Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where overstatements are usually understated. Let’s get to it:
*It’s imprudent to both attach too much meaning to a single game and to look to far into a speculative future, but I’m going to do it anyway.
This Sunday night game between the Vikings and Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium has the feel of one that could have a lasting impact on both franchises.
Let’s say the Vikings win and improve to 6-4-1. They would feel a lot better about their playoff chances than they do now — where as it stands the division is slipping out of reach and a wild card is pretty much a coin flip.
A Packers loss, meanwhile, would drop them to 4-6-1 and deal them a blow in the playoff race. They would probably have to run the table over their final five games — not out of the question given a reasonably friendly schedule, but a tall order for any team and particularly one that has looked so beatable this season. It would probably increase the heat on head coach Mike McCarthy and start the Packers down a path by which they might replace the coach at the end of the season.
But let’s say the Vikings lose and fall to 5-5-1 — same as Green Bay, in this scenario. Green Bay would win any two-team tiebreaker for the division or wild card against the Vikings with a win and tie on its resume in head-to-head meetings.
It would put the Vikings in precarious shape heading into the final five games, with a two-game losing streak to division rivals and several tough games ahead (including next week at New England). The Vikings’ path to the playoffs would still be possible to navigate, but it would be much harder. And we might even start to hear some whispers about Mike Zimmer’s job status if a season that started with Super Bowl hopes goes completely off the rails.
So yeah, no pressure Sunday. Maybe both teams can just kick the can down the road a little more and tie again?
*Speaking of coaches, Chris Hine and I tackled an interesting reader question on this week’s Timberwolves Talk podcast: How many games does coach Tom Thibodeau need to win this year to keep his job?
After some hemming and hawing, filled with qualifiers about staying healthy and such, my answer was somewhere around 45. While Thibodeau gets a little slack for the 4-9 start because of the Jimmy Butler mess, he is not blameless for how it all played out. Getting to 45 wins will be a challenge considering that start, but the Wolves are now 7-10. That would mean going 38-27 the rest of the way.
I could see the Wolves winning like 42-44 games and Thibodeau — who has two years and $16 million left on his contract after this season — keeping his job, and I can see a scenario where the Wolves miss the playoffs in the brutal West but show enough promise in their new alignment that he stays another year. But 45 seems like a magic number.
*Drama followed Butler to Philadelphia, though this doesn’t really have much to do with him: 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz is shutting down until at least Monday in order to consult with a shoulder specialist.
The team and Fultz are not at all on the same page, by the way.