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Charley Walters: Season’s first four games could determine futures for Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, Rick Spielman

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Charley Walters: Season’s first four games could determine futures for Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, Rick Spielman

Should the Minnesota Vikings lose to the favored Cardinals in Arizona on Sunday, and on the ensuing two Sundays to superior Seahawks and Browns in Minneapolis, it would be hard to imagine owners Zygi and Mark Wilf retaining coach Mike Zimmer.

The betting here is that Zimmer could be gone before Columbus Day (Oct. 11). Presumably, assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson would replace him on an interim basis.

If Zimmer, 65, is dismissed, the Vikings would be expected to bring in a young, dynamic, offensive-minded coach. And then, in the first round of next year’s draft, even if they’re still stuck with Kirk Cousins’ $35 million contract, it would seem the Vikings need to draft a quarterback. Kellen Mond, drafted in the third round last spring, doesn’t appear the answer to succeed Cousins.

The way it looks now, the Vikings will have a high pick in April’s NFL draft. Quarterbacks expected to be among the top dozen or so picks in the draft are Carson Strong of Nevada, Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma, Sam Howell of North Carolina and Malik Willis of Liberty.

The Wilfs might not have a choice with Zimmer who, incidentally, is signed through 2023. They couldn’t bring back this operation next year and expect fans to buy expensive tickets.

The NFL trade deadline is Nov. 2. There are only a half-dozen or so Vikings considered untradable — Justin Jefferson (age 22), Dalvin Cook (26), Danielle Hunter (26), Brian O’Neill (26), Eric Kendricks (29), Adam Thielen (31) and Harrison Smith (32).

Rebuilding the Vikings would also seem to include dismissal of GM Rick Spielman, perhaps temporarily replacing him with VP of football operations Rob Brzezinski, and unloading player payroll for the rest of the year.

It would be hard to trust Spielman with hiring the next coach.

The guess here is that Vikings rooters might be accepting of a rebuild if it included a new coach, a new GM and a QB drafted in the first round next April.

Darrell Thompson, the Gophers record-setting running back who went on to play five seasons for the Green Bay Packers, feels that had Mohamed Ibrahim finished this season the way he started, he could have been a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

“Absolutely!” Thompson said. “Maybe not the beginning of the first round, but a first- or second-round draft choice. With his vision, his balance, his strength. We saw his yardage (163) against Ohio State, a national championship-level team. Auburn (140 yards in Outback Bowl in 2020). He’s not had a bad game.”

The 5-10, 210-pound Ibrahim is out for the season after surgery, presumably for a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered late against Ohio State.

Thompson, 53, played with assorted injuries and now has a hip replacement.

“Ibrahim can definitely come back; it’s probably going to take almost a year,” Thompson said. “Obviously I’m not a doctor, just a guy who’s watches football. There’s a blessing to being young — the body’s going to heal. He’s going to have all the wonderful modern things that we do now — the water, the treatment, the nutrition, the stretching, making sure that all the muscles are at the same level in strength.

“One thing we never had is that they (trainers) can actually measure and say what percentage you’re at, so we’re going to work at getting everything up to the same percentage. Which is why things typically fall apart again because something’s too strong, something’s too weak. So they train you back in balance. He will come back and I think he’ll have a great NFL career if he chooses.”

In his first two games for Houston, transferred former Gophers tight end and wildcat quarterback Seth Green from Woodbury caught one pass — a nine-yarder for a TD in a 38-21 loss to Texas Tech — and had no rushes.

Ex-Gopher Chris Streveler is the No. 3 QB for the Arizona Cardinals.

QB Aiden Bouman, son of ex-Vikings QB Todd Bouman, is a 6-6, 250-pound redshirt freshman for Iowa State.

Former Gophers star Bob Stein, who will be inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame on Dec. 7 in Las Vegas, next Saturday will be honored at Minnesota’s homecoming against Bowling Green.

Tickets for the game against Bowling Green were available for as little as $10 on Vividseats.com.

That was Jim Dutcher and his former Gophers basketball players Tommy Davis, Jim Petersen and Kelly Scott lunching at McCormick & Schmick’s in Edina last week.

