Charley Walters: Vikings need three wins to make playoffs

With five games remaining, it’s a good bet that the Vikings (8-3 entering Monday night’s game in Seattle) need to win at least three to get into the playoffs as a wild-card team.

The way it looks now, 10 victories in the strong NFC might not be enough for the postseason.

For the Vikings to win their division, it might even take four more victories, including the big Dec. 23 Monday night game against the Packers in Minneapolis.

Still, there is a chance the Vikings and Packers could each finish 12-4 but with the division championship going to Green Bay based on a better division record. That would leave the Vikings on the road with a wild card.

The Vikings’ early-season loss to the Bears might loom large for their division title chances, even if they defeat the Packers on Dec. 23.

For what it’s worth, the Vikings are favored in each of their remaining five games by ESPN.

Through 11 games this season, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, because of the Gary Kubiak-Kevin Stefanski run-game coaching design, has fewer pass completions, attempts and yards compared with last year.

The increased emphasis on the run game has also decreased interceptions, lost fumbles and sacks. Meanwhile, Cousins has the top passer rating in the NFL, 114.8.

Cousins should be included among a handful of Vikings chosen for the Pro Bowl on Jan. 26 in Orlando, Fla., with Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith and Erik Kendricks. Cousins was a 2016 Pro Bowl selection.

Adam Thielen’s nagging hamstring injury might cost him a third straight Pro Bowl.

That was Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs dining at The Lexington in St. Paul on Friday evening celebrating his 26th birthday with family and friends.

Barry Alvarez coached Wisconsin to three Big Ten football championships as well as three Rose Bowl victories. He has been national football coach of the year and twice Big Ten coach of the year.

Alvarez, 72, is athletics director at Wisconsin and attended the Badgers’ 38-17 victory in Minneapolis on Saturday. He is impressed with Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who in his three seasons at Minnesota has improved the team from 5-7 to 7-6 and now 10-2.

“The thing that I’m impressed with is they’ve improved as they’ve gone through the season, and that’s how you judge coaches,” Alvarez said of Fleck.

Gophers senior wide receiver Tyler Johnson is projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick in a strong receiver NFL draft class next April. Teammate wideout Rashod Bateman is considered the better pro prospect but is just a sophomore and not eligible for the 2020 draft.

Bateman currently projects as a top-100 player for the 2021 draft, meaning he could go within the top three rounds. That’s the opinion of keen draft analyst Scott Wright of Draftcountdown.com.

Bateman is the Gophers’ best pro prospect.

Of note, Wright says, is that the top draft pick from Minnesota this spring won’t necessarily be a Gopher, but rather St. John’s 6-6, 306-pound left tackle Ben Bartch, who has a chance to be a third-round pick.

“The Senior Bowl (Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala.) will be a huge opportunity for Bartch, how he holds up against better competition (than Division III),” Wright said.

Also among Gophers, linebackers Kamal Martin and Carter Coughlin — both to play in the Senior Bowl — are forecast as Day 3 draft picks (rounds 4 through 7).

Big-play free safety Antoine Winfield Jr., whose pulverizing tackles are reminiscent of those of his former NFL-playing father Antoine Sr., is projected between the third and fifth rounds.

Although he’s a fourth-year sophomore, the 5-10, 205-pound Winfield, who is not going to get any bigger, is expected to declare himself eligible for April’s draft.

Running back Rodney Smith, who’s expected to play in the second-tier East-West Shrine all-star game, could be a late-round pick (rounds six or seven) because of the high number of underclassmen at his position coming out. Teammate running back Shannon Brooks should get a free-agent camp invitation.

Senior defensive lineman Winston DeLattiboudere has a chance for a NFL free-agent camp invitation.

Gophers QB Tanner Morgan is just a sophomore, and if his progression continues, has a chance to be a late-round draft pick in 2022. Morgan, an exceptionally accurate passer, has a NFL bloodline going for him — he’s a cousin of former NFL QB Tim Couch.

Jackson Erdmann, the record-setting St. John’s QB, is on NFL radar as a free agent.

