Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where I’m going to invite you to take a bite from this compliment sandwich. Let’s get to it.
*OK, first, what is a compliment sandwich? It’s a technique by which you deliver bad news or a negative comment to someone by placing it in the middle of two other more flattering statements. Like if I was going to talk to Kirk Cousins, I might say: “Kirk, great game Sunday. You really took control of the offense and executed the game plan. You really have to stop making boneheaded throws like the one that let Miami back into the game. But that pass to Aldrick Robinson? More of that, please.
So here’s the compliment sandwich version of the Vikings’ playoff chances:
Good news, part I: The Vikings won. As long as they keep winning, they are guaranteed to make the playoffs. Win at Detroit and win at home against Chicago? In. Not needing any help is a nice feeling, and the manner in which the Vikings won should inspire more confidence that they can win the final two games than, say, a 20-17 squeaker would have provided.
Bad news: However, their chances of reaching the playoffs actually went down on Sunday — from 57 percent when the day started to 56 percent right now, according to FiveThirtyEight — primarily because of two key outcomes. First, Washington knocked off Jacksonville on a last-second field goal to end a losing streak and improve to 7-7. But the real blow was the Rams losing to the Eagles. Now Philadelphia is also 7-7, just a half-game behind Minnesota.
Also per FiveThirtyEight, the Vikings went into Sunday with a 78 percent chance of making the playoffs just by going 2-1 down the stretch. That number is down to 54 percent now, and mostly that’s because of the Philly and Washington wins. Basically, if the Vikings split their last two games, it’s pretty much a coin flip that they’ll make the playoffs. You really want to root hard for Houston to beat the Eagles next week and for Washington to lose at Tennessee.
The Vikings also lost any chance to win the division when Chicago won. That was going to be a long shot, but now it’s no shot.
Good news, Part II: Here’s where we make the sandwich complete. The one bit of help the Vikings got came when Seattle lost unexpectedly to San Francisco. That means if the Vikings win their last two games and Seattle loses once — certainly possible since the Seahawks host Kansas City next week — Minnesota would jump up and grab the No. 5 seed, likely setting up a matchup with the NFC East winner (probably at Dallas) in the first round instead of a tougher matchup (likely at Chicago).
The Vikings could clinch a playoff spot as soon as next week if they beat Detroit while Washington, Philadelphia and Carolina (either tonight vs. the Saints or next weekend) lose. But the Vikings could also basically be eliminated by next weekend if they lose at Detroit while Philadelphia, Washington and Seattle all win — because Philly and Washington play each other in Week 17, all but guaranteeing one of those two would finish 9-7 if both win next week.
Your favorite condiment: This isn’t normally part of the compliment sandwich, but pick your favorite condiment. That’s the equivalent of Green Bay being eliminated from the playoffs, which happened yesterday.
*If you haven’t read this wonderful story about Charles Barkley’s friendship with a cat litter scientist from Iowa, please do. It’s the kind of thing that will make your day.
*The NCAA volleyball championship was a five-set thriller Saturday at Target Center. But it turns out the real story — and controversy — didn’t really start until after the match ended.