I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with playoff probabilities, but I wouldn’t say I’m NOT obsessed. Let’s just say I’m interested in the future, but mostly in a way that factors in our confidence in the present.
As this relates to local sports, I see four high-profile teams right now that are on the postseason fringes at various stages of their seasons: the Vikings, Wild, Timberwolves and Gophers men’s basketball.
This is a self-limiting and by no means exhaustive list of prominent local teams in the midst of their seasons. I could have included Gophers men’s hockey (eh, not so good right now) or Gophers women’s basketball (plotting a very strong course for the NCAA tourney right now), but I wanted to zero in on four teams that I feel — and the data shows — are toss-ups right now.
A Twitter poll question asking which of these four teams is most likely to make the playoffs (or NCAA tournament) is indicative of the volatility. No team got more than 30 percent of the votes. Let’s take a look at all four:
Playoff probability entering Sunday’s games: 58.5 percent (Football Outsiders); 60 percent (FiveThirtyEight).
The good news: Despite a mediocre and largely disappointing 6-5-1 record (at least in the context of preseason expectations), Minnesota controls its own postseason destiny. Win four games in a row, and the Vikings are assured of no worse than a wild-card berth.
There are a lot of teams in the mix, and if Minnesota loses at Seattle on Monday — a strong possibility given the Vikings’ struggles against top teams this year, particularly on the road — the probability of making the playoffs dips to 43 percent, per FiveThirtyEight.
Current playoff probability: 57 percent (Playoffstatus.com); 56.2 percent (Hockey Reference).
The good news: Even after five losses in its past six games, the Wild (15-12-2) is right on the fringe of the early playoff picture about one-third of the way into the season. A lot of peripheral numbers suggest the Wild should be getting better results. This has been the most consistent of the teams mentioned in this list, with six consecutive postseason berths.
The bad news: The Western Conference — and particularly the Central Division — is tough again. The team’s recent slide could be indicative of larger problems, and it’s hard to say how long new GM Paul Fenton will be patient.
Current playoff probability: 55 percent (FiveThirtyEight); 31.8 percent (Basketball Reference).
The good news: It would have been hard to imagine the Wolves even being in this discussion a few weeks ago when they were 4-9 and trying to remake themselves on the fly following the trade of Jimmy Butler to the 76ers. But they have played themselves back into this conversation.
The bad news: The schedule gets considerably tougher now, and on some level the Wolves could be chasing that 4-9 start all season. The most daunting part, though, is the brutal Western Conference. Even if the Wolves rally to have a decent season, as they seem poised to do, they could miss the playoffs.
U MEN’S BASKETBALL
Current playoff probability: Last four in (ESPN); No. 65 and out (NCAA Net Rankings).
The good news: The Gophers are 8-2 with some good wins and predictable losses. Talentwise, the Gophers have the pieces to get there. And getting a healthy Eric Curry back as soon as next week would make the Gophers even more formidable.
The bad news: The NCAA is using NET rankings to help determine the tourney field, and the Gophers are only No. 65. To feel good about making the tournament, a team probably wants to finish at least in the mid-40s. The Big Ten is deep, so the conference season is going to be a gantlet. A tourney berth could come down to a handful of tossup games.