La Velle E. Neal III
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La Velle E. Neal III's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.


If Mike Zimmer's 1-3 Vikings truly are a good football team, they need to show it on Sunday when they play host to Detroit.

Then the week after that at Carolina.

Then two weeks later against Dallas. And so on.

In an unforgiving NFL, a team can't stack clunky performances and claim it is still relevant. But Zimmer faced the media last week following a 14-7 loss to Cleveland and argued just that.

"Like I told the team, I've been doing this 27 years, I know good teams and I know bad teams," Zimmer said. "I know this team has a chance to be pretty darn good. We may not look like it right now because we're 1-3, but even like Kevin [Stefanski] said to me before the game, 'You got a really good football team here.' "

That's a treacherous path to take. In most cases, a team earns its record. The Vikings committed 12 penalties and had a costly late fumble in an overtime loss to the Bengals in Week 1. They missed an extra point and a last-second field goal in a Week 2 loss at Arizona. And after a strong 13-point victory over Seattle, they scored only seven points at home against Cleveland in Week 4.

For the second consecutive year, the Vikings have started out 1-3. Last year they finished 7-9. How would ownership feel about repeating a seven-win season?

You could make a case that the Vikings are a few plays away from being 4-0 … but you shouldn't.

In both weeks 1 and 2, eight of 16 league games were decided by seven or fewer points. It happened in five of 16 games in Week 3 and seven of 16 in Week 4. That's 44% of games played in the NFL this season that have been decided by one score.

Nearly every team has their version of "a couple of plays." Baltimore and Green Bay are both 3-1. The Ravens easily could be undefeated, or 1-3. Green Bay would be 2-2 and tied with the Bears atop the NFC North if not for a ridiculous Aaron Rodgers fourth-quarter drive against the 49ers.

Wins should be cherished, no matter how ugly they are. Winning teams close out games. Bad teams lament the ones that got away.

There's a bye week after the Vikings face the Lions and Panthers, followed by the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers, Packers and 49ers. A good team emerges from that stretch of games with six wins.

It's time for these Vikings to earn the winning record they covet.

Lookin' good ... so far

The Timberwolves are oozing with optimism during the opening days of training camp.

Anthony Edwards is willing to apply himself on defense. Patrick Beverley has brought energy in addition to his experience. Karl-Anthony Towns sounds determined to make the Wolves a playoff team again. Even rookie Leandro Bolmaro has impressed teammates with his playmaking and how he operates the pick and roll.

The Wolves know they lack size up front but plan to make up for it by having everyone hit the glass and contest shots better.

It's only preseason. But the Wolves had a 40-point second quarter Monday during their victory over New Orleans, and Beverley believes that can carry over to the regular season.

"Any success shows the work you are putting in," Beverley said.

This reminds me of 23 years of hopeful Twins spring trainings. Let's get through the four preseason games first and see what happens when the 82 real ones start.

Twins coaching turnstile

It's time for the annual tinkering with the Twins coaching staff. This time, three new coaches are needed.

Since Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over baseball operations before the 2017 season, the Twins have had four pitching coaches: Neil Allen, Garvin Alston, Jeremy Hefner and Wes Johnson. They are about to hire their fourth bench coach, a necessity after the sad death of Mike Bell.

In most cases, the organization sought the right fit. But Derek Shelton, James Rowson and Hefner all left to advance their careers, forcing the "Help Wanted" signs to be dusted off.

Twins coaching staffs until the early 2010s were mostly stable — and loyal — under Ron Gardenhire and his predecessor, Tom Kelly. One exception was after the 2012 season, when Steve Liddle, Rick Stelmaszek and Jerry White were replaced with Tom Brunansky, Terry Steinbach and Bobby Cuellar.

There's no such thing as stability under Falvey and Levine, who have yet to bring back an entire staff in consecutive seasons.


Big Red Saturday coming

Nebraska has shaken off a rocky start and will emerge from Huntington Bank Field on Saturday with a 33-27 win over a well-rested Gophers team that might be on their third-string running back.

Former Twins watch

A team from the NL West will reach the National League Championship Series — and it won't be the Dodgers. The Giants, with former Twins LaMonte Wade Jr. and Zack Littell, will beat the Dodgers in the Division Series.