning the division. They would control their own destiny, with wins over Green Bay and Chicago ensuring an 11-5 finish and a tiebreaker edge over Green Bay to win the NFC North (it would come down to the fourth tiebreaker, conference record, since in this scenario the teams would be tied in head to head, division record and common opponent record).

Winning Sunday while the Packers lose Sunday would put the Vikings at 54% to win the division — meaningful only because it would allow the Vikings to win the division by beating the Packers and then losing to the Bears if the Packers also lost to the Lions, the latter of which seems unlikely given Detroit’s trajectory.

Best-case scenario for the Vikings is obviously just to keep winning. But if what you care about the most is winning the NFC North and securing at least one home playoff game, the game you need to pay attention to the most this weekend is Packers-Bears, not Vikings-Chargers.

Nice of baseball's commissioner to admit sport's economics unfair to Twins

Upon being reminded that all of the big-ticket free agents this offseason are shockingly — SHOCKINGLY! — going to large-market clubs with larger revenue streams, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred this week at the Winter Meetings unwittingly admitted that baseball’s economic system is unfair.

Of the four biggest-money sports leagues in the U.S., only MLB doesn’t have any sort of salary cap — leading to a wild payroll disparity between the haves and have-nots that just doesn’t happen particularly in the NFL and NHL and to a degree in the soft-capped, loophole driven NBA.

Do I deny that Tampa can’t sign a pitcher for $326 million? I don’t deny that; that’s a fact,” Manfred said, per La Velle E. Neal III. “Having said that, I think there are other areas in our system that allow those smaller markets to compete, and I think Tampa and Oakland [are] two good examples. Minnesota [is] another good one who takes advantage of those parts of the system and put very, very competitive teams on the field.”

Presumably, Manfred is referring here primarily to the draft and to MLB’s economic system that keeps young players on limited salaries for six years of team control — three years at or around the minimum, then three years at fixed rates through arbitration.

That certainly does help small market teams (though not so much players who don’t typically hit free agency until their late 20s at the earliest). But guess what?

All of those avenues are ALSO AVAILABLE TO HELP LARGE-MARKET TEAMS.

So the Yankees, who can’t just spend to infinity but certainly have more than twice as much revenue as the Twins to spend on payroll, can afford Gerrit Cole and a bunch of other big ticket guys in part because players like Aaron Judge ($6.4M arbitration in 2020) and Gleyber Torres (likely around the minimum because he’s not to arbitration yet) are also filling huge holes in their lineup.

I’m not saying the Yankees shouldn’t benefit from that part of the system, just as a millionaire shouldn’t have to pay more for a gallon of milk than someone making a small fraction of that.

But it would only be a true evener if fixed-cost young players were available to small-market teams in greater proportion than to large-market teams.

And the Twins? They could technically afford someone like Cole, but it would come at the expense of other things. (This is a rough comparison, but Cole’s $36 million a year annual value is about what Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Nelson Cruz will make in 2020).

So the Twins (and Rays and A’s) load up on young players and more modestly priced free agents. They work the system, and the did it well last year to the tune of 101 wins (at least until they were steamrolled by they Yankees in the playoffs).

Because baseball doesn’t have a salary cap, the Twins in theory can spend all they want. But the Yankees have more money to spend. They should since, you know, they took in $400 million more in revenue than the Twins in 2018 (that is not a misprint).

They can compete, but only to a degree and against a stacked deck.

Manfred basically spelled out that inequality, even as he was trying to defend how the system works.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Gophers volleyball vs. Florida

    5:30 pm

  • L.A. Clippers at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Philadelphia at Wild

    6 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • UC Davis at Gophers women's basketball

    1 pm on 96.7-FM

  • Vikings at L.A. Chargers

    3:05 pm on Ch. 4, 100.3-FM/1130-AM

  • Ohio State at Gophers men's basketball

    5:30 pm on BTN, 103.5-FM/1130-AM

  • Wild at Chicago

    6 pm on FSN, 107.9-FM

  • Wild at Vegas

    9 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • New Orleans at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Wild at Arizona

    8:30 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Denver

    8 pm on FSN, 830-AM

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Today's Scoreboard

No MLB games today

No NFL games today

  • LA Lakers

    Miami

     

    - 4th, 5:10

    100

    97

  • Houston

    Orlando

     

    - F

    130

    107

  • New Orleans

    Philadelphia

     

    - 4th, 0:42

    105

    111

  • Indiana

    Atlanta

     

    - 4th, 10:14

    90

    83

  • Charlotte

    Chicago

     

    - 3rd, 9:32

    48

    44

  • Milwaukee

    Memphis

     

    - 3rd, 10:35

    68

    64

  • Golden State

    Utah

     

    - 1st, 4:29

    16

    16

  • LA Clippers

    Minnesota

    8:30 PM

    ESPN

  • New York

    Sacramento

    9:00 PM

  • Vegas

    Dallas

     

    - 2nd, 12:28

    1

    1

  • New Jersey

    Colorado

     

    - 1st, 10:51

    0

    0

No MLS games today