Cretin grad Joe Gallagher, 57, who produced the highly successful opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National for NBC, on Tuesday was to make the 5-hour, 30-minute drive to Whistling Straits (Wis.) to work his ninth Ryder Cup next weekend. Gallagher took a St. Paul contingent of employees from his Doodle Productions company to assist in assorted capacities, including celebrity movement (Michael Jordan is expected to attend) and corporate parties.

Gallagher’s Ryder Cup schedule includes the 2023 competition in Rome.

“That one will mean it’s closer to my last Ryder Cup, in 2029, at Hazeltine,” said Gallagher, who worked his first Ryder Cup in 1995 at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.

Kalen Anderson, who coached nationally ranked South Carolina to victory in the big Annika Intercollegiate women’s golf tournament at the Royal Club last week, is from Edina.

Hall of Fame former Twin Dave Winfield from St. Paul turns 70 on Oct. 3.

Hall of Fame former Twin Rod Carew, who turns 75 on Oct. 1, has begun a monthly newsletter.

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch is featured speaker at the Twin Cities Dunkers breakfast on Tuesday at the Minneapolis Club.

Will Steinke from Little Falls was the officiating umpire at host Michigan’s 47-14 victory over Western Michigan.

Family reunion: Those were three of the noted St. Paul Mauer brothersTom, Mark and Jim — officiating the Minneapolis South-Roosevelt football game last week. The trio, with other brothers Ken and Brian, worked a high school game at Hastings two years ago. Tom, 61, by the way, has decided to retire after 22 years as a WNBA official.

Mike Lauren, Mike Sullivan, Scott Sanderson, Jeff Sorem, Betsy Massopust, Corrine Buie, Steve Dove and Dick Gaughran will be inducted into the Edina Hall of Fame on Thursday at Interlachen Country Club.

Hill-Murray Athletic Hall of Fame electees for induction next Sunday at the school: Greg Langevin, Vince Conway, Rod Romanchuk, Paul Thurmes, Bethany Doolittle and Tessa Cichy.

Johnson High 2021 Football Hall of Fame electees for induction Oct. 2 at White Eagle Golf Club in Hudson, Wis.: Gary Ales, Jim Gabriel, Jeff Plaschko, Tommy Reynolds, Doug Van Meter and 1989 football team.

The 50th anniversary reunion of St. Thomas Academy’s 1971 state football champions will be Oct. 8 at the game against Mahtomedi at Gerry Brown Stadium.

Former Mahtomedi pitcher Michael Baumann, 25, made his major league debut for the Orioles in relief the other day and was credited with the 7-3 victory over the Royals. Baumann was drafted by the Twins in the 34th round in 2014, declined to sign, then was chosen by Baltimore in the third round three years later after pitching for Jacksonville University, receiving a $500,000 bonus.

Former Gopher Amir Coffey of the L.A. Clippers remains a restricted free agent.

Dedication of the David R. Metzen Scholarship Hall in honor of the former South St. Paul schools superintendent will be at South St. Paul High on Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m.

Don’t print that

With two more strikeouts entering Saturday’s game in Toronto, the Twins’ Miguel Sano will reach 1,000 for his seven major league seasons. This season, Sano has hit 29 home runs while fanning 163 times. He has 159 career homers.

Babe Ruth struck out just 1,330 times in 8,399 at-bats. Former Twins: Harmon Killebrew struck out 1,629 times in 8,147 at-bats during 22 seasons; Bob Allison 1,333 times in 5,032 at-bats in 13 seasons. Joe Mauer struck out 1,034 times in 6,930 at-bats in 15 years.

Chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, who has major challenges rebuilding the Twins, is getting mentioned among candidates to oversee the Mets baseball operations.

Probable destination for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers next season is Denver, which would upset Teddy Bridgewater, who connected on 28 of 36 passes — with two drops — in a 27-13 victory over the Giants in the season opener.

People who know say Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell is the clear favorite for the USC football coaching job, for which the Gophers’ P.J. Fleck has been mentioned.

The Twins are 15-58 at Yankee Stadium the last 20 seasons, equivalent to a 33-129 record over a 162-game season, Stanzel’s Sports Takeout mentions.

The Vikings have only one decent offensive lineman: Brian O’Neill.

Chatted with Hall of Fame former Bears linebacker Dick Butkus years ago while in New York to cover filming of those memorable Miller Lite TV commercials. Butkus asked where I was from. Told Minnesota, he asked if I knew Mick Tingelhoff, the Hall of Fame former Vikings center who died last week at age 81.