As for Wisconsin, which bounced the Gophers 38-17 for the Big Ten West championship and Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Saturday in front of a wintry-weather crowd of 53,756, the Badgers have a trio of players expected to be either first- or second-round draft picks.

Junior running back Jonathan Taylor is expected to be among the top 50 players drafted next spring in either the late first round or early-to-mid second round.

Junior left tackle Cole Van Lanen (6-5, 312 pounds) will be a Day 2 draft pick if he declares; junior Tyler Biadasz (6-3, 321) is expected to be among the top two centers chosen in the late first round or early second round. Senior inside linebacker Zach Baun is projected as a second- to fourth-round draft pick in April.

Contrary to other seasons, Wisconsin doesn’t have a single Minnesota native on its roster.

Accomplished Mike Neely, who graduated from Ramsey High and Minnesota and is a current Gophers football and men’s hockey season-ticket holder, is president of the Fiesta Bowl and attended the Minnesota-Wisconsin game on Saturday. Neely’s daughter, Regan, is a student manager for the Gophers football team.

Other bowls to be represented were the Rose, Orange and Citrus.

It cost $291 just to get into TCF Bank Stadium for Saturday’s Gophers-Badgers game, according to TickPick. That’s just $15 less than “get in” tickets for the Vikings-Packers Dec. 23 Monday night game at U.S. Bank Stadium. But one spectator paid $200 for a secondary-market ticket.

A parking lot near TCF Bank Stadium increased its fee to $40 for Saturday’s Gophers-Badgers game.

Ex-Timberwolf Tyus Jones from Apple Valley, in the first season of a $24 million, guaranteed three-year contract, returns to Target Center on Sunday with Memphis averaging 19.4 minutes, 6.1 points and 4.8 assists in 17 games.

Ex-Gopher Amir Coffey, with the L.A. Clippers’ G League team Aqua Caliente, has an ankle injury.

Ex-Gopher Jordan Murphy is averaging 7.7 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Timberwolves’ G League Iowa Wolves.

Ex-Gopher Kenisha Bell is averaging 20 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6 assists after four games for the Elitzur Holon team in Israel.

Ex-DeLaSalle star Reid Travis is averaging 9.6 points and 5.4 rebounds for Medi Bayreuth in Germany.

Ex-Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels, 32, from Rochester has landed with the Miami Dolphins and is averaging 19 yards per kick return and 5.3 on punt returns.

Brad Ruiter, the fine former Timberwolves VP of communications, has accepted a position as department chair for physical sports management, health and kinesiology at alma mater Northwestern University-St. Paul.

Duke 6-9 freshman Matthew Hurt from Rochester John Marshall is projected as the No. 9 overall pick by the Boston Celtics in June’s NBA draft by 247sports.com. Sophomore teammate Tre Jones from Appley Valley is projected as the 27th pick in the draft, also by the Celtics.

Deephaven’s Tim Herron, who turns 50 in February, playing against PGA Tour golfers half his age in the tour’s RSM Classic at Sea Island, Ga., last week, shot a 64 to go with rounds of 70, 73 and 70 to win $15,493.50. Son Carson Herron, 17, who is a plus-1 handicapper and junior at Minnetonka High, caddied for him.

It was an emotional afternoon recently for Robb Stauber, 51, the former Gophers Hobey Baker winner who with former Gophers hockey captain Dave Metzen visited Doug Woog, Stauber’s former Gophers men’s hockey coach who has Parkinson’s disease.

Stauber has been busy watching son Jaxson, who is a freshman goaltender for No. 1-ranked Minnesota State Mankato.

Don’t print that

The way it looks now, if Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski gets a head coaching job after the season, Gary Kubiak’s pal, Rick Dennison, would be the obvious choice to replace
Stefanski. Dennison, who was with Kubiak with the Broncos, is the Vikings’ offensive line coach/run-game coordinator.

Kubiak is assistant head coach/offensive advisor for the Vikings. Dennison is a former offensive coordinator for the Broncos and Bills. When asked the other day how Kubiak ended up with the Vikings, GM Rick Spielman declined to answer. But word in Denver is that the split was not amicable.

