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Minnesota sports, as seen elsewhere

Playoff chase: If Twins advance, October will be mayhem for sports fans

With only a dozen games left until the regular season, here are four things for Twins fans to think about, in addition to the fact that the Wild Card game is scheduled for two weeks from today.

Comparing schedules: The race for the second Wild Card spot has pretty much become a two-team race between the Twins and Los Angeles. The Angels open a three-game series tonight against Cleveland then play three games over the weekend at Houston. Both of those teams have clinched their division title, but are playing for extra home games by trying to finish with the best record in the American League.

Cleveland currently leads the Astros by 1 1/2 games for the best record. Neither team is likely to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best overall record in the majors, though. Twins fans should be rooting for Houston to keep its hopes for the best record alive until the weekend so the Astros will have reason to go 100 percent against the Angels.

The Angels have an easier final week against the White Sox and Mariners, while the Twins will be playing at Cleveland and at Target Field against Detroit.0 .Seven of the Twins' final 12 games are against Detroit, which holds a 7-5 advantage over Minnesota despite its subpar season.

Postseason projections: Fangraphs currently gives the Twins a 69.2 percent chance of reaching the Wild Card game compared with 25.5 percent for the Angels. In other words, that's almost 7 in 10 for Minnesota and 1 in 4 for the Angels. If you play poker or blackjack, you know that 7 in 10 looks good but is hardly a guarantee, right? Baseball Prospectus puts the Twins' chances at 67.4 percent and the Angels at 25.2.

What were the Twins' playoff chances on August 1, after their week of despair at Dodger Stadium and Oakland? They were 4.4 percent. If you want to trace the odds throughout the season, here's a chart from Baseball Prospectus.

Big days in October: The American League Wild Card game is schedules for Tuesday, October 3, which could be followed the next night by Game 5 of the WNBA Finals and the next by the opening game of the American League Divisional Series, which is set for the same night the Wild opens the NHL regular season at Detroit. (The Wolves would start off that sporting Thursday with a 1 a.m. game against the Golden State Warriors in China.) We'll spare you the weekend schedule, but let you know (for planning purposes) that Game 4 of the AL Divisional Series, if needed, is set for Monday, October 9. The Vikings play at Chicago that night, too.

Want to go down a rabbit hole? Here are baseball's postseason tie-breaker rules.

Vikings fantasy football watch: Buy or sell on Thielen, Bradford?

 

Remember that guy last week who declared Adam Thielen an “easy sit?”

 

Well, nine receptions and 157 yards later I’m back – as Thielen shoots up rankings lists across the industry – and higher on the Minnesota State, Mankato product.

Before I make the case for Thielen and Sam Bradford moving forward, some caveats from my colleagues about Monday’s game:

  • In his live chat Wednesday, Ben Goessling noted: “The Saints appeared discombobulated for much of the night. I couldn’t believe how much open space Thielen had to run in the middle of their defense on a couple occasions.”
  •  “It certainly didn’t hurt that [Sam] Bradford had as clean of a pocket as he did, getting pressured on just six of his 34 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus,” Goessling wrote the day after the game. “He had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 on throws of 20 yards or more, hitting all five of his attempts for 130 yards and a touchdown.”

The Saints defense featured eight new starters and was the No. 32 pass defense in 2016, part of what made Thielen an appealing Week 1 sleeper option for some.

Combine that with the time to throw and accuracy of Bradford’s passes, and it was the perfect storm for members of the Vikings passing attack to have big games – Bradford threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns while completing 27 of 32 passes (earning him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors on Wednesday), Stefon Diggs had seven grabs for 93 yards and two touchdowns (he had three TDs all last season), and Kyle Rudolph caught three passes for 26 yards and a touchdown (not so helpful in PPR but good in standard).  

Rudolph and Diggs have proven themselves as regular fantasy contributors.

But will it last for Bradford and Thielen?

Adam Thielen

In my 10-team, 14-man roster, PPR league (QB, RBx2, WRx2, TE, FLEX, Offensive Player, DST, K), Thielen was a free agent. I picked him up.

He’s locked in as Minnesota’s No. 2 wide receiver behind Diggs. Rudolph should still be the No. 2 target of Bradford moving forward, leaving Thielen to slide in as No. 3 and in position to overtake Rudolph.

If he’s available in your league, make sure that’s not the case, and he should be on your radar as a start this week.

If you’re considering trading for him, wait. You’d be buying at the worst time.

If you’re considering trading him, go fishing; it’s hard to imagine his value will be higher. Try for a consensus top-15 WR (maybe a Demaryius Thomas or Dez Bryant, neither had a great Week 1).

The matchup vs. Pittsburgh will be telling because the Steelers defense trumps the Saints and Thielen had big games last year (12 catches for 202 yards and two scores at Green Bay Dec. 24 and seven grabs for 127 yards and a score vs. Houston Oct. 9 stand out) but didn’t always replicate.

He didn’t follow up any 100-plus-yard receiving game last year with more than 52 yards.

He also didn’t have the clearly defined role then that he has now nor the chemistry with Bradford.

FantasyPros.com lists him as the No. 31 wide receiver in standard and No. 30 in PPR this week.

Buy or sell: Buy … that he can be a fixture in your starting lineup. Dip your toe in the water. But wait before jumping in. Water is still a bit cool.

Sam Bradford

Bradford has always had potential.

It’s what made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, with the skills he showcased at Oklahoma – a tenure that included the 2008 Heisman trophy.

But injuries and instability have gotten in the way; this is just the second time in his NFL career he’s started a season not coming off an injury and not having a new offensive coordinator.

There’s something to be said for comfort and health … and subpar competition (as noted above).

Subpar the Steelers are not.

As Andrew Krammer notes in his scouting report, they notched seven sacks during a 21-18 win over the Browns Sunday, which will put more pressure on Bradford and the offensive line.

It’s hard to imagine him having the same clean pocket he had vs. the Saints, which should cut into his productivity.

How much?

Hard to say.

In that same 10-team league I grabbed Thielen in, I also snagged Bradford (dumping Eli Manning; I am awaiting Andrew Luck’s return).

If you’re in a league that allows for two quarterbacks to start in any capacity, take a flyer on Bradford – assuming he’s a free agent. One quarterback leagues, depth depending, leave him in free agency.

Just like Thielen: Try to trade him if you own him but don’t trade for him.

The offensive line will play a huge role in his 2017 campaign, but he appears to have better receivers and a rookie running back ready to carry the load.

All of which at least puts him in position to succeed; he’s thrown three touchdowns in each of his last three games dating back to 2016 and for 346 yards or more in two of his last three games dating back to last season.

FantasyPros.com lists him as the No. 15 quarterback this week, with one analyst placing him in the top 10.

Buy or sell: Sell as a worthy starter in one-quarterback leagues, buy as a worthy start in Week 2 in two quarterback leagues.  

Want to talk more fantasy football? E-mail Mike at mike.nelson@startribune.com or heckle him on Twitter @mike_e_nelson.