“After every game I played against Tingelhoff,” Butkus said, “my jersey had fingernail holes in it from him poking me.”

Season ticket courtside seats for University of St. Thomas men’s basketball, as the school goes from Division III to Division I this season, will cost $520, reserved seat backs $325, club level $260 and reserved bench seats $156. Last season, reserved back season ticket seats cost $50.

With its move to Division I, St. Thomas’ athletic budget increases from $6 million a year to $18 million annually, and will continue to grow. Meanwhile, St. Thomas the other day lost a top financial administrator and assistant.

This really happened last week: Former Wild captains Mikko Koivu and Wes Walz and former Wild player Eric Staal were golfing with sports marketing whiz Murray Rudisill at his North Oaks Country Club. Walz and Rudisill won $25 apiece from Koivu and Staal in a match.

Sitting outside afterward enjoying a beer, Koivu placed a $50 bill on the table and said he would cover Staal’s bet, too. Two minutes later, a big wind lifted the $50 bill off the table and up over the clubhouse roof.

Rudisill quickly informed enterprising club GM Phil Anderson, who rushed up to the roof through an inside staircase to search for the $50 bill, hoping to find it because the roof is flat. The bill wasn’t found.

For $10 million this season, Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons has 390 at-bats and 15 extra-base hits. That’s still better, though, than shortstop Jackie Hernandez’s five extra base hits in 199 at-bats for the 1968 Twins.

Pssst: Not long ago, the Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov told a prominent teammate he wouldn’t re-sign for a penny less than $10 million a year.

Third baseman Jose Miranda, 23, who would cost the Twins $138,454 per game less than the $141,975 they are paying Josh Danielson, 35, through 2023, has 27 home runs and 86 RBIs while hitting .339 this season between Triple-A St. Paul and Double-A Wichita.

Minnesota’s Mark Coyle, 52, with total compensation of $1.4 million (including retirement bonuses), is the 13th highest-paid athletics director in the country, according to new analysis by athleticdirectoru.com in conjunction with USA Today and Syracuse University. Coyle, whose contract ends on June 30, 2026, is the fifth-highest paid AD in the Big Ten behind Northwestern’s Jim Phillips ($2.3 million), Ohio State’s Gene Smith ($1.85 million), Penn State’s Sandy Barbour ($1.5 million) and Michigan’s Warde Manuel ($1.45 million).

The Vikings are now worth $3.2 billion, the 18th most valuable NFL franchise, according to Sportico. The Packers are 15th at $3.5 billion. The Vikings, and every other NFL team, are projected to receive $400 million in 2023 “before selling one ticket, beer or hot dog,” Sportico reports.

The Vikings are 26th in the 32-team NFL, the Packers 11th, in Axios Sports’ power rankings.

Former first-team Gophers All-Big Ten golfer Angus Flanagan has missed seven of eight cuts during his first season on the PGA’s Forme Tour.

For his tie for 22nd in the recent PGA Tour Championship, ex-Gopher Erik Van Rooyen received a check for $466,667.

There’s a bar in Hibbing (Minn.) named the “Homer Tavern” owned by relatives of former Yankees home run slugger Roger Maris, who was born in Hibbing, but the “Homer” title has nothing to do with Maris’ home run proclivity.

Several parking lots near the Gophers football stadium are charging $20 on game days.

Overheard

Paul Holmgren, 65, the former Harding, Gopher, Saint and North Star who is senior adviser for the Philadelphia Flyers, on being announced last week that he’s been elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame: “I’ve known since June when I was back in St. Paul for a family reunion — they told me not to tell anybody — and it hasn’t sunk in even yet. It’s a tremendous honor.”

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Race-blind redistricting? Democrats incredulous at GOP maps

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Race-blind redistricting? Democrats incredulous at GOP maps

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A decade ago, North Carolina Republicans redrew their legislative districts to help their party in a way that a federal court ruled illegally deprived Black voters of their right to political representation. A state court later struck down Republican-drawn maps as based on pure partisanship.

So, as the GOP-controlled legislature embarks this year on its latest round of redistricting, it has pledged not to use race or partisan data to draw the political lines. Still, the maps Republicans are proposing would tilt heavily toward their party. Several publicly released congressional maps dilute Democratic votes by splitting the state’s biggest city, Charlotte — also its largest African American population center — into three or four U.S. House districts and giving the GOP at least a 10-4 advantage in a state that Donald Trump narrowly won last year.