Spielman scouted Saturday’s Gophers-Badgers game.

It’s probably the final year for ex-Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes, 29, as a Viking. He’s under contract for $9.9 million in base salary next season.

The Vikings have the least salary cap space — less than $900,000 — among the NFL’s 32 teams. That means they won’t be able to extend the contracts of any players, including a new deal for Dalvin Cook, until the season is over.

Look for the Dairy Queen corporate presence at TCF Bank Stadium to end this year, replaced by Club Cambria.

Joe Alt, son of former Kansas City Chiefs and Iowa star John Alt from Columbia Heights, is a 6-7, 240-pound junior tight end at Totino-Grace. The Gophers offered Alt a tender before their Penn State victory, and the guess is that he’ll follow brother Mark to Minnesota. Alt also has visited Wisconsin, Iowa and Iowa State and has been invited by Notre Dame. He attended Minnesota’s game Saturday.

Meanwhile, Alt’s brother, ex-Gophers hockey star Mark, is captain of the Colorado Eagles, the NHL Avalanche affiliate, and in the final year of his contract.

If Saints QB Drew Brees, who turns 41 next month, doesn’t retire, it’s a good bet that his backup, ex-Vikings free-agent QB Teddy Bridgewater, will end up the starter for either the Bears, Panthers, Buccaneers or Titans.

Calvin Griffith, the former Twins owner who died at age 88, would have turned 108 on Sunday.

When Gersson Rosas was hired last spring to run the Timberwolves basketball department, he said the team planned to “put (Andrew Wiggins) in a position where he can be successful, the style we play, offensively and defensively.”

The Wolves have done that, and Wiggins has responded.

“We have a big belief in players, and we’re not going to fail them,” Rosas said last week. “We’ve had a lot of hard conversations with Andrew, like we have with all 15 of our players. If anything doesn’t work, it’s going to be because it just wasn’t meant to be. We’ve invested in Andrew from Day One, on the court, off the court. We’ve made it a personal relationship with him, that if he’s great, we’re going to be great.

“We’re giving him every resource to be successful, anything from nutrition to family, you name it. And I really feel that the system that we’ve installed is great for him. So he’s done his part, we’ve done our part, and now you see the result.”

Wiggins, 24, is averaging 25.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists over 15 games. In 73 games last season, he averaged 18.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

“But its early — to be fair, we have higher expectations,” Rosas said.

Before Saturday’s game, chances were 60 percent that Wisconsin would defeat the Gophers, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index) which projects winners based on 10,000 data simulations.

As reported months ago, it’s still a good bet that Minnehaha Academy senior Jalen Suggs will accept a basketball scholarship to Gonzaga. And that junior teammate Chet Holmgren will accept a tender to Gonzaga the following year.

Although the Twins would love to have him work within the organization, retired Joe Mauer plans to wait another year before considering.

Sophomore point guard Tre Holloman, 15, from Cretin-Derham Hall now has offers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Marquette, Iowa State, Texas, Baylor and Michigan State.

Speaking of Michigan State, which is favored to win the Big Ten, the Spartans are doing well in the recruiting hunt for 6-9 Emoni Bates, 15, from Lincoln High in Ypsilanti (Mich.) Bates already draws comparisons to Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

Charles Adams coached Gophers wideout star Tyler Johnson for four years at Minneapolis North. But as a quarterback.

“I saw what he’s doing now for the Gophers when he was a ninth-grader as quarterback,” Adams said.

Adams started Johnson at QB as a freshman.

“He always bugged me to play receiver when he was a ninth-grader, but I told him I needed him to play quarterback,” Adams said.

Overheard

From a six-page spread on Dalvin Cook in this week’s Sports Illustrated: “Coming into the 2017 draft, Dalvin Cook was considered off-limits by many NFL teams, deterred by a rap sheet compiled during his teen years. But the Vikings were confident that he was misunderstood. Now … (Cook) is rewarding the only team that showed faith in him.”


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