Patrick Reusse
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The Vikings have a more-talented roster than the Packers. Mike Zimmer’s club will be a solid favorite when the teams play on Dec. 23 in the ZygiDome, in the 15th game on the schedule.

This does not change the fact the Vikings need help from one of three unimpressive teams to take away the NFC North title from the Packers and thus claim a home playoff game.

The Packers are 9-3 with a 3-0 record in the division. The Vikings are 8-4 with a 1-2 record in the division. Give the Packers that loss in the Minneapolis rematch and, if both teams finish 12-4, the Packers win the tie-breaker with a 5-1 division record compared to 4-2 for the Vikings.

Now, Mike Zimmer could pull a P.J. Fleck (“We’re Big Ten West co-champions!’’) and proudly declare the Vikings to be NFC North co-champions, but it still would mean going on the road for a first-round playoff game.

It wouldn’t be so much the challenge faced – with that road game likely to be either at Green Bay (winnable) or at Dallas (ultra winnable), but it would create the grind of needing three road victories for a Super Bowl run.

Yeah, life would be much-better if the Vikings could get assistance from a Packers opponent. The next two games are at Lambeau Field – Washington and Chicago – and then Green Bay’s schedule winds up at Minnesota and Detroit.

I’d go with Chicago as having best shot to give the Packers a required second loss. Of course, a victory like that might put enough life into the underachieving Bears to decide to bring some energy to the regular-season finale at the ZygiDome, and to see if they can get the Vikings to choke again.

As opposed to the 2018 season, the Vikings could lose two of the last four and still have a high likelihood of reaching the playoffs. The only team chasing them for the second wild-card is the 7-5 Rams, and L.A. has games remaining with the Seahawks, the 49ers and at Dallas (down, but desperate).

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The aforementioned Coach Fleck’s genius as a promoter of himself was on display following Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, just as it was two weeks earlier after a loss at Iowa.

Fleck realizes that you can fool most of the people some of the time, and Gophers fans nearly all of the time, so he has developed this strategy after the disappointment of defeat (admittedly, not required often in Year Two, following Zero and One):

He takes full responsibility, while simultaneously taking none of it.

Fleck knows that the reaction comes from the sound bite and not from the substance being offered. He even manages to get headlines and laudatory comments when issuing the “I take full responsibility’’ spin, even though it couldn’t be more insincere.

As he was taking full responsibility following the Iowa loss, did Fleck admit that rushing to the middle of the field near the 10-yard line and drawing a 15-yard penalty was a juvenile act for a big-time coach?

No, he was doing so out of concern for receiver Tyler Johnson, who was reaching to be pulled up by a teammate a few seconds after a big hit and in no overt distress.

In addition to the “P.J. just loves his players too much to follow the rules’’ angle, the excuse-makers also claimed that it didn’t cost the Gophers anything of significance.

Of course, there was Iowa starting at its 22 rather than its 7, but who has ever seen significant field position as an advantage in a game vs. the Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes, right?

Speaking of which:

There were also Fleck’s now-familiar wasted timeouts and then a too-early onside kick (3:26 remaining) that took the pressure off Iowa’s mediocre offense to actually move the ball. The Gophers wound up at their 20 with 1:35 left and no timeouts in the 23-19 loss.

Fleck’s coaching crimes were more serious in what became a 38-17 thumping from Wisconsin last Saturday in Minneapolis. This time, he threw in the “blame me’’ with a soliloquy near the end of his postgame media session.

So, Fleck was admitting that punting on fourth-and-2 from Wisconsin’s 35, early in the game with the Gophers already leading 7-0 – he was admitting that research could prove that this was the most-absurd decision for the Gophers since 1905?

Of course not. Fleck offered his excuse for sending that cowardly message sent to his team, although that didn’t mean he was failing to take full responsibility.

So, Fleck was admitting that calling a timeout when down deep on third-and-10, and then agreeing to a zone run that had no chance for a first down, in order to kick a field goal – he was admitting that was the most-nonsensical journey to a field goal attempt since Glen Mason ordered that 50-yarder into the wind at Madison back when?

No, P,.J. isn't getting into that, but whatever you do, media friends, be sure to use this Coach Fleck classic in your game reviews:

“Our band, our alumni, our fans: we heard you the entire time. And I apologize to our fans for not being able to get it done, because it falls on my shoulders 100%. Nobody else: not staff, not players – me. I did not get it done for our fans.”

Zero percent of mistakes are admitted, but it 100% falls on his shoulders. P.J. Fleck has established himself as both a big success and a disingenuous genius with the Gophers.

It’s all on me, but no mistakes are on me, no matter how apparent. Spectacular.

**

Twins did not tender a contract to first baseman C.J. Cron. That has to mean Miguel Sano is moving to first base.

Forget spending big on pitcher. Bust the budget on whatever it takes for Anthony Rendon. I’d weep for the chance to watch Rendon hit and play third base every day. Most professional hitter on the planet.