As the once-a-decade redistricting process kicks into high gear, North Carolina is one of at least three states where Republicans say they are drawing maps without looking at racial and party data. But those maps still happen to strongly favor the GOP.

Democrats and civil rights groups are incredulous, noting that veteran lawmakers don’t need a spreadsheet to know where voters of various races and different parties live in their state. Plus, under certain scenarios, the Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of districts where the majority of voters are racial or ethnic minorities.

“This is the first redistricting round I’ve ever heard of this,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Texas Republicans over maps that the GOP said it drew without looking at racial data. “I suspect they’re trying to set up a defense for litigation. Because they know the race data — they know where the Black community lives. They know where the Latino community lives.”

Jason Torchinsky, general counsel to the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said ignoring racial data is proper in certain circumstances, as in the cases of North Carolina and Texas.

“It depends on where you are,” Torchinsky said.

The drawing of legislative lines is often a raw partisan fight because whichever party controls the process can craft districts to maximize its voters’ clout — and scatter opposing voters so widely they cannot win majorities.

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts cannot overturn unfair maps on the basis of partisanship. But state courts still can void maps for being too partisan and race remains a legal tripwire in redistricting.

If mapmakers explicitly try to weaken voters’ power based on race, they may violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. But the Voting Rights Act requires them to consider race if the state has “racially polarized” voting, in which white people consistently vote against candidates backed by a minority racial or ethnic group. The mapmakers must then create a district in which that minority comprises a plurality or majority of voters so they can elect their preferred candidates.

Republicans complain they cannot win.

“It’s truly a conundrum and has been for the last decade for the GOP, because when we look at race, we were told we shouldn’t have, and those maps were struck down,” said North Carolina state Sen. Paul Newton, who co-chairs that state’s redistricting committee. “Now that we’re not looking at race, the Democrat Party is telling us, ‘Oh, you should be looking at race.’”

North Carolina’s redistricting legal fight is part of why the new race-blind approach caught on.

The Republican-controlled legislature has complete control of redistricting; its maps cannot be vetoed by its Democratic governor. A federal court in 2016 found North Carolina Republicans improperly crammed Black voters into two congressional districts to dilute African American votes elsewhere. It ordered the map redrawn. That updated map was the basis of the 2019 Supreme Court case.

But, barely two months later, a North Carolina state court found the GOP advantage in some of the redrawn state legislative maps still violated the state constitution. Based on this and other rulings, Republicans redrew the maps once again in late 2019, this time saying they weren’t looking at racial or partisan data, and they passed legal muster.

Then, in August, the legislature formally adopted a rule that it wouldn’t consider race or partisanship in its latest line-drawing that would begin after the U.S. Census Bureau released data on population changes over the past decade. Lawmakers noted that, during the epic litigation of the prior decade, a federal court had found the state didn’t have racially polarized voting and didn’t require special attention to racial data.

Democrats and civil rights groups strenuously objected. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice wrote Republicans a letter warning they would be disenfranchising Black and Latino voters. “They’re not listening,” said Allison Riggs, head of the group’s voting rights program.

Other GOP-controlled states have followed North Carolina’s example. For the past five decades, Texas has been found to have violated federal law or the U.S. Constitution in redistricting, including by shortchanging Black and Latino voters. This time, Republicans who control the state Legislature said they wouldn’t consider racial data and their lawyers said that was OK.

“I’ve stated it, and I’ll state it again — we drew these maps race blind,” Texas state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican who drew that state’s maps, said in one Senate hearing.

Although almost all of Texas’ population growth has come from Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans, the maps do not create any new majority Black or Latino districts. That latter omission is at the heart of suits by Latino civil rights groups last week as Texas approved its maps.

“The only time that communities of color can get justice is going to the courthouse,” said Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Ohio Republicans are also enmeshed in litigation over their state legislative plan, which they said was drawn with no racial or partisan data. “It’s illegal to use race in drawing districts. That’s a violation of federal law,” Republican state Senate President Matt Huffman told reporters last month.

Ohio Republicans said that even though they didn’t use partisan data, they were targeted in a suit by several community and anti-gerrymandering groups for drawing a partisan map anyway.

“The way the map performs is to really skew partisan outcomes in Ohio,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, one of the plaintiffs. “It’s very likely they did use partisan data.”

___

Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writers Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

___

Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 7: Last-minute moves

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The Loop Fantasy Football Update Week 7: Last-minute moves

UPDATE: 9:42 a.m. Sunday
The big roster news this morning concerns the NFL’s second-ranked tight end, Darren Waller. The Las Vegas standout with the injured ankle is expected to be a game-time decision, which is a huge problem for fantasy mavens since it’s a late afternoon game just off The Strip. Unless you can find a decent tight-end replacement prospect, we’re guessing you should roll the dice … get it, Vegas? … and keep Waller in your lineup when you set it in a couple of hours.

Two prominent running backs have been cleared to play. Chicago’s Damien Williams is off the COVID list and will start over Khalil Herbert, though the latter may still see goal-line duty. And Washington’s Antonio Gibson is also good to go, though possibly with a lightened load.

Other early injury notes: Indy WR T.Y. Hilton is out, Miami’s Devante Parker is doubtful and the Giants’ Evan Engram is a maybe.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s Pete Carroll says RB Alex Collins is good to go Monday night, so he’ll be the far-preferable fantasy choice over Rashard Penny against the Saints.

We’ll be back in an hour or so with any updates from the early inactive lists.

UPDATE: 10:54 a.m. Saturday
The Week 7 showdown between Jimmy Garoppolo’s injured calf and Trey Lance’s ailing knee has been settled, and the San Francisco 49ers head into Sunday’s game with Indianapolis with a questionable quarterback atop the lineup.

That QB is Garoppolo, who practiced in limited fashion on Friday. Lance is a no-go, so Jimmy G becomes a marginal starting option in this bye-depleted week.

The lineup news is a bit grimmer for two teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Antonio Brown in their game against Chicago, and the New York Giants will be even sadder this week without RB Saquon Barkley, and receivers Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay.

Seattle is facing a must-win against New Orleans, but the Russell Wilson-less team has more uncertainty at running back. Alex Collins, who played well last week, is said to be a game-time decision. So the starter could be Rashard Penny, who has been activated off the injured list.

The news is better in Tennessee, where WR Julio Jones is expected to play six days after exiting early during Monday night’s win over Buffalo. Good news for the Titans, and The Loop’s own Fantasy Juggernaut.

Notables ruled out over the past couple of days include two Ravens, RB Latavius Murray and WR Sammy Watkins, Carolina wideout Terrace Marshall and Washington WR Curtis Samuel.

Players listed as questionable as of this morning include Bears WR Allen Robinson, Jets RB Tevin Coleman, Indy wideout T.Y. Hilton, Miami receiver Devante Parker, and two Giants, tight end Evan Engram and WR Sterling Shepherd.

ORIGINAL POST: 12:00 p.m. Wednesday

With a newly expanded 17-game schedule, you would think the NFL has no reason to jam a ridiculous amount of byes into a single week. And you would be mistaken.

Some brilliant minds at 345 Park Avenue determined that the league should put six teams on hiatus this week, including some of the league’s top powers

Vikings fans are already well aware their cardiac-causing team is off for this week. They are joined on the sidelines by the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

When you break it down by position, the Week 7 absences range from serious to alarming:

Running back — Four of the top eight scoring leaders of 2021 are missing, and that doesn’t include the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook. How can you replace the likes of Austin Ekeler, Ezekiel Elliott, Najee Harris and James Robinson? You might still be able to pick up on waivers the Bucs’ Gio Bernard. Or the Colts’ Nyheim Hines. Maybe even Houston relic Mark Ingram.

Houston Texans running back Mark Ingram II (2) rushes for a gain against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Wide receiver — Four of the top 11 are out: Mike Williams, CeeDee Lamb and the Vikings’ duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. But the waiver wires in more than half of all leagues still have guys like Chicago’s Darnell Mooney, the Saints’ Marquez Callaway, Indy’s Zach Pascal and former Gophers star Rashod Bateman of the Ravens.

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman runs with the ball after making a catch against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Quarterback — Need a sub for top-10 stars like Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen or Kirk Cousins? You can pick up New Orleans’ Jameis Winston or New England’s Mac Jones. Feeling more adventurous? Then how about two currently struggling guys due for a rebound: the Panthers’ Sam Darnold or the Giants’ Daniel Jones.

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Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson (94) chases Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Tight end — Dallas surprise Dalton Schultz is the only top six TE off this week. There are plenty of options for those wishing to take a flyer, such as the Giants’ Evan Engram, New England’s Jonnu Smith or Hunter Henry, or the newest Arizona Cardinal, Zach Ertz.

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New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (88) sprints to the end zone for a touchdown after catching a pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Defense — Among those missing are top-ranked Buffalo, third-ranked Dallas and ninth-rated Minnesota. So look for someone playing a really lousy offense, such as Arizona (vs. Houston), Carolina (vs. Giants) or Denver (vs. injured-plagued Cleveland).

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Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Kicker — Four of the top 10 are out, including Greg Zuerlein, Greg Joseph and Tyler Bass. Kickers with good matchups this week include Miami’s Jason Sanders and New England’s Nick Folk.

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Miami Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders (7) kicks a field goal during the first half an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

SITTING STARS
Probably not too many guys you can afford to sit during Byemegeddon but … Chicago fill-in running back Khalil Herbert looked very good last Sunday against Green Bay, but don’t even think he’ll repeat that performance against Tampa Bay. … Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon won’t post his usual strong numbers against the Ravens. … The Rams defense has been shutting down running backs all season. This week they’ll smother Detroit’s D’Andre Swift. … Seattle’s running game surprised with Alex Collins looking good in Pittsburgh, but he’ll have a tougher time Monday night against New Orleans. … And if we were playing by the rules of chess, you’d be better off resigning than starting any Texans against unbeaten Arizona.

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Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift (32) slips past Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) to score with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter of an NFL game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. The Vikings beat the Lions, 19-17. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

MATCHUP GAME
Boy, is Matthew Stafford going to have fun going against his old Lions team on Sunday … Arizona will have no trouble with Houston, so we’re thinking Cards will be running more than passing, which means Chase Edmonds and James Connor are both worth starting . … Tampa Bay RB Leonard Fournette is now back in peak form and will score at least once vs. Chicago. … Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa looked good in his return last week and will look better against Atlanta for the now-desperate Dolphins. Same goes for WR Jaylen Waddle. … We said Green Bay TE Robert Tonyan would regress this year, and boy has he. But we smell a TD for him this week against Washington.

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Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) catches a pass in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis (24) during an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

INJURY WATCH
Cleveland’s injured list is bursting, but more on that later. … Baltimore lost RB Latavius Murray to an injured ankle, so both Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman snagged touchdowns last week. And they could again this week … It’s a tossup at the moment who will be quarterbacking the 49ers against Indy: ailing Jimmy Groppolo or ailing Trey Lance. … Washington RB Antonio Gibson was slowed again last week, so be wary. On the positive side, Seattle RB Rashaad Penny is expected to return, as is Cleveland WR Jarvis Landry. Players listed as questionable for this week include Giants WR Kadarius Toney, Bears RB Damien Williams, Cleveland WR Odell Beckham Jr., and two Indy wideouts, T.Y Hilton and Parris Campbell.

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Baltimore Ravens running back Latavius Murray (28) scores a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

THE DEEPEST SLEEPER
You know we’re scrounging if we’re picking a running back who has yet to rush the ball during his short NFL career. But Cleveland running back Demetric Felton stands a good chance of seeing big duty Thursday night because of the injuries to starters Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and the substitution of Case Keenum for injured Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. This rookie from UCLA, who has caught six passes, one for a touchdown, this season, Someone has to constitute the Cleveland offense. Keep an eye on Chubb’s status on Thursday, as he could return. A lot of folks will flock to D’Ernest Johnson, but if you’re especially bye-week desperate, give this Bruin a try.

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Cleveland Browns running back Demetric Felton (25) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson, right, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

THE THURSDAY PICK
Broncos at Browns (-3½):
Pick: Browns by 1

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Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws a pass during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

BREAKING NEWS
We’ll be updating our column, based on the latest injuries and innuendo, right up until Sunday’s kickoff. Go to TwinCities.com/theloop.

You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Explainer: Will lawmakers dig into Kristi Noem, appraisers?

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Explainer: Will lawmakers dig into Kristi Noem, appraisers?

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota lawmakers will be taking a look at a state agency that has been at the center of questions about whether Gov. Kristi Noem used her influence to aid her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser license.

At first glance, the first item of business for the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee on Thursday appears routine: “Department of Labor and Regulation to discuss the Appraiser Certification Program.”

But it could have a big impact for the Republican governor, who has generated speculation about a possible 2024 White House bid. Noem has come under scrutiny after The Associated Press reported that she held a meeting in her office last year that included her daughter, Kassidy Peters, and the director of the Appraiser Certification Program, which had moved days earlier to deny Peters’ application for a license. Peters received her certification four months later.

Here’s what to know about the committee’s meeting:

WHO WILL BE SPEAKING?

Lawmakers have carved out a few hours in a packed schedule to hear from four people.

One is the Appraiser Certification Program’s former director, Sherry Bren. She was called into the July 2020 meeting in the governor’s office and was pressured to retire shortly after Peters received her license that November.

Another official slated to speak is Secretary of Labor and Regulation Marcia Hultman. She was also in the meeting and later pressured Bren to retire. Hultman has defended her actions by saying there have been positive changes at the agency since Bren left.

Lawmakers have also called the president of the state’s professional appraiser association, Sandra Gresh. She has raised concerns about the new direction of the state program.

The director of the state’s Office of Risk Management, Craig Ambach, also is expected to appear. His office helped negotiate a $200,000 payment to Bren for her to retire and withdraw an age discrimination complaint. Both Bren and Hultman are bound by a clause in that settlement that bans them from disparaging each other.

WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AT THE MEETING IN NOEM’S OFFICE?

It is not entirely clear. The governor hasn’t answered detailed questions about the meeting. Bren told the AP it covered the procedures for appraiser certification and that she was presented with a letter from Peters’ supervisor that criticized the agency’s decision to deny the license.

Noem has said she didn’t ask for special treatment for her daughter. She has cast the episode as yet another way she has “cut the red tape” to solve a shortage of appraisers and smooth the homebuying process.

In a YouTube video responding to the AP’s report, Noem pointed out that Bren had been in her position for decades, and she charged that the system “was designed to benefit those who were already certified and to keep others out.”

IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF APPRAISERS?

Yes. Industry experts have long said that’s a problem, especially in rural states. In South Dakota, many experienced appraisers are nearing retirement age.

However, the governor’s ability to “streamline” requirements for a license would be limited because they are mostly set at the federal level.

As governor, Noem has worked to ease licensing requirements for an array of professions. She said she had been working on appraiser regulations for years.

Asked for examples of that work prior to last year, her spokesman Ian Fury pointed out that Noem, during her eight years in Congress, twice signed onto GOP-sponsored bills that would have, among other financial reforms, adjusted federal appraiser regulations.

HOW CAN THE SHORTAGE BE SOLVED?

Since Bren’s departure, Noem’s administration has moved to waive certification requirements that go beyond the federal standards, such as an exam for entry-level appraisers.

But the leadership of the Professional Appraisers Association of South Dakota has raised concerns about those moves. The group says the biggest barrier to becoming an appraiser is a lack of supervisors who can train new appraisers.

Before Bren left her job, she was working to launch a first-of-its-kind program that would allow appraiser trainees to take hands-on courses and avoid the traditional apprenticeship model that has become a bottleneck. Bren helped the state win a $120,000 annual federal grant and later testified in the Legislature in support of a bill to create the training program. Noem signed it into law this year.

WHAT WILL THE COMMITTEE DO?

It’s not clear. Republican lawmakers said they will start by asking about the state agency and why there are difficulties to becoming an appraiser. But they also acknowledged that the meeting was an opportunity to question the governor’s conduct. Just two Democrats sit on the 10-person committee.

If lawmakers are satisfied, they could move on from the issue.

They also could decide to delve deeper. The committee has the power to subpoena witnesses and records, but that would require approval from the Executive Board, a ranking committee of top legislators.

Kathleen Clark, a law professor who specializes in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, said she would not be satisfied with the governor’s explanation that she was simply trying to “cut the red tape.”

“It is conceivable that the agency processes needed improvement,” she said. “But the presence of the daughter and the timing of the meeting suggest that this was not a meeting aimed at improving processes in general, but instead aimed at pressuring the agency to change its mind.